Monday, January 31, 2011

Vision of the American future

President Obama's 2011 state of the union address emphasized three key elements: innovation, education, and infrastructure investment.

Here is a part of his speech on digital infrastructure:

"Within the next five years, we'll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn't just about -- (applause) -- this isn't about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -- in innovation, education, and infrastructure -- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success."

Smart meters and electromagnetic hypersensitivity

I am reading an article in the New York Times on smart meters and issues that people opposed their installations on the basis of health problems, privacy issues, and inaccurate readings.

One of the health issues has something to do with the health concern on electromagnetic hypersensitivity or EHS. People claim that "radiation from cellphones, WiFi systems or smart meters causes them to suffer dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness or heart palpitations.", according to the article.

A few important concepts of control, and distrust were raised in the article as one of the issues that always arise with new technology. What is going on around smart meters mean that a lot more works need to be done to develop a better understanding of consequences of wireless devices.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meaningful computing education

Recently, I read two articles, one on Singapore and its success as a country and the other on and its not so successful attempt to make an impact in philanthropy. I find both articles inspiring as I continue my search for "meaningful computing education". I believe meaningful computing education can be built on the guided leaning approach of "problem-solution-impact". Here are some ideas of how to implement this approach from Thomas Friedman's recent article in the New York Times:
  • Teaching and learning needs to make connections between “what world am I living in,” “where is my country trying to go in that world” and, therefore, “what should I teach in fifth-grade science.”, for example.
Here is another view of the problems that prevent, known as DotOrg, to achieve its bold objective of "ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems" as suggested by Larry Page, Google founder, in 2004.
  • The New York Times article reported that after five years "DotOrg has narrowed to just one octave on the piano: engineering-related projects that often are the outgrowth of existing Google products. Dr. Brilliant was sidelined in early 2009 after his loose management style created much disenchantment in DotOrg’s ranks."
  • For example, "it focuses on projects like using Google Earth to track environmental changes and monitoring Web searches to detect flu outbreaks. Most of the experts it initially hired have left, and Google, a company obsessed with numbers and metrics, struggles to measure DotOrg’s accomplishments."
  • What is the problem here? Joshua Cohen, a professor at Stanford, argued that Google has two different ideas about what DotOrg can do. One is that "DotOrg would completely reinvent philanthropy and, in doing so, reinvent the world and address a hugely important set of problems with solutions only Google with its immense intellectual talent and resources could find." And the other is that "DotOrg could make some headway, maybe a little, maybe a lot, in addressing these really big problems by doing what Google as a company is really good at doing, which is to say, aggregating information."
  • Yet others attributed to the fact that Google used an engineering approach rather than a challenging problem approach makes it difficult for it to address important development problems. In other words, they are creating solutions and looking for problems instead of the other way around.
  • For example, the idea of Google developed a system to track counterfeit drugs never got off the ground because it was proposed to build on top of SMS technology which did not excite Google engineers.
  • Yet another evidence from previous DotOrg: "They never understood that technology is a means to an end, and that in the developing world, sometimes basic technology, like the collection and compilation of data, can have enormous impact."
All the evidence seems to point towards changing the way we teach computing to students.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ranking greatness

I am reading a top-1o ranking of classical music composers by the New York Times columnist, Anthony Tommasini. This part is about how he breaks the tie between "Verdi" and Wagner".

"They may be tied as composers but not as people. Though Verdi had an ornery side, he was a decent man, an Italian patriot and the founder of a retirement home for musicians still in operation in Milan. Wagner was an anti-Semitic, egomaniacal jerk who transcended himself in his art. So Verdi is No. 8 and Wagner No. 9."

Friday, January 21, 2011

A woman and a man

An interesting case of how society perceives men and women when they engage in something that are unethical or immoral. Think of the case of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. In this case, I am looking at the case of Frank Llyod Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. She left her husband and children to live with Wright. Similarly, Wright also left his wife and kids to share a life with her. But why a society had different reactions to their actions?

"In society's view, Wright was merely misbehaving, while Mrs. Cheney was doing something far more shocking: acting like an unnatural mother."

From the New York Times review of the book "Loving Frank"

Being an elder VS. Growing old

A thoughtful distinction between being an elder and growing old for all of us to reflect on from Ms. Maxine Hong Kingston.

" Being an elder is very different from simply growing old and most people are unaware of the distinction... Elders have the wisdom and the ideas and the vision to make a good world... They commit to being leaders and sharing their wisdom with others."