March 8, 2021

Novelties: New Technologies Aim to Foil Online Course Cheating

But when those students take the final exam in calculus or genetics, how will their professors know that the test-takers on their distant laptops are doing their own work, and not asking Mr. Google for help?

The issue of online cheating concerns many educators, particularly as more students take MOOCs for college credit, and not just for personal enrichment. Already, five classes from Coursera, a major MOOC provider, offer the possibility of credit, and many more are expected.

One option is for students to travel to regional testing centers at exam time. But reaching such centers is next to impossible for many students, whether working adults who can’t take time off to travel, or others in far-flung places who can’t afford the trip.

But now eavesdropping technologies worthy of the C.I.A. can remotely track every mouse click and keystroke of test-taking students. Squads of eagle-eyed humans at computers can monitor faraway students via webcams, screen sharing and high-speed Internet connections, checking out their photo IDs, signatures and even their typing styles to be sure the test-taker is the student who registered for the class.

The developing technology for remote proctoring may end up being as good — or even better — than the live proctoring at bricks-and-mortar universities, said Douglas H. Fisher, a computer science and computer engineering professor at Vanderbilt University who was co-chairman of a recent workshop that included MOOC-related topics. “Having a camera watch you, and software keep track of your mouse clicks, that does smack of Big Brother,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem any worse than an instructor at the front constantly looking at you, and it may even be more efficient.”

Employees at ProctorU, a company that offers remote proctoring, watch test-takers by using screen sharing and webcam feeds at offices in Alabama and California. ProctorU recently signed an agreement to proctor new credit-bearing MOOCs from Coursera, including one in genetics and evolution offered at Duke and one in single-variable calculus at the University of Pennsylvania.

MOOC students who want to obtain credit will be charged a remote-proctoring fee of $60 to $90, depending on the class, said Dr. Andrew Ng, co-founder of Coursera, based in Mountain View, Calif.

Other remote proctoring services offer different solutions. At Software Secure in Newton, Mass., test-takers are recorded by camera and then, later, three proctors independently watch a faster-speed video of each student.

Compared with services where proctors are monitoring students in real time, this combination of recording first and viewing later “gives greater latitude for the institution to adjust the timing of exams to whenever they want,” said Allison Sands, Software Secure’s director of marketing. The cost is now $15 per exam.

Employees at ProctorU say they are well-versed in the sometimes ingenious tactics used to dodge testing rules. “We’ve seen it all,” said Matt Jaeh, vice president for operations. “After you’ve sat there a while watching people, the patterns of behavior for normal people versus the people trying to sneak in a cellphone to look up information are very clear.”

Each proctor can monitor up to six students at a time, watching three side-by-side camera feeds on each of two screens. If a student’s eyes start to wander, the proctor gives a warning via videoconferencing software, just as a classroom monitor might tell students to keep their eyes on their own papers. For an overwhelming majority of people, that warning suffices, said Jarrod Morgan, a co-founder.

With the system in place, “cheating usually isn’t a problem,” he said. But if it does occur, ProctorU follows the rules of the institution giving the exam. “Some schools ask us to cut off the exam on the spot if there’s a suspicious incident,” he said; others ask that the exam be continued and the incident reported.

Beyond the issue of proctoring, MOOCs are also addressing the problem of making sure that credit-seeking test-takers are the same students who enrolled in the course. In that effort, Coursera is offering a separate service, called Signature Track and costing $30 to $99, that confirms students’ identity by matching webcam photographs as well as pictures of acceptable photo IDs.

Students also type a short phrase, which is analyzed by a software program. It takes note of the typing rhythm and other characteristics, like how long the keys are pressed down. Then, when a student submits homework or takes a test, the algorithm compares a bit of new typing with the original sample. (And if you’ve broken your arm, there’s always your photo ID.)

Online classes are hardly new, but earlier courses typically didn’t have to handle exam proctoring on the scale required for vast MOOCs. The University of Florida in Gainesville, for example, has long offered many programs for students studying far from the campus, with some monitoring done by ProctorU, said W. Andrew McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology.

Now the school has set up its first MOOC, on human nutrition (enrollment 47,000), and is working on four others, all through Coursera. The question of proctoring is being debated, he said, as faculty members worry about academic integrity amid the growth of open, online classes. “They don’t want any fooling around,” he said. “But as we get more experience and evidence, the faculty are getting familiar with ways technology can replicate a classroom experience.”

E-mail: novelties@nytimes.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/technology/new-technologies-aim-to-foil-online-course-cheating.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Wealth Matters: ‘Buffett Rule’ Is More Complicated Than Politics Suggest

Wealthy investors and their advisers pondered these questions this week, after President Obama included the “Buffett Rule” in the budget plan he sent to Congress. The rule stipulates that people who make more than $1 million a year should pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-class Americans.

The prospects of the rule ever becoming law are poor — there is strong opposition to it among Republicans in Congress. But some variation is possible. And that prompted David Scott Sloan, co-chairman of private wealth services at the law firm Holland Knight, to spend his lunch hour earlier this week trying to calculate how much Mr. Buffett’s secretary would have to make to pay a higher percentage of her income than one of the richest men in the world. Assistants to high-powered financiers often make six-figure salaries, which put them in a top tax bracket (and presumably out of the middle class).

But Mr. Sloan gave up. “It’s so nonsensical,” he said. “It’s not rich, poor. It’s source of income.”

As Mr. Buffett explained last month, “What I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office.” His income comes mostly from his investments, which are taxed at the capital gains rate of 15 percent. His secretary is most likely paid a salary and bonus, which would be taxed as ordinary income, at a rate that goes as high as 35 percent.

Yet behind the entertaining political theater, some complicated tax questions are being raised. Here is a look at a few.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS The number of people who fall under the Buffett Rule is quite small, only about 60,000 people. And the amount of revenue that would be generated over the next 10 years from raising their taxes is equally small — just $13 billion over the next decade, if people like private equity, venture capital and hedge fund managers, who receive the bulk of their income from investments, were taxed at the ordinary income tax rate instead of the capital gains rate of 15 percent.

But the president’s plan also has several unintended consequences for people who make far less than $1 million a year. Interest on municipal bonds, for instance, is now tax-free. Under the president’s proposal, only taxpayers who pay an income tax rate of 28 percent or less would continue to get the tax exemption.

Limiting the deduction would surely raise the cost of borrowing for municipalities, a cost that would presumably be passed on to city and state taxpayers. It might also limit the number of people interested in municipal bonds.

Chris Ryon, managing director at Thornburg Investment Management, which manages $6.7 billion in municipal bonds, said he took consolation in knowing that owners of municipal bonds were split fairly evenly between people who made more than $200,000 — the cutoff for higher taxes — and those who made less.

But given how poorly the municipal bond market has performed recently, he said, Mr. Obama’s plan only added “more uncertainty to a market that doesn’t need it.”

Still unknown, too, is what the repeal of the Bush tax cuts would mean for the tax on dividends. That tax is set to rise in 2013 to the ordinary income rate, from the capital gains rate of 15 percent. But assets like stocks that pay dividends are not owned only by the rich. In fact, they have recently become an alternative to low-yielding Treasury bonds for people who need income in their portfolio.

“The vast majority of my clients are retired and living on a fixed income,” said Drew Kanaly, chairman and chief executive of Kanaly Trust in Houston. “If you raise taxes on dividends and capital gains, my clients’ income goes down.”

BUSINESS IMPACT Both political parties like to claim they look after the interests of small-business owners, but what will higher taxes mean to that group?

In reality, most business owners are more focused on how to make their businesses grow than on what Washington is doing. “My belief is I can double my income faster than Obama can confiscate it,” said Mark Matson, whose firm Matson Money manages $2.9 billion. “I think people become negative too fast.”

But higher taxes might dissuade serial entrepreneurs from starting another company. Leslie Quick III was the fourth employee at his father’s discount brokerage, Quick Reilly, which was sold in 1997 for $1.6 billion, with the family’s stake valued at $680 million.

He said 85 percent of the stock he owned had a basis of zero, so basically its entire value was subject to capital gains. But Mr. Quick, who described himself as a centrist Republican, said he and his new partner spent $2 million of their own money to start Massey Quick, a wealth manager and investment adviser — something they might not have done if tax rates were higher.

“If income taxes were at 50 percent and capital gains rates were back to the 1960s, I might have wanted to think about how I’d risk money,” he said. The capital gains tax rose to 39.9 percent in the late 1970s from 25 percent in 1967. “We’re nowhere close to that now, but if you don’t get your arms around spending in Washington, that’s where I fear we’ll end up.”

Increased capital gains taxes could also affect people who have owned assets for a long time. The capital gains rate is set to increase to 20 percent in 2013. At the same time, a new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income is being added.

Advisers say that the current Washington back and forth has led clients with appreciated stock or long-held real estate to consider selling the assets and paying the lower tax. But the decision is more complicated for small-business owners.

“In many ways, it’s part of their identity,” said Stephen Ziobrowski, a partner at Day Pitney, a law firm. “It’s a deep emotional decision.”

ACTIONS For most people, fretting over higher taxes is a waste of time since there is little they can do about it. But the wealthiest have the most to gain by looking at what they can do now.

On the same day Mr. Obama released his plan, a crucial interest rate used for transferring money tax-free to heirs hit its lowest level ever. The applicable federal rate, used for a tax-planning vehicle known as a grantor retained annuity trust, will be 1.4 percent for October.

Richard A. Behrendt, director of estate planning at Robert W. Baird Company, a wealth adviser, said someone who put $10 million in a grantor retained annuity trust for three years could pass $960,444 tax-free to heirs if the assets grew at just 3 percent a year. If the assets grew at 6 percent a year, the trust would give $2,039,343 to heirs.

The Buffett Rule “is just a proposal that may come to something or nothing or something very different than what is written,” Mr. Behrendt said. “Why waste the resources on something that may not happen when we can leverage to tremendous results this one small data point for the wealthy?”

Taking advantage of a tax break that may disappear is something Mr. Buffett can certainly appreciate. In the 1950s and 1960s, he told The New York Times, his partnership was taxed at 25 percent. “I knew I was getting favored treatment compared to the local doctor, lawyer or C.E.O.,” he said. “But I made no voluntary payments to the Treasury, nor does any hedge fund manager of whom I’m aware.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6760dda74c9d909daf9188458a69798e

Peter G. Peterson’s Last Anti-Debt Crusade

Forty-eight stories above Fifth Avenue, Mr. Peterson, sitting among the views of Central Park and photos of himself with presidents and premiers, considered the wrangling in Washington with a distant disappointment: a sort of New York Establishment dismay.

“There are thousands of people focused on the short term,” he said, “on whether spending cuts will be 23 or 33 billion dollars. But the transcendent problem, the potentially terminal problem, is the long term. That’s what interests me.”

At 84, Pete Peterson embodies the long term, especially where the national debt is concerned. He has been talking — some would say droning on — about the subject for more than 30 years. He used $1 billion of his Wall Street fortune to create the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, whose sole purpose is to educate Americans about the dangers of the debt. He provided staff members to President Obama’s fiscal commission last year. He speaks endlessly about the debt in public, writes countless editorials on the topic and travels regularly to Washington from his East Side home to confer on the matter with high-ranking senators.

“I think of him as the godfather of this whole effort of trying to bring sanity to our nation’s finances,” said Erskine B. Bowles, co-chairman of the presidential commission.

Aside from being a godfather, Mr. Peterson is also a former adviser to Richard M. Nixon, a onetime chief executive of Lehman Brothers, a co-founder of the Blackstone private equity group and an ex-president of the Council on Foreign Relations. It would be hard to find a more established establishmentarian and yet, in a strange-bedfellows twist, his passionate, persistent and personal “last crusade” against the debt is one he shares — albeit with differences — with Paulists (as in Ron and Rand), critics of the Federal Reserve and the man on the corner with the sign saying, “Lo, the End Is Nigh!”

Both he and they insist that spending cuts, as they are currently conceived, are small to the point of being meaningless. Both he and they suggest that long-untouchable portions of the budget, like entitlements and defense, must be reduced; both he and they describe the multitrillion-dollar debt as an existential threat to future generations.

“The Tea Party crowd, if you want to call it that, is not Pete Peterson’s crowd, but his message speaks to the political mob,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Pete may be using them as leverage to get to the Establishment, which is his natural audience — to force the Establishment to act.”

Maybe, maybe not. The tonal differences between Mr. Peterson and the Tea Party crowd — he is measured, they are loud; he is patrician, they are populist — are distinct enough that he himself admitted last week to an odd, even aloof, ignorance of the group.

“I don’t know much about them,” he said, adding that he recently had his staff compile a dossier on the group. Cautious, methodical, devoted to analysis, he did what he often does when he feels uninformed: his homework.

DOING homework has long been Mr. Peterson’s way. Raised in Depression-era Nebraska, he is the self-made son of a Greek diner owner who arrived in America speaking no English. Fiscal prudence was banged into Mr. Peterson’s childhood skull. He claims to have bathed with his brother in the lukewarm water that his parents left behind in the tub. A sign on the diner’s paper-towel dispenser read, “Why Use Two When One Wipes Dry?”

After stints at M.I.T. (he was expelled for plagiarizing a term paper) and at Northwestern (he paid his way by waiting on tables at a sorority house), Mr. Peterson worked in advertising, in Chicago, in the Mad Men era, and at 34, he became the president of the electronics manufacturer Bell Howell (where he laid claim to the invention of the boom box). A connection to John J. McCloy, a Wall Street mandarin, helped secure a position in the Nixon administration, where he became known as “the economic Kissinger.”

In 1973, Mr. Peterson went to Wall Street, serving as the chief executive at Lehman Brothers, where he earned a reputation as a cautious, if standoffish, leader focused on long-term profits. After a struggle between the firm’s investment bankers — whom he epitomized — and its aggressive bond-trading desk, he was forced out. Within a year, he founded Blackstone, which he turned into a multibillion-dollar firm with a partner, Stephen A. Schwarzman.

Mr. Peterson’s epiphany about the debt came, aptly enough, while he was looking for a house in the Hamptons. It was 1981, and he recounts making a deal with the seller who ran the Women’s Economic Round Table: she would accept his offer on the house if he would give an address about Ronald Reagan’s budget to her group. He started researching, and “what I found astonished me,” he wrote in his autobiography, “The Education of an American Dreamer”: unbridled government spending, unbridled federal tax cuts and no attention to “the elephants in the room” — Social Security and Medicare.

“He viewed it as a bad approach that would damage the country in the long term,” Mr. Schwarzman said in an interview. “So he started writing articles.”

The first, “Social Security: The Coming Crash,” appeared, in 1982, in The New York Review of Books, and was so controversial for its analysis and apocalyptic tone that the journal set aside an entire issue for rebuttals.

“He strongly anticipated the debate that’s going on right now,” said Robert Silvers, who edited the piece. “Every theme that’s in play at the moment was in that article, particularly health care costs and entitlements.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 9, 2011

An earlier version of this article contained incorrect information about the Peterson G. Foundation. The foundation does not have a partnership with The Washington Post. (The newspaper has published articles by The Fiscal Times, a publication that Mr. Peterson created.)

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=87a49233a71d493e8564050347d4fdde

A Few Billion Off the Top?

Forty-eight stories above Fifth Avenue, Mr. Peterson, sitting among the views of Central Park and photos of himself with presidents and premiers, considered the wrangling in Washington with a distant disappointment: a sort of New York Establishment dismay.

“There are thousands of people focused on the short term,” he said, “on whether spending cuts will be 23 or 33 billion dollars. But the transcendent problem, the potentially terminal problem, is the long term. That’s what interests me.”

At 84, Pete Peterson embodies the long term, especially where the national debt is concerned. He has been talking — some would say droning on — about the subject for more than 30 years. He used $1 billion of his Wall Street fortune to create the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, whose sole purpose is to educate Americans about the dangers of the debt. He provided staff members to President Obama’s fiscal commission last year. He speaks endlessly about the debt in public, writes countless editorials on the topic and travels regularly to Washington from his East Side home to confer on the matter with high-ranking senators.

“I think of him as the godfather of this whole effort of trying to bring sanity to our nation’s finances,” said Erskine B. Bowles, co-chairman of the presidential commission.

Aside from being a godfather, Mr. Peterson is also a former adviser to Richard M. Nixon, a onetime chief executive of Lehman Brothers, a co-founder of the Blackstone private equity group and an ex-president of the Council on Foreign Relations. It would be hard to find a more established establishmentarian and yet, in a strange-bedfellows twist, his passionate, persistent and personal “last crusade” against the debt is one he shares — albeit with differences — with Paulists (as in Ron and Rand), critics of the Federal Reserve and the man on the corner with the sign saying, “Lo, the End Is Nigh!”

Both he and they insist that spending cuts, as they are currently conceived, are small to the point of being meaningless. Both he and they suggest that long-untouchable portions of the budget, like entitlements and defense, must be reduced; both he and they describe the multitrillion-dollar debt as an existential threat to future generations.

“The Tea Party crowd, if you want to call it that, is not Pete Peterson’s crowd, but his message speaks to the political mob,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Pete may be using them as leverage to get to the Establishment, which is his natural audience — to force the Establishment to act.”

Maybe, maybe not. The tonal differences between Mr. Peterson and the Tea Party crowd — he is measured, they are loud; he is patrician, they are populist — are distinct enough that he himself admitted last week to an odd, even aloof, ignorance of the group.

“I don’t know much about them,” he said, adding that he recently had his staff compile a dossier on the group. Cautious, methodical, devoted to analysis, he did what he often does when he feels uninformed: his homework.

DOING homework has long been Mr. Peterson’s way. Raised in Depression-era Nebraska, he is the self-made son of a Greek diner owner who arrived in America speaking no English. Fiscal prudence was banged into Mr. Peterson’s childhood skull. He claims to have bathed with his brother in the lukewarm water that his parents left behind in the tub. A sign on the diner’s paper-towel dispenser read, “Why Use Two When One Wipes Dry?”

After stints at M.I.T. (he was expelled for plagiarizing a term paper) and at Northwestern (he paid his way by waiting on tables at a sorority house), Mr. Peterson worked in advertising, in Chicago, in the Mad Men era, and at 34, he became the president of the electronics manufacturer Bell Howell (where he laid claim to the invention of the boom box). A connection to John J. McCloy, a Wall Street mandarin, helped secure a position in the Nixon administration, where he became known as “the economic Kissinger.”

In 1973, Mr. Peterson went to Wall Street, serving as the chief executive at Lehman Brothers, where he earned a reputation as a cautious, if standoffish, leader focused on long-term profits. After a struggle between the firm’s investment bankers — whom he epitomized — and its aggressive bond-trading desk, he was forced out. Within a year, he founded Blackstone, which he turned into a multibillion-dollar firm with a partner, Stephen A. Schwarzman.

Mr. Peterson’s epiphany about the debt came, aptly enough, while he was looking for a house in the Hamptons. It was 1981, and he recounts making a deal with the seller who ran the Women’s Economic Round Table: she would accept his offer on the house if he would give an address about Ronald Reagan’s budget to her group. He started researching, and “what I found astonished me,” he wrote in his autobiography, “The Education of an American Dreamer”: unbridled government spending, unbridled federal tax cuts and no attention to “the elephants in the room” — Social Security and Medicare.

“He viewed it as a bad approach that would damage the country in the long term,” Mr. Schwarzman said in an interview. “So he started writing articles.”

The first, “Social Security: The Coming Crash,” appeared, in 1982, in The New York Review of Books, and was so controversial for its analysis and apocalyptic tone that the journal set aside an entire issue for rebuttals.

“He strongly anticipated the debate that’s going on right now,” said Robert Silvers, who edited the piece. “Every theme that’s in play at the moment was in that article, particularly health care costs and entitlements.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=87a49233a71d493e8564050347d4fdde

Transocean’s Safety Claim Is Criticized

“In my own view, 2010 was probably the greatest year of pain in terms of oil and gas development in the deep water all across the world, especially in the Gulf of Mexico,” Mr. Salazar said. He added that Transocean was “at least at some fault” in the explosion, which killed 11 workers and led to the biggest oil spill ever in the United States.

The interior secretary was visiting Mexico with officials from the presidential commission that investigated the BP oil spill to discuss regulation of offshore drilling with Mexican officials. William K. Reilly, co-chairman of commission, called Transocean’s comments “embarrassing.”

“It’s been said with respect to the disaster that some companies just don’t get it — I think Transocean just doesn’t get it,” Mr. Reilly said.

The spill commission concluded in a report released in January that the oil spill was an avoidable accident caused by a series of failures and errors by the companies involved in drilling the well — BP, Transocean and Halliburton — and several subcontractors as well as the government regulators assigned to oversee their work.

Transocean moved on Monday to contain the damage from its description of 2010 as a good safety year, which appeared in a securities filing on Friday disclosing that its top executives received about 45 percent of their targeted performance bonuses for the year.

Ihab Toma, Transocean’s executive vice president of global business, said in a statement on Monday that “some of the wording in our 2010 proxy statement may have been insensitive in light of the incident that claimed the lives of 11 exceptional men last year and we deeply regret any pain that it may have caused.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fee3a5c874337d432cca2fee903162b9