Archive for the 'Tech' Category
The loss of mathematical potential is costing Britain alone billions in productivity, and all signs point to similar slippage in U.S. and elsewhere
A rigorous new study looking at the aptitudes indicated by responses to, formats of, and content presented in math exams from 1951 to 2006 shows a disturbing decline both in standards and an apparently correlated decline in student competence. The study looked at British 16-year old students’ exams and confirmed what many in the educational systems in Britain already recognized — math competency is in an unprecedented weak state. And similar problems appear to be true in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The study says that the immediate effect of this inadequacy is not always readily apparent, but that the grave result is the loss of a generation of mathematicians that could have contributed diversely to the economy. Mathematicians are essential to tackle the more cerebral side of problems in topics as diverse as economics, biology, computer science, and mechanical design. Without these mathematicians, many problems go unsolved or have suboptimal solutions, and this translates to loss in domestic product and standard of living.
Of course such slippage is hard to monitor. However, the decline in abilities is far more visible. Despite government claims that it is carefully protecting standards by government testing of students, much like here in the U.S., the testing standards have been in steady decline, according to the study, since around 1970. Between 1951 and 1970 the study found the standards to be quite high and to demand competency in algebra, arithmetic and geometry, all essential topics. By the 1980s the testers began to try to simplify the test.
The study accuses the math education of being shallower and broader. The questions were easier and less demanding. Worse, it says, students were not allowed to independently formulate paths to solutions, but had to follow a dictated path or risk losing credit. Calculators snuck their way into the allowed list of supplies and formula sheets began to appear. This had a net effect of decreasing students’ basic math knowledge and arithmetic abilities.
Additionally, the actual grades themselves fell. The standard for a C fell to a mere 20% mark on the harder British standardized test. The apparent rise in scores from 1990 to present is “highly misleading” it said. It said this increase is due to easier tests, lower standards, and a cram-and-forget mentality on the part of students just looking to use the test to gain college admittance. Says the study, “Exams have changed from being a staging-post to further study to being a series of ‘tick-boxes’.”
British Deputy director of Reform and a co-author of the report Elizabeth Truss state that the loss of competent mathematicians at the university level is a trend that must be stopped. She states, “In today’s Britain it is acceptable to say that you can’t do maths, whereas people would be ashamed to admit they couldn’t read. We need a cultural revolution to transform maths from geek to chic.”
Schools Minister Jim Knight disputes her remarks saying British standards are world class. Perhaps he’s right, as many say standards are slipping worldwide. Knight was able to point to minor recent improvements. He stated, “Ucas figures show the number of people who took up places on full time maths degrees has gone up by 9.3% on last year. That is good news, but we agree maths is of vital importance to the economy and it is a top government priority to encourage more mathematicians in the future. In addition, we have launched a campaign to encourage more young people to consider careers in maths and science.”
In Britain, where every position has a “shadow” political second in command, Shadow children’s secretary Michael Gove was quick to comment, “India and China are producing four million graduates every year. The single largest area of graduate growth is mathematics, science and engineering. A third of graduates in China are engineers - here it’s just 8%. Between 1994 and 2004, more than 30% of the physics departments in Britain disappeared.”
Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws added, “This is a damning critique of maths education in this country. Our education system is too often failing to get the basics right, which risks damaging the national economy.”
While many in the U.S. remain unconcerned about such developments in Britain, similar signs of slippage are showing up in the U.S. In fact many physics programs in the U.S. are gradually losing funding or disappearing. The last U.S. particle physics lab is on the verge of collapse and is only being kept afloat thanks to private donations. As mentioned, such trends may seem harmless, but promise to greatly harm the world economy.
Verizon Wireless gets its Alltel love
Verizon Wireless announced today that it will buy all of Alltel’s assets for an aggregate value of $28.1 billion. At the time of the agreement the bulk of that amount — $22.2 billion — will pay off Alltel debit and the remaining $5.9 billion is the value of Alltel’s equity.
Verizon Wireless said in a press release that it expects the deal to be completed by the end of 2008, but it points out that the deal is subject to regulatory approvals. Alltel and Verizon’s networks operate on common network technology making the transfer of Alltel customers to Verizon networks seamless.
Verizon points out that the purchase of Alltel will give it access to 57 new and primarily rural markets that Verizon Wireless doesn’t currently serve. Alltel currently has more than 13 million customers in markets across 34 states.
Verizon CEO and board chairman Ivan Seidenberg said in a statement, “This is a perfect fit, with Alltel’s high-value post-paid customer base, its solid financials, our common network technology, and significant, readily attainable synergies. Verizon Wireless’ acquisition of Alltel clearly provides opportunities for enhanced value for Verizon shareholders.”
Verizon Wireless says that the acquisition will offer Alltel customers a much larger IN Network calling community and will allow Alltel customers access to a downloadable library of 3 million songs. Alltel customers will also get Verizon Wireless consumer policies like Test Drive and Worry Free Guarantee.
Verizon and Alltel aren’t the first big names to merge in the cellular services market. AT&T and Cingular merged in a deal costing AT&T $86 billion in 2007.
GE demos OLED manufacturing process similar to a newspaper printer
Looking at the future of displays for TVs, computers, and other electronic devices OLED is one of the main contenders to replace the traditional LCD screens common today. The problem with OLED displays at this time is that the manufacturing process required to produce the OLED screens is, for now, relatively cumbersome and costly.
GE has been conducting research into cheaper methods of manufacturing OLEDs funded by a $13 million research collaboration between GE Global Research, Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (ECD) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST funded the research with the goal of demonstrating a cheap, commercially viable way to mass produce OLED products.
GE announced today it succeeded in devising a method to cheaply produce OLED lighting products using a newspaper printing like roll to roll process. Anil Duggal, manager of GE’s advanced Technology Program in Organic Electronics wrote in a blog post, “about 4 years ago, we set out to find out for ourselves whether it could be done. We found a partner company (Energy Conversion Devices or ECD) with great experience at making roll-to-roll equipment and together we were successful in winning a proposal that we submitted to a government agency (NIST) looking to help fund high risk technology development.”
What Duggal and his team of researchers did was devise a method of manufacturing OLED lighting products on a roll-to-roll machine. ECD then built the roll-to-roll machine needed for the manufacturing process.
Duggal went on to write, “Because this had never been done before, we faced some real technical challenges - especially given our program time constraints that often meant we had to start designing machine modules before we had the device fabrication process completely figured out! Anyway, in the end it all came together and we were successful in making our deliverable.”
While OLED lighting is an interesting proposition for lighting homes and business in the future, the really interesting application of the roll to roll technology for technophiles will be if the technology used to make the lighting products can be refined for use in making OLED panels for electronics.
According to Duggal, “Beyond OLEDs, this technology also could have broader impact in the manufacturing of other organic electronic devices such as organic photovoltaics for solar energy conversion, sensors and roll-up displays.”
This process could lead to cheap, easy to produce OLED TVs and PC displays in the future. The reason Sony cites for its low production volume and high relative cost of its XEL-1 OLED TV is the cost and complexity of making the OLED panel itself on traditional production lines, though almost every manufacturer agrees OLEDs will eventually cost substantially less than LCDs of the same size.
The Everex gPC2 and Cloudbook will only be avaiable online, due to lackluster brick-and-mortar sales
While consumer-oriented Linux has been on a rise of late due to healthy sales of the ASUS Eee PC, and Dell which offers a range of notebooks and desktops preloaded with Ubuntu on their website, the store shelves don’t quite seem ready for the March of the Penguins to reach their desktops.
Wal-Mart, the sole brick-and-mortar retailer of Everex’s $199 gPC, has effectively pulled the Linux-based machine off its store shelves, citing a lack of demand. Oddly enough, the in-store supplies of the gPC were sold out across the approximately 600 stores that received shipments — but Wal-Mart spokesperson Melissa O’Brien stated that “This really wasn’t what our customers were looking for.”
Online buyers didn’t appear to share these feelings, and the Wal-Mart.com site is now offering the second-generation gPC2 for sale, in addition to Everex’s CloudBook, an ultraportable Linux laptop aiming to cut into the Eee PC’s market.
With competition in the low-budget PC market heating up in 2008, the lack of licensing fees could mean that Linux will be found on many more desktops and laptops — but if the sales of the gPC are any indication, it may still be some time before it gains a serious foothold in the mainstream retail market.
According to Net Applications, Linux held on to only 0.67% market share in January 2008. This figure pales in comparison to OS X which commanded 7.57% of the market and Windows which continues to outshine all with 91.46% of the OS market.
Apparently catering to the few folks out there that feel they have too few USB flash drives, Ultra Products recently let loose this so-called SpaceStation 6, which comes with no less than six tiny thumb drives that can be neatly concealed and used as the mood strikes. Of course, there’s no hub action going on here — which would be convenient — and the slots likely won’t play nice with your current stash of flash drives. If you’re still interested, however, you can grab either a 12GB version (consisting of six 2GB drives) or a 6GB version (with six 1GB drives) right now for $90 or $60, respectively.
[Via Coolest Gadgets]