OTEC Home Page

News Items

The Demise of Cursive Handwriting (9/26/03)

Supercomputer Built Out of Macintosh Computers (9/26/03)

New E-paper Could Show Moving Images Too (9/25/03)

Estimated Sales of 160 Million Microcomputers Worldwide (9/215/03)

 "Magnetic Chip" Replacement for RAM (7/14/03)

Nanotechnology Breakthrough (5/2/03)

More than 75% of students have ICT access at home. (3/19/03)

Toshiba Unveils Fuel Cell for Laptops (3/5/03)

Instant Messaging via AOL (3/4/03)

Increased Aid to Schools Gets Support in Voter Poll (3/1/03)

U.S. Tech Companies Rank Low In Recycling Efforts (1/12/03)

Mississippi First State to Have Internet Connected Computer in Every Classroom (1/4/03)

Chip Could Restore Some Vision (12/10/02)

IBM to Produce 100 Teraflops Computer (11/20/02)

US Fares Well on International Comparisons on Computers in Schools (11/15/02)

Scoping Out the Future (11/9/02)

MIT, HP Unveil Digital Library (11/5/02)

Researchers Work to Preserve Languages (Archival Storage) (11/5/02)

Smallest Computer Logic Circuit (10/25/02)

Spintronics Shrinks Data Storage to Nanoscale (7/4/02)

Top of Page

The Demise of Cursive Handwriting

Handwriting on the Wall for Cursive
Jodi Upton
Detroit News
Oct. 24, 2003 12:00 AM. Accessed 10/26/03: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/arizonaliving/articles/1024cursive.html

Cursive writing, once a cornerstone of American education, is becoming a cultural artifact as computers and the demands of standardized tests squeeze it out of its once lofty position.

Taught for more than 300 years in the United States, cursive has a storied past. But in a number of Michigan schools, it has been reduced to an independent study, an "as-we-have-time" course in second or third grade.

Comment: It will be interesting to see how long cursive handwriting remains a central component of the Language Arts. Growing numbers of people recognize that the time spent developing cursive handwriting skills could instead be used on other topics. It seems clear that eventually cursive handwriting will be an art form, like calligraphy.

Supercomputer Built Out of Macintosh Computers

A supercomputer built by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University from 1,100 dual-processor Macintosh G5 PCs looks likely to rank with the five fastest machines in the world, despite costing a relative pittance.

In preliminary performance tests carried out on 2,112 of the system's 2,200 processors, the so-called "Big Mac" cluster achieved 8.1 teraflops, or trillions of operations per second, according to figures published on Wednesday. The system is still being tuned, and final results won't be announced until next month, but the performance figure would place the Big Mac at No. 4 on the list of the world's fastest 500 supercomputers.
Accessed 9/26/03: http://news.com.com/2100-7337_3-5095026.html .

Comment: This new supercomputer shows the progress in creating subpercomputers from off the shelf microcomputers. Notice that the microcomputers are dual-processor machines. Computer manufacturers have learned how to combine two (or more) microprocessor chips in a microcomputer, in a manner that makes effective use of the capabilities of each microprocessor chip. One path to providing computer users with a lot more compute power is now clear. It can be cone by a combination of networking computers that are widely dispersed, tying together a large number of computers in a single location, and by adding more processor chips in a microcomputer. All of this is occurring during a time that microprocessor chips are getting faster.

New E-paper Could Show Moving Images Too

LONDON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Even before the electronic ink has dried on the e-page, a new generation of electronic paper may soon be able to bring a moving image to a foldable screen near you, according to scientists in the Netherlands.

Hot on the heels of the invention of a wafer-thin foldable screen that can display static type and may one day replace newspapers as it can be overwritten each day, scientists at Philips Research in Eindhoven have found a way to display high-definition moving pictures as well.

Using a process called electrowetting, the scientists claim to be able to manipulate coloured oils in the pixels on the page with such speed and accuracy as to be able to generate clear and accurate video displays.Accessed 9/25/03: http://www.forbes.com/home_europe/newswire/
2003/09/24/rtr1090431.html

Comment: E-paper represents a potential major change in the printing and distribution of magazines, newspapers, and other traditional "recycleable" hardcopy materials.

PC Sales Could Reach New High in 2003

Gartner has adjusted its estimate of worldwide PC shipments upward to 161 million this year, hitting a new benchmark for the industry, says Gartner analyst Kiyomi Yamada. Gartner recently rejiggered its method of accounting for unit shipments to include units previously overlooked, says Yamada. The error was revealed when Gartner noticed a discrepancy between the number of components, such as processors, and the number of finished PCs. The difference pointed to a previously unrecognized market for so-called white-box PCs -- machines that are usually assembled and sold by small companies. Gartner has since gone back and revised its PC unit shipment numbers for at least the past six years, boosting those figures accordingly. Meanwhile, IDC has predicted a 2003 unit shipment increase of 6.3% to 145 million, but analyst Roger Kay says the firm may revise those numbers upward, based on hot sales of notebook computers. (CNet News.com 14 Aug 2003) http://news.com.com/2100-1003_3-5063927.html?tag=lh (NewsScan newsscan@newsscan.com)

Comment: This is about one microcomputer for each 37 people on earth. When thinking about such numbers, it is important to realize that the average "compute power" of microcomputers is steadily increasing on a year to year basis. Very roughly speaking, the amount of compute power represented by the year 2003 production of microcomputers is equivalent to more than the compute power of 6 billion of the types of microcomputers being produced 10 years ago. (The population of the earth is about 6 billion.)

"Magnetic Chip" Replacement for RAM

Quoting from a 7/9/03 news release at http://www.wired.com/news/technology/
0,1282,59559,00.html

With both Motorola and IBM firmly lined up behind a single contender, the five-year search for a "universal RAM" technology offering a combination of non-volatility and high-speed random access appears to be all but over.


According to Motorola, samples of the new magnetoresistive random access memory, or MRAM, chips will be distributed to developers by the end of 2003, and cell phones and PDAs incorporating MRAM should be on sale by mid-2004.

Unlike conventional high-speed memory devices, MRAM uses magnetism instead of electrical charges to store data -- making it, in a sense, a back-to-the-future technology based on the same laws of physics that enabled the creation of audio and videotape recorders as well as hard drives.

MRAM wafers are made up of individual cells comprising two microscopic magnetic layers separated by an insulating layer. Like all magnetic substances, each of those two layers can be polarized in the same direction or opposite directions, corresponding to the binary bits 1 and 0.

Comment: The article indicates that this new memory is faster than current RAM. It cuts the energy use of a computer system and greatly speeds up startup time. This represents a significant piece of technological progress in ICT.

 

Nanotechnology Breakthrough

IBM has developed the world's smallest solid-state flashlight -- a carbon nanotube made by rolling a sheet of pure graphite into a single molecule. The light emitted by the flashlight is invisible to human eyes, but is ideal for fiber-optics cables. Although the advance is years away from any practical use, it represents a real scientific breakthrough, and chemistry professor Peidong Yang of the University of California-Berkeley calls it "a fantastic achievement." Phaedon Avouris, IBM manager's of nanoscale research, explains that the flashlight is notable because "it's very small, it's solid-state, and it's a transistor, which allows full control of its properties." (San Jose Mercury News 2 May 2003) (NewsScan Daily, 2 May 2003)

Comment: This research is important because it is a contribution to creating optical computers as well as smaller computers. Nanotechnology is a very important area of research. At the current time, the US government is funding nanotechnology research at the rate of more than $2 billion per year.

More Than 75% of Students Have ICT Access at Home

Almost two-thirds of American children between the ages of 2 and 17 logged onto the Net last year, with a whopping 205% increase among African-American children, according to a new report from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The disparities between higher and lower income children still exist, but the study found that 58% of African American children and 50% of Hispanic children now use the Internet from some location -- either home, school or the local library. The study, based on a series of surveys conducted last year by technology market research firm Grunwald Associates, also found that digital media use among children ages 6-17 is now approaching parity with television viewing. According to the report, children spend 3.1 hours per day watching TV and 2.9 hours a day surfing the Web, playing video games or using the computer for non-Internet activities. Among teenagers, computer use actually outstrips TV viewing -- 3.5 hours vs. 3.1 hours per day. An electronic version of the report "Connected to the Future" is available at cpb.org/ed/resources/connected. (Corporation for Public Broadcasting 19 Mar 2003)

Comment: This 8-page report points out that there are still significant "digital divide" types of issues. The report also contains some data on how much children are using computers at home versus how much time they are watching television at home. Children ages 9-12 are spending an average of 6 hours a day on the two media combined, with somewhat more than half on TV. Children ages 13-17 are spending an average of 6.6 hours a day on the two media combined, with somewhat more than half on computers. This report is important to educators because it indicates the extent to which the home environment is being changed by computer technology.

 

Toshiba Unveils Fuel Cell for Laptops

Toshiba has figured out how to make a fuel cell capable of powering a laptop computer for five hours. The direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) generates between 12W and 20W of power and is electrically compatible with existing lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Although fuel cell R&D has made great strides in recent years, producing a fuel cell battery capable of powering the GM HyWire car, for instance, the Toshiba effort is the first DMFC small enough to potentially replace laptop batteries. (The Register 5 Mar 2003) http://www.theregister.co.uk/
content/54/29590.html (NewsScan Daily, 5 March 2003).
Comment: It has been interesting to see how rapidly this piece of technology has been developed and brought to market. The future will likely see decreased prices and increased amounts of power that such a fuel cell can generate.

Instant Messaging via AOL

About the only good news for AOL recently has been its spectacular success with its instant messaging service, the world's most popular electronic communications tool. Every day, about 2.3 billion instant messages are sent via AOL, and about 40% of all Americans aged 14-24 use the AOL IM service. The only problem is, it's free. And while AOL isn't considering charging for its IM service or burdening it with advertising, company insiders are putting together targeted pitches to capitalize on the demographics of the AOL instant messaging community. At the same time, the company is pushing IM into the workplace, where employees often use the service to exchange messages without supervision from their company's computer administrators. "This is really an enormous untapped audience online," says Stephen Kim, research director of ComScore Media Matrix. "It is a big audience, and it is really active, but it is really hard to turn that into dollars." Nevertheless, AOL plans to keep on trying: "There is a very significant effort to build new revenue streams and businesses over the next one to two years," says a high-ranking AOL official. "If we have done nothing two years from now, we will have a problem." (Washington Post 3 Mar 2003) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/
A30944-2003Mar2.html (NewsScan Daily, 4 March 2003)
Comment: Note that "about 40% of all Americans aged 14-24 use the AOL IM service." As a very rough estimate this means that approximately 15 million young people are generating approximately 300 million messages per day, or approximately 20 an average of 20 messages per person. This represents a significant addition to and/or change in the nature and extent of communication among people in this age range.

Increased Aid to Schools Gets Support in Voter Poll

A new national poll reveals that education is a top priority for American voters. Participants rated protecting and strengthening education of greater concern than health care, terrorism, national security, Social Security, and job creation, according to a national survey released today by Public Education Network and Education Week. The poll also reveals that voters believe state budget crises could slow the pace of school improvement across the nation. While many Americans favor the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), they are worried that the states cannot afford to implement it. Many voters say the federal government -- not the states -- should provide the necessary funds to implement NCLB. The poll shows voters want state and local lawmakers to know more about education, fight for more education funds, and hold schools accountable for performance. It also shows that -- by almost a two-to-one margin -- Americans would vote against lawmakers who fail to fight for adequate education funding. http://www.publiceducation.org/doc/
NationalPollPressRelease.doc. (PEN Weekly NewsBlast for February 28, 2003)
Comment: Year after year we see pools such as this one reporting a high level of public support for education. In recent years, many politicians have proclaimed themselves to be an "education (name the office, such as president, senator, governor, etc.). At the current time, Oregon and many other states are having their education budgets cut. Cuts in the K-12 school budgets are a particular challenge to increasing the effective use of ICT in education. Hardware, software, connectivity, staff development, and technical support are all being squeezed by the tight budget situation.

 

U.S. Tech Companies Rank Low In Recycling Efforts

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) has released its annual Computer Report Card comparing the environmental records of 28 high-tech firms, and reports that most U.S. companies lag behind their Japanese competitors when it comes to recycling equipment and safe disposal of hazardous substances used in the manufacturing process. Of the companies surveyed, only Fujitsu received a passing grade. It's one of a handful of Japanese companies that has sought to eliminate toxic chemicals by developing and using lead-free products. "The leadership continues to be by and large the Japanese companies, and the U.S. companies tend to be far behind," says SVTC founder Ted Smith. "A lot of (U.S. manufacturers') initiatives are piecemeal and not really designed to address the vast majority of consumer concerns. There is still an enormous amount of computer waste being exported to China." The Computer Report Card notes that some U.S. companies use a double standard when it comes to recycling. Divisions located in Europe and Japan, where safe recycling is mandated by law, have implemented programs but their U.S. operations have not. Meanwhile, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill that would require the EPA to create grants for private and governmental organizations to develop computer recycling programs and the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative is working on a nationwide plan for recycling obsolete electronic devices. (Wired.com 10 Jan 2003) http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,57151,00.html (NewsScan Daily, 10 January 2003)
Comment: The worldwide production of computers is approximately 130 million per year. In some sense, this is the tip of the iceberg. Think about cell phones, game machines, computers built into all kinds of products, and so on. The result is a huge and steadily growing environmental problem. Part of the solution is a top down approach, with manufacturers developing more environmentally friendly products. Part is a question of who pays for it. It is now a well developed (if not too widely accepted idea) that consumers should pay a fee at the time they purchase a product, with the fee going to pay for recycling of the product. Part of the solution is consumer education. Part of the solution is a grassroots approach to recycling. This can occur at the level of a school, a school district, or a town. This type of grassroots movement can be instigated by students, or students, their teachers, and their parents. The topic of recycling is certainly appropriate for project-based learning or problem-bsased learning in social studies and science courses.

Top of Page

Mississippi First State to Have Internet Connected Computer in Every Classroom

Quoting from http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/wire/sns
-ap-computers-in-classrooms0102jan01 (January 2, 2003):

HERNANDO, Miss. -- In a milestone for student achievement and state pride, Mississippi has become the first state to have an online computer in each of its public-school classrooms, a spokesman for the governor said.

The state met the goal set by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to connect Mississippi's 32,354 public classrooms to the Internet by Dec. 31, spokesman John Sewell said Wednesday.

The job required $40 million worth of equipment and training, but federal funding, private donations and programs that trained students to build computers meant the project cost the state just $6 million, according to Musgrove's office. Donations included $500,000 from Mississippi native and former Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale.

Besides Mississippi, the state closest to filling classrooms with online computers is Delaware, according to the National Governors Association in Washington.

Now that the computers are in place, the schools will have to train teachers to use them and pay for maintenance, upgrades and connections, Sewell said. Some of the costs can be eased with federal education programs and by training students to fix computers, he added.

Comment: One of the key points that is touched on in the article, but that does not receive appropriate emphasis, is the difference between buying hardware, software, and connectivity, and making changes to curriculum, instruction, assessment, and teacher training so that the facilities make any difference in education. ICT facilities in schools continue to be a major issue and stumbling block. However, a far more difficult issue and stumbling block is the combination of teacher education (preservice and inservice), and curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Top of Page

Chip Could Restore Some Vision

Researchers in the United States, including some at the University of California, are developing a microchip that has the potential to restore sight to some who have lost it. The chip is implanted in the eye using a flexible silicon that stimulates undamaged retinal cells. Those cells transmit impulses to the brain, allowing the eye to "see." Researchers have started work on what they call a second-generation implant, with many more electrodes than the prototypes. The prototypes have 16 electrodes, sufficient for patients to detect light. The next-generation implant will have 1,000 electrodes, enough to discern shapes. Successful tests have been conducted three times on dogs, and those involved in the research said a human implant could be ready within three years. BBC, 7 December 2002 (Edupage, December 09, 2002).

Comment: Computers have been mass produced commercially available tools for more than 50 years. You might think that computer technology is now a mature technology, and that its applications have run their course. However, we have just scratched the surface of what computer technology will brig us. We can expect continued rapid progress in developing the underlying technology. And, we can expect a very long period of developing applications that make use of this technology. Aids to the blind and deaf are examples of such progress, and these applications are still in their infancy.

Top of Page

 

IBM to Produce 100 Teraflops Computer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - International Business Machines Corp. Tuesday said that it had signed a $290 million federal government contract that includes a supercomputer called ASCI Purple that is 8 times faster than its current computer used for nuclear testing.

The contract also includes a second supercomputer that the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Agency's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced last year, called Blue Gene/L. It will be used in weather modeling, such as simulating an entire hurricane.

ASCI Purple will run at 100 teraflops, or 100 trillion calculations per second, 8 times faster than its current supercomputer ASCI White and at a speed equivalent to the human brain, IBM said.

-------

Comment: The final sentence suggests that 100 trillion floating point operations per second is a speed equivalent to the human brain. Such comparisons may not help much in terms of a person trying to comprehend the speed 100 teraflops. Also, 100 teraflops is substantially below the "human brain speed" estimate developed by Ray Kurzweil and other researchers.

Comparing computer speeds with the speed of the human brain may not make much sense to most people. How long does it take you to do the computation 29.43 x 847.92 in your head? Probably you can't do this floating point computation in your head, while the proposed new machine can do 100 trillion such computations per second.

Top of Page

US Fares Well on International Comparisons on Computers in Schools

U.S. students have better access to computers than students in virtually all other industrialized countries, according to a report from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Five students in the United States share each school computer, on average; in other developed countries, the average is 13 students per computer. Source: CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/2002/EDUCATION/10/30/
us.education.comparison.ap/index.html (TechLearning News, November 15, 2002 - No. 22).

Comment: The figure of one computer per five students may be somewhat low, as it is probably from data that is a year or so old. Studies such as this tend to be quite superficial in determining the effectiveness of use of such computing facilities.

Top of Page

 

Scoping Out the Future

Yale computer scientist David Gelernter is glad that the Microsoft trial is behind us, because "operating systems are lapsing into senile irrelevance," and we need to move on to the future. And what will the future be all about? "Every piece of digital information you own or share will appear (in the near future) in one universal structure" -- one to which you'll have access from any Net-connected computer anywhere. "I have time for only one screen in my life," says Gelernter. "That screen had better give me access to everything, everywhere." The universal structure, dubbed Scopeware, will be a narrative, 3D stream of electronic documents flowing through time. "The future (where you store your calendar, reminders, plans) flows into the present (where you keep material you're working on right now) and on into the past (where every e-mail message and draft, digital photo, application, virtual Rolodex card, video and audio clip and Web bookmark is stored, in addition to all those calendar notes and reminders that used to be part of the future and have since flowed into the past to be archived forever)." (New York Times 7 Nov 2002) http://partners.nytimes.com/2002/11/07/
technology/circuits/07soft.html (NewsScan Daily, 7 November 2002).

Comment: Quoting from the brief news item: "I have time for only one screen in my life," says Gelernter. "That screen had better give me access to everything, everywhere." Gelernter feels that this is the direction that connectivity can and should be headed. The goal is to make the connectivity, storage, and retrieval aspects of the field of Information and Communication Technology much easier to use and much more useful. The system Gelernter envisions will be easier to learn how to use and easier to remember how to use.

Top of Page

 

 

MIT, HP Unveil Digital Library

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hewlett-Packard have taken the wraps off DSpace-- a new system for electronically archiving books, lecture notes and scientific data created by research institutions. MIT and HP hope that the DSpace project will lead to the creation of a virtual library that combines the collections of multiple research universities, and MIT is already in discussions with Cambridge and Cornell to link their libraries to the DSpace system. Corporations and government agencies have also been in contact with MIT, says DSpace project director Mackenzie Smith. Eventually, MIT's system, which currently can hold two terabytes of data, will contain more than a petabyte, or a quadrillion bytes of data. The project began about 18 months ago in response to the increasingly unwieldy volume of data that universities must catalog and preserve. "Part of the reason for doing this is that the faculty says, 'My stuff is too hard to find.' We began this to get some kind of territorial control over all of this research," says Smith. "If you're lucky, you can get some of it on Google, but most of the stuff we are talking about is not indexed in any way you can get it." (CNet News.com 4 Nov 2002) (NewsScan Daily, 5 November 2002)

Comment: A full length novel is about a megabyte in length. Thus, a terabyte can store a million long novels, and a petabyte can store a billion long novels. Of course, this does not allow for pictures and other graphics in the books. A different way of looking at this is that a petabyte of storage is far more than that needed to store all of the contents of the U.S. Library of Congress, which is the world's largest library. This rapid trend toward storing "everything" presents an interesting challenge to our education system. Students need to learn to make effective use of such massive collections of data and information.

 

Top of Page

 

Researchers Work to Preserve Languages (Archival Storage)

Some have predicted that between 50 and 90 percent of the world's languages will disappear within the next hundred years. An initiative called the Rosetta Project aims to create an archive of more than 1,400 languages facing extinction. According to Doug Whalen, founder of the Endangered Language Fund, no digital technology has "a ghost of a chance of being taken as seriously archival" for the long term. The Rosetta Project will use technology created by Los Alamos Laboratories and Norsam Technologies that micro-etches text on a high-density storage disk. The disk is expected to last for 2,000 years and can be read with a 1,000 power microscope, ensuring that it will be useful and accessible for many future generations. For each language, the disk will contain vocabulary lists, grammar, numbering systems, and sample texts. Wired News, 4 November 2002 http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,54345,00.html (Edupage, November 04, 2002)

Comment: Storage on magnetic media may last 5-10 years. Even storage on a CD or a DVD may only last for 20 years or so. Thus, this brief news item is particularly interesting because of its mention of archival storage that is expected to last for 2,000 years.

Top of Page

 

 

Smallest Computer Logic Circuit

Although their achievement is nowhere near any kind of practical application, IBM scientists have used individual carbon monoxide particles so develop the world's smallest logic circuit, less than one trillionth of a square inch (and therefore about 260,000 times smaller than state-of-the-art silicon transistors). Donald M. Eigler, head of the IBM team, says: "It hints at what our future has in store for us." (New York Times 25 Oct 2002) http://partners.nytimes.com/2002/
10/25/technology/25COMP.html (NewsScan Daily, 25 October 2002).

Comment: Some of today's palmtop computers have roughly 1/10,000 of the capability of the best supercomputers. Suppose that 20 years from now IBM and others manage to construct complete computer circuits out of the type of carbon components mentioned in the article. They it will be possible to construct a palmtop computer that is many times as powerful as today's best supercomputer. From an education point of view, it is important to keep in mind that we are educating students for a lifetime of continued rapid progress in the field of Information and Communications Technology.

Top of Page

Spintronics Shrinks Data Storage to Nanoscale

Researchers at the University at Buffalo in New York have developed a nickel-based, magnetic sensor, measuring only a few atoms in diameter, that could increase data storage capacity 1,000 times through the use of spintronics -- a field that takes advantage of electron spin as well as charge. Current technology used in data-reading sensors is based on giant magnetoresistance (GMR), where sensor resistance changes in a magnetic field. The new sensor developed at UB creates an effect called ballistic magnetoresistance (BMR), which uses an electrical conductor only a few atoms in size. Researchers say the technology could ultimately make it possible to store 50 or more DVDs on a hard drive the size of a credit card, or enable military personnel to carry supercomputers the size of a wristwatch into the field. (NewsFactor 1 Jul 2002) http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/18446.html (NewsScan Daily, 2 July 2002).

Comment: One can now buy an 80 to 120 gigabytes disk storage system for $300 to $400. Roughly speaking, a megabyte is equivalent to a book, such as a novel. 100 gigabytes is thus roughly equivalent to 100,000 books. A further gain by a factor of 1,000 (suggested by the brief news item) would bring this to 100 million books. Imagine being able to store the entire US Library of Congress on your hard drive! More challenging, imagine educating students for life in a world in which such library access is routine.

 

 

Top of Page