Solar highways, a green solution to our energy needs

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A fantastic idea that should be developed and implemented immediately if found to be viable and pays for itself.  This makes those stupid ugly windmills and solar panel farms obsolete and a thing of the past.  The $ Billions that Obama gave to his benefactors was a waste.  At least this idea has a lot of forward thinking and potential.

Read full report here.

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The End of Teachers Unions – education flourishes

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Online education and Financial Aid

Online education and Financial Aid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great article. There is still hope yet for our beleaguered schools.   

Terry M. Moe is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of the Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 education, and the William Bennett Munro Professor of political science at Stanford University.

He is an expert on educational policy, U.S. political institutions, and organization theory. His current research projects are concerned with school choice, public bureaucracy, and the presidency.

Excerpt:  After a quarter century of “reform,” what the nation got from its political process was an overflow of rhetoric, lots of pointless legislation, and a gigantic bill for untold billions of dollars. The system in 2012 continued to perform poorly. It continued to disappoint. And reformers were largely impotent. The politics of blocking had them beat.

How Technology Will Change Everything

Although few were aware of it, the politics of education was then at a tipping point. In the years that followed, the teachers unions were caught in a slow downward slide. And as their power declined, they were less and less successful at standing in the way of reform. By 2030, the politics of blocking was largely a thing of the past and the nation was on its way to quantum-level improvements.

In the normal course of events, this wouldn’t have happened. Power, after all, is its own protection. For it not only allows the teachers unions to block or weaken major reforms of the education system. It also allows them to prevent reforms—of collective bargaining laws, for example—that would take their power away. So it isn’t taken away. And they stay powerful. And they continue to block. This is the Catch-22 that perpetuates the status quo in normal times.

But because of an accident of history, the times were not normal. And change did come. In 2012, the nation was in the midst of a historic revolution in information technology that was profoundly transforming the fundamentals of human society throughout the world: how people interact and communicate, how they collect information, how they seek knowledge, how they transact business, and much more. This revolution couldn’t help but have profound implications for the way students learn, teachers teach, and schools are organized. And as John Chubb explains, these things came to pass: the explosion in technology brought with it a vast array of dazzling innovations for education, and they were enormously beneficial—and transformative.

Needless to say, the teachers unions fought the advance of technology, just as they had fought all other fundamental changes. And in the beginning, they were fairly successful—for they were hugely powerful, and technology was new and untried. But technology was also different from other reforms.

Indeed, it wasn’t really a reform. Its ideas—and the excitement about them—were everywhere, and they couldn’t ultimately be blocked. They were so forceful and pervasive that they were beyond anyone’s control and were being thrust upon the education system from without. Even in its early years, as a result, technology seeped into the system—slowly and incrementally at first, but inexorably. And then the seepage gave way to bigger, more fundamental change over the decades, generating a wholesale transformation. Here, basically, is how it happened.

Online learning made it possible for education to be customized to each individual child and for underserved constituencies—kids who wanted AP courses, remedial courses, additional credits for graduation, access to specialized coursework, and on and on—to greatly expand their opportunities. So there was a huge demand that only grew with time and quickly expanded to core academic courses in the mainstream curriculum. The implications for social equity, meantime, were profound: for wherever kids were located—from Detroit to Appalachia to Oakland—and whatever their social class or ethnicity, they increasingly had access via technology to the best curricula and educational opportunities the world could make available.

On the supply side, the costs of these dramatic innovations were stunningly lower than those of traditional education because they involved the pervasive substitution of (relatively cheap) technology for (incredibly expensive) labor—which had never been possible before in the history of American education. The entrepreneurial energy was explosive, as new firms flooded into the marketplace, legions of smart people were recruited to work on educational innovations, mavericks within the public sector—entrepreneurial superintendents, future-minded governors—embraced change, and new interest groups (including nonprofits and foundations) lobbied state legislatures to adopt tech-friendly laws promoting online education.

New forms of schooling sprouted up like mushrooms. States set up state-level virtual schools, allowed for a diversity of other providers—some private, some public—and gave all kids the legal right to take as many classes as they needed online. Online charter schools proliferated, attracting millions of students from all across the states—and the nation. Districts began offering their students more and more online options, and they were getting more bang for their bucks by contracting with outside suppliers.

Throughout the country, the modal solution that emerged was the “hybrid” school—many of them charters, some run by districts—in which kids still “went to school” at a physical place, interacted face-to-face with teachers and other students, and continued to participate in art, music, and sports but took roughly 80 percent of their academic classes online. Their teachers no longer had the job of teaching a standardized curriculum to classrooms of thirty kids; instead they had a much more differentiated profession—some teaching online, some overseeing large numbers of kids in computer labs, some tutoring kids one-on-one, some dealing mainly with parents, some in charge of software development, and on and on. The traditional sameness of teaching thus gave way to a much more productive division of labor.

Recommend you read the entire article here.

Project Glass: Google Begins Testing Its Augmented-Reality Glasses

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Computer technology is progressing at an ever increasing rate.

Excerpt: If you venture into a coffee shop in the coming months and see someone with a pair of futuristic glasses that look like a prop from “Star Trek,” don’t worry. It’s probably just a Google employee testing the company’s new augmented-reality glasses.

On Wednesday, Google gave people a clearer picture of its secret initiative called Project Glass. The glasses are the company’s first venture into wearable computing.

The glasses are not yet for sale. Google will, however, be testing them in public.

A video released by Google on Wednesday, which can be seen below, showed potential uses for Project Glass. A man wanders around the streets of New York City, communicating with friends, seeing maps and information, and snapping pictures. It concludes with him video-chatting with a girlfriend as the sun sets over the city. All of this is seen through the augmented-reality glasses.

Read full NYT article here.

Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools

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It appears there are a number of dynamics here that should be addressed, the most important being the need to educate the children. Teachers fear losing their jobs but want the best for their students. Tech companies think they have the answers and want the business. Legislators and taxpayers want to contain costs and give the best education to their children. But worst of all, unions want control, power and dues and could care less about education.

Eliminating the union stranglehold on public workers would go a long way in solving the cost problem, and elimination of the the ridiculous work rules would free up the teachers to teach.

Teachers should recognize by now that the future will run on technology and the majority of jobs will require hi-tech familiarity. A blend of technology with the use of the socratic method in teaching would better prepare the student for the future.

If the tech companies provide a lousy product, no one will buy it. It is to their advantage to make a product that does what it is meant to do, educate. Let them earn their profits and let them keep them.

Let the teachers learn along with their students and prepare themselves for the future. Make the legislators and taxpayers happy by controlling costs and let the unions go the way of the dodo bird.

Excerpt: Ann Rosenbaum, a former military police officer in the Marines, does not shrink from a fight, having even survived a close encounter with a car bomb in Iraq. Her latest conflict is quite different: she is now a high school teacher, and she and many of her peers in Idaho are resisting a statewide plan that dictates how computers should be used in classrooms.

Last year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.

To help pay for these programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.

This change is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved.

“Teachers don’t object to the use of technology,” said Sabrina Laine, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, which has studied the views of the nation’s teachers using grants from organizations like the Gates and Ford Foundations. “They object to being given a resource with strings attached, and without the needed support to use it effectively to improve student learning.”

Read full NYT article here.

Nanotechnology Could Make Batteries in Mobile Devices Obsolete

The battery on my laptop just flashed me a message that I should consider purchasing a new battery. Since the last time I was on battery power it lasted only 15 minutes, I guess they are right. Where are those “nanotech” laptops when you need them.

Seriously, This advance in technology could transform the communication world.

Excerpt: According to the abstract in Science, the researchers were able to achieve “programming currents as low as 0.5 μA (SET) and 5 μA (RESET), two orders of magnitude lower than state-of-the-art devices.”

What this may translate to for your mobile phone is that a smart phone will consume so little energy that it may not even need a battery but could run on its own thermal or mechanical energy. (Battery manufacturers are not going to like that part).

“I think anyone who is dealing with a lot of chargers and plugging things in every night can relate to wanting a cell phone or laptop whose batteries can last for weeks or months,”

Read full IEEE article here.

Singularitarians – Artificial Intelligence – Predicting The Future

In this rather extensive Times article “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal” the author takes a look at the rapid progression of computing power, artificial intelligence and the very real possibilities of the reverse engineering of the human brain. When artificial intelligence equals or exceeds that of the humans, what is the next step? Will machines be friend or foe?

Technologist Raymond Kurzweil thinks you will know by the year 2045.

Excerpt: Computers are getting faster. Everybody knows that. Also, computers are getting faster faster — that is, the rate at which they’re getting faster is increasing.

True? True.

So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.

If you can swallow that idea, and Kurzweil and a lot of other very smart people can, then all bets are off. From that point on, there’s no reason to think computers would stop getting more powerful. They would keep on developing until they were far more intelligent than we are. Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development from their slower-thinking human creators. Imagine a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn’t even take breaks to play Farmville.

(continued) Here’s what the exponential curves told him. We will successfully reverse-engineer the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity — never say he’s not conservative — at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today.

The Singularity isn’t just an idea. it attracts people, and those people feel a bond with one another. Together they form a movement, a subculture; Kurzweil calls it a community. Once you decide to take the Singularity seriously, you will find that you have become part of a small but intense and globally distributed hive of like-minded thinkers known as Singularitarians.

Kurzweil admits that there’s a fundamental level of risk associated with the Singularity that’s impossible to refine away, simply because we don’t know what a highly advanced artificial intelligence, finding itself a newly created inhabitant of the planet Earth, would choose to do. It might not feel like competing with us for resources. One of the goals of the Singularity Institute is to make sure not just that artificial intelligence develops but also that the AI is friendly. You don’t have to be a super-intelligent cyborg to understand that introducing a superior life-form into your own biosphere is a basic Darwinian error.

Read the full Times Health & Science article here.