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Finally, something to cheer about in US education

Finally, something to cheer about in US education

Americans are justly proud of their system of higher education. This is not surprising since it’s generally held in higher esteem than our K-12 schools whose performance, we are told constantly, lag those of peer countries. For instance, US institutions of higher learning in the United States generally dominate the top spots in most international rankings of universities. Something to cheer about, right?. Or is it?

The problem is that the metrics used by US News & World Report, the Times, the Shanghai Rankings et al to judge the quality of universities exclude the most fundamental one, namely, the quality of teaching, especially in subjects relating to Science, Technology Engineering and Math? The answer to how well they teach is arguably a better determinant of whether the world class reputation of US universities is deserved.

An international research team headed by Prashant Loyalka of the Stanford Graduate School of Education went in search of an answer, or a partial one anyway, insofar as it applies to computer science programmes from four countries which, together, produce 50% or more of the world’s computer science graduates annually. The results were presented in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. A summary by the lead researchers is here.

In brief, a statistically valid sample of final year undergraduate CS students in the US, China, India and Russia at a cross section of universities and colleges in each country, took a 2 hour standardized test developed by the Educational Testing Service, a non-profit testing and assessment organization. The test was designed to determine how well students understood computer science concepts and principles and was administered in the language of each student. In order that the US results were not skewed by international students attending its universities, the test was only administered to students who gave English as their sole or primary language.

The results were stunning to say the least. American students in regular college and university programmes far outperformed students from the other three countries also attending regular schools. In fact, these American students by and large performed on a par with Chinese, Indian and Russian students enrolled in elite schools. Meanwhile, the average American student enrolled in an elite CS programme in the US far outperformed students at Chinese, Indian and Russian elite schools. The difference in performance between students from the other three countries was statistically insignificant.

Even more impressive is that freshmen American students generally entered their CS programmes with less math and science preparation than their peers in China and Russia and about the same as Indian students. All of which suggests that US undergraduate computer science programmes hold a strong qualitative edge and add substantial value compared to those of the other nations. Interestingly, the worst performers were China’s universities, often flagged as emerging power houses, since their students started their CS programmes better prepared in math and science than the others yet performed no better than Indian and Russian students and well short of Americans by the end.

This is very good news, at least for the parents of US students who are studying computer science since it suggests they are getting their money’s worth. The study also has labour market implications since it indicates that American CS graduates from regular undergraduate programmes only have direct competition from students in the other three countries who attended elite schools.

However, some caveats apply. This is just one STEM subject and more research is needed to examine whether American students receive the same high quality instruction in other programmes (one of the subjects of the team’s continuing research). But for now at least, if not three cheers then certainly one and a half are warranted.

Hilarious Tech Guy Call

Hilarious Tech Guy Call

Over the weekend a woman called into a radio talk show to complain that her “Linksys wireless connection” has disappeared.

Via Mashable:

Meet Jennifer, she had been unwittingly yoinking Wi-Fi for more than a year and a half when the gravy train ran out, after which she called into Leo Laporte’s Tech Guy radio show in a state of utter confusion.

Even as I chuckle to myself thinking about this woman, I am reminded of my many friends and family who rely upon me for various levels of technical support and the questions and confusion that often ensues.  But, none of it compares to this, truly priceless.

I think it’s the fact that she knows what she did and is still seeking some sort of solution from the Tech Guy.  Perhaps if she just said “oooooh, now I get it….” and hung up it wouldn’t be so funny to me.

X Crackle X HD Video X

X Crackle X HD Video X

I saw X at The Showbox on Monday night, and they sounded freaking fantastic. If you’d closed your eyes so as not to see how the band members have aged since they started out, you’d swear you had been transported to Los Angeles circa 1981 – complete with mosh pit. Not quite as crazy as the pits of the eighties that were well documented in The Unheard Music, but that’s understandable – their fan base has aged along with the band.

John and Exene sounded as great as they ever have – Like broken glass and gasoline.

Billy Zoom is sixty but he doesn’t look a day over 45.

DJ Bonebrake still makes crazy faces while he hits the drums really hard.

John looks his age, but he sings great. His voice is one of the greatest rock ‘n roll voices ever. At Monday’s show he must have sweat out about 2 gallons of water. I’ve never seen a guy sweat so much. It was pouring off him. When he shook his head, sweat went flying in all directions.

Billy never broke a sweat. Exene was cool… D.J. was lookin’ a little heated, but not like John.

They played most all of the greats, “Los Angeles, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” “We’re Desperate,” “Adult Books,” “Soul Kitchen,” “In this House that I Call Home,” and “White Girl.”

For the second encore, John and Exene came out and did an acoustic version “See How We Are” that was very refreshing after getting bombarded for two hours of electric X turned up to eleven.

For those of you who missed this 31-year anniversary tour, the next best thing is to watch the videos on their website from their SXSW performance.

From Crackle: X – White Girl

The videos are not of the everyday low-res YouTube variety. CRACKLE is more like YouTube on steroids. Check it out. You can switch to HD, and if you click on the rectangular box by the volume control, the video goes full screen.

X represents punk rock’s sensational past, and CRACKLE represents the future of internet video.

Apple TV’s 32nd Anniversary Announcement

Apple TV’s 32nd Anniversary Announcement

You Know What You WantQuietly this weekend, Apple, Inc., released a minor update to its so-far disappointing Apple TV software. The update, delivered around 3 o’clock Saturday morning, was quietly announced in a press release on ReutersYE (Youth Education). The computer maker and self-described New Media Darling has struggled to make the Apple TV, once known as the iTV prior to its launch, relevant in an age of Tivo, BitTorrent, Netflix, and XBox Live saturation of the passive entertainment, family-room market.

The previous update, “Take Two”, was meant to herald a new era for Apple’s only foray into the set-top box fray. No previous attempt by any technology company has managed the ubiquity of DVD players, VHS, or even the relatively small console gaming platforms.

This update, however, has responded to the market’s response to their first and second attempts at relevance. Among the user friendly improvements are the following items:

1. The ability to download podcasts from your Apple TV and have them saved to the Mac or PC to which it is synced.

2. Dynamic “genres” list for movies. Any genre you add your personally backed-up movies to will be listed in Apple TV’s movies/genres menu.

3. Better shading of menu items to produce a more “live action” appearance while waiting for the click of the IR remote control signal to register.

4. A reflection has been added to certain interface elements.

5. An “Add to Queue” option has been added to the previous “Play” and “Download” option in the “Podcasts” section.

6. Further enhancing the previous feature, a sort of “Playlist” feature has been incorporated so that you don’t have to return to a menu every time a one or two minute clip ends so that you can choose another one.

7. “Smart” playlists, enabling the pre-scheduling of up to 6 hours or non-stop, successive podcasts, music videos, movies, and television shows, have been added to the iTunes software. These playlists, which can be synced to and played on your Apple TV in an attempt to mimic the standard environment in which consumers of entertainment appreciate their widescreen, surround sound, darkened room home-theater setup from their couch, seem to be an attempt by Apple to “catch up” with the immature, yet persistent, crowd of home theater early arrivals who have offered these features for years.

8. Support has been added for a new remote that looks remarkably similar to the first gen iPod Nano. A small screen for quick menu selection, a circular “click wheel” (a technology pioneered by apple but seemingly abandoned with its recent “touch” products), and the diminutive form factor with a 6 button interface that has served hand held tech from Apple for so long.

9. A revamp of the “search” keyboard for online services. Instead of a square, highly unusable letter grid, Apple has adopted a common typing interface across all of its Apple TV interfaces. Coupled with the new scroll-wheel remote, entering text into search fields has remarkably improved usability, once a hallmark of Apple products, which cannot be matched by any other.

10. Removal of the distinction between the computer to which an Apple TV is synced and the content shared on the network. All content is available by selecting its source, similar to the way it was made available in the previous version of the Apple TV software.

These are the ten most interesting updates. The revision also includes a number of bug fixes from improving the response of the unit to clicks of the remote to close to real-time syncing between the Apple TV and its coupled iTunes installation. In a previous version these features were sorely missing or incalculably buggy.

In the first part of the new millennium, Apple Inc revolutionized the personal, portable entertainment industry. Today Apple Inc is a leader in portable entertainment technology with market leading positions in wireless communications, the iPhone, pocketable media libraries, iPod (Touch)™, and the yet unannounced iWiiPod portable theater system and gaming device.

Unshackled – Set your iPhone free

Unshackled – Set your iPhone free

A friend recently showed me his iPhone. It was no big deal, I had my own in my pocket. But then he showed me the NES games he could play on it. Mine didn’t do that…

So, a couple nights ago I went about unshackling my iphone. The key to unshackling an iPhone lies in using iFuntastic. I used version 4.7.1, although it looks like version 4.8.0 just got released.

iFuntastic guides you through the entire process, which can be reversed, although it took me a little bit of time to get used to the cryptic instructions.

I now have several NES games including donkey kong, galaga, tetris, etc. Gameplay sucks, but who do you know with Galaga on there iPhone? Somethings you just do cuz you can.

Think the table at the cafe is titled, simply use iLevel on your unshackled iPhone to check…

Other amazingly useless applications include: iMoon (moon phases), PigShooter (game), and iFartz (fart generator).

When I showed off my unshackled iPhone to a group of friends (there must have been 10 iPhones in the room), reaction ranged from “you’re gonna end up with a brick” to “and…” to “Wow, I want to do that”.

Volvo “Immobilizer See Manual” Fix

Volvo “Immobilizer See Manual” Fix

At the worst time immaginable, totally paralized

I had my 2001 Volvo XC70 parked in the hospital’s garage while my son was being born. On one of my many trips to the car over those 3 days I found a set of keys I had lost and replaced long ago. Since it cost me $300 to replace them, I was happy to have a spare. I wondered if the remote would still work and tried it out. Doors locked just fine! Immobilizer doesn’t warn you when you’ve tripped it; it waits till you try to start your car.

The day we were sent home I went to the car so I could pull up front and load my wife and son. Car would not start. “Immobilizer. See Manual,” read the message board. I didn’t have a 2001 Volvo XC70 manual with me. I jumped to the conclusion that I had triggered some sort of anti-theft device by using the long lost, disabled remote, so I called my dealer. (I’ve since found a trustworthy Volvo mechanic!)

Immobilizer. See Manual.

“Have it towed to us. We’ll have you back up and running in a couple of days.” This was not an option, so I searched the internet. Lots of questions, lots of “try this” responses about this, but no answers and I needed to get my family home. So I’m posting my answer here in hopes that it will get good Google placement and inform the next poor guy who doesn’t have time to have his car towed to the dealership.

I ended up calling a friend for a ride and had the car towed. At the dealership the guy took my keys and locked/unlocked the door 5 times in a row with the remote. This reset the immobilizer and I was on my way. Obviously they couldn’t just tell me that over the phone, but good god. I hope this info can help someone else.

Volvo: Imobiliser. See Manual.

A slight difference in spelling between the American Volvo XC70 dashboard and the rest of the world, including Europeans. It is pronounced the same way, so I’m sure this post might find a few European Volvo owners who are looking to get their newborn son and his mommy home from the hospital.

iPhone Lust

iPhone Lust

I made a very clear and sensible decision to stay clear of the iPhone hype. I don’t need a phone that does all that. Actually, I have a phone that browses the web, gets my email, wi-fi, bluetooth, mp3, and a gorgeous screen. I use the phone feature only.

Unfortunately, I have friends who are not as budget conscious as I am and were able to stand in line yesterday to get their mitts on an iPhone. We were all out having drinks to celebrate the semi-retirement of a brilliant and lucky buddy in his mid thirties who arrived half an hour late with his brand new iPhone. It was un-activated, so all we could do was marvel at the form factor, which was enough.

It’s smaller than you think it’s going to be. It’s a bit shorter than my T-Mobile SDA and narrower than an iPod. Fits nicely into my pocket with no uncomfortable bulk. Unactivated, it allows you to look at the main screen and slide the slider for an “Emergency Call”. The numeric keypad pops up so you can dial 911, I guess.

Later, Solomon showed up with his brand new, activated iPhone. That was pretty much the end of my social interaction. The world went silent and my vision went tunnel. It works exactly like they say it will. Typing is something you have to get used to, but you will. You’ll want to start out by holding your finger down on the keyboard until you have the letter you want. This allows you to slide a little to the left to get O instead of P, or a little up to get N instead of the space bar. Or, just type as fast as you can and trust that iPhone will correct you correctly when you hit the space bar. It’s pretty slick.

Internet is decently fast, and for the applications I can see myself using, perfectly fast enough. YouTube videos take a while to buffer, but once they start playing they’re solid.

We played around with the contacts list a bit, which was actually fun. Tap the edit button and then the contact picture icon, point at your friend, and grab a picture of them for their profile. Then when you contact them or they contact you, the background is filled with the designated picture, full screen.

The magnifying glass positioning tool is amazing. In fact, the way everything you’re tapping on pops up in a graphic above your finger so that you know what the phone thinks you’re touching is a fantastic innovation. Somebody at Apple must hate styluses as much as I do. This finger as stylus thing is brilliant, and brilliantly executed.

So, yes. Now I want one. Even though I don’t need it. It’s pretty much the greatest phone experience I’ve ever had. Even if it was fleeting.

iPhone IM with myself

iPhone IM with myself

I love to IM, but sometimes I feel like I am just talking to myself. 

Here is my most recent example:

[12:31] Cory: The iPhone’s most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism. After five days of use, Walt — who did most of the testing for this review — was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years
[12:32] Cory: Crap. now I want one too!!!!
[12:33] Cory: The article also mentions that it synchs seamlessly with both macs and windows., USING iTunes…
[12:34] Cory: Does that mean that iTunes is being used to synch contacts, etc.? It looks like iTunes is becoming much bigger than music player software.
[12:35] Cory: I don’t know if you recall a previous article I sent you. I think by these same authors that mentioned that iTunes installs Bonjour on windows machines and is actually a robust “OS” in its own right…
[12:37] Cory:
[12:38] Cory: With parallels, iTunes, AppleTV, Safari, and now the iPhone, Apple products are really integrating into the Windows world…
[12:40] Cory: Interesting:
Walt: This first model is missing some features some other smart phones have, like video recording, instant messaging, and real-time GPS navigation. Do you plan to upgrade iPhones purchased now so they have these features? If so, when?
Steve: We don’t talk about future products. I will say that the iPhone is the most sophisticated software platform ever created for a mobile device, and that we think software features are where the action will be in the coming years. Stay tuned.

[12:40] Cory: From:

[12:40] Cory: No IM?
[12:41] Cory: Well, I hope I haven’t bored you to death. Maybe you are already dead. Sorry.   


Oh well, I must be one of those people who IMs because they like to hear the sounds of the voices in their heads. 

 Is it true that the iPhone doesn’t have Instant Messaging capabilities?




Apple TV Feature Request: Video Playlists

Apple TV Feature Request: Video Playlists

I’ve enjoyed my Apple TV a lot since buying it in that first week it was out. Even upgraded my TV. We don’t have cable, so we get all of our TV from iTunes — but, it’s the off season and I was a little bored with my selection of podcasts and other non-purchased content. Playing with settings in an attempt to veg-out and entertain myself, I happened upon the Update Software feature. Sadly, my Apple TV is up to date.

So I went back to browsing my podcasts, checking them all for some older, unplayed stuff. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought, “if I could just create a playlist and play stuff at random?” Yes! It would almost be like watching TV, but it would be my own channel. I wouldn’t have to put up with commercials (as much) and I could lump things together by category, play in order or random, and select the compilation I feel like watching, almost like flipping channels!

Science and tech podcasts over here, comedy and serial TV over here. A veritable self-built cable network streaming through my house!

But the Apple TV won’t play videos in playlists. It doesn’t even see them. It will do music this way, so why not video? So Dear Santa, please give me video playlists (smart video playlists too!) with the YouTube update.


New Embedded YouTube Interface Very Leopard Inspired

New Embedded YouTube Interface Very Leopard Inspired

I just downloaded the Safari 3 beta today and eventually made it around to viewing a YouTube video in a friend’s LiveJournal post. To my surprise, at the end, the video’s familiar Play Again and other navigation features had been transformed, as if inspired by the new Leopard Desktop that was shown off today.

You Tube Leopardized

Dock like icons adorned the bottom of the embedded window along with a nice reflective surface and even the bubbly mouse over effect! I thought perhaps it was a secret new player for Safari 3 only using the new h.264 encoded files, but confirmed that it does also look the same in IE and Firefox. But, oddly enough, only in videos embedded in a website.

This looks like a sign of bigger things to come from the partnership between Apple and Google. Besides that, Apple isn’t telling you about how much faster Safari 3 is than Safari 2. Especially its Flash support. I’d say it’s easily twice as fast! And don’t even get me started on the INCREDIBLE new page and source search features.

So go download the Safari Beta and check it out for yourself: