White House Honors Two Techies for Making Programming Cool

Bay Area residents Carlos Bueno and Kimberly Bryant are helping to prepare kids to use programming concepts in daily life and work.

Tech Titans Join Forces on Internet Surveillance

More than 60 technology firms and other groups are urging the federal government to let companies disclose Patriot Act data requests.

Moving Beyond Standardized Tests

Citing the need to adjust to new Common Core standards, the California Board of Education decided earlier this month to suspend the use of standardized test scores as its main measurement of school performance. This comes as teachers, parents and students nationwide protest against the overuse of tests. We talk with NPR education blogger Anya Kamenetz about the perils of overusing test scores and other methods of measuring school and teacher quality.

Wearable Tech Enables New Era of Employee Monitoring

New wearable devices have been allowing people to track their personal data at all times. Now, it's also making it easier for employers to collect information on their workers' productivity. This field of data collection, known as telematics, is projected to be an over $27 billion industry by 2018, and companies like UPS and Coca-Cola are already using it. We look at what the expanding industry means for workplace productivity and for workers' privacy.

PBS NewsHour

New species of Costa Rican glass frog bears resemblance to Kermit

A new glass frog species that bears an uncanny resemblance to Kermit the Frog was discovered by scientists in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center announced earlier this week.

While glass frogs are typically green, this species is unique in that it is uniformly lime green and has a distinctive DNA structure and tinny high-pitched mating call.

Researcher Brian Kubicki, along with Stanley Salazar and Robert Puschendorf, found six specimens of the amphibians in three separate locations in the Talamanca Mountain Range on the Costa Rica-Panama border.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 15: Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy pose for the kiss camera during the Houston Rockets against
         the Los Angeles Clippers game on March 15, 2015 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
         acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions
         of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Andrew Bernstein/NBAE via
         Getty Images)

Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy pose for the kiss camera during the Houston Rockets against the Los Angeles Clippers game on March 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Copyright 2015 NBAE. Scientists revealed a newly-discovered glass frog species that bears an uncanny resemblance to Kermit. Photo by Andrew Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

They named the new species Hyalinobatrachium dianae (Diane’s Bare-hearted glass frog), in honor of Kubicki’s mother, Janet Diane, and wrote about the discovery in the February issue of Zootaxa.

The semitransparent glass frog, whose internal organs are easily seen, is common to the rainforests of Central and South America. This is the first time since 1973 that a new species has been discovered in Costa Rica, according to National Geographic.

As a result of the latest discovery, there are now 14 types of glass frogs in Costa Rica and 149 worldwide.

As the internet reacted to the Kermit look-alike, Disney released an official Q&A with the Muppet, in which Kermit responded to a range of questions about his amphibious doppelganger:

Is it true that you may be related?
Yes, we’re cousins. In fact, I’m related to every single frog in the world, and I’m close to most toads, too. The reason this new frog looks so much like me is that her mother and my mother are sisters. It’s a family resemblance. Googly eyes run in our family.

Read more from the Kermit Q&A here.

The post New species of Costa Rican glass frog bears resemblance to Kermit appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

How maps packed with data help scientists fight malaria


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The speed and impact of the Ebola epidemic highlighted the need for better ways to quickly predict potential outbreaks. Researchers believe data can help in their fight other diseases like malaria.

Tomorrow is World Malaria Day, making it a good time to look at the potential.

NewsHour special correspondent Spencer Michels reports.

SPENCER MICHELS: Maps are nothing new. In one form or another, they have been around for centuries. These days, we use them in our cars, we use them to illustrate the news. Now scientists have found a powerful new way to use maps to attack disease.

Epidemiologist Hugh Sturrock is trying to stamp out malaria in parts of Africa, and from his campus cubicle at the University of California San Francisco, he is trying to make high-tech maps of the risk of outbreaks of malaria, maps that will be crucial to effectively fighting the disease, but will be easy to use in the field.

HUGH STURROCK, University of California, San Francisco: If we can understand and predict where diseases are most likely to occur, then we can target those high-risk areas. We were motivated to try to build a platform that would allow non-experts to generate risk maps themselves, essentially at the click of a button.

SPENCER MICHELS: Worldwide, between 600,000 and a million people, mostly young children, die each year from malaria. The disease is spread by female mosquitoes seeking human blood. Health workers need accurate maps showing on-the-ground conditions to know where to spray insecticide and where to stock clinics.

Sturrock’s maps for Swaziland in Southern Africa show where malaria cases have occurred, plus water conditions, temperatures and elevations. Until now, those facts have not been easy to analyze, even though the data has been collected.

HUGH STURROCK: There are more large-scale rainfall patterns and temperature variations and are really only available using sort of satellite information. We want to sort of bring all of that data to the hands of those people in the village.

SPENCER MICHELS: Sturrock’s maps rely on data, much of it photos, that have been, and still are, collected by NASA satellites circling the globe. But that information, 40 years’ worth, has languished in government vaults in South Dakota.

Now Google Earth Engine has acquired it, for free, and is working with the university and many others to put it to work. For several years, Google has been storing data, trillions of measurements, on thousands of computers that it owns. But, until recently, and, in fact, even now, using that data, making sense of it has been very difficult.

Sturrock, with the power of thousands of Google’s computers at his fingertips, is combining the satellite pictures with on-the-ground information, using algorithms.

REBECCA MOORE, Manager, Google Earth Engine: An algorithm is nothing more than a recipe.

SPENCER MICHELS: Computer scientist Rebecca Moore manages Google Earth Engine.

REBECCA MOORE: These scientists are saying, I will look at this kind of satellite imagery, and then I’m going to overlay where there have been outbreaks of malaria in the past, and where there have been mosquitoes in the past, and so on, and they mix that all together into a numerical recipe, and out comes a prediction.

SPENCER MICHELS: Those predictions and the maps that produce them point to where there’s a need for insecticide-treated bed nets to keep out mosquitoes. That’s the goal of Nothing But Nets, part of the U.N. Foundation.

Elizabeth Ivanovich, its global health officer, says that accurate on-the-ground information is a vital component of any risk map, and in parts of Africa, collecting that data has yet to occur.

ELIZABETH IVANOVICH, United Nations Foundation: A lot of work has gone on in Swaziland to get those data systems up to speed, so that you actually when a case occurs and when a death occurs and exactly the location that that is happening in.

And that’s just not the case in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially countries with a much higher burden of disease.

SPENCER MICHELS: But it’s not just fighting malaria that benefits from satellite data. Today, such information has become a hot commodity. Satellite pictures can provide evidence of environmental problems and clues to solving them.

Satellites record ships at sea, and the images, plus other data sent by ships, can point to overfishing and where it is happening. There’s dramatic satellite imagery of the growth of urban sprawl in Las Vegas, and the shrinking of Lake Mead, its water source, that could be used for planning.

The applications so far may be just the start of a host of uses for the mined data. In the public health field, the model of the malaria project could, Sturrock says, be used with Ebola and animals that are possibly spreading the disease.

HUGH STURROCK: It is possible to map cases of Ebola and to relate those to variables that are linked to the distribution of fruit bats.

There’s no reason why we can’t use a lot of that — those techniques and those models and that data.

REBECCA MOORE: It’s billions of megabytes of satellite imagery data. And never before has there been a technology platform that could allow scientists and government agencies to kind of mine that archive, right, and turn that into knowledge.

SPENCER MICHELS: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Spencer Michels in Mountain View, California.

The post How maps packed with data help scientists fight malaria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Before it showed us distant reaches of the universe, the Hubble telescope ‘needed glasses’

Composite image handout of the spiral galaxy NGC 4258

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JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a 25-year-old space telescope that’s provided an unmatched window to the universe, one that’s helped us understand origins of stars, nebulas and distant baby galaxies.

The Hubble was launched on the space shuttle on April 25, 1990. It’s sent back more than a million observations and amazing images, what have been called cosmic postcards. The latest was released by NASA yesterday: a cluster of 3,000 stars known as Westerlund 2.

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien is here with a birthday appreciation.

And, Miles, it is the birthday, and we’re celebrating. And yet it wasn’t so smooth at the beginning.

MILES O’BRIEN: Yes, 25 years, we’re celebrating, and, when it began, 25 years, one month from now, in May, it was a disaster.

How quickly we forget what they called spherical aberration. Essentially, Hubble was Mr. Magoo. It couldn’t see well and it needed some glasses. And so NASA was, of course, tremendously embarrassed by a mirror that wasn’t shaped entirely properly and it had fuzzy vision.

The 1993 Hubble repair mission, the first of five mission to upgrade and improve the Hubble, was such a critical mission. And when they were able to put what amounts to eyeglasses on Hubble, suddenly, it could see like we have never seen before into the distant reaches of the universe. But it started out a laughing stock.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, we — we forget that that happened.

So, over the years, it sent back, as we said, so many images. What are some that stand out to you as the most significant?

MILES O’BRIEN: Well, time is short. I will give you my top three.

Pillars of Creation, now, this is iconic in every way. It’s made the cover of textbooks and magazines, and it’s something that on the one hand has great scientific significance, because it takes you to basically the nursery for stars. This is how stars are formed. And what Hubble is doing is, in a time machine kind of way, taking us back to the very origins of our universe and showing how it grew up.

And this is taking us back to the baby pictures. But what — the other reason I like it is that it was a tremendous way of engaging the general public. People look at this. You don’t have to be a scientist to look at this thing and be struck by its beauty and struck by the connection we all have to the universe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s not the only one.


Number two on my list would 1994. And that is the newly sharpened vision of Hubble trained on Jupiter for the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet. It was a comet that broke apart, and we watched as impacted into Jupiter 21 times. This one particular is of the g impact, which was larger than 600 times the nuclear arsenal of our planet, huge, huge explosions, which we witnessed in real time, extraordinarily good luck for scientists, an amazing feat.

And, finally — and my are all kind of vintage Hubble images, but the Deep Field image back in 1995 — they took a little tiny piece of the sky, seemingly dark, 1/24-millionth of the sky, and did a longtime exposure on that with Hubble. And they came up with 3,000 objects that we’d never seen before, most of them that were galaxies.

So, you have to ask yourself, if that little darkened piece of the sky, 1/24-millionth, gave us 3,000 objects we’d never seen before, what does that tell you about how large and populated our universe, and, ultimately, could we really be alone?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Miles O’Brien, thank you.

MILES O’BRIEN: You’re welcome.

The post Before it showed us distant reaches of the universe, the Hubble telescope ‘needed glasses’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Carnegie Mellon wagers that an AI can take on the world’s top poker players

Professional poker player Doug Polk takes on Carnegie Mellon University's poker-playing computer program Claudico
         in the opening day of the"Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence" poker competition at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
         Claudico will take on Polk and three other poker professionals in 80,000 total hands of Heads-Up, No-Limit Texas Hold'em.

Professional poker player Doug Polk takes on Carnegie Mellon University’s poker-playing computer program Claudico in the opening day of the”Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence” poker competition at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. Claudico will take on Polk and three other poker professionals in 80,000 total hands of Heads-Up, No-Limit Texas Hold’em.

How much would you be willing to bet that a computer program could go toe-to-toe with professional poker players?

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have taken that wager. Computer science professor Tuomas Sandholm, alongside researchers Sam Ganzfried and Noam Brown, are dealing their poker-playing artificial intelligence, Claudico, into a “Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence” competition at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. Starting today, Claudico will be taking on poker professionals Doug Polk, Dong Kim, Bjorn Li and Jason Les in 80,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold’em over a two week period.

“Poker is now a benchmark for artificial intelligence research, just as chess once was,” Sandholm said. “It’s a game of exceeding complexity that requires a machine to make decisions based on incomplete and often misleading information, thanks to bluffing, slow play and other decoys. And to win, the machine has to out-smart its human opponents.”

The competition, funded by Rivers Casino and Microsoft, will see each of the four pros play poker against Claudico on laptop computers, which are connected to a computer at Carnegie Mellon that will be running the software. Each of the players will play 1,500 hands per day against Claudico over 13 days, totaling 20,000 hands each.

The event has taken precautions to eliminate the role of luck as much as possible. In addition to rotating players between the casino’s main floor and an isolation room to prevent comparing of cards, “players will be paired to play duplicate matches — Player A will receive the same cards as the computer receives against Player B, and vice versa,” the university’s press release describes.

“I hope we can stand up for humanity and take this computer down,” Polk, who has earned more than $3.6 million in live tournament earnings, said. “I know computers will eventually be able to beat humans. But I hope we can make them go a few more rounds after this before they do, like Kasparov did.”

Live streams of the games, plus an updating scoreboard, can be followed on the Rivers Casino event page.

Watch live video from Claudico_Extra on

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