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GOOGLE EMBEDS ENGINEERS AS PROFESSORS

The Gilmer Free Press

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA — Howard University freshman Alanna Walton knew something was different about the professor teaching her introduction to computer science course.

First, there was her name: Professor Sabrina. She was an African American woman, kept office hours until 2 a.m. if that’s what it took to see everyone, and had an additional title: Google In Residence.

“It was an awesome class,” said Alanna who has already chosen her major at the Washington D.C.-based university: computer science.

In ongoing efforts to diversify Silicon Valley’s tech sector, Google is embedding engineers at a handful of Historically Black Colleges and Universities where they teach, mentor and advise on curriculum.

Today 35 percent of African Americans receiving computer science degrees come from those schools, but they don’t make their way to Silicon Valley’s top tech firms. Google is typical — about 1 percent of its technical staffers are black.

Last year a push by civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson prompted several dozen tech firms to release workforce diversity data which showed under-representation of African Americans, Latinos and women in the field.

In response, businesses, universities and community leaders have launched initiatives aimed at diversifying their ranks, both ethnically and by gender. The Anita Borg Institute and the National Center for Women and Information Technology have partnered with many companies to support female engineers.

Facebook offers “Facebook University,” an internship for low income minority college freshmen interested in computer science. Intel has committed $300 million over the next five years toward diversifying its workforce, while Apple has a $50 million partnership with nonprofits to support women and minority computer science majors.

Google decided to go to the source, sending a handful of software engineers to teach at Howard, Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, Fisk University in Nashville, and Spelman and Morehouse colleges in Atlanta.

They taught introductory courses, but they also trained students on everything from how to send a professional email to how to make it through a software engineering job interview, which can involve a lot of time solving coding questions at a white board.

This summer, 30 of those students will be Google interns. And Howard University graduating senior Christopher Hocutt, 21, whose friends jokingly call him Mr. Google, will be starting at the company full-time.

Hocutt said the Google In Residence professors convinced him to apply.

“What they discovered was a lot of people weren’t even applying to Google because we didn’t believe we were skilled enough to do it,” he said. “Once we realized we have the skills, we just needed mentorship to make our resume look good, get through the interview, have confidence to try.”

Google software engineer Sabrina Williams, who took a semester away from her Mountain View campus this year to mentor and teach at Howard, is thrilled to see her student becoming a colleague.

“I’m inspired,” she said. “Change is slow, this is going to take time, but I think what’s interesting about this program is that it’s a different way of attacking the problem of lack of diversity in tech.”

Fifteen years ago, Williams was the only female African American computer science major at Stanford University. “I kind of felt awkward so I kind of hid a lot,” she said. “It was very difficult.”

She said that while “teaching is hard” and the hours at Howard were grueling, she welcomed the opportunity to offer students an experience different from her own. This included taking female computer scientists aside early in the semester, telling them she was available for any questions, and encouraging them to support each other.

Legrand Burge, who chairs Howard University’s computer science department, welcomes the temporary addition of Google engineers to his faculty.

“They’re not academics but they have domain expertise that students could definitely learn a lot from,” he said. “The word got out and it actually got a lot of students interested in computer science who didn’t initially plan to study it.”

Indeed, class sizes have doubled in intro courses. Williams had 70 students in one class; about 250 were taught so far this year by Google engineers at all five schools.

In the 1970s and 80s a similar program partnered the university with AT&T, Bell and Hewlett Packard, Burge said. This time, he said, Google is bringing a disruptive, Silicon Valley mentality to their campus.

“The issue with the East Coast and West Coast ecosystem, is that in the West there’s a fail fast, fail often mentality,” Burge said. “And there’s a disconnect between academia, which does not have that try things out, dare to experiment, fail and learn about why you failed, come back and do better, culture.”

TechNote™: Adobe PDF Tool Is Great, But Casual Users Won’t Need

The Gilmer Free Press

No doubt you’ve run across your share of PDF documents in your work and personal life. Adobe’s Portable Document Format has become a common way to publish newsletters, instruction manuals and even tax forms. Creating your own PDF document is easy, with features built into major Web browsers and Apple’s Mac system, or available through an array of free Windows apps.

So why pay $156 or a more a year for Adobe’s Acrobat DC service? You get those free capabilities in one place, plus features for filling out forms, appending digital signatures and making changes on the go.


The basics

Many people already use Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader for reading documents. But to create documents, you need to pay for Acrobat, or use a free PDF creator from an outside party. Not all PDF creators are the same, though. Some convert text to graphics, for instance, so you’re unable to search documents later. And editing capabilities tend to be limited and cumbersome.

I create a lot of PDF files instead of printing out records. Free tools are typically adequate for that, but Acrobat is much easier for rotating and reordering pages and combining multiple PDF documents into a single file. Acrobat also makes it easy to edit text and convert documents back to their original form, whether that’s in Word or a Web page.

Adobe Systems Inc. also makes an iPad version, though with fewer features. Versions for iPhones, Android and Windows Phone devices have even less. Files you create and edit will sync through Adobe’s Document Cloud storage service. All this comes with Acrobat DC.


Forms and more

My favorite tool is the Fill & Sign app for iPads and Android tablets. Take any form, such as a school permission slip for your kid. You simply snap the form with your tablet’s camera and enhance the image using technology Adobe borrowed from its Photoshop editing software. You can do more than standard cropping. Let’s say you snapped the form on your lap, so the page is curved rather than flat. On the app, you mark where the corners are, and the document magically stretches out so that it looks flat, as though scanned in. Then, you can type text, check boxes and even add your signature.

This can be useful for all the forms I hate filling out and mailing. And for forms that come in electronically, I can skip the printer.

But going paperless isn’t easy. I’m months late in mailing a housing form because I couldn’t find a stamp. Fill & Sign would be great, but there’s no place I could email that form to, nor would a parent necessarily know where to email a permission slip that’s designed to be handed in.

Plus, you can get this app for free. All the subscription does is integrate the feature with others in the package.


Signs and tracks

For small business owners and others who deal with contracts, Adobe offers tools for sending out forms for signing – even to those who don’t have Acrobat. Signers can draw signatures with their mouse or type their names in a signature-like font (It’s not your actual signature, but Adobe says it’s legally binding). Tools help you track who’s already signed which documents. This also leaves a legal audit trail.

Speaking of tracking, another feature keeps track of who’s read or downloaded your document. Your recipients can no longer pretend they didn’t get it. Recipients can’t decline the tracking, which feels creepy, though they are notified if you opt for detailed tracking.


Pricing

The standard subscription starts at $13 a month, with a one-year commitment. A Pro subscription, at $15 a month, gives you additional features, including the ability to compare two versions of a document. If you just want it for a month, though, the subscriptions cost $23 and $25, respectively. You can also buy the Mac or Windows version the traditional way, for a one-time fee that starts at $299 ($139 for upgrades), but you don’t get all of the mobile, storage or tracking features. With the subscription, you can sign in on two PCs at a time, with no limits yet on mobile.

Acrobat DC does a lot, but the price tag will limit its appeal to small businesses and households with lots of forms to fill and sign.

NASA Tests 10-Engine Electric Airplane

HAMPTON, VA—Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center, in Hampton, VA have developed a ten-engine, battery-powered plane that takes off and lands like a helicopter but, once airborne, maneuvers like an airplane.

Last week, engineers successfully tested the remote-controlled plane at a military base a couple hours from the research center.

This week, the technology is being showcased at the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International 2015 conference in Atlanta, Georgia.


The prototype, called the Greased Lightning or GL-10, remains in the design and testing phase, but after a series of test flights the consensus is: so far, so good.

Originally, the idea was to build a hybrid plane, with a combination of diesel and electric engines. But a process of rapid prototyping—in which several smaller versions were lost to hard landings—resulted in the current all-electric plane.

The plane, as it stands, could serve a number or purposes, or it could serve as a model for a larger prototype.

More research is needed to confirm the GL-10’s aerodynamic efficiency. But the latest test flights prove that at the very least that their model is sky-worthy.

Microsoft Delivers Public Preview of Office 2016 for Windows Desktops

The Gilmer Free Press

Microsoft is making available to the public a test build of its Office 2016 desktop suite for Windows desktops.

The new Office 2016 public preview, available for download beginning May 04, is the second public test version of Office 2016. The first preview, delivered in March 2015, was for IT Pros and developers. The new public preview is available to both Office 365 subscribers (with Pro Plus as part of their subscriptions) and non-subscribers—and both home users and enterprise users.

Office 2016 works on Windows 7, 8 and Windows 10 PCs, laptops and tablets. Users must uninstall Office 2013 in order to use the new preview; the two versions cannot run side-by-side. Also worth knowing: Microsoft will be updating the public preview regularly, both before it is made commercially available and beyond.

Microsoft officials reiterated that the Office 2016 suite for Windows desktops will be available in the fall of 2015, the same timing officials had shared previously.

Microsoft also is working on touch-first/Universal versions of its key Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook) for Windows 10 devices that will be available for download via the Windows 10 Store. A second version of those touch-first mobile apps for Windows 10 Mobile are expected to be available for testers early this week.

Microsoft has been testing privately Office 2016 since last year. Testers have said they’ve seen relatively few brand-new features in the coming suite.

Microsoft is playing up the cloud connectivity enhancements to Office 2016 as one of its key selling points. The new Office 2016 suite also will include several enhancements such as document coauthoring, new “Tell Me” navigation support, integration with Power BI, and more lockdown/rights management capabilities.

Update: The coauthoring capability isn’t yet available in preview. Here’s a Microsoft Support article that explains more plainly as to what is in the current Office 2016 preview.

Microsoft officials also announced today at Ignite that the company will be adding its Sway application—a new presentation offering which has been in consumer preview since last year—to its Office 365 Education and Business plan subscribers starting later this month

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