sciencehabit writes "If you are one of the 20% of healthy adults who struggle with basic arithmetic, simple tasks like splitting the dinner bill can be excruciating. Now, a new study suggests that a gentle, painless electrical current applied to the brain can boost math performance for up to 6 months. Researchers don't fully understand how it works, however, and there could be side effects." We've covered various other potential benefits to having your brain shocked.
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
davecb writes "The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) has recently published two notices for patent examiners relating to patent interpretation, and in particular computer-related/business method type patents saying: 'for example, what appears on its face to be a claim for an "art" or a "process" may, on a proper construction, be a claim for a mathematical formula and therefore not patentable subject matter.'"
ananyo writes "Researchers hoping to get '2' as the answer for a long-sought proof involving pairs of prime numbers are celebrating the fact that a mathematician has wrestled the value down from infinity to 70 million. That goal is the proof to a conjecture concerning prime numbers. Primes abound among smaller numbers, but they become less and less frequent as one goes towards larger numbers. But exceptions exist: the 'twin primes,' which are pairs of prime numbers that differ in value by 2. The twin prime conjecture says that there is an infinite number of such twin pairs. Some attribute the conjecture to the Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, which would make it one of the oldest open problems in mathematics. The new result, from Yitang Zhang of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, finds that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that are less than 70 million units apart. He presented his research on 13 May to an audience of a few dozen at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although 70 million seems like a very large number, the existence of any finite bound, no matter how large, means that that the gaps between consecutive numbers don't keep growing forever."
itwbennett writes "Researchers from the University of Edinburgh set out to test the long-held assumption that kids who performed well in school at a young age carried that early success through to adulthood. And prove it they did! Specifically, 'Math and reading ability at age 7 may be linked with socioeconomic status several decades later.' Early success even correlates 'over and above associations with intelligence, education, and socioeconomic status in childhood.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Frédéric Wang, an engineer at the MathJax project, reports that the latest nightly build of Firefox now passes the MathML Acid2 test. Screenshots in his post show a comparison with the latest nightly Chrome Canary, and it's not pretty. He writes 'Google developers forked Webkit and decided to remove from Blink all the code (including MathML) on which they don't plan to work in the short term.'"
waderoush writes "Consumer Reports calls extended warranties 'money down the drain,' and as a tech journalist and owner of myriad gadgets — none of which have ever conked out or cracked up during the original warranty period — that was always my attitude too. But when I met recently with Steve Abernethy, CEO of San Francisco-based warranty provider SquareTrade, I tried to keep an open mind, and I came away thinking that the industry might be changing. In a nutshell, Abernethy says he's aware of the extended-warranty industry's dreadful reputation, but he says SquareTrade is working to salvage it through a combination of lower prices, broader coverage, and better service. On top of that, he made some persuasive points – which don't seem to figure into Consumer Reports' argument – about the way the 'risk vs. severity' math has changed since the beginning of the smartphone and tablet era. One-third of smartphone owners will lose their devices to drops or spills within the first three years of purchase, the company's data shows. If you belong to certain categories — like people in big households, or motorcycle owners, or homeowners with hardwood floors — your risk is even higher. So, in the end, the decision about buying an extended warranty boils down to whether you think you can defy the odds, and whether you can afford to buy a new device at full price if you're one of the unlucky ones."
mikejuk writes with news of an advancement for homomorphic encryption and open source: "To be fully homomorphic the code has to be such that a third party can add and multiply numbers that it contains without needing to decrypt it. In other words they can change the data by working with just the encrypted version. This may sound like magic but a fully homomorphic scheme was invented in 2009 by Craig Gentry. This was a step in the right direction but the problem was that it is very inefficient and computationally intensive. Since then there have been a number of improvements that make the scheme practical in the right situations Now Victor Shoup and Shai Halevi of the IBM T J Watson Research Center have released an open source (GPL) C++ library, HElib, as a Github project. The code is said to incorporate many optimizations to make the encryption run faster. Homomorphic encryption has the potential to revolutionize security by allowing operations on data without the need to decrypt it."
Avantare writes "The first sci-fi novel I read was A Wrinkle in Time; the next was Dune. Why don't more people read these extraordinarily imaginative books? Delegate Ray Canterbury, who represents Greenbrier County in southern WV, wants to help with that. Canterbury introduced House Bill 2983, which reads, 'To stimulate interest in math and science among students in the public schools of this state, the State Board of Education shall prescribe minimum standards by which samples of grade-appropriate science fiction literature are integrated into the curriculum of existing reading, literature or other required courses for middle school and high school students.' For decades, walking around with a paperback sci-fi novel in your back pocket at school was the quickest way to find yourself permanently excluded from the cool-kid clique. But what if it wasn't just the geeks who read Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke? What if science fiction was mandatory reading for all students?"
An anonymous reader writes "A study released Wednesday by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute reinforces what a number of researchers have come to believe: that the STEM worker shortage is a myth. The EPI study found that the United States has 'more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations.' Basic dynamics of supply and demand would dictate that if there were a domestic labor shortage, wages should have risen. Instead, researchers found, they've been flat, with many Americans holding STEM degrees unable to enter the field and a sharply higher share of foreign workers taking jobs in the information technology industry. (IT jobs make up 59 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the study.)"
new submitter heybiff writes "It is the time of year where students are scrambling for extra credit assignments to boost grades. As a middle school science teacher, I want to accommodate them, while still keeping science involved; and book reports are a popular activity in my school. Unfortunately, I have only been able to come up with a short list of science related books that a 11-14 year old would or could read in their free time: Ender's Game, Hitchhiker's Guide. What books would you recommend as a good read for an extra credit book report, that would still involve a strong science twist or inspire a student's interest in science? The book must be in print, science related, fiction or non-fiction, and not be overtly objectionable or outright banned. I look forward to the submissions." "Outright banned" actually seems a rich vein on which to draw; note that not even Ender's Game is safe.
Shipud writes "E.O. Wilson is the renowned father of sociobiology, a professor (emeritus) at Harvard, two time pulitzer prize winner, and a popularizer of science. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Wilson provides controversial advice to aspiring young scientists. Wilson claims that math literacy is not essential, and that scientific models in biology, intuitively generated, can later be formalized by a specialized statistician. One blogger calls out Wilson on his article, arguing that knowing mathematics is essential to generating models, and that lacking what Darwin called the "extra sense" is essentially limiting to any scientist."
alostpacket writes "The New York times reports that statistical scoring by the standardized testing company Pearson incorrectly disqualified over 4700 students from a chance to enter gifted / advanced programs in New York City schools. Only students who score in the 90th percentile or above are eligible for these programs. Those in the 97th or above are eligible for 5 of the best programs. 'According to Pearson, three mistakes were made. Students' ages, which are used to calculate their percentile ranking against students of similar age, were recorded in years and months, but should also have counted days to be precise. Incorrect scoring tables were used. And the formula used to combine the two test parts into one percentile ranking contained an error.' No mention of enlisting the help of the gifted children was made in the Times article, but it also contained a now-corrected error. This submission likely also contains an erro"
Famous for his work in math, astronomy, nuclear engineering, and theoretical physics, Freeman Dyson has left his mark on almost every scientific discipline. He's won countless awards, and written numerous books on a wide range of topics both scientific and philosophical. One of his biggest contributions to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga. 10 years after moving to the U.S. he started working on the Orion Project, which sought to create a spacecraft with a nuclear propulsion system. STNG exposed the idea of a Dyson sphere to the masses, and his hypothetical plan for making a comet habitable with the help of genetically-engineered plants is a personal favorite. Mr. Dyson has graciously agreed give us a bit of his time in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
quarterbuck writes "Many politicians, especially in Europe, have used the idea that economic growth is impeded by debt levels above 90% of GDP to justify austerity measures. The academic justification came from a paper and a book by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. Now researchers at U Mass at Amherst have refuted the study — they find that not only was the data tainted by bad statistics, it also had an Excel error. Apparently when averaging a few GDP numbers in an excel sheet, they did not drag down the cell ranges down properly, excluding Belgium. The supporting website for the book, 'This time it is different,' has lots of financial information if a reader might want to replicate some of the results." The Excel error is making the rounds as the cause of the problems with the study, but it's actually a minor component. The study also ignores some post-WWII data for countries that had a high debt load and high growth, and there's some fishy weighting going on: "The U.K. has 19 years (1946-1964) above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with an average 2.4 percent growth rate. New Zealand has one year in their sample above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with a growth rate of -7.6. These two numbers, 2.4 and -7.6 percent, are given equal weight in the final calculation, as they average the countries equally. Even though there are 19 times as many data points for the U.K."
First time accepted submitter Hamburg writes "Frank Mittelbach, member of the LaTeX Project and LaTeX3 developer, reviews significant issues of TeX raised already 20 years ago. Today he evaluates which issues are solved, and which still remain open and why. Examples of issues are managing consecutive hyphens, rivers of vertical spaces and identical words across lines, grid-based design, weighed hyphenation points, and overcoming the the mouth/stomach separation. Modern engines such as pdfTeX, XeTeX and LuaTeX are considered with regard to solutions of important problems in typesetting." Note: When TeX was first released, Jimmy Carter was president.
ananyo writes "According to the accepted account, an astronaut falling into a black hole would be ripped apart, and his remnants crushed as they plunged into the black hole's infinitely dense core. Calculations by Joseph Polchinski, a string theorist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California, though, point to a different end: quantum effects turn the event horizon into a seething maelstrom of particles and anyone who fell in would hit a wall of fire and be burned to a crisp in an instant. There's one problem with the firewall theory. If Polchinski is right, then either general relativity or quantum mechanics is wrong and his work has triggered a mini-crisis in theoretical physics."
netbuzz writes "The questioner on Quora asks: 'When is the difference between 99% accuracy and 99.9% accuracy very important?' And the most popular answer provided cites an example familiar to all of you: service level agreements. However, the most entertaining reply comes from a computer science and mathematics student at the University of Texas, Alex Suchman. Here's his answer: 'When it can stop a Zombie Apocalypse.'"
netbuzz writes "A federal judge in Texas, presiding over a district notorious for favoring patent trolls, has summarily dismissed all claims relating to a case brought by Uniloc USA against Rackspace for [Linux] allegedly infringing upon [Uniloc's] patents. Red Hat defended Rackspace in the matter and issued a press release saying: 'In dismissing the case, Chief Judge Leonard Davis found that Uniloc's claim was unpatentable under Supreme Court case law that prohibits the patenting of mathematical algorithms. This is the first reported instance in which the Eastern District of Texas has granted an early motion to dismiss finding a patent invalid because it claimed unpatentable subject matter.'" You can't patent floating point math after all.
Cynic writes "Inspired by an earlier Slashdot story about Finnish teachers and students writing a math textbook, I pitched the idea of writing our own much cheaper/free C++ textbook to my programming students. They were incredibly positive, so I decided to move forward and started a Kickstarter project. We hope to release the textbook we produce under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and sell cheap hard copies to sustain the hosting and other production costs."