Computer Science Education

Posted on December 31, 2005  Comments (3)

The Perils of JavaSchools by Joel Spolsky:

Therein lies the debate. Years of whinging by lazy CS undergrads like me, combined with complaints from industry about how few CS majors are graduating from American universities, have taken a toll, and in the last decade a large number of otherwise perfectly good schools have gone 100% Java. It’s hip, the recruiters who use “grep” to evaluate resumes seem to like it, and, best of all, there’s nothing hard enough about Java to really weed out the programmers without the part of the brain that does pointers or recursion, so the drop-out rates are lower, and the computer science departments have more students, and bigger budgets, and all is well.


I wish they hadn’t listened.

As usually Joel wraps intelligent thought within great writing. For those interested in computer science his blog is a great resource. Also, don’t miss Paul Graham’s essays or his book: Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age. Joel’s writing is also available as a book: Joel on Software. Joel has also collected relating writing: The Best Software Writing I.

Overuse of Antibiotics

Posted on December 31, 2005  Comments (6)

Stomach Bug Mutates Into Medical Mystery – Antibiotics, Heartburn Drugs Suspected

Shultz is one of a growing number of young, otherwise healthy Americans who are being stricken by the bacterial infection known as Clostridium difficile — or C. diff — which appears to be spreading rapidly around the country and causing unusually severe, sometimes fatal illness.

“It’s a new phenomenon. It’s just emerging,” said L. Clifford McDonald of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “We’re very concerned. We know it’s happening, but we’re really not sure why it’s happening or where this is going.”

It may, however, be the latest example of a common, relatively benign bug that has mutated because of the overuse of antibiotics.

Articles on the overuse of anti-biotics are available via the Curious Cat directory. From the US Center for Disease Control – Antibiotic / Antimicrobial Resistance section:

Antibiotic use promotes development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm. Widespread use of antibiotics promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance. While antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections, they are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu.

Unfortunately the continued overuse of antibiotics is increasing the danger of deadly antibiotic resistant bacteria. This problem is a significant challenge not only due to the scope of the consequences (which are huge) but due to the nature of the problem. Many thousands, hundreds of thousands maybe even millions of poor use of antibiotics incrementally put everyone at risks. But each of those individual steps of poor use of antibiotics is by itself not likely to be deadly.

Due to the way we tend to think about problems (searching for one simple cause or thing to blame and fixing that one thing), the cause of antibiotic resistance provides an opportunity for the millions of bad actions to go unchecked. Only after catastrophic consequences are recognized, and put in the proper context, are we likely to give this issue the attention it deserves. Thankfully CDC and others are trying to get us to take this issues seriously now. However, the risks are huge and each person (doctors, patients, consumers [use of antibiotics on animals used as food is a huge part of the problem], government regulators…) taking small actions that make the situation worse often don’t see any need to take more responsibility.

National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship

Posted on December 28, 2005  Comments (1)

The deadline for applying for the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship is January 6, 2006. Some details:

The US Department of Defense will pay the fellow’s full tuition and required fees (not to include room and board). In addition, fellows receive (if in school 12 months):

Period First Year Second Year Third Year
Amount $30,500 $31,000 $31,500

The above amounts are based on a 12-month academic year. If the fellow is not enrolled in an institutionally approved academic study and/or research activity during the summer months, financial support will be paid only while enrolled.

From 2003 to 2005, 466 awards were granted out of 8,679 applications – see more details.

“You are required to enroll in a full-time graduate program at a U.S. institution offering doctoral degrees in your discipline of study. Fellowships are awarded to applicants who intend to pursue a doctoral degree. You do not have to be accepted into a program at the time your application is submitted. However, should you be selected, the award is contingent upon your admission to a suitable program.”

“NDSEG Fellowships are intended for students at or near the beginning of their graduate studies in science or engineering. Applicants must have received or be on track to receive their bachelor’s degrees by Fall 2006. Fellows selected in Spring 2006 must begin their fellowship tenure in Fall 2006.”

To apply and for more details see the NDSEG web site.

Awards provided to applicants who will pursue a doctoral degree in, or closely related to, an area of DoD interest within one of the following disciplines:

* Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering
* Biosciences
* Chemical Engineering
* Chemistry
* Civil Engineering
* Cognitive, Neural, and Behavioral Sciences
* Computer and Computational Sciences
* Electrical Engineering
* Geosciences
* Materials Science and Engineering
* Mathematics
* Mechanical Engineering
* Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering
* Oceanography
* Physics

Wasps Used to Detect Explosives

Posted on December 27, 2005  Comments (0)

Wasps Used to Detect Explosives, podcast from NPR:

The “Wasp Hound” is a device that utilizes trained wasps to detect explosives and other odors. Joe Lewis, research entomologist with the USDA Agriculture Research Service and the Wasp Hound’s lead inventor, discusses the device.

Wasps could replace bomb, drug dogs, USA Today:

Scientists say a species of non-stinging wasps can be trained in only five minutes and are just as sensitive to odors as man’s best friend, which can require up to six months of training at a cost of about $15,000 per dog.

“There’s a tremendous need for a very flexible and mobile chemical detector,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist Joe Lewis, who has been studying wasps since the 1960s.

Parasitic Wasps Learn and Report Diverse Chemicals with Unique Conditionable Behaviors by Olson, D.M., Rains, G.C., Meiners, T., Takasu, K., Tertuliano, M., Tumlinson, J.H., Wackers, F.L., Lewis, W.J. 2003. Chemical Senses. 28:545-549.

Most IT Jobs Ever in USA Today

Posted on December 26, 2005  Comments (2)

Blue Skies Ahead for IT Jobs by Maria Klawe (dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and a professor of computer science at Princeton University) in CIO magazine:

Contrary to popular belief, career opportunities in computer science [in the USA] are at an all-time high.

The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show that the number of computing-related jobs has surpassed the previous peak in 2000. What is more, computing-related jobs are no longer an isolated component of American industries; IT underpins every function of the business community—market research, product design, finance, strategic planning, environmental issues—every aspect of doing and leading.

Looking at the actual data, is becoming a theme through many of our posts recently. Many believe IT opportunities are decreasing, but the labor department data shows this is not the case.

The preparation we need starts in grades K-12, when many students turn away from math and science. A key problem is that children receive very little exposure to real projects and careers in engineering and applied science.

The idea that the education system is a key to creating a supply of capable workers is widely recognized. Now we just need to actually making the changes people are talking about. This article gives a number of interesting suggestions.

At Princeton, a new integrated course that combines computer science, biology, physics and chemistry has attracted several women to major in computer science.

Information Technology has become integral to most significant efforts in most organizations today. Organizations need, IT engineers to work in cooperation with other experts to implement solutions.

Gene Linked to Fish and Human Pigmentation

Posted on December 26, 2005  Comments (0)

Zebra Fish photo

A Fish of a Different Color:

Until now, the genetics underlying human skin pigmentation have remained a mystery. But while studying the zebrafish–a fish common to household aquariums and research laboratories–a team of interdisciplinary scientists found a gene that plays a major role in human coloration.

Besides unraveling some of the mysteries of human variation, the research, which is featured on the cover of the Dec. 16 issue of Science, has implications for understanding a host of human diseases including cancer, diabetes and rickets.

Superconductivity and Superfluidity

Posted on December 25, 2005  Comments (0)

Ultracold test produces long-sought quantum mix – Unbalanced superfluid could be akin to exotic matter found in quark star, Rice University:

In the bizarre and rule-bound world of quantum physics, every tiny spec of matter has something called “spin” — an intrinsic trait like eye color — that cannot be changed and which dictates, very specifically, what other bits of matter the spec can share quantum space with. When fermions, the most antisocial type of quantum particle, do get together, they pair up in a wondrous dance that enables such things as superconductivity.

In the Rice experiment, when temperatures drop to within a few billionths of a degree of absolute zero, fermions with equal but opposite spin become attracted to one another and behave, in some respects, like one particle. Like a couple on the dance floor, they don’t technically share space, but they move in unison. In superconductors, these dancing pairs allow electrical current to flow through the material without any resistance at all, a property that engineers have long dreamed of harnessing to eliminate “leakage” in power cables, something that costs billions of dollars per year in the U.S. alone.

Science Careers

Posted on December 23, 2005  Comments (1) web site from AAAS, Science Magazine.

includes an average of over 1,000 job postings which are updated daily, career advice articles written by the editors of Next Wave, graduate program information, meetings & event information, funding opportunities on GrantsNet, and a Career Forum where scientists can get free advice about career-related issues from veteran advisors… All for free.

An article providing an overview of the site: Your Science Career, in a Nutshell

And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a life scientist, a clinical scientist, a physical scientist, or a computer scientist: We’ll continue to meet your scientific career needs, with an archive of nearly 4000 articles on scientific careers and new content every week.

Self Aware Robot

Posted on December 22, 2005  Comments (0)

Self aware robot

Robot Demonstrates Self Awareness by Tracy Staedter, Discovery News (they broke the the link so I removed it):

Some interesting news from Junichi Takeno and a team of researchers at Meiji University in Japan as the year nears completion:

A new robot can recognize the difference between a mirror image of itself and another robot that looks just like it.

This so-called mirror image cognition is based on artificial nerve cell groups built into the robot’s computer brain that give it the ability to recognize itself and acknowledge others.

SMART Fellowships/Scholarships

Posted on December 21, 2005  Comments (0)

The Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship application opened yesterday (the application closes February 17, 2006.

More details available online

Financial Assistance
Subject to the availability of funds, scholarships awarded will pay: salary or stipend, full tuition, required fees, up to $1000 book allowance per year, room and board and other normal educational expenses for the institution involved. The annual salary will be in the range of $20,000 to $40,000 depending upon student’s academic status. Students are required to spend their summer as an intern with a Department of Defense (DoD) Agency.

Employment Obligation
Upon selection, students must sign a DoD civilian service agreement. The employment obligation to the DoD civilian workforce upon completion of the scholarship/fellowship will be a one-for-one commitment. Failure to complete the required period of service will require the reimbursement of funds expended by the Government for the individual’s education under this program.

SMART scholarships and fellowships are awarded to applicants who are pursuing a degree in, or closely related to, one of the following SME disciplines:

* Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering
* Biosciences
* Chemical Engineering
* Chemistry
* Civil Engineering
* Cognitive, Neural, and Behavioral Sciences, Psychology
* Computer and Computational Sciences
* Electrical Engineering
* Geosciences
* Materials Science and Engineering
* Mathematics, Operations Research
* Mechanical Engineering
* Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering
* Oceanography
* Physics, Physical Sciences

Science Researchers: Need for Future Employees

Posted on December 21, 2005  Comments (1)

Scientists and engineers: Crisis, what crisis? by Mario Cervantes. More data on the question of a shortage of skilled workers, this time, researchers from January 2004:

The number of researchers in OECD countries rose from 2.4 million in 1990 to 3.4 million in 2000, a 42% increase, and demand is still expanding – the EU estimates it will need 700,000 new researchers to meet its commitment to increase investment in R&D to 3% of GDP by 2010. The US National Science Foundation projects that some 2.2 million new jobs in science and engineering will be created over 2000-2010, especially in computer-related occupations. In Japan the University Council predicted in 1998 that demand for masters students would exceed supply by 2010.
In other words, while few scientists are out of work, a significant proportion of them are not finding jobs in occupations that are closely related to their studies. This would weaken the claim of a widespread shortage of science and engineering graduates, but may signal another problem: “mismatches” between what the market (industry or academia) needs and is willing to pay in terms of research, and the skill sets, interests and salary aspirations that graduates have.

Well, if they are employed then there is a match between workers and jobs. The whole idea of the market working to match up the workers to jobs is based on the idea that workers and employers will react to shortages and surpluses by paying more and offering inducements to change career paths (employers facing a shortage) and some workers will decide to take them up on these offers.

I don’t doubt the market has and will continue to be dynamic. Knowledge workers should expect continuing education and learning throughout their careers. And I think most do expect that.

The strong case that the system was failing to match workers to jobs would be high unemployment rates and open jobs that employers couldn’t fill because people did not have the right skills. Taking actions to align higher education with the needs of the economy for science and engineering knowledge is wise. However, I think there will always be slight adjustments needed once students graduate. The key is that they are prepared to quickly learn the specific needs of the current marketplace. That I think is achievable and should be one of the goals of institutions of higher education.