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Summer school is a drag, so enroll your kids in Microsoft’s Summer Camps

microsoft store stem summer camps 2018
Microsoft

If you want your kids to be more productive this summer, rather than wasting it on mindless TV or video games, drop them off at your local Microsoft Store. Not only would you get a few hours of “me time,” but your kids will pick up some new computing skills that they can apply to their careers in the future. The five free Microsoft Store YouthSpark Summer Camps, taking place from late May until August inside all Microsoft Store location in the United States, will focus on coding, robotics, 3D and mixed-reality moviemaking, and philanthropy. Parents can sign their kids up via the Microsoft Store website.

Designed for kids ages eight and older, the STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses last from one to four sessions, depending on the activity, and each session takes two hours. Each course is led by Microsoft Store employees, with easy-to-understand curriculum developed by Microsoft product engineers, and using Microsoft hardware like Surface tablet computers. The availability and class sizes will be determined by the size of the store.

One course destined to be a hit is Minecraft Coding. Using Microsoft MakeCode, the students learn about game design and how it is coded, and, in turn, then use their newfound knowledge to create their own programming. The course consists of four two-hour sessions, and while the training can get pretty deep by the end of the course, Microsoft said kids do not need to have any prior coding knowledge.

microsoft store stem summer camps 2018 minecraft

But if you want to start your kids on the basics, sign them up for Beginners Fun with Computing and Coding, a partnership with Code.org. This introductory, two-hour one-day course is actually for children between the ages of six and eight, and it guides them to think like a computer when it comes to coding.

A slightly more advanced coding class is Code a Talking Robot with Ohbot. For this course, Microsoft partnered with Ohbot, a company that makes educational robots, to teach kids how to code for a robot with seven motorized expressions that moves and talks, using a graphical programming language that’s based on MIT Scratch. In addition, the lesson teaches how to solve problems in software. The course is made is up two two-hour sessions.

microsoft store stem summer camps 2018 ohbot

If your child is more of a creative type, Make Your Own Movie with 3D and Mixed Reality teaches how to create a movie, from beginning to end. The course, which takes place over four two-hour sessions, also introduces students to 3D drawing and how to integrate digital elements within footage, and Microsoft’s Mixed Reality technology.

The fifth option teaches kids how to use technology to raise awareness for causes that interest them. Called Create a Difference in Your World, students learn about fundraising, volunteering, holding community events, and other skills related to humanitarian work, in the four two-hour sessions. The focus here is more on life skills than technical abilities, but kids learn how to use technology to further their goals.

At the end of each camp, the students present to their friends and family what they have learned and created. It is hoped that each student would continue to grow his or her skills. Ohbot, for example, offers a free app that students can use at home.

Microsoft gave us a tour of the five camps, which a few are already being held at various Microsoft Store locations. It’s evident that there are serious skills to be learned, but it all revolves around fun. None of the courses are particularly difficult to grasp, but they can become very complex, particularly with the robot coding we saw. While there is the expected but unspoken push of Microsoft products, nearly all the lessons are universal and can be applied to non-Microsoft gear.

Editors’ Recommendations

DxO Labs files for bankruptcy in France, according to legal notice

Is the company behind the DxO One in trouble? According to a translated bulletin from a French newspaper, DxO Labs has filed for bankruptcy in France. The legal notice says that the company filed for bankruptcy on January 15, with a judge opening the proceedings on March 16.

The company hasn’t yet released any official statements on the legal filings, leaving the company’s future unclear. The company did not respond to requests for comment on the legal report. Other reports suggest that the company is reorganizing, but that the company isn’t in liquidation and that customers won’t be affected. With only the translated legal report and unofficial reports, exactly what the bankruptcy means is left up to speculation, however, French law could still allow the company to recover from the bankruptcy.

DxO Labs is no longer the same company as DxO Mark — DxO Mark became an independent company in the fall of 2017. DxO Mark is the company responsible for testing and ranking cameras. DxO Labs is the company behind the DxO One smartphone connected camera as well as the several different software programs.

The DxO One is the company’s only camera on the market currently and while the camera has seen several firmware updates to add new features, the camera will turn three this summer. DxO Lab’s camera launched as a camera controlled with an iPhone, but last fall, the company announced an early access program for a version of the camera with a USB C connection for Android. 

The company’s RAW photo editor is the DxO PhotoLab software. DxO Labs also acquired the Nik Collection after Google discontinued the popular photo plugins; the company’s website still states that a new version is planned for sometime during 2018. DxO Labs also offers the DxO Filmpack, a Mac and PC program for adding film-like effects, and DxO Viewpoint, a Mac and PC program designed specifically for correcting perspective distortion.

The company claims more than 400 million devices use technology created by DxO, with 80 million images edited by the company’s software every year.

DxO Labs has headquarters in Paris, but also has offices in San Fransisco, Tokyo, and Seoul, according to the company’s website. The company has 113 employees.

Editors’ Recommendations

Honesty Proves Best Policy for Closing B2B Deals: Study

Vendors have a better shot at closing deals for large-scale B2B software purchases when they are upfront and honest about the quality of their products, a new study from TrustRadius suggests.

There is a bit of a trust gap between what is promised in negotiations for these deals and what actually is provided, indicates the poll of more than 650 technology vendors and buyers — including many that spend more than US$50,000 on B2B software deals.

Eighty-five percent of participating vendors claimed to be upfront about the limitations of their products, while only 37 percent of customers said the vendors met their expectations for honesty.

“This is especially troubling when you think about the scale of these purchases,” said Julie Neumann, director of content at TrustRadius. “Twenty-three percent of buyers reported spending over $100,000 per year on their solution, and several said picking the wrong software could put their jobs at risk.”

Trust but Verify

A large percentage of buyers said they trusted their colleagues and peers when making a purchase decision, the study found. However, relying on that group alone often can be too limiting, and additional input from outside sources is required.

Peer reviews rose from the fifth most-popular information source in a year-ago TrustRadius survey to the second most-popular in the latest study, which was released last week.

Only 23 percent of respondents said that a vendor was highly influential in determining their buying decision, and those vendors were twice as likely to embrace authenticity than others. Among buyers who said they worked with a very influential vendor, 56 percent of them said the vendor was very upfront about the limitations of its product.

Demographics are an important consideration, the report also noted, with millennials being very influential. Many of the surveyed companies used buying committees, and a majority of the members of those committees were millennials. More than 45 percent of buyers were 25 to 34 years old, while 30 percent were 35-44 years old.

Believe Me Not

“Over the past year, as companies from Equifax to Facebook have squandered whatever legacy of trust they may have earned, concerns with concepts around trust have entered into new areas of business and industry,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“That means in processes and sectors where trust is a critical issue, including B2B software, concerns are even higher than normal — and for good reason,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Trust is a critical component of big-ticket software purchases, according to Gerry Giacoman Colyer, head of growth at Siftery.

“This is true not only because of the expense involved, but also because of the high variance in implementation outcomes,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Getting it right can lead to substantial productivity improvements, while getting it wrong can have costs that go far beyond the cost of the software alone.”

Companies usually require more than just a good sales pitch and third-party review before pulling the trigger on a large-scale B2B purchase, noted Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“When it comes to B2B enterprise purchase influencers, my research shows the initial strategic discussions originate from peer referrals and analyst recommendations,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “Once a shortlist is determined, then buyers look at online reviews and other third-party sources.

Vendors can help themselves by being transparent about the true value of their software and providing relevant customer references in a similar industry and similar sized company, Zhou pointed out. However, buyers need to be aware of the monetization model of the review site they are using, she cautioned, to understand how objective the reviews really are.


David Jones has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2015. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, e-commerce, open source, gaming, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. He has written for numerous media outlets, including Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times. Email David.

ZTE working to solve U.S. component sales ban — and save the company

On Monday, April 16, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a ban on American companies from selling components to China-based company ZTE — known for creating smartphones and other mobile gadgets. The decision came after it was revealed the company allegedly made false statements to U.S. officials. Since then, ZTE has raised concerns about the company’s survival, and has faced further security-related problems in the United Kingdom.

Taking steps

In response to the crisis, ZTE claims it is taking steps to rectify the internal problems which led up to the ban, and a solution to the problem. In a statement given to the Hong Kong Stock exchange, ZTE said it has, “taken steps and is taking steps to comply with the denial order. The company is making active communications with relevant parties and seeking a solution.”

The actions include a committee focusing in compliance, which is overseen by ZTE’s CEO and experts in the matter, along with additional training for staff. ZTE said it has learned from, “past experiences on export control compliance.”

Export violation

The ban imposed on ZTE by the Department of Commerce makes it illegal for U.S. companies to sell any products and services to the company; but how did it reach this stage?

Last year, ZTE agreed to settle with the United States government for $892 million for violating laws that prohibit the sale of American technology to Iran and North Korea. Between 2010 and 2016, the company shipped $32 million worth of equipment to Iran that included U.S. components without authorization. The Chinese mobile giant then lied to investigators when it declared the dealings had stopped.

In addition to the fine, the company was subject to a seven-year, $300 million suspended penalty if the company violated the settlement. Not only did ZTE agree to participate in routine monitoring and auditing, but it was also placed on a list of companies U.S. suppliers are banned from doing business with unless there is government approval.

Upon pleading guilty to conspiracy to unlawful export, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators, it appeared ZTE was committed to making a positive change. In a statement released amid the events, ZTE’s Chief Export Compliance Officer — U.S.-based lawyer Matt Bell — expressed the company would restructure its legal department as well as institute new policies, training, and automated tools to keep up with regulations.

False statements

Part of the agreement included letting go of four of its senior employees and disciplining 35 others by reducing their bonuses or reprimanding them, Reuters notes. But according to the Department of Commerce, ZTE rewarded its employees for illegal conduct instead.

While the company admitted it fired its four employees, it did not disclose that the rest of its staff received full bonuses rather than letters of reprimand. The company’s false statements were reported to the U.S. government after the Bureau of Industry and Security requested documentation showing proof that employee discipline had occurred.

The Department of Commerce determined ZTE made false statements to the Bureau of Industry and Security specifically in 2016 and 2017. The statements had been in relation to disciplinary actions the company claimed it had taken or was planning on taking toward its senior employees.

“ZTE made false statements to the U.S. Government when they were originally caught and put on the Entity List, made false statements during the reprieve it was given, and made false statements again during its probation,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

Updated on April 23: Added in news of ZTE’s efforts to change sales ban.

Editors’ Recommendations

How this AI platform is taking over the business world

Despite the pop culture fiction that artificial intelligence is a far-away puzzle just waiting to be unlocked, the truth is that AI is already a tool that most use often, some of us even every day. 

Just think about it: every time you stop to ask Siri or Google Home or any of our friendly neighborhood pocket assistants for directions or help finding the nearest coffee spot, you’re interfacing with an elegant example of easy-to-use AI. 

For businesses, using chatbots as the first line of defence against customer complaints is now common, providing a handy way to triage queries and customer needs. Again, AI is already an efficient solution to an everyday problem. And while it’s easy to imagine moments where the lives of everyday people intersect with artificial intelligence, and even find examples of our interactions with AI within smaller businesses, for global enterprises the reality of large-scale AI has yet to unfold. 

Enter Genpact. This global professional services firm looks to do just that: leverage artificial intelligence, at potentially massive scale, to ultimately bring us closer to making that future a reality. In this effort they’ve unveiled Genpact Cora, an interconnected platform of best-in-class technologies that span from robotic automation to advanced data visualization to artificial intelligence.  

What global business hasn’t dreamed of a future where artificial intelligence can realistically help solve challenges, at a scale? Just think about it: in the same way that we use virtual assistants in our daily lives to help us navigate a busy schedule or find quick solutions to our everyday problems, there could be tech just on the horizon that helps businesses operate more smoothly, in much the same ways. 

There’s a key difference between Genpact Cora and the helpful virtual assistant in your pocket, however. Nitin Bhat, Senior Vice President at Genpact, explains that because Cora is built on AI and other advanced technologies, it can learn and prescribe what actions are needed for business clients to improve their processes and improve their competitive position in the market.

The implications of this are huge. For businesses eager to bring AI into the fold, it’s not about flashy new products and dazzling tech, but more importantly about using those tools work harder to meet businesses’ goals and prove out the value inherent to the tech itself. 

While AI continues to fundamentally change the way businesses at the enterprise level engage with both customers and other businesses, the truth is that it is largely an unmet need. Genpact estimates that more than 70 percent of enterprise processes can be can be automated, for example, by robotic process automation or through machine learning and intelligent automation. 

More than 70 percent of enterprise processes can be can be automated.

While this type of technology is readily available, adoption depends a lot on a company’s culture and DNA. So many functions may be ready for AI-driven automation, while others would benefit more greatly from robotic automation, for example. 

“With the explosion of new digital technologies and solution options, leaders are struggling to determine how to best exploit these disruptive digital innovations in a pragmatic, industrialized (at scale) and risk-mitigated manner,” Bhat says. Just like with the virtual assistants we use in our daily lives, businesses too must rely on the harmony between machine and humans to ensure that things run smoothly. 

 “Math, science and data analytics will still have a huge role to play, but as machines do more of that work, it will have little value without the human connection of creativity, emotion, judgment, and relationships,” Bhat says. Ultimately, a command and control center that is led by humans and powered by AI can reduce risk of possible errors in how these tools are used. 

There’s still so much remaining to be discovered in the future of AI, but Genpact believes it is on the cutting edge of the industry, being the first to combine automation, analytics, and AI engines in one platform that is designed to bring humans and machine together. As with many new tech tools, there’s still a lot of hype and unrealistic expectations of what the technologies can do, but AI adoption at the large-scale enterprise level is now more real than ever, and Genpact is leading the charge in that effort. 

“Digitization, AI, and other emerging technologies are forcing companies to refresh the way they serve their customers. Just like what we’re seeing in the Twitter universe with real time, the most successful companies are the ones who adjust their strategies in real time to reflect current needs and upcoming trends,” Bhat says. 

Find out more about the implications of AI and Genpact Cora here.

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