Weekend news roundup: UK puts programming into the GSCEs

18 Jun 2012

This weekend it emerged that the UK is taking the unprecedented step of putting the coding of game and web apps into its GCSEs; the move should send a warning shot across the bows of dallying Irish civil servants. Also, it’s a dog’s life in Silicon Valley.

UK to put coding into GSCEs

In a move that should be noted by the educational decision makers in Ireland, The Telegraph reported that in the UK a new GCSE in computer science will focus on programming.

The new qualification comes in the wake of comments by Google chairman Eric Schmidt in a MacTaggart lecture last August. Schmidt said Britain was “throwing away its computer heritage,” a reference to early British pioneers in the field, such as Alan Turing.

“Eric Schmidt’s comments were very much in line with our thinking,” said Stuart Gilbertson, subject manager for AQA’s new GCSE. “We’d been developing the new GCSE since the end of 2010.”

Gilbertson said AQA had begun developing the new GCSE after receiving feedback from teachers, the British Computer Society and grassroots organisation Computing at School on the existing GCSE in ICT. The exam board also sought advice from Microsoft, which employs more than 2,500 people in the UK.

The computer science GCSE will focus on large programming projects, such as games and web apps, rather than the focus on using existing software in the present ICT qualification.

Don’t get flamed, just don’t connect

The Observer‘s John Naughton wrote how the Flame virus has changed everything for online security firms. The Flame virus went undetected for two years by every online security firm. Now they need to find a new way to protect the world’s PCs from malware.

“Here’s a question: if you connect an unprotected Windows computer to the internet, how long will it take before it is infected by malicious software? The answer is: much more quickly than most lay users think. In 2003, the average time was 40 minutes.

“A year later it was 20 minutes. By 2008, an unpatched computer running Microsoft Windows XP could only expect five to 16 minutes of freedom. The Internet Storm Centre (ISC) provides a useful chart of what it calls ‘survival time’ for Windows machines. It suggests that a PC currently can expect between 40 and 200 minutes of freedom before an automated probe reaches it to determine whether it can be penetrated.

“The numbers for other operating systems (such as Unix and Linux) are better (from 400 to 1,400 minutes), but the moral is the same: the only way to have an absolutely secure computer is not to connect it to the net,” Naughton said.

Is Facebook facing a talent drain?

The New York Times reported on Facebook’s CTO Bret Taylor announcing Friday afternoon he was leaving the company to start his own. It was the first major exit of a Facebook executive since its public offering nearly a month ago and signals a recurrent challenge in Silicon Valley: How to retain talent after the company goes public and employee shareholders make their millions.

According to The New York Times, Taylor has been through the cycle once before. He left Google after that company went public in 2004 and created his own social networking start-up while in residence at the Benchmark venture capital firm. He went to Facebook when it acquired his start-up, FriendFeed, in 2009.

Taylor has supervised some of Facebook’s newest and most important products, including the creation of the Open Graph that application developers can use, along with the most recent rollout of the App Center and its integration with the Apple App Store.

Every dog has its day

According to The San Jose Mercury News, it’s a dog’s life in Silicon Valley. Zynga’s got its “barking lot” just outside the main lobby in San Francisco. Amazon offers dog biscuits at the receptionist’s desk and dog-friendly water fountains around its Seattle campus.

And dozens of companies in the Bay Area and beyond are listed on dog-friendly websites in case you – and your four-legged companion – want to check out the amenities offered by your prospective employers.

Next Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day, and millions of pets are expected to show up at workplaces around the United States. But for many companies, notably high-tech firms in Silicon Valley, well, every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day.

“We’ve got hundreds of dogs at Google everyday,” said spokesman Jordan Newman. “We’ve allowed dogs to come to work since the early days because we find having your dog with you can make people more comfortable and thus more productive. Plus, it’s tough owning a dog and having it sit at home all day.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years