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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 28, 2013 9:44 AM

Education taxes loom, will tech companies pay?

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you had to put a face on the tech industry in Olympia, perhaps it should be that of Dudley Dursley, the pudgy, spoiled cousin of Harry Potter.

In the books, you can't resent Dudley as much as his parents, who raised the boy to expect the world -- with extra whipped cream and a few cherries on top. They shower him with treats and gifts, and only begrudgingly toss skinny little Harry a bone now and then.

If you think I'm being harsh, take a look at the latest tax proposals in the Legislature and how lawmakers, amid the latest funding crisis, are treating the state's huge tech companies.

Microsoft, and others are in line for even more sweets at their annual Olympia lovefest, while ordinary companies and residents are being forced to clean up the mess.

People across the state are facing huge tax increases over the next few years to cover a shortfall in education funding.

Tech companies would be exempted from the proposed tax increases for education, but that wasn't enough. They're also lobbying to be sure they keep getting other tax breaks that ordinary business people can only dream about.

What makes this especially galling is that tech companies keep calling for the state to improve its education system, especially when it comes to training their future tech workers.

This pleading works. Despite funding problems in recent years, the state found ways to enlarge the University of Washington's computer-science and engineering departments, largely by cutting back on other departments.

How are the chief beneficiaries showing their gratitude? By sidestepping the proposed new education taxes.

Basic education is a primary responsibility of the state under the Washington constitution. But for decades, lawmakers have been short-shrifting kids in the state, while ensuring that favorite industries get plenty of goodies.

After school districts sued, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to cover its education-funding shortfall. It's the biggest issue facing lawmakers this year.

The education-funding proposal left on the table by former Gov. Gregoire would raise taxes on gas, beer and companies doing business in Washington. Not high-tech businesses, though; they would be exempt from the extra 0.3 percent business and occupation tax that builders, bakers, restaurants and most every other business would pay for the next three years.

Collectively, the nontech businesses of the state would pay $248 million more next year under Gregoire's proposal. Gov. Inslee hasn't proposed an alternative yet, but don't count on him pressuring the tech companies that he embraced during his campaign.

The proposed gas tax would start at about 2 percent per gallon and rise to about 5 percent over the next four years. At the high end, that could add perhaps 16 cents to a gallon.

Gregoire's proposal would also extend a special $15.50 per barrel tax on beer for another three years.

Dudley Dursley will do fine, though. Olympia giveth, as well as taketh. (image via Harry Potter Wiki)

Amid the education-funding debacle, lawmakers are offering another big gift to tech companies.

First up is House Bill 1303, a proposal to extend a B&O tax credit for tech companies researching and developing new products. Companies can use the credit to reduce their state tax bill by up to $2 million a year. Tech companies took $23.1 million worth of the credits in 2011, the most recent year for which a tally is available.

This deal expires in 2015 but, with HB 1303, a group of eight lawmakers has proposed extending the bill for 20 years -- through 2035. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday before the House Technology and Economic Development Committee. (Here's the bill:HB 1303.pdf.)

I learned about the hearing from an email sent by a tech lobbying group, urging members to testify in support of extending both the B&O credit and an even more generous sales-tax break for tech companies. The sales-tax break also expires in 2015, and it's a safe bet that someone will propose extending it out into the distant future.

Special tax treatment for "high-tech" companies dates back to the early 1990s, when the state's software industry was beginning to bloom.

Originally the idea was to help companies developing complicated new products by letting them hold off on paying some taxes until their products went on sale.

Back then Microsoft was still building Windows 95 ,and Jeff Bezos was a young Wall Street banker.

As these tech companies grew and soared, so did the state's generosity. The circa 1994 plan to let them defer sales tax on product-development expenses morphed into a sales-tax exemption, and the state extended the program decade by decade.

Whether these tax breaks made a difference is debatable. Although the cost to the state is significant -- enough to cover much of its education shortfall -- the tax savings are immaterial for the large recipients.

Public assistance makes sense for young companies that may be struggling to pay for product development, before they make their first sales. But after they've grown up, they should be embarrassed to be asking for these perpetual handouts.

The biggest beneficiaries of these breaks are now giants. They're among the most prosperous companies in the world.

Microsoft, the most vocal proponent of improving math and science education, last week reported profit of more than $2 billion per month despite the struggles of the PC industry.

Washington state is doing its part.

Its tech sales tax exemption helped Microsoft and other tech companies avoid paying $31 million in 2011, and $249.8 million in sales taxes over the past eight years.

It's funny -- that's almost exactly how much Gregoire's education-funding plan would collect next year from a higher tax on the less privileged companies across the state.

If only there were a friendly wizard to even things out.

Comments | Category: , Billionaire techies , Education , Enterprise , Microsoft , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 29, 2012 8:39 AM

Innovation Summit: How to fuel the state's growth?

Posted by Brier Dudley

People - and Washington's ability to attract them - are why the state has become a world leader in information-technology over the last 30 years.

"For the most part our success story is in many ways a story that has been built on being a magnet for attracting people to come to Washington state from across the country and around the world," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said at the Washington Innovation Summit in Seattle today.

Continuing to compete for talent "will dictate whether our region can prosper on a long term basis," Smith said.

During his opening keynote speech at summit, Smith argued for a greater emphasis on computer science education, including new standards requiring the subject for high school graduation.

Smith also said the country needs to do a better job ensuring that students entering college complete their degrees and expand visa programs for skilled workers from overseas under a plan Microsoft is pitching in Washington, D.C.

"The number one thing we need to think about is the competition for talent," Smith said.

Smith set the tone for the summit, at which government, business and education leaders are gathering at the Bell Harbor conference center to discuss ways to nurture innovative industries in the state. It's sponsored by the Technology Alliance.

Incoming Gov. Jay Inslee is scheduled to address the group later in the day. He may echo some of the themes discussed by Smith, who is advising Inslee on his transition.

Smith said the state has a great foundation to build upon, including institutions such as the University of Washington.

"Now is the time for us to raise our sights and aim higher," he said.

Smith was followed by Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the UW.

Lazowska provided an overview of "big data" and opportunities around the rapidly advancing ability to manage and quickly analyze massive amounts of data being generated nowadays. This flood of data and computing challenges are transforming businesses and spawning new software companies.

A related trend is the rise of cloud computing. With Microsoft, and Google developing their cloud services here, "the Seattle area is really kind of the owner of the cloud," Lazowska said.

"It's a good time to be in Seattle and a good time to be doing big data," he added.

Lazowska moderated a panel of local people involved in the big data industry including Christian Chabot, chief executive of data-visualization company Tableau Software; Mike Fridgen, chief executive of consumer shopping service; Cameron Myhrvold, a venture capitalist backing machine-data software company Splunk, and Ruben Ortega, Google engineering director.

Myhrvold, a founding partner of Bellevue's Ignition Partners, said big data opportunities have just started.

"I think big data is going to give us a 15-year investment horizon ... and we're in year three today," he said.

Meanwhile companies in the field are growing like crazy.

Chabot said Tableau has grown from 350 to 720 employees this year. The company is in the "sweet spot of high-tech company growth."

Splunk is based in San Francisco but opened a Seattle engineering office with around 30 people, Myhrvold said. Fridgen said Decide has about 30 employees.

Google is continuing to expand in the area. It employs around 1,000 in the Seattle area including 600 in Kirkland and 400 in Seattle, Ortega said.

Ortega said the majority of Google's cloud efforts are coming from engineers in the Seattle area, which is developing into a "critical cluster" of cloud computing expertise.

Chabot said it's a tragedy that so many of the world's smartest engineers have spent the last decade working on how to get people to click ads or put more things in digital shopping carts. Now the technologies that they advanced are being applied in other areas.

"Every single industry you can name is doing really pioneering things with big data collections to improve the world," he said, adding that:

"I think getting out of this click on an ad/shopping cart rut we've been in for the last 10 years ... it's going to create a huge wave of job creation."

Comments | Category: Education , Enterprise , Entrepreneurs , Microsoft , Public policy , Startups , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 24, 2012 10:04 AM

Contour building hardware in a software town

Posted by Brier Dudley

Gravel flies everywhere and the motor howls as an off-road racing car spins out of control on a rally course in the foothills east of Seattle.

The orange Subaru is more tricked out than usual, sporting an assortment of high-tech cameras stuck to the roof, fender, roll-cage and driver's helmet.

For the morning, this is a testing lab for a Seattle startup called Contour, which makes small, cylindrical cameras to capture and share action video.

The testing session at the DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie was unusual, but so is Contour.

Seattle has hundreds of startup companies, but it's rare to find one that's found national success developing hardware gadgets for consumers, a field that's dominated by companies in Silicon Valley.

"We're the redheaded stepchild in Seattle because we're doing hardware in a software town," said Marc Barros, Contour co-founder and chief executive.

(Barros is driving the car above and pictured below, in photos by Ken Lambert of the Times)

Contour is a homegrown venture. Barros and co-founder Jason Green worked on a University of Washington business-plan competition, where they won third place pitching an electronic rearview camera for motorcycles. Then they decided to make a helmet-mountable camera for skiers and others who wanted an easy way to film their adventures.

The business started as a sideline in Barros' parents' basement, backed by an uncle who cosigned a $50,000 loan. Their first break came when they showed a prototype to a distributor who said it would sell.

Barros, 31, grew up in Issaquah, the son of a Brazilian immigrant who came to Seattle to study and ended up at Boeing, and a mother who sold IBM systems. He played soccer at the UW and considered playing pro, but pursued a career in accounting instead, starting with an internship at Moss Adams.

"They about threw me out after the first two weeks because I was still doing the company on the side," he said. "I just couldn't do it. I couldn't sit in an office all day long and audit things."

2019235812.jpgNine years later, Contour employs 55 people and is one of America's fastest-growing private companies, according to Inc. magazine. Last year Contour ranked seventh on the Inc. 500 list, after posting three-year sales growth of 11,663 percent. On this year's list it fell to 277th, with three-year growth of just 1,303 percent.

Contour just released its latest model, the $399 Contour+2, a 1080p camera with a big sliding switch that's easy to control with gloves on. It has a Bluetooth radio that lets you use an iPhone as a remote control and GPS to record the location and speed of the recorded action.

Even bigger for the business are new distribution deals with Apple and Best Buy that will help the company compete against its larger rival, San Mateo, Calif.-based GoPro.

Barros said the business evolved from making a camera to making one to capture action video. Along the way they figured out what they were really offering people.

"It eventually became 'make it easy to capture and share' and then we figured out why we exist, and then from that point forward it was a whole lot easier," he said.

Because Contour produces a specialty product, it's been easier to market than it would be if the company were selling a truly mass-market product.

"We target people that are online, that use their phones, that are social in nature and that are action-oriented," Barros said.

Skiers, surfers, skateboarders and mountain bikers are Contour's bread and butter, but Barros said the company also has sold its cameras to Navy SEALs. Military, police and security services could be markets that Contour pursues in the future.

"I think this could be a billion-dollar company if we go after multiple markets, but that could take us five, six, seven, eight years," he said.

There are some other Seattle-area companies making consumer hardware.

The biggest is Microsoft, which started building computer mice 30 years ago and now has a huge business selling mice, keyboards and webcams, plus the Xbox line and upcoming Surface PCs.

Over those three decades, Microsoft turned the region into a world center for software companies, but not so much for consumer hardware.

In addition to Microsoft, there's a cluster of expertise in designing and manufacturing aerospace components. Industrial gadgets have long been made here by companies such as Fluke and Intermec.

There's also a big industry producing medical devices -- such as HeartStart defibrillators and Sonicare dental-hygiene products that Philips' Bothell operation produces.

"They exist; it's just not in the same volume as in the Bay Area,'' said Chris Massot, vice president at Synapse, a Seattle hardware-design company.

Synapse has grown to more than 200 employees designing prototypes and hardware for industrial, medical and consumer companies. For Nike, it worked on the SportBand and SportWatch GPS products that track pace, distance and calories for runners and walkers.

Massot said Seattle doesn't have an ecosystem of financiers and manufacturers familiar with consumer hardware, but there's still plenty of talent in the area.

"There's more than enough smart people and ideas in the Northwest to make this a very substantial hardware market, just like Southern California or Boston or other places where there's a lot of innovation and creativity," he said.

Still, the current wave of gadget mania feeding consumers' insatiable appetite for shiny new electronic toys has been mostly a Silicon Valley phenomenon. chose to design its Kindle hardware at a subsidiary in San Francisco. Phone-maker HTC has its U.S. headquarters in Bellevue and a software studio in Seattle, but it bought a San Francisco design shop to work on its hardware.

Contour is straddling the divide. Its striking, rugged cameras are now designed in-house by a team in Seattle, where it's convenient for them to test new models on skis, bikes, boats or rally cars.

But Contour turned to Silicon Valley for specialized hardware-engineering talent. It now has a satellite office in Sunnyvale with about eight employees. That's also where it was able to hire an Apple veteran who is now Contour's chief operating officer.

Barros recently shifted day-to-day operational duties to the COO so he can spend more time on things like strategy, marketing and working with investors. But it's not clear whether he'll get much more time in the mountains with co-founder Green -- racing, skiing and "testing" with their cameras rolling.

"It starts with that," he said, "then you end up working all the time."

(Green is shown above, attaching a camera to a rally car. Below is a video Contour produced from its rally session at Dirtfish)

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September 17, 2012 9:40 AM

Google filling Kirkland campus, more growth planned

Posted by Brier Dudley

Fishing's still pretty good in Seattle, if you're trying to catch a software engineer.

Every month, it seems, another out-of-state tech company arrives on the shores of Lake Washington or Lake Union and throws out a line.

There's concern about whether there's enough fish in the pond, especially with demand for software engineers outpacing the output of college computer-science programs.

Both candidates for governor are pledging to improve the situation, and there are national efforts to boost science and technology education.

Yet the crisis hasn't slowed Google's double-digit growth in Kirkland, where I spent time last week with the new site director, Chee Chew. (shown here on the stairs in his building, in a photo by Steve Ringman of the Times)

"We've been growing very, very aggressively so there's no question that we are finding talent," he said. "We've had pretty good success hiring here."

Google's presence in Kirkland has tripled since Chew arrived there in 2007, after a 14-year run at Microsoft that began with his work on the Windows 95 taskbar.

In 2009, Google moved into a three-building complex on Kirkland's Sixth Street that's now almost full. Among the site's projects are Google+ Hangouts, Google Talk and elements of the Chrome browser, including the Chrome Web Store.

Combined with a sister office next to Seattle's Fremont Bridge, Google now has about 1,000 employees in the area. It has Google's highest concentration of engineers - higher even than the headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Last year Google hired about 70 people here and so far this year it's hired more than 120, with more to come.

Chew works in an office space shared -- by choice -- with 14 people. Don't fret about the Googlers' working conditions, though.

They may be getting crowded but they're not giving up Googley touches, like expansive living rooms amid the office clusters, with pool tables and funky chairs hanging from the ceiling.


Last year Google built out the third Kirkland building with a transportation theme. The lobby has an espresso bar designed to look like a cruise ship, and its cafeteria has bench seats like those on a ferryboat and a green and white wall with portholes.

Upstairs are two motorboats, moored at wooden docks built onto the floor. The boats are used as meeting rooms and equipped with power outlets for laptops. They were installed as a memorial to Steve Lacey, a Google engineer killed by a drunken driver last year in Kirkland.

Google now is remodeling the last unused spaces in another building on the campus, which won't be empty for long.

"I don't think we have all that much time left before we're at capacity at our current growth rate. I'd give us a couple of years," Chew said.

The 42-year-old MIT graduate and user-interface expert became site director two months ago. Chew's predecessor, Scott Silver, who came to Google from, transferred to Mountain View, Calif., the company headquarters.

Google already is looking around for the next place to expand in the area. Chew said the general plan is to continue straddling the lake, providing offices close to where engineers live "and have as few people cross the bridge as possible."

"There aren't a whole lot of available spaces for us to grow and so we're looking all over the place," he said. "We don't have a specific plan of where we're going to go at this point, but we're casting our net pretty wide."

Google has lost some engineers to Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies that have set up Seattle engineering offices in recent years. Just as Google did in 2004, when Microsoft was the best fishing hole.

But Chew isn't too concerned about poaching by newcomers. He said the Valley is a good example of how innovation thrives in a place where people move around and have choices of companies with different cultures.

"A little attrition is OK," he said. "Another way I'd look at it is this way: I think it's actually healthy and a great thing for our community."

If you're recruiting someone from another state, "he's not only looking at a company like Google, he's also looking at what's the environment like?" Chew explained.

"The more opportunities that we have here the more enticing it is to draw talent to the region," he said. "That actually helps all of us."

While Washington frets about whether its hatching enough engineers to replenish the pond, word of Chew's success is spreading in areas where the fishing's tougher.

"Engineering recruiting is by far the hardest problem startups (or large companies) face today, and it is easier in Seattle than in the Bay Area, since the number of relevant startups competing for the talent is much smaller," said Hadi Partovi, a former Microsoft manager and startup veteran who helped Facebook establish its Seattle engineering office in 2010.

Yet there are still not enough fish to go around, Partovi said, especially when you look broadly at the projected growth in U.S. software jobs over the next decade. If the education system can't produce enough programmers to fill the jobs, they'll be filled by immigrants or shipped overseas, he said.

That outcome may not be as bad as it sounds. This is a better place with more jobs and opportunity because of the contributions made by people like Chew, who immigrated as a child from Malaysia, and Partovi, who is of Iranian descent.

I'm more concerned about the new immigrants from California.

All the hiring and investment by companies setting up satellite engineering offices in Seattle is fantastic. We're the envy of cities around the world. I just hope we keep spawning locally based tech companies as well.

(Here's a gallery of images taken inside the transportation-themed building at Google's Kirkland campus and a newly remodeled floor with a Seattle music theme. Below is a picture I took of the campus that made me wonder why more Googlers don't move here from Mountain View ...)


Comments | Category: Chrome OS , Education , Facebook , Google , Microsoft , Seattle , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 5, 2012 5:44 PM

Summer reading ideas from Bill Gates

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates plans to do a lot of summer reading - perhaps more than he's done since he was a teen.

He's also sharing his reading list and reviews, and inviting people to recommend other books at his personal web site, The Gates Notes.
On the site, he talks about how he's always used summer to catch up on his reading and used to max out his library card when he was a kid. Now he may get through a book a day on vacations, on which he takes "what is probably a ridiculous number of books along."

An excerpt:

Between family trips and some other travel I'll be doing this summer, I probably have more reading time planned than I think I've had for a very long time, maybe ever since I started work. Still, I'm probably being too optimistic about what I'll be getting to, because I'm taking a ton of books with me.

I wonder if he's testing the Surface tablet with the Barnes & Noble app.

Here are some of the books that Gates recommends:

-"The Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker
- "The Quest" by Daniel Yergin
- "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" by Ezra Vogel
- "The Cost of Hope" by Amanda Bennett
- "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo
- "Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update" by Donella Meadows
- "Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think" by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Education , Games & entertainment , Microsoft , e-readers |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 25, 2012 1:01 PM

Study: Teens behaving worse online, parents clueless

Posted by Brier Dudley

Suprise, surprise.

Parents think they've got a handle on their teens online activity, but most have no idea what their kids are up to on computers and smartphones.

Confirming this is a new study by security vendor McAfee. It found that 73.5 percent of parents trust their teens won't access inappropriate content online.

Yet more than 70 percent of teens have figured out how to avoid parental monitoring, up from 45 percent in a 2010 study.


So what are today's teens doing online?

About a third are looking at pornography.

While 12 percent of parents think their teens are getting to online porn, it turns out 32 percent have done so intentionally and 43 percent of them do so on a weekly basis "if not more frequently," McAfee said in its release.

Some 43 percent have "accessed simulated violence online" and 31 percent access pirated movies and music.

Cheating's also popular. While 77 percent of parents said they're not too concerned about cheating online, 48 percent of teens have looked up answers online and 16 percent admitted to using their phones to look for test answers.

"While it is not necessarily surprising that teens are engaging in the same types of rebellious behaviors online that they exhibit offline, it is surprising how disconnected their parents are," McAfee's "online safety expert" Stanley Holditch said in the release.

"There is a major increase in the number of teens finding ways to hide what they do online from their parents, as compared to the 2010 study. This is a generation that is so comfortable with technology that they are surpassing their parents in understanding and getting away with behaviors that are putting their safety at risk."

McAfee also mentioned "accessing sexual topics online" alongside porn consumption, noting that 36 percent of teens -- and more girls than boys -- have looked into topics such as STD's and pregnancy issues. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, if online sources provide needed guidance.

More troubling is that 62 percent of teens have seen cruel behavior online and 23 percent claimed to be targets of cyberbullying, while only 10 percent of parents think their kids have been targeted. McAfee said white kids ages 16 and 17 are most likely to be targeted.

The study found 9.5 percent of teens admit to bullying online and 25 percent said they post mean comments.

The data came from 2,017 online interviews of teens aged 13 to 17 and their parents. The parent and teen group samples have a 3.1 percent margin of error -- so perhaps only 29 percent of teens are surfing for porn, or maybe it's 35 percent?

Meanwhile,less than half of parents are taking steps to get a handle on this activity. McAfee found 49 percent set up parental controls, 44 percent get email and social network passswords and 27 percent have taken away computers and mobile devices.

Another 23 percent of parents "disclosed that they are not monitoring their children's online behaviors because they are overwhelmed by technology."

So what are the tricks teens use to fool their parents?

Here's McAfee's list:

1. Clearing the browser history (53%).
2. Close/minimize browser when parent walked in (46%).
3. Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%).
4. Lie or omit details about online activities (23%).
5. Use a computer your parents don't check (23%).
6. Use an Internet-enabled mobile device (21%).
7. Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%).
8. Use private browsing modes (20%).
9. Create private email address unknown to parents (15%).
10.Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%).

For parents wondering what to do, McAfee offered a few bits of advice, urging them to get engaged and keep up.

"You must challenge yourselves to become familiar with the complexities of the teen online universe and stay educated on the various devices your teens are using to go online," its online security evangelist, Robert Siciliano, said in a blog post.

Microsoft also provides family safety advice for parents, including links to its free parental control software.

Here's the full study:


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June 20, 2012 1:05 PM

Startup, UW docs collaborate on very personal app

Posted by Brier Dudley

You'd think the last thing the world needs is an iPhone app that guys can use to take pictures of themselves in full glory.

But there is a medical purpose for the self-recording app that's the latest product of Seattle App Lab, a startup working with the University of Washington Department of Urology.

Its app also provides an interesting look at navigating the privacy challenges around using personal mobile devices for medical purposes.

It's designed to help people affected Peyronie's disease, which "is characterized by a deformity or curvature of the penis with a buildup of scar-like tissue that can make intercourse painful or even impossible," the company noted in its release.

Capturing data about the condition is something men may prefer to do at home rather than in a clinic.

The iPhone app can be used to create a sort of diary for monitoring changes in the curvature over time. Patients then present this diary to doctors.

"It's really a tool for the doctors," said John Nelson, App Lab president.

The condition affects millions of men each year, Dr. Thomas Walsh, UW assistant professor of urology, said in a release.

"Unfortunately, the current tools that we have available for both diagnosis and treatment are limited," he said. "Placing this device in the hands of urologists and men in need will truly advance this area of medicine and surgery -- it will allow patients and doctors alike to make the most informed and personalized decisions about the treatment of their disease."

This is delicate territory, with considerable privacy issues, so the app won't be used to transmit images. Instead they'll be recorded on the patient's phone and presented in person to the doctor.

The photos are also masked, so the diary displays a sort of gray cylinder.

"You're not saving actual photos," Nelson explained.

The app will be submitted to Apple for distribution through iTunes by August. It will be free and available to anyone, whether or not they are UW urology patients. Versions for other platforms may come later.

App Lab, a mobile technology consultancy, was started in January. Nelson said it hopes to specialize in medical diagnostic tools.

Nelson sidestepped my questions about whether the company will repurpose the software for less serious applications.

"It could work for diagnosing any kind of body deformity," he said.

Comments | Category: Apple , Apps , Education , Entrepreneurs , Gadgets & products , Research , Seattle |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 2, 2012 6:00 AM

Kenmore teen finalist in Google doodle contest

Posted by Brier Dudley

Samantha Carey, a ninth-grader at Northshore Junior High, today was named one of 50 state winners in the annual Doodle 4 Google contest in which students across the country compete to have their doodle grace the search giant's home page.

Carey, 14, was among 114,000 K-12 students who participated in this year's contest with the theme "If I could travel in time, I'd visit ..." She submitted a chiaroscuro image of a sort of time machine (below) with the title "Tick Tock Oil the Clock."

Her doodle will be displayed at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle this summer and in a special exhibit at the New York Public Library. She also wins a trip to Google's New York office where the final winner will be announced May 17.

Celebrities helped Google select the state winners. Starting today a public, online vote will choose five national finalists and then Google will choose the final winner, whose art will be shown on Google's home page May 18.

Voting is done here at a special site displaying all the finalists.

The national winner will also have their art appear on a special edition box of Crayola crayons and receive a $30,000 college scholarship and $50,000 technology grant for their school.

Judges in the fifth Doodle 4 Google contest included singers Katy Perry and Jordin Sparks and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, creator and executive producer of the show "Phineas and Ferb."


UPDATE: Google also announced the recipients of its 2012 Anita Borg Memorial Scholarships. Among the 25 U.S. winners are three in the Northwest: Jenny Abrahamson and Nicola Dell at the University of Washington and Hannah Adams at Oregon State University.

Here are Washington doodle entries that were finalists at the state level; the Eastside had a particularly strong showing:

Redmond's Kaden D., age 7, "Our Family Vacation in Hawaii":


Bellevue's Jahnvi B., age 10, "Yankee Doodle":


Sammamish's Clara T., age 12, "Ancient China":


Silverlake's Heidi R., age 18, "America: as it once was":


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April 4, 2012 5:18 PM

Granite Falls car gets 231 mpg (Updated, with pictures)

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's a long way from Granite Falls to Houston, but the trip's not so bad if your vehicle gets 231 miles per gallon.

That's the case for a group of students from Granite Falls High School who built an ultra high-mileage vehicle to compete in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas last week.

The team ended up winning second place in the UrbanConcept Diesel Engine category with a top run of 231 miles per gallon. The competition was tough; Lousiana Tech University won the category with a run of 488.7 miles per gallon.

In the gasoline category, Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind., won with a phenomenal 2,188 mile per gallon run.

Granite Falls also took home a special safety award for being one of two teams that made the most effort to comply with the event's safety regulations.

Teacher Michael Werner, a former race car mechanic, has been sending teams to compete in the events since 2009.

Werner said the cars will be on display on Saturday, April 14, at the Paccar Technical Center open house in Mount Vernon. They'll also be at the Future of Flight Museum at Paine Field on April 22 and the Seattle Science Festival at Seattle Center on June 2.

Here are a few pictures of the school's "urban concept" diesel vehicle:

Granite Fall HS_urbanconcept.jpg

granite fall hs_urbanconcept2.jpg

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March 14, 2012 4:13 PM

Games for kids and budding computer scientists

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lots of feedback was generated by Monday's column on Facebook's Jocelyn Goldfein and encouraging women to study computer science.

Goldfein mentioned that when she was a young girl, her grandmother introduced her to logic games.

One reader asked what sort of games Goldfein would recommend for kids, because he'd like to encourage his daughter and nieces to consider computer science.

I passed the question along to Goldfein, who said a childhood education expert is probably the best person to ask. But she provided an "anecdotal" answer and listed a few games that her daughters play.

The logic puzzles my grandma did were very old-fashioned, kind of like this:

The modern-day equivalent is undoubtedly Sudoku (and in fact I'm an avid Sudoku'er and my daughter at age 6 started enjoying Sudoku herself).

But my broader answer is that it's not the puzzles themselves that matter. You can't toss a book of kids Sudoku puzzles at a 6-year-old and expect her to be interested. My daughter was interested *because* she saw me with my nose in a Sudoku book all the time. So the best games and puzzles to encourage are either ones you do yourself, or better yet, ones you will do with her. That can start with card games like Go Fish and Uno. Anything with sorting and matching and counting is great foundations for logical reasoning.

There are lots of great counting and sorting oriented board games, and then you know, we live in a golden age of casual video games for kids. There are so many wonderful smartphone apps and Web apps. My kids play a ton of them, from overtly education oriented ones (like Zoodles) to simple strategy games like Glitch or Pocket Frogs or Gaia -- which actually require a lot of counting and logical reasoning skills, and have cute graphics and addictive game mechanics. Even more importantly, they are games the adults in their lives are interested in playing with them!

My bottom line is the best game is one that you're going to do with her, and not its raw educational content. I do think parental investment and modeling is the biggest factor of all. (Plus, and you may have seen this covered elsewhere, but all the good research findings we're getting now about how we need to praise our kids for effort and not traits.)

I also posed the question to Douglas Clements, a distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, who has written 18 books and hundreds of publications on early childhood education, math education and related topics.

Clements said that it's a huge question. Lots of games have a variety of math and logic skills, and a myriad of factors pique people's interest.

"Still, games are very good ... from board games that build intuitions about number and probability (see our Building Blocks software) to logic games such as Dienes' attribute games... which are excellent, to the old Learning Co. computer games (see the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis computer challenges too) to Logo.

And there is perhaps nothing better for computer programming... than ... computer programming!"

Any other suggestions?

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March 12, 2012 9:59 AM

Facebook director on women, computing and careers

Posted by Brier Dudley

If video games can inspire boys to study computer science, perhaps Facebook can have the same effect on girls.

Something has to change because the number of female computer-science students has mysteriously fallen since the mid-1980s, when nearly 40 percent of the majors were women. Lately it's been less than 20 percent, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

That's despite concerted efforts by Microsoft and other software companies to draw more women into the talent pipeline.

Now Facebook is taking a crack at this puzzle, flexing its newfound stature and influence.

"I am quite hopeful that Facebook can do something to turn the tide -- that we have enough cultural influence at this point that we can influence the next generation of teenage girls to consider computer science," engineering director Jocelyn Goldfein told me last week.

Jocelyn headshot (2).jpg
Goldfein, 36, leads the product team working on features such as news feeds and photo and video services. She's among about a dozen directors, including two women, who collectively manage Facebook's engineering.

A Stanford graduate who grew up in Northern California, Goldfein previously was vice president of the desktop business group at VMware in Palo Alto, Calif.

Goldfein is a great example of what women can achieve in the tech industry today, but I was curious to know how she ended up on that path. It sounds like computing was probably her destiny.

With a father who managed computer scientists and a mother who worked in finance, "computers were always around the house," she said in an interview at Facebook's Seattle office. "We read science fiction, had geeky friends, geeky pursuits."

Goldfein recently found a copy of her birth announcement, which humorously reflected the '70s mainframe era. She recalled that it said "a new programming unit has been added to our family. Dad's in charge of programming and Mom's in charge of production control."

Goldfein and her mother played video games together, but a greater influence may have been her late grandmother, a mother of five who worked as a bank teller to support the family after her husband left.

"This woman did logic puzzles for fun; she would solve Rubik's cubes as a hobby," Goldfein said. "The logic puzzles you get in crossword-puzzle magazines -- with the dots and the X's -- she taught me to do those when I was a kid. It was sort of an epiphany when I got to programming. It's sort of the same thing."

So Goldfein's mind worked like her grandmother's?

"Exactly," she said. "I think we would find there are a bunch of people working in accounting and finance who, in another life in an alternate universe, could have been software engineers. I think that there's a lot of similarities in what your brains do."

(Here are some game suggestions from Goldfein and others)

Despite the stature of Goldfein and other women at Facebook, I wondered if the company has trouble recruiting more after the depiction of founder Mark Zuckerberg in the movie "The Social Network." Goldfein sharpened her tone when I brought that up.

"The funny thing is there's lots of things that are just sort of factually inaccurate about that movie, but I think the fact that it portrays Mark as a misogynist is one of the greatest pieces of slander in it," she said. "There's actually proof of this, which is Mark has been monogamously in a relationship with one woman for the entire time, including today."

Goldfein is the mother of two young girls, so I asked what she's doing to be sure they feel computing is open to them. "I think the biggest thing you need to do for all girls -- and not just mine -- is have role models out there," she said. "That's why I think Facebook can make a difference. Teenage girls are using Facebook, and so I think it's meaningful for them to hear about women engineers working at Facebook."

That helps address "stereotype threat" -- the effect of women avoiding things they perceive are for men. "You look in the room, you see all men, you assume that's for men, not me," Goldfein said.

Still, Zuckerberg remains the face of Facebook, just as other major tech companies are all identified with their male founders.

"Mark's face is on it, but actually the news feed that you use was built by a woman, the photo viewer that opens up when you click on a photo, that was built by a woman," Goldfein said. "An enormous percentage of teenage girls, I would posit, are on Facebook and using those features passionately and devotedly, and probably take a more personal interest in the idea that they could mold those things, they could shape those things."

It will take generations for women to account for 50 percent of computer-science majors, Goldfein said, but she believes it's possible.

"Considering that women are 60 percent of undergrad degrees these days," she said, "I'm really looking for a 60-40 representation to be proportional."

Could it happen in her lifetime? "It could," she said. "Another generation or two, and it could tip. Law and medicine tipped so fast. The majority of law grads and medical-school grads now are women."

Goldfein's grandmother would be part of the shift if she were growing up today.

"Absolutely, she'd be a computer scientist. There's no doubt in my mind," Goldfein said. "She would have had so much more opportunity today, but I think it's rather impressive what she did. She's definitely an inspiration."

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November 7, 2011 4:56 PM

Huskies win something: Genetic engineers world champs

Posted by Brier Dudley

The University of Washington may not be able to win the big football games, but schools around the world now live in fear of its genetic engineering team.

A team from the school won the world championship at the international genetic engineered machines competition, which had its final round today at MIT.

Projects entered by the UW team included ways to make diesel fuel out of bacteria, bioengineered therapies for Celiac disease and genetic engineering toolkit. The team included 23 undergraduates plus advisers, faculty and support members.

Other finalists in the world jamboree were China's Zhejiang University, Imperial College of London and MIT. In the Americas round last month, finalists included Yale, Lethbridge and a Brown-Stanford team.

Here are the descriptions of the UW team's projects, from the team's website:

Make It: Diesel Production We constructed a strain of Escherichia coli that produces a variety of alkanes, the main constituents of diesel fuel, by introducing a pair of genes recently shown to convert fatty acid synthesis intermediates into alkanes.

Break It: Gluten Destruction We identified a protease with gluten-degradation potential, and then reengineered it to have greatly increased gluten-degrading activity, allowing for the breakdown of gluten in the digestive track when taken in pill form.

iGEM Toolkits To enable next-generation cloning of standard biological parts, we built BioBrick vectors optimized for Gibson assembly and used them to create the Magnetosome Toolkit: a set of 18 genes from an essential operon in magnetotactic bacteria which we are characterizing to create magnetic E. coli.

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October 10, 2011 9:59 AM

One Bus Away extended, for now, with Googler help

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bus riders in the greater Seattle area have a friend in Switzerland.

That would be Brian Ferris, the University of Washington computer-science student who graduated in the summer and now works for Google, in Zurich. (He's pictured below in his UW office in May.)

Ferris built and ran One Bus Away, a collection of phone apps that inform riders when buses are expected to arrive at their stop, using data shared by transit agencies.

His hobby morphed into a Ph.D. project and a job with Google's Zurich office, where the search giant does much of its mapping and navigation work.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ferris1.jpg
That was great for Ferris and Google, but it left One Bus Away's users in limbo. They continue to use the service more than 50,000 times a week, accessing it via smartphones, browsers and a dial-in system at 206-456-0609.

Fortunately, the UW has continued to run the system -- on servers in the Computer Science & Engineering Department -- while the school and regional transit agencies hashed out a plan.

It could have gotten sticky earlier this month. King County Metro did a major restructuring of its network Oct. 1, changing dozens of routes, adding a new rapid line and rerouting others to deal with the Alaskan Way Viaduct project.

Those changes introduced glitches in One Bus Away that needed to be fixed, even though the agencies were still negotiating who would pick up the tab for the service.

So Ferris went ahead and updated the system himself -- just as he had for years at the UW -- except this time he did it from Zurich.

"He's not getting paid for it. He's just doing it because he believes in it," said Alan Borning, a UW computer-science professor who worked with Ferris on transit information research.

A slightly longer-term solution will be announced soon, perhaps in the next few days.

Metro, Sound Transit and Pierce Transit are working with the UW to fund One Bus Away for a year. Funding will enable the UW to hire someone to manage and update the service.

"We wanted to keep it going," said De Meyers, a Sound Transit information technology manager who is researching and developing rider-information systems.

It's unclear what will happen beyond the one-year contract, but Seattle-area agencies are apparently interested in a similar system being developed by a group in New York.

Called Open Trip Planner (OTP), it's an open-source project that started in 2009 and drew in part on the work that Ferris did at the UW.

The OTP software is freely shared, but several groups charge agencies to customize, host and support the system. OTP is being tested in Portland, where the TriMet transit agency helped develop the system.

In July, OTP held a user meeting in Portland attended by Meyers, another Sound Transit representative and a King County Metro manager, according to the group's attendance list.

An OTP presentation on its website also lists Sound Transit and King County as "prospective users" having "early conversations."

So is One Bus Away simply being extended until OTP is fully up and running?

"We don't know really right now," Meyers said, adding that "we're still in the assessment phase."

Meanwhile, Borning and his students may continue to use One Bus Away as a platform for research purposes.

One Bus Away users may also be asked to help out.

Borning envisions a sort of crowd-sourcing approach. People with knowledge of particular routes could become "transit ambassadors" and help run the system.

(That would be a cousin to a crowd-sourced voters guide -- at -- that he and students are developing.)

Demand for One Bus Away continues, and it's likely to grow over the next few years as massive road projects strangle Seattle-area traffic and put more pressure on transit agencies.

The system is also uniquely accessible, enabling even basic phones to access the same information as fancy smartphones.

Crowd-sourcing may help keep the service going, Borning said.

"On the other hand," he added, "I don't have another Brian Ferris who can put in 10- or 20-hours a week."

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August 23, 2011 10:28 AM

Contour zooms up Inc. 500 list with 11,663% growth

Posted by Brier Dudley

Contour - a Seattle maker of wearable video cameras - is one of the nation's fastest growing private companies, according to the new Inc. 500 list.

Contour is ranked seventh on the list, up from 183rd on last year's list.
The company - which emerged from a University of Washington business plan competition- reported 11,663 percent sales growth over the last three years and now employs 57 people.

The stats included with Inc.'s list say Contour's revenue grew to $15.1 million last year from $128,635 in 2007. That's with two products - a 1080p wearable camera (pictured) that lists for $280 and a $350 version that also captures GPS locations - plus a Web site where users share their "adventure sports" videos.

"It's beyond my wildest dreams to evolve Contour from a project bootstrapped out of a garage to the seventh fastest-growing private company in the nation," Chief Executive Marc Barros said in a release.

Here are the top 20 companies on the list from Washington state:


Here are the top 20 companies on the list from the greater Seattle area:


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August 22, 2011 10:44 AM

From Microsoft to Africa: Ashesi campus opens

Posted by Brier Dudley

It took a bit longer than expected, but the university in Ghana started a decade ago by a visionary Microsoft engineer finally has its own campus.

Ashesi University is moving from rented space in the city of Accra to a 100-acre suburban campus formally opening Saturday.

A contingent of supporters from the U.S. -- many with Microsoft ties -- will join ambassadors, Ghanaian officials and village chiefs for the opening.

Several said the campus is much more than a collection of new buildings for the school. It represents the vision and commitment of Patrick Awuah, who left the security of a job writing software in Redmond to pursue a crazy dream building a university in his homeland.

Awuah, 46, wasn't one of the Microsoft stock-option jillionaires. He was just an engineer in his 30s with an audacious idea he left to pursue in 1997.

Awuah's goal was to offer Ivy League-caliber education in Africa, to create ethical, broad-minded leaders who would go on to elevate the continent.

That started happening even before ground was broken on the campus, where the first students began moving into dorms last week.

Ashesi began offering classes in 2002, and enrollment has grown from 30 to about 500. Most graduates have stayed in Africa and all have jobs in fields such as finance, technology and education.

In 2008, the school began breaking even financially and started raising money for the campus -- just as the economy crashed. But Ashesi's early success helped raise $6.9 million for the project.

Here's the August, 2009, groundbreaking ceremony; Awuah's in the blue shirt:

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Here's a picture taken last week at the campus, looking toward the library:
ashesi campus.jpg

Among Awuah's early backers was Paul Maritz, a Zimbabwe-born former top Microsoft executive now chief executive of VMware in Palo Alto, Calif.

"Ultimately, the future of Africa lies in the hands of Africans, and in particular a new generation of leaders who can give the continent the leadership it deserves," Maritz said via email. "Ashesi represents an extraordinary effort by a true African hero [Patrick] to prepare this next generation of leadership and imbue it with the values that they will need."

Awuah said he's thrilled and relieved that the campus is finally open, but his project continues.

"It feels wonderful to be in our own space and it's a major milestone for us, but no, we're not done," he said.

After the opening ceremonies, Awuah is meeting with trustees to chart the school's next decade of growth.

Plans aren't final yet, but Ashesi is likely to begin offering new majors in engineering and science -- in addition to the current, four-year degrees in computer science, business administration and management information systems.

Ashesi already has been working on curriculum with Awuah's alma mater, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He arrived there from Ghana with a scholarship and was hired by Microsoft after he graduated.

Among people he initially worked with was Mike Murray, who co-founded the international philanthropy Unitus after retiring from Microsoft in 1999. Murray and his wife gave Awuah one of his first grants.

"Ashesi's unique in that it takes an extremely bold vision and courage to say, 'I'm going to start a new university in a developing country from the ground up,' " Murray said. "The common response to that would be, 'You're nuts' or, 'You're crazy.' "

It turned out to be a great investment. One college graduate in Ghana potentially helps up to 100,000 others directly and indirectly, Murray said.

"Not only are you going to help individuals, it's going to help the entire country," he said. "The proof is in the pudding -- the goal and the dream was that these students would get great educations and then stay in country, and that is proving to be what's happening."

The campus will keep growing. It can now accommodate 550, with room for most in its dorms, but there's space for 2,000 students eventually.

ashesi campus2.jpg
Among those at Saturday's ceremony will be Ruth and Todd Warren of Seattle, who helped raise money for the campus and will have the library named after them. Todd Warren retired from Microsoft in 2009 as vice president of Windows Mobile and is on Ashesi's board, and Ruth Warren led the campus capital campaign.

"We're so excited to have the campus and buildings but the school is more than that. We have this unique educational model," she said. "We couldn't have done this and built the campus without proving that the model works. The success of our graduates provides this."

One priority may be adding more space for large gatherings.

The school has a central courtyard that serves as a natural amphitheater. That's where Saturday's ceremony was going to be held.

But a regional chief invited so many other chiefs and dignitaries that more than 1,000 attendees are expected. Events had to be moved to a larger, open space that serves as a parking lot.

When Ashesi asked the chief about the protocol for such events, "He basically told us we didn't understand how significant this was -- this is the first university in the whole region and they really care about education, and they invited all the chiefs from this whole traditional area," said Matt Taggart, associate director of development.

Maritz also sees broader significance in the school's milestone.

"The most leveraged thing those of us on the outside of Africa can do is to support these kinds of efforts to bring about deep, bottom-up change. Everything else is just a Band-Aid," he said.

"The fact that Ashesi has survived its infancy and is now entering into the next phase of its growth is an enormous testament to what can be done with comparatively modest resources to create what Africa most needs, which is lasting and effective institutions -- the new campus is the visible symbol of that."

Awuah said he's especially pleased that alumni, students and faculty contributed to the school's permanent home.

"I can feel it when the staff sees the donor wall. The pride they have is phenomenal," he said. "It feels great."

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June 24, 2011 12:43 PM

UW prof, alloys pioneer wins Kyoto Prize

Posted by Brier Dudley

An affiliate professor at the University of Washington today received the prestigious (and lucrative) Kyoto Prize for global achievement, for his pioneering work in materials science and engineering.

John Cahn, 83, was awarded the 27th annual Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology from Japan's Inamori Foundation. It comes with a 20-karat gold medal and a cash prize of about $625,000.

Cahn has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science in 1998. He has been a member of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland since 1984 and is now an emeritus senior fellow.

The head of the NIST metallurgy division, Frank Gayle, explained that Cahn's work has contributed to metals, plastics and other materials used in all sorts of common products.

"John's developments in the theory and models of materials has given scientists tools to understand and make new materials ranging from metals to plastics to ceramics and glass," Gayle said in a prepared statement. "For instance, your smartphone or laptop computer might contain 100 different materials, and John's work has probably influenced the understanding and development of half of those."

The Kyoto Prize was awarded for his establishment of the theory of spinodal decomposition. The announcement cites his work, which began in the 1950s, when "researchers attempting to maximize the potential of alloy materials were forced to take a trial-and-error approach." Cahn and colleague John Hilliard at General Electric deveoped a "method to describe the process of phase separation."

Their equation "has played a key role in materials science and engineering, explaining phenomena as simple as the formation of frost patterns on a car's windshield -- and as complex as the clumping of galaxies in the early universe.led to a more systematic approach to materials development."

Cahn went on to establish a theory of "three-dimensional spinodal decomposition" that extended a theory formulated by Dr. Mats Hillert. The release continued:

"In addition to expanding Hillert's theoretical treatment into three dimensions, he incorporated an elastic strain-energy term, allowing alloy materials to be engineered for highly specific structural and functional characteristics. This theory has since found universal application in the design and production of better-performing metals, glass, semiconductors, polymers, and thermal materials requiring unique properties -- including extreme strength, thermal conductivity, pore permeability, heat resistance, and magnetism. Dr. Cahn's research findings have also laid the foundation for the phase-field method, one of the hottest research topics of recent years in the materials sciences. Taken as a whole, his work has spawned productive lines of research not only in metallurgy but also in physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, economics and demography."

This year's "basic sciences" Kyoto Prize went to Rashid Sunyaev, a Russian-German astrophysicist "and contributor to high-energy astronomy who proposed the theory that
fluctuations in cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) may be used to explore the
expanding universe." He's director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Science's Space Research Institute and a visiting professor at the Insititute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

The "arts and philosophies" award went to Tamasaburo Bando V, a Japanese Kabuki actor specializing in female roles. "Tamasaburo is known as a creator of elegant beauty whose artistry crosses many genres of the performing arts," the release said.

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June 14, 2011 12:32 PM

OneBusAway creator hired by Metro, briefly, before Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

Brian Ferris, the creator of the OneBusAway bus arrival application, has a summer job after he finishes his PhD work at the University of Washington.

Ferris will spend a month or two coding for King County, helping it complete and test software for Metro's new bus radio and GPS system. He's already been developing the software that transmits bus location information in a standard format used by transit apps and services, and the temporary job will enable him to finish the project and test it within Metro's firewall.

At the same time, the county and other regional transit agencies have met and begun talking to the UW about ways to continue operating the collection of OneBusAway apps and web services.

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I reported in May that Google hired Ferris to join a team in Zurich that works on transit and direction services and the UW and the county were hoping to find a way to continue his project.

In a blog post today, Ferris reiterated his hiring and disclosed that he's starting a temporary job at King County next Thursday.

Separately, transit officials are talking to the UW about ways they can keep the OneBusAway apps and services operating after Ferris leaves. They run on servers in the computer science school, where students and faculty have been working on related projects for decades, and are used for research in different departments at the university.

"We're all interested, we know OneBusAway is a great application, we'd like to see it survive," said Wayne Watanabe, IT service delivery manager for the transportation department.

Watanabe said his agency has been talking to Ferris for years about sustaining his work after he graduates.

Specifically, Ferris will be working on a SIRI repeater. SIRI stands for service interface for real time information, which is an "XML protocol to allow distributed computers to exchange real-time information about public transport services and vehicles," according to a description of the standard hosted at

Metro's SIRI repeater should be complete this summer but the new radios and GPS systems it draws upon aren't on many buses yet. So far they're on the "rapid ride" fleet and being steadily added to other buses. They should be used throughout the fleet by the end of 2012, Watanabe said.

King County plans to freely share the location information for developers to build applications. If necessary, it will build a location tool for the public itself, Watanabe said.

"We feel that there are certain basic services that the public should have," he said. "Having a good real-time application is one of those, just like timetables."

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May 23, 2011 9:51 AM

Great free bus app from UW, but creator off to Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of Seattle's least-known secrets is a magical app for your phone.

It can make you more efficient, reduce stress, give you more time, save you money and help the environment.

Best of all, it's free.

You don't even need an expensive smartphone or one of those wireless plans that cost as much as a car payment.

I'm talking about OneBusAway, an app that tells people when their bus is arriving. It started in 2006 as the side project of a University of Washington student and grew into a transit app platform used by software developers, researchers, transit agencies and 50,000 commuters a week.

Brian Ferris, a computer-science graduate student from the Tri-Cities, began hacking it together in 2006 after getting frustrated by the spotty arrival times of the Metro Route 44 bus he'd take sometimes when he missed the 46 commuter route from Ballard to the UW.

This was before the iPhone and the frenzy around mobile apps. Ferris thought you should be able to use a phone any time to find out when the next bus arrives.

With a collection of free software and services, he built a system that lets people with any kind of phone dial 206-456-0609, enter a stop number and get the estimated arrival time.

Ferris kept at it, often writing code on buses. He built fancier versions that blend with Google Maps and run on the iPhone, and collaborators built apps for Android devices and Windows phones.

Screenshot-01.pngAll the versions and free tools for app developers are available via

At the end of 2008, Ferris persuaded academic advisers to let him make this his full-time project, instead of a Wi-Fi location technology he had been pursuing.

Among the research published since was a 2010 paper by Ferris, civil-engineering student Kari Edison Watkins and Professor Alan Borning that found using OneBusAway made riders feel safer and less stressed. They spend less time waiting, ride more frequently and are more satisfied with transit in general.

Ferris, 30, said they also observed that people's sense of time changes when uncertainty about their bus is removed. A 5-minute wait can seem like 10 if you don't know for sure when the bus is coming. If you know it's coming in 10 minutes, the time can seem like it's going by faster, he said.

Knowing when the bus is coming also can make people more productive, because they can do something instead of just waiting. Ferris has favorite places he visits -- coffee shops and bookstores -- when the system tells him he has extra wait time.

OneBusAway gets about 27,000 unique visitors a week who are using iPhones, 18,000 from Android devices and 18,000 from the Web.

Only about 2,000 weekly visits come from the dial-in service, which is surprising since most people don't own a smartphone. About 31 percent of the population had smartphones as of December, according to Nielsen research.

Ferris said people with basic phones probably aren't aware of the service.

The trickiest part of the dial-in system is finding the number of a bus stop.

It's a five-digit number printed at the top of posted schedules or painted on covered stops. But schedules sometimes are missing or the number is obscured.

Ferris has tried to persuade King County to change the way the number is displayed. He rode his bike to 800 stops in the south end of Seattle last summer, discreetly applying vinyl stickers displaying each stop number.

You also can enter your location or a route number by punching through the phone menu. The system remembers your number and can bookmark regular stops.

Arrival information isn't exact. Accuracy depends on information provided by the bus system.

OneBusAway works with Metro Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Community Transit.

King County uses an older system that calculates arrival times as buses pass certain points along their route. This information is sent over bus radios to Metro.

Several earlier UW projects exposed this location information over phones and the Web, and Ferris built on top of their work.

Metro is upgrading bus radios and adding new location-tracking technology, including GPS. It intends to give developers like Ferris access to data from the new system after it's fully installed in 2012.

Transportation apps are hot nowadays.

Search giants, app developers and transit agencies are working on new tools for mapping and tracking different means of transport, drawing on government's newfound enthusiasm for sharing streams of data such as bus locations.

Metro holds workshops for app developers, about 100 of whom have asked for access to its data.

It's all part of an explosion of creativity ignited by mobile devices and fast wireless networks.

But what's refreshing about OneBusAway is that it's a pure service, created simply to make life better for commuters of all stripes. It's not trying to sell you anything, ping your friends, track your whereabouts, deduce your buying patterns or point you toward a nearby store.

It just tells you when the next bus is coming, so you don't have to stare down the road, wondering and hoping.

Bus ridership is growing. Metro provided an average 375,000 rider trips per weekday last month, up 3.5 percent from a year ago.

Meanwhile, Seattle's outrageous combination of tunnel, bridge and viaduct projects, road diets and other construction is making bus schedules elastic and tracking systems more important than ever.

The timing couldn't be worse, but now the future of OneBusAway is in limbo.

Ferris will finish his Ph.D. next month then work for Google at its Zurich, Switzerland, office, with a team that works on transit and direction services.

Local supporters are looking for ways to keep the project going. King County is talking to companies about contracts to support and extend the project.

At the UW, Borning hopes to raise enough money from transit agencies and others to hire a part-time developer to maintain the system.

"An extremely high priority is to make sure it keeps running -- we need to figure it out," Borning said.

In a way, the project will continue in Zurich, where Ferris hopes to keep working on it while building more tools to help people find and use all kinds of transportation.

"My goal," he said, "is to go to Google and do this worldwide."

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May 2, 2011 11:55 AM

Kindle so-so for students, UW study concludes

Posted by Brier Dudley

Researchers at the University of Washington are about to present a report on a pilot project that had computer science students use a Kindle DX for their course reading.

College textbooks are a holy grail for the electronic book industry, but apparently they still have a ways to go, based on the UW study, conducted during the 2009-2010 school year.

"There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing," first author Alex Thayer, a UW doctoral student in design and engineering, said in a release. "It remains to be seen how to design one. It's a great space to get in to, there's a lot of opportunity."

Seven months into the study, more than 60 percent of the students had stopped using their Kindle regularly for academic reading -- and these were computer science students, who are presumably more sympathetic to an electronic book.

Although the device has note-taking capabilities, some students still tucked paper into the Kindle case to write notes and others would read near a computer that they could use for reference and other tasks that weren't easy on the device.

The study used the DX, which is the largest Kindle, a $379 model with a 9.7-inch diagonal screen. It involved 39 first-year graduate students in computer science and engineering, with ages ranging from 21 to 53.

Some conclusions, as listed in the release:

-- Students did most of the reading in fixed locations: 47 percent of reading was at home, 25 percent at school, 17 percent on a bus and 11 percent in a coffee shop or office.

-- The Kindle DX was more likely to replace students' paper-based reading than their computer-based reading.

-- Of the students who continued to use the device, some read near a computer so they could look up references or do other tasks that were easier to do on a computer. Others tucked a sheet of paper into the case so they could write notes.

-- With paper, three quarters of students marked up texts as they read. This included highlighting key passages, underlining, drawing pictures and writing notes in margins.

-- A drawback of the Kindle DX was the difficulty of switching between reading techniques, such as skimming an article's illustrations or references just before reading the complete text. Students frequently made such switches as they read course material.

-- The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues, such as the location on the page and the position in the book to find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.

The study will be presented at next week's Association for Computing Machinery conference on human factors in computing systems, taking place in Vancouver, B.C.

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March 11, 2011 2:34 PM

Photo puzzle: Find the UW logo in the Lamborghini

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few pictures from a visit today with Paolo Feraboli, an assistant professor of aircraft materials and structures and director of the Lamborghini composites lab at the school.

One of these suspension pieces was developed at the lab for the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento prototype shown in Paris last year. Can you tell which one is made with forged carbon fiber?


Can you find the UW logo cast in the carbon Lamborghini suspension component held by Feraboli?


If you couldn't find the logo, here's a close-up. Alternatively, you may be able to peer into the car someday at the Lamborghini museum near Bologna, Italy.


This is a scale model of the carbon monocoque, demonstrating the casting approach that Lamborghini decided to use with its new $370,000 Aventador:


A full-size monocoque sits across the room, waiting for a V-12 and a few other pieces:


Feraboli found a great parking place for this Gallardo factory demo car:


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February 28, 2011 12:07 PM

Photos: Lamborghini Aventador supercar with UW ties

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lamborghini just announced details of the Aventador -- developed in partnership with the University of Washington and Boeing -- and released official photos of the car.

The photos weren't available in time to publish with today's column on the UW's Lamborghini lab because the company was waiting for a press event at the Geneva Auto Show, where the Aventador LP 700-4 was just unveiled.

A few of the cars could show in the Seattle area this summer. They list for $370,000, or $379,700 with the gas-guzzler tax included.

From the press release:

It is based on an innovative monocoque made from carbon-fiber that combines exceptional lightweight engineering with the highest levels of stiffness and safety. The new twelve-cylinder with 6.5 liters' displacement and 515 kW / 700 hp brings together the ultimate in high-revving pleasure with astonishing low-end torque. Thanks to a dry weight of only 1,575 kilograms (3,472 lb), which is extremely low for this class of vehicle, the weight-to-power ratio stands at only 2.25 kilograms per hp (4.96 lb/hp). Even the fantastic 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) acceleration figure of just 2.9 seconds and the top speed of 350 km/h (217 mph) do not fully describe the Aventador's extreme performance. And yet, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are down by around 20 percent compared with its predecessor, despite the considerable increase in power (+8%).

frontale alto luci 1.jpg

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retro 3-4 grigio.jpg

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February 28, 2011 9:21 AM

UW Lamborghini lab in top gear, Aventador next

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of my favorite stories over the past few years was about the lab that Lamborghini opened at the University of Washington in 2009 to research and develop composite materials.

The story just keeps getting better.

On Tuesday at a car show in Geneva, Lamborghini is taking the wraps off the first production car to come fully through the lab, through its entire gestation process.

Called the Aventador, it's a $370,000 Batmobile that goes from zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.

rolling_chassis_01 (3) (2).jpg
The Aventador's bare body -- before the V-12 motor and other parts are added -- weighs just 504.9 pounds.

frontale alto luci 1.jpg
That's because of a carbon-fiber design tested in the basement of the UW's ornate aeronautics and astronautics building.

The Aventador is a big reason the UW Lamborghini lab exists.

Lamborghini has used carbon-fiber components for decades even though it's been outrageously expensive to manufacture.

When the company decided to build its next flagship production car with a carbon monocoque body -- a single shell of carbon-reinforced plastic -- it approached Paolo Feraboli, a UW assistant professor of aircraft materials and structures and a former Lamborghini employee who also worked on the Boeing 787.

Feraboli told Lamborghini in 2007 that its only option was to adopt new, more efficient manufacturing technologies like Boeing's and abandon the techniques the car company had used for the past 30 years.

"That's how the lab occurred," Feraboli said.

Lamborghini then spent millions setting up the lab and a new factory in Italy to produce the Aventador and future models built with composite materials.

Aventador is the name of a famous Spanish bull. They could have called this one the Husky instead.

"Pretty much every piece -- every composite piece -- has come through here," Feraboli said, explaining that the UW lab did quality control, process improvement and mechanical testing to verify the parts' strength and stiffness.

In Seattle, the lab is a sort of hub for Lamborghini to work with the school, Boeing and other partners, including golf-club manufacturer Callaway and Intel. This team is already working on future Lamborghinis, which may include wireless sensors embedded into the carbon components.

Other companies are also seeking the lab's help developing new products. One is looking into an e-reader with its entire case made out of ultralight carbon fiber and another is developing carbon-fiber bike helmets. Feraboli said he's also working with another large carmaker that he wouldn't name.

The lab also helped Lamborghini produce a one-off concept car called the Sesto Elemento (below) that was shown in Paris in September, previewing some of the technologies in the Aventador.

Sesto Elemento - 3_4 Front.jpg


The biggest advance is mostly hidden, in the manufacturing of the monocoque. The new system reduces the number of times components have to be cured under heat and pressure in an autoclave. Only one trip to the autoclave is required, and the cured shell then serves as a mold for additional carbon parts that are cured with a different process Lamborghini developed, which uses carbon fiber mats impregnated with resin.

Feraboli said these improvements helped Lamborghini increase its output of carbon shells from a pace of two per week, when it was making the limited-production Reventon supercar, to four a day.

The cost per raw shell has also fallen from $100,000 to less than $15,000 apiece.

Feraboli said the manufacturing technologies will be used by Lamborghini's parent company, Audi, for higher-production cars and eventually its mainstream sedans.

"The Aventador is the first step," he said. "Now we're going to be able to build with intensive carbon fiber other vehicles. With those technologies we're looking at reducing even further the cost. We're looking at potentially making cars such as the A8 or the A6 out of carbon fiber."

Lamborghinis don't really need to go faster. There aren't many places to drive around 200 mph, Chief Executive Stephan Winkelmann said in a news release last week.

So the key to improving performance -- and lowering emissions -- is reducing the cars' weight, he explained.

"Every new Lamborghini will make use of this carbon-fiber technology for optimum weight reduction," he said.

In a media briefing at its new factory last week, Lamborghini noted that it decided to produce its new carbon monocoque completely in-house, because of the complex materials and process involved.

Maybe that was another lesson it learned from Boeing.

(This appeared in today's paper)


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February 2, 2011 10:31 AM

Tech pioneer Carver Mead at UW, on dawn of Intel and PC era

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a speech at the University of Washington last night, computer pioneer Carver Mead shared all sorts of anecdotes about early days in the microelectronics industry that led to the PC revolution and today's pocket computers.

Mead - who coined the term Moore's Law - told of having one of his regular dinners with his friend Gordon Moore in 1967 when Moore told him about plans to start Intel.

Mead talked about how he later observed the slow, manual lithography techniques Intel first used to create semiconductors in the 1960s. He then learned a better approach from aerospace companies that were using a computerized approach to produce circuit boards.

Later Mead started a foundry service for researchers to share the cost of manufacturing prototype semiconductors, a program that inspired the UW's new "OpSIS" silicon photonics foundry service. The service will be used by researchers and companies developing chips with lasers that transmit digital signals with light at phenomenal speeds.

Mead spoke at a kickoff event for the OpSIS foundry, which is led by Assistant Professor Michael Hochberg. Hochberg studied at Caltech, where Mead is Gordon and Betty Moore Professor Emeritus of Engineering and Applied Science.

Intel's contributing $250,000 to start OpSIS. Also supporting the effort are the Air Force and BAE Systems, which will produce chips for OpSIS at its semiconductor fabrication facility in Manassas, Va.

Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner said during the event that OpSIS is "going to train a generation - or several generations - of designers and it's going to catalyze an entire industry to embrace photonics."

Hochberg said OpSIS will produce its first run of chips this summer and should make three or four runs a year going forward.

Researchers can pay for a slice of the production wafer, on which a number of different experimental chips are produced. Instead paying perhaps millions for a full batch of chips, they'll pay $20,000 to $30,000 to have their test chip produced alongside others.

"The idea is to make it accessible for the entire community to make these complex circuits," he said.

Here's a video of Mead's speech, provided by a UW spokeswoman. A professionally produced version will be broadcast later on the UW cable TV channel. In the meantime this one works pretty well as a podcast:

Video streaming by Ustream

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January 31, 2011 4:50 PM

UW starting silicon photonics foundry service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Drawing on the expertise of new faculty members and industry support, the University of Washington is starting a new foundry service for researchers developing silicon photonic chipsets.

The idea behind OpSIS - "optoelectronic systems integration in silicon" - is to help engineers and researchers working on different projects to share the cost of fabricating chip-scale systems.

It's modeled on a prototyping service called MOSIS that began operating at the University of Southern California in 1981 and has been widely used by students, companies and government labs working with microprocessors.

Leading the venture is nanotechnology researcher Michael Hochberg, assistant professor of electrical engineering and director of the UW's Institute for Photonic Integration.

Here's how the photonics lab describes its work:

We're interested in using the silicon photonics platform both to build interesting and important optical devices, and to explore new physical phenomena. Our projects span the space between very applied work on devices like ultra-low voltage electrooptic modulators, to interest in chip-scale nonlinear and quantum optics for novel light sources and all-optical logic circuits.

A kickoff event for OpSIS is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the UW. In addition to Hochberg and engineering dean, Matt O'Donnell, speakers include semiconductor pioneer Carver Mead and Justin Rattner, Intel chief technology officer.

More details are available at the OpSIS Web site.

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January 31, 2011 10:06 AM

Time to review tech tax breaks?

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Today's column ...)

With all the lingering angst over bailouts for banks and carmakers, you'd think we'd be taking a closer look at stimulus funds for high-tech companies.

Especially since government isn't recovering from the downturn as quickly as industry, especially in Washington state.

Tech companies have turned the corner. They're growing, hiring and reporting record profits.

It seems like a good time to ease up on their tax breaks and shift some of that money to education and science that fuel the industry's future growth.

But just the opposite is happening.

Continue reading this post ...

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January 10, 2011 11:34 AM

WTIA tech award finalists named

Posted by Brier Dudley

Finalists for the Industry Achievement Awards given annually by the WTIA were announced today. Winners will be revealed at a Feb. 24 event at the Showbox Sodo.

"These finalists represent the most creative and innovative companies and individuals in our industry and deserve the highest congratulations," Susan Sigl, WTIA president and chief executive, said in the release.

Here are the finalists in different categories, chosen by a group of 31 judges from the tech, government and education sectors:

Commercial Product or Service of the Year: DocuSign; Isilon Systems; thePlatform for Media, Inc.

Consumer Product or Service of the Year: Bonanza; Logos Bible Software; Swype

Service Provider of the Year: Concur; HasOffers; Hubspan

Best Early Stage Company of the Year: Ground Truth; Lockerz; Off & Away

Best Seed Stage Company of the Year: Sparkbuy;;

Innovative Manufactured Product of the Year: Intermec Technologies; Precor; XKL

Best use of Technology in the Government, Non-profit or Educational Sector: CityClub - Living Voters Guide; (part of University of Washington's computer science school); Washington State Ferries

Technology Leader of Tomorrow: Gizan Gando of Asa Mercer Middle School (sixth grade), Tyler Wong of Asa Mercer Middle School (sixth grade), Mariah Fernandez of South Shore K-8 (seventh grade)

Award for Excellence in Teaching: Barbara Franz, Moses Lake School District (math); Nancy Pfaff, Lake Washington School District (math); Debra Strong, Everett School District (science); Dawn Sparks, Thorp School District (science)

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December 16, 2010 10:41 AM

Bellevue's GlobalScholar sold for up to $160 million

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bellevue educational software company GlobalScholar is being acquired by a Texas company that provides online student testing and assessments.

Harland Clarke Holdings, which owns the Scantron education testing company, is paying $140 million in cash for GlobalScholar. It's also offering another $20 million, contingent on GlobalScholar meeting financial goals in 2011. The companies are part of M&F Worldwide Corp.

"There is a growing sense of urgency to provide solutions that will help bring a new level of excellence to education systems. Scantron and GlobalScholar's combined solutions will provide powerful tools for teachers, administrators and parents, in schools and districts of any size, as they work to improve the achievement levels for all students," Bill Hansen, president of Scantron and former U.S. deputy secretary of education, said in the release.

GlobalScholar's software for managing education - with digital gradebooks, analytics and tools for learning management and teacher development - is used by more than 1,000 school districts with a combined student population of more than 5 million.

The company employs 330 people in Bellevue and Chennai, India. That includes about 45 in Bellevue. No layoffs are expected and the company plans to expand in Bellevue next year, a spokeswoman said.

Kal Raman, GlobalScholar's chief executive, was formerly a senior vice president at and chief executive of He's staying with the company and will head the education group at GlobalScholar/Scantron.

Raman started Global cholar as InfiLearn in 2006, with backing from Ignition Partners, Michael Milken's Knowledge Universe and Microsoft vice president Peter Neupert, who worked with Raman at

The company changed its name to GlobalScholar in 2007, raised more than $42 million and bulked up through the 2008 acquisition of Colorado-based Excelsior Software.

It's the second exit this month for Ignition. The Bellevue-based venture firm also invested in Heroku, a San Francisco-based software tool company that bought last week for $212 million.

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December 8, 2010 5:28 PM

Seattle's getting a new school for video game, film studies

Posted by Brier Dudley

An Australian school that offers training in video game development is opening its first U.S. campus in the Seattle area.

The Academy of Interactive Entertainment will begin its first classes in September and should soon have capacity for at least 125 students, according to Chris Erhardt, a former game developer and teacher who will head the school.

The non-profit school will offer certificate programs and continuing education. Courses will be designed for people wanting to work in digital media, game development, special effects and film production.

"We consider ourselves something that fills a niche that currently doesn't get satisfied in Seattle," Erhardt said. "We bring the ability for students to be able to try things in a smaller capacity than, say, a four-year degree program."

If AIE follows the model of its parent organization in Australia, it may also offer the equivalent of community college degrees as well.

"Education is a cornerstone of economic development when you're trying to grow an industry," said Kristina Hudson, director of the Washington Interactive Network trade group, which helped recruit the school to the region.

Hudson said AIE will expand the mix of schools that train people to work at the state's cluster of video game companies. She plans to announce the school's arrival at her group's annual Power of Play meeting Thursday in Redmond.

"The educational programs we can have here to nurture our own to hopefully walk into those jobs when they become available at these companies is ideal," she said.

Erhardt formerly taught at DigiPen Institute of Technology, a Redmond school that offers degrees in video game development and recently expanded to a new campus with programs for high school students. Earlier he worked on games for Activision, Electronic Arts and other companies.

"We don't consider ourselves competition for DigiPen," said Erhardt, who recently was working with AIE in Australia on its international expansion.

Erhardt is still selecting a location for the school in the Seattle area. "We're a boutique operation, not a huge facility," he said.

The school is also expanding to Europe and Asia. It has Australian campuses in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

Seattle was chosen partly because of the potential to form partnerships with organizations in the area, AIE President John De Margheriti said in a prepared statement.

"We evaluated several cities in the West Coast and selected Seattle because of the depth of talented game studios, the deep creative and entrepreneurial talent that exists in this city," he said.

Before starting the school in 1996, De Margheriti co-founded Australian game studio Micro Forte in 1985. He also founded the Game Developers Association of Australia.

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August 25, 2010 4:19 PM

College requires students to play Valve's Portal

Posted by Brier Dudley

A liberal arts college in Indiana is requiring its incoming freshman to play "Portal," the hit puzzle game from Bellevue's Valve Software.

"Alongside Gilgamesh, Aristotle's Politics, John Donne's poetry, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the Tao Te Ching, freshmen at Wabash will also encounter a video game called Portal," Michael Abbott, a Wabash theater professor and game enthusiast, announced on his Brainy Gamer blog.

The game is required as part of mandatory course called Enduring Questions, which addresses "fundamental questions of humanity from multiple perspectives."

It's the first time a game has been required coursework at the all-male college, established in 1832 in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Abbott explained that he was charged with finding alternative material such as films, music and art to expand the course.

I recalled reading Daniel Johnson's recent essay on the game and its strong connections to Erving Goffman's seminal Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. One of the central questions of our new course, "Who am I?" is the focus of Goffman's study. He contends we strive to control how we're perceived by others, and he uses the metaphor of an actor performing on a stage to illustrate his ideas. Johnson describes it this way:

... we're acting out a role that requires constant management ... of the interaction. The front stage is the grounds of the performance. The backstage is a place we rarely ever want to reveal to others, It contains the truth of our obstruction and to reveal it would be to defraud our identity in front of the audience -- it simply spoils the illusion of where we're placing ourself in the interaction.

This tension between backstage machination and onstage performance is precisely what Portal depicts so perfectly -- and, no small detail, so interactively.

In the game (pictured below), players progress by solving puzzles and manipulating the environment, opening portals to move through the space.

Valve may have to start an education discount program. Spokesman Doug Lombardi said the company wasn't involved and learned of the course from news reports. He said via e-mail:

"We obviously are flattered by it, and feel it's very strong validation that Portal (and the upcoming Portal 2) are games that make you smart, and the promotion of problem solving found in Portal and Portal 2 make them they type of games that parents DO want their kids to play,"

Lombardi said Portal is being used in game design courses, but this is the first time the company's heard of its use in traditional curriculum.

"Who knows? Maybe it will one day become as universally found in campus bookstores," he said.

Portal has an academic history. The game was created by students at Redmond game college DigiPen Institute of Technology.

Valve representatives saw Portal during a student showcase, hired the team and released the game in late 2007. The sequel -- "Portal 2" -- has won high praise from critics and is one of the most-anticipated games coming in 2011.

DigiPen, by the way, is starting classes next month in its new Redmond campus on Willows Road where it's having opening ceremonies at 1 p.m. Friday.

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August 24, 2010 11:48 AM

Bill Gates cheers online education phenom

Posted by Brier Dudley

A former hedge fund manager offering free academic tutorials via YouTube has a pretty big fan in Medina.

Sal Khan produces the short, free tutorials on topics such as biology and calculus from a closet in his Silicon Valley home. He's reaching more than 200,000 viewers a month, including Bill Gates.

Gates has been watching the videos with his 11-year-old son, Rory, and is meeting soon with Khan, according to a Fortune magazine story.

Gates also called out Khan's teaching last month at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Khan was already on his way to becoming a celebrity, at least among tech tycoons interested in online education.

The "Khan Academy" was featured on PBS NewsHour in February, and venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife have provided more than $100,000 to support Khan.

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August 16, 2010 1:21 PM

UW testing sign language video phones

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new tool for communicating using American Sign Language over video phones is being field tested in the Seattle this summer by University of Washington researchers, who plan to expand the program this winter.

The "MobileASL" system compresses the video signal so it uses an estimated 10 times less bandwith than video chat programs like Apple's FaceTime.

(Here Josiah Cheslik, a UW junior, demonstrates the MobileASL project with Pete Michor, another participant, in a photo by the UW's Mary Levin)

By using less bandwidth, the tool may be more accessible than video chat services that require expensive plans and devices. It may also work in areas that don't have ultrafast mobile broadband service.

"We want to deliver affordable, reliable ASL on as many devices as possible. It's a question of equal access to mobile communication technology,'' said Eve Riskin, a professor of electrical engineering who led the project.

Riskin said it's the first study of how deaf people in the U.S. use mobile video phones. A more extensive study will be done this winter.

MobileASL was developed by Riskin and Richard Ladner, a computer science professor, and their graduate students. It was tested by participants in the UW's Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing, a nine-week program for academically gifted deaf and hard-of-hearing students planning careers in computing, the school said in its release.

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July 13, 2010 3:43 PM

Tech Alliance showcases early stage ventures

Posted by Brier Dudley

Five startups are presenting today at the state Technology Alliance's Innovation Showcase, an event intended to connect more early stage companies with investors.

Half the companies that have presented originated at the University of Washington, probably because the school's more aware of the program, said Linden Rhoads, the school's vice provost for commercialization.

Here's a rundown of their presentations.

Assay Dynamics: An automated medical testing platform with a special card to analyze fluids and run multiple tests simultaneously on the same fluid sample. A key innovation is that the machines automatically calibrate every time they're used.

"What we're trying to do is allow physicians to do more and more testing in their office," founder Kjell Nelson said.

Continue reading this post ...

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June 2, 2010 11:16 AM

D8: Kno tablet for students unveiled

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- Kno, a Santa Clara, Calif. startup, unveiled a dual screen tablet for students at the All Things Digital conference.

The Kno tablet weighs 5.5 pounds, has dual 14-inch color touchscreens and pairs with an online platform that's supported by higher education publishers, the founders said in their demonstration.
The device looks like an Apple laptop without a keyboard, and it will function in laptop mode by using one of its screens as a touch keyboard. The two screens are connected by a fabric material similar to what's used for seatbelts, instead of a hinge.

It also has an iPad-like interface, displaying thumbnail-sized icons for applications and books on the device. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios but not 3G cell coverage, and the battery life is expected to be at least six hours.

Kno expects to begin selling its tablets this fall. It's not yet disclosing a price but it will be less than $1,000.


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May 3, 2010 2:48 PM

"Looming data tsunami" coming, UW prof warns

Posted by Brier Dudley

At the Grand Challenges Summit in Seattle today, the University of Washington's Ed Lazowska channeled Bill Gates.

Lazowska resurrected Gates' "digital decade" line to describe the advances that computer science will bring to scientific research.

"You're going to see a revolution in discovery in the next 10 years," said Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science.

He opened a discussion of "eScience" and new systems for doing research with massive amounts of data, a "looming data tsunami" that's pushing scientists to develop shared computing clusters at schools and ultrafast dedicated Internet lines between research centers.

Dedicated supernetworks are needed to handle data generated by systems such as gene sequencers that produce a terabyte of data per day -- and the UW has 25 of them -- or the Hadron Collider, which produces 20 petabytes of data per year.

Among the speakers in the session, part of a National Academy of Engineering event hosted by the UW, was Facebook data architect, Jonathan Chang, who said the social network's vast data could be a boon to social scientists.

Chang said the site has the "richest social data set in the world," with more than a petabyte of data about its users and more than 1 terabyte generated every day.

This has the potential to "really get to and anwer a lot of the longstanding questions in things like social science, which we've been unable to answer before." It's also easier to slice Facebook data than it is to do conduct surveys.

Among the tidbits revealed by Chang were terms used in discussions of vodka. Younger males tend to use the word "drunk" and older females mention "cranberry" when discussing vodka, for instance.

Plotting the terms "party" and "hangover," the data show people mention party regularly on Saturdays, and on Sundays people mention "hangovers" "with incredible regularity," he said.

More seriously, the site's also done work correlate negative and positive sentiment in status updates with surveys of users' self-reported happiness. Survey responses were predictive of status updates," he said.

Catharine van Ingen, an architect in Microsoft Research's eScience group, said there's an amazing flow of data from satellites, sensors, computers and Web services.

"While we're at the center of this perfect storm," she said, "there's a lot of challenges left turning those ones and zeroes into actual science."

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April 21, 2010 4:03 PM

UW gets slice of prof's startup sale

Posted by Brier Dudley

The sale today of Zensi, an Atlanta energy monitoring startup, will benefit the University of Washington directly and indirectly.

Zensi was co-founded three years ago by a UW assistant professor, Shwetak Patel, while he was a grad student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Patel stayed involved remotely after he joined the UW engineering faculty in late 2008.

The 10-person startup today announced that it was acquired for an undisclosed amount by consumer electronics manufacturer Belkin.

Zensi drew on research from the UW and Georgia Tech into online monitoring of home electricity and water consumption. The schools will receive licensing royalties from Belkin as part of the deal.

Patel will continue advising the company, while teaching UW students in a program that emphasizes turning research into practical projects. He now has another case study.

"It only took me about three years to go from research to a real product,'' he said today.

Selling to Belkin expedites the process of getting to market, Patel said. Zensi was considering taking venture capital and developing products itself, but that would have taken several more years. Belkin is incorporating the technology into a line of "Conserve" energy management products that's being expanded later this year.

Last year, the same research put Patel, 28, on Technology Review's list of standout young technologists.

Patel is mulling another venture in the healthcare monitoring space, but first he'll take a little break from startups.

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April 20, 2010 2:52 PM

Netflix founder on DreamBox deal: lots of hiring, no Wii yet

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bellevue's DreamBox Learning struck a chord for Netflix founder Reed Hastings, who partnered with a venture firm to buy the online education software startup today.

After graduating from college, Hastings taught 9th grade math, he explained during a phone interview today. He remembers the challenge of having to figure out a lesson plan for a class with kids at varying levels.

"I never knew what lesson to present to which group of kids," he said. "What this software does is really adapt to put the right lesson in front of each kid at their level. That's why it's really personal for me."

Reed Hastings-high.JPG

Although Hastings has connections to the Bellevue area -- he's on Microsoft's board of directors -- he discovered DreamBox by chance while visiting a school in San Jose, Calif. A class was using the software and he was "wowed by how kids were engaged because it has some entertainment built into it."

Hastings called to see if DreamBox was open to an investment.

"I got so excited I ended up acquiirng the company,'' he said. "I think it's just got tremendous potential."

In addition to the purchase price, which wasn't disclosed, Hastings and the Charter Fund investment group are investing $10 million to grow DreamBox.

"We'll go in a mode of some significant hiring now," Hastings said.

The vision is that 10 years from now, laptops will be so cheap that every student will have one. Software like DreamBox could then become a core part of class, instead of a supplement used in a lab before or after school.

Asked about DreamBox being a subscription business like Los Gatos, Calif.-based Netflix, Hastings said he's "learned some things from Netflix" about licensing content like movies and TV shows, but DreamBox creates original content.

The business opportunity isn't so much direct to consumers, like Netflix, as it is an enterprise play selling material to schools for classroom use.

So Hastings doesn't plan to stream DreamBox math learning games to the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii?

"Not right away, no."

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April 20, 2010 10:48 AM

Bellevue's DreamBox sold, Netflix boss adds $10M

Posted by Brier Dudley

Online education startup DreamBox has been sold to Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings and a non-profit venture fund, Hastings announced an education conference in Arizona today.

Hastings has had pretty good luck selling monthly subscriptions for video entertainment.

I wonder if he plans to use Bellevue-based DreamBox -- which provides online math education programs for a monthly fee -- to build an educational equivalent. Maybe parents could someday click a box on their Netflix bill to stream educational games and tests, as well as movies.

The sale price wasn't disclosed but the investors said they're putting an additional $10 million in "to expedite the company's aggressive growth strategy to significantly increase its footprint in U.S. schools with the development of new e-Learning content across a variety of core disciplines, as well as ongoing technology advancements to the DreamBox Learning Platform."

Dreambox was started in 2006 by former Microsoft executive Ben Slivka and Lou Gray, former president of UIEvolution. They launched it with $7.1 million from angel investors and began selling its $13-a-month elementary education program last year, with the initial offerings aimed at kindergarteners through 3rd graders.

Both Slivka and Gray have now stepped aside. Hastings took on Slivka's role as chairman, and the investors are going to search for a chief executive to replace Gray. Meanwhile DreamBox will be led by the remaining executives - Sarah Daniels, marketing vice president, and Daniel Kerns, vice president of product development.

DreamBox has 18 employees and will remain in Bellevue, a spokeswoman said.

Hastings -- who is also a Microsoft board member -- said his goal is "to fuel the movement of e-Learning and help millions of students."

"I have evaluated many companies in the K-12 e-learning marketplace and DreamBox Learning clearly stood out," he said. "They have already shown strong results in a short period of time, and the DreamBox Learning Platform has the best underlying adaptive technology, giving every student the opportunity to thrive through innovative online learning," Hastings said in a release.

The other investor, Broomfield, Colo.-based Charter School Growth Fund, is led by Kevin Hall, a co-founder of charter school operator Chancellor Beacon Academies.

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April 15, 2010 2:39 PM

New details of engineering Grand Challenge in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

A schedule is out for the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenge Summit taking place May 2 and 3 in Seattle, a high-profile gathering of students and engineers in the aerospace, computing and biotech industries.

The forum is one of six being held across the country this year to discuss challenges that engineering may help solve in the coming decades. It starts at the University of Washington and concludes at the convention center downtown.

"This is a unique event to talk about what it really means to be an engineer in the 21st century, and how engineering and related disciplines are going to affect life in the coming years," Matt O'Donnell, dean of engineering, said in the release. "For students, it's a chance to discuss the issues that will define their careers. For others, it's an opportunity to learn about fundamental issues for our society in the 21st century."

Seattle's event will focus on the challenges to "Engineer better medicines" and "Engineer the tools of scientific discovery," including computing tools for data-intensive science and space exploration, the release said.

Speakers include representatives of Seattle's PATH, Microsoft Research, Google, General Electric, Gilead Sciences and Facebook.

Also speaking are a former NASA administrator and former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, who now heads the Museum of Flight, as well as professors from the UW, University of Texas, University of California at San Diego and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They'll address questions such as:

-- How will emerging medical technologies, which span both a device and a drug, be regulated?

-- How can genetic therapies become a reality?

-- Is the future of aerospace innovation in the public or private sector?

-- Can we continue to send humans into space, or should we send only robots?

-- How will we store and make sense of the flood of data generated by modern science?

Registration before April 19 is $100, or $75 for academics or $20 for students. After April 19, prices are $175, $125 and $20 for students. Here's a UW engineering site with more details.

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March 4, 2010 5:50 PM

Video: Microsoft's Steve Ballmer at UW

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's Steve Ballmer's speech at the UW this morning, in a video released by Microsoft. In addition to Ballmer, it has demos of new Bing maps features, a peek at a Windows Mobile 7 phone and a funny video joking about the term "cloud computing."

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March 4, 2010 2:56 PM

Microsoft's Ballmer to UW students: E-mail me for a job

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cloud computing was the focus of Steve Ballmer's talk at the University of Washington today, but the Microsoft chief executive was also doing a little recruiting.

Ballmer told the packed house at the computer science department's Paul G. Allen Center that Microsoft is the area's biggest local employer and "we'd love to have you."

"Send me a resume if you want to test that proposition,'' he said.

Microsoft hires more than 100 UW graduates a hear, said Mark Emmert, the school's president. But it's not clear how many found work by e-mailing

A few pictures I took at the event with my phone, including autographs:



And a fuel truck next to one of Ballmer's show-and-tells: a "cloud in a box" portable data center parked outside Allen Center. The fuel was going into a portable generator:


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January 28, 2010 8:00 PM

DigiPen gets new campus, teaching kids game development

Posted by Brier Dudley

DigiPen Institute of Technology, the Redmond college dedicated to training game developers, is about to get bigger.

The privately owned school is creating a new campus in a former Microsoft building on Willows Road in Redmond with more than 100,000 square feet of space. It's announcing the plan Friday, moving in the summer and starting classes there in the fall.

DigiPen is planning to use the new space to expand its degree programs and the science and technology education programs it offers to high school students in the region.

Graduates, sprinkled through the region's game industry, have produced a number of major titles, including Valve Software's "Portal," which was based on a student project called "Narbacular Drop."

DigiPen now splits between two Overlake-area buildings, a former warehouse adjacent to Nintendo of America that's been its main campus since 1998 and a satellite space on 154th Avenue Northeast.

Amenities at the new facility include a cafeteria, auditoriums with tiered seating, library, recreation area and general store.

"The new campus has been designed to fit DigiPen's unique way of teaching, which balances a very rigorous academic curriculum with practical projects from start to finish," founder Claude Comair said in a release.

With additional space, DigiPen's bachelor's and master's degree programs in game design and computer engineering may eventually increase to 1,200 matriculated students from the current 900, according to Raymond Yan, chief operating officer.

DigiPen will use part of the building for its Technology Academy program, which is funded by the state's vocational education program.

Also in the works are after-school and weekend classes in computer science and production art for Eastside high school students that are designed to prepare them for advanced-placement exams.

The school has been looking for space to expand for the past five years but had trouble competing with Microsoft for large complexes in the area, Yan said.

Now Microsoft is cutting back on leased space and consolidating at its enlarged campus, freeing up buildings like the three-story one DigiPen is leasing, across the street from Overlake Christian Church.

DigiPen also is expanding its reach abroad, with a campus that opened in Singapore two years ago and another it's planning to open in Bilbao, Spain.

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November 2, 2009 10:54 AM

College road trip for Microsoft's research chief

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column is a preview of the big-thoughts college tour Microsoft's Craig Mundie's starting this week:

While most people were turning their clocks backward over the weekend, Microsoft research chief Craig Mundie was moving his forward, five to 10 years into the future.

Continue reading this post ...

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October 14, 2009 11:58 AM

Future of wireless tech, at IEEE event in Bellevue

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're curious about the future of wireless networks and devices, the regional chapter of the IEEE has organized a pretty useful sounding workshop in Bellevue on Oct. 30 and 31.

Wireless sensor networks, 4G mobile broadband, personal area networks and wireless medical applications are among the topics that will be covered by speakers from AT&T, Intel, Impinj, Intermec, the University of Washington and other organizations.

But you have to be $275 curious to attend, or $200 if you're an IEEE member. More details about the IEEE Pacific Northwest Wireless Workshop 2009 are at

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October 6, 2009 5:01 PM

Lamborghinis & more Lamborghinis at UW

Posted by Brier Dudley

It sounded like lions were roaming the University of Washington campus this afternoon, where you could hear the roar of Lamborghinis prowling around the buildings.

A dozen or so cars, ranging from the entry-level $220,000 Gallardo Spyder up to the $450,000 Murcielago SV, were on hand for the grand opening of the Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory.

After the opening, officials and local Lamborghini owners mingled over wine on the lawn outside Guggenheim Hall. Some wore their Lamborghini shirts and jewelry; when I asked one couple if they drove their supercar, the man said, "No, I drove the Bentley."

To top this spectacle, the school will have to get a 787 onto campus somehow.






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October 5, 2009 6:46 PM

Inside the Lamborghini lab at UW: photos & video

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a look inside the Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory opening Tuesday at the University of Washington.

Paolo Feraboli, assistant professor of aerospace structures and materials, showed me around today in advance of today's opening ceremonies.

Best of all was a ride in a Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce brought in for the event. The video below doesn't capture the full sensory experience it but the motor sounds great.

Here he's looking over the underground lab with a crash testing sled powered by the air compressors used by the UW's wind tunnel. You can just see the silver front end of a Lamborghini chassis in front of the white backdrop wall.


Continue reading this post ...

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October 1, 2009 12:00 AM

Vrooom! Lamborghini backing UW composites lab (NEW: video)

Posted by Brier Dudley

The University of Washington is saying grazie mille to Italian supercar maker Lamborghini, which donated $1 million to support the school's research into composite materials used to build airplanes and high-performance cars.

On Tuesday, the school will officially open the Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory, which is now being repainted in Lamborghini colors.

An invitation to the event said Lamborghini made the contribution "to aid in furthering carbon fiber technologies for increased safety and weight reduction of future products. This is in line with Lamborghini's goal to improve the power-to-weight ratio of its vehicles by reducing the weight of its materials. Carbon fiber is the best material for nearly all applications which are essential to creating Lamborghini's super sports cars and achieving these goals, as it is lighter, stiffer and more versatile."

SV_Carbon Fiber Front Spoiler.jpg

It also helps that the UW employs Paolo Feraboli, an assistant professor in aerospace structures and materials. He's a leading researcher on the safety and crashworthiness of composite materials who worked at Lamborghini in 2002.

The latest example of this application is the new limited edition Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce (left), which uses carbon composites in its floor, transmission tunnel and much of the outer skin. It also has a 100 percent carbon-fiber spoiler in front, rear finishes in carbon and an optional "Aeropack" carbon wing.

UPDATE: National Geographic happens to be airing a tour of the factory at 8 p.m. tonight, showing how the $450,000 LP 670-4 is built by hand in Bologna:

SV_Carbon Fiber Opt. Aeropack Wing.jpg

Stephan Winkelmann, Lamborghini's president and chief executive, is flying in from Italy for Tuesday's ceremony. Also on hand will be UW officials and Scott Carson, the Boeing executive who until recently headed its commercial airplane group building carbon fiber jetliners. Maybe they can trade tips on fastening composite components.

But the suits probably won't get as much attention as the collection of Lamborghinis that will be on display outside of Guggenheim Hall. An LP 670-4 SV will be on display, along with a Gallardo LP 560-4 Coupe and Spyder and the new Gallardo LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni (rear wheel drive, limited edition Gallardo).


More closeups showing the carbon-fiber engine bay and other composite bits of the Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce:

Continue reading this post ...

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September 28, 2009 5:13 PM

Intel robot's new trick, wireless music and other research goodies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Researchers from Intel's Seattle lab affiliated with the University of Washington are showing up in more of the company's lighthearted ads showcasing scientific advancements.

But the lab's biggest celebrity has to be Marvin, a one-armed robot built on a Segway chassis that scoots around, does tricks and steals the show during public events. Marvin even cut the opening ribbon at the CeBit electronics show in Germany this summer, alongside Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Marvin was at it again today during the lab's annual open house, where he showed off his latest trick: finding an available electrical outlet and plugging in his own power cable.

The robot senses the energy given off by an outlet, then homes in for the plug. It has to be accurate to within 2.5 millimeters to work, according to researcher Brian Mayton. So far Marvin's about 93 percent accurate, and celebrates a connection with chirps, whirs and other electricity sounds.

It's more than a parlor trick, though. Mayton explained that domestic robots of the future will need to be able to recharge themselves, especially robots expected to monitor and assist people with minimal maintenance and human control.

Other projects displayed today included the latest version of a wireless power experiment that transmits both sound and electricity to truly wireless speakers, building on the lab's research into various methods of wireless energy transmission. Researcher Emily Cooper showed how the system can now adjust itself to restore a signal.

A related project sending small amounts of electricity wirelessly to sensor units is now being used in a series of devices designed to detect neutrinos underwater in the Mediterranean Sea.

Other projects displayed includd "Bonfire," a system for projecting a secondary laptop interface onto an adjacent tabletop, giving it capabilities similar to Microsoft's more costly Surface computers.

Built with under $300 worth of Webcams, projectors and other hardware, the gadget displayed by UW Ph.D. student Shaun Kane displayed widgets for applications such as Facebook and a stock tracker that could be launched by tapping the icon beamed onto the tabletop.

Elsewhere in the lab, scientists were showing off new materials they are experimenting with to build solar power cells, systems for monitoring physical activity and security applications that monitor and disclose "data leaks" when using Wi-Fi.

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September 15, 2009 12:37 PM

UW unveils Photosynth 2.0: Building 3-D synth cities

Posted by Brier Dudley

Researchers at the University of Washington are taking photo-stitching -- the "photo tourism" technology behind Microsoft's cool Photosynth service -- to the next level, using it to scour public photos and build 3-D models of entire cities.

Photosynth does the same thing for buildings or landmarks -- assembling Flickr images of Trevi Fountain to build a 3-D rendering that can be explored from different angles. It was developed at the UW and licensed to Microsoft in 2006.

Today the UW is calling out the work, by Sameer Agarwal, an acting professor of computer science, and Noah Snavely, who worked on photo tourism as a UW doctoral student and now teaches at Cornell University.

In one example, they used all 58,000 images of Dubrovnik on Flickr to build a model, which took five hours using 352 compute cores.

"With Photosynth and Photo Tourism, we basically reconstruct individual landmarks. Here we're trying to reconstruct entire cities," Snavely said in the release.

Agarwal was lead author of a paper on the project being presented at the International Conference on Computer Vision in Kyoto, Japan, next month.

Check out the videos. I wonder if this is how Earth will appear to alien robots if they invade our planet someday.

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September 9, 2009 3:58 PM

Quantum optics and more mind bending talks on tap

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you can't wait for the University of Washington Computer Science public lecture series to start in October, you might be interested in a talk next week by quantum optics pioneer Carlos Stroud.

The University of Rochester professor of optics and physics is speaking at the University of Puget Sound's Schneebeck Concert Hall in Tacoma ay 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17.

In his free talk -- "Quantum Weirdness: Technology of the Future?" -- he'll discuss how quantum mechanics may "allow technological breakthroughs that change the way we live, with a quantum weird device in every pocket,'' the release said.

The UW computer science department's distinguished lecturer series begins Oct. 1, with Charles Simonyi discussing his "Return to the Final Frontier" at 3:30 p.m. in the Allen Center Microsoft Atrium.

Others in the series include:

-- Nathan Myhrvold and Chris Young of Intellectual Ventures, discussing "Cooking in Silico: Understanding Heat Transfer in the Modern Kitchen" on Oct. 6 at 3:30 p.m.

-- Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, "From Cell Phones to Smart Phones to Smart Books -- An Exciting Journey," at 10:30 Oct. 15.

-- Microsoft Chief Research Officer Craig Mundie, "Rethinking Computing," at 4 p.m. Nov. 5 in Kane Hall.

-- Stanford's Pat Hanrahan -- a Pixar veteran -- on "Why Are Graphics Systems So Fast?," at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 3 in EEB 105.

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September 1, 2009 9:50 AM

Microsoft vet's Ashesi University starts new Africa campus

Posted by Brier Dudley

After seven years in rented buildings in Ghana, Ashesi University broke ground on a new campus that's largely funded by donations from Microsoft alumni.

The school was started by former Windows engineer Patrick Awuah, whose long-term goal is to start an Ivy League of private schools to train future leaders of Africa.

It took longer than expected to raise more than $3 million needed for the campus, but the money came through earlier this year. On Saturday, Awuah broke ground on the school's 100 acres in Berkuso, a village outside Accra.

Todd Warren, a former Windows Mobile executive and trustee of the school, blogged about the event:

The ceremony opened with the village Chief's arrival and a ceremonial greeting between the visitors and invited dignitaries. We had on hand, in addition to the Berkuso chief and his entourage, the minister of education, the local MP, the local director of the international finance corporation, and the U.S. ambassador to Ghana. The Chief started things off. He went through the history of the land acquisition, and indicated the community had turned down other offers because they felt a college would have a more positive impact on the community. The MP even indicated he was looking forward to coming to guest lecture on the new campus in the future.

Awuah is in the blue shirt in this photo from Warren's blog:


A rendering of the campus, which is expected tol open in 2011 and accommodate 2,000 students:


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August 18, 2009 11:12 AM

UW's Patel makes TR35 "young innovators" list

Posted by Brier Dudley

University of Washington computer scientists had another good showing on Technology Review's annual list of 35 standout innovators under 35 years old.

This year's list, coming out in the MIT mag's September/October issue, lauds Shwetak Patel, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, for his research into monitoring presence. One result is a system that detects subtle changes in air pressure that indicate if a person has entered or left a room, using sensors that can be used for elder care or energy management.

Also on the list are recent grads Jeffrey Bigham, a University of Rochester professor named for his UW work helping the blind navigate the Web, and Adrien Treuille, who is continuing his research into simulating complex physical processes on PCs at Carnegie Mellon.

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June 23, 2009 11:48 AM

Confirmed: Microsoft "Kodu" for Xbox launch, plus the two-minute shooter

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's finally releasing it's very cool new "Kodu" game-building tool. for the Xbox on June 30.

It's going to be sold for $5 or 400 MS Points on the Xbox Live Community Games channel.

Kodu is set of tools that kids or anyone else can use to quickly and easily build games that play on the Xbox 360.

Microsoft's began showing the technology, an advanced research project initially called Boku, last fall and highlighted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January but withheld release details. The company's planning to announce pricing and specifics about its release later this week.

Lots of games nowadays let players customize and build new levels. Kodu feels like a game but it's much more powerful. It lets you create games using just an Xbox controller, manipulating icons and customizing characters, play and terrain. A screenshot of a carousel for selecting actions:


Kodu's actually a new visual programming language that introduces programming concepts to kids, while making it easy for them to build their own Xbox games. I wouldn't be surprised if older players get into Kodu as well, especially if Microsoft adds ways for people to share and perhaps even sell their Kodu games.

Inspiration came from tools such as the HyperCard program that Apple released in the late 1980s, according to Matthew MacLaurin, a Microsoft researcher behind Kodu. He worked at Apple from 1988 to 1994.

After MacLaurin demonstrated the system recently in Seattle, showing how easy it was to build and customize a racing game, I challenged him to build a shooting game in two minutes or less.

He did, producing a flying saucer shooting game with a balloon boss and rockets that leave realistic smoke trails:

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March 24, 2009 10:45 AM

IBM goes for Sun, Microsoft gets solar system in huge NASA deal

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope is getting a huge boost from NASA, which just announced that it's going to provide its planetary images and data to the service.

The deal involves more than 100 terabytes of data NASA will host at its Ames Research Center (near Google headquarters) that Microsoft will add to the telescope's explorable online map of the skies later this year.

Microsoft Research unveiled WorldWide Telescope last spring as a technology showcase and educational resource.

Also being added to the telescope is data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched in 2005. It's been gathering high-resolution images and other data from Mars since 2006.

Continue reading this post ...

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February 20, 2009 12:08 PM

UW hires three tech vets as "entrepreneurs in residence"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Following Alex St. John's disclosure on Wednesday that he's going to become an "entrepreneur in residence" at the University of Washington, the schools' Tech Transfer office today announced that he's actually one of three local tech executives joining the school's new EIR program.

Continue reading this post ...

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January 30, 2009 10:18 AM

Microsoft, RealNetworks vets join UW tech transfer team

Posted by Brier Dudley

The University of Washington didn't have to look far for two tech veterans to lead its TechTransfer unit that licenses its research.

Today the school announced that it hired former RealNetworks associate general counsel and chief privacy officer, Todd Alberstone, as director of IP management.

It also hired Microsot product management director, Ed Cummings, as a licensing officer to work with computer science and engineering researchers.

The IP portfolio managed by UW TechTransfer has more than 2,200 issued or pending patents and last year generated more than $47 million in revenue, the release said. The technology also contributed the creation of 240 companies.

"Their recruitment represents a critical step toward an increasingly translational research culture, and UW’s ability to make a significant contribution to the local economy and job creation, especially at this critical time, through the formation of start-up companies," Linden Rhoads, vice provost of UW TechTransfer since August, said in the release.

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January 21, 2009 10:52 AM

Stealthy UW multicore software spinoff gets Madrona funding (UPDATED)

Posted by Brier Dudley

After keeping a low profile since it was started last year by two University of Washington professors, PetraVM today emerged with a funding deal and plans to hire senior engineers, marketers and a chief executive officer.

The Seattle startup is building new tools for software developers writing multi-threaded programs for multi-core processors.

PetraVM announced this morning that it received $1.5 million in series A funding from Madrona Venture Group -- which has successfully tapped into the UW innovation keg before -- and Washington Research Foundation. It will use the funding to finish its first products and bring them to market.

PetraVM was founded by computer science professors Mark Oskin and Luis Ceze. The third manager is Isilon veteran Peter Godman, who joined as vice president of engineeering in November.

In the release, Oskin, the chief executive, said the company's "initial goal is to enable developers to write more reliable multi-threaded code at a lower cost."

The company's key technology emerged in a research paper Ceze wrote in late 2007 on deterministic multiprocessing. It was patented by the school and licensed to PetraVM.

Oskin said the company expects to release its first product in beta form for developers this summer. Longer-term, it hopes to see its technology used broadly in operating systems.

"It's a good opportunity - everyone now has to write multithreaded software if you want to get any more performance,'' he explained. "It's a very difficult problem - writing multithreaded code is one of the grand challenges of computer science."

The timing's also good, with the number of cores in computer processors multiplying rapidly. Although most homes are still migrating to dual-core systems, prices are falling on quad-core systems and Intel's lining up six- and eight-core processors that will probably be mainstream during the Windows 7 era.

"We can ease the pain that developers are facing writing multithreaded software,'' Oskin said. "The long term vision is there are certain types of programmer errors that we can make not appear on the end users' desktop."

Oskin said the company plans to hire two or three engineers, plus marketers and an executive who will take his place. Oskin will move into a chief technology officer role until a permanent CTO is hired.

The Pioneer Square-based company should have 20 or so employees within a few years, he said.

Madrona managing director Matt McIlwain is joining PetraVM's board of directors.

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December 8, 2008 6:00 PM

UK prof wins inaugural Jim Gray eScience Award from Microsoft

Posted by Brier Dudley

Carole Goble, a computer science professor at England's University of Manchester, won the first Jim Gray eScience Award from Microsoft's external research group tonight.

Goble was honored during a conference in Indianapolis on how computing is facilitating scientific discovery.

It's a topic that was the primary focus of computing pioneer and Microsoft researcher Jim Gray before he vanished on a sailing trip in early 2007.

Here's an excerpt from Goble's bio:

She has worked closely with life scientists for many years and is the Director of the myGrid project, the largest UK e-Science pilot project, which has produced the widely-used Taverna open source software and is now part of the Open Middleware Infrastructure Institute UK. She is also the co-director of the e-Science North West regional centre.

Carole has an international reputation in the Semantic Web, e-Science and Grid communities and has led the application of Semantic Web technologies to both the Grid and e-Science, a fusion dubbed the Semantic Grid. She has produced the first reference architecture for the Semantic Grid (S-OGSA) through the Ontogrid project and chairs the Open Grid Forum Semantic Grid Group, along with David De Roure.

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November 7, 2007 1:03 PM

Selberg scoops: Microsoft, UW departures to Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

I need to pay more attention to the blog of Erik Selberg, who left Microsoft's search team in September to join

On Tuesday, Selberg wrote about how a friend on Microsoft's search team was escorted out of the building after deciding to join Google's Kirkland office. That led him to question why he received better treatment:

Other colleagues I knew from Microsoft that went to Google were shown the same treatment. So why was I shown the love and not my friend? Well, as near as I can tell, Microsoft doesn't want someone who has decided to leave for Google around so that other employees can ask all the obvious questions and think about going to Google themselves. Google is clearly the competition, and while it's OK to leave Microsoft and do something random (like work for Amazon), leaving to compete with Microsoft is an unforgivable offense, apparently up there with violating company policies.

Last Friday, he shared a chat he had with Yahoo's international search boss about why the company opted to locate in Bellevue rather than Seattle, and how the local team with work with Yahoo's mothership:

Microsoft isn't moving anytime soon, and Google opened up an office in Kirkland, also on the east side. So why not offer something different, like a nicer commute or better digs? He didn't know.

The second question also got a non-answer. He wasn't sure who else was going to be up in Seattle, so apart from having an office with a bunch of Yahoo! engineers, it wasn't clear that there'd be any synergy with the other teams. Seems... well, broken to me. Hey Yahoo!, is this really what's happening?

Selberg's Friday post also reported that Craig Chambers left the UW computer science department to lead Google's infrastructure engineering team in Fremont.

Chambers spent a sabbatical with Google last year and has been working there since the end of the summer, according to Ed Lazowska.

Two weeks ago Chambers was joined by Brian Bershad, another CSE professor, further boosting the search company's UW connections.

Is this some sort of payback from Larry and Sergey, who hatched Google while studying at the Gates Computer Science Building at Stanford?

Until mid-year, Bershad was also chief executive of Illumita, a virtualization company founded by a group of UW profs.

Selberg -- also a UW alum -- noted that Amazon is another option for big-company software jobs in Seattle, and it's "located in the heart of the I-District with much better locale and food!"

I'm looking forward to reading what he'll say about South Lake Union.

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October 30, 2007 2:47 PM

UW: New computer science progams, lab

Posted by Brier Dudley

Growth and new programs are happening at the University of Washington's Computer Science & Engineering Department, Chairman Hank Levy said this morning at the annual "industrial affiliates" meeting with tech companies, investors and school supporters.

Starting in 2008, the department will try a new five-year program that will give graduates both bachelor's and master's degrees.

Levy said the goal is to have 30 students a year in the "industrially focused" program that's geared toward preparing students for jobs at companies such as Microsoft and Google. "These students will be really productive and sought-after and interesting," he said.

Similar programs combining undergrad and graduate engineering are in place at schools such as MIT and even my alma mater, Whitman College in Walla Walla.

There for the update, and research presentations by students, were representatives of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Cray, Sony, Madrona Venture Group,, DreamBox Learning and other companies.

Levy isn't just pitching to the private sector. The school's also seeking legislative support for the five-year Master's program.

Another initiative Levy outlined is already under way: a new "Experimental Computer Engineering Lab" created as a partnership of the computer science and electrical engineering departments.

Six new faculty positions, three from each side, are allocated to the effort, including two now being filled.

Computer science is also taking more Ph.D. students and overall, Levy's planning for "25 percent growth across the board" in the department.

Altogether it's getting 10 new professors, including two through the Experimental Computer Engineering Lab.

Ed Lazowska, former department head, now Bill and Melinda Gates CSE chair, paticipated after returning from a summer back surgery with a body reinforced by titanium bits.

Lazowska pointed out that CSE graduates should have no problem finding jobs, based on strong IT workforce projections by the state and federal governments.

"There's plenty of opportunity in this field,'' he said.

We'll see what the current situation is like tomorrow, when the affiliates meeting morphs into a daylong recruiting event at the school's Paul G. Allen Center.

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October 8, 2007 12:00 AM

Google and IBM scaling up UW program

Posted by Brier Dudley

A computer science study program that Google and the University of Washington developed last year will be rolled out nationally in cooperation with IBM, the companies are announcing today.

It's an effort to "promote new software development methods which will help students and researchers address the challenges of Internet-scale applications in the future,'' the release said.

Specifically, the companies are providing hardware, software and services to help schools teach students about "highly parallel computing practices to better address the emerging paradigm of large-scale distributed computing."

They are dedicating a cluster of hundreds of computers -- Google systems and IBM servers -- and will eventually give students access to more than 1,600 processors to test parallel programming projects. The servers "will run open source software including the Linux operating system, XEN systems virtualization and Apache's Hadoop project, an open source implementation of Google's published computing infrastructure, specifically MapReduce and the Google File System,'' the release said.

Quoting Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of Computer Science & Engineering at the UW:

"In 2006, when I helped Christophe Bisciglia, a former UW student now a senior engineer at Google, to develop the program, our goal was to understand the challenges that universities face in teaching important new concepts such as large scale computing and develop methods to address this issue. A year later, we've seen how our students have mastered many of the techniques that are critical for large scale-internet computing, benefiting our department and students."

The program is expanding beyond the UW to Carnegie-Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Maryland.

CEO quotes in the release:

"This project combines IBM's historic strengths in scientific, business and secure-transaction computing with Google's complementary expertise in Web computing and massively scaled clusters," said Samuel J. Palmisano, chairman, president and chief executive officer, IBM. "We're aiming to train tomorrow's programmers to write software that can support a tidal wave of global Web growth and billions of secure transactions every day."

"Google is excited to partner with IBM to provide resources which will better equip students and researchers to address today's developing computational challenges," said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. "In order to most effectively serve the long-term interests of our users, it is imperative that students are adequately equipped to harness the potential of modern computing systems and for researchers to be able to innovate ways to address emerging problems."

Online resources include a curriculum that Google and the UW developed that's available here, and open-source software IBM designed to help students write programs for clusters running Hadoop. It's an Eclipse plugin available here.

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September 12, 2007 10:31 AM

UW's Etzioni launches mutilingual search engine

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new visual, multilingual search tool developed at the University of Washington's Turing Center is being presented today at the Machine Translation Summit in Copenhagen.

The idea was to help people who don't speak major languages, said Oren Etzioni, a UW computer science professor, in a release:

"We want to serve the vast number of people who don't speak one of the major languages. As the Internet becomes more widely available outside of the major industrialized nations, it becomes increasingly important to serve people who don't speak English, French or Chinese."

"PanImages" uses tagging, online image collections and translation tools to improve search results for people who speak languages that aren't well-served by today's online services.

The service automatically translates search terms into about 300 languages and returns images from Google and Flickr, according to the release:

PanImages promises to help people who speak languages that have a small Web presence. Imagine you are a Zulu speaker looking for a picture of a refrigerator, Etzioni said. You type the Zulu word for refrigerator ("ifriji") into an image search and get two results. The same search using PanImages generates 472,000 hits. In a test of so-called minor languages, PanImages was able to find 57 times more results, on average, than a Google image search.

PanImages includes around 300 languages and 2.5 million words, but it's designed to grow through user contributions of words and translations.

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August 15, 2007 11:42 AM

Technology Review calls out UW innovators

Posted by Brier Dudley

The UW had an impressive showing on Technology Review's annual list of the top innovators under age 35.

Three Huskies are on the list, including computer science doctoral student Tapan Parikh, who was named "top humanitarian of 2007" for his mobile phone technology helping small-business owners in developing countries. Here's a March blog post describing his work.

Jason Pontin, editor of the MIT publication, said in a release that it's "remarkable to have three recipients at one institution."

The other two are Yoshi Kohno, assistant professor of computer science, for work that may improve the safety and privacy of online transactions, and Babak Parviz, an assistant professor of electrical engineering researching the intersection of biology and nanotechnology.

Here are their nutshell biographies, provided by the UW:

Kohno, 29, invented the concept of systems-oriented provable security, which promises to beef up the safety and privacy of online transactions. His other research has looked at the security and privacy implications of electronic voting machines, consumer electronics, Web browsers and radio frequency identification (RFID) electronic tags.

Parikh, 33, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, uses mobile phones and open-source software to create novel tools for the developing world. He started a company in India to develop a product for microfinance co-ops and is now creating tools for health-care diagnoses and agricultural certification.

Parviz, 34, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, is recognized for his research at the interface of biology and nanotechnology. Parviz works on biologically inspired self-assembly. He has used the method to build flexible plastic circuits, nano-scale electronics and low-cost biological sensors for detecting diseases such as HIV.

UPDATE: There were a few more on the list but not included in the original release:

Microsoft Research's Desney Tan, an affiliate UW computer science professors, noted for using electroencephalography (EEG) signals to operate computers.

UW alum Karen Liu, a Georgia Tech professor applying body language to computer-animated characters.

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June 27, 2007 5:06 PM

No fallout from UW's Apple iPhone blog post

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few commenters suggested last week that UW technology integration architect Tony Chang be flayed for sharing information about developing iPhone applications, but it's not going to happen.

Chang caused a minor flap last week when he shared information from Apple's recent developer conference. After being told that the information was secret, the UW removed the blog post, but not before it was spotted.

There were no repercussions. Chang's job is safe, and Apple hasn't said anything to the UW about the transgression, according to Chang's boss, Oren Sreebny, executive director of the school's emerging technology group.

Sreebny said the positive outcome is the group learned to be more circumspect on its blog.

I was glad Chang made the post not just because he shared timely information gathered on the public's dime, but because it introduced me to the emerging technology group.

It's a three-person unit started in January to look at upcoming technologies and help the school's computing and communications IT group prepare and strategize.

Sreebny said they're looking "just over the horizon at what's coming soon that's likely to be useful in our environment."

The group is helping push out the campus wireless network, exploring online services and studying whether the school ought to create its own social networking service.

It's also monitoring hardware needs. Recent surveys indicated that about 20 percent of faculty and staff are using Web capable devices such as smartphones and Blackberries, a number that Sreebny expects to grow to more than 50 percent within two years. Student usage of Web capable devices is lower and probably limited by cost.

As for computer usage on the campus, the group found that about 20 percent of the faculty uses Macs and even fewer students use them. Students are price sensitive, which is also why Sreebny's not expecting a huge takeup of the iPhone at the school.

Sreebny said that while students may have laptops and wireless network access, they often opt to leave the computers in their rooms rather than lug them around.

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June 20, 2007 3:06 PM

Superfast Internet2 making progress

Posted by Brier Dudley

Internet2 Networks

The superfast Internet2 network reaches across the country.

This has been a month of milestones for Internet2, an 11-year effort to build an ultrafast fiber-optic network linking research institutions, including the University of Washington.

Today Level 3 Communications reported that it has finished a new national backbone for the system.

A few weeks ago, the network was extended from coast to coast, when nodes in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Kansas City finally connected to Seattle.

Chris Robb, an Indiana-based engineer working on the project, humanized the milestone on his team's blog:

Yeah, so Internet2 made my 3-month-old daughter cry this afternoon.

More to the point, I made my 3-month-old daughter cry when I leapt for joy at seeing the Salt Lake City to Seattle OC-192 come up. I still blame the OC-192.

We've been fighting with this one for the past week or so, getting jumpers run and the appropriate patches in the fiber meet me room at the Westin Building. In the end, all worked out well and Internet2 has SONET connectivity from the burroughs [sic] of New York to the shipping yards of Seattle.

(OC-192 refers to a 10Gbps segment of the network and SONET means synchronous optical networking.)

Was it bring your daughter to work day? Building a superfast Internet is impressive. Doing it while taking care of an infant is truly spectacular.

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June 20, 2007 1:05 PM

UW discloses, then withdraws, iPhone details

Posted by Brier Dudley

The University of Washington emerging technology group briefly posted details from an Apple developer conference session on writing Web content for the iPhone, but took it down out of concern it would violate Apple non-disclosure rules.

That horse is out of the barn, however. Computerworld caught wind of the posting and published highlights today and a link to the material is still in Google's cache.

I hope the UW didn't remove the blog entry because it had sassy comments like this:

"No flash and No Java of course this means no Microsoft Silverlight"

Since it's already out in the wild, I might as well share the rest of the entry here:

Apple WWDC iPhone Development, Tony Chang, 18 Jun, 2007, published in Uncategorized

The intro slide for this session is called Designing Web Content for the iPhone. Notice it doesn't say developing iPhone client applications for the iPhone. So the first thing the speaker says is that developing for the iPhone is easy as cake, just develop for Safari. A web browser that no one uses and hasn't been in the wringer like IE7 or Firefox in terms of security vulnerabilities. Steve Jobs touts that Safari is the fastest web browser in the world by running a precanned demo of one website.

So what does the iPhone offer for websites. Lets take a look at what Apple has to say:

1. developing websites for the desktop and in most cases it will just work on the iphone
2. browsing the web with iphone is easy thru Safari
3. scroll using two fingers
4. double tap for zoom in on content
5. the page view feature lets you look at multiple websites and documents by scrolling thru them one after another
6. full support for PDF

The speaker goes thru a bunch of popular websites to show that many websites are already good to go for the iPhone so ideally only limited tweaks are required. However I dont know if those sites have already been prepped to work well with iPhone prior to the WWDC.

Pageview is a feature in iPhone to help you view webpages and documents. Since the iPhone does not have windows it uses page view to allow users to see the content.

The speaker then talks about Safari and its capabilities.

-- it supports all latest internet standards
- 10MB max html size for web page
- Javascript limited to 5 seconds run time
- Javascript allocations limited to 10MB
- 8 documents maximum loaded on the iPhone due to page view limitations
- Quicktime used for audio and video

No flash and No Java of course this means no Microsoft Silverlight

Good design practices for iPhone:
- separate html and css
- use well structured and valid html
- size images appropriately dont rely on browser scaling
- tile small images in backgrounds
- dont use large backgroung images
- avoid complicated framesets, better yet dont use framesets at all
- iPhone supports both EDGE and WiFi. EDGE pipe is smaller then WIFI pipe so think about bandwidth when developing.
- XHTML mobile documents supported
- stylesheet device width:480px
- apply different css for the iPhone. For example displaying a one column page for iphone vs a 3 column page on a desktop.
- there are no scroll bars or resize knobs. the iphone will automatically expand the content
- framesets
- avoid them if you can
- scrollable frames are automatically expanded to fit the content
- frames exploded to the full scale and then fit to the screen

Safari User Agent for iphone:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/1A538a Safari/419.3

Without any addition coding on your website the iPhone automatically offers these features to your website.

- double tap for zoom in
- one finger as a mouse used to
- pan page
- press and hold to display the information bubble
- two fingers as a mouse used to
- pinch content to shrink - zoom out
- pan page
- scroll wheel events
- new telephone links allows you to integrate phone calls directly from your webpage. remember this is only on safari.
- built in google maps client for integrated mapping from your website

Encode content for iPhone: (Sorry guys I know almost nothing about video and audio stuff so I tried my best just to jot down stuff verbatim but it might not make sense to everyone)

H.264 baseline profile level 3.0 up to 640 x 480 fps

- with iphone content can arrive over net
- bitrate determines whether playback will stall
- iphone screen size 480 x 320
- encode move size 480 x 360

Exporter encoding
- Move to iphone
- Movie to iphone (Cellular)
- Movie to ipod
- Movie to MPEG-3

Reference movies types
- list of urls for your movie on your website and create a decision tree to pick them
- detect the bitrate and choose capabilities of the device

- iphone with media playback requires byte range support from http server
- supported by most http 1.1 servers
- also known as content-range or partial-range support

May need MIME types for .mp4, m4v, .3gp

Embedding Video into webpages

- embedding quicktime on webpages link to article on apple websites

Links to movies on a web page will take users directly to video full screen playback

- Use new quicktime exporters
- provide low-bitrate versions of content
- use reference movies to auto stream best verson
- setup your media server to support byte-range required
- use poster jpegs
- provide direct links to podcast episodes

Here is some information from David Cox to shed some light on what this means for UW servers.

There is a little more info about the requirements of the iPhone, and it has me thinking about an old issue.

It looks like the iPhone will NOT support streaming media from the streaming media servers (at least at launch). They will require the media to be installed on HTTP accessible servers (such as Homer or Dante). But I don't think Homer or Dante are going to work very well under their current configuration.

The problem is that these systems do not know the mime type for most of the file types that the iPhone will be able to play. I am guessing that the iPhone will have the same issue that Safari has when this happens. Safari does not assume that it knows better than the server when it comes to file types. If the server says that a mimetype is not known, then Safari will not try to figure out what to do with the file extension. Rather, it will try to show the data as a text file, or download the file, depending on what the servers "default type" is (for homer and dante, it shows the links as big text files).

The iPhone (as well as Safari on both Mac and Windows) should be able to handle .mov and .mp3 files on homer and dante, as the mimetypes seem set for those media files. But .mp4 .m4a .m4b will probably result in a long wait followed by a large page of text being given to the client.

When I have mentioned this in the past, the feeling was that the Streaming Media Servers were the place for such files, and that the HTTP servers were NOT the place for such files. I can fully see the tech reasons for this, but I wanted to point out this new data point (a high profile media centric device that will NOT work with our media streaming servers) before we see them in the wild.

As a quick work around, users can create .htaccess files to provide support for these mime types on a site-by-site instance (as people have had to do to support individual download options for 'non-mp3′ podcasts hosted on depts/staff/student accounts for a while now). It is not ideal, but a good work around :).

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April 25, 2007 4:14 PM

Bill Gates says: Vote for Ed

Posted by Brier Dudley

Who is Ed?

Is he the reason Bill Gates opted not to run for president?

Gates and fellow billionaire Eli Broad are pouring $60 million into the "Ed in '08" political campaign.

The Ed in '08 Web site has a guy's picture, but it belongs to Roy, a former Los Angeles school superintendent chairing the campaign.

Actually Ed is short for education, a topic that Gates and Broad want to be emphasized in the 2008 presidential election.

"Ed in 08" is the slogan for their political group, Strong American Schools.

A sample Gates quote, from his foundation's announcement today:

"Each year more than 1 million students drop out of high school. That's one child every 29 seconds. We all must demand that candidates and our leaders share their opinions and policies on how our country will offer all young people Strong American Schools."

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April 18, 2007 9:45 AM

Mr. Fuzzy Logic speaking in Tacoma

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lofti Zadeh, a noted computer scientist and creator of the fuzzy logic theory, is visiting from Berkeley next week. He'll give a public lecture on "A New Frontier in Computation -- Computation with Information Described in Natural Language" next week at the University of Washington's Tacoma campus.

Zadeh will speak at 1 p.m. April 25 in room 106 of the Birmingham Hay & Seed Building.

The UW press release suggests the direction Zadeh's lecture could take:

He believes that computation with information described in natural language, or NL-Computation, "opens the door to a wide-ranging enlargement of the role of natural languages in scientific theories, especially in the realms of economics, systems analysis, decision analysis, search and question-answering," he said.

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April 3, 2007 5:40 PM

UW women receive Google grants

Posted by Brier Dudley

UW student Martha Allen Mercaldi was one of 20 undergraduates who won a $10,000 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship.

Winners were announced today, along with finalists who will receive $1,000 apiece. Among the finalists was UW's Bao Nguyen Nguyen.

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March 28, 2007 11:31 AM

Trade group giving $5K scholarships to students

Posted by Brier Dudley

CompTIA, a computer industry group supported by Microsoft, among others, is giving five awards of $5,000 apiece to the winners of an essay contest. The subject:

In November 1985, Microsoft® Windows version 1.0 was released. It changed forever the way we use computers. In 2001, Apple launched iPod, revolutionizing the worlds of music and entertainment. The coolest new technology of the next 25 years will be ...

Details are here.

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March 23, 2007 9:35 AM

Simonyi to chat with Redmond kids, from space

Posted by Brier Dudley

Students at Redmond High School will have a chance to ask Charles Simonyi question via ham radio as he circles the earth on the International Space Station next month.

The question-and-answer sessions will be recorded and posted at an educational Web site tracking his adventure. He ought to let people download the recordings -- making them the first podcasts from space.

Other schools participating include Fairborn High School in Fairborn, Ohio, and Cedar Point Elementary School in Bristow, Va., near Washington, D.C.

Simonyi will also be contacting students from the Technical University of Budapest, and he'll be using his technical expertise and interest in amateur radio to maintain ham radios on the space station.

Tour organizer Space Adventures said this "work will include testing one radio set to isolate an antenna problem with the equipment and reprogramming the default settings on a second unit to correct a configuration problem."

How many people would be willing to provide a little tech support during their $20 million vacation?

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March 22, 2007 11:43 AM

A new gig for Seattle's Apprentice

Posted by Brier Dudley

If Donald Trump gives Zoodango's James Sun the boot, Sun has a more rewarding gig waiting back home.

I think he should take a bigger role in the software industry's efforts to get kids more excited about math and science. He's the perfect front man: Not only is he a groovy Web entrepreneur, he's relatively young (30), articulate and has a bit of celebrity aura since he's been on Trump's show.

Sun's already pitching in. In a cameo appearance during last night's WSA awards dinner, he talked up the organization's education push and shared his personal story.

As a kid, he was getting D's and C's in math until fifth grade, when a thoughtful teacher gave him a nudge. The teacher told him he was "actually good at math, and math is important,'' Sun recalled.

From then on he received 4.0 grades in math, which boosted his other studies and made him a 4.0 student overall.

"Math can be a catalyst for students to really understand the importance of education,'' he said.

You're hired!

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March 12, 2007 5:15 PM

PS3 and Stanford research: So much for virtual

Posted by Brier Dudley

Expect an update Thursday on how Sony PlayStation 3 users can participate in Folding@Home, the cool distributed computing project at Stanford University that links PCs around the world to do processor-intensive research into protein folding, misfolding and related disorders such as Alzheimer's and Mad Cow.

The project has been linking PCs around the world into ad-hoc supercomputers, and it's planning to tap into the multicore processing power of the PS3.

Sony's giving an update and press demonstration at the school Thursday.

I'm guessing Sony will announce the availability of software that enables PS3 owners to plug into the network and share their spare processing power. Maybe they'll even add a Stanford laboratory to the PS3's new virtual world.

Folding@Home has already posted an outline of the PS3 project that talks about the potential of using the console's Cell processors:

With this new technology (as well as new advances with GPUs), we will likely be able to attain performance on the 100 gigaflop scale per computer. With about 10,000 such machines, we would be able to achieve performance on the petaflop scale. With software from Sony, the PlayStation 3 will now be able to contribute to the Folding@Home project, pushing Folding@Home a major step forward.
Our goal is to apply this new technology to push Folding@Home into a new level of capabilities, applying our simulations to further study of protein folding and related diseases, including Alzheimer's Disease, Huntington's Disease, and certain forms of cancer. With these computational advances, coupled with new simulation methodologies to harness the new techniques, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, and make even greater impacts on our knowledge of folding and folding related diseases.

What's really far out is the way the software may simultaneously use the PS3's graphics processor to display the folding process in real-time. Console owners will even be able to navigate the 3D images using their game controllers, according to the project's FAQ. Here's an image.

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March 9, 2007 12:08 PM

Lazowska to head computing consortium

Posted by Brier Dudley

Ed Lazowska, the University of Washington's outspoken advocate for computer science education, is taking his show national.

He was named the first chair of the Computing Community Consortium, a new group formed by the National Science Foundation and the Computing Reseach Association.

The CRA blog made the announcement:

In his new role, Dr. Lazowska will lead the CCC -- a consortium of experts drawn from and chosen by the computing research community -- as it seeks to stimulate scientific leadership and vision on issues related to computing research and future large-scale computing research projects. The CCC, established by CRA in partnership with NSF, will catalyze the computing research community to debate long-range research challenges, to build consensus around research visions, to articulate those visions, and to develop the most promising visions into clearly defined initiatives.

Lazowska will apparently keep his day job as the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair at UW, according to an engineering school spokeswoman, but I'm still trying to reach him for confirmation.

UPDATE: He's staying at UW. The consortium gig is part time, he said via email:

"Half-time position, located here. Big hill to climb, but important to make the effort."

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March 1, 2007 3:39 PM

Want your kids to work at Microsoft?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get them started at a free, online introduction to programming course that Microsoft began offering today.

Called Beginner Developer Learning Center, the site looks like a cool way for anyone to learn about programming and Web development.

Yes, it has Microsoft's spin and it's evangelizing to a younger audience. But it's potentially a great resource for people who want to get started and can't access or afford classes.

Developer division boss S. Somasegar introduced the site on his blog, saying the center is part of an ongoing effort to "decrease the barriers of entry to software development":

I encourage you to walk through a couple of lessons with your children, friends or family -- this could be a fun way for people to create and customize. With this, we are getting closer to our vision of anyone and everyone to participate more in this online, digital age.

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March 1, 2007 11:26 AM

UW student turns phones into banking tools

Posted by Brier Dudley


Women in South India's Madurai region using Parikh's technology, developed at the UW, to record the day's transactions on a mobile phone.

The University of Washington today called out an interesting project by doctoral student Tapan Parikh, who developed technology to use cellphones as simple, low-cost accounting computers.

He's already started a company in India, called ekgaon, that's providing phones to more than 700 microfinance cooperatives through a contract with CARE India.

Microfinance groups typically use paper ledgers, and it's been difficult to shift their accounting to computers because they typically don't have the space, electricity or expertise to run them, the UW news release said.

Using open-source software, Parikh customized Nokia phones so they can be used for accounting. Here's how the release described the technology:

"The phone's camera first takes a picture of a bookkeeping form to identify the document. Then the phone prompts the user in the local language, Tamil, to enter the relevant numbers. Once the last keystroke is entered the information is sent by text message to a central server in India."

Rural farmers in India began using the phones in January. Parikh said in the release:

"Broadly speaking, what I'm trying to do is look at ways that information technology can have an impact on important social, political and economic issues."

Parikh's research was funded by Microsoft Reseach, Ricoh and Intel, and he was advised by Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Endowed Professor of Computer Science.

The project also highlights the UW's new emphasis on global health and technology for developing countries, influenced by the Gates Foundation and its expanding relationship with the school.

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February 14, 2007 4:57 PM

Entrepreneur training, mentoring on tap

Posted by Brier Dudley

EntrepreneurWeek USA, a nationwide event geared largely at younger people aspiring to start businesses, will have a big presence locally. It seems like it will have plenty of interesting events for older entrepreneurs, as well.

A list of activities is available at the event's Web site (you have to search by state to get the local listings). Here are a few that I pulled and some that were noted by the event's publicists:

Feb. 27, 3:30 to 5 p.m.: "From invention to startup" seminar at the UW's Mary Gates Hall, room 271. James Molocco of Klir Technologies and Sunny Gupta of iConclude will talk about how they've continually revised their original business plans to adapt to new conditions and opportunities. Free; no registration required.

Feb. 27, 7-9 p.m.: The secrets of the Early Stage Investment Forum seminar at Seattle University, Piggott room 104. A free "how to" session providing information and advice about applying to make a presentation to angel and venture investors at the forum taking place April 19.

March 1, 7:30 a.m. to noon: Essentials of angel financing for early-stage companies, Perkins Coie offices in Seattle. Angel investors, experienced entrepreneurs and lawyers address the how-to's of angel funding for start-ups. The event costs $115, or $65 for members of the Northwest Entrepreneurs Network, where you can register online.

March 1 from 6-7:30 p.m.: Business plan competition resource night "What do investors look for? UW Campus, HUB 200. Speakers Rebecca Lovell from Alliance of Angels and Mike Crill from Atlas Acclerator will discuss how investors decide to invest in early-stage companies. Free.

March 2 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.: The Entrepreneur Resource Fair at Edmonds Community College will offer training and resources for young entrepreneurs, plus information for starting businesses and running mature businesses.

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February 12, 2007 4:08 PM

Women in technology scholarships

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Alliance of Technology and Women is giving "Great Minds" scholarships to women pursuing associate or bachelor degrees in math, science, computer science or other tech-related fields.

Locally, the Seattle chapter is planning to give two $1,000 scholarships this year.

Applications are available here until Tuesday, Feb. 27.

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February 9, 2007 11:27 AM

UW prof goes Googley, gets kudos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Alon Halevy, a University of Washington computer science professor who left in December to join Google, was named a 2006 ACM Fellow.

Halevy is one of two employees who received the honor, according to a Google blog post yesterday by engineering boss Alan Eustace.

Also named ACM Fellow was Peter Norvig, Google's research director and journalism watchdog.

It's a good thing Google hired Halevy. Otherwise it would have been almost completely skunked by Microsoft Research, which employs four people on the 2006 ACM Fellow list: Susan Dumais, James Larus, Harry Shum and Alan Greenberg.

Also on the list is Bryant York of Portland State University.

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January 19, 2007 1:26 PM

Students Googling in Kirkland

Posted by Brier Dudley

I missed this while I was at CES: A group of students recently toured Google's Kirkland office to inspire them to pursue careers in technology.

Then Google took it a step further and let Jenna Warman, a Lake Washington High School student, write about the tour on the company's official corporate blog:

What I liked most about the Google building were the different Google Doodles all along the walls and the lava lamps in the reception area that were Google colors.

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January 11, 2007 4:01 PM

Cougar futurists in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Washington State University is moving into Husky territory with an interesting series of forward-looking faculty lectures, mostly biotech-related, that it will present in Seattle over the next three months.

"The Innovators" series begins Feb 8 with "Achieving Psychological Well-Being: Neurochemistry May Hold the Key," a talk by Professor Jaak Panksepp.

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January 4, 2007 2:56 PM

UW's gift to file sharers: BitTyrant

Posted by Brier Dudley

Free software that boosts the speed of the popular BitTorrent file-sharing software was released this week by computer scientists at the University of Washington.

Called BitTyrant, the software lets users choose file-sharing partners, boosting download speeds by an average of 70 percent, according to a UW news release today. It also fixes a bug in BitTorrent, the release said.

"Prior to this work, people thought BitTorrent was exactly how you want to build a peer-to-peer distributed system," computer science Professor Tom Anderson said in the release. "We figured out that it's easy for someone to cheat other users on BitTorrent, and we developed a set of changes that makes it much more difficult to do that."

Next the UW has to develop a BitTorrent add-on that searches for possible Bluetooth intellectual property violations.

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December 15, 2006 11:52 AM

Seattle University giving PCs for Christmas

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's one way to get ready for Vista: Donate your old PCs to charity.

Seattle University took 100 PCs, refurbished them and set them up with Spanish software for a Jesuit school in Nicaragua.

Expeditors International is helping to ship the PCs and other donated materials to Universidad Centroameriaca and the Fe y Alegria Jesuit elementary school system in Managua.

UPDATE: This was delayed until noon on Thursday because of the storm. The shipping company couldn't bring the container over the weekend.

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December 11, 2006 11:51 AM

Gregoire: A tiny fraction more for K-12 math and science

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's better than nothing, but the math and science education boost that Gov. Gregoire proposed today seems pretty puny for a state that's a world center for software development.

The spending boost is hardly enough to be trumpeted as a way "to grow our economy and secure a bright future for our students."

Gregoire's calling for $197 million in additional spending over two years. That may sound like a lot, but it's just a 1.4 percent increase in K-12 spending over the same period. It works out to another $98.50 per student per year. Total spending per student would then go from $6,900 to $6,998 per year.

The money would also come from the state's surplus, so it doesn't sound like a permanent commitment. If the surplus dwindles, will class sizes get bigger again?

Apparently the gov didn't take my suggestion to limit R&D tax breaks and give schools some of the $259 million she's giving back to Microsoft and other companies every two years.

Parents of public school children already pay far more than $98.50 a year out of their pocket to compensate for the state's weak education funding.

Gregoire's proposal is a start and it seems to say all the right things about class sizes, curriculum and teachers, but the money's not enough to start quoting Tom Friedman.

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December 11, 2006 9:57 AM

Bionic biotech at UW

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are some links with more info on the neuroengineering work in today's column, and a little more ranting about misdirected subsidies.

Professor Yoky Matsuoka came from Carnegie Mellon University ,where she ran the Neurobotics Laboratory.

Carnegie is a leader in robotics, and also has lots of connections with Microsoft, which is increasing its focus on robotics and the use of computers in medical research.

UW's dean of engineering, Matthew O'Donnell, has a background in bionengineering and previously directed the program at the University of Michigan.

Other local players include Northstar Neuroscience and a new startup, Neurobionics. I interviewed the founder of Neurobionics last summer for the Enterpreneurs & Innovators show I do for SCCTV; I'll post a link to a Web version when it's posted.

I was a little snarky about Paul Allen's biotech office and condo developments in South Lake Union, but he's also doing some really cool things a few miles away from at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Fremont.

Maybe it confuses things to talk about real estate subsidies and new research areas at the UW. But I think it's worthwhile go discuss whether the public subsidies for tech office parks are appropriate, given our region's ongoing failure to adequately fund education and the mixed record of biotech job creation.

Public resources may be better spent on education and research at schools like the UW, preparing people and hatching ideas that will create tomorrow's companies. There will always be people willing to build more offices and condos if there's demand.

Here's a more eloquent plea to sharpen our focus on nurturing biotech companies.

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November 30, 2006 1:38 PM

UW researchers raise Nike-iPod security concerns

Posted by Brier Dudley

A team of University of Washington computer science researchers is getting ink for its analysis of the privacy risks of the new Nike+iPod Sport Kit.

Mary Levin, UW News and Information
From left: UW researchers Yoshi Kohno, Carl Hartung and Scott Saponas.

The researchers cobbled together gadgets that could track the whereabouts of people using the system, which wirelessly syncs a sensor in jogging shoes with a user's iPod.

Scott Saponas, an avid jogger pursuing his doctorate in computer science, bought the system and started wondering about its potential security risks.

"It is easy for someone to use the Nike+iPod as a tracking device," he said in a UW news release. "It's an example of how new gadgetry can erode our personal privacy."

In a paper posted online today, the researchers suggested people who use the Nike-iPod system turn it off when they're not exercising so it won't keep sending signals.

Saponas worked with grad students Jonathan Lester and Carl Hartung and assistant professor of computer science Yoshi Kohno.

"There's a bigger issue here," Kohno said in the release. "When people buy a toaster, they know it's probably not going to blow up when they plug it in. But when they buy a consumer device like the Nike+iPod kit, they have no idea whether the device might enable someone to violate their privacy. We need to change that."

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November 28, 2006 2:00 PM

4-H bloggers nail Capitol Christmas tree story

Posted by Brier Dudley

For the full story on the 65-foot Pacific Silver Fir that made its way from the Olympic National Forest to Washington, D.C., check out the impressive blog and videos produced by the Jefferson County 4-H club.

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November 8, 2006 9:36 AM

New UW computer degree program in T-town

Posted by Brier Dudley

University of Washington Tacoma's Institute of Technology will begin offering a bachelor of science in computer engineering and systems in January, teaching engineers to design hardware, software and particularly embedded systems.

The program is now taking applications from transfer students who have studied calculus, physics and chemistry, and perhaps have an associate of science degree. It opens to freshman starting next fall.

More info will be available at an open house at 6 p.m. Nov. 16. For more information, call 253-692-5860 or check the school's Web site.

Most graduates will likely enter careers working with embedded systems, according to Professor Larry Wear, head of the new program.

"Pretty much anything you buy today that runs on electricity has a computer in it," he said in a release. "Computer engineers now put computer chips into devices that until recently were not controlled by computers. They need to understand how the hardware works and figure out how to interface computer chips with devices like toasters and stereos."

The 5-year-old institute also offers degrees in computing and software systems.

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October 30, 2006 4:30 PM

UW Computer Science: The next generation

Posted by Brier Dudley

During the school's annual Industrial Affiliates meeting with tech companies this morning, Hank Levy outlined research areas that the UW Computer Science & Engineering Department will be emphasizing. They include:

-- Human-computer interaction
-- Digital entertainment, including games and animation
-- Computing and biology
-- Neural engineering
-- Computer security
-- Machine learning/datamining

These are also areas where the school is likely to be recruiting new faculty.

The department's education initiatives include:

-- Possible creation of a five-year bachelor's/master's degree program.
-- Creating new degree tracks such as machine learning.
-- Increasing the number of undergraduate and graduate students.
-- Offering a minor in computer science.

Today's event was really about student research, which was demonstrated to companies that work with the UW and may support or license its technology.

I heard demonstrations in rooms crowded with representatives from Microsoft, Intel, Sun Microsystems, F5, Cray, Marchex and various venture-capital firms and other companies.

For instance, there were several Google people in Raphael Hoffmann's presentation on a search engine for software code he's developing that has usability improvements over Google's new Code Search.

Later, Seth Cooper casually mentioned during his presentation that his team's work on modeling large crowds has already been licensed for use in next-generation video games.

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September 25, 2006 10:55 AM

Tech, taxes and education

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lots of feedback on today's column on the tech industry, education and tax breaks.

Mostly I've heard from people who don't think money alone is the answer to school problems. It's a great topic but I don't want to stray too far from technology and business subjects.

One thing I didn't mention today -- Microsoft's interest in education isn't new or specific to Washington state. Along with other big tech companies like Intel, Microsoft has brought similar concerns about education and workforce preparedness to Congress.

Hopefully it's putting a little more oomph into its back yard.

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August 2, 2006 10:02 AM

Bob Herbold giving $1.5 mil for UW venture lab

Posted by Brier Dudley

The former Microsoft chief operating officer's gift will be split: $500,000 for "an endowed professorship in entrepreneurship" and $1 million to build the Robert J. Herbold Venture Creation Lab at the University of Washington Business School.

The lab "will allow students from across campus to work on their new ventures, meet with an entrepreneur in residence, or practice their investor pitches," James Jiambalvo, biz school dean, said in a release.

Herbold's now a consultant and adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore. He was COO at Microsoft until 2001, and before that worked at Procter & Gamble.

He's a latecomer to the UW -- he graduated from the University of Cincinnati and Case Western Reserve University.

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July 20, 2006 11:14 AM

UW taps local assets

Posted by Brier Dudley

Going through my mail at home yesterday, I was amazed by the talent the University of Washington's Extension program has lined up to teach technical courses this autumn. Only in Seattle can you take an evening programming class from managers at the world's largest software, aerospace and e-commerce companies.

Here's a sample:

SQL Server Administration: Taught by Euan Garden, group program manager, Microsoft SQL Server Strategy and Architecture Team.

Introduction to Visual Basic: Shamez Rajan, Microsoft program manager, and Lou Tylee, Boeing associate technical fellow.

Basic Perl Programming: Joel Grow, software development engineer.

Perl, the Web and Databases: Doug Treder, senior software development engineer.

Network Architectures, Protocols and Standards: James Farricker, Boeing technical fellow and chief engineer.

Establishing Project Management Leadership in the Organization: Phyllis Sweeney, Microsoft director of product life cycle, with consultant Clive Schuelein.

That's just a few of the engineers and managers contributing to the program. Other companies represented include Siemens, InfoSpace, Group Health and Washington Mutual.

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May 18, 2006 1:36 PM

A word from Ed

Posted by Brier Dudley

Almost every time I write about technology at universities outside of Seattle, I get an eloquent note from University of Washington professor Ed Lazowska telling me that I should spend more time writing about the UW.

Since this blog is an extension of a family newspaper, I won't reprint the note I received after Wednesday's story about my visit to Larry Smarr's facility at the University of California at San Diego.

Ed's latest suggestion: That I mention a set of UW videos in which students, faculty and alumni talk about why they entered the field of computer science.

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May 16, 2006 5:53 AM

How do you make a geek drool?

Posted by Brier Dudley

SAN DIEGO -- Show him or her the stuff being developed at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, a collaborative research venture of the state's universities at San Diego and Irvine.

A tour given as part of the FiRe conference Monday evening began in what center director and supercomputing luminary Larry Smarr described as the world's most advanced digital theater. Each seat has a gigabit ethernet connection and power jacks, and the big screen displays images from the first "super high definition" projector installed in the U.S. Sony provided the projector, which it's trying to sell to the movie industry.

Super high-def video is four times the resolution of standard high-def. Its cameras put out 6 gigabitss of content per second, compared with 1.5 gigabits per second with regular high-def. A demonstration video, scanned from a 65 millimeter Imax film on India, was so crisp, vibrant and deep it seemed like 3-D.

When combined with superfast Internet connections like the ones at the theater (the building has 100 gigbits of bandwidth, and can be configured to have as much as every cable-modem equipped home in the U.S.), it enables applications such as superrealistic videoconferencing that Smarr calls "telepresence."

Other gee-whiz demonstrations included a 24-channel digital surround sound system and a prototype of a circa 2015 PC with a 100 million pixel display. The PC was actually a stack of 55 flat panel displays powered by a cluster of 28 Linux PCs, plus a 29th PC that served as a sort of controller.

On the big screen, Smarr showed off the system's power by casually generating a tornadic substructure. In other words, he produced a visual model of the forces and weather that create a tornado.

He also showed plain old high-definition video of hydrothermal vents filmed 2.5 miles below the ocean's surface. "With this any school child can see in live time this kind of thing,'' he said.

Afterward I suggested that the 4x high-def system would be perfect for Seattle's Cinerama, but the theater's owner noted that Smarr didn't provide the system's price.

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May 5, 2006 12:32 PM

Microsoft seeks another kind of growth

Posted by Brier Dudley

At Seattle University today, the National Center for Women & Technology announced that it's getting $1 million from Microsoft to encourage more women to enter the tech industry.

"Ensuring a diverse, professional IT workforce is a priority, not an option, for the United States as our country faces a critical personnel shortage in IT and the potential erosion of the U.S. position as a leader in IT innovation,'' NCWIT Chief Executive Lucy Sanders said in a release.

Expect to hear more about the issue next week when the organization hosts a "town hall" meeting in Washington, D.C. The featured speaker is Microsoft Research boss Rick Rashid.

Microsoft hopes that its collaboration with the group will "inspire the imagination of students everywhere and encourage each one to pursue a career in the sciences," Rashid said in the release.

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April 18, 2006 2:15 PM

Ballmer: Go Vikings

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft Senior Vice President David Cole is apparently in pretty good standing at Microsoft, despite his online business division's struggles to catch up with Google and Yahoo! and his plans to take a leave of absence this month.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the Western Washington University Business Forum.

After Cole asked Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to speak at a forum being held by Cole's alma mater, Western Washington University, Ballmer jumped at the chance to help out an employee who worked on some of Microsoft's most important products over the past 21 years.

Ballmer recounted the meeting with Cole today, during his speech at Western's Business Forum at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center:

"I have no affiliation but I love you, baby, so I love Western Washington,'' Ballmer said he told Cole.

Later in the speech Ballmer talked up the need for the state to continue investing in higher education. He also touched on immigration reform, saying Microsoft needs to be able to recruit smart people all over the world and bring them to work in Redmond.

Even though Microsoft is hiring people in India and China, "the lion's share" of its employees will remain here, Ballmer said, pointing to a factoid the company dug up for China President Hu Jintao's visit: Microsoft currently has 2,000 Chinese-speaking employees in the Puget Sound area.

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April 14, 2006 4:48 PM

Ballmer alert

Posted by Brier Dudley

Steve Ballmer is venturing across Lake Washington Tuesday to address a Western Washington University forum.

The Microsoft chief executive dropped a newsy tidbit at a similar event held by Eastern Washington University three years ago in Seattle, when he mentioned that he plans to work at least until 2017.

Ballmer's speech at Western's Seattle Business Forum coincides with Microsoft's highest-ranking Western alum, Senior Vice President David Cole, taking a leave of absence at the end of April.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.