I.B.M.’s Watson

I.B.M. has been working on a project called DeepQA. The aim of the project is to create a computer system that can answer questions that contain “natural language“. This computer would be able to respond to questions rather than locate information or phrases through keyword searching. This is reminiscent of the Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner whereby “emotionally provocative questions” were posed to determine if the respondent was a machine.

To test Watson’s ability, researchers had the computer compete in a Jeopardy simulation against human opponents. Former contestants were brought to lab to compete against the computer. Although Watson did make some mistakes and the test did reveal some programming challenges that lie ahead, the computer did win several games.

Further Reading:

The New York Times also has an interactive feature where you can compete against Watson.

Watson Jeopardy Challenge

What is IBM’s Watson?


Microsoft Pivot

Microsoft Pivot is a program that allows the user to view large amounts data. Additionally, it can be used to browse the web, although not in the traditional sense as demonstrated in the video below. The program is available for download but be aware of the system requirements listed.

Pivot is definitely a great way to explore large amounts of data.

For web browsing, it seems to depend more on the nature of the pages. Gary Flake gave several examples of how Pivot could be used for web browsing demonstrating the zoom feature of perusing content.

  1. Searching content within a site – Browsing Sports Illustrated Magazine by Covers and sorting issues by metadata linked to each issue.
  2. Navigating through webs of connected content – Wikipedia content is displayed as small summaries of the articles, connections among article are much more apparent in Pivot.
  3. Browsing History – Pages visited are displayed as snapshots and can be viewed all at the same time.

In each example, the strengths of Pivot include the way in which it displays multiple web pages  in a macro view and the ability to sort the web pages using different types of metadata.

Chrome Translator

Google Chrome continues to build up the browser experience. Extensions or Add Ons are now available for Chrome. Jeff Utech blogged about his favorites last week. Although there are not nearly as many as Firefox Add-ons, this number will likely continue to grow as does Chrome’s market share.

On February 25th Google introduced Chrome Translator, a website translator built into the browser. While there are many web based translators and even some Firefox Add-ons, the ease of Chrome’s Translator is evident in the video below.

iPods in the classroom Part 2

I was reviewing my blog stats and noticed that the most regularly read post is iPods in the class.

Here is an updated post on iPods with more links and resources for people interested integrating these devices into the classroom.

Netbooks, mobile phones, laptops and iPods ( iPhones and iPads as well) offer students the ability to

  • access information
  • connect with one another
  • collaborate with one another
  • create content
  • share content

As this article suggests, educational content is going digital so it would make sense to equip students with the necessary tools to access and investigate said content. Assuming your school is in agreement with this approach, the question has shifted from:

“Why use iPods in the classrom?”


“How can iPods be used to improve teaching and learning?”

Here are some resources and examples:

iPod Learner’s Permit – Kim Cofino at International School Bangkok writes about how they created a sign out system for using iPods through the Library.

Apple iPod Touch Resources – This is an impressive list of resources on the Apple Learning Exchange. If you scroll down on the left, you can search for resources by subject or grade level.

iTunesU – iTunes university is an educational extension of iTunes can be accessed through your iTunes. Schools can apply for a channel on iTunesU to distribute custom educational content or individuals can search through existing channels and download resources onto their ipods. Universities such as DUKE and STANFORD have their own channels where you can access course lectures and more. This article highlights several examples of iTunesU being used for K-12 education.

Handheld Learning – This websites has a information on resources and conferences related to the use of handheld devices in the classroom. Just type ipods into the search bars at the top of the page.

iPod in Education – A great collection of news and resources focusing on iPods.

Student Browser Use and the Browser Ballot

Student computers in the 1-1 Tablet program at ZIS have Internet Explorer 8 installed. Students at the Upper School are free to install additional browsers. A recent student survey revealed the breakdown of browser use by grade level. Approximately 400 students were surveyed and here were the results:
Sheet 1
Sheet 1

Students using browsers other that Internet Explorer would have had to download and install the browsers themselves. Overall, Internet Explorer accounts for almost 40% of student browser use with Firefox close behind at approximately 33%. Although, with the exception of Grade 9, Firefox either matches or surpasses Internet Explorer. Google Chrome accounts for almost 20% of browser use and it will be interesting to observe if that number increases when the survey is given again next year.

The fact that over 60% of students have proactively downloaded another browser does speak to their ability to personalize their computers and their internet browsing preferences. It also sparked a discussion amongst the IT department about why remaining 40% of students chose to remain with Internet Explorer. Working on the assumption that some of those students may have either been unaware of alternate choices or lacked the understanding of how to install programs onto the their computers, we looked at ways to increase awareness.

A recent announcement by Microsoft in response to the antitrust charges by the EU has promised a browser ballot that will be made available to most users in the EU through Windows Updates.  More details about the screen and how it works can be found here. We are considering sharing the page with students to raise awareness of their browsers. The next step will be to investigate how students are using browsers.

Bloom Box Update

More details about the Bloom Energy’s products were revealed at a press conference yesterday.

This video on their site provides a graphic explanation how their fuel cells work.

Bloom Energy has already partnered with several companies who are successfully trialing the energy servers at some of their facilities. These companies include Walmart, Fedex, EBAY, and Google to name a few. This press release from Bloom Energy provides more details on how these companies are using the servers.

“The Bloom Energy fuel cell is essentially a flat piece of sand made from a process dubbed “Powder to Power.” The cell can run on a variety of fuels, including traditional fuel, natural gas, biomass gas, landfill gas, and ethanol–all without the need to use complex chemical plants for processing. A single cell-filled Bloom Box provides 100 kW of power and has a 3 to 5 year payback period with fixed costs for 10 years. Any piece of the device that isn’t working can be swapped out without bringing down the whole thing.”


Bloom Box

Bloom Energy based out of Silicon Valley in the U.S. has created a new fuel cell technology that it claims can potentially power an entire house or six depending on your energy consumption. This would reduce reliance on the power grid making individuals or companies less susceptible to events such as the Northeast Blackout.

Google has already been using the technology to power one of their data centers.

Check out Bloom Energy for more information and an upcoming announcement.

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