Touring campuses in three dimensions … from your living room

Prospective students can tour Northeastern's 160 campus buildings in three dimensions from their computer.

It doesn’t require airfare or gas money, and students think it’s cool: Three-dimensional virtual campus tours have launched at seven colleges and universities, providing a welcomed alternative to the often-pricey college visit.

CampusBird.com provides Google Map-based layouts of about 4,800 U.S. college campuses, and the Boulder, Colo., company has created a virtual 3D tour for seven higher-ed institutions, allowing prospective students to scroll through any structure on campus and view it almost as they would in a traditional fact-packed tour led by a student guide.

Northeastern University, a 20,000-student campus in Boston, added CampusBird’s 3D tour model to its web site in November, and Northeastern officials said the mere presence of a 3D tour could be a valuable recruitment tool.

Avoiding the costs of campus visits, officials said, also could be appealing for families during tough economic times.

“We know students and their parents are very web savvy,” said Ronne Turner, associate vice president of enrollment and dean of admissions and marketing at Northeastern. “I think it is helpful in a bad economy to have ways to help students get to know the campus. … It’s not as easy for people to make the trip, and students and families want a lot of information before they decide to make a campus visit if money is an issue.”

Oliver Davis, CEO of CampusBird, said the company consisting of former Google employees takes thousands of pictures of campus buildings—there are 160 structures on the Northeastern campus—and “stitches” the photos to a 3D platform based on the popular Google Maps layout.

“Schools really want to present the campus as it would be live,” Davis said, adding that pictures and text describing dorms and lecture halls don’t provide an immersive touring experience for prospective students.

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U.S. school graduation rate is rising

The nation’s high school graduation rate, which declined in the latter part of the 20th century, may have hit bottom and begun to rise, says the New York Times, according to a report to be issued Tuesday by a nonprofit group founded by former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

“The United States is turning a corner in meeting the high school dropout epidemic,” General Powell and his wife, Alma J. Powell, wrote in a letter introducing the report. The report cites two statistics. The national graduation rate increased to 75 percent in 2008, from 72 percent in 2001. And the number of high schools that researchers call dropout factories–based on a formula that compares a school’s 12th-grade enrollment with its 9th-grade enrollment three years earlier–declined to about 1,750 in 2008, from about 2,000 such schools in 2002. But the report notes that progress in some states and school districts had not been matched in others. Tennessee and New York made “breakthrough gains,” sharply raising their graduation rates from 2002 to 2008, the report says. In Arizona, Utah and Nevada, graduation rates dropped significantly…

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Netflix partner says Comcast ‘toll’ threatens online video delivery

Level 3 Communications, a central partner in the Netflix online movie service, accused Comcast on Monday of charging a new fee that puts internet video companies at a competitive disadvantage, reports the New York Times. Level 3, which helps to deliver Netflix’s streaming movies, said Comcast had effectively erected a tollbooth that “threatens the open internet,” and indicated that it would seek government intervention. Comcast quickly denied that the clash had anything to do with network neutrality, instead calling it “a simple commercial dispute.” The dispute highlighted the growing importance of internet video delivery–an area that some people say needs to be monitored more closely by regulators. Net neutrality, which posits that Internet traffic should be free of any interference from network operators like Comcast, is thought to be on the December agenda of the Federal Communications Commission…

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EU launches antitrust probe into Google searches

European Union regulators will investigate whether Google Inc. has abused its dominant position in the online search market–the first major probe into the online giant’s business practices, the Associated Press reports. The move announced Tuesday follows complaints from rival search engines that Google put them at a disadvantage in both its regular and sponsored search results, by listing links to their sites below references to its own services in an attempt to shut them out of the market. The EU Commission will also see whether Google prevented advertising partners from placing ads from competitors on their sites. Competitors allegedly shut out include computer and software vendors, the commission said…

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Facebook co-founder launches social network Jumo for social good

Today, users can start connecting with all their favorite social causes in one online sphere, as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has launched his much-buzzed-about social network, Jumo, reports Mashable. Hughes, who left Facebook in 2007 to become the Obama campaign’s director of online organizing, soft-launched Jumo last March. At that time the site existed merely as a homepage featuring a rather intriguing survey box that asked the site visitor an array of questions from, “If you had a daughter tomorrow, which would you name her?” to “Would you say the world is getting better or worse?”

Upon answering these queries, you could also submit your e-mail address to get more information as it came…

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Supreme Court rejects illegal downloading argument

Recording industry officials have asked campus officials for help in stopping illegal downloading.

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a Texas teenager who got in trouble for illegal downloading of music—a potential blow to students who might claim to be “innocent infringers” of copyright laws after downloading music without paying and bogging down campus networks.

Whitney Harper of Texas acknowledged she used file-sharing programs to download and share three dozen songs, claiming she didn’t know the program she used was taking songs from the internet illegally.

She also said the money she owes the recording industry should be reduced because, as a 16-year-old, she didn’t know that what she did amounted to copyright infringement.

The justices rejected Harper’s appeal Nov. 29 over a dissent from Justice Samuel Alito.

The issue in the case is whether people who illegally download and swap music online can try to show they did so innocently. Harper wanted the money owed for each song cut to $200 from $750.

“Under this interpretation, it is not necessary that the infringer actually see a material object with the copyright notice,” Alito wrote in his dissent. “It is enough that the infringer could have ascertained that the work was copyrighted.”

Alito continued: “In any event, the Court of Appeals rejected petitioner’s argument that her youth and lack of legal sophistication were relevant considerations—a conclusion that would not necessarily be correct if the determinative question were simply whether petitioner had ‘reason to believe’ that her actions were illegal. Although ‘reason to believe’ is an objective standard, it is by no means clear that certain objective characteristics of the infringer—such as age—may not be taken into account.”

Recording industry executives sued or threatened to sue about 40,000 people for illegal downloading last year, many of them high school and college students who used home or campus networks to rip songs and movies with the help of file-sharing programs.

Avenues for legal music downloads have become scarce in recent years.

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Will SAP verdict impact higher ed?

IT officials won't abandon SAP software, experts say.

While enterprise software maker SAP decides whether to appeal a $1.3 billion jury verdict for stealing a rival’s intellectual property, market analysts say the legal loss likely won’t drive customers away — including those in higher education — since changing software providers is an arduous and expensive task.

Either route is going to cost the German company dearly, and will have implications for how other technology companies approach copyrights.

A jury in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday found that SAP’s behavior in plundering software and documents from archenemy Oracle Corp.’s secured websites was so egregious that it awarded Oracle nearly all of the damages it was seeking.

If SAP appeals, it will have to endure several more years of disastrous publicity, a jackpot for Oracle.

“I’m not sure what the grounds for an appeal are — I’m not sure what the argument would be,” said Patrick Walravens, an analyst with JMP Securities. “It’s not like this was a trial that was done in a quick and dirty manner. It was three years and hundreds of millions in legal fees — things were pretty well vetted.”

The judge in the case still has to formally affirm the jury’s verdict, and could reduce the award. An order could come sometime in the next week.

Many analysts suspect that SAP will stand down and try and figure out a way to pay one of the biggest software piracy penalties on record. Doing so would put the $10 million acquisition of the tiny, now-shuttered company called TomorrowNow that landed SAP in this mess that much farther in the rearview mirror.

SAP would only say that its legal team is “currently assessing all options available to us after this disappointing verdict,” including post-trial motions and appeals. “Unfortunately, this is a process that we expect to last a while. We continue to hope that an appropriate resolution can be reached without years of additional litigation.”

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When the software is the sportswriter

Only human writers can distill a heap of sports statistics into a compelling story. Or so we human writers like to think. StatSheet, a Durham, N.C., company that serves up sports statistics in monster-size portions, thinks otherwise. The company, with nine employees, is working to endow software with the ability to turn game statistics into articles about college basketball games, reports the New York Times. Established in 2007, StatSheet.com provides statistical analysis of college football and basketball, Nascar and other sports. It dices data in more ways than any fan could possibly absorb. But charts, graphs and rankings alone cannot replace words that tell a story. We humans love stories; a craving for narrative seems part of our nature. This month, StatSheet unveiled StatSheet Network, made up of separate web sites for each of the 345 N.C.A.A. Division I men’s basketball teams. Beyond statistics galore, each site has what the company calls “automated content,” stories written entirely by software, including write-ups of the team’s games, past and future. With a joking wink, StatSheet’s founder, Robbie Allen, refers to these sites as the “Robot Army.”

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5 holiday tech scams to avoid

The holiday shopping season is a great time to get tech products at discounted prices, but it also creates a golden opportunity for the web’s scam artists. The FBI, McAfee, the Better Business Bureau and F-Secure are all warning about cybercriminals who will try to take you for a ride this holiday season, reports PCWorld. Here are their most pertinent warnings and tips for staying safe:

The Infamous Free iPad

Bogus free iPad offers started popping up immediately after Apple’s tablet went on sale, and they’ve since been banned from Facebook. Still, you might see similar offers around the Web, McAfee says, prompting you to buy other products as a condition of getting the free iPad. By now, you should realize it’s too good to be true.

Gift Card Scams

That free $1,000 gift card offer you saw on Facebook? Bogus, of course. McAfee says that cybercrooks lure people into giving away their personal information or taking quizzes in exchange for these cards, which never arrive. The information is then sold to marketers or used for identity theft…

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How online classrooms are helping Haiti rebuild its education system

When University of the People founder Shai Reshef welcomed 16 Haitian students to their first day of class last Thursday, he told them that life might prevent some of them–as it does students in every part of the world–from completing their degrees at the free, online university.

“They looked at me and said, you just don’t understand,” Reshef says. “We cannot drop out. We have to finish it. That’s our lives. It’s like dying if we don’t graduate.”

Haitians have good reason for thinking of education a bit differently than much of the rest of the world. In a country where just over fifty percent of the population meets the CIA World Factbook’s definition of 87% of the country’s institutions of higher learning, it became even more precious. While reconstructing the destroyed universities is a long-term task, University of the People is hoping to give Haitian students a way to continue their educations before it’s completed, reports Mashable. By opening a center where students can take advantage of the scarce electricity, computers, and Internet connection required to enroll in the University of the People’s free online courses, the organization hopes to not only ease Haiti’s current woes, but also help build its future…

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