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Education

Learn-to-Code Program For 10,000 Low-Income Girls 471 471

theodp writes: In a press release Tuesday, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) announced it was teaming with Lifetime Partner Apple and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on its Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment to engage 10,000 girls in learning computing concepts. "Currently, just 25 states and the District of Columbia allow computer science to count as a math or science graduation requirement," explained the press release. "Because boys get more informal opportunities for computing experience outside of school, this lack of formal computing education especially affects girls and many youth of color." HUD, the press release added, has joined the Commitment to Action to help extend the program's reach in partnership with public housing authorities nationwide and provide computing access to the 485,000 girls residing in public housing. "In this Information Age, opportunity is just a click on a keyboard away. HUD is proud to partner with NCWIT to provide talented girls with the skills and experiences they need to reach new heights and to achieve their dreams in the 21st century global economy," said HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who coincidentally is eyed as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea is the Clinton Foundation's point-person on computer science. Last year, Chelsea Clinton gave a keynote speech at the NCWIT Summit and appeared with now-U.S. CTO Megan Smith to help launch Google's $50 million girls-only Made With Code initiative.
Programming

Ask Slashdot: What's the Harm In a Default Setting For Div By Zero? 1066 1066

New submitter CodeInspired writes: After 20 years of programming, I've decided I'm tired of checking for div by zero. Would there be any serious harm in allowing a system wide setting that said div by zero simply equals zero? Maybe it exists already, not sure. But I run into it all the time in every language I've worked with. Does anyone want their div by zero errors to result in anything other than zero?
Math

Turning a Nail Polish Disaster Into a Teachable Math Moment 126 126

theodp writes: In The Spiral of Splatter, SAS's Rick Wicklin writes that his daughter's nail polish spill may have created quite a mess, but at least it presented a teachable math moment: "'Daddy, help! Help me! Come quick!' I heard my daughter's screams from the upstairs bathroom and bounded up the stairs two at a time. Was she hurt? Bleeding? Was the toilet overflowing? When I arrived in the doorway, she pointed at the wall and at the floor. The wall was splattered with black nail polish. On the floor laid a broken bottle in an expanding pool of black ooze. 'It slipped,' she sobbed. As a parent, I know that there are times when I should not raise my voice. I knew intellectually that this was one of those times. But staring at that wall, seeing what I was seeing, I could not prevent myself from yelling. 'Oh my goodness!' I exclaimed. 'Is that a logarithmic spiral?'" So, got any memorable teachable math moments you've experienced either as a kid or adult? Yes, Cheerios Math counts!
Medicine

Rare 9-way Kidney Swap a Success 130 130

Okian Warrior sends news that a complex set of 18 surgeries has been successfully completed at California Pacific Medical Center and the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center that resulted in nine donors sending kidneys to recipients in need. This web of kidney swaps arose because many of the people with failing kidneys had donors willing to help them, but weren't a biological match. Rather than give up on the transplant altogether, doctors were able to arrange the willing donors in a way such that each patient who needed a kidney was able to get one. "Software matching programs have been driving the trend. The programs use blood type and other patient data from medical tests to connect people who are compatible."
Math

Quantum Gravity Will Be Just Fine Without String Theory 62 62

StartsWithABang writes: It's a difficult fact to accept: our two most fundamental theories that describe reality, General Relativity for gravitation and the Standard Model / Quantum Field Theory for the other three forces, are fundamentally incompatible with one another. When an electron moves through a double slit, for example, its gravitational field can't move through both slits, at least not without a quantum theory of gravity. String Theory is often touted as the only game in town as far as formulating a quantum theory of gravity is concerned, but in fact there are five viable options, each with different pros, cons, and approaches to the problem. Many of them, in fact, have undergone significant developments in the past 5-10 years, something String Theory cannot claim.
Education

Clinton Foundation: Kids' Lack of CS Savvy Threatens the US Economy 208 208

theodp writes: As the press digs for details on Clinton Foundation donations, including a reported $26+ million from Microsoft and Bill Gates, it's probably worth noting the interest the Clintons have developed in computer science and the role they have played — and continue to play — in the national K-12 CS and tech immigration crisis that materialized after Microsoft proposed creating such a crisis to advance its 'two-pronged' National Talent Strategy, which aims to increase K-12 CS education and the number of H-1B visas. Next thing you know, Bill is the face of CS at the launch of Code.org. Then Hillary uses the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) conference to launch a Facebook, Microsoft, and Google initiative to boost the ranks of female and students of color in CS, and starts decrying woeful CS enrollment. Not to be left out, Chelsea keynotes the NCWIT Summit and launches Google's $50M girls-only Made With Code initiative with now-U.S. CTO Megan Smith. And last December, the Clinton Foundation touted its initiatives to engage middle school girls in CS, revamp the nation's AP CS program, and retrain out-of-work Americans as coders. At next month's CGI America 2015, the conference will kick off with a Beer Bust that CGI says "will also provide an opportunity to learn about Tech Girls Rock, a CGI Commitment to Action launched by CA Technologies in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that helps girls discover an interest in tech-related educational opportunities and careers." On the following days, CGI sessions will discuss tech's need for a strong and diverse talent pipeline for computer and information technology jobs, which it says is threatened by "the persistent poor performance of American students in science, technology, engineering, and math," presenting "serious implications for the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. economy." So what's the long-term solution? Expanding CS education, of course!
Education

Google and Gates-Backed Khan Academy Introduces "Grit"-Based Classroom Funding 119 119

theodp writes: Their intentions are no doubt good, but some will be troubled by Google and Khan Academy's recently-concluded LearnStorm initiative, which pitted kids-against-kids, schools-against-schools, and cities-against-cities in a 3-month learning challenge for prizes based not only on students' mastery of math skills on Khan Academy, but also their perceived 'hustle' (aka 'grit'). "Points are earned by mastering math skills and also for taking on challenging new concepts and persevering," explained a Khan Academy FAQ. A blog entry further explained, "They've earned points and prizes not only for mastering math skills but also for showing 'hustle,' a metric we created to measure grit, perseverance, and growth. They competed over 200,000 hours of learning and 13.6 million standards-aligned math problems. In addition, thanks to the generosity of Google.org, DonorsChoose.org, and Comcast's Internet Essentials, 34 underserved schools unlocked new devices for their classrooms and free home internet service for eligible families, increasing student access to online learning tools like Khan Academy." Apparently funded by a $2 million Google grant, the Google, Khan Academy, and DonorsChoose grit-based classroom funding comes on the heels of the same organizations' gender-based classroom funding initiative. Supported by some of the world's wealthiest individuals and corporations, Khan Academy's Board members include a Google Board member (Diane Green), spouse of a Google Board member (Ann Doerr), and the Managing Partner of Bill Gates' bgC3 (Larry Cohen); former Board members include Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Math

A Beautiful Mind Mathematician John F. Nash Jr. Dies 176 176

Rick Zeman writes: John F. Nash Jr. revolutionized the mathematical field of game theory and was given a mind that was unique and deeply troubled. He became known to most people by the movie about his life, A Beautiful Mind. Dr. Nash died, along with his wife, May 24 in a two-car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Washington Post reports: "In 1994, when Dr. Nash received the Nobel Prize in economics, the award marked not only an intellectual triumph but also a personal one. More than four decades earlier, as a Princeton University graduate student, he had produced a 27-page thesis on game theory — in essence, the applied mathematical study of decision-making in situations of conflict — that would become one of the most celebrated works in the field. Before the academic world could fully recognize his achievement, Dr. Nash descended into a condition eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia. For the better part of 20 years, his once supremely rational mind was beset by delusions and hallucinations. By the time Dr. Nash emerged from his disturbed state, his ideas had influenced economics, foreign affairs, politics, biology — virtually every sphere of life fueled by competition. But he been absent from professional life for so long that some scholars assumed he was dead."
The Almighty Buck

Stock Market Valuation Exceeds Its Components' Actual Value 335 335

An anonymous reader writes: James Tobin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, developed a concept called "Q-value" — it's the ratio between two numbers: 1) the sum of all publicly-traded companies' stock valuations and 2) the value of all these companies' actual assets, if they were sold. Bloomberg reports that the continued strength of the stock market has now caused that ratio to go over 1 — in other words, the market values companies about 10% higher than the sum of their actual assets. The Q value is now at its highest point since the Dot-com bubble. Similar peaks in the past hundred years have all been quickly followed by crashes.

Now, that's not to say a crash is imminent — experts disagree on the Q-value's reliability. One said, "the ratio's doubling since 2009 to 1.10 is a symptom of companies diverting money from their businesses to the stock market, choosing buybacks over capital spending. Six years of zero-percent interest rates have similarly driven investors into riskier things like equities, elevating the paper value of assets over their tangible worth." Others point out that as the digital economy grows, a greater portion of publicly traded companies lack the tangible assets that were the hallmark of the manufacturing boom.
Math

John Urschel: The 300 Pound Mathematician Who Hits People For a Living 170 170

HughPickens.com writes: Kate Murphy writes at NYT about mathematician John Urschel whose latest contribution to the mathematical realm was a paper for the Journal of Computational Mathematics with the impressively esoteric title, "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians." "Believe me, I am aware that terms such as multigrid, Fiedler, and vector are not words that people use in their daily lives," says Urshel.

But as an offensive guard for the Baltimore Ravens, John Urschel regularly goes head to head with the top defensive players in the NFL and does his best to keep quarterback Joe Flacco out of harm's way. "I play because I love the game. I love hitting people," Urshel writes. "There's a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I'm (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I'm hard-pressed to find anywhere else."

Urschel acknowledges that he has faced questions from NFL officials, journalists, fans and fellow mathematicians about why he runs the risk of potential brain injury from playing football when he has "a bright career ahead of me in mathematics" but doesn't feel able to quit. "When I go too long without physical contact I'm not a pleasant person to be around. This is why, every offseason, I train in kickboxing and wrestling in addition to my lifting, running and position-specific drill work."
Earth

Can Earthquakes Be Predicted Algorithmically? 94 94

An anonymous reader with this story about a practical application of big data analysis as applied to the trove of sensor readings taken by satellites and by ground-based senosrs. A company called Terra Seismic says that earthquakes can be predicted 20-30 days before they occur, by sifting data for thermal, ionic, and other abnormalities in areas where quakes are considered likely. Says the linked article: "The company claims to have successfully predicted a number of earthquakes. For example, on 5th of April 2013, the firm issued a forecast for Japan. On 12th April 2013, an earthquake hit the identified area and 33 people were injured. On 4th June 2013, the firm again made a prediction for an earthquake in North Italy. On 21st June, an earthquake hit the identified area. On 3rd March 2013, the firm issued a forecast for an earthquake in Iran. Again, after 35 days, an earthquake hit the identified area."
Stats

Poker Pros Win Against AI, But Experts Peg Match As Statistical Draw 65 65

hypnosec writes with some positive news for Skynet watchers, in that humans still have at least a slight lead against the AIs who might one day imprison us in energy-harvesting goo tanks, or at least beating us in Las Vegas. The two-day poker showdown involving four of the world's top (human) players and a Carnegie Mellon University AI program called Claudico saw the professionals win, after several days of heads-up no-limit Texas Hold'em. "Despite the win, the poker players' $732,713 collective lead over Claudico wasn't quite large enough to attain statistical significance, experts have said. This means that the results can't be accepted as scientifically reliable thereby indicating that the "Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence" competition effectively ended in a statistical tie." On the other hand, the computers sure got over what looked like a rout by the humans.
Math

NFL Releases Deflategate Report 225 225

_xeno_ writes: You may remember back in February that Slashdot covered the NFL asking Columbia University for help investigating Deflategate, a scandal where the New England Patriots were caught deflating their footballs in order to make them easier to catch. The Patriots claimed this was simply a result of the weather, while their opponents disagreed. Well, it's been months, but we finally have our answer: the balls were, in fact, knowingly deflated by the Patriots (to no one's surprise). And while science can explain a little deflation, it cannot explain the amount of deflation seen during the game. Which isn't stopping Boston fans from attacking the science. The report stops short of certainty, though, concluding rather that deliberate underinflation was "more likely than not." Not everyone agrees that a conspiracy is necessary to account for the measured pressure readings.
Math

Mandelbrot Zooms Now Surpass the Scale of the Observable Universe 157 157

StartsWithABang writes You're used to real numbers: that is, numbers that can be expressed as a decimal, even if it's an arbitrarily long, non-repeating decimal. There are also complex numbers, which are numbers that have a real part and also an imaginary part. The imaginary part is just like the real part, but is also multiplied by i, or the square root of -1. It's a simple definition: the Mandelbrot set consists of every possible complex number, n, where the sequence n, n^2 + n, (n^2 + n)^2 + n, etc.—where each new term is the prior term, squared, plus n—does not go to either positive or negative infinity. The scale of zoom visualizations now goes well past the limits of the observable Universe, with no signs of loss of complexity at all.
Transportation

How Uber Surge Pricing Really Works 96 96

minstrelmike writes with this analysis from Nicholas Diakopoulos of the Washington Post: At the core of Uber's wild success and market valuation of over $41 billion is its data and algorithmically fueled approach to matching supply and demand for cars. It's classic economics, supposedly....but is Uber's surge pricing algorithm really doing what they claim? Do surge prices really get more cars on the road?

My analysis suggests that rather than motivating a fresh supply of drivers, surge pricing instead re-distributes drivers already on the road.
Adds minstrelmike: The writer goes on to analyze 4 weeks of pricing info from 5 areas in D.C. and plotted prices versus wait times. "Price surging can work in any of three ways: by reducing demand for cars (less people want a car for a higher price), by creating new supply (providing an incentive for new drivers to hit the roads), or by shifting supply (drivers) to areas of higher demand."

It moves current drivers from one side of town to the other. It does not put new drivers on the road. It can't because the prices change every 3-5 minutes."
Math

Can High Intelligence Be a Burden Rather Than a Boon? 385 385

HughPickens.com writes David Robson has an interesting article at BBC on the relationship between high intelligence and happiness. "We tend to think of geniuses as being plagued by existential angst, frustration, and loneliness," writes Robson. Think of Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing, or Lisa Simpson – lone stars, isolated even as they burn their brightest." As Ernest Hemingway wrote: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." The first steps to studying the question were taken in 1926 when psychologist Lewis Terman decided to identify and study a group of gifted children. Terman selected 1,500 pupils with an IQ of 140 or more – 80 of whom had IQs above 170. Together, they became known as the "Termites", and the highs and lows of their lives are still being studied to this day. "As you might expect, many of the Termites did achieve wealth and fame – most notably Jess Oppenheimer, the writer of the classic 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Indeed, by the time his series aired on CBS, the Termites' average salary was twice that of the average white-collar job. But not all the group met Terman's expectations – there were many who pursued more "humble" professions such as police officers, seafarers, and typists. For this reason, Terman concluded that "intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated". Nor did their smarts endow personal happiness. Over the course of their lives, levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide were about the same as the national average." According to Robson, one possibility is that knowledge of your talents becomes something of a ball and chain. During the 1990s, the surviving Termites were asked to look back at the events in their 80-year lifespan. Rather than basking in their successes, many reported that they had been plagued by the sense that they had somehow failed to live up to their youthful expectations (PDF).
Education

LAUSD OKs Girls-Only STEM School, Plans Boys-Only English Language Arts School 599 599

theodp writes: Citing statistics that showed a whopping 46 more boys than girls passed the AP Computer Science Exam in 2011-12, the 640,000+ student Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) on Tuesday approved a waiver to enable the District to operate a single-gender, all-girls STEM School called the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA). Students in GALA will follow a six year sequence of computer courses starting in middle school that will culminate in AP Computer Science Principles. "Fewer females take AP courses in math, science, or computer science, and they are not as successful as males in receiving passing scores of 3, 4 or 5," argued the General Waiver Request (PDF, 700+ pages). "An all girls environment is reasonably necessary for the school to improve the self-confidence of girls in their academic abilities, especially in STEM areas where an achievement gap currently exists. GALA's admissions shall also comply with AB 1266 to ensure male students who identify as female are admitted to the school." The school's CS-related Partners include the UCLA Exploring Computer Science Program, as well as Google-bankrolled Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and NCWIT. One of the reasons the all-girls STEM school reportedly got the green light is that its backers satisfied federal regulations requiring a "substantially equal school" for excluded male students by submitting a plan for a companion all-boys school that would emphasize English Language Arts, where they often fall short of girls' test scores, rather than GALA's focus on STEM. One suspects the no-fan-of-gender-restricted-public-schools ACLU may call BS on this maneuver.
Math

Magician Turned Professor Talks About the Math Behind Shuffling Cards 63 63

An anonymous reader writes with this story about magician and professor of mathematics and statistics at Stanford University Persi Diaconis. "Now a professor of mathematics and statistics at Stanford University, Diaconis has employed his intuition about cards, which he calls 'the poetry of magic,' in a wide range of settings. Once, for example, he helped decode messages passed between inmates at a California state prison by using small random 'shuffles' to gradually improve a decryption key. He has also analyzed Bose-Einstein condensation — in which a collection of ultra-cold atoms coalesces into a single 'superatom' — by envisioning the atoms as rows of cards moving around. This makes them 'friendly,' said Diaconis, whose speech still carries the inflections of his native New York City. 'We all have our own basic images that we translate things into, and for me cards were where I started.' In 1992, Diaconis famously proved — along with the mathematician Dave Bayer of Columbia University — that it takes about seven ordinary riffle shuffles to randomize a deck. Over the years, Diaconis and his students and colleagues have successfully analyzed the effectiveness of almost every type of shuffle people use in ordinary life."
Education

Cornell Study: For STEM Tenure Track, Women Twice As Likely To Be Hired As Men 517 517

_Sharp'r_ writes In the first "empirical study of sexism in faculty hiring using actual faculty members", Cornell University researchers found that when using identical qualifications, but changing the sex of the applicant, "women candidates are favored 2 to 1 over men for tenure-track positions in the science, technology, engineering and math fields." An anonymous reader links to the study itself.
Education

Cannabis Smoking Makes Students Less Likely To Pass University Courses 291 291

Bruce66423 writes: A large scale European study shows that students who were unable to buy cannabis legally were 5% more likely to pass their University courses. Below-average students with no legal access to pot were 7.6% more likely to pass their courses, and the effect was five times more pronounced when dealing with courses involving math. One of the study's authors said, "We think this newfound effect on productivity from a change in legal access to cannabis is not negligible and should be, at least in the short run, politically relevant for any societal drug legalization and prohibition decision-making. In the bigger picture, our findings also indicate that soft drug consumption behavior is affected by their legal accessibility, which has not been causally demonstrated before. ... Considering the massive impact on cognitive performance high levels of THC have, I think it is reasonable to at least inform young users much more on consequences of consuming such products as compared with that of having a beer or pure vodka."