Green Social Media

The Department of Energy has launched the Apps for Energy competition, “challenging developers to use the Green Button data access program to bring residential and commercial utility data to life.” The Green Button is an initiative that gives developers access to energy usage data in a standardized, streamlined and easy-to-understand format. The Green Button will include data on 27 million U.S. homes by the end of the year. The app developers that create the most useful and energy-saving apps will win $100,000 in cash prizes.

Smart-grid technology and energy-saving apps have become a federal government priority. The White house has issued a challenge to utility companies to enable customers to download and compare data on energy use. Opower Corp has come up with a “social energy app” that pools data from 16 utilities nationwide, representing 20 million households to provide users with actionable information for saving energy. The Opower app is available in Facebook to help users find energy savings opportunities through friendly competition and shared information.

Bend your display

Bendable displays are finally coming to the market. LG has begun mass producing a 6-inch e-ink plastic screen, with a resolution of 1024 x 768, that bends up to 40 degrees at the center. Bendable displays will fuel the creation of new interesting devices, and also begin replacing glass displays in phones and tablets to create more durable devices. Samsung is developing a foldable OLED screen with no seam that folds in half — and unfolds to show a combined, larger screen. Nokia has shown a concept phone, the GEM, in which the entire surface of the device — front, side, back — is a single, touch-sensitive display.

LG Launching a Bendable Display [NewsFactor]

Hand Over Your Facebook Password, Please!

Most of us know that employers check social networks as part of their background check for prospective employees. The Associated press is reporting that some government agencies and companies are now asking for Facebook usernames and passwords as part of the job interview process so they can check the applicants private profile page. Facebook is fighting against the practice by threatening to sue the companies involved for violating member privacy. The ACLU is fighting the practice as well and calling it an invasion of privacy.

The concern over employers asking job seekers for Facebook login credentials has grown this past week. Senators Richard Blumenthala and Charles Schumer called for a federal investigation into the new hiring practice. Numerous employers in New York City, Seattle, Washington, and elsewhere across the nation have begun demanding that job applicants turn over their Facebook and e-mail user names and passwords. With 8 percent unemployment, Blumenthal and Schumer say that such requests amount to a form of coercion “that could set a dangerous precedent.” “In an age where more and more of our personal information — and our private social interactions — are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public,” Schumer said in a statement released Monday. “This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence.” According to Blumenthal, a ban on such hiring practices is necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy. “With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants’ private, password-protected information,” he said.

Want a Job? What’s Your Facebook Logon? [NewsFactor]
Senators Call for Probe Into Coercion of Facebook Logins [NewsFactor]

More Distracted Driving

New federal rules are pending that will force automakers to limit built-in electronic devices, like GPS systems, to accept user input only when the vehicle is in park. The intent is to reduce accidents caused by drivers typing on electronic devices. Automakers are complaining because they feel that mobile devices providing the same services should also be covered by the new rules. Meanwhile MIT researchers are studying the next front of distracted driving: wandering minds. The researchers are discovering that even a small amount of “cognitive demand” – drivers thinking about something other than driving, can cause an accident – even when the driver is looking at the road. How will the fed regulate that? Time to roll out the self-driving cars!

Do you MOOC?

MIT’s open-source online learning platform, MITx has launched its first course. The course is an electrical engineering course titled Circuits and Electronics and has 90,000 students enrolled on campus and off. MITx is MIT’s latest experiment in MOOC – Massively Open Online Course where anyone in the world with an Internet connection can enroll in an MIT course to view lectures, work on projects, and take exams.┬áStanford is offering five new MOOCs with classes beginning March 19th. The courses are Design and Analysis of Algorithms, Natural Language Processing, Cryptography, Game Theory, and Probabilistic Graphical Models. Enrollment is currently at 335,000 students registered.

First course offered by MITx begins [MIT News]
Stanford offers more free online classes for the world [Stanford Report]

Start ’em Young!

Educators and innovators are calling for an earlier introduction to computer science for U.S. school children. “Producing computer scientists and engineers to fill the demand from domestic companies should be a national priority,” says Jeannette Wing, head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University. While enrollment in engineering and computer science schools is growing, it is not growing at the same pace as other countries. In many such programs U.S. citizens are a minority. The class of 2012 at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science drew 2,390 applicants – 590 from the United States, 602 from India, 678 from China, and the rest from other countries. “Most (U.S.) students are not exposed to computer science in the same way they are to biology and physics,” Wing said. She is pushing for incorporating computer science in the K-12 curriculum.

Some educators believe that increased exposure to computers has naturally created a generation of computer whizzes. Digital natives are often assumed to have heightened computing and technical skills. Microsoft senior researcher Danah Boyd says the stereotype is false. While the vast majority of digital natives know how to chat on Facebook and text their friends, many lack media literacy and information literacy skills. “Ironically, they are often less skilled when it comes to technology than those already in the workforce. They may, on the whole, be more experimental, but they’re not necessarily more skilled,” Boyd states.

MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten group is working on one possible solution. The group has released tools that allow preschoolers and kindergartners to create animated stories on the computer through the use of modular blocks. The technology prepares children for learning how to program later in grade school. Mitch Resnick, director of the group, states that the intent is to allow children to “develop a relationship with the computer where they feel they’re in control.” “We don’t want kids to see the computer as something where they just browse and click. We want them to see digital technologies as something they can use to express themselves,” Resnick said.

Researchers at Cambridge have designed a fully functional Linux computer on a single circuit-board that is selling for just $35. Just connect a keyboard and display or television and you’re ready to go! The product is called the Raspberry Pi, and is selling like hotcakes. The primary intent of the inventors is to promote computer science and programming in grade schools. In an article about the device, columnist John Noughton points out that so far “we’ve taken a technology that can provide “power steering for the mind” (as a noted metaphor puts it) and turned it into a lesson for driving Microsoft Word.” Like the others quoted here, Noughton hopes that school systems can begin early in teaching children how to control and program computers to extend human capabilities and shape our future. Not to be passive users, but to become active developers and innovators.

Future Now

Google is developing augmented reality glasses that will layer information over your view of the world around you. By the end of the year, people on the streets may be donning thick rimmed sunglasses equipped with a small video camera, and wireless network access. The glasses will display text and graphics on the lenses to provide information about objects you are looking at. No doubt some of that information will include ads.
Google Goggles, Virtual Reality [NYTimes]
Google to Sell Heads-Up Display Glasses by Year’s End [NYTimes]
Google Planning Data-Display Glasses [NewsFactor]

Apps and App Stores

App stores and marketplaces are transforming the way developers interact with users, and the way users find and acquire software. The iTunes app store and the Android Marketplace each boast hundreds of thousands of apps. Apple just purchased a company by the name of Chomp that should help Apple users find useful apps hidden like needles in a haystack. A new study released by Canalys found that on average iPhone apps are significantly less expensive than Android apps. The average price of Android Market’s top 100 is $3.74 per Android app, vs. $1.47 per iPhone app in the iTunes App Store. Meanwhile, Mozilla, maker of the popular Firefox browser, is planning to open its own app store. The Mozilla Marketplace will feature apps that will run on any platform in any browser that supports HTML 5. The latest version of HTML supports all kinds of application development in the browser including games, media, music, productivity and others.

The Ever Crowding Airwaves

A Cisco Systems report predicts that mobile data traffic will grow 110 percent this year, and at a compound annual growth rate of 78 percent through 2016. “By 2016, 60 percent of mobile users — 3 billion people worldwide — will belong to the ‘Gigabyte Club’ — each generating more than 1 gigabyte of mobile data traffic per month,” Cisco Systems Vice President Suraj Shetty said. As if to back up Cisco’s prediction, Gartner reported that Smartphone sales grew a whopping 47 percent in the 4th quarter of 2011. It seems unlikely that cellular service providers, who are already complaining about “data hogs” and overuse of their data networks, will be able to cope with demand doubling every year. Fortunately, there is a bill making its way to President Obama’s desk that will allow wide swaths of the wireless spectrum, previously used for broadcast TV, to be auctioned off to cellular companies. The President is expected to sign the legislation. The availability of more spectrums will help, but will it be enough?