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Figuring Out Where To Live Using Math 211

Posted by Soulskill
from the sanity-check-when-the-math-suggests-detroit dept.
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."

Maryam Mirzakhani Is the First Woman Fields Medalist 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the first-of-many dept.
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.

About Half of Kids' Learning Ability Is In Their DNA 227

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-the-cards dept.
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."
The Courts

Algorithm Predicts US Supreme Court Decisions 70% of Time 177

Posted by samzenpus
from the telling-the-future dept.
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.

The Man Who Invented the 26th Dimension 259

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the beards-give-you-science-powers dept.
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.

Amazon's eBook Math 306

Posted by Soulskill
from the there's-one-for-you-nineteen-for-me dept.
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."
The Almighty Buck

35% of American Adults Have Debt 'In Collections' 570

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-the-cool-kids-are-doing-it dept.
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?

How Bird Flocks Resemble Liquid Helium 40

Posted by timothy
from the beats-speed-of-sound dept.
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."

For Half, Degrees In Computing, Math, Or Stats Lead To Other Jobs 174

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the better-than-working-at-walmart dept.
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.

Firefox 31 Released 172

Posted by Soulskill
from the baskin-robbins-edition dept.
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."

Math, Programming, and Language Learning 241

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-before-e-except-SyntaxError: dept.
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."

ChickTech Brings Hundreds of Young Women To Open Source 158

Posted by Soulskill
from the more-engineers-more-cool-stuff dept.
ectoman writes: 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."

Walter Munk's Astonishing Wave-Tracking Experiment 55

Posted by samzenpus
from the gnarly-experiment-dude dept.
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.

Mathematicians Solve the Topological Mystery Behind the "Brazuca" Soccer Ball 144

Posted by timothy
from the nature-is-scrambling-to-keep-up dept.
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 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."

The Billionaire Mathematician 96

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-enough-room-in-the-margin-for-all-these-benjamins dept.
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."

Another Dementia Test Oversold 24

Posted by Soulskill
from the basic-statistics-claims-another-victim dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Many prominent news organizations, including the BBC, are reporting on a study (PDF) that claims a new blood test is 87% accurate in predicting which patients will develop cognitive impairment. It's hailed as a major step forward in efforts to fight dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, reality isn't quite so impressive. An article at MedPage Today explains all of the statistical facts that the mainstream press glosses over: "Only about 10% of patients of patients with MCI convert to clinical dementia per year. With nearly 30% of positive results false (remember, the specificity was 71%) as well as 15% of negative results false, most of the positive results in such a group will be false. Yes, it's time once again for a tutorial in positive predictive values. If we have 100 MCI patients and a 10% conversion rate, then 10 of them will develop dementia. These are the true positives. There will be 90 true negatives — the ones who don't convert. But with a specificity of 71%, the test will falsely identify 29% of the 90 true negatives, or 26, as positive. Meanwhile, with a false negative rate of 15%, only nine (rounding up from 8.5) of the 10 true positives will be correctly identified. ... It's easy to get a high negative predictive value when the annual event rate is 10%. If I simply predict that no one will convert, I'll be right 90% of the time."

How Often Do Economists Commit Misconduct? 305

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the easier-this-way dept.
schwit1 (797399) writes A survey of professional academic economists finds that a large percentage are quite willing to cheat or fake data to get the results they want. From the paper's abstract: "This study reports the results of a survey of professional, mostly academic economists about their research norms and scientific misbehavior. Behavior such as data fabrication or plagiarism are (almost) unanimously rejected and admitted by less than 4% of participants. Research practices that are often considered 'questionable,' e.g., strategic behavior while analyzing results or in the publication process, are rejected by at least 60%. Despite their low justifiability, these behaviors are widespread. Ninety-four percent report having engaged in at least one unaccepted research practice."

That less than 4% engage in "data fabrication or plagiarism" might seem low, but it is a terrible statistic . ... 40% admit to doing what they agree are "questionable" research practices, while 94% admit to committing "at least one unaccepted research practice." In other words, almost none of these academic economists can be trusted in the slightest. As the paper notes, "these behaviors are widespread.""

Visualizing Algorithms 50

Posted by Soulskill
from the grab-your-binoculars-and-go-code-watching dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Many people reading this site probably have a functional understanding of how algorithms work. But whether you know algorithms down to highly mathematical abstractions or simple as a fuzzy series of steps that transform input into output, it can be helpful to visualize what's going on under the hood. That's what Mike Bostock has done in a new article. He walks through algorithms for sampling, shuffling, and maze generation, using beautiful and fascinating visualizations to show how each algorithm works and how it differs from other options.

He says, "I find watching algorithms endlessly fascinating, even mesmerizing. Particularly so when randomness is involved. ... Being able to see what your code is doing can boost productivity. Visualization does not supplant the need for tests, but tests are useful primarily for detecting failure and not explaining it. Visualization can also discover unexpected behavior in your implementation, even when the output looks correct. ...Even if you just want to learn for yourself, visualization can be a great way to gain deep understanding. Teaching is one of the most effective ways of learning, and implementing a visualization is like teaching yourself."

Improperly Anonymized Logs Reveal Details of NYC Cab Trips 192

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the check-your-proof dept.
mpicpp (3454017) writes with news that a dump of fare logs from NYC cabs resulted in trip details being leaked thanks to using an MD5 hash on input data with a very small key space and regular format. From the article: City officials released the data in response to a public records request and specifically obscured the drivers' hack license numbers and medallion numbers. ... Presumably, officials used the hashes to preserve the privacy of individual drivers since the records provide a detailed view of their locations and work performance over an extended period of time.

It turns out there's a significant flaw in the approach. Because both the medallion and hack numbers are structured in predictable patterns, it was trivial to run all possible iterations through the same MD5 algorithm and then compare the output to the data contained in the 20GB file. Software developer Vijay Pandurangan did just that, and in less than two hours he had completely de-anonymized all 173 million entries.

Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics? 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the literally-everyone-should-take-statistics dept.
theodp writes: "What if learning to code weren't actually the most important thing?" asks Mother Jones' Tasneem Raja. "Rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do." Computational thinking, Raja explains, is what really matters. So, while Google is spending another $50 million (on top of an earlier $40 million) and pulling out all the stops in an effort to convince girls that code and AP Computer Science is a big deal, could AP Statistics actually be a better way to teach computational thinking to college credit-seeking high school students? Not only did AP Statistics enrollment surge as AP CS flat-lined, it was embraced equally by girls and boys. Statistics also offers plenty of coding opportunities to boot. And it teaches one how to correctly analyze AP CS enrollment data!

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know yet." -Ambrose Bierce