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What Are MOOCs Good For?

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 00:00

Online courses may not be changing colleges as their boosters claimed they would, but they can prove valuable in surprising ways.

A few years ago, the most enthusiastic advocates of MOOCs believed that these “massive open online courses” stood poised to overturn the century-old model of higher education. Their interactive technology promised to deliver top-tier teaching from institutions like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, not just to a few hundred students in a lecture hall on ivy-draped campuses, but free via the Internet to thousands or even millions around the world. At long last, there appeared to be a solution to the problem of “scaling up” higher education: if it were delivered more efficiently, the relentless cost increases might finally be rolled back. Some wondered whether MOOCs would merely transform the existing system or blow it up entirely. Computer scientist Sebastian Thrun, cofounder of the MOOC provider Udacity, predicted that in 50 years, 10 institutions would be responsible for delivering higher education.

Forget Hydrogen Cars, and Buy a Hybrid

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 14:10

Hybrids are a much more cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions than newly released hydrogen fuel cell cars.

If you want to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, you should probably skip the hydrogen fuel cell cars now coming to market and buy a (much cheaper) hybrid instead.

A Coal Plant That Buries Its Greenhouse Gases

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 16:45

The first commercial power plant to use carbon capture and sequestration shows the potential of a crucial technology.

Artificial Skin That Senses, and Stretches, Like the Real Thing

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 11:00

South Korean and U.S. researchers have developed a stretchable material that senses touch, pressure, and moisture, and could be used to give artificial limbs feeling.

Some high-tech prosthetic limbs can be controlled by their owners, using nerves, muscles, or even the brain. However, there’s no way for the wearer to tell if an object is scalding hot, or about to slip out of the appendage’s grasp.

A Feminist Critique of Silicon Valley

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 00:00

Shanley Kane challenges the assumptions and practices of the tech industry.

Shanley Kane is the founder and editor of the most interesting and original of new publications that cover technology: Model View Culture, a quarterly journal and media site that offers readers a remorseless feminist critique of Silicon Valley. The critical distance expressed by the publication’s articles, essays, and interviews, where the Valley’s most cherished beliefs and practices are derided and deconstructed, was honestly won: Kane worked for five years in operations, technical marketing, and developer relations at a number of infrastructure companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Often frustrated by the unexamined assumptions of her industry and irritated by the incompetence of her managers, she began blogging about technology culture and management dysfunction at startups, which led to Model View Culture (the name is a play on a technology, familiar to software developers, used to create user interfaces), founded a year ago. She maintains a lively and often profane Twitter persona, where she caustically dismisses the arguments of the kinds of men who tried her patience when she worked for them, and generously amplifies the ideas of writers and thinkers she admires, mostly women and minorities. She spoke to MIT Technology Review’s editor-in-chief, Jason Pontin.

HP Will Release a “Revolutionary” New Operating System in 2015

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 20:00

Hewlett-Packard’s ambitious plan to reinvent computing will begin with the release of a prototype operating system next year.

Hewlett-Packard will take a big step toward shaking up its own troubled business and the entire computing industry next year when it releases an operating system for an exotic new computer.

“Nanobuds” Could Turn Almost Any Surface Into a Touch Sensor

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 00:00

Stretchy, conductive films made of novel nanobuds could bring touch sensors to more surfaces.

Transparent films containing carbon nanobuds—molecular tubes of carbon with ball-like appendages—could turn just about any surface, regardless of its shape, into a touch sensor.