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Software

Indian State Saves $45 Million As Schools Switch To Open Source Software (factordaily.com) 88

From a report: The Kerala government has made a saving of Rs 300 crore ($45 million) through introduction and adoption of Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) in the school education sector, said a state government official on Sunday. IT became a compulsory subject in Kerala schools from 2003, but it was only in 2005 that FOSS was introduced in a phased manner and started to replace proprietary software. The decision made by the curriculum committee to implement it in the higher secondary sector has also been completed now. "It's not the cost saving that matters more, but the fact that the Free Software license enables not only teachers and students but also the general public an opportunity to copy, distribute and share the contents and use it as they wish," K. Anwar Sadath, executive director IT@School said.
Open Source

GitHub Invites Contributions To 'Open Source Guides' (infoq.com) 54

An anonymous reader quotes InfoQ: GitHub has recently launched its Open Source Guides, a collection of resources addressing the most common scenarios and best practices for both contributors and maintainers of open source projects. The guides themselves are open source and GitHub is actively inviting developers to participate and share their stories... "Open source is complicated, especially for newcomers. Experienced contributors have learned many lessons about the best way to use, contribute to, and produce open source software. Everyone shouldn't have to learn those lessons the hard way."

Making a successful first contribution is not the exclusive focus of the guides, though, which also strives to make it easier to find users for a project, starting a new project, and building healthy open source communities. Other topics the guides dwell on are best practices, getting financial support, metrics, and legal matters.

GitHub's Head of Open Source says the guides create "the equivalent of a water cooler for the community."
Education

Arizona Bill Would Make Students In Grades 4-12 Participate Once In An Hour of Code (azpbs.org) 142

theodp writes: Christopher Silavong of Cronkite News reports: "A bill, introduced by [Arizona State] Sen. John Kavanagh [R-Fountain Hills] would mandate that public and charter schools provide one hour of coding instruction once between grades 4 to 12. Kavanagh said it's critical for students to learn the language -- even if it's only one session -- so they can better compete for jobs in today's world. However, some legislators don't believe a state mandate is the right approach. Senate Bill 1136 has passed the Senate, and it's headed to the House of Representatives. Kavanagh said he was skeptical about coding and its role in the future. But he changed his mind after learning that major technology companies were having trouble finding domestic coders and talking with his son, who works at a tech company." According to the Bill, the instruction can "be offered by either a nationally recognized nonprofit organization [an accompanying Fact Sheet mentions tech-backed Code.org] that is devoted to expanding access to computer science or by an entity with expertise in providing instruction to pupils on interactive computer instruction that is aligned to the academic standards."
Education

University Offers Course To Help Sniff Out and Refute 'Bullshit' (engadget.com) 398

An anonymous reader shares an Engadget report: There's now a course at the University of Washington, "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data" that helps you find bad information and show others why it's bad. The instructors, Professors Jevin D. West and Carl T. Bergstrom, jokingly write that "we will be astonished if these skills do not turn out to be among the most useful ... that you acquire during the course of your college education." They add that the intention is not to be political, as "both sides of the aisle have proven themselves facile at creating and spreading bullshit." The intention, then, is to arm students (and the public if they want) with the tools to combat a scourge of misinformation that's aided and abetted by social media.
Education

Software Goes Through Beta Testing. Should Online College Courses? (edsurge.com) 70

"Testing online courses is not standard practice at traditional colleges," points out a new article at EdSurge -- though beta-testing is part of the process for other online learning sites. jyosim summarizes their report: Coursera has recruited a volunteer corp of more than 2,500 beta testers to try out MOOCs before they launch. Other free online course providers have set up systems that catch things like mistakes in tests, or just whether videos are confusing. Traditional colleges have shied away from checking online course content before going live, citing academic freedom. But some colleges are developing checklists to judge course design and accessibility.

"It would be lovely if universities would consider ways of adopting the practice of beta testing," says Phillip Long, chief innovation officer and associate vice provost for learning sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. One factor, though, is cost. "How do you scale that at a university that has thousands of courses being taught," he asks... How much beta testing makes sense for courses, and what's the best way to do it?

A senior instructional designer at the State University of New York says "On most campuses, instructional designers have their hands full and don't have time to review the courses before they go live... We're still trying to find the magic bullet that motivates people to review other people's courses when they're not being paid."
Robotics

New Kit Turns A Raspberry Pi Into A Robot Arm (raspberrypi.org) 36

An anonymous reader writes: A new kit turns your Raspberry Pi into a robotic arm. It's controlled by an on-board joystick, or even a web browser, and "because it's connected to the Pi you can program it through any of the various programming languages that already run on the Pi," according to its creators. "There's also free software available which lets you program it through a web interface using drag and drop programming environments like Scratch and Blockly or with Python and Javascript for the more experienced."

They explain in a video on Kickstarter that "Our mission is to get children excited about technology through building and programming their own robots," and they've already raised three times their original $12,411 fundraising goal. The Raspberry Pi blog describes it as "a great kit for anyone wanting to step into the world of digital making."

Long-time Slashdot reader bjpirt adds that "It's completely open source and hackable."
Earth

Iron Age Potters Accidentally Recorded the Strength of Earth's Magnetic Field (npr.org) 118

Solandri writes: We've only been able to measure the Earth's magnetic field strength for about two centuries. During this time, there has been a gradual decline in the field strength. In recent years, the rate of decline seems to be accelerating, leading to some speculation that the Earth may be losing its magnetic field -- a catastrophic possibility since the magnetic field is what protects life on Earth from dangerous solar radiation. Ferromagnetic particles in rocks provide a long-term history which tells us the poles have flipped numerous times. But uncertainties in dating the rocks prevents their use in understanding decade-scale magnetic field fluctuations.

Now a group of archeologists and geophysicists have come up with a novel way to produce decade-scale temporal measurements of the Earth's magnetic field strength from before the invention of the magnetometer. When iron-age potters fired their pottery in a kiln to harden it, it loosened tiny ferromagnetic particles in the clay. As the pottery cooled and these particles hardened, it captured a snapshot of the Earth's magnetic field. Crucially, the governments of that time required pottery used to collect taxed goods (e.g. a portion of olive oil sold) to be stamped with a royal seal. These seals changed over time as new kings ascended, or governments were completely replaced after invasion. Thus by cross-referencing the magnetic particles in the pottery with the seals, researchers were able to piece together a history of the Earth's magnetic field strength spanning from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century BCE. Their findings show that large fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field over a span of decades are normal.
The study has been published in the journal PNAS.
Programming

Is IoT a Reason To Learn C? (cio.com) 374

itwbennett writes: Whether or not beginning programmers should learn C is a question that has been roundly debated on Slashdot and elsewhere. The general consensus seems to be that learning it will make you a better programmer -- and it looks good on your resume. But now there might be another reason to learn C: the rapid growth of the internet of things (IoT) could cause a spike in demand for C skills, according to Gartner analyst Mark Driver. "For traditional workloads there is no need to be counting the bytes like there used to be. But when it comes to IoT applications there is that need once again..."
AI

AI Software Juggles Probabilities To Learn From Less Data (technologyreview.com) 49

moon_unit2 quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: You can, for instance, train a deep-learning algorithm to recognize a cat with a cat-fancier's level of expertise, but you'll need to feed it tens or even hundreds of thousands of images of felines, capturing a huge amount of variation in size, shape, texture, lighting, and orientation. It would be lot more efficient if, a bit like a person, an algorithm could develop an idea about what makes a cat a cat from fewer examples. A Boston-based startup called Gamalon has developed technology that lets computers do this in some situations, and it is releasing two products Tuesday based on the approach. Gamalon uses a technique that it calls Bayesian program synthesis to build algorithms capable of learning from fewer examples. Bayesian probability, named after the 18th century mathematician Thomas Bayes, provides a mathematical framework for refining predictions about the world based on experience. Gamalon's system uses probabilistic programming -- or code that deals in probabilities rather than specific variables -- to build a predictive model that explains a particular data set. From just a few examples, a probabilistic program can determine, for instance, that it's highly probable that cats have ears, whiskers, and tails. As further examples are provided, the code behind the model is rewritten, and the probabilities tweaked. This provides an efficient way to learn the salient knowledge from the data.
Beer

How Beer Brewed 5,000 Years Ago In China Tastes Today (thestreet.com) 109

schwit1 quotes The South China Morning Post: Stanford University students have recreated a Chinese beer using a recipe that dates back 5,000 years. The beer "looked like porridge and tasted sweeter and fruitier than the clear, bitter beers of today," said Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology, was quoted by the university as saying. Last spring, Liu and her team of researchers were carrying out excavation work at the Mijiaya site in Shaanxi province and found two pits containing remnants of pottery used to make beer, including funnels, pots and amphorae. The pits dated to between 3400BC and 2900BC, in the late Yangshao era. They found a yellowish residue on the remains of the items, including traces of yam, lily root and barley...Liu taught her students to recreate the recipe as part of her archaeology course.
One student following a second ancient beer recipe created a beverage that "smelled like funky cheese."
Education

Pioneering Data Genius Hans Rosling Passes Away At Age 68 (bbc.com) 53

An anonymous reader writes: On Tuesday, Sweden's prime minister tweeted that Hans Rosling "made human progress across our world come alive for millions," and the public educator will probably best be remembered as the man who could condense 200 years of global history into four minutes. He was a geek's geek, a former professor of global health who "dropped out" because he wanted to help start a nonprofit about data. Specifically, it urged data-based decisions for global development policy, and the Gapminder foundation created the massive Trendalyzer tool which let users build their own data visualizations. Eventually they handed off the tool to Google who used it with open-source scientific datasets. The BBC describes Rosling as a "public educator" with a belief that facts "could correct 'global ignorance' about the reality of the world, which 'has never been less bad.'" Rosling's TED talks include "The Best Data You've Never Seen" and "How Not To Be Ignorant About The World," and in 2015 he also gave a talk titled "How to Beat Ebola." Hans Rosling died Tuesday at age 68.
Programming

Goldman Sachs Automated Trading Replaces 600 Traders With 200 Engineers (technologyreview.com) 185

Goldman Sach's New York headquarters has replaced 600 of its traders with 200 computer engineers over the last two decades or so, thanks to automated trading programs. (Though, the effort to do so has accelerated over the past five years.) "Marty Chavez, the company's deputy chief financial officer and former chief information officer, explained all this to attendees at a symposium on computer's impact on economic activity held by Harvard's Institute for Applied Computational Science last month," reports MIT Technology Review. From their report: The experience of its New York traders is just one early example of a transformation of Goldman Sachs, and increasingly other Wall Street firms, that began with the rise in computerized trading, but has accelerated over the past five years, moving into more fields of finance that humans once dominated. Chavez, who will become chief financial officer in April, says areas of trading like currencies and even parts of business lines like investment banking are moving in the same automated direction that equities have already traveled. Today, nearly 45 percent of trading is done electronically, according to Coalition, a U.K. firm that tracks the industry. In addition to back-office clerical workers, on Wall Street machines are replacing a lot of highly paid people, too. Complex trading algorithms, some with machine-learning capabilities, first replaced trades where the price of what's being sold was easy to determine on the market, including the stocks traded by Goldman's old 600. Now areas of trading like currencies and futures, which are not traded on a stock exchange like the New York Stock Exchange but rather have prices that fluctuate, are coming in for more automation as well. To execute these trades, algorithms are being designed to emulate as closely as possible what a human trader would do, explains Coalition's Shahani. Goldman Sachs has already begun to automate currency trading, and has found consistently that four traders can be replaced by one computer engineer, Chavez said at the Harvard conference. Some 9,000 people, about one-third of Goldman's staff, are computer engineers.
Education

Ask Slashdot: Why Do You Care About Tech Conferences? 197

An anonymous user is "just starting a programming career," and has several questions for Slashdot's readers: What exactly is the role of tech conferences? I always assumed they were mostly for exhibitors to pitch me things, but then what's in it for me? Am I just going there to network, or am I learning new cutting-edge techniques and getting enlightened by awesome training sessions? Or is it just a fun way to get a free trip to Las Vegas?

And then what's in it for my employer, who's paying to send me there? If my boss has to approve the cost of attending a conference, what's going to make him say yes? I mean, do employers really get enough value from that extra conference-only information to justify sending off their employees for several days of non-productivity? (Don't they know all that networking could lead me to job offers from other companies?)

It's always been a little intimidating the way people talk about conferences, like everyone already knows all about them, and drop the conference's name into the conversations like you should already know what it is. I always assumed people just attended only conferences for their current programming language or platform -- but is there more to it than that? What exactly is the big deal?

I'm struggling to even find the right metaphor for this -- is it a live interactive infomercial or a grand gathering of geeky good will? So leave your best answers in the comments. Why do you care about tech conferences?
Education

Disney Thinks High Schools Should Let Kids Take Coding In Place of Foreign Languages 328

theodp writes: Florida lawmakers are again proposing a contentious plan that would put coding and foreign language on equal footing in a public high school student's education. Under a proposed bill students who take two credits of computer coding and earn a related industry certification could then count that coursework toward two foreign language credits.

"I sort of comically applaud that some would want to categorize coding as a foreign language," said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. "Coding cannot be seen as an equivalent substitute." Disclosure records show that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has three lobbyists registered to fight in support of the bill. Disney did not return an email seeking comment, but State Senator Jeff Brandes said the company's interest is in a future workforce... Disney has provided signature tutorials for the nation's Hour of Code over the past three years, including Disney's Frozen princess-themed tutorial.
AI

Are Gates, Musk Being 'Too Aggressive' With AI Concerns? (xconomy.com) 311

gthuang88 reports on a talk titled "Will Robots Eat Your Job?" Bill Gates and Elon Musk are sounding the alarm "too aggressively" over artificial intelligence's potential negative consequences for society, says MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson. The co-author of The Second Machine Age argues it will take at least 30 to 50 years for robots and software to eliminate the need for human laborers. In the meantime, he says, we should be investing in education so that people are prepared for the jobs of the future, and are focused on where they still have an advantage over machines -- creativity, empathy, leadership, and teamwork.
The professor acknowledges "there are some legitimate concerns" about robots taking jobs away from humans, but "I don't think it's a problem we have to face today... It can be counterproductive to overestimate what machines can do right now." Eventually humankind will reach a world where robots do practically everything, the professor believes, but with a universal basic income this could simply leave us humans with more leisure time.
Stats

Massive Study Links IP Addresses Per Capita To GDP (itnews.com.au) 64

Three researchers "decided to scan the entire IPv4 address range every 15 minutes between 2006-2012 to work out what insights they could gain from humanity's mass connection to the internet," reports ITnews. The study...analysed data from 411 large regions from middle to high-income countries and found a positive correlation between GDP per capita and the number of IP addresses per head. A 10% increase in IP addresses per capita was associated with an 0.8% hike in GDP, the analysis found. The researchers cautioned that the output and productivity growth they noted when the number of IP address increased was correlation rather than causation. Service-oriented sectors -- such as publishing, news, film production, administrative support, and education -- appear to have suffered a negative effect from increasing internet penetration [PDF]. The researchers believe these sectors were susceptible to competition from cheaper outsourcing providers.
Slashdot Bismillah pointed out that the researchers also measured sleeping patterns over seven years, assuming IP addresses of internet-connected devices generally correlated to people who were awake. According to the article, "They found that sleep patterns may be changing and converging around the world: Europeans slept less, East Asians more, while Americans' sleeping patterns remained static over the seven-year period."
Education

'To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics' (quantamagazine.org) 229

Excerpts from an article on Quanta Magazine, rearranged for clarity and space: Math conferences don't usually feature standing ovations, but Francis Su received one last month in Atlanta. In his talk he framed mathematics as a pursuit uniquely suited to the achievement of human flourishing, a concept the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, or a life composed of all the highest goods. Su talked of five basic human desires that are met through the pursuit of mathematics: play, beauty, truth, justice and love. Su opened his talk with the story of Christopher, an inmate serving a long sentence for armed robbery who had begun to teach himself math from textbooks he had ordered. After seven years in prison, during which he studied algebra, trigonometry, geometry and calculus, he wrote to Su asking for advice on how to continue his work. After Su told this story, he asked the packed ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, his voice breaking: "When you think of who does mathematics, do you think of Christopher?" If mathematics is a medium for human flourishing, it stands to reason that everyone should have a chance to participate in it. But in his talk Su identified what he views as structural barriers in the mathematical community that dictate who gets the opportunity to succeed in the field -- from the requirements attached to graduate school admissions to implicit assumptions about who looks the part of a budding mathematician. When Su finished his talk, the audience rose to its feet and applauded, and many of his fellow mathematicians came up to him afterward to say he had made them cry. [...] Mathematics builds skills that allow people to do things they might otherwise not have been able to do or experience. If I learn mathematics and I become a better thinker, I develop perseverance, because I know what it's like to wrestle with a hard problem, and I develop hopefulness that I will actually solve these problems. And some people experience a kind of transcendent wonder that they're seeing something true about the universe. That's a source of joy and flourishing.
Education

Touch Bar MacBook Pros Are Being Banned From Bar Exams Over Predictive Text (techcrunch.com) 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: When it launched late last year, the new MacBook Pro's Touch Bar was largely reliant on first-party applications to show off what it could do. Since then, a number of other companies have jumped on board, helping the secondary screen grow into something more than novelty. Of course, as with any new technology, there's going to be some unanticipated downside. Test taking software company Examsoft, for one, believes the input device could help facilitate cheating among students taking the bar exam. What's perhaps most interesting here, is that the company's calling out one of Touch Bar's more mundane features: predictive text. "By default," the company writes, "the Touch Bar will show predictive text depending on what the student is typing, compromising exam integrity." It's hard to say precisely how the company expects a standard feature on mobile devices to help students pass one of the more notoriously exam out there, but The Next Web notes that some states have already taken action. North Carolina, for one, has required test takers with the new model MacBooks to disable the Touch Bar, while New York is banning the machines altogether.
Education

Should College Tuition Vary By Major, Based On the College's Costs For the Major? (qz.com) 537

Registered Coward v2 writes: Vault, in a blog post, discusses whether colleges should base tuition on the actual cost of providing the education rather than on a one-price-for-all-credits basis. Their argument is based on a Quartz article that shows engineering and science degrees cost schools a lot more than liberal arts degrees for a variety of reasons, including higher professor salaries and equipment/infrastructure costs. As a result, those majors are subsidized by the cheaper ones even though they also have the highest earnings in aggregate. The new paper on the topic estimates that it typically costs the universities more than $62,000 to educate an engineer (including professor salaries, facilities fees, and administrative costs), while an English or business major costs nearly half that. Quartz has a chart embedded in its report that shows the cost of education by major at the University of Florida. There's also another chart that shows the earnings of past graduates, up to age 45, minus the cost of each degree. According to the paper, even though it costs more for an engineering degree, it pays off.
Education

The 32-Bit Dog Ate 16 Million Kids' CS Homework (code.org) 161

"Any student progress from 9:19 to 10:33 a.m. on Friday was not saved..." explained the embarrassed CTO of the educational non-profit Code.org, "and unfortunately cannot be recovered." Slashdot reader theodp writes: Code.org CTO Jeremy Stone gave the kids an impromptu lesson on the powers of two with his explanation of why The Cloud ate their homework. "The way we store student coding activity is in a table that until today had a 32-bit index... The database table could only store 4 billion rows of coding activity information [and] we didn't realize we were running up to the limit, and the table got full. We have now made a new student activity table that is storing progress by students. With the new table, we are switching to a 64-bit index which will hold up to 18 quintillion rows of information.
The issue also took the site offline, temporarily making the work of 16 million K-12 students who have used the nonprofit's Code Studio disappear. "On the plus side, this new table will be able to store student coding information for millions of years," explains the site's CTO. But besides Friday's missing saves, "On the down side, until we've moved everything over to the new table, some students' code from before today may temporarily not appear, so please be patient with us as we fix it."

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