George Dyson on the birth of the computer

In his 2003 TED talk, George Dyson tells stories from the birth of the modern computer — from its 17th-century origins to the hilarious notebooks of some early computer engineers.

A Google a Day puzzles improve Web searching skills

The three Rs (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic) were the education basics of generations past, but maybe now we should add a fourth, information Retrieval. We all turn to Web search engines like Bing and Google whenever we need to know something and the technology has revolutionized how we access and even think about information. But how adept are you at using modern search engines?

Google introduced A Google a Day as a daily puzzle to help you improve your search skills.

"A Google a Day is a new daily puzzle that can be solved using your creativity and clever search skills on Google. Questions will be posted every day on and printed on weekdays above the New York Times crossword puzzle. We’ll reveal each puzzle’s answer the next day in the Times and on, along with the search tips and features used to find it.

Just like traditional crossword puzzles, the difficulty of the questions increases over the course of the week, so by Thursday or Friday, even the most seasoned searcher may be stumped." (source)

Here's today's question:

With many people playing, you would expect to find lots of spoilers online as people comment on the daily puzzle on Twitter, Facebook or their blogs. To prevent this, Google's A Google a Day site uses a special interface that "excludes real-time updates and other things that are likely to include spoilers as people post the answers to the puzzle online."

Google is not the first company to think of using Web search games for marketing. Microsoft introduced Club Bing in 2007 to promote its new Bing search engine and now hosts a number of Web search related games on its site.

AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarships

The Associated Press and Google announced a scholarship program to foster digital and new media skills in student journalists. The AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship program will provide $20,000 to six undergraduate or graduate students pursuing or planning to pursue degrees at "the intersection of journalism, computer science and new media during the 2012-2013 academic year."

The program is open to U.S. citizens who are college sophomores or higher with at least one year of full-time undergraduate or graduate study remaining. Applicants must submit a project or concept that explains how his or her strategy moves digital journalism forward. Applications are due by 27 January 2012.

UIST Student Innovation Contest

The ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology sponsors a Student Innovation Contest (SIC) with the goal of innovating new interactions on state-of-the-art hardware. They give you the latter, and you show them what you can do.

This year they will be working with the new Microsoft TouchMouse. In addition to supplying you the hardware for free, Microsoft is providing exclusive access to a pre-release of the TouchMouse API. This lets you get at the underlying 2D capacitive image captured the mouse’s sensor matrix. You will get a chance to hack together some cool demos before the everyone else gets their hands on the API. Contestants will demo their creations at the October 17th demo reception. The winner will be announced the following day.

Teams must register by August 17th and will receive hardware in September. See the UIST SIC site for more information.

Talk: Smart Grid Demand Response, 4pm Wed 8/17

Demand Response; What is it and
What are the Business Opportunities?

Dr. Bjorn Frogner

4:00pm Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Maryland Clean Energy Technology Incubator
UMBC South Campus

Bjorn will discuss the aspect of the Smart Grid called Demand Response (DR). DR is where the action is in the Smart Grid. Implementation of DR is made possible by the merger of the following two forces.

  • The State of Maryland has set the goal of reducing average electricity consumption by 15% and reducing the peak-to-average consumption by 15%. These two requirements will reduce the peak capacity needs by 30%. The goal is to reach these goals by 2015. This makes DR more valuable than all other renewable energy sources combined for the next five years.
  • Smart Meters are already available in many businesses and they are soon going to be installed in 1.5 million homes in BGE and PEPCO customer residences. These meters will provide two-way communication and data readings from our homes as frequently as every 15 minutes. This provides tremendous opportunities for changes in the way we consume electricity.

These forces will rapidly transform the electric utility industry. DR will make the cost of electricity become a function of supply and demand which will make electricity be like other commodities where the market determines the price. If you are well-informed, you may save money. And, if you are real well-informed, you may be able to see some of the many new business opportunities that are being created by DR.

Bjorn Frogner has a PhD in Nuclear Engineering from University of California at Berkeley. He worked for about 35 years across a broad range of technologies, primarily related to energy and IT, while he lived in Silicon Valley in California. He moved to Annapolis, Maryland, in 2009 and he now works part-time as Entrepreneur-in- Residence at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His function there is to help startup companies in the clean energy field. He had many years of experience with the electric grid during the 70s and 80s. He has spent significant amount of time during the last 18 months making himself informed about the cyber security for the electric grid.

Mid-Atlantic Student Colloquium on Speech, Language and Learning

If your research involved language processing and/or machine learning you should consider submitting a poster abstract to the Mid-Atlantic Student Colloquium on Speech, Language and Learning.

This is a free, one-day event bringing together faculty, researchers and students from universities in the Mid-Atlantic area working in human language technology and/or machine learning. It is an opportunity for students to present preliminary or completed work and to network with other students, faculty and researchers working in related fields. The event will be held at JHU in Baltimore on Friday 23 September 2011.

Students are encouraged to submit one-page abstracts by Monday, August 15 describing ongoing, planned, or completed research projects, including previously published results and negative results. Submissions and presentations must be made by students or postdocs. See the call for papers for more information.

Accepted submissions will be presented as posters and each will also be given a one-minute presentation during a poster spotlight session. A small number of submissions will be selected to be presented as talks, on the basis of diversity and general interest. Student-led breakout sessions of one hour will also be held to discuss papers on topics of interest and stimulate interaction and discussion.

Exploring job trends

The job search aggregator collects job listings from a large number of of websites, including job boards, newspapers, associations, and company career pages. Using this data, they regularly report on job trends by country, region and keywords. Their most recent report by industry shows the weakness of the economic recovery but also shows a strong market for IT jobs.

Indeed has a web page that lets you see trends in the number of job postings with certain keywords. Amazingly, the current top ten trending phrases are all IT related: HTML5, mobile app, Android, Twitter, jQuery, Facebook, social media, iPhone, cloud computing and virtualization.

Mobile app Job Trends graph
Mobile app Job Trends Mobile App jobs

If you are preparing to look for a job or just trying to better prepare for a career, it is an interesting source of data. One thing to keep in mind is that you should invest your time in college building a foundation of knowledge and skills that will support you for the rest of your life, both professionally and as a well-rounded person. The undergraduate programs at UMBC aim to do just that. But you might give some thought to choosing some electives that will prepare you for the opportunities you will find in the short term, too. As usual, finding the right balance is the key.

Students can now rent Kindle textbooks from Amazon

Amazon has announced a new program allowing students to rent textbooks.

“Kindle Textbook Rental is a flexible and affordable way to read textbooks. You can rent for the minimum length, typically 30 days, and save up to 80% off the print list price. If you find you need your textbook longer, you can extend your rental by as little as 1 day as many times as you want and just pay for the added days.”

Amazon’s typically sells its kindle textbooks for nearly the same as the hardcopy ones, so renting a textbook may be attractive. We’ve not yet seen any Computer Science or Computer Engineering kindle books for rent, so can’t say how much of a discount there is if you rent for a semester.

By the way, the format that Kindle uses is based on Mobipocket, which is based on HTML. There are some good open source systems that you can use to create kindle-compatible documents from various sources.

Teens prepare for cybersecurity careers at CCBC camp

The Community College of Baltimore County this month held a five-day cybersecurity camp for teenagers who may be on track to becoming cyber experts. Twenty-two students from Baltimore and Howard counties took part in the camp, which was intended to get high school students interested in security, and to consider pursuing college degrees or entry-level positions in the field. WBAL has a short article and video.

Perks help tech startups attract and retain employees

While you can find a treehouse to rent using Airbnb, they also have a mockup of one for their employees to chill in.

Last week’s Wall Street Journal had a story, The Perk Bubble Is Growing as Tech Booms Again, on how technology companies compete for employees by offering more and more extravagant perks.

“Here in the capital of the latest tech boom, engineers and product developers work late into the night creating the next big thing. But they take office culture just as seriously, fueling behavior that is reaching a level of froth not seen in a decade.

Some Web start-ups are partying like it’s 1999. Airbnb’s housewarming later this month is to include a visit by rapper and occasional tech investor M.C. Hammer. The party room at reviews site Yelp Inc. has three beer kegs with built-in iPads to offer information about what’s on tap. Last month, start-ups Peanut Labs Inc. and AdParlor Inc. sponsored the sold-out “Pirates of Silicon Valley Cruise,” a $600-per-person seafaring party.

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