A Kindle aimed at college kids?

Amid reports that Amazon is working on new models of its eBook reader, the Kindle, one analyst says the online titan has an academic spin in mind, reports CNET. Amazon sees a chance to cash in by marketing the Kindle to college students, according to McAdams Wright Ragen analyst Tim Bueneman, by way of Seattlepi.com reporter Andrea James. A collegiate version could be just one of a number of potential Kindles-to-be, apparently. "There are already several new, improved versions of the Kindle in the works," Bueneman wrote in a note Aug. 22, as reported by James. In July, the site Crunchgear reported that two new Kindles were in the offing: One would have the same dimensions as the existing device, along with an improved interface, and could arrive this fall, while the second would be larger and would come next year. The current 10-ounce Kindle, priced at $359, measures 7.5 inches tall by 5.3 inches wide and 0.7 inch deep.
Bueneman reported that one new version could well feature "improved interface operating controls. This has been an issue with some buyers."

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McCain, Obama put out tech agendas

The two major U.S. presidential contenders agree on much when it comes to technology, but they differ diametrically on "net neutrality."

eSchool News in recent months has kept you up-to-date on where the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates stand on education issues. Now, Senators Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have issued policy statements specifically regarding technology. I urge you to read each candidate’s statement in full, but I’ll provide the highlights here.
   
According to his campaign web site, if elected as the nation’s next president, McCain will …

– Encourage investment in innovation;
– Ensure the American workforce is skilled and ready to lead the technological revolution;
– Champion fair and open world trade;
– Protect inventors’ intellectual property;
– Keep the internet free from government regulation; and
– Ensure America is a connected nation.

According to his campaign web site, if elected president, Obama will …

– Ensure the full and free exchange of information through an open internet and diverse media outlets;
– Create a transparent and connected democracy;
– Deploy a modern communications infrastructure;
– Employ technology and innovation to solve our nation’s most pressing problems; and
– Improve America’s competitiveness.

Each of these generalities is made somewhat more distinct with additional discussion–sometimes even including specific promises.

McCain, for example, is highly specific about how he would encourage investment. He would use "federal tax and fiscal policy" to "create and protect the incentives to innovate."  He would keep "capital gains taxes low." He would lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. He would allow companies to expense new equipment and technology in the first year. He would ensure innovation "is not hampered by taxes on internet users." And he would oppose "higher taxes on wireless services."

Both candidates address the issue of importing foreign workers to fill high-tech jobs in the United States. Both are all for doing so via H-1B visas.

Obama and McCain also have similar stands when it comes to encouraging research and development (R&D) in technology. Both want to make the current R&D tax credit permanent.

One of the sharpest distinctions between the two involves so-called "net neutrality," the term for requiring telephone and cable companies to treat all internet traffic equally. Obama supports net neutrality; McCain opposes it.

In general, Obama’s technology program is more wide-ranging, but somewhat less specific than McCain’s, which tends to focus on the intersection of technology and business.

Obama promises to "encourage the creation of Public Media 2.0," video and interactive programming to educate and inform the citizenry. He would require that parents have the "option of receiving parental controls software that not only blocks objectionable internet content but also prevents children from revealing personal information through their home computer."

Obama promises to appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, who would "ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies, and services for the 21st century."

The senator from Illinois would redefine "broadband" from its currently specified rate of 220 kilobits per second to "speeds demanded by 21st-century business and communications." Obama’s campaign says he also will "recommit America to ensuring that our schools, libraries, households, and hospitals have access to next-generation broadband networks." Specifically, Obama promises to expand beyond voice communications the services covered under the Universal Service Fund (e-Rate), including "affordable broadband."

Obama promises to "invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records." He also promises to invest "$150 billion over the next 10 years" to develop next-generation bio-fuels, fuel infrastructure, and alternative energy sources.

McCain’s technology program does not specifically address health or energy issues, but it does promise that McCain would push for "a renewed emphasis on innovation through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, where industry and government enter into public/private projects, sharing in the costs, benefiting from solving real problems…"

Both candidates address the issue of privacy in the internet age. McCain favors vigorous government law enforcement to protect personal security, self-regulation by industry, and mandatory action by schools. "Schools must develop curricula for students that foster responsible, safe, and secure uses of the internet," the McCain campaign declares, "and commit to a culture of security for all involved in the digital technology."

The Obama campaign says its candidate "will strengthen privacy protections for the digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy." Obama also favors "updating surveillance laws and ensuring that law enforcement investigations and intelligence-gathering relating to U.S. citizens are done only under the rule of law."

Links:

McCain on technology

Obama on technology

eSN July 17: McCain, Obama float education plans

eSN June 6: McCain, Obama reps discuss education

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Judge: Copyright owners must consider ‘fair use’

A federal judge on Aug. 20 gave more weight to the concept of "fair use" when he threw a lifeline to a Pennsylvania mother’s lawsuit against Universal Music, CNET reports. The judge refused to dismiss Stephanie Lenz’s suit claiming that Universal abused the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when it issued a takedown notice to YouTube over a 30-second video of Lenz’s baby dancing to a Prince song. In the first ruling of its kind, Judge Jeremy Fogel held that copyright owners must consider fair use before sending DMCA takedown notices. Lenz first filed suit in October 2007, after Universal requested that her video be taken down, and YouTube kept it off its site for more than a month. Lenz argues that the Prince song is barely audible in the short clip and clearly represents fair use, which allows for limited use of copyrighted materials without permission. Corynne McSherry, an attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the ruling "a major victory for free speech and fair use on the internet" that will "help protect everyone who creates content for the web."

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Caution to teens: Don’t send those racy cell videos

High school senior Andy Dougherty sent a 17-year-old buddy a 10-second cell phone video that showed Dougherty with his pants down, fooling around with his teenage girlfriend–and the prosecutor in Woodbury County, Iowa, charged Dougherty, 18, with a sex crime: telephone dissemination of obscene material to a minor, reports the Des Moines Register. The teenager pleaded guilty to a lesser offense this week, but the implications of the original charge have prompted some questions about the state’s sex-offender laws and might serve as a warning to other teens. If he had been convicted of the sex crime, Dougherty could have spent up to two years in jail and 10 years on the sex-offender registry. He wouldn’t have been able to live in any dorm at any state university in Iowa, because registered sex offenders are prohibited. And for the rest of his life, he couldn’t live within 2,000 feet of a K-12 school or child-care center…

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How not to teach about internet safety

Students and parents at Colorado’s Windsor High School are outraged after a Wyoming police officer doing a presentation on internet safety scrutinized individual students’ MySpace pages, calling the students’ pictures "slutty" and saying their sites invited sexual predators, the Coloradoan of Fort Collins, Colo., reports. The officer, John F. Gay III of the Cheyenne Police Department, picked out six or seven Windsor High School students’ MySpace pages and began to criticize photos, comments, and other content until one student left the room crying. "He told the entire student body that he had shared her info with a sexual predator in prison," said Ty Nordic, whose daughter Shaylah’s MySpace page was put on display. Shaylah Nordic said Gay told the student body that the predator said he would masturbate to her picture and then "tear her apart." Gay pulled up her phone number and called her on stage to demonstrate how easy it was to get her contact information via the internet. "The whole school saw my phone number, so I am getting texts from people I don’t know," Shaylah said. While some students protested Gay’s commentary, faculty and staff did nothing, witnesses said…

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Intel unveils third-generation Classmate PC

Intel Corp. has unveiled the third generation of its low-cost laptop for students, which branches out from the standard clamshell design with a tablet-style option and includes a touch screen.

Introduced at the Intel Developer Forum 2008 in San Francisco Aug. 20, the new Classmate PC–slated for deployment by the end of this year–is aimed primarily at students worldwide in grades 3-8.

"We spent a lot of time with ethnographers, building this Classmate with students in mind," said Jeff Galinovsky, regional manager for the Classmate PC. "We’ve been collecting over two years of research to help develop the best PC for students."

Since its initial release in 2007, Intel has developed two prior versions of the Classmate PC: the rugged, camera-equipped, first-generation Classmate, and the Atom-processor Classmate introduced in June. The Atom processor is Intel’s smallest chip, built for low power consumption and designed specifically for a new wave of mobile internet devices and simple, low-cost PCs, Intel said.

Like Intel’s previous laptops, the new Classmate’s design concept will allow for local original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to release versions of the computer with different colors or decorations. Examples of these OEM-branded Classmate PCs include the HCL MiLeap (India), Olidata’s JumPC (Italy), FTEC’s SmartBook (Malaysia), Neo’s eXplore (Philippines), and CTL’s 2Go PC (United States).

newclass2

Intel’s newly formed Ecosystem Vendor Alliance, which connects technology vendors from around the world by letting them share common opportunities, resources, and experience, will continue to provide services for the new Classmate. The alliance provides tools, training, sales, marketing collateral, and online matchmaking of ecosystem partners.

It also allows vendors to list their products or services on www.classmatepc.com, where educators can search for applications, tools, and content that will meet their specific needs by subject, age, language, and country. As of press time, the alliance had more than 50 members, and Intel expects membership to exceed 100 in the next six months.

The alliance includes operating-system vendors, independent-software vendors, content providers, hardware vendors, and educational service providers.

The new design

Keeping in mind schools’ need for a tough, portable, low-cost PC with collaborative software applications for students, Intel’s research showed that kids like to have "micromobility," or the ability to carry their PCs around the classroom and outside to use with their peers.

"We realized that the clamshell [design] worked for the desktop, but maybe not so much for outside," said Galinovsky, "so we turned this PC into a tablet."

The new Classmate comes in either a clamshell or tablet design and has a touch screen. The touch screen is unique in that it is designed with palm-rejection technology, Intel said. This means students can rest their palms on the tablet and write or design at the same time, without their palms registering on the tablet–making it easy for students to write equations, draw a picture, or write paragraphs.

Video sneak peak of the new Classmate

 Already, thanks to Intel’s Ecosystem Vendor Alliance, vendors have come forward to make their educational software touch-enabled. For example, Pasco Scientific’s software is now touch-optimized. Soon, thanks to the Ecosystem, the Classmate’s internet launcher will be touch-optimized and therefore quicker, Intel said, as well as its network manager and collaboration software.

Another new addition is the Classmate’s accelerometer technology, which switches image orientation: A student can turn or flip the screen, and the image will turn or flip with it. This technology coincides with the third-generation Classmate’s improved 180-degree flip camera.

"Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to education, we are passionate about transforming the way students learn," said Lila Ibrahim, general manager of Intel’s Emerging Markets Platform Group. "We want to offer more choices to meet the diversity of student-learning needs across the world."

Initial specs for the new Classmate include a higher-resolution, 1,024 x 600, 8.9-inch LCD screen and a smaller hard drive (instead of simple flash). It will include the Intel Atom Processor N270, which runs at 1.6GHz, and have 30-percent longer battery life, Intel said.

Drawbacks include the price and the more fragile aspect of the PC when in tablet mode.

"Of course, students will have to be more careful when in tablet mode, but it’s still very rugged. We’re working on how to get it more rugged," said Galinovsky. "Also, the price will jump with these new features, but we still want to keep the cost within the school-affordable price range." As of press time, Intel had not decided on a fixed price. (Earlier versions of the Classmate PC typically sold for about $399; so a tablet version is expected to be higher.)
 
Though Intel’s new tablet-design Classmate caters to science and math instruction, it also opens up the technology to the arts and writing "more than any other generation," said Galinovsky. "The interaction with the environment, the micromobility, the palm-rejection technology, and the large handle will make this PC great to use in all subjects."

Earlier this year, the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child initiative–whose low-cost XO laptop is a leading competitor of Intel’s Classmate PC–unveiled a new design of its own, with a dual touch screen that gives it the appearance of an eBook reading device. (See "Laptop-for-kids project to resume donations.") The next-generation XO, called the XO2, is not expected to be available until at least next year.

Links:

Intel’s ethnographic research for the tablet Classmate

Intel Developer Forum

Second-generation Classmate PC

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College presidents seek debate on drinking age

College presidents from about 100 of the nation’s best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth, and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

The movement, called the Amethyst Initiative, began quietly recruiting presidents more than a year ago to provoke national debate about the drinking age.

"This is a law that is routinely evaded," said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, who started the organization. "It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory."

Five Connecticut college presidents are on the list: Fairfield University, St. Joseph College in Hartford, Trinity College in Hartford, the University of Hartford, and the University of New Haven.

Other prominent schools in the group include Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon, and Morehouse.

But even before the presidents begin the public phase of their efforts, which may include publishing newspaper ads in the coming weeks, they are already facing sharp criticism.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. It accuses the presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem. MADD officials are even urging parents to think carefully about the safety of colleges whose presidents have signed on.

"It’s very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses," charged Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.

Both sides agree alcohol abuse by college students is a huge problem.

Research has found more than 40 percent of college students reported at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or dependence. One study has estimated more than 500,000 full-time students at four-year colleges suffer injuries each year related in some way to drinking, and about 1,700 die in such accidents.

A recent Associated Press analysis of federal records found that 157 college-age people, 18 to 23, drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005.

Moana Jagasia, a Duke University sophomore from Singapore, where the drinking age is lower, said reducing the age in the U.S. could be helpful.

"There isn’t that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18," she said. "If the age is younger, you’re getting exposed to it at a younger age, and you don’t freak out when you get to campus."

McCardell’s group takes its name from ancient Greece, where the purple gemstone amethyst was widely believed to ward off drunkenness if used in drinking vessels and jewelry. He said college students will drink no matter what, but do so more dangerously when it’s illegal.

The statement the presidents have signed avoids calling explicitly for a younger drinking age. Rather, it seeks "an informed and dispassionate debate" over the issue and the federal highway law that made 21 the de facto national drinking age by denying money to any state that bucks the trend.

But the statement makes clear the signers think the current law isn’t working, citing a "culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking," and noting that while adults under 21 can vote and enlist in the military, they "are told they are not mature enough to have a beer." Furthermore, "by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law."

"I’m not sure where the dialogue will lead, but it’s an important topic to American families and it deserves a straightforward dialogue," said William Troutt, president of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., who has signed the statement.

But some other college administrators sharply disagree that lowering the drinking age would help. University of Miami President Donna Shalala, who served as secretary of health and human services under President Clinton, declined to sign.

"I remember college campuses when we had 18-year-old drinking ages, and I honestly believe we’ve made some progress," Shalala said in a telephone interview. "To just shift it back down to the high schools makes no sense at all."

McCardell claims that his experiences as a president and a parent, as well as a historian studying Prohibition, have persuaded him the drinking age isn’t working.

But critics say McCardell has badly misrepresented the research by suggesting that the decision to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21 may not have saved lives.

In fact, MADD CEO Chuck Hurley said, nearly all peer-reviewed studies looking at the change showed raising the drinking age reduced drunk-driving deaths. A survey of research from the U.S. and other countries by the Centers for Disease Control and others reached the same conclusion.

McCardell cites the work of Alexander Wagenaar, a University of Florida epidemiologist and expert on how changes in the drinking age affect safety. But Wagenaar himself sides with MADD in the debate.

The college presidents "see a problem of drinking on college campuses, and they don’t want to deal with it," Wagenaar said. "It’s really unfortunate, but the science is very clear."

Another scholar who has extensively researched college binge-drinking also criticized the presidents’ initiative.

"I understand why colleges are doing it, because it splits their students, and they like to treat them all alike rather than having to card some of them. It’s a nuisance to them," said Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health.

But, "I wish these college presidents sat around and tried to work out ways to deal with the problem on their campus rather than try to eliminate the problem by defining it out of existence," he said.

Duke faced accusations of ignoring the heavy drinking that formed the backdrop of 2006 rape allegations against three lacrosse players. The rape allegations proved to be unfounded, but the alcohol-fueled party was never disputed.

Duke senior Wey Ruepten said university officials should accept the reality that students are going to drink and give them the responsibility that comes with alcohol.

"If you treat students like children, they’re going to act like children," he said.

Duke President Richard Brodhead declined an interview request. But he wrote in a statement on the Amethyst Initiative’s web site that the 21-year-old drinking age "pushes drinking into hiding, heightening its risks." It also prevents school officials "from addressing drinking with students as an issue of responsible choice."

Hurley, of MADD, has a different take on the presidents.

"They’re waving the white flag," he said.

Links:

The Amethyst Initiative

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

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Australian school takes modern approach to student exams

Not long ago it would have been called cheating, but students at a Sydney girls’ school are now being encouraged to take their phones, laptops, and MP3 players into exams and even phone a friend if they want help with a question, reports ABC News. The new style of exam is being trialed at the Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC), where teachers say it is a better way to assess the online and verbal communication skills that students need to function in the modern world. The students themselves say having access to their phones and the internet did not make the assessment tasks any easier and tested their time-management capabilities to the limit. PLC headmaster William McKeith devised the experiment after the hearing the views of international education consultant, Marc Prensky, who advocates the use of modern communication devices in exams…

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Intel chairman: Teachers are key to promoting global tech use

Technology plays a big role in economic development, but Intel Chairman Craig Barrett says more teachers are needed to educate users on its usage, especially in emerging economies, PC World reports. The use of technology is being promoted worldwide, but it won’t mean anything until more focus is placed on teachers to provide hands-on instruction on how those tools are used, especially in emerging economies, said Barrett, in a keynote speech to kick off the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco Aug. 19. Many strides have been made recently to promote computing in emerging economies–but throwing more money into such tools won’t help until the teachers are educated. "A good teacher is the best tool for a good education," Barrett said. Innovation to promote technology use in classrooms also doesn’t need speedy processors or the latest hardware, he said. He gave an example of using the Nintendo Wii controller, also called the Wiimote, as an input device for Tablet PCs. With the help of special software, the Wiimote has an infrared emitter and accelerometer that can make it an input device on tablet PCs. Developing that technology cost around $50, said Johnny Chung Lee, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, who demonstrated the technology on stage. Barrett also had some harsh words for U.S. political leaders, saying the U.S. is lagging behind in competitiveness because it doesn’t create an environment to promote economic success,. "We don’t focus as hard as we should on education, we don’t focus as hard as we should on incentivizing … innovation," he said…

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Comcast to throttle some customers’ web speeds

Comcast plans to reduce internet service to customers it deems to be using too much bandwidth, a move that comes on the heels of federal regulators ruling that the internet service provider violated the law by throttling BitTorrent transfers, CNET reports. To keep service flowing to other customers, Comcast plans to impede internet speeds to its heaviest users for up to 20 minutes, Mitch Bowling, Comcast’s senior vice president and general manager of online services, told Bloomberg in an interview Aug. 19. "If in fact a person is generating enough packets that they’re the ones creating that situation, we will manage that consumer for the overall good of all of our consumers,’ Bowling said. The move follows the Federal Communications Commission’s ruling on August 1 that Comcast’s throttling of BitTorrent traffic last year was unlawful–the first time any U.S. broadband provider has ever been found to violate net neutrality rules. The FCC issued a cease-and-desist order and required the company to disclose to subscribers in the future how it plans to manage traffic…

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