Note: You can take 10% off all Slashdot Deals with coupon code "slashdot10off." ×
Education

The Case For Teaching Ignorance 233

HughPickens.com writes: In the mid-1980s, a University of Arizona surgery professor, Marlys H. Witte, proposed teaching a class entitled "Introduction to Medical and Other Ignorance." Far too often, she believed, teachers fail to emphasize how much about a given topic is unknown. "Textbooks spend 8 to 10 pages on pancreatic cancer," said Witte, "without ever telling the student that we just don't know very much about it." Now Jamie Holmes writes in the NY Times that many scientific facts simply aren't solid and immutable, but are instead destined to be vigorously challenged and revised by successive generations. According to Homes, presenting ignorance as less extensive than it is, knowledge as more solid and more stable, and discovery as neater also leads students to misunderstand the interplay between answers and questions.

In 2006, a Columbia University neuroscientist named Stuart J. Firestein, began teaching a course on scientific ignorance after realizing, to his horror, that many of his students might have believed that we understand nearly everything about the brain. "This crucial element in science was being left out for the students," says Firestein."The undone part of science that gets us into the lab early and keeps us there late, the thing that "turns your crank," the very driving force of science, the exhilaration of the unknown, all this is missing from our classrooms. In short, we are failing to teach the ignorance, the most critical part of the whole operation." The time has come to "view ignorance as 'regular' rather than deviant," argue sociologists Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. Our students will be more curious — and more intelligently so — if, in addition to facts, they were equipped with theories of ignorance as well as theories of knowledge.
Education

As Coursera Evolves, Colleges Stay On and Investors Buy In 46

An anonymous reader writes: The hype over online academics has diminished as it became clear that it wasn't a panacea for cheap, global education. While many organizations are struggling with the realization that online courses don't fit in everywhere, Coursera has found out they definitely fit in somewhere. The colleges partnering with Coursera are sticking around, and the company has drawn fresh investments totaling $60 million from venture capitalists. Rather than shoehorning traditional college courses into an online format, they've begun experimenting with different ways to structure education. "The company has created a series of courses that add up to mini-degrees that students can earn quickly, and pay a small fee to certify that they successfully completed them." Other students are using it as a stepping stone to traditional universities: "Rice University, for instance, reports that it is getting more applicants — and higher-quality applicants — for its computer-science masters' degree after offering a CS course on Coursera."
Networking

Virgin Media To Base a Public Wi-Fi Net On Paying Customers' Routers 112

An anonymous reader writes with a story that Virgin Media "announced this month its plans to roll out a free public WiFi network this autumn, using subscribers' personal routers and existing infrastructure to distribute the service across UK cities." And while regular customers' routers are to be the basis of the new network, the publicly viewable overlay would operate over "a completely separate connection," and the company claims subscribers' performance will not be hindered. Why, then, would customers bother to pay? For one thing, because the free version is slow: 0.5Mbps, vs. 10Mbps for Virgin's customers.
Open Source

KDE Plasma 5.4 Released 43

jrepin writes: KDE have announced the release of Plasma 5.4 desktop. This release of Plasma brings many nice touches for our users such as new fullscreen application launcher, much improved high DPI support, KRunner auto-completion and many new beautiful Breeze icons. It also lays the ground for the future with a tech preview of Wayland session available. We're shipping a few new components such as an Audio Volume Plasma Widget, monitor calibration tool and the User Manager tool comes out beta.
Open Source

Happy Birthday, Linux! An OS At 24 150

prisoninmate writes: It has been 24 long years since the first ever release of the Linux project on August 25, 1991, which is the core component of any GNU/Linux distribution. With this occasion we want to remind everyone that Linux is everywhere, even if you don't see it. You use Linux when you search on Google, when you use your phone, when buy metro tickets, actually the whole Internet is powered by Linux. Happy Birthday, Linux!
United Kingdom

Met Office Loses BBC Weather Forecasting Contract 119

An anonymous reader writes: UK weather forecasts could be run on computers in New Zealand, as the BBC announced that the UK Met Office lost a forecasting contract it held for almost 100 years. The Guardian reports: "The Met Office has lost the contract it has held for close to a century to provide weather forecasts to the BBC, bringing to an end one of the longest relationships in British media. The broadcaster said it was legally required to open up the contract to outside competition in order to secure the best value for licence fee payers. The meteorological service said it was disappointed by the BBC’s decision to put out to tender the contract, which has been in place since the corporation’s first radio weather bulletin on 14 November 1922. Steve Noyes, operations and customer services director at the Met Office, said: 'Nobody knows Britain’s weather better and, during our long relationship with the BBC, we’ve revolutionised weather communication to make it an integral part of British daily life.'"
NASA

Calls For Funding NASA Commercial Crew Grow 71

MarkWhittington writes: As summer starts to give way to fall and the end of the current fiscal year draws nigh, demands that NASA's commercial crew program be fully funded are being heard with greater frequency and urgency. Astronaut Scott Kelly took time off from his year-long sojourn on the International Space Station to entreat Congress to pony up. IO9 was a little more caustic, stating "Dammit, Congress: Just Buy NASA its Own Space Taxi, Already." Monday, Slate became the latest media outlet to take up the cause

The situation is depressingly familiar to those who have followed the fortunes of the space program since the Apollo moon landings. When President Obama started the commercial crew program in 2010, NASA estimated that it would take a certain amount of money to get government funded and commercially operated spacecraft running by 2015. Then the space agency would no longer be dependent on Russia for rides to the International Space Station.

Congress has decided to allocate less money than NASA feels it needed for commercial crew. This situation is not unusual, as Congress often does this to space projects. However, the politics surrounding the creation of the commercial crew program, which featured the abrupt cancellation of the Constellation space exploration program, has exacerbated the conflict between NASA's will and Congress' won't. President Obama did not consult Congress when he cancelled President Bush's return to the moon program. Congress has displeased ever since.
Security

Court: FTC Can Punish Companies With Sloppy Cybersecurity 85

jfruh writes: The Congressional act that created the Federal Trade Commission gave that agency broad powers to punish companies engaged in "unfair and deceptive practices." Today, a U.S. appeals court affirmed that sloppy cybersecurity falls under that umbrella. The case involves data breaches at Wyndham Worldwide, which stored customer payment card information in clear, readable text, and used easily guessed passwords to access its important systems.
Media

A Farewell To Flash 200

An anonymous reader writes: The decline of Flash is well and truly underway. Media publishers now have no choice but to start changing the way they bring content to the web. Many of them are not thrilled about the proposition (change is scary), but it will almost certainly be better for all of us in the long run. "By switching their platform to HTML5, companies can improve supportability, development time will decrease and the duplicative efforts of supporting two code bases will be eliminated. It will also result in lower operating costs and a consistent user experience between desktop and mobile web." This is on top of the speed, efficiency, and security benefits for consumers. "A major concern for publishers today is the amount of media consumption that's occurring in mobile environments. They need to prioritize providing the best possible experience on mobile, and the decline of Flash and movement to HTML5 will do just that, as Flash has never worked well on mobile."
Earth

Group Seeks Test For Geoengineering Tool To Fight Climate Change 127

An anonymous reader writes: A group of retired engineers and scientists has been meeting for several years to develop techniques to fight climate change. They've now reached the point where they want to actively test a machine that shoots water droplets into the sky in order to supplement existing clouds and increase the planet's albedo. The group is not aiming for full deployment — in fact, it's not even unanimous in support for prevailing theories in climate science. But they all agree that it's important to learn about such technologies before the situation becomes a crisis. "We need to understand whether this approach is even possible and what the risks are, in the event that we find ourselves looking for ways to extend time and mitigate warming damage."

If we're eventually forced to deploy large-scale geoengineering projects to combat climate change, it's not a good idea to grab whatever technology is cheapest or most readily available without knowing how well it works. The group is aware of the ethical concerns surrounding such research, but its director notes, "The fact is humanity is already engaged in unplanned climate engineering. We're doing it through coal plant and shipping emissions every day without understanding it very well."
Censorship

Judge Rules That Inglewood, California Cannot Copyright Public Videos 67

UnknowingFool writes: Recently a judge ruled in California that the city of Inglewood cannot hold copyrights of videos of public city council meetings which they published on their YouTube account and thus cannot sue individuals for copyright infringement for using them. In several YouTube videos, Joseph Teixeira, a resident of Inglewood, California, criticized the mayor, James Butts. Under the account name Dehol Truth, Teixeira took city council meetings posted on their YouTube account and edited them to make pointed criticisms about the mayor.

The city responded by registering the videos with copyrights and then suing Teixeira for copyright infringement. Many would say it was a thinly veiled attempt to silence a critic. Teixeira filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that (1) the city cannot claim copyright over public records (videos of public city council meetings) and (2) even if they could, his videos fell under Fair Use.

Unsurprisingly, a judge dismissed the city's case, citing California law which bars the city from holding copyrights on most public records. (This case may not be over as Teixeira's pro bono lawyer has not filed for attorney's fees. The ruling can be found here.) What is notable is that the judge dismissed the case with prejudice, so the city cannot refile. Normally judges do not do this unless they feel that the plaintiff's case was so weak that he feels no judge should hear the case ever again. Since the judge agreed with the defendant on the first point, he would not normally need to address Teixeira's Fair Use defense, but he did anyway. Anticipating that the city may appeal his decision, judge ruled that Teixeira's videos substantially met all four factors for Fair Use:
  1. There is no evidence Teixeira used the videos for commercial gain and was transformative
  2. His work was creative by adding music and commentary to the normally boring council videos
  3. Despite the city's claim he used their "entire work", it clear that he only used portions of meetings that lasted as long as four hours editing them down to a max of 15 minutes.
  4. Teixeira did not harm the city's market for the videos because the city is barred by state law from recouping more than direct costs of duplication. Even if the city could sell the videos (which they published themselves for free on YouTube), his short videos are not a substitute.
Sci-Fi

FBI Informant: Ray Bradbury's Sci-fi Written To Induce Communistic Mass Hysteria 282

v3rgEz writes: The FBI followed Ray Bradbury's career very closely, in part because an informant warned them that his writing was not enjoyable fantasy, but rather tantamount to psychological warfare. "The general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria," the informant warned. "Which would make it very possible to conduct a Third World War in which the American people would believe could not be won since their morale had seriously been destroyed."
Stats

Mostly Theater? Taking Aim At White House 'We the People' Petitions 68

theodp writes: "Since we launched We the People in 2011," wrote the White House last month, "millions of Americans have engaged with their government on the issues that matter to them. This groundbreaking online platform has made petitioning the government, a First Amendment right, more accessible than ever. Over the past few years, the Obama administration has taken a stance on a number of causes that citizens really care about and used the We the People petition platform to voice their concerns." Sounds good, but even if the White House is listening to We the People petitions, as it assured skeptics, one wonders what — and who — exactly they are listening to. Petitions suffer from being aye-only, lack identity and location verification, and appear to have other data quality issues. One attempting to explore the petition data for the 67,022-and-counting signers of a new petition urging a quick response to a court decision that could cut the time international STEM students can work in the U.S. on student visas after graduation, for example, would be stymied by thousands of missing and non-U.S. postal codes. Plotting what location info is available does show that the petitioners are clustered around tech and university hubs, hardly a surprise, but it sheds no context on whether these represent corporate, university, and/or international student interests.
Earth

In Germany, a Message-in-a-Bottle Found 108 Years After Its Release 57

schwit1 writes with a report that an early 20th century experiment has generated a belated data point. One of many floating bottles released 108 years ago to study currents was recently found by a German couple; it washed up on a beach in Amrum, Germany. From The Independent: When the couple unfurled the note inside, they found a message in English, German and Dutch. It asked the finder to fill in some information on where and when they had found the bottle, before returning it to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. It said whoever did so would be rewarded with one shilling. Communications director of the Marine Biological Association, Guy Baker, told The Daily Telegraph: "It was quite a stir when we opened that envelope, as you can imagine." Once at the association, staff recognised the bottle was one of 1,020 released into the North Sea between 1904 and 1906 as part of a project to test the strength of currents. Mr Baker told the paper: "It was a time when they were inventing ways to investigate what currents and fish did. Many of the bottles were found by fishermen trawling with deep sea nets. Others washed up on the shore, and some were never recovered. Most of the bottles were found within a relatively short time. We're talking months rather than decades."
Sci-Fi

Hugos Refuse To Award Anyone Rather Than Submit To Fans' Votes 1014

An anonymous reader writes: You may remember way back in April there was a bit of a kerfuffle over the nominees for the Hugo Awards being "too conservative" based on a voting campaign organized by a group of science fiction fans who wanted to promote hard science fiction over more recent nominees. This was spun as conservatives "ruining" a "progressive" award. The question was left: would the final voters of the Hugo awards accept these nominees, or just take their ball home and refuse to give out anyway awards at all? The votes are in and we know the answer now: they'd rather just not give out any awards. (Wired has a slightly different slant on the process as well as the outcome of this year's awards.)
Businesses

Not All Uber Drivers Like Surge Pricing, Either 245

CNET reports that Uber's practice of surge pricing, which sometimes raises the ire of passengers, isn't universally acclaimed by the company's drivers, either. "[M]ost Uber riders," according the the linked article, "despise surge pricing," though it's not clear quite how that "most" is arrived at. From the piece: They've complained about running up bills totaling hundreds of dollars, and have criticized the company for using surge pricing during emergencies, like Hurricane Sandy and the Sydney hostage crisis. The San Francisco Better Business Bureau gave Uber the grade of an F because of complaints related to surge pricing. And New York lawmakers have even proposed legislation to put limits on how high fares can go. Now some drivers, like [San Francisco Uber driver Peter] Ashlock, are also having second thoughts on surge pricing." On the other hand, what system would you propose to better reward drivers for working at high-demand times?
Cloud

Ubuntu Core Gets Support For Raspberry Pi 2 GPIO and I2C 57

An anonymous reader writes: Ubuntu Core is a tiny Ubuntu distribution aimed at the Internet of Things, using a new transactional packaging format called Snappy rather than the venerable Debian packaging format. It recently gained support for I2C and GPIO on the Raspberry Pi 2, and a quick demo is given here. Ubuntu's Core support site says that the support for Raspberry Pi 2 isn't yet official, but provides some handy tips for anyone who wants to try it out.
Stats

Standardized Tests Blamed, Asian Students Ignored In Google-Gallup K-12 CS Study 183

theodp writes: According to a study released Thursday by Google and Gallup, standardized tests may be holding back the next generation of computer programmers. The Google-Gallup Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education report (PDF) found that the main reason given by a "comprehensive but not representative" sample of 9,693 K-12 principals and 1,865 school district superintendents in the U.S. for their schools not offering computer science "is the limited time they have to devote to classes that are not tied to testing requirements." Which makes one wonder if Google now views Bill Gates as part of the problem and/or part of the solution of K-12 CS education. The Google-Gallup report also explores race/ethnicity differences to access and learning opportunities among White, Black and Hispanic students — but not Asian students — a curious omission considering that Google's own Diversity Disclosure shows that 35% of its U.S. tech workforce is Asian, making it by far the most overrepresented race/ethnicity group at Google when compared to the U.S. K-12 public school population. Which raises the question: Why would the Google-Gallup study ignore the access and learning opportunities of the race/ethnicity subgroup that has enjoyed the greatest success at Google? Not unsurprisingly, the Google-Gallup report winds up by concluding that what U.S. K-12 education really needs is more CS cowbell.
Mozilla

Big Changes From Mozilla Mean Firefox Will Get Chrome Extensions 187

Mozilla announced yesterday a few high-level changes to the way Firefox and Firefox extensions will be developed; among them, the introduction of "a new extension API, called WebExtensions—largely compatible with the model used by Chrome and Opera—to make it easier to develop extensions across multiple browsers." (Liliputing has a nice breakdown of the changes.) ZDNet reports that at the same time, "Mozilla will be deprecating XPCOM and XUL, the foundations of its extension system, and many Firefox developers are ticked off at these moves."
Earth

NASA's Hurricane Model Resolution Increases Nearly 10-Fold Since Katrina 89

zdburke writes: Thanks to improvements in satellites and on-the-ground computing power, NASA's ability to model hurricane data has come a long way in the ten years since Katrina devastated New Orleans. Their blog notes, "Today's models have up to ten times the resolution than those during Hurricane Katrina and allow for a more accurate look inside the hurricane. Imagine going from video game figures made of large chunky blocks to detailed human characters that visibly show beads of sweat on their forehead." Gizmodo covered the post too and added some technical details, noting that, "the supercomputer has more than 45,000 processor cores and runs at 1.995 petfalops."