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News Items

News Items January, February, March 2002

The Photonic Revolution (3/27/02)

New Video-Compression Format May Speed Movies-On-Demand (3/25/02)

"Holodeck" Virtual Reality (3/3/02)

IBM Announces World's Fastest Integrated Circuit (2/25/02)

Women in Computing: Declining Numbers (2/13/02)

Faster Chips for Handheld Devices (2/13/02)

Faster, Faster: No Slowdown in Moore's Law" (2/5/02)

Majority of U.S. Population Now On the Internet (2/4/02)

Implanted Electrodes Help Paralyzed Man Walk Again (2/4/02)

Digital Equity Toolkit (2/2/02)

Voice Input of Teacher's Lecture (1/28/02)

Managing the Memories: The Shoah Foundation (1/21/02)

Steadily Increasing Amounts of Distance Learning in Higher Education (1/21/02)


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The Photonic Revolution

Whereas electrons are a basic component of matter, photons are a basic component of energy and make up the electromagnetic spectrum (including X-rays and ultraviolet, infrared, and radio waves, as well as visible light). The photonic revolution, though still well in the future, is expected to revolutionize technology in general and particularly computing and communications. Anthony Tether, head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), predicts: "You'll see enormous advances in optical components and devices. Miniaturization will lead to many orders-of-magnitude increases in performance. You can do a lot more in a lot less real estate." One new development is the creation of "photonic fibers" by MIT physics professor Yoel Fink, who says the fibers can deliver up to 1,000 times more photons than today's fiber-optic cables. (San Jose Mercury News 25 Mar 2002) (NewsScan Daily, 26 March 2002)

Comment: A number of the Brief News Items during the past few months have address the potentials for continuing rapid increases in the capabilities of Information and Communication Technology systems. As educators, we need to look toward the future that such continual improvements will bring--and help prepare our students to deal with such change. By the time today's kindergartners finish school and begin to function as adults in our society, they will face an ICT environment that may offer 100 to 1,000 times the capabilities that are now available.

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New Video-Compression Format

Pulsent Corp., a Silicon Valley startup, has come up with a new compression technique that it says can shrink digital video to about one-fourth the size of conventionally compressed video files. Rather than relying on what's called the "block-based approach," which uses algorithms to define "blocks" of images that remain static from frame to frame and therefore don't need to be resent, Pulsent's technique divides up and classifies an image based on visual attributes. A woman's hair, for instance, might be classified as three different objects based on highlights and shadows. Such objects can be more precisely identified and tracked from frame to frame, reducing the need for duplicate data. According to Pulsent CEO Adityo Prakash, the new technology can deliver higher quality images at less than 1.5 million bits per second -- within the speed range of most DSL phone lines -- and company plans call for marketing the new technology to phone companies that want to sell interactive multimedia over their broadband lines. (Wall Street Journal 25 Mar 2002) http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB
1017013334243551480.djm,00.html (sub req'd) (NewsScan Daily, 25 March 2002)

Comment: This brief article helps to illustrate two approaches to delivering video. One approach is faster (higher bandwidth) connectivity, and the other is compression. Compression substitutes makes use of substantial compute power to compress and decompress the signal. The article discusses a compression technique that is four times better that the currently widely used techniques. With continued progress in building faster chips, we are seeing that handheld video downloaded from the Web is becoming more common.

"Holodeck Virtual Reality

A new research center at the University of Calgary harkens back to the "Holodeck" from the Star Trek television series. Java 3D is used to create virtual models of things ranging from a whole landscape to a single cell. Scientists go into the 10 x 10 foot laboratory wearing 3D glasses to view the models that are created. Companies including pharmaceutical firms, oil companies, and meteorologists will be able to use the facility, but the primary goal is to further medical research, particularly for complex genetic diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer. (Reuters, 28 February 2002) (Edupage, March 1, 2002)

Comment: Eventually such ICT resources will become inexpensive enough so that they are routinely used in education of school students and others.

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IBM Announces World's Fastest Integrated Circuit

IBM has set another benchmark with the debut of what it's saying is the world's fastest integrated circuit. The new chip, which will be marketed to makers of high-speed fiber optic switches and other networking devices, runs at more than 110 gigahertz, and is capable of handling 40 billion bits of information a second. The chip, which is based on the silicon germanium technology pioneered by IBM, is exceptional for its high-speed and lower power requirements. Power consumption has become a significant factor in the highly competitive chip market because, "Surprisingly, power has become a limitation," on making faster devices, says Bernard Myerson, the IBM who has led the R&D work on silicon germanium technology. (Wall Street Journal 25 Feb 2002) http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1014588380
197933680.djm,00.html (sub req'd) (NewsScan Daily, 25 February 2002)

Comment: Moore's "Law" has helped people to make predictions about microcomputer speeds well into the future. During the past decade, progress in fiber optics has been at a faster pace than progress in the speed of microcomputers. This IBM announcement is indicative of continued rapid progress in telecommunications.

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Women in Computing: Declining Numbers

A recent study by computer scientist Tracy Camp reports that the percentage of women who earned undergraduate computer science degrees has dropped from 37% of total in 1984 to less than 20% in 1999. Anita Borg, founder of the Institute for Women and Technology at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, has this explanation of the problem: "Part of the image of working on computers is working to create gadgets -- techie stuff having nothing to do with people's lives. Young women want to have a positive impact on people. If we can get across that there are powerful ways to have a hugely positive impact on people, then maybe we can turn that image around... Women are not there filling the slots, and the companies are too shortsighted to go out of their way to recruit them. Even when human resources people ask, 'How do we get the women? How do we bring in the minority people?' they only want to know how to get them this week. They are unwilling to consider their environment and their advertising." (San Jose Mercury News 11 Feb 2002) http://www.siliconvalley.com/
mld/siliconvalley/2651855.htm (NewsScan Daily, 12 February 2002).

Comment: The percentage of computer science majors who are women is, of course, but one measure of the level of participation of women in the information and communications technology field. However, it is an important indicator and suggests that efforts to encourage more women to major in computer and information science are not being very successful. For more information about women in computing, see http://otec.uoregon.edu/women_and_computing.htm

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Faster Chips for Handheld Devices

Intel has announced a new family of microprocessors for use in a variety of handheld and wireless devices. The PXA 210, capable of running at speeds up to 200 megahertz, will be used in cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other handheld devices. The PXA250 processor will run at speeds up to 400 megahertz and will be used on high-end handheld devices. The technology used for the microprocessors is called XScale and is based on the StrongARM architecture that Intel acquired in 1997 as part of a settlement with the Digital Equipment Corporation. (AP/USA Today 11 Feb 2002) http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/
tech/2002/02/11/intel-new-chips.htm (NewsScan Daily, 12 February 2002).

Comment: Although I don't have precise data available, I would guess that well over half of the computers in our schools run at 400 megsaahertz or slower. In past years I have had a variety of laptop[ computers--each serving my needs at the time, and each being extremely useful. Up until my most recent purchase, all of my laptops have had speeds well under 400 megahertz.

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Faster, Faster: No Slowdown in Moore's Law"

Moore's Law"--the remarkably accurate 1965 prediction by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on a chip would double about every 18 months (thereby also roughly doubling the chip's computing speed)--is truer than ever, with new evidence suggesting that the computer industry will be able to further shrink one dimension of modern processors (the "physical gate length," or the space between two key components in a solid-state transistor). The result will be even-faster chips a few years from now, and one example of the new chip making environment is Intel's announcement of a chip that has performed at up to 10 gigahertz speeds at room temperature, the fastest performance yet for any microprocessor. (New York Times 4 Feb 2002) http://partners.nytimes.com/2002/02/04/technology/04CHIP.html (NewsScan Daily, 4 February 2002)

Comment: Faster microprocessors mean faster microcomputers and supercomputers. For people and organizations who use computers to address complex and large problems, greater speed means greater ability to address the problems.

But … what are the educational implications? To a very large extent, our educational systems do not take advantage of the current capabilities of computers. Students are not learning to use computers to address complex and large problems. Indeed, many educators lack insight into what constitutes a complex and /or large problem within the disciplines that they teach.

To test yourself, think about your areas of subject matter expertise. Name some problems within this area that cannot be adequately addressed by a 1-gigahertz machine, but that can be adequately addressed by a 10-gigahertz (or, 100-gigahertz, or 1,000-gigahertz) machine. What should students be learning about posing, representing, and solving problems within the areas that you teach, in light of the continued rapid improvements in computer speed?

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Majority of U.S. Population Now On the Internet

New numbers from the U.S. Commerce Department indicate that in 2001, the number of Americans who use the Web passed the 50% mark for the first time. The report found that 143 million Americans, or 54% of the population, were using the Internet as of September, up from 26% a year earlier. E-mail continues to be the favorite activity, regularly used by 45% of the population (up from 35% in 2000). The figures for young people aged 5-17 are especially noteworthy, with 90% now using computers. The study also indicated that the so-called "digital divide" is narrowing, with Internet use among the poorest citizens -- those earning less than $15,000 per household -- up 25%, while growth among the richest households is up only 11%. (Wall Street Journal 4 Feb 2002) http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1012
789793162132080.djm,00.html (NewsScan Daily, 4 February 2002)

Comment: This brief news item does not tell us what percentage of various groups have Internet access from home. However, a significant fraction of K-12 students have relatively good computer access and connectivity access from home. Teachers and schools vary tremendously in how they make use of this resource. For example, some schools and school districts provide email accounts for students, while others do not.

It is increasingly clear that schools have a responsibility to help all students learn to make effective use of Internet connectivity. One aspect of effective use is found in the routine, every day (and often, all day) use that is typical of many adults. This type of use is certainly not being taught in schools that merely send their students to a computer lab a couple of times a week. Computers need to be in the classrooms.

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Implanted Electrodes Help Paralyzed Man Walk Again

A quadriplegic man who was paralyzed four years ago in an automobile accident has been able to walk a distance of three hundred yards after electrodes were implanted on his spinal cord to stimulate the neuro circuit, which coordinates leg muscles. If the therapy can be made to work on a large scale, it could benefit tens of thousands of other people who, though paralyzed, still have some feelings in their legs and are able to exert some control of their leg muscles. (San Jose Mercury News 1 Feb 2002) http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/svfront/walk020102.htm (NewsScan Daily, 1 February 2002)

Comment: This is another important step in developing replacements for human body parts. Through Information and Communications Technology, hearing has been restored to quite a few people, and sight has been restored to a few people. And, of course, we have had electronic pacemakers for many years, and brain implants are being used to help deal with some cases of epilepsy.

What do you and your students think about this type of use of computer technology? Select one of the areas, such as a cochlear implant, and think about the possibility of somewhat similar technology providing a person to have a direct computer feed into his/her brain. The computer might well be thought of as an auxiliary or supplementary brain. How would this affect education? Would it be cheating for a person to draw upon this computer when taking a test? Might some people who have normal hearing find it desiralbe to also have a cochlear implant?

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Digital Equity Toolkit

Digital Equity Toolkit [Online]. Accessed 2/2/02: http://www.nici-mc2.org/de_toolkit/. Quoting from the Website:

Edited by Joy Wallace, Senior Associate, National Institute for Community Innovations and developed as a free resource for educators, professional developers and teacher-education faculty by the National Institute for Community Innovations and made possible in part through funding from the U.S. Department of Education's PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to use Technology) and Technology Innovation Challenge Grant programs, this Digital Equity Toolkit is committed to continually enhancing the Toolkit's contents.

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Voice Input of Teacher's Lecture

Stanford University is taking part in a pilot program to test a system that improves the odds of students with learning disabilities performing well in college. Test results of students who participated in the Liberated Learning Project (LLP) found that they no longer had to take notes at lectures where LLP was used. LLP uses voice-activated software, which immediately translates the instructor's words into print that flashes onto a large screen. Students with or without learning disabilities can get a copy of the lecture online, as can visually impaired students, who can have the notes translated into Braille. Hearing impaired students especially stand to benefit from the system. LLP has been tested at colleges and universities in Canada, Britain, and Australia. (Chronicle of Higher Education Online, 24 January 2002) (Edupage, January 25, 2002)

Comment: Voice input--indeed, voice input with translation into various languages--has been used in presentations at conferences. The ease of use and the quality of the results from voice input continues to improve through improvements in the hardware and software.

Managing the Memories: The Shoah Foundation

The Shoah Foundation, dedicated to recording the remembrances of Holocaust survivors, is cataloging and distributing thousands of videotaped survivor testaments through digital asset management. The survivor videos are broken into segments with a customized back-end database; each segment is assigned one of 21,000 topic keywords, and then the testimonies are cataloged with lists of keywords, photos of survivors and their families, related documentaries, and textual descriptions. Roughly 5,000 out of more than 51,000 tapes have been cataloged thus far. In October, the National Science Foundation awarded the foundation $7.5 million to support a voice-recognition technology initiative. The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the University of Maryland in College Park, and IBM are subcontractors on the project. (Computerworld, 14 January 2002) (Edupage, January 18, 2002)  

Comment: This project is attacking the problem of making thousands of hours of videotape materials available online, via the Web and other searchable databases. Other organizations, such as TV broadcasters, are also attacking this problem.

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Steadily Increasing Amounts of Distance Learning in Higher Education.

UMass Lowell Online Learning claims to be New England's largest provider of online courses. The program now offers an online graduate certificate in photonics and optoelectronics. The certificate provides an introduction to electro-optics and fiber optics, and students can specialize in medical optics, device physics, remote sensing/image processing, and fiber-optics, according to school officials. An undergraduate certificate program in the discipline is also available. UMass Lowell Online Learning offers more than 90 courses each semester on a variety of subjects and is part of the Division of Continuing Studies, Corporate, and Distance Education. Online degrees can be earned in educational administration, information technology, and liberal arts. (Optically Networked, 16 January 2002) (Edupage, January 18, 2002)

Comment: We are in the midst of a revolutionary change in the delivery of education. It is interesting to see individual initiative and entrepreneurship make the local decisions that lead to schools, school districts, higher educational institutions, states, and companies making the decision to increase their involvement in Distance Learning. This will gradually lead to:
  • Increased convenience for students.
  • Changes in the nature of the job of being a teacher.
  • Increased competition among institutions to recruit students.
  • A useful alternative learning environment for students.

It is not yet clear whether the statement "Bad money drives out good money." will also apply to the realm of Distance Learning. The quality of the courses and programs of study available through DL vary tremendously.


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