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Math

John Conway: All Play and No Work For a Genius 54

An anonymous reader points out Quanta's spotlight piece on mathematician John Conway, whose best known mathematical contribution is probably his "Game of Life," which has inspired many a screensaver and more than a few computer science careers. From the article: Based at Princeton University, though he found fame at Cambridge (as a student and professor from 1957 to 1987), John Horton Conway, 77, claims never to have worked a day in his life. Instead, he purports to have frittered away reams and reams of time playing. Yet he is Princeton's John von Neumann Professor in Applied and Computational Mathematics (now emeritus). He's a fellow of the Royal Society. And he is roundly praised as a genius. "The word 'genius' gets misused an awful lot," said Persi Diaconis, a mathematician at Stanford University. "John Conway is a genius. And the thing about John is he'll think about anything. He has a real sense of whimsy. You can't put him in a mathematical box."
Open Source

Debian Founder: How I Came To Find Linux 136

An anonymous reader writes: Ian Murdock has pretty solid open source cred: in 1993 he founded Debian, he was the CTO of Progeny and the Linux Foundation, and he helped pave the way for OpenSolaris. He has published a post about how he initially joined the Linux ecosystem. Quoting: "[In 1992], I spent most evenings in the basement of the MATH building basking in the green phosphorescent glow of the Z-29 terminals, exploring every nook and cranny of the UNIX system upstairs. ... I was also accessing UNIX from home via my Intel 80286-based PC and a 2400-baud modem, which saved me the trek across campus to the computer lab on particularly cold days. Being able to get to the Sequent from home was great, but I wanted to replicate the experience of the ENAD building's X terminals, so one day, in January 1993, I set out to find an X server that would run on my PC. As I searched for such a thing on Usenet, I stumbled across something called 'Linux.'" How did you come to find Linux?
Math

How Weather Modeling Gets Better 43

Dr_Ish writes: Bob Henson over at Weather Underground has posted a fascinating discussion of the recent improvements made to the major weather models that are used to forecast hurricanes and the like. The post also included interesting links that explain more about the models. Quoting: "The latest version of the ECMWF model, introduced in May, has significant changes to model physics and the ways in which observations are brought into and used within the model. The overall improvements include better portrayal of clouds and precipitation, including a more accurate depiction of intense rainfall. The main effect of the model upgrade for tropical cyclones is slightly lower central pressure. During the first 3 days of a forecast, the ECMWF has tended to have a slight weak bias on tropical cyclones; the new version is closer to the mark."
Books

XKCD Author's New Unpublished Book Becomes Scientific Best-Seller 90

An anonymous reader writes: XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe will be publishing a new book in November, but it's already become Amazon's #1 best-seller in two "Science & Math" subcategories, for mechanics and scientific instruments. Inspired by a cartoon describing NASA's Saturn V rocket as "the up-goer V", Randall's created a large-format collection of blueprints describing datacenters, tectonic plates, and even the controls in an airplane cockpit — using only the thousand most common English words. "Since this book explains things, I've called it Thing Explainer," Randall writes on the XKCD blog, trying to mimic the humorously simple style of his book. Randall's previous book of scientific hypotheticals — published one year ago — is still Amazon's #1 best-selling book in their "Physics" category, ranking higher than Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."
Programming

UK Industry Group Boss: Study Arts So Games Are Not Designed By 'Spotty Nerds' 207

nickweller writes: John Cridland is the leader of the Confederation of British Industry, a group that represents over 100,000 UK businesses. In a recent interview, he spoke about his enthusiasm for adding arts education to more traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs. Here's how he chose to express that: "One of the biggest growth industries in Britain today is the computer games industry. We need extra coders — dozens and dozens of them but nobody is going to play a game designed by a spotty nerd. We need people with artistic flair." Cridland also expressed support for an increased emphasis on foreign language education: "If we’re not capable of speaking other people’s languages, we’re going to be in difficulties. However, there is far too much emphasis placed on teaching French and German. The language we most need going forward is Spanish (the second most frequently spoken language in the world). That and a certain percentage need to learn Mandarin to develop relations with China."
Math

The Connoisseur of Number Sequences 63

An anonymous reader writes: 75-year-old Neil Sloane is considered by many to be one of the most influential mathematicians of our time, not because of the theorems he's proved, but because of his creation: The Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS). Quanta Magazine reports: "This giant repository, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, contains more than a quarter of a million different sequences of numbers that arise in different mathematical contexts, such as the prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11 ) or the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 ). What's the greatest number of cake slices that can be made with n cuts? Look up sequence A000125 in the OEIS. How many chess positions can be created in n moves? That's sequence A048987. The number of ways to arrange n circles in a plane, with only two crossing at any given point, is A250001. That sequence just joined the collection a few months ago. So far, only its first four terms are known; if you can figure out the fifth, Sloane will want to hear from you."
Math

Using Math To Tune a Video Game's Economy 96

An anonymous reader writes: When the shipping deadline was approaching for The Witcher 3, designer Matthew Steinke knew there was a big part of the game still missing: its economy. A game's economy is one of the things that can make or break immersion — you want collection and rewards to feel progressive and meaningful. Making items too expensive gives the game a grindy feel, while making them too cheap makes progression trivial. At the Game Developers Conference underway in Germany, Steinke explained his solution.

"Steinke created a formula that calculated attributes like how much damage, defense, or healing that each item provided, and he placed them into an overall combat rating could be used to rank other items in the system. ... Steinke set about blending the sub-categories into nine generalized categories, allowing him to determine the final weighting for damage and the range of prices for each item. To test if it all worked, he used polynomial least squares (a form of mathematical statistics) to chart each category's price progression. The resultant curve (pictured below) showed the rate at which spending was increasing as the quality of each item approached the category's ceiling value."
Microsoft

Behind the Microsoft Write-Off of Nokia 200

UnknowingFool writes: Previously Microsoft announced they had written off the Nokia purchase for $7.6B in the last quarter. In doing so, Microsoft would create only the third unprofitable quarter in the company's history. Released on July 31, new financial documents detail some of the reasoning and financials behind this decision. At the core of the problem was that the Phone Hardware business was only worth $116M, after adjusting for costs and market factors. One of those factors was poor sales of Nokia handhelds in 2015. Financially it made more sense to write it all off.
Microsoft

Microsoft Creates a Quantum Computer-Proof Version of TLS Encryption Protocol 128

holy_calamity writes: When (or if) quantum computers become practical they will make existing forms of encryption useless. But now researchers at Microsoft say they have made a quantum-proof version of the TLS encryption protocol we could use to keep online data secure in the quantum computing era. It is based on a mathematical problem very difficult for both conventional and quantum computers to crack. That tougher math means data moved about 20 percent slower in comparisons with conventional TLS, but Microsoft says the design could be practical if properly tuned up for use in the real world.
Math

For the Love of the Analytics of the Game: Before Beane, There Was AVM Systems 16

theodp writes: Those of you slugging your way through EdX's (free) Sabermetrics 101: Introduction to Baseball Analytics MOOC course might want to take a break from your R and SQL coding to check out Grantland's Before Beane, in which Ben Lindbergh tells the story of AVM Systems, the little-known company that jump-started sabermetrics and made Moneyball possible. Ken Mauriello, whose love-for-the-analytics-of-the-game led him to ditch a trading career to co-found AVM in the mid-90's, said of the early days, "Back in the day we weren't doing presentations [to skeptical MLB teams] with laptops. We were carrying around two enormous boxes with an enormous monitor and an enormous tower. It was like Planes, Trains & Automobiles traveling around with that stuff. Watching a great big Gateway box with your monitor come tumbling out upside down, and you pick it up and it's rattling. ... So we're in the hotel, saying, 'Please lord, let this thing work.'"
AMD

AMD Forces a LibreOffice Speed Boost With GPU Acceleration 144

New submitter samtuke writes: AMD processors get rated and reviewed based on performance. It is in our self-interest to make things work really, really fast on AMD hardware. AMD engineers contribute to LibreOffice, for good reason. Think about what happens behind a spreadsheet calculation. There can be a huge amount of math. Writing software to take advantage of a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) for general purpose computing is non-trivial. We know how to do it. AMD engineers wrote OpenCL kernels, and contributed them to the open source code base. Turning on the OpenCL option to enable GPU Compute resulted in a 500X+ speedup, about ¼ second vs. 2minutes, 21 seconds. Those measurements specifically come from the ground-water use sample from this set of Libre Office spreadsheets.
Education

US Wins Math Olympiad For First Time In 21 Years 280

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. won the International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time in 21 years. Gender diversity is brought up in this NPR article because the eight team members on the U.S. team were all male, but they made a point to mention that of the top 12 people participating in the U.S. Math Olympiad, 2 are female, which is better than last year when there were no females in the top 12. "I will say that it's not really a super-great spectator sport, in the sense that if you are watching them, it will look like they are thinking," Po-Shen Loh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and head coach for Team USA says. "Although I will assure you that inside their heads, if you could spectate, that would be quite a sport."
Stats

As Big Data Plateaus, Data Science Education Grows 41

gthuang88 writes: Even as the hype around big data has died down, opportunities for data scientists are expanding. Johns Hopkins, NYU, and MIT are among the schools offering courses in data science, and IBM and other big companies are investing heavily in training programs. Now a startup called DataCamp has raised $1 million to expand online courses in R programming, Apache Spark, and other topics. The deal speaks to the opportunity that venture capitalists see in training the next generation of data scientists and business analysts. It also shows online education is specializing beyond platforms like Codecademy, Coursera, and Udacity.
The Courts

Time Warner Cable Owes $229,500 To Woman It Would Not Stop Calling 215

HughPickens.com writes: Reuters reports that a Manhattan federal judge has ruled Time Warner Cable must pay Araceli King $229,500 for placing 153 automated calls meant for someone else to her cellphone in less than a year, even after she told them to stop. King accused Time Warner Cable of harassing her by leaving messages for Luiz Perez, who once held her cellphone number, even after she made clear who she was in a seven-minute discussion with a company representative. Time Warner Cable countered that it was not liable to King under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a law meant to curb robocall and telemarketing abuses, because it believed it was calling Perez, who had consented to the calls. In awarding triple damages of $1,500 per call for willfully violating that law, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said "a responsible business" would have tried harder to find Perez and address the problem. While Time Warner argued that they were unaware King ever asked to be on the company's "do not call list," Hellerstein determined, "there is no doubt King made this revocation." He wrote that the company "could not be bothered" to update King's information, even after she filed suit against TWC in March of 2014. The judge said 74 of the calls had been placed after King sued and that it was "incredible" to believe Time Warner Cable when it said it still did not know she objected. "Companies are using computers to dial phone numbers," says King's lawyer Sergei Lemberg. "They benefit from efficiency, but there is a cost when they make people's lives miserable. This was one such case."
Education

Learn-to-Code Program For 10,000 Low-Income Girls 473

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? 1067

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

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

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

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.