Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

New technology allows professors to track whether students are reading their textbooks -

New technology allows professors to track whether students are reading their textbooks - 

This semester, thousands of college students around the country, including dozens at a Texas A&M University campus, won't be able to hide their studying habits from the prying eyes of their professors.

With the new platform CourseSmart Analytics, professors are able to see the students' level of engagement - how much of digital texts students have read, whether they highlight passages or took notes and how much time they spent on their readings.

A beta version of CourseSmart is being tested at several universities during the spring semester serving about 4,000 students, and officials hope to roll it out fully by the fall, said spokeswoman Cindy Clark. The goal is to move away from traditional textbooks and methods and help give faculty an insight into their students' behaviors, she said.

"Only about 55 percent of college students graduate within six years," Clark said. "This illustrates the demand within higher education for a tool that would help students be more successful in their studies and graduate on time."

The system works through a dashboard that tracks the students' progress in the texts. An "engagement index" aggregates data points and an instructor can evaluate the material and intervene early with students that appear to be struggling, she said.

The pilot programs are helping CourseSmart get feedback, so that they can improve upon the tools. For example, the company is considering allowing students to see their own metrics and not just the professor as originally planned. Clark said the pilot program will also help the company determine if any particular discipline benefits more from the technology than others.

CourseSmart carries more than 90 percent of core textbooks and works through the universities' administration learning management systems, Clark said. Students have the option to opt out, but none in the trial period decided not to participate.


Scientists find evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, America's first permanent English colony -

Scientists find evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, America's first permanent English colony - 

Scientists say they have found the first solid archaeological evidence that some of the earliest American colonists survived harsh conditions by resorting to cannibalism.
On Wednesday, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and archaeologists from Jamestown announced the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl with clear signs that she was cannibalized.
The human remains date back to the deadly winter of 1609-1610, known as the “starving time” in Jamestown, when hundreds of colonists died. Scientists have said the settlers arrived from England during the worst drought in 800 years.
For years, there had been unconfirmed tales of starving early colonists resorting to eating dogs, mice, snakes, shoe leather and even their own dead.


Digital cash replacement from Royal Canadian Mint in the works - 

The Royal Canadian Mint is pushing forward with its “MintChip” prototype, a digital cash replacement aimed at transactions under $10.

Secure chips have already made it into our credit and debit cards. Next up, they could replace pocket change.
The Royal Canadian Mint has been pushing forward with its “MintChip” prototype, a digital cash replacement aimed at transactions under $10, since it surfaced a year ago. The Crown corporation is factoring in developer feedback, hiring a product manager and consulting with the financial sector.
“I would look on it very much as an alternative, and hopefully a replacement, for physical cash,” said David Everett, the British cryptographic expert hired years ago to work on the MintChip. “Today, people obviously use coins. They use bits of metal and bits of paper. The future is obviously going to be much more electronic.”
Since 2009, funds have been put toward “improving the efficiency of Canada’s currency” and international expertise has been enlisted to develop an “eCoin” for Canada, according to internal documents, interviews and international patents.
MintChip, as envisioned, could enable paying someone back by tapping phones together, scanning a QR code to donate to charity, or clicking to spend cents on an online article.
However, it’s not known when — or even if — the MintChip will be released into circulation. A Finance Department official said the Crown corporation is consulting with the federal government on potential next steps, and currency changes can require legislative approval.
To even attempt to create such a system sets Canada apart from other countries, said electronic transaction specialist Dave Birch. “To the best of my knowledge, Canada is the only mint that’s seriously experimenting with this sort of thing,” he said.
MintChip emulates the positives of cash — payments are anonymous and don’t require a bank — but work electronically. Value is recorded on chips within USB sticks or on MicroSD cards in phones, tablets or other devices. Value is transferred between chips for low, or no, transaction fees.
Everett compared the system to handing someone a toonie.
“What I’d like to do is do exactly the same thing electronically . . . I’d have my phone, you’d have your phone, we’d touch the phones together,” he said, adding it would also work remotely, through email or apps.
The Royal Canadian Mint’s eight international patents, detailing technicalities and security, were invented by Everett, MintChip’s technical architect. He’s also the man behind Mondex, a private smart card in the 1990s, which some had predicted would change the payment world.
It ended up fizzling. “I think we had a lot of ideas right but were probably just a bit too early,” Everett said from the English village of Rustington ahead of one of his roughly monthly trips to Ottawa.
Mondex was designed over Christmas in 1990. In hindsight, he said, there was nothing really “broken” about payments then. But “the minute you move to the Internet, that’s not true.”
There’s now a “huge market” for low-value payments online, he said, noting banking fees and age limits hinder paying cents for online games or blogs. Everett envisions parents topping up their children’s MintChips from their own; others could add value at banks with debit, credit or cash.
The MintChip idea became public a year ago with the launch on a contest that asked app developers what they would do with digital currency.
Consultations are happening now with merchants, financial institutions and “all of the people we think would be interested in what this might mean,” said the Mint’s chief financial officer, Marc Brûlé.
The experiment is interesting because of potential to reduce costs, said Birch, a director with Consult Hyperion. (The firm reviewed the MintChip idea but Birch wasn’t directly involved.)
From production to handling, small change is expensive: there’s the cost of sorting and rolling and necessities such as security guards. Reducing costs could be good for government, merchants and banks, Birch said.
Recently, banks have given customers the option of using near-field communication (NFC) technology in their phones for fast purchases. Mobile wallet apps similarly store bank information.
Since MintChip would actually be money, it would be in a different category than those NFC payments, which are withdrawn from accounts, said economics professor George Selgin, who specializes in banking and monetary policy at the University of Georgia.
“With MintChip, you could conceivably have that system running where not a soul involved has a bank account or a credit card. That’s the difference,” Selgin said, suggesting MintChip is most comparable to Everett’s earlier creation.
The project is likely about saving money, Selgin said, noting Canada is phasing out expensive pennies.
An internal memo from last year, released to the Star under an access to information request, reminds managers that as well as making Canadian coins, the Mint has foreign coinage contracts. Coins were recently made for Ethiopia, Panama, Uganda, Ghana and New Zealand.
MintChip has potential to be sent to other countries, said Brûlé, who refused to release the cost of the project because it’s “commercially sensitive.”
If MintChip is ever released it could create security jobs as well, according to the memo, which suggests it would need to be monitored in circulation.
‘Instant messaging for your wallet’
MicroSD cards loaded with money were sent to hundreds of developers a year ago by the Royal Canadian Mint.
The tiny chips had logos on them, representing MintChip, and the recipients were some of the first people outside the Mint to get a glimpse of Canada’s electronic currency prototype.
“The concept of cash that’s peer-to-peer is very appealing,” said mobile app developer Jan Hannemann, who received MintChips in Victoria.
He and the other recipients had entered the MintChip Challenge, a contest set up by the Royal Canadian Mint to create payment applications demonstrating potential for the digital cash replacement. Hundreds of spots filled up within days.
Hannemann’s idea, MintWallet, went on to win the grand prize for best overall application. His goal was to make virtual currency to be “like instant messaging for your wallet.” Using cloud technology and push notifications, users could use MintChips for payments, from garage sales to online purchases.
After filling in payee and amount, the “money request” can be sent virtually or create a QR code, which can be scanned and used as a payment. Parking meters could use the system for payment, and it could be used between friends to divvy up restaurant bills, he said.
“Communicating with people, we use social networks, instant messaging,” he said. “The same can be true with money, using MintChip.”
Another idea aimed to be the “digital version of the cash register donation box.” Dickson Wong came in second for his Pennies A Day app, which donates to charity for each MintChip payment. The user selects the charity and the amount, as low as a penny.


Company Offers All Employees 15% Raise If They Get Tattoo Of Logo... -

Company Offers All Employees 15% Raise If They Get Tattoo Of Logo... - 

If your company offered you a pay raise to tattoo its logo on your body, would you do it?

A New York City real estate company made the offer and dozens of employees are getting inked.

As CBS 2′s Emily Smith reported Tuesday, a tattoo can be a way to show off your personality. For Rapid Realty employees, it is the fast track to a 15 percent pay raise if you get inked with the company logo.

There are no size or location restrictions. Brooke Koropatnick got hers behind the ear.

“I had a paycheck coming in what was a substantial amount of money different, so it was nice,” she told Smith.

Stephanie Barry got tattooed two weeks ago and, along with it, a permanent pay raise for every real estate transaction.

“I was like, why am I throwing my money away when I could give myself from a $25,000 to $40,000 for the same amount of work?” Barry told Smith.

The credit doesn’t go to Rapid Realty owner Anthony Lolli. He said he got the idea from a loyal employee who wasn’t doing it for money.

“He calls me up, he says ‘Hey Anthony, I’m getting the logo on me.’ I show up at the shop and I’m like ‘this is cool, how can I repay you?’” Lolli said

The concept snowballed. Robert Trezza recently became the 40th employee to do so at Ink Stop Tattoo.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to show commitment to a company that makes going to work fun every day,” Trezza told Smith.

Joseph Tighe has been on the job only a month but has already taken the plunge.

“My wife was a little concerned but I said, you know what, it was the best commitment I could think of,” he told Smith.

Some people said they would not be lining up for a tattoo if they worked at Rapid Realty, regardless of the pay raise.

“Absolutely not,” David Frankel of the Lower East Side told Smith. “It would have to be extraordinary.”

“It’s a scar for life. I have enough of those,” another man told Smith.

Before you do something like this, Smith reported, make sure you know your company policy and have your boss’ stamp of approval.

The Rapid Realty tattoos, which can cost up to $300, are paid for by the company owner. Lolli said he hasn’t gotten inked yet, but plans to eventually.

Read more -