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Technology
 

November 17, 2018 - November 23, 2018

Amazon’s new goal: Teach 10 million kids a year to code

Amazon launched a program Thursday, Nov. 1, that aims to teach more than 10 million students a year how to code. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Joseph Pisani

New York (AP) - Amazon wants to get more kids thinking about becoming computer engineers.

The company launched a program Thursday that aims to teach more than 10 million students a year how to code. Amazon said it will pay for summer camps, teacher training and other initiatives to benefit kids and young adults from low-income families who might not have learned to code otherwise. It hopes the programs spurs more black, Hispanic and female students to study computer science.

Amazon declined to put a price tag on the program, called Amazon Future Engineer, but said it will take up a big chunk of the $50 million that it committed to spend on computer science education last year.

Other corporations, including Microsoft and Facebook, have also committed cash to bring coding to schools, which could ultimately benefit the companies. There’s a shortage of computer engineers, and teaching students to code will ensure a pipeline of future talent to hire.

Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s chief executive of worldwide consumer, said he hopes some of the students who go through the Amazon Future Engineer program will work for the company, creating skills for its Alexa voice assistant or programming its delivery drones. But he said other companies are increasingly relying on technology, and coding has become a valuable skill to more employers.

“We’re pretty confident that knowing how to code will be as important as knowing how to read for the jobs of the future,” Wilke said.

Amazon Future Engineer will offer kids in kindergarten through eighth grade free summer camps and after-school programs that will take place in Amazon offices around the country. Amazon employees will volunteer, and online classes, lessons and games will be provided by Amazon’s partners, such as Code.org and Coding with Kids. The company also said it plans to pay for online training for teachers at 2,000 low-income high schools around the country to teach them to teach introductory and college-level advance placement computer science classes. In addition, it will offer college students scholarships and internships. Schools, teachers and parents will be able to apply through AmazonFuture Engineer.com.

Amazon said some schools have been testing the program, including Monsignor Scanlan High School in New York. Science teacher Jennifer Tulipano began taking coding classes online in September and started teaching two computer science classes that month where the students learn how to create games and make animated characters dance. It’s the first time the school has offered computer science classes.

Tulipano said the school applied for the Amazon program because more students were getting feedback from colleges saying they needed some background in computer science.

“So much is now online,” Tulipano said. “It’s a skill set they need moving forward if they want to go into these fields.”


November 10, 2018 - November 16, 2018

Water out of thin air: California couple’s device wins $1.5M

The Skysource/Skywater Alliance co-founders David Hertz, right, and his wife Laura Doss-Hertz demonstrate how the Skywater 300 works Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Los Angeles. The company received the $1.5 million XPrize For Water Abundance for developing the Skywater 300, a machine that makes water from air. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

John Rogers

Los Angeles (AP) - It started out modestly enough: David Hertz, having learned that under the right conditions you really can make your own water out of thin air, put a little contraption on the roof of his office and began cranking out free bottles of H2O for anyone who wanted one.

Soon he and his wife, Laura Doss-Hertz, were thinking bigger - so much so that this week the couple won the $1.5 million XPrize For Water Abundance. They prevailed by developing a system that uses shipping containers, wood chips and other detritus to produce as much as 528 gallons (2,000 liters) of water a day at a cost of no more than 2 cents a quart (1 liter).

The XPrize competition, created by a group of philanthropists, entrepreneurs and others, has awarded more than $140 million over the years for what it calls audacious, futuristic ideas aimed at protecting and improving the planet. The first XPrize, for $10 million, went to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aviation pioneer Burt Rutan in 2004 for SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned space flight.

When Hertz learned a couple of years ago that a prize was about to be offered to whoever could come up with a cheap, innovative way to produce clean freshwater for a world that doesn’t have enough of it, he decided to go all in.

At the time, his little water-making machine was cranking out 150 gallons a day, much of which was being given to homeless people living in and around the alley behind the Studio of Environmental Architecture, Hertz’s Venice Beach-area firm that specializes in creating green buildings.

He and his wife, a commercial photographer, and their partner Richard Groden, who created the smaller machine, assembled The Skysource/Skywater Alliance and went to work. They settled on creating little rainstorms inside shipping containers by heating up wood chips to produce the temperature and humidity needed to draw water from the air and the wood itself.

“One of the fascinating things about shipping containers is that more are imported than exported, so there’s generally a surplus,” said Hertz, adding they’re cheap and easy to move around.

And if there’s no wood chips around for heat, coconut husks, rice, walnut shells, grass clippings or just about any other such waste product will do just fine.

“Certainly in regions where you have a lot of biomass, this is going to be a very simple technology to deploy,” said Matthew Stuber, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Connecticut and expert on water systems who was one of the panel’s judges.

He called their water-making machine a “really cool” merging of rather simple technologies that can be used to quickly deliver water to regions hit by natural disasters, stricken by drought or even rural areas with a shortage of clean water.

Hertz and Doss-Hertz are just starting to contemplate how to accomplish that.

Theirs was among 98 teams from 27 countries who entered the competition. Many teams were bigger and better funded, while the couple mortgaged their Malibu home to stay in the game. At one point, they were told they hadn’t made the final round of five, but one team dropped out and they were back in.

“If you say we were the dark horse in the race, we weren’t even in the race,” Hertz recalled, smiling.

He stood near a giant copy of the check in his office while Doss-Hertz prepared to leave for a photo shoot and a visitor sampled a glass of their freshly made water.

Now, though, they are in for the long, wet haul.

“There’s no restrictions whatsoever on how it’s used,” Hertz said of the prize money. “But Laura and I have committed to using it all for the development and deployment of these machines, to get them to people who need the water most.”


November 3, 2018 - November 9, 2018

Poll: Young Americans say online bullying a serious problem

Matty Nev Luby holds her phone and logs into the lip-sync smartphone app Musical.ly, in Wethersfield, Conn. Luby said she's learned to navigate Instagram and other social media apps by brushing aside the anonymous bullies. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Matt O'brien & Barbara Ortutay

Wethersfield, Conn. (AP) - Teens and young adults say cyberbullying is a serious problem for people their age, but most don't think they'll be the ones targeted for digital abuse.

That's according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV, which also finds that about half of both young people and their parents view social media as having a mostly negative effect on the younger generation.

Fifteen-year-old Matty Nev Luby said she's learned to navigate Instagram and other social media apps by brushing aside the anonymous bullies.

"When I see a really mean comment about my appearance or something I did, if someone said that to me online, it means nothing to me, but if I pictured someone I know saying that, I would be really upset," Luby said.

Roughly three-quarters of 15- to 26-year-olds say that online bullying and abuse is a serious problem for their peers. Seven percent of young people say they have already been a victim of cyberbullying, with young women (11 percent) more likely to say they were bullied than young men (3 percent).

"People will make fun of their outfits or weight, their choices," said Luby, who lives in a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut, and has been dabbling in social media since age 12.

Her popularity on the lip-syncing app Musical.ly, which merged this summer into the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok, helped win her some modeling contracts. Now she's mostly focused on Instagram, where she follows makeup artists and fashion trends.

Her mother, Kerrylynn Mahoney, said she's impressed by her daughter's ability to keep bullies at bay.

"Her responses blow my mind," Mahoney said. "I'd be fists up at her age. She's like, 'I'm sorry you feel that way. You should probably think in a more positive way and then we'd have more peace on earth.'"

But she's also vigilant about monitoring her daughter's accounts, blocking any followers who seem creepy or fake and trying to steer her away from fixating on pages that degrade women.

"I have to constantly keep her grounded," Mahoney said. "I'm thankful she's aware that this is not real. It's our jobs as parents to reel them back in."

The poll shows majorities of both young people and their parents think parents have a responsibility to help prevent online harassment.

The long-documented problem with online bullying is that it is relentless. It doesn't let up when kids get home from school, safely in their homes, or even when they move away from their tormentors. Still, like Luby, many young people tend to be more resilient to trolling from strangers online.

"If they don't know who it is, it doesn't seem to bother them as much," said Justin Patchin, a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. "What concerns them is when it's some kid at school."

Patchin said that among adults, the people perpetuating harassment tend to be strangers, not people they know.

Leslie Hernandez, 39, said she thinks the impact of social media on people her age has been mostly positive.

"Adults tend to stay away from the drama that is part of adolescence," said Hernandez, who lives in Tucson, Arizona. "It allows you to connect with people from your past."

According to the poll, she is in the minority. Among parents of 15- to 26-year-olds, about a quarter, 23 percent, say social media has had a mostly positive effect on people their age, while 31 percent say it's been negative; 45 percent say it's neither positive nor negative. Among people aged 15 to 26, 47 percent say it's had a negative effect on their generation, and 26 percent say it's been a good thing, while another 26 percent think it's neither. About half of parents, 53 percent, agree social media has had a mostly negative effect on their child's generation.

No matter their age, the overwhelming majority say they see people using discriminatory language or posting such images. Seventy-eight percent of people aged 15 to 26 say they see such posts either sometimes or often, compared with 65 percent of their parents. Only 4 percent of young people and 10 percent of their parents say they never see discriminatory language or images.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter have been trying for years to clamp down on abuse and harassment, with varying degrees of success. Both parents (72 percent) and young people (67 percent) think the companies play a major role in addressing these problems.

Roughly two-thirds of parents also attribute responsibility to schools (68 percent), law enforcement (66 percent) and other users who witness the behavior (61 percent).

Currently, young internet users report using YouTube (48 percent), Facebook (47 percent), Instagram (40 percent) and Snapchat (39 percent) several times a day or more. Fewer use Twitter, Reddit, WhatsApp, Tumblr or LinkedIn as regularly. Parents who use the internet are most likely to report using Facebook (53 percent) several times a day or more, with few being heavy users of other social media sites.

Hernandez said she's "pretty active" on Facebook, in part because of her job as a student housing manager at a college.

"Snapchat feels a little less personal to me," she said. "On Facebook you can kind of follow people and see what's going on in their lives in a more permanent kind of way. A Snapchat image, people will forget. On Instagram, people can enjoy the pictures but don't really see a whole (life)."

Online:

AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: http://www.apnorc.org
 


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Amazon’s new goal: Teach 10 million kids a year to code


Water out of thin air: California couple’s device wins $1.5M


Poll: Young Americans say online bullying a serious problem