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  • ISIS Bans Math and Social Studies For Children

    mpicpp sends this news from CNN: In swaths of Syria now controlled by ISIS, children can no longer study math or social studies. Sports are out of the question. And students will be banned from learning about elections and democracy. Instead, they'll be subjected to the teachings of the radical Islamist group. And any teacher who dares to break the rules "will be punished." ISIS revealed its new educational demands in fliers posted on billboards and on street poles. The Sunni militant group has captured a slew of Syrian and Iraqi cities in recent months as it tries to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, spanning Sunni parts of both countries. Books cannot include any reference to evolution. And teachers must say that the laws of physics and chemistry "are due to Allah's rules and laws."

    523 comments | 3 hours ago

  • Information Theory Places New Limits On Origin of Life

    KentuckyFC writes: Most research into the origin of life focuses on the messy business of chemistry, on the nature of self-replicating molecules and on the behavior of autocatalytic reactions. Now one theorist says the properties of information also place important limits on how life must have evolved, without getting bogged down in the biochemical details. The new approach uses information theory to highlight a key property that distinguishes living from non-living systems: their ability to store information and replicate it almost indefinitely. A measure of this how much these systems differ from a state of maximum entropy or thermodynamic equilibrium. The new approach is to create a mathematical model of these informational differences and use it to make predictions about how likely it is to find self-replicating molecules in an artificial life system called Avida. And interestingly, the predictions closely match what researchers have found in practice. The bottom line is that according to information theory, environments favorable to life are unlikely to be unusual.

    211 comments | about a week ago

  • Statistics Losing Ground To CS, Losing Image Among Students

    theodp (442580) writes Unless some things change, UC Davis Prof. Norman Matloff worries that the Statistician could be added to the endangered species list. "The American Statistical Association (ASA) leadership, and many in Statistics academia," writes Matloff, "have been undergoing a period of angst the last few years, They worry that the field of Statistics is headed for a future of reduced national influence and importance, with the feeling that: [1] The field is to a large extent being usurped by other disciplines, notably Computer Science (CS). [2] Efforts to make the field attractive to students have largely been unsuccessful."

    Matloff, who has a foot in both the Statistics and CS camps, but says, "The problem is not that CS people are doing Statistics, but rather that they are doing it poorly. Generally the quality of CS work in Stat is weak. It is not a problem of quality of the researchers themselves; indeed, many of them are very highly talented. Instead, there are a number of systemic reasons for this, structural problems with the CS research 'business model'." So, can Statistics be made more attractive to students? "Here is something that actually can be fixed reasonably simply," suggests no-fan-of-TI-83-pocket-calculators-as-a-computational-vehicle Matloff. "If I had my druthers, I would simply ban AP Stat, and actually, I am one of those people who would do away with the entire AP program. Obviously, there are too many deeply entrenched interests for this to happen, but one thing that can be done for AP Stat is to switch its computational vehicle to R."

    115 comments | about three weeks ago

  • It's Dumb To Tell Kids They're Smart

    theodp writes Over at Khan Academy, Salman Khan explains Why I'm Cautious About Telling My Son He's Smart. "Recently," writes Khan, "I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach." According to Dr. Carol Dweck, who Khan cites, the secret to raising smart kids is not telling kids that they are. A focus on effort — not on intelligence or ability — says Dweck, is key to success in school and in life.

    243 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Interviews: Andrew "bunnie" Huang Answers Your Questions

    A while ago you had a chance to ask Andrew "bunnie" Huang about hardware, hacking and his open source hardware laptop Novena. Below you'll find his answers to those questions.

    32 comments | about a month ago

  • Figuring Out Where To Live Using Math

    An anonymous reader writes: Dave Munson was thinking about moving, and had a couple broad requirements for a new home: it must be affordable, and its neighborhood must be walkable. Price is easy to chart, but how do you compare the walkability of hundreds of cities? Simple: use math. A website called Walk Score provides rough walkability ratings, but doesn't tell you much about affordability. Munson downloaded the data that went into a city's Walk Score, weighted the relevant variables, and mapped the top results. Then he looked for overlap with the map of areas in his price range. He says, "Capitol Hill, Seattle led the pack. To be honest, I was expecting something a smaller, affordable Midwest town or something, but it the highest scoring areas were usually just outside of major downtowns. Other top areas included Cambridge and Somerville outside of Boston, and the South End in Boston; Columbia Heights, Washington, DC; The Mission District, Lower Haight, and Russian Hill, San Francisco; Midtown, Atlanta; Greenwood, Dyker Heights, Kensington, and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn; Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, where we used to live; Lake View, Chicago; and Five Points, Denver."

    214 comments | about 1 month ago

  • Maryam Mirzakhani Is the First Woman Fields Medalist

    An anonymous reader sends news that the 2014 Fields Medals have been awarded for outstanding work in the field of mathematics. The winners are Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, Martin Hairer, and Maryam Mirzakhani. Quanta Magazine writes, Mirzakhani is the first woman to win a Fields Medal. The gender imbalance in mathematics is long-standing and pervasive, and the Fields Medal, in particular, is ill-suited to the career arcs of many female mathematicians. It is restricted to mathematicians younger than 40, focusing on the very years during which many women dial back their careers to raise children. Mirzakhani feels certain, however, that there will be many more female Fields medalists in the future. "There are really many great female mathematicians doing great things," she said. Quanta has profiles of the other winners as well (Avila, Bhargava, Hairer), and of Rolf Nevanlinna Prize winner Subhash Khot.

    75 comments | about a month ago

  • About Half of Kids' Learning Ability Is In Their DNA

    Taco Cowboy writes with this story about new research that finds a strong genetic component to a child's ability in math and reading. "You may think you're better at reading than you are at math (or vice versa), but new research suggests you're probably equally good (or bad) at both. The reason: The genes that determine a person's ability to tackle one subject influence their aptitude at the other, accounting for about half of a person's overall ability. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, used nearly 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to tease apart the effects of genetic inheritance and environmental variables on math and reading ability. The researchers administered a set of math and verbal tests to the children and then compared the performance of different sets of twins. They found that the twins' scores — no matter if they were high or low — were twice as similar among pairs of identical twins as among pairs of fraternal twins. The results indicated that approximately half of the children's math and reading ability stemmed from their genetic makeup.

    A complementary analysis of unrelated kids corroborated this conclusion — strangers with equivalent academic abilities shared genetic similarities. What's more, the genes responsible for math and reading ability appear to be numerous and interconnected, not specifically targeted toward one set of skills. These so-called 'generalist genes' act in concert to determine a child's aptitude across multiple disciplines. The finding that one's propensities for math and reading go hand in hand may come as a surprise to many, but it shouldn't. People often feel that they possess skills in only one area simply because they perform slightly worse in the other."

    227 comments | about a month ago

  • Algorithm Predicts US Supreme Court Decisions 70% of Time

    stephendavion writes A legal scholar says he and colleagues have developed an algorithm that can predict, with 70 percent accuracy, whether the US Supreme Court will uphold or reverse the lower-court decision before it. "Using only data available prior to the date of decision, our model correctly identifies 69.7 percent of the Court's overall affirm and reverse decisions and correctly forecasts 70.9% of the votes of individual justices across 7,700 cases and more than 68,000 justice votes," Josh Blackman, a South Texas College of Law scholar, wrote on his blog Tuesday.

    177 comments | about a month ago

  • The Man Who Invented the 26th Dimension

    StartsWithABang (3485481) writes Based on all the experiments we've ever been able to perform, we're quite certain that our Universe, from the largest scales down to the microscopic, obeys the physical laws of three spatial dimensions (and one time dimension): a four-dimensional spacetime. But that's not the only possibility mathematically. People had experimented with bringing a fifth dimension in to unify General Relativity with Electromagnetism in the past, but that was regarded as a dead-end. Then in the 1970s, an unknown theoretical physicist working on the string model of the strong interactions discovered that by going into the 26th dimension, some incredibly interesting physics emerged, and String Theory was born.

    259 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Amazon's eBook Math

    An anonymous reader writes: Amazon has waged a constant battle with publishers over the price of ebooks. They've now publicly laid out their argument and the business math behind it. "We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000." They argue that capping most ebooks at $9.99 would be better for everyone, with the money split out 35% to the author, 35% to the publisher, and 30% to Amazon.

    Author John Scalzi says Amazon's reasoning and assumptions are a bit suspect. He disagrees that "books are interchangeable units of entertainment, each equally as salable as the next, and that pricing is the only thing consumers react to." Scalzi also points out that Amazon asserts itself as the only revenue stream for authors, which is not remotely true. "Amazon's assumptions don't include, for example, that publishers and authors might have a legitimate reason for not wanting the gulf between eBook and physical hardcover pricing to be so large that brick and mortar retailers suffer, narrowing the number of venues into which books can sell. Killing off Amazon's competitors is good for Amazon; there's rather less of an argument that it's good for anyone else."

    306 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • 35% of American Adults Have Debt 'In Collections'

    New submitter meeotch writes: According to a new study by the Urban Institute, 35% of U.S. adults with a credit history (91% of the adult population of the U.S.) have debt "in collections" — a status generally not acquired until payments are at least 180 days past due. Debt problems seem to be worse in the South, with states hovering in the 40%+ range, while the Northeast has it better, at less than 30%. The study's authors claim their findings actually underrepresent low-income consumers, because "adults without a credit file are more likely to be financially disadvantaged."

    Oddly, only 5% of adults have debt 30-180 days past due. This latter fact is partially accounted for by the fact that a broader range of debt can enter "in collections" status than "past due" status (e.g. parking tickets)... But also perhaps demonstrates that as one falls far enough along the debt spiral, escape becomes impossible. Particularly in the case of high-interest debt such as credit cards — the issuers of which cluster in states such as South Dakota, following a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that found that states' usury laws did not apply to banks headquartered in other states.

    Even taking into account the folks who lost a parking ticket under their passenger seat, 35% is a pretty shocking number. Anyone have other theories why this number is so much higher than the 5% of people who are just "late"? How about some napkin math on the debt spiral?

    570 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • How Bird Flocks Resemble Liquid Helium

    sciencehabit (1205606) writes "A flock of starlings flies as one, a spectacular display in which each bird flits about as if in a well-choreographed dance. Everyone seems to know exactly when and where to turn. Now, for the first time, researchers have measured how that knowledge moves through the flock—a behavior that mirrors certain quantum phenomena of liquid helium. Some of the more interesting findings: Tracking data showed that the message for a flock to turn started from a handful of birds and swept through the flock at a constant speed between 20 and 40 meters per second. That means that for a group of 400 birds, it takes just a little more than a half-second for the whole flock to turn."

    40 comments | about 1 month ago

  • For Half, Degrees In Computing, Math, Or Stats Lead To Other Jobs

    dcblogs (1096431) writes The Census Bureau reports that only 26% of people with any type of four-year STEM degree are working in a STEM field. For those with a degree specifically in computer, math or statistics, the figure is 49%, nearly the same for engineering degrees. What happens to the other STEM trained workers? The largest numbers are managers at non-STEM businesses (22.5%), or having careers in education (17.7%), business/finance (13.2%) and office support (11.5%). Some other data points: Among those with college degrees in computer-related occupations, men are paid more than women ($90,354 vs. $78,859 on average), and African American workers are more likely to be unemployed than white or Asian workers.

    174 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Firefox 31 Released

    An anonymous reader writes Mozilla has released version 31 of its Firefox web browser for desktops and Android devices. According to the release notes, major new features include malware blocking for file downloads, automatic handling of PDF and OGG files if no other software is available to do so, and a new certificate verification library. Smaller features include a search field on the new tab page, better support for parental controls, and partial implementation of the OpenType MATH table. Firefox 31 is also loaded with new features for developers. Mozilla also took the opportunity to note the launch of a new game, Dungeon Defenders Eternity, which will run at near-native speeds on the web using asm.js, WebGL, and Web Audio. "We're pleased to see more developers using asm.js to distribute and now monetize their plug-in free games on the Web as it strengthens support for Mozilla's vision of a high performance, plugin-free Web."

    172 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Math, Programming, and Language Learning

    An anonymous reader writes: There's often debate amongst modern programmers about how much math a professional developer should know, and to what extent programming is math. Learning to program is often viewed as being on a spectrum between learning math and learning spoken/written languages. But in a new article, Jeremy Kun argues that the spectrum should be formulated another way: Human language -> Mathematics -> Programming. "Having studied all three subjects, I'd argue that mathematics falls between language and programming on the hierarchy of rigor. ... [T]he hierarchy of abstraction is the exact reverse, with programming being the most concrete and language being the most abstract. Perhaps this is why people consider mathematics a bridge between human language and programming. Because it allows you to express more formal ideas in a more concrete language, without making you worry about such specific hardware details like whether your integers are capped at 32 bits or 64. Indeed, if you think that the core of programming is expressing abstract ideas in a concrete language, then this makes a lot of sense. This is precisely why learning mathematics is 'better' at helping you learn the kind of abstract thinking you want for programming than language. Because mathematics is closer to programming on the hierarchy. It helps even more that mathematics and programming readily share topics."

    241 comments | about 2 months ago

  • ChickTech Brings Hundreds of Young Women To Open Source

    ectoman writes: Opensource.com is running an interview with Jennifer Davidson of ChickTech, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create communities of support for women and girls pursuing (or interested in pursuing) careers in tech. "In the United States, many girls are brought up to believe that 'girls can't do math' and that science and other 'geeky' topics are for boys," Davidson said. "We break down that idea." Portland, OR-based ChickTech is quickly expanding throughout the United States—to cities like Corvallis and San Francisco—thanks to the "ChickTech: High School" initiative, which gathers hundreds of young women for two-day workshops featuring open source technologies. "We fill a university engineering department with 100 high school girls—more girls than many engineering departments have ever seen," Davidson said. "The participants can look around the building and see that girls from all backgrounds are just as excited about tech as they are."

    158 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Walter Munk's Astonishing Wave-Tracking Experiment

    An anonymous reader writes in with a look at a scientist's interesting wave-tracking experiment and the incredible journeys that waves make. His name is Walter Munk, now in his 90s and a professor emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. About 60 years ago, he was anchored off Guadalupe Island, on Mexico's west coast, watching swells come in, and using an equation that he and others had devised to plot a wave's trajectory backward in time, he plotted the probable origins of those swells. But the answer he got was so startling, so over-the-top improbable, that he thought, "No, there must be something wrong." His equations said that the swells hitting beaches In Mexico began some 9,000 miles away — somewhere in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean, near Antarctica. "Could it be?" he wrote in an autobiographical sketch. Could a storm half way across the world produce a patch of moving water that traveled from near the South Pole, up past Australia, then past New Zealand, then across the vast expanse of the Pacific, arriving still intact – at a beach off Mexico? He decided to find out for himself. That is why, in 1957, Walter Munk designed a global, real life, wave-watching experiment.

    55 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Mathematicians Solve the Topological Mystery Behind the "Brazuca" Soccer Ball

    KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, teams used a new kind of ball called the Telstar made from 12 black pentagonal panels and 20 white hexagonal panels. This ball has icosahedral symmetry and its own molecular analogue in the form of C60, the famous soccer ball-shaped fullerene. In 2006, a new ball called the TeamGeist was introduced at the World Cup in Germany. This was made of 14 curved panels that together gave it tetrahedral symmetry. This also had a molecular analogue with tetrahedral symmetry among the fullerenes. Now teams at the current World Cup in Brazil are playing with yet another design: the Brazuca, a ball constructed from six panels each with a four-leaf clover shape that knit together like a jigsaw to form a sphere. This has octahedral symmetry. But here's question that has been puzzling chemists, topologists and..errr...soccer fans: is there a molecular analogue of the Brazuca? Or put another way, can fullerenes have octahedral symmetry? Now a pair of mathematicians have finally solved this problem. They've shown that fullerenes can indeed have octahedral symmetry just like the Brazuca, although in addition to hexagonal and pentagonal carbon rings, the ball-shaped molecules must also have rings of 4 and 8 carbon atoms. The next stage is to actually synthesis one of these fullerenes, perhaps something to keep chemists occupied until the 2018 World Cup in Russia."

    144 comments | about 2 months ago

  • The Billionaire Mathematician

    An anonymous reader writes Dr. James Simons received his doctorate at the age of 23. He was breaking codes for the NSA at 26, and was put in charge of Stony Brook University's math department at 30. He received the Veblen Prize in Geometry in 1976. Today, he's a multi-billionaire, using his fortune to set up educational foundations for math and science. "His passion, however, is basic research — the risky, freewheeling type. He recently financed new telescopes in the Chilean Andes that will look for faint ripples of light from the Big Bang, the theorized birth of the universe. The afternoon of the interview, he planned to speak to Stanford physicists eager to detect the axion, a ghostly particle thought to permeate the cosmos but long stuck in theoretical limbo. Their endeavor 'could be very exciting,' he said, his mood palpable, like that of a kid in a candy store." Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success: "I wasn't the fastest guy in the world. I wouldn't have done well in an Olympiad or a math contest. But I like to ponder. And pondering things, just sort of thinking about it and thinking about it, turns out to be a pretty good approach."

    96 comments | about 2 months ago

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