Sugata Mitra TED Prize update: Preview the School in the Cloud documentary — and a new web platform for learning


School in the Cloud

TED Blog

By Natasha Scripture

Sugata Mitra thinks big. At last year’s TED, he unveiled his dream to transform primary education. Instead of a teacher, a chalkboard and a generic curriculum, the recipient of the 2013 TED Prize asked us to imagine an environment that empowered children to learn on their own, with the guidance of virtual mentors. [ted_talkteaser id=1678]It involved nothing more than a few computers, an Internet connection and a bunch of curious minds. He called this utopian world School in the Cloud, a Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE), or simply put, a place where children could tap into their innate sense of wonder by connecting with information online.

A year later, Mitra returned to the TED stage to give an update. He has opened five learning labs — three in India and two in the UK — with two more slated to open in May. Mitra is also the…

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Introducing Helpouts: Help when you need it over live video


What if getting help for a computer glitch, a leaky pipe, or a homework problem was as easy as clicking a button? What if you could connect via real-time video to a music teacher or a yoga instructor from the comfort of your home? What if you could get someone knowledgeable to get you “unstuck” when you really need it?

Today, we’re announcing Helpouts—a new way to get and give help over live video. Our goal is simple: help people help each other. We want to use the convenience and efficiency of the web to enable everyone, no matter where they are or what time it is, to easily connect with someone who can help.

Help might be a quick answer to a problem you’re having right now, like how to fix your garage door, or how to remove a computer virus; or it might be guidance completing a project, like building a deck. It might be learning a new skill, like how to speak conversational French or how to draw cartoons; or it might be general advice on how to improve your fitness or your writing (I could use this right now).

With Helpouts, you can choose who you get help from based on their qualifications, their availability, their price, their ratings and reviews. You can connect instantly or book in advance. You can get help from individuals or from brands you already know and trust, like Sephora, One Medical, Weight Watchers, Redbeacon (a Home Depot company), and Rosetta Stone. Once you’re in a Helpout, you can do more than just talk—you can share your computer screen, collaboratively edit a presentation, or record your Helpout. And if the experience doesn’t meet your expectations, we offer a full money back guarantee.

Today is just the beginning. We’re starting small and in a few categories. The number of people giving help on Helpouts and the type of help available will grow over time. Helpouts may not be suitable for every occasion, and it will take time to get used to interactions via real time video. We hope that the efficiency, convenience and global reach of Helpouts will make people’s lives easier in the long term.

We hope you’ll give Helpouts a try and give us your feedback through ratings and reviews, or talk to us on Google+, Twitter or Facebook. And if you’re interested in giving help on Helpouts yourself, let us know.

Granify Raises $1.5 Million To Help Drive E-Commerce Transactions With Big Data


While more and more people are doing their shopping online, converting them from virtual window shoppers to actual customers can be incredibly hard. Typical e-commerce conversion rates can be surprisingly low, but a startup called Granify believes that it can help increase conversions by using big data to step in just as potential customers are about to drop off and keep them on site, maybe even convince them to make a purchase.

Granify offers a software-as-a-service platform that uses big data and machine learning to identify the points in an e-commerce transaction where users are most likely to convert, and conversely, when they’re ready to walk away from a transaction. By examining bazillions of data points, the company can determine with a fair amount of accuracy when each of those things will occur.

But more than just providing analytics to e-commerce companies, it actually works in real time to keep users shopping. It does this by offering up contextually relevant messages, depending on the situation, which might urge the customer to stick around or actually make a purchase.

The most obvious example is offering up free shipping for someone who already has an item in their cart, when the system determines that they might not actually click “Buy.” But surprisingly, it’s not always about offering financial incentives to those browsing — and let’s be clear, e-commerce companies could lose a lot of money by offering free shipping to folks who were probably gonna buy anyway. Sometimes, it’s as easy as reminding potential buyers that the e-commerce provider has an excellent return policy, or that proceeds from your purchase support a charity.

Granify is currently processing more than 5.3 billion data points a month. And it’s doing that by seamlessly integrating with e-commerce stores, and works on a pay-per-performance basis. So hey, it’s gotta work if Granify expects to get paid.

Anyway, to continue growing, the company recently received $1.5 million in seed funding from a group of investors that includes Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Klass Capital, iNovia Capital, BDC, Extreme Startups, Social Starts, Jared Kopf, Jerry Neumann, Giordano Contestabile, Tom O’Connell, Adam Caplan, Nick Koudas, Nilesh Bansal, Jamie McDonald, and Jonathan James.

AWS Updates Its Elastic MapReduce Console For Exploring Large Amounts Of Data


Amazon Web Services (AWS) has updated its Elastic MapReduce console, making it easier to manage large amounts of data.

The update centers on providing better usability and access to new features that include resizing a cluster by adding or removing instances; cloning a cluster; running Hadoop 2; and targeting a specific availability zone.

The EMR console to configure clusters is now on one page:

aws console

A developer can choose between multiple versions of Hadoop and MapR:


The cluster list has also been improved:

console_emr_cluster_list_1 (1)

AWS is notorious for its complexity and usability. The model is to provide the bare minimum and let the user add AWS or third-party services for their deployments. But with the acceptance of cloud computing from the overall market, there comes a higher bar for the way a service is presented.

“The new Elastic MapReduce console is a great step forward towards better usability, an area where AWS has struggled in the past,” said Jeff Martens, co-founder and CEO at CPUsage in an email interview with me today. CPUsage is a platform as a service that launched at TechCrunch Disrupt. “Kudos to the team in Seattle. I hope this is a sign of more to come, especially for some of the other products in their siloed eco-system which desperately need UI and UX improvements.”

AWS executives made a point last year at AWS re:Invent of stressing their commitment to the enterprise market. That’s a challenge for AWS as competing providers like Google offer managed services that abstract the complexity that comes with using cloud services.


AWS Updates Big Data Analytics Platform With New Support For Hadoop And Its Ecosystem


Amazon Web Services (AWS) has updated its Elastic Map Reduce platform with a new version of Hadoop and updated support for its data analytics ecosystem.

Elastic Map Reduce is AWS platform for processing large amounts of data. But unlike many vendors, AWS offers a hosted service. The challenge for AWS is to keep Hadoop and its accompanying ecosystem updated and in pace with the latest open-source platforms.

In this latest update, AWS updated to Hadoop 2.2 and new versions of Hive, Pig, HBase, and Mahout, all accompanying technologies for Hadoop.  In a blog post, AWS states that it cluster startup times have been reduced, the ability to augment data has been augmented and mapper M7 is now supported. MapR M7 is a premium offering for HBase, the NoSQL database built for Hadoop.

The update to Elastic Map Reduce also includes supports for YARN, the next generation Hadoop MapReduce architecture.

This is a major update for AWS. it’s as much about Hadoop as it is about the ecosystem that has come so far in the past few years. Hadoop is a file-based system that need HBase for a database. Pig an analytics platform that is often used for ETL (Extract / Transform / Load) processing and Mahout is a machine-learning library.

AWS has increasing support for its analytics technology. That’s illustrated in the news last week that business intelligence provider Jaspersoft now supports Elastic Map Reduce. The company has a history with AWS, boasting 500 customers that use its service available on the AWS Marketplace.

Amazon Launches New EC2 GPU Instances For High-Performance 3D Graphics In The Cloud


Amazon today launched a new type of instance for its EC2 cloud computing platform that is specifically designed for applications that require 3D graphics capabilities. When you think about cloud computing, high-performance 3D graphics are probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but given how much compute power that 3D visualizations and streaming graphics-intensive applications require, this new instance type is a logical next step for AWS.

Using these new instances, Amazon argues, its users can now “build high-performance DirectX, OpenGL, CUDA, and OpenCL applications and services without making expensive up-front capital investments.”

Amazon is making two of these new GPU instance types available for now. The g2.2xlarge version comes with 15 GiB memory, 60 GB of local storage, 26 EC2 Compute Units (that’s an Intel Sandy Bridge processor running at 2.6 GHz) and a single NVIDIA Kepler GK104 graphics card (with 1536 CUDA cores). The larger cg1.4xlarge version comes with 22 GiB of memory, 1690 GB of local storage, 33.5 EC2 Compute Units and two NVIDIA Tesla “Fermi” M2050 GPUs. On-demand prices start at $0.65 per hour for the smaller instance and $2.10 for the larger one.

A single GPU, Amazon argues, can support up to eight real-time 720p video streams at 30fps (or four 1080p streams).

These new instances are now available in Amazon’s U.S. East, West (California and Oregon) and EU (Ireland) data centers, and Amazon is making machine images with support for these instance types available, too.

“Since we launched Cluster GPU instances two years ago, many customers have asked for expanded functionality to extend the power of our GPU instances beyond HPC applications to  graphics-intensive workloads, such as video-creation services, 3D visualizations and game streaming,” said Matt Garman, Vice President, Amazon EC2, AWS in a statement today. “By enabling the use of DirectX and OpenGL, G2 instances allow developers to cost-effectively build scalable, fast 3D applications on Amazon EC2 and deliver high-performance 3D graphics using the cloud.”

Amazon also supports OTOY’s ORBX.js on these GPU instances. This is a downloadable HD codec written in JavaScript and WebGL that allows you to stream 3D-intensive applications right from the cloud without the need for any plug-ins, codecs or other client-side software except for the browser. This project is backed by Mozilla, Autodesk and OTOY. This means, Mozilla notes in an announcement today, that “Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers will be able to use the power of graphics processing in the Cloud and OTOY’s ORBX.js streaming technology to deliver high performance games and desktop applications to the Web – using only HTML5 and JavaScript.”

Autodesk, for example, will use this technology to make applications like 3DS Max, Autodesk Maya and Autodesk Inventor available through any modern web browser. OTOY also today demonstrated apps like Photoshop CS6 and games from Valve running in the browser using ORBX.js. OTOY has already published a number of ORBX.js-enabled machine images for EC2, including one for Autodesk’s applications.

Amazon also announced that Playcast Media will use its new g2 instances to stream video games soon and that Agawi True Cloud will use it to stream games and apps to mobile devices.