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Horns Up: UT keeps rent low for the postal service

According to an article published on the Daily Texan website Monday and in Tuesday’s paper, the United States Postal Service pays UT just $1 a year for its spot in the West Mall. That figure hasn’t changed at all in the Post Office’s 50 years on campus, according to campus real estate director Amy Wanamaker. That means that in terms of inflation, the USPS has been cut a very generous break over the years. To put numbers to it, $1 in 1963 had the same buying power as $7.65 today, an increase of 665 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator. With prices rising on nearly every other common good, it’s nice that the Post Office is being recognized for its value to the UT community, even if its days are numbered.

Horns Up: Microsoft invests in Texas wind power

On Monday, Microsoft announced that it is entering a 20-year deal to purchase energy from a soon-to-be-built wind farm near Fort Worth. While the computer giant didn’t say how much it was paying for the deal, it’s a good sign that major companies are starting to invest heavily in renewable, environmentally friendly energy sources — and in Texas, the nation’s largest producer of wind energy.

Tabs on Tech

MC10 announced that in 2014 it will release a clear, adhesive microchip, the biostamp, that can collect a variety of data points about a person’s body in real-time. Photo courtesy of MC10. 

Microsoft to announce next Xbox in May

At last, the next generation of Xbox consoles will be revealed to the gaming community. In a private event set for May 21, Microsoft will release the name and details of its next gaming device. Although the Redmond-based company has succeeded in keeping many of these details shrouded in mystery, there have been rumors about an Xbox that will always have to be connected to the Internet. In recent weeks, Microsoft executive Adam Orth voluntarily stepped down from his position in the company after responding to criticism about the possibility of an “always on” console. 

MacBooks run Windows best

Which laptops run the Windows operating system best? Lenovo? Dell? Acer? According to Soluto, a software development company that rates and compares computers, the answer is actually Apple. The 2012 Macbook ranks No. 1 on a list of competitive laptop computers. The criteria for this list of models and brands are based on “frustration analytics.” These can include everything from boot time to application crashes per week, while measuring raw computing ability as well.  

Internet Sales Tax

Under the Marketplace Fairness Act that is now being discussed in Congress, sales tax for online purchases may be included in a consumer’s total expenditure. Amazon and the Republican Party, which are both in support of this legislation, have claimed that this new law will help raise government revenue and require states to do a better job of taxing their customers. Residents who live in a state without sales tax but purchase an items from a state with sales tax will now be required to pay. The Marketplace Fairness Act will not apply to every purchase that is made on the Internet. Instead, only retailers that sell $1 million in goods will be forced to comply. Concern that this will increase the size of the government has already been discussed by a number of critics, including Grover Norquist and The Wall Street Journal.

DNA-like serial numbers

In order to help combat theft and other property crimes, the Palm Bay Police Department in central Florida will roll out a new device, “Cop Dots.” Using a DNA-like adhesive, these pens will help owners claim their property if it is stolen. The adhesive dots, which are invisible to the human eye, carry a laser-engraved ID marker that can be scanned by law enforcement officials in order to help return a recovered item to its rightful owner. Once valuable including like jewelry and electronics are registered, residents can be notified if property turns up.

BioStamps

Checking body temperature, heart rate and hydration will soon become as easy as applying a Band-Aid. Company MC10 announced that in 2014 it will release a clear, adhesive microchip that can collect a variety of data points about a person’s body in real time. That information can then be stored and sent to mobile devices and computers to help monitor vital signs remotely. On top of its impressive size, the chip will use non-invasive techniques that make it useful in a variety of situations. Whether it’s measuring muscle impact during a workout or monitoring an infant’s breathing at night, the Biostamp will bring people even closer to technology. 

Ekso ambassador Jason Gieser walks in the exoskeleton at a private event in May 2011. (Photograph by Jan Sturman courtesy of Ekso Bionics)

Editor’s Note: Tabs on Technology is a weekly update on the latest news in the tech world.

Executive director behind Wikipedia decides to step down 
Sue Gardner, one of the galvanizing leaders behind the nonprofit Internet database Wikipedia, announced in an interview Wednesday that she will step down from her position in the organization. Citing Wikipedia’s increasing success and self-reliance, Gardner explained that her job is largely over and she hopes to turn her attention toward combating anti-piracy legislation and advocating an open, free Internet. 

As executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Gardner helped transform Wikipedia from a small nonprofit into one of the Internet’s largest compiled resources for information. Wikipedia is currently the fifth most visited site on the Internet, after Facebook and Google. 

Exoskeletons allow paraplegics to walk again 
Companies such as Ekso Bionics are vying for new ways to market their exoskeleton suits. For paraplegics around the world, this carbon fiber assistance structure means not only walking again, but also running, jumping and carrying heavier weight than before. Because exoskeleton technology is still rather pricey at about $150,000 up front, it may not be marketable for general consumers for some time to come. 

Instead, this robogear made its debut in the military and in hospitals. For soldiers who need to haul large amounts of equipment over miles of rocky terrain, exoskeletons make foot travel almost effortless and minimize long-term damage to the spine. Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company that has licensed the technology from Ekso Bionics, is currently developing the Human Universal Load Carrier, which is an exoskeleton that can actively anticipate a soldier’s movements to create the walking motion.

Windows Phones outsell iPhones 
According to Frank Shaw, head of public relations at Microsoft, Windows Phone 8 has been outselling the Apple iPhone in the last quarter — but only in seven international markets. Although this news may be an encouraging accomplishment for Microsoft, Apple Inc. has a long-standing choke hold on the mobile device market and is only being outshipped in countries such as Croatia, India, Argentina and Poland. Windows Phone comprises 10 percent of all mobile devices market share in these countries. Because the iPhone only contracts with a handful of wireless providers, Windows Phone 8 has had a leg up in locations where Nokia is popular. In addition, Microsoft sells its mobile device at half the price of an iPhone. 

Mark Zuckerberg makes plans to enter political realm 
Teaming up with his college roommate, Joe Green, and a number of other close associates, Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is in the process of forming a political action group that will be officially announced in the next two weeks. By raising and investing more than $50 million, the young executive hopes to advocate immigration reform and promote scientific research. Many technology moguls have pushed for immigration reform in the past to help encourage foreign-born entrepreneurs to come to the U.S. Since founding Facebook in 2004, Zuckerberg has largely stayed out of the political arena and focused more on the financial well-being of the company. But over the last couple of years Zuckerberg has taken a more noticeable role in the realm of politics. Having met with President Obama a number of times and even fundraised for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Zuckerberg’s bold step into the spotlight will likely draw comparison to activists such as Bill Gates

'Battlefield 4' reveal trailer released 
As promised by a teaser trailer last week, Dice Game Studios released a 17-minute gameplay reveal for “Battlefield 4” on Wednesday. Using the Frostbite 3 graphics engine, “Battlefield 4” features a very apparent upgrade in photorealism from its predecessor and features the familiar combination of first-person action, vehicles and incredibly intense cut scenes. Although the game was announced for PC, it has yet to be confirmed for either the PS4 or the next-generation Xbox. More likely than not, DICE is required to keep its lips sealed until Microsoft announces its next console in April. No release date for the game has been announced, but it is anticipated to ship before the 2013 holiday season.

Bill Gates speaks to computer science students and various special guests at the ribbon cutting ceremony of The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex and Dell Computer Science Hall. The building was made possible by generous grants from both the Gates and Dell Foundations. 

Photo Credit: Debby Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Bill Gates touted UT’s position as one of the top computer science institutions in the world during festivities for the grand opening of the University’s brand new computer science complex, which the Microsoft co-founder and chairman helped fund.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex will be a new home for the computer science department. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated a $30 million challenge grant to help fund the $120 million complex. The complex also includes the Dell Computer Science Hall, which was funded by a $10 million donation from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

Before the building’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gates said the diversity in the computer science field is a driving force in making UT a top-notch computer science school. 

“This university is one of the best in the world because it combines many things,” Gates said in his speech. “It combines scale; it combines a spirit of public service. So not only is it a top-ranked computer science institution, but also is one of the best or the very best at reaching out to get kids into the field.” 

President William Powers Jr. said the new complex represented a step forward both for UT and for science as a whole.

“The history of civilization can be written in a series of advances in the tools that humans use,” Powers said in his speech at the ceremony. “Computation, of course, is the latest step in that long history. Today’s dedication of this magnificent complex is a very significant step in the life of the University of Texas and in the realm of computer science.”

Gates gave a closed lecture to computer science students, where he spoke about his experiences starting Microsoft and the possibilities for computer science to aid in such endeavors as curing malaria. Gates said the new computer science complex is much more sophisticated than what he experienced while learning computer science growing up. 

“When I was fascinated by computers, they were very big, very expensive and very hard to get to,” Gates said. “My local university, the University of Washington, only had a few dozen, and they were locked up because they were so precious, and so I had to find ways to sneak in at night, get tied into some project [and] convince people I could help improve these computers just to get a little computer time.”

The computer science department hosted >goto_GDC, the title of which is a play on the “goto” command found in several programming languages. The event included tours of the new complex, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a closed lecture by Gates and a party that featured games and free barbecue as well as Amy’s Ice Cream.

Published on March 7, 2013 as "Gates visits campus". 

Photo Credit: Daily Texan Comics | Daily Texan Staff

Armed to the teeth with energy drinks, HD projectors and countless copies of the new video game “Halo 4,” the Tournaments and Games Committee will host a night of blood-splattering fun Wednesday. Students who attend the Halo 4 Extended Play tournament the night after the release will have the chance to explore various aspects of the campaign, multiplayer and cooperative modes while dishing out bullets and inane trash talk.

Although the title of the game belies its significance, the release of “Halo 4” marks a very distinct departure from previous iterations in the series. Bungie Studios, the former developer for the Halo trilogy and several offshoots, forfeited intellectual property rights to Microsoft in 2007 so that it could become an independent company.

After creating two of the highest-selling video games of all time, “Halo 2” and “Halo 3,” Bungie has set the bar extremely high for future versions of the game.

Despite being made exclusively for the Xbox 360 console, Halo is often acclaimed for its immersive multiplayer experience, which has accrued more than 3.3 billion hours of Xbox Live gameplay, said Anna Anderson, a PR spokesperson for Microsoft. 343 Industries, the new development team at Microsoft, has made a point of redesigning the credit system in multiplayer so that ranking up is more efficient, armor is more customizable and players are more invested in working together rather than betraying teammates and trolling. From kill assists to flag captures, points are now awarded more frequently than before so that slayer and other objective gametypes run smoothly.

While the figures have yet to be released, “Halo 4” is expected to the most expensive gaming title to date for Microsoft in terms of marketing and game development. In its decade-long lifetime, the Halo franchise has made over $3 billion dollars and sold 43 million game copies, said Anderson.

When the game is released Tuesday, fans will have to pay $60 for the standard edition game. Those possessing an even deeper wallet might consider spending an extra $40 on the limited edition, partly for the added bells and whistles, but mostly for bragging rights.

Over the last couple of days, the most scrutinizing game critics have reviewed the final product. Outliers aside, “Halo 4” has earned top marks from IGN, Gamespot, Game Informer and many other gaming websites, with an aggregate score of 87 out of 100. Although this falls short of “Halo 3”’s score of 94, by no means should it dissuade fans.

Troy, an employee at Dobie Mall’s Resurrected Games, explained that despite the price, pre-orders are already through the roof.

“This one should blow the other games out of the water,” Troy said. “And so far it’s got really great reviews, but we won’t know until Tuesday what the true fans think.

There’s even a “Halo 4” game system edition which comes with a spruced up Xbox and controller.”

Biomedical engineering freshman Jey Thirumavalavan, a diehard fan of the Halo series, plans to attend the Tournaments and Games Committee event so that he can see the game in action before he makes a purchase.

“Generally, I like to wait before deciding to buy a game, that way I can borrow it from friends and see for myself if it’s worth the money. If it’s really good, then I’ll get my own copy,” Thirumavalavan said.

The Halo 4 Extended Play event is free for all UT students with a UT ID. Fans hoping to score a copy of the game without throwing down $60 can enter the raffle for the opportunity to win “Halo 4.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 as: 'Halo 4' release aims to please fans

BRUSSELS — Cisco says it is challenging Microsoft’s $8.5 billion takeover of Skype at the EU’s top court to ensure Microsoft won’t block other video conferencing services.

In a blog post Wednesday, Marthin De Beer, the head of Cisco’s video conferencing division, said “Cisco does not oppose the merger, but believes the European Commission should have placed conditions that would ensure greater standards-based interoperability.”

He said Cisco, which offers the WebEx teleconferencing service, wants the European Court of Justice to get the Commission to create open standards for video conferencing, similar to what exists for mobile phone calls.

Such standards would eventually allow WebEx users to make calls to users of Skype and other services like Google Voice.

De Beer said that without these standards, Microsoft could end up with sole “control (of) the future of video communications.”

BRUSSELS — Cisco says it is challenging Microsoft’s $8.5 billion takeover of Skype at the EU’s top court to ensure Microsoft won’t block other video conferencing services.

In a blog post Wednesday, Marthin De Beer, the head of Cisco’s video conferencing division, said “Cisco does not oppose the merger, but believes the European Commission should have placed conditions that would ensure greater standards-based interoperability.”

He said Cisco, which offers the WebEx teleconferencing service, wants the European Court of Justice to get the Commission to create open standards for video conferencing, similar to what exists for mobile phone calls.

Such standards would eventually allow WebEx users to make calls to users of Skype and other services like Google Voice.

De Beer said that without these standards, Microsoft could end up with sole “control (of) the future of video communications.”

Kris Dey, 7, and his brother Ryan, 10, play “H

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Video gamers gathered at UT’s Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences Building on Wednesday evening to discuss every player’s dream — infinite resolution and zero latency. The conference, called “The Future of Video Games in Austin,” showcased innovations made by the University, local video game companies and big-name hardware makers including AMD, Dell and Microsoft, said Rob Turknett of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), which hosted the event.

UT began offering classes this year aimed at preparing students for the video game industry, said Turknett. Turknett said the event fit into that curriculum by “bringing the gaming industry together with UT.”

The event opened with industry figures speaking about their visions for the future of video games, said TACC spokesperson Faith Singer-Villalobos. Jon Jones of the development firm Smartist LLC, said that the future of gaming would be more flexible and nimble. Jones said the future of video games lies in “mercenary agencies of developers that would move nimbly from one project to another.” Radio-television-film professor Bruce Pennycook said he saw a shift from PC and console games to more “rapid turn-around casual games” on mobile devices.

Similarly, Mike McShaffry, director of product development of Red Fly Studio said the next generation of Microsoft’s Xbox would fail.

“I think people will be playing on these,” McShaffry said, waving his smartphone.

Computer science and radio-television-film sophomore Wilson Villegas said he hoped to use the event to network. He said he transferred to UT because of Austin’s video game industry.

He and computer science sophomore Andrew Sharp said they were certain they and other UT graduates would find jobs in video game development if they remained agile and independent.

“My friends are graduating without jobs and they’re not even worried about jobs,” Sharp said.

“They’re confident they can start their own startups.”

Industry veterans said those interested in video game development should be able to find careers.

“Things have really started to tilt in favor of small independent game developers,” said Dan Magaha, the executive producer of Seamless Entertainment.
 

Microsoft Vice President Dan Reed speaks at the AT&T Conference Center as part of the Austin Forum Tuesday night.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Microsoft Vice President Dan Reed regaled a full audience with stories of close friendships and portable cassette players at the AT&T Conference Center Tuesday night.

Reed, vice president of technology policy and strategy at Microsoft, addressed the megatrends of today as part of the Austin Forum, a monthly speaker series. Reed provided a helpful analogy to put things in perspective for his audience.

“Remember, free storage is like free puppies; the clean-up comes along with these things,” he said.

He also emphasized the economic and ecological toll our increasingly computer-based society is taking on the planet.

“Due to the great amount of data intensive discovery we see, it is not about being narrow and deep, but being broad and aware,” Reed said to The Daily Texan. “People who understand political science, economics, ecology and the qualities of life are necessary to adapt to the technological choices that we make as a society — it’s not only about knowing what to do but how to reform and communicate these choices we make.”

Reed cautioned that people cannot and should not avoid the consequences of technology.

“Technology is neither right nor wrong; technology simply is,” Reed said.

Jay Boisseau, director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center, found connections between Reed’s points and programs in place at UT.

“There is a need to learn to use specializations in collaborations with others — problems that face society require that individuals work together,” Boisseau said. “I consider Dr. Reed a technological visionary and mentor.”

Boisseau said the Center for Lifelong Engineering Education at the University shows the necessity of a continuation in education. The center fosters the broader knowledge Reed says is necessary, Boisseau said.

“A more integrated and rigorous curriculum is necessary,” said philosophy sophomore John Leahy, who attended the talk. “Convenience of specialization comes with cost and the University curriculum cannot be blamed. It is the responsibility of each student to go about [seeking] knowledge.”

We live in Austin. Michael Dell went to school here. Both Facebook and Google have offices here. So then why is it that, in an era of obscene technological innovation, the interfaces we use to connect with our University look like they were designed in 1995?

Registration for the summer and fall semesters will begin this week and so will student frustration with UT Direct. It’s a system so shockingly bad that the only hope I have of properly navigating it is through its search function. It does, however, provide a handy “Pic o’ the Click” near the very top of the page that generates random photos of the University. That way, when I can’t figure out how to register for classes next semester, I’ll at least be able to look at pictures of the college I won’t be attending.

UT Direct is, of course, not the only antiquated system students are forced to use. Blackboard, which I’ve written about in the past for its ability to allow our classmates to spam us, is dreadful. Meanwhile, UT Webmail was finally and mercifully disposed of last week, when ITS announced new UT Mail powered by Google.

The tech problem this University faces is not unique. According to The Campus Computing Project, 57 percent of all colleges and 68 percent of public universities use Blackboard as their learning management system (LMS). It’s a statistic that’s down from previous years despite every attempt of the industry leader to stop it.

Blackboard is the Microsoft of the LMS world, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Since its inception, Blackboard has either outfought or bought its competitors. Most notable is Angel Learning, which was bought by Blackboard in 2009 after achieving 7 percent market share. And when that hasn’t worked, Blackboard has sued its rivals to retain a patent over use of its closed source software. Unfortunately for Blackboard, Desire2Learn, which has a 10 percent market share, won that legal battle this past November.

Most Blackboard competitors are championing open-source systems, meaning the source code is freely available for developers to innovate. One of those is Instructure, a Utah-based startup that announced Friday that it’s raised $8 million to fund its LMS called Canvas. One of those investors just happens to be Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Canvas, unlike Blackboard, has the functionality to connect with other online services such as Google Docs, Facebook and Twitter. “When a teacher changes the date of a quiz, for example, students could automatically receive text messages to their cellphones, a message on Facebook or conventional email,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a revolutionary change that’s long overdue. Instructure even released a highly entertaining video on YouTube called “Change is Good,” which parodies Apple’s famous 1984 ad. But instead of Big Brother, it’s a blackboard that addresses rows of brainwashed students. It’s funny because it’s true.

Beyond Instructure, entrepreneurial students at universities across the country are creating their own alternatives. At Stanford, there’s ClassOwl. At Penn, they have Coursekit. And at MIT there’s iMobileU.

Then there’s Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, which has developed new course-picking software. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called it the “Netflix Effect”; the software analyzes a student’s major, previous academic performance and data on similar students to provide a recommendation in the way Netflix suggests movies you might like based on previous rentals. It even predicts what grade you’ll get. So far, the software has resulted in a half-point GPA increase for students who chose courses suggested by the program.

So why can’t Texas be next? Fortunately, ITS is trying to help. Beginning Wednesday and continuing into next week, Texas has opened up demonstrations from five LMS vendors to faculty, staff and students. All the big dogs will be there, including Instructure, Desire2Learn, Moodle, rSmart and, of course, Blackboard. They’ve also made surveys available online through which you can and should trash Blackboard.

The University is finally seeking our input on this, so make sure your voice is heard. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you’re asked to dig up your old AIM screen name to login to a course chat room.

<em>Curl is an advertising graduate student.<em>We live in Austin. Michael Dell went to school here. Both Facebook and Google have offices here. So then why is it that, in an era of obscene technological innovation, the interfaces we use to connect with our University look like they were designed in 1995?

Registration for the summer and fall semesters will begin this week and so will student frustration with UT Direct. It’s a system so shockingly bad that the only hope I have of properly navigating it is through its search function. It does, however, provide a handy “Pic o’ the Click” near the very top of the page that generates random photos of the University. That way, when I can’t figure out how to register for classes next semester, I’ll at least be able to look at pictures of the college I won’t be attending.

UT Direct is, of course, not the only antiquated system students are forced to use. Blackboard, which I’ve written about in the past for its ability to allow our classmates to spam us, is dreadful. Meanwhile, UT Webmail was finally and mercifully disposed of last week, when ITS announced new UT Mail powered by Google.

The tech problem this University faces is not unique. According to The Campus Computing Project, 57 percent of all colleges and 68 percent of public universities use Blackboard as their learning management system (LMS). It’s a statistic that’s down from previous years despite every attempt of the industry leader to stop it.

Blackboard is the Microsoft of the LMS world, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Since its inception, Blackboard has either outfought or bought its competitors. Most notable is Angel Learning, which was bought by Blackboard in 2009 after achieving 7 percent market share. And when that hasn’t worked, Blackboard has sued its rivals to retain a patent over use of its closed source software. Unfortunately for Blackboard, Desire2Learn, which has a 10 percent market share, won that legal battle this past November.

Most Blackboard competitors are championing open-source systems, meaning the source code is freely available for developers to innovate. One of those is Instructure, a Utah-based startup that announced Friday that it’s raised $8 million to fund its LMS called Canvas. One of those investors just happens to be Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Canvas, unlike Blackboard, has the functionality to connect with other online services such as Google Docs, Facebook and Twitter. “When a teacher changes the date of a quiz, for example, students could automatically receive text messages to their cellphones, a message on Facebook or conventional email,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a revolutionary change that’s long overdue. Instructure even released a highly entertaining video on YouTube called “Change is Good,” which parodies Apple’s famous 1984 ad. But instead of Big Brother, it’s a blackboard that addresses rows of brainwashed students. It’s funny because it’s true.

Beyond Instructure, entrepreneurial students at universities across the country are creating their own alternatives. At Stanford, there’s ClassOwl. At Penn, they have Coursekit. And at MIT there’s iMobileU.

Then there’s Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, which has developed new course-picking software. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called it the “Netflix Effect”; the software analyzes a student’s major, previous academic performance and data on similar students to provide a recommendation in the way Netflix suggests movies you might like based on previous rentals. It even predicts what grade you’ll get. So far, the software has resulted in a half-point GPA increase for students who chose courses suggested by the program.

So why can’t Texas be next? Fortunately, ITS is trying to help. Beginning Wednesday and continuing into next week, Texas has opened up demonstrations from five LMS vendors to faculty, staff and students. All the big dogs will be there, including Instructure, Desire2Learn, Moodle, rSmart and, of course, Blackboard. They’ve also made surveys available online through which you can and should trash Blackboard.

The University is finally seeking our input on this, so make sure your voice is heard. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you’re asked to dig up your old AIM screen name to login to a course chat room.