Weekend news roundup

14 Nov 2011

Some of the top tech stories from the weekend newspapers, including Apple’s courting of educators to unleash the next education revolution, Peter Thiel’s interest in healthcare information and Google’s Street View heads indoors.

Putting an Apple on the teacher’s desk

Apple is working hard to woo teachers over to its vision of the future of education, according to The San Jose Mercury News.

Three times over the past two years, school officials from Little Falls, Minnesota, have escaped the winter cold for two-day trips to Silicon Valley. Their destination: the headquarters of Apple.

In visits the officials described as inspirational, they checked out the company’s latest gadgets, discussed the instructional value of computers with high-level Apple executives and engineers, and dined with them and other educators at trendy restaurants. Apple paid for meals and their stays at a nearby inn.

The visits paid off for Apple, too – to the tune of US$1.2m in sales. In September, Little Falls handed out iPads to 1,700 of its 2,500 students at a celebration in the school gym. And a few days earlier, 200 teachers got a pep talk via video chat from an Apple executive whom the school superintendent had come to know during his company visits.

“Both my visits there have been extraordinary,” said Curt Tryggestad, superintendent of the Little Falls Community Schools, who visited Cupertino, California, in 2010 and this year. “I was truly amazed to sit in a room with Apple vice-presidents, people who were second in command to Steve Jobs.”

Keano’s return on investment from Avatar

James Cameron’s Oscar-winning sci-fi 3D classic Avatar was part-bankrolled by Irish soccer ace Robbie Keane, The Sunday Independent revealed.

While the euro may be threatening to implode, Irish footballers are still making a fortune through some extraordinary investments in Hollywood blockbusters.

Republic of Ireland captain Keane – who scored two goals in Ireland’s 4-0 play-off win against Estonia on Friday – has emerged as a backer of massively successful Hollywood movies such as Avatar, X-Men, Rise of Planet of the Apes, Night at the Museum and A-Team.

The personal finances of top Irish Premiership footballers are closely guarded from prying eyes by phalanxes of advisers and complex corporate structures. However, The Sunday Independent can reveal Keane’s involvement in a number of lucrative film finance partnerships over the past seven years. Keane – thought to be Ireland’s richest footballer – is not the only member of the national squad to have made hay from backing successful Hollywood movies. John O’Shea, the former Manchester United defender who has 70 caps for Ireland, and Kevin Kilbane are also involved in bankrolling Hollywood’s blockbusters.

Where no cars go

Google Street View has gone off-road, according to USA Today. The newspaper reported that Google Street View will now include scenes from inside art galleries, museums and zoos from 22 countries worldwide.

“So many of the most interesting spots in the world, cars can’t go,” says Google staff mechanical engineer Daniel Ratner. “But they’re places that people want to see.”

So Ratner and his team developed a tricycle to capture images in places with a tighter fit.

Google Street View made its biggest dump yet last week of imagery captured by Street View trikes, adding a couple hundred locations in 22 countries.

The Detroit Zoo and Oakland University are among those now online.

Google Maps visitors can also now tour landmarks, such as the High Line park in Manhattan, a former freight train track which sits 30 feet above the streets.

Peter Thiel to focus on digital health opportunity

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that top Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel is investing in a new start-up that has the potential to be the next Salesforce.com for doctors.

Thiel, an early investor in Facebook, believes the US’ inefficient healthcare system is a problem Silicon Valley technologists and data scientists are well positioned to solve.

“It is my view that the healthcare system could be dramatically better,” he told a doctors’ conference on Friday. “The intersection of computer science and information technology in healthcare, and some kind of automation, has to be the obvious next step.”

Thiel is investing in Practice Fusion, a San Francisco start-up that builds web-based electronic medical records software to organise the US’ health information.

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