Google’s convoluted search for China compromise

Shedding China’s shackles on free speech is proving to be easier said than done for Google Inc, reports the Associated Press. The internet search leader is still censoring its results in China a month after Google’s leaders took a public stand against Chinese laws that require the removal of links to web sites that the government deems subversive or offensive. Citing the sensitivity of the talks, Google officials won’t say how the negotiations have been going since the company issued its Jan. 12 threat to shut down its China-based search engine and possibly leave the country altogether. Google is demanding that the government tear down the so-called “Great Firewall” that seeks to keep China’s citizens from finding politically sensitive information and images.

Google’s top lawyer, David Drummond, initially said that Google would take a few weeks to meet with government officials before deciding what to do. But Google officials now say the company might parse its Chinese search results for several more months while it steers through a political and cultural minefield in search of a compromise with the ruling party…

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Expansion of A.P. tests also brings more failures

The College Board’s Advanced Placement program is expanding in American high schools, but as it moves from being a program primarily for elite students, the number of test-takers who fail A.P. exams is growing — although not as much as the number of those who pass, reports the New York Times. According to a College Board report, about 800,000 public high school seniors in last May’s graduating class, or 26.5 percent of the class, took an A.P. exam at some point in their high school career, almost twice as many as took A.P. exams in the class of 2001.

While the majority of students who take A.P. exams still earn a passing score of 3, 4 or 5, which is enough to earn college credit at many institutions, the share of failing scores has risen with the program’s rapid expansion. In 2009, about 43 percent of the 2.3 million A.P. exams taken earned a failing grade of 1 or 2, compared with 39 percent of the one million exams taken by the class of 2001…

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Challengers gain in important phone software fight

As smart phones increasingly appear alike, with high-end models mostly taking their cues from Apple Inc.’s iPhone, more and more it’s the software they run that makes a difference, reports the Associated Press. A growing number of operating systems are jostling for the attention of phone buyers and manufacturers. The winners will determine what our phones can do, which web sites we’re steered to, and which manufacturers will survive the next few years. The battle will be on display as wireless carriers and phone makers gather next week in Barcelona, Spain, for the industry’s largest trade show, Mobile World Congress. The CEO of Google Inc., suddenly a strong contender in phone software, will address the show. Also hoping to make a splash is Microsoft Corp., which is struggling to revitalize its software.

These are the contenders, starting with the largest worldwide market share: (continued)…

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Wi-Fi turns rowdy bus into rolling study hall

Internet buses may soon be hauling children to school in many districts, particularly those with long bus routes, reports the New York Times. The company marketing the router, Autonet Mobile, says it has sold them to schools or districts in Florida, Missouri and Washington, D.C. Karen Cator, director of education technologyat the federal Department of Education, said the buses were part of a wider effort to use technology to extend learning beyond classroom walls and the six-hour school day. The Vail District, with 18 schools and 10,000 students, is sprawled across 425 square miles of subdivision, mesquite and mountain ridges southeast of Tucson. Many parents work at local Raytheon and I.B.M. plants. Others are ranchers. The district has taken technological initiatives before. In 2005, it inaugurated Empire High as a digital school, with the district issuing students laptops instead of textbooks, and more than 100 built-in wireless access points offering a powerful Internet signal in every classroom and even on the football field…

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Education gains shield women from worst of job woes

Steady increases among women with college degrees over the past two decades apparently have paid off during the recession, with government statistics showing they fared better than men over the past year, and for the first time surpassed the number of men holding payroll jobs, reports the Wall Street Journal. Women were earning about 166 associates degrees and 135 bachelor’s degrees for every 100 earned by men in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Education. More women were employed in teaching, government and health care, sectors that held up better in the recession. The construction and manufacturing sectors, which often require less schooling, have shed millions of jobs in the last few years. Revised data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed women held about 720,000 more nonfarm payroll jobs than men in January. They also exceeded the number of men on the payroll during four months last year.

“This is unprecedented,” said Tim Consedine, regional economist,at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Boston.

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Google rebuts DOJ objections to digital book deal

Google is taking on the DOJ in defending its revised book-scanning settlement.

Google is taking on the DOJ in defending its book-scanning settlement.

Google Inc. wants the digital rights to millions of books badly enough that it’s willing to take on the U.S. Department of Justice in a court battle over whether the internet search leader’s book-scanning ambitions would break antitrust and copyright laws—a battle with important implications for students, teachers, scholars, and researchers.

The stage for the showdown was set Feb. 11 with a Google court filing that defended the $125 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit the company reached with U.S. authors and publishers more than 14 months ago.

Google’s 67-page filing includes a rebuttal to the Justice Department’s belief that the settlement would thwart competition in the book market and undermine copyright law. The brief also tries to overcome a chorus of criticism from several of its rivals, watchdog groups, state governments, and even some foreign governments.

Google revised its original book agreement in November in an attempt to win the Justice Department’s support, only to have the nation’s top law enforcement agency reiterate its opposition last week.

This time, though, Google decided to dig in its heels and attempt to persuade U.S. District Judge Denny Chin that the Justice Department and the settlement’s other opponents are wrong. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 18 in a New York court hearing.

“The purpose of copyright law is to promote the creation and distribution of expressive works,” Google’s lawyers wrote in the company’s Feb. 11 filing. “The [settlement] advances this purpose as much as any case or agreement in copyright history.”

The decision to fight the Justice Department rather than seek another compromise represents a calculated risk for Google. The company’s domination of internet search and its expansion into other markets have already been drawing more regulatory scrutiny.

Locking horns with the Justice Department raises the specter of antitrust regulators magnifying their focus on Google’s search engine, which fuels an online advertising system that generates virtually all the company’s revenue.

Efforts to reach the Justice Department before press time were unsuccessful. Most federal government offices in Washington, D.C., have been closed this week because of snow storms.

In its opinion filed last week, the Justice Department described the settlement as “a bridge too far.” The agency also applauded the settlement for trying to make hard-to-find books more accessible, but said more revisions had to be made to comply with the law.

The Justice Department’s concerns include the possibility of Google gaining an unfair advantage over its smaller internet search rivals if it wins the right to a digital database of books that it built up by ignoring copyright laws.

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TCEA sessions focus on tech for all ages, online learning

Online learning programs are most successful when they are well-structured.

Online learning programs are most successful when they are well-structured.

The second day of the Texas Computer Education Association’s 30th annual conference was filled with sessions focusing on STEM education, online learning, and iPods in classrooms, as well as a keynote speech from author and journalist David Kushner that focused on what makes today’s tech-savvy generation tick.

One session focused on how kindergarten through second-grade educators can incorporate technology into their classrooms and give young students a chance to experiment with technology. Alyssa Isam, Raschel Wagstaff, and Kristyn Marek, all teachers at Buda Elementary in Buda, Texas, led attendees through easy technology solutions for young children.

Some educators maintain blogs to keep parents updated on class progress, the presenters said. Special at-home activities are posted on the blogs so that students can print the activities from home or print them at school if at-home internet access is problematic. For completing and returning these activities to the teacher, students can choose a prize or special activity in the classroom.

Slideshows are another great way for young students to use technology, the presenters said. For instance, students can use digital cameras to take pictures of objects related to a lesson, such as matching the names of different plants, flowers, or colors to their pictures. Animoto, Windows Moviemakers, and Microsoft Photo Story are all viable options to help educators compile slideshows.

Podcasting can motivate young students because they enjoy hearing their recorded voice through playback, the presenters said, but it also helps with reading fluency. Teachers can use a computer’s built-in microphone or a webcam headset.

One educator used a webcam to record a student who was in the school’s Response to Intervention (RTI) program. The student’s parent gave permission for the teacher to film the student, and district RTI evaluators were able to watch the recording to better understand and identify the child’s learning obstacles.

Another session explored characteristics of a successful online learning program. Presenter David McGeary told attendees there is a multitude of K-12 online education research. McGeary is an instructional technology specialist with the Harris County Department of Education in Texas.

Educators who design the online courses they teach tend to have more success than those using a prefabricated course, he said, and teaching students in an online space can be daunting and chaotic.

But sound course design and understanding how children learn are essential in all learning, not just online learning, and can guide educators as they venture into online classrooms, McGeary said.

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YouTube to filter sex, violence, foul language

YouTube today introduced a new content filter that helps users screen out offensive content, such as news videos with graphic violence, or sexually suggestive clips that don’t exceed the service’s Community Guidelines, PC World reports. The optional filter, named Safety Mode, also hides all text comments by default. Google’s YouTube has long banned family-unfriendly content, including pornography and videos that show gratuitous violence, animal abuse, underage drinking, and the like. But Safety Mode adds another layer of protection to keep kids and sensitive adults away from more provocative material. “An example of this type of content might be a newsworthy video that contains graphic violence such as a political protest or war coverage,” writes Associate Product Manager Jamie Davidson on The Official YouTube Blog. The setting is being rolled out Tuesday. To opt in, you scroll to the bottom of any YouTube page and click “Safety Mode is off” on the bottom left. Click “On” and “Save” to activate the filter.

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Why Apple won’t let the Mac and iPhone succeed in business

Last summer, it looked like Apple was finally going to make its Macs and iPhones enterprise-capable, giving hope to those who wanted a more stable, less failure-prone option at the office. Soon, it appeared, Macs and iPhones would no longer need to come in through the back door, or be relegated to “special” departments such as software development or marketing, InfoWorld reports. Don’t count on it. Bolstered by Windows Vista’s travails and the advent of OS-neutral Web apps, the Mac is no doubt on the rise in business. Even IT pros have begun warming up to the Mac. After all, a business-class MacBook Pro costs the same as a business-class Windows PC, so there’s no cost disadvantage to buying Mac hardware. And I hear consistently from IT folks who manage both Macs and PCs that Mac hardware tends to fail less frequently than PCs do and that its OS is more stable than Windows, translating into lower internal IT support costs. (Apple’s support plans cost about $30 more per year than what a Dell, Lenovo, or HP charges, and they require you to bring a Mac in to an authorized repair shop, which can be an issue for IT when the Macs do have problems.)

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Sweden beats U.S. to top tech usage ranking

Sweden took the number one spot from the United States to top the annual rankings on the usage of telecommunications technologies such as networks, cell phones and computers, a report released on Thursday shows, according to Reuters. The Connectivity Scorecard, created by London Business School professor Leonard Waverman in 2008, measured 50 countries on dozens of indicators, including technological skills and usage of communications technology. “Sweden not only has the best current mix of attributes, but it also shows few signs of losing its lead,” said Waverman. “By contrast, there is the beginning of a gap in what was once the essence of U.S. leadership in most industrial and service sectors – education and skills.”

Sweden was second in the last survey behind the United States. Norway placed third, up from fifth spot last year. Researchers say the new indicator — commissioned by telecom gear maker Nokia Siemens Networks — is already used by several countries in developing innovation strategies. “Economic recovery and government stimulus packages aimed at boosting broadband deployment and ICT development should provide room for optimism in the coming years,” Waverman said. Countries in eastern and southern Europe — including Italy, Spain, Greece and Poland — took the last spots on the list of 25 developed countries…

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