Lies, Damn Lies, and (the statistics on) the Number of STEM grads

December 18th, 2007

I confess to being thoroughly confused. The revealed wisdom in US higher ed has been that we are simply not producing enough grads in the STEM area, and we need to do more to attract folks to sciences/engineering/IT etc. The National Academy of Sciences weighed in on this as well. We certainly keep hearing that here in our department, with exhortations to increase enrollment.

However, the Urban institute folks (Lowell and Salzman) claim that not only is the US not lagging behind other nations in the quality of STEM education at the school level, it in fact overproduced STEM grads (three times as many as the net growth in jobs) in the period from 1985 to 2000. So not enough or too many STEM grads — which is it ?

This of course further muddies the immigration/ H1B debates. The IT industry claims that there is a shortage of IT grads, and so they need to be able to hire more from overseas. The “Immigration Restrictionists” of various flavors, and the Programmers Guild like organizations, argue that this is just a part of plan by corporations to keep the wages in the IT sector depressed. Many of them have blogged about this new Urban Institute study, offering it as proof that the H1B type programs can be scrapped.

However, if the primary push behind lobbying for increased skilled immigration/H1 workers was depressing (or at least not increasing) the wages, then a factor of three overproduction within the US should take care of this, right ? In other words, all the folks in STEM fields who weren’t getting jobs in their area would sign up for short MSCE/CCNA type courses (or AAs in IT) and then get hired. I presume Bill Gates or others don’t particularly like foreigners enough to go through and pay for the H1B/Green card process when they would achieve the same wage depressing affects by hiring US citizens retrained in IT areas from the oversupply in the overall STEM areas?  On the other hand, there is  a recent statement by Fed chief Bernanke doing rounds of the blogosphere that a non increase in STEM wages would indicate that there wasn’t a shortage in the area. 

Net result, I am not sure what to believe anymore.  In admissions events, I dutifully present data from CRA (which in turn got it from BLS)  that seems to indicate that within the wider STEM areas, IT (strictly, Mathematical and Computer Sciences) would be the subfield where the total production of degrees would fall short of the projected job openings, even factoring in all the outsourcing.

Software–Defined Radio Could Unify Wireless World

February 5th, 2006

Technicians in Ireland are testing a device capable of skipping between incompatible wireless standards by tweaking its underlying code. A report from NewScientist states:

The device can impersonate a multitude of different wireless devices since it uses reconfigurable software to carry out the tasks normally performed by static hardware… The technology promises to let future gadgets jump between frequencies and standards that currently conflict. A cellphone could, for example, automatically detect and jump to a much faster Wi-Fi network when in a local hotspot.

Korea’s Preschoolers Use Internet Daily

February 3rd, 2006

I don’t know if this report is good new or bad news and, if either, who it is good or bad for.

“The Information and Communication Ministry conducted the survey together with the National Internet Development Agency of Korea. It found that Internet use among five-year-olds surveyed was 64 percent, among four-year-olds 47 percent and among three-year-olds 34 percent. Young children on average started using the Internet at 3.2 years of age and spent on average 4.8 hours a week online. Some 93 percent of the diminutive respondents used the Internet to play games or access music, but 39 percent used the web for “study,” the survey finds.”

Maybe it’s bad for Korean preschoolers who should be playing with each other or with their Legos. Or maybe it’s bad for slothful preschoolers everywhere else who will end up working for the Koreans when they grow up. I guess it’s good for the Internet, unless the preschoolers all start blogs.

[spotted on Smart Mobs]

Bluetooth spy rocks replace pumpkins

January 28th, 2006

Anand mentioned the (alleged) British spy rock as a good example of an advance that pervasive computing technology has wrought.

Russia’s state security service has accused British diplomats of spying in Moscow using electronic rocks. It’s an obvious hack, when you think about it — a bluetooth enabled PDA in a hollowed out rock could be used to drop off or pickup heavily encrypted documents from spys as they stroll by. The only problem would be power. Such a bluetooth rock would be much better than Alger Hiss’s pumpkin patch.

In an infamous spy case from the early days of the cold war, US State Department official Alger Hiss was accused (by a young Richard Nixon!) of passing documents via rolls of microfilm secreted in a hollowed-out pumpkin on his Maryland farm. But, technology marches on, with wireless rocks replacing pumpkins.

The March of Progress
In 1948 Alger Hiss was accused of transferring secrets using microfilm in a hollowed out pumpkin.
In 2006 the British were accused of transferring secrets using a wireless enabled PDA in a hollowed out rock.
cost: low
encryption: no
durability: low
models: Jack-o’-lantern, squash
vulnerable to: rodents, fungus, kids
pluses: organic, biodegradable
negatives: decay, rot
cost: medium
encryption: yes
durability: high
models: igneous, sedimentary
vulnerable to: bluejacking, spyware
pluses: tetris, plays mp3s
negatives: heavy

xpod senses what music you’d like to hear

January 28th, 2006

A group of UMBC students working with Professor Zary Segall have built a prototype music player that senses its user’s emotional state and level of activity and picks appropriate music. The prototype system uses BodyMedia’s SenseWear, which detects continuous data from the wearer’s skin and wirelessly transmits the data stream to the xpod prototype. The physiological data includes energy expenditure (calories burned), duration of physical activity, number of steps taken, and sleep/wake states. A neural network system is used to learn associations between these biometric parameters and the user’s preferences for music and the resulting model is then used to dynamically construct the xpod’s playlist. Read more about the xpod prototype in this recent paper:

XPod a human activity and emotion aware mobile music player, Sandor Dornbush, Kevin Fisher, Kyle McKay, Alex Prikhodko and Zary Segall.

Ping-O-Matic temporarily down

January 13th, 2006

Ping-O-Matic, a great tool and arguably the most popular update ping service is currently down. Matt blogs about a complete revamp. Apparently their current system was accepting pings on just one box!. Technorati is helping them out.

Most of us don’t even bother to check which update ping services our blog software notifies automatically. Now, is this a good enough motivation to notify additional update ping services ? If yes, who is set to gain? Given the recent valuation of, a short downtime of Ping-O-Matic might well create another multi-million dollar asset.

Attention WordPress users!!! from Nick Starr, Ping-o-Matic is offline from Jeff Smith, Pingomatic is gone from Alan Fraser.

Context aware ipod knows what to play

January 10th, 2006

XPOD is a prototype portable music player that can sense a user’s context — what she is doing, her level of activity, mood, etc. — and that to refine its playlist. The device monitors several external variables from a streaming version of the BodyMedia SenseWear to model the user’s context and predict the most appropriate music genre via a neural network.

Smart Car Knows How to Park Itself and More

December 25th, 2005

German engineers are working on a new smart car that knows how to find empty parking spaces and park itself.

Parkmate, which is expected to be available from 2008, is part of a battery of technology being developed by Siemens VDO, one of the world’s major suppliers of in-car electronics.

Welcome to the Splogosphere: 75% of new pings are spings (splogs)

December 15th, 2005

In the blogosphere, pings are notifications sent by updated blogs to PingServers. A major issue recently has been unjustified pings, also known as Spings, sent by Splogs. Splogs have been discussed a lot recently, including an interesting thread on post piracy that Steve Rubel initiated on Micropersuasion.

The problem of splogs prompted us to analyze pings from, which publishes hourly pings as changes.xml. We have been collecting these pings over the last 4 weeks for a total of 40 million pings from around 14 million (so claimed) blogs. To begin with, we applied a language identification technique implemented by James Mayfield to identify language by fetching these blogs. As expected most of the pings were from blogs authored in English. But we were able to identify blogs from many other languages as well. For instance, charts below show a distribution of pings from blogs authored in Italian — over a day and over a week. Each bar denotes the number of pings per hour.

Pings over a day
Pings over 8 days

All times are in GMT; clearly Italian authored blogs display a specific blogging pattern.

In the next step we used our work on splog detection to detect splogs (and hence spings) among the english blogs. Our detection mechanism is close to 90% accurate. As shown in the charts below pings from blogs average around 8K per hour and those from splogs average around 25K.

Blog Pings
Splog Pings

Clearly almost 3 out of 4 pings are spings! Going back further to the source of these spings, we observed that more than 50% of claimed blogs pinging are splogs.

Based on the interestingness of this preliminary statistics, scope for further analysis and interest in the resulting dataset we decided to continuosly monitor the pingosphere. So, we now do it “live” on updated blogs published by by an hour), and have made it publicly available at The site lists blogging patterns for many other languages, and compares splogs with blogs. All of our work is part of a larger project memeta, towards analyzing the content and structure of the blogosphere.

We hope our effort is a good complement to existing services (e.g., FightSplog, SplogReporter and SplogSpot) towards combating splogs. We currently publish only simple ping statistics on this site, but do stay tuned for fresh splog and classified blog dumps and much more!

UPDATE: Matthew Hurst from BlogPulse points us to an interesting analysis he has done on a day of pings.

Building your own search engine with Alexa

December 15th, 2005

As the size of the Web gets bigger and bigger, search engines such as Yahoo! and Google may be too general for building applications that focus on some particular domain of information. To solve this problem, Alexa provides a web search platform that allows people to define their own search engine.

Although you have to pay for the service, but it definitely looks promising. Alexa crawl works over 100 Terabytes of Web content spanning 4 billion pages and 8 million sites, and support a wide variety of types of content from the Web (jpgs, gifs, mp3s, movies. text/html, and even metadata). How does Alexa work?


Smart doorknob: an exciting RFID application

November 27th, 2005

Here is what a smart doorknob can do.

“When you approach the door and you’re carrying groceries, it opens and lets you in. This doorknob is so smart, it can let the dog out but it won’t let six dogs come back in.

It will take FedEx packages and automatically sign for you when you’re not there. If you’re standing by the door, and a phone call comes in, the doorknob can tell you that ‘you’ve got a phone call from your son that I think you should take.”

This smart doorknob is part of a MIT research project called “Internet of Things” (see IHT). An interesting thing about this system is that it relies on the extensive usage of RFID tags. When it comes to RFID technology, some people are very worried, and some others are very excited.

Shanghai Taxis Now SMS-Enabled

November 14th, 2005

Shanghai might be China’s business hub, but getting to a meeting on time has always been a problem because of the high demand for taxis. Starting this week, Shanghai residents can now hail a taxi using their mobile phones and a new wireless short message service (SMS).

The Shanghai Taxi Control Center has launched a “Booking Taxi Via Short Message” service to ease citizens’ transportation needs.

After citizens input their name, location, destination and starting time, and indicate the traffic details nearby, they only need to send the message to 96965. The control center will relay them with a message to confirm the booking and then send a taxi to the required place within 10 minutes.