Time names Mark Zuckerberg 2010 Person of the Year

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of The Facebook social networking site that has more than half a billion users, was named Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year on Wednesday, Reuters reports. Time defines the Person of the Year as the person who, for better or for worse, does the most to influence the events of the year.

“This year they passed 500 million users. … The scale of Facebook is something that is transforming our lives. One in 10 people on the planet, and it’s excluded in China where one in five people on the planet live,” Time editor Richard Stengel said upon announcing the winner on NBC Television’s “Today” show.

“It’s not just a new technology. It’s social engineering. It’s changing the way we relate to each other. I actually think it’s affecting human nature in a way that we have never even seen before.”

Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University in 2004 when he started a web service called Thefacebook.com from his dorm. Now he is one of the world’s youngest billionaires and his privately held company is projected to have 2010 revenues of $2 billion, Time said. Zuckerberg pledged a $100 million donation to the Newark, New Jersey, school system this year, and he was the subject of the Hollywood movie “The Social Network”.

At 26 years old, Zuckerberg is the youngest winner since Charles Lindbergh was named the magazine’s first person of the year in 1927 when he became the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Since then the Time honor has become a cultural reference in the United States.

The award has had its controversy, such as when Adolf Hitler was named 1938. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was the 2009 winner. A Time poll showed readers favored naming WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this year but Stengel said the magazine’s editors and correspondents chose Zuckerberg after consulting among themselves, past winners and other world luminaries…

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Tech advances help make supercomputers more accessible

Brown University is making its new supercomputer available to organizations statewide.

Increased web access to powerful computing networks, along with federal funding and the declining cost of parts for supercomputers, have made the technology more available to college students and university researchers.

Once the domain of elite universities that regularly roped in millions of dollars in funding for scientific research, supercomputers have become more readily available in higher education and through competitive programs that aid the most worthy projects that require supercomputing capabilities.

Cloud computing—accessing virtual warehouses of information and calculation tools via the internet—has played a major role in the democratization of supercomputing, experts said.

Students, faculty, and researchers now can connect to powerful servers through their own PC, instead of having to trek to a distant machine in a university or government lab.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon.com Inc.’s cloud-computing service, recently gave Harvard University students access to the company’s global computer infrastructure, allowing the students to complete projects and assignments that might have crashed their laptops and PCs.

“It makes possible resources that universities might not be able to provide for students,” said David Malan, a Harvard computer science professor whose class used the high-powered web resources. Amazon gave Malan’s students about $100 in server usage apiece.

The falling price of parts needed to build a high-performing machine is another factor that has made supercomputers more widely available to researchers.

High-performance computers, which cost about $5 million to make in the 1980s, dropped to about $1 million in the 1990s and have fallen precipitously in the 2000s, now costing about $100,000, according to research from Scientific Computing, a website that tracks supercomputing trends.

Higher education’s supercomputing experts said quickly evolving technology might bring down the price of supercomputer parts, but the availability of new equipment often changes the very definition of what a high-performance machine is.

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Teacher-tenure standards raised

No more free passes. The city Department of Education changed its tenure policy yesterday with new rules designed to weed out its bad teachers and reward its best ones with jobs for life, reports the New York Post. After years of rubber-stamp approvals, principals will now make tenure recommendations based on such performance benchmarks as classroom preparation and student feedback.

“We can’t afford to squander the highest honor we can bestow–of guaranteed lifetime employment–on those not worthy,” said Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern.

The changes–and the comments that accompanied them–drew a quick rebuttal from the city’s teachers union, which accused the department of ignoring real problems.

“Every time the DOE needs a cheap headline, they make some pronouncement about teacher tenure, conveniently ignoring the fact that the process for granting tenure has always been within the DOE and the chancellor’s control,” United Federation of Teachers President Mark Mulgrew said in a statement.

“If the administration spent half as much time and energy supporting teachers as it does pontificating about tenure, we’d have a better school system.”

At issue is a policy under harsh debate since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the city schools. Just weeks after the current school year began, Bloomberg vowed to upend tenure by requiring teachers to improve student performance for two straight years in order to earn it. Under the guidelines announced yesterday, tenure-eligible teachers must be deemed “effective” for two consecutive years in such areas as student learning, instructional practice and professional contributions. Teachers who don’t make the grade are given either a probationary extension or a pink slip…

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Microsoft to announce new slates aimed at the iPad

A decade ago Bill Gates, founder and former chief executive of Microsoft, presented a new class of computing to the world: a tablet PC that offered a fully functional computer with the “intuitive aspects of pencil and paper.” Since then, Microsoft has struggled to gain traction with a slate-like device, yet each year the company announces new products, software or operating systems that try to promote a world of Windows-based slate computers. Next month, at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft will give it another try, presenting a slew of new slates that it hopes will offer some competition to the Apple iPad, which has quickly become the leader in this market, reports the New York Times. According to people familiar with Microsoft’s plans, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, is expected to  announce a number of these devices when he takes the stage at C.E.S., showcasing devices built by Samsung and Dell, among a number of other manufacturing partners…

The people with knowledge of these devices asked not to be named as they are not authorized to speak publicly by Microsoft or partnering companies. Microsoft declined to comment about coming products that have not been announced…

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University faces lawsuit after security breach

Data breaches are prompting some universities to rethink their use of personal student information.

Data security breaches have plagued colleges and universities for years, and now a former student at the University of Hawaii (UH) has sued the school for negligence in a case that could change how colleges and universities handle data going forward, some experts say.

Philippe Gross, a former student, filed a class-action lawsuit against UH on Nov. 18, after news leaked that sensitive information—including the Social Security numbers of more than 40,000 former UH students—was posted online for almost a year before being removed in October. The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind.

“UH did not step up and offer credit monitoring, identity theft insurance, all the things they could’ve done to assist students and faculty,” Thomas Grande, Gross’s lawyer, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser when the lawsuit was filed.

University officials told the Associated Press that a faculty member inadvertently uploaded files containing the information to an unprotected server on Nov. 30, 2009, exposing the names, academic performance, disabilities, and other sensitive information of 40,101 students who attended the flagship Manoa campus from 1990 to 1998 and in 2001. A handful of students from the West Oahu campus were included in the security breach as well.

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Adults blame parents for education problems

Blaming teachers for low test scores, poor graduation rates and the other ills of American schools has been popular lately, but a new survey wags a finger closer to home, the Associated Press reports. An Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what’s wrong with the U.S. education system–more than teachers, school administrators, the government or teachers unions. Only 35 percent of those surveyed agreed that teachers deserve a great deal or a lot of the blame. Moms were more likely than dads–72 percent versus 61 percent–to say parents are at fault. Conservatives were more likely than moderates or liberals to blame parents. Those who said parents are to blame were more likely to cite a lack of student discipline and low expectations for students as serious problems in schools. They were also more likely to see fighting and low test scores as big problems.

“Nobody is too busy to raise a child for a successful future,” said Wilfred Luise Vincent, 65, of Coppell, Texas. Vincent worked early or late shifts for Delta Airlines during most of his career so his two daughters would have a parent at home after school. Now he’s retired and home after school to help guide his granddaughter while his daughter works. The problems children and their parents deal with inside and outside of school every day are growing, said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, a Chicago advocacy group. Children are tired, they’re hungry and they need someone to help with their homework. Some kids face violence at home or in their neighborhood. Some parents are trying so hard to keep a roof over their family that they can’t help with school. More than half of those polled said student discipline and fighting, violence and gangs were extremely or very serious problems in schools. Nearly as many expressed concern about getting and keeping good teachers…

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Facebook wrestles with free speech and civility

Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, likes to say that his web site brings people together, helping to make the world a better place. But Facebook isn’t a utopia, and when it comes up short, Dave Willner tries to clean up, reports the New York Times. Dressed in Facebook’s quasi-official uniform of jeans, a T-shirt and flip-flops, the 26-year-old Mr. Willner hardly looks like a cop on the beat. Yet he and his colleagues on Facebook’s “hate and harassment team” are part of a virtual police squad charged with taking down content that is illegal or violates Facebook’s terms of service. That puts them on the front line of the debate over free speech on the internet. That role came into sharp focus last week as the controversy about WikiLeaks boiled over on the web, with coordinated attacks on major corporate and government sites perceived to be hostile to that group. Facebook took down a page used by WikiLeaks supporters to organize hacking attacks on the sites of such companies, including PayPal and MasterCard; it said the page violated the terms of service, which prohibit material that is hateful, threatening, pornographic or incites violence or illegal acts. But it did not remove WikiLeaks’s own Facebook pages. Facebook’s decision in the WikiLeaks matter illustrates the complexities that the company grapples with, on issues as diverse as that controversy, verbal bullying among teenagers, gay-baiting and religious intolerance. With Facebook’s prominence on the web–its more than 500 million members upload more than one billion pieces of content a day–the site’s role as an arbiter of free speech is likely to become even more pronounced.

“Facebook has more power in determining who can speak and who can be heard around the globe than any Supreme Court justice, any king or any president,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who has written about free speech on the Internet. “It is important that Facebook is exercising its power carefully and protecting more speech rather than less.”

But Facebook rarely pleases everyone. Any piece of content–a photograph, video, page or even a message between two individuals–could offend somebody. Decisions by the company not to remove material related to Holocaust denial or pages critical of Islam and other religions, for example, have annoyed advocacy groups and prompted some foreign governments to temporarily block the site…

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Virginia Tech violated law in 2007 massacre, federal report concludes

According to Politics Daily, Virginia Tech violated federal law by failing to issue “adequate warnings in a timely manner” during a rampage by a student gunman on campus three years ago, federal investigators have concluded. The school could be fined or lose federal aid over the violations outlined in the final report issued Thursday by the Department of Education.

Thirty-one people were killed in the massacre on April 16, 2007. The gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, took his own life at the scene.
“In all, more than two hours elapsed between the time University officials became aware of the first shootings (and the first murder) and the issuance of the first vague warning,” the report said. Waiting that long to alert students was in violation of the Clery Act, according to officials. Virginia Tech disputed the findings, and spokesman Larry Hincker told the Associated Press the school likely will appeal the decision. University officials have said that a finding that the school broke the law wouldn’t result in criminal charges…

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Few U.S. adults use Twitter–but those who tweet, tweet often

Seems like just about everyone’s tweeting these days, but a new survey finds that for now, only 8 percent of adults in the U.S. are using Twitter, reports AOL news. That said, nearly one in four of those who do tweet check their feeds “several” times a day. The latest findings of the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that Twitter is most popular among women, with 10 percent of those who are online tweeting versus seven percent of men. Young adults also rated high, with 14 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 hip to the ways of Twitter. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of Twitter users drops as the age brackets get higher, with just 7 percent of those aged 30-49 on Twitter, and a mere 4 percent of those 65 and up admitting to tweeting. Disappointingly, though, the Pew survey doesn’t include teenagers–who, as we learned through a variety of surveys last year, aren’t all that into tweeting. (Or at least they weren’t a year ago.) ReadWriteWeb has an interesting essay by a precocious 16-year-old who tells us that today’s teens would rather “extend their real social connections onto the internet” than merely engage in “self-promotion” or “follow interests immediately.” That’s why Facebook “has almost everything a teen could want,” while Twitter “offers no value to teenagers,” writes RWW guest author Michael-Moore Jones (who is on Twitter, by the way). Teens: Agree? Disagree? Statistical breakdowns aside, Pew is basically telling us that 92 percent of online U.S. adults don’t bother with Twitter. Here’s the thing, though: Those who are tweeting are well-nigh addicted…

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FCC member questions easy net rules for wireless

A plan to give wireless networks more flexibility than their landline counterparts in proposed internet rules is being questioned by Federal Communications Commission member Mignon Clyburn, Reuters reports. In remarks prepared for a conference on Thursday, Clyburn said it was essential that wireless networks “grow in an open way just as our wired ones have.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last week laid out what he called “rules of the road” for preserving an open Internet for consumers while giving broadband providers flexibility to manage their networks. His proposal would ban the blocking of lawful traffic while allowing internet providers to manage network congestion and charge consumers based on internet usage.

Genachowski said the rules should be more flexible for wireless broadband, reflecting that wireless is at an earlier stage of development than terrestrial internet service…

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