DEAL: For $25 - Add A Second Phone Number To Your Smartphone for life! Use promo code SLASHDOT25. Also, Slashdot's Facebook page has a chat bot now. Message it for stories and more. Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 Internet speed test! ×

Debian Developer Imprisoned In Russia Over Alleged Role In Riots ( 12

An anonymous reader writes: "Dmitry Bogatov, Debian developer and Tor node admin, is still being held in a Moscow jail," tweeted the EFF Saturday. IT Wire reports that the 25-year-old math teacher was arrested earlier this month "on suspicion of organizing riots," and is expected to be held in custody until June 8. "The panel investigating the protests claims Bogatov posted several incitory messages on the forum; for example, one claim said he was asking people to bring 'bottles, fabric, gasoline, turpentine, foam plastic' to Red Square, according to a post at Hacker News. The messages were sent in the name of one Airat Bashirov and happened to be transmitted through the Tor node that Bogatov was running. The Hacker News post said Bogatov's lawyer had produced surveillance video footage to show that he was elsewhere at the time when the messages were posted.
"After Dmitry's arrest," reports the Free Bogatov site, "Airat Bashirov continue to post messages. News outlets 'Open Russia' and 'Mediazona' even got a chance to speak with him."

Earlier this month the Debian GNU/Linux project also posted a message of support, noting Dmitry maintains several packages for command line and system tools, and saying their group "honours his good work and strong dedication to Debian and Free Software... we hope he is back as soon as possible to his endeavours... In the meantime, the Debian Project has taken measures to secure its systems by removing Dmitry's keys in the case that they are compromised."

Oregon Fines Man For Writing a Complaint Email Stating 'I Am An Engineer' ( 730

pogopop77 quotes a report from Motherboard: In September 2014, Mats Jarlstrom, an electronics engineer living in Beaverton, Oregon, sent an email to the state's engineering board. The email claimed that yellow traffic lights don't last long enough, which "puts the public at risk." "I would like to present these facts for your review and comments," he wrote. This email resulted not with a meeting, but with a threat from The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying [stating]: "ORS 672.020(1) prohibits the practice of engineering in Oregon without registration -- at a minimum, your use of the title 'electronics engineer' and the statement 'I'm an engineer' create violations." In January of this year, Jarlstrom was officially fined $500 by the state for the crime of "practicing engineering without being registered." Since the engineering board in Oregon said Jarlstrom should not be free to publish or present his ideas about the fast-turning yellow traffic lights, due to his "practice of engineering in Oregon without registration," he and the Institute for Justice sued them in federal court for violating his First Amendment rights. "I'm not practicing engineering, I'm just using basic mathematics and physics, Newtonian laws of motion, to make calculations and talk about what I found," he said. Sam Gedge, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, told Motherboard: "Mats has a clear First Amendment right to talk about anything from taxes to traffic lights. It's an instance of a licensing board trying to suppress speech."

Google's AlphaGo Will Face Its Biggest Challenge Yet Next Month -- But Why Is It Still Playing? ( 115

From a report on The Guardian: A year on from its victory over Go star Lee Sedol, Google DeepMind is preparing a "festival" of exhibition matches for its board game-playing AI, AlphaGo, to see how far it has evolved in the last 12 months. Headlining the event will be a one-on-one match against the current number one player of the ancient Asian game, 19-year-old Chinese professional Ke Jie. DeepMind has had its eye on this match since even before AlphaGo beat Lee. On the eve of his trip to Seoul in March 2016, the company's co-founder, Demis Hassabis, told the Guardian: "There's a young kid in China who's very, very strong, who might want to play us." As well as the one-on-one match with Jie, which will be played over the course of three games, AlphaGo will take part in two other games with slightly odder formats. But why is Google's AI still playing Go, you ask? An article on The Outline adds: Its [Google's] experiments with Go -- a game thought to be years away from being conquered by AI before last year -- are designed to bring us closer to designing a computer with human-like understanding that can solve problems like a human mind can. Historically, there have been tasks that humans do well -- communicating, improvising, emoting -- and tasks that computers do well, which tend to be those that require lots of computations -- like math of any kind, including statistical analysis and modeling of, say, journeying to the moon. Slowly, artificial intelligence scientists have been pushing that barrier. [...] Go is played on a board with an 19-by-19 grid (updated after readers pointed out it's not 18x18 grid). Each player takes turn placing stones (one player with white, the other with black) on empty intersections of the grid. The goal is to completely surround the stones of another player, removing them from the board. The number of possible positions compared to chess thanks in part to the size of the board and ability to take any unoccupied position is part of what makes it so complex. As DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis put it last year, "There are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible positions."

Ask Slashdot: Should I Move From Java To Scala? 245

"Scala is one of the JVM languages that manages to maintain a hip and professional vibe at the same time," writes long-time Slashdot reader Qbertino -- building up to a big question: One reason for this probably being that Scala was built by people who knew what they were doing. It has been around for a few years now in a mature form and I got curious about it a few years back. My question to the Slashdot community: Is getting into Scala worthwhile from a practical/industry standpoint or is it better to just stick with Java? Have you done larger, continuous multi-year, multi-man and mission-critical applications in Scala and what are your experiences?
The original submission asks two related questions. First, "Do you have to be a CS/math genius to make sense of Scala and use it correctly?" But more importantly, "Is Scala there to stay wherever it is deployed and used in real-world scenarios, or are there pitfalls and cracks showing up that would deter you from using Scala once again?" So share your experiences and answers in the comments. Would you recommend moving from Java to Scala?

More Compulsory Math Lessons Do Not Encourage Women To Pursue STEM Careers, Study Finds ( 239

An anonymous reader shares a report: The demand for employees in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) is particularly high, as corporations compete to attract skilled professionals in the international market. What is known as "curriculum intensification" is often used around the world to attract more university entrants -- and particularly more women -- to these subjects; that is to say, students have on average more mandatory math courses at a higher level. Scientists from the LEAD Graduate School and Research Network at the University of Tubingen have now studied whether more advanced math lessons at high schools actually encourages women to pursue STEM careers. Their work shows that an increase in advanced math courses during two years before the final school-leaving exams does not automatically create the desired effects. On the contrary: one upper secondary school reform in Germany, where all high school students have to take higher level math courses, has only increased the gender differences regarding their interests in activities related to the STEM fields. The young female students' belief in their own math abilities was lower after the reform than before. The results have now been published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

No, We Probably Don't Live in a Computer Simulation, Says Physicist ( 418

Science doesn't have all the answers. There are plenty of things it may never prove, like whether there's a God. Or whether we're living in a computer simulation, something proposed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. From an article on Gizmodo: This kind of thinking made at least one person angry, theoretical physicist and science writer Sabine Hossenfelder from the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany. Last week, she took to her blog Backreactions to vent. It's not the statement "we're living in a simulation" that upsets Hossenfelder. It's the fact that philosophers are making assertions that, if true, should most certainly manifest themselves in our laws of physics. "I'm not saying it's impossible," Hossenfelder told Gizmodo. "But I want to see some backup for this claim." Backup to prove such a claim would require a lot of work and a lot of math, enough to solve some of the most complex problems in theoretical physics.

Math Teacher Solves Adobe Semaphore Puzzle ( 52

linuxwrangler writes: For over 4 years, lights atop Adobe's office building in San Jose have flashed out a secret message. This week, the puzzle was solved by Tennessee math teacher Jimmy Waters. As part of the winnings, Adobe is donating software and 3D printers to Waters' school in his name. "The semaphore had been transmitting the audio broadcast of Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing in 1969," reports The Mercury News. "That's right, not the text but the actual audio." The report provides some backstory: "Waters discovered the project, San Jose Semaphore, last summer while he was looking up something about Thomas Pynchon's 1966 novel, 'The Crying of Lot 49.' The text of that work was the code originally programmed by New York-based artist Ben Rubin in 2006. Seeing there was a new message, Waters began trying to decipher it while watching and writing down the sequences online from Tennessee. He discovered a pattern that led him to believe it could represent a space -- or a silence -- in an audio file, and when he graphed the results it looked like an audio wave. He dismissed that as being too difficult but came back to it and eventually ran his results into a program that would convert his numbers to audio. The first results came back sounding like chipmunks squeaking. So he tweaked things and found himself listening to the historic broadcast, which ends with Armstrong's famous line, 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.'" You can listen to the semaphore message here.

Cooling To Absolute Zero Mathematically Outlawed After a Century ( 210

After more than 100 years of debate -- which at one point even elicited interest from Albert Einstein and Max Planck, physicists have finally offered up mathematical proof of the third law of thermodynamics, which states that a temperature of absolute zero cannot be physically achieved because it's impossible for the entropy (or disorder) of a system to hit zero. While scientists have long suspected that there's an intrinsic 'speed limit' on the act of cooling in our Universe that prevents us from ever achieving absolute zero (0 Kelvin, -273.15 C, or -459.67 F), this is the strongest evidence yet that our current laws of physics hold true when it comes to the lowest possible temperature. From a report on NewScientist: Now Jonathan Oppenheim and Lluis Masanes at University College London have mathematically derived the unattainability principle and placed limits on how fast a system can cool, creating a general proof of the third law. "In computer science, people ask this question all the time: how long does it take to perform a computation?" says Oppenheim. "Just as a computing machine performs a computation, a cooling machine cools a system." So, he and Masanes asked how long it takes to get cold. Cooling can be thought of as a series of steps: heat is removed from the system and dumped into the surrounding environment again and again, and each time the system gets colder. How cold depends on how much work can be done to remove the heat and the size of the reservoir for dumping it. By applying mathematical techniques from quantum information theory, they proved that no real system will ever reach 0 kelvin: it would take an infinite number of steps. Getting close to absolute zero is possible, though, and Masanes and Oppenheim quantified the steps of cooling, setting speed limits for how cold a given system can get in finite time.

This Is How the Number 3.14 Got the Name 'Pi' ( 133

An anonymous reader shares a Time article: Ancient research on real numbers likely "didn't get improved upon until the age of Newton," says John Conway, mathematics professor emeritus at Princeton University who once won the school's Pi Day pie-eating contest. Sir Isaac Newton recorded 16 digits of pi in 1665, later admitting that he was "ashamed" of how long he had worked on the computations, as it meant that he had "no other business at the time," per the MAA. It was not until the 18th century -- about two millennia after the significance of the number 3.14 was first calculated by Archimedes -- that the name "pi" was first used to denote the number. In other words, the Greek letter used to represent the idea was not actually picked by the Ancient Greeks who discovered it. British mathematician William Jones came up with the Greek letter and symbol for the figure in 1706, and it was popularized by Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler, Catherine the Great's mathematician, a few decades later. "Euler was a much better mathematician than the people who used [pi] before, and he wrote very good textbooks," says Conway. "He used it because the Greek letter Pi corresponds with the letter 'P'... and pi is about the perimeter of the circle."

Slashdot Asks: Are Password Rules Bullshit? ( 498

Here's what Jeff Atwood, a founder of Stack Overflow thinks: Password rules are bullshit. They don't work.
They heavily penalize your ideal audience, people that use real random password generators. Hey, guess what, that password randomly didn't have a number or symbol in it. I just double checked my math textbook, and yep, it's possible. I'm pretty sure.
They frustrate average users, who then become uncooperative and use "creative" workarounds that make their passwords less secure.
Are often wrong, in the sense that they are grossly incomplete and/or insane.
Seriously, for the love of God, stop with this arbitrary password rule nonsense already. If you won't take my word for it, read this 2016 NIST password rules recommendation. It's right there, "no composition rules". However, I do see one error, it should have said "no bullshit composition rules".
What do you think?

Douglas Crockford Envisions A Post-JavaScript World ( 300

JavaScript developer (and JSON proponent) Douglas Crockford recently described "a theoretical post-JavaScript World," according to InfoWorld. Crockford "believes the web development staple needs a successor that can fix multiple programming nuances." An anonymous reader summarizes their report: Despite its status as the world's most popular language, Crockford told an audience at the Oracle Code conference, "It would be sad if JavaScript turns out to be the last language." He complained that JavaScript has two different ways of declaring variables -- let and var -- as well as two different "bottom variables" with no value -- both null and undefined. "There's an argument among language designers, should we have bottom values at all? But there's nobody who thinks you should have two of them."

According to InfoWorld, Crockford "also presented a scenario with JavaScript being turned into a purely functional programming language by getting rid of 'impurities' like date, the delete operation, math.random and object.assign. Afterward, he stressed replacing JavaScript rather than adding functional capabilities to it... The next language also should be better able to deal with multiple cores. Most languages have followed the sequential model of Fortran, executing one operation after another, he said. 'That's not how the world works anymore. We now have lots of cores available to us, which all want to be running at the same time.'"

In other news, Crockford also proposed ending the "spaces vs. tabs" debate by simply eliminating tabs altogether.

How Algorithms May Affect You ( 85

New submitter Muckluck shares an excerpt from a report via Phys.Org that provides "an interesting look at how algorithms may be shaping your life": When you browse online for a new pair of shoes, pick a movie to stream on Netflix or apply for a car loan, an algorithm likely has its word to say on the outcome. The complex mathematical formulas are playing a growing role in all walks of life: from detecting skin cancers to suggesting new Facebook friends, deciding who gets a job, how police resources are deployed, who gets insurance at what cost, or who is on a "no fly" list. Algorithms are being used -- experimentally -- to write news articles from raw data, while Donald Trump's presidential campaign was helped by behavioral marketers who used an algorithm to locate the highest concentrations of "persuadable voters." But while such automated tools can inject a measure of objectivity into erstwhile subjective decisions, fears are rising over the lack of transparency algorithms can entail, with pressure growing to apply standards of ethics or "accountability." Data scientist Cathy O'Neil cautions about "blindly trusting" formulas to determine a fair outcome. "Algorithms are not inherently fair, because the person who builds the model defines success," she said. Phys.Org cites O'Neil's 2016 book, "Weapons of Math Destruction," which provides some "troubling examples in the United States" of "nefarious" algorithms. "Her findings were echoed in a White House report last year warning that algorithmic systems 'are not infallible -- they rely on the imperfect inputs, logic, probability, and people who design them,'" reports Phys.Org. "The report noted that data systems can ideally help weed out human bias but warned against algorithms 'systematically disadvantaging certain groups.'"

Pioneering Data Genius Hans Rosling Passes Away At Age 68 ( 53

An anonymous reader writes: On Tuesday, Sweden's prime minister tweeted that Hans Rosling "made human progress across our world come alive for millions," and the public educator will probably best be remembered as the man who could condense 200 years of global history into four minutes. He was a geek's geek, a former professor of global health who "dropped out" because he wanted to help start a nonprofit about data. Specifically, it urged data-based decisions for global development policy, and the Gapminder foundation created the massive Trendalyzer tool which let users build their own data visualizations. Eventually they handed off the tool to Google who used it with open-source scientific datasets. The BBC describes Rosling as a "public educator" with a belief that facts "could correct 'global ignorance' about the reality of the world, which 'has never been less bad.'" Rosling's TED talks include "The Best Data You've Never Seen" and "How Not To Be Ignorant About The World," and in 2015 he also gave a talk titled "How to Beat Ebola." Hans Rosling died Tuesday at age 68.

You Can Make Any Number Out of Four 4s Because Math Is Amazing ( 309

Andrew Moseman, writing for Popular Mechanics: Here's a fun math puzzle to brighten your day. Say you've got four 4s -- 4, 4, 4, 4 -- and you're allowed to place any normal math symbols around them. How many different numbers can you make? According to the fantastic YouTube channel Numberphile, you can make all of them. Really. You just have to have some fun and get creative. When you first start out, the problem seems pretty simple. So, for example, 4 - 4 + 4 - 4 = 0. To make 1, you can do 4 / 4 + 4 - 4. In fact, you can make all the numbers up to about 20 using only the basic arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. But soon that's not enough. To start reaching bigger numbers, the video explains, you must pull in more sophisticated operations like square roots, exponents, factorials (4!, or 4 x 3 x 2 x 1), and concatenation (basically, turning 4 and 4 into 44).

'To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics' ( 229

Excerpts from an article on Quanta Magazine, rearranged for clarity and space: Math conferences don't usually feature standing ovations, but Francis Su received one last month in Atlanta. In his talk he framed mathematics as a pursuit uniquely suited to the achievement of human flourishing, a concept the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, or a life composed of all the highest goods. Su talked of five basic human desires that are met through the pursuit of mathematics: play, beauty, truth, justice and love. Su opened his talk with the story of Christopher, an inmate serving a long sentence for armed robbery who had begun to teach himself math from textbooks he had ordered. After seven years in prison, during which he studied algebra, trigonometry, geometry and calculus, he wrote to Su asking for advice on how to continue his work. After Su told this story, he asked the packed ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, his voice breaking: "When you think of who does mathematics, do you think of Christopher?" If mathematics is a medium for human flourishing, it stands to reason that everyone should have a chance to participate in it. But in his talk Su identified what he views as structural barriers in the mathematical community that dictate who gets the opportunity to succeed in the field -- from the requirements attached to graduate school admissions to implicit assumptions about who looks the part of a budding mathematician. When Su finished his talk, the audience rose to its feet and applauded, and many of his fellow mathematicians came up to him afterward to say he had made them cry. [...] Mathematics builds skills that allow people to do things they might otherwise not have been able to do or experience. If I learn mathematics and I become a better thinker, I develop perseverance, because I know what it's like to wrestle with a hard problem, and I develop hopefulness that I will actually solve these problems. And some people experience a kind of transcendent wonder that they're seeing something true about the universe. That's a source of joy and flourishing.

New, Higher Measurement of Universe's Expansion May Lead To a 'New Physics' ( 139

doug141 writes: Astronomers have measured the universe's current expansion rate (a value known as the Hubble constant) at about 44.7 miles (71.9 kilometers) per second per megaparsec (3.26 million light-years). This is consistent with a calculation that was announced last year by a research team, but it's considerably higher than the rate that was estimated by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite mission in 2015 -- about 41.6 miles (66.9 km) per second per megaparsec. The cause of this discrepancy is unclear. "The expansion rate of the universe is now starting to be measured in different ways with such high precision that actual discrepancies may possibly point towards new physics beyond our current knowledge of the universe," a researcher said. Mike Wall writes via "The differences in the Hubble constant estimates may reflect something that astronomers don't understand about the early universe, or something that has changed since that long-ago epoch, scientists have said. For example, it's possible that dark energy -- the mysterious force that's thought to be driving the universe's accelerating expansion -- has grown in strength over the eons, members of Riess' team said last year. The discrepancy could also indicate that dark matter -- the strange, invisible stuff that astronomers think vastly outweighs 'normal' matter throughout the universe -- has as-yet-unappreciated characteristics, or that Einstein's theory of gravity has some holes, they added."

Cervical Cancer Just Got Much Deadlier -- Because Scientists Fixed a Math Error ( 183

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Cervical cancer is 77 percent more deadly for black women and 44 percent more deadly for white women than previously thought, researchers report today in the journal Cancer. But the lethal boosts aren't from more women actually dying than before -- they're from scientists correcting their own calculation error. In the past, their estimates didn't account for women who had undergone hysterectomies -- which almost always removes the cervix, and with it the risk of getting cervical cancer. We don't include men in our calculation because they are not at risk for cervical cancer and by the same measure, we shouldn't include women who don't have a cervix," Anne F. Rositch, the study's lead author and an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins told The New York Times. For the study, the researchers looked at national cervical cancer mortality data collected between 2000 to 2012. They also looked into national survey data on the prevalence of hysterectomies. Then, they used those figures to adjust the number of women at risk of dying of cervical cancer. The researchers found that black women have a mortality rate of 10.1 per 100,000. For white women, the rate is 4.7 per 100,000. Past estimates had those rates at 5.7 and 3.2, respectively. The new death rate for black women in the US is on par with that of developing countries. Though the new study wasn't designed to address racial disparities, experts speculate that the large difference reflects unequal access to preventative medicine and quality healthcare.

An AI Is Finally Trouncing The World's Best Poker Players ( 164

Halfway through the "Brains vs. AI" poker competition, an AI named Libratus is trouncing its human opponents, who are four of the world's top professional players. One of the pros, Jimmy Chou, said he and his colleagues initially underestimated Libratus, but have come to regard it as one tough player. "The bot gets better and better every day," Chou said. "It's like a tougher version of us"... Chou said he and the other pros have shared notes and tips each day, looking for weaknesses they can each exploit. "The first couple of days, we had high hopes," Chou said. "But every time we find a weakness, it learns from us and the weakness disappears the next day."
By Saturday, the AI had amassed a lead of $693,531 after 56,732 hands in the 120,000-hand match (which is being livestreamed by the Rivers Casino on Twitch). "I'm feeling good," said Tuomas Sandholm, the computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who co-created the AI. "The algorithms are performing great. They're better at solving strategy ahead of time, better at driving strategy during play and better at improving strategy on the fly."

Knuth Previews New Math Section For 'The Art of Computer Programming' ( 176

In 1962, 24-year-old Donald Knuth began writing The Art of Computer Programming -- and 55 years later, he's still working on it. An anonymous reader quotes Knuth's web site at Stanford: Volume 4B will begin with a special section called 'Mathematical Preliminaries Redux', which extends the 'Mathematical Preliminaries' of Section 1.2 in Volume 1 to things that I didn't know about in the 1960s. Most of this new material deals with probabilities and expectations of random events; there's also an introduction to the theory of martingales.

You can have a sneak preview by looking at the current draft of pre-fascicle 5a (52 pages), last updated 18 January 2017. As usual, rewards will be given to whoever is first to find and report errors or to make valuable suggestions. I'm particularly interested in receiving feedback about the exercises (of which there are 125) and their answers (of which there are 125).

Over the years Knuth gave out over $20,000 in rewards, though most people didn't cash his highly-coveted "hexadecimal checks", and in 2008 Knuth switched to honorary "hexadecimal certificates". In 2014 Knuth complained about the "dumbing down" of computer science history, and his standards remain high. In his most-recent update, 79-year-old Knuth reminds readers that "There's stuff in here that isn't in Wikipedia yet!"

Slashdot Top Deals