00_NOP writes: British schoolchildren used to be regularly taught multiplication tables up to 12 — because until 1971 the country had a currency based on 12 pennies to a shilling. More recently teaching has been limited to 1 — 10. Now the Conservative education secretary is demanding that the country — or at least England — return to teaching the "12 times tables". But wouldn't 16 make more sense (if it makes any sense) in this day and age? Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: John Mason, a legislator from the governing Scottish National Party, has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament demanding that creationist theories be given credence in schools because scientists "cannot disprove" their validity. Mason made his move after it was revealed that the education authority (the equivalent of a school board in the US) in one of Scotland's biggest areas are to set down new rules for religious education in schools after reports of Christian fundamentalist influence over the teaching of science. Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: Computer Scientists are not novelists or journalists but surely that does not excuse them from being to write sentences that at least follow the basic grammatical rules. Nor does it mean that their publishers should get away with seliing extremely badly written works to what are often close-to-captive audiences in Universities and similar institutions. Yet that happens all the time. Recently I bought a Computer Science book — aimed at researchers and specialist engineers that retails for over £70 (approx $105) and yet was written in such poor English that a 10-year-old school child would be failed on work of that standard. It's probably the worst I have seen, but it's not the only one — how do they get away with it? Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: Children in the UK have been taught in metric measures in school since (at least) 1972, but yesterday British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that they should actually be taught in Imperial measures (which are still in use officially to measure road distances and speeds but not really anywhere else). Is this because he has not got a clue about science or because he is trying to buy off his right wing fringe (who object to "metrication") or because he might be a bit stupid, Oxford degree not withstanding? Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: A small thought experiment you can try seems to suggest that the Chomskian theory of humans' innate linguistic ability is correct and maybe that means there will be limits to the success of big data based machine translation. Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: Even in the last month general relativity has added another success to its already impressive list of successful predictions — with evidence of gravity waves. That surely means we are never likely to physically meet an alien — travel is just too slow or too difficult. But what if we could communicate instantly across any distance? That just might be possible. Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: The reason people play Candy Crush seems to be that it is so difficult: in fact it has been proved that the problems faced by players are in the "NP" class, meaning — probably — that no algorithmic solution is known a priori and so the way you get to be good is by improving your heuristic sense — but still there is no way you can become a "perfect" player and so there is always room for improvement. Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: The political battle over Scotland's independence ballot — to take place in September this year — has now moved on to how the BBC project the UK on their national weather forecast. The BBC use a projection based on the view of Britain from geostationary weather satellites and so there is naturally some foreshortening at the northern end of Britain (Scotland, in other words). But nationalist campaigners say this means Scottish viewers are constantly being shown a distorted image of their country which makes it look smaller and hence (in their view) less able to support independence. In response others have suggested that the nationalists are truly "flat earthers". Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: The idea of a plague breakout in an advanced economy feels like something relegated to the world of shlock movies or bad science fiction, but new evidence from the sequencing of the Yersinia pestis bacterium that killed victims of the sixth century "Plague of Justinian" (which is widely seen to have led to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West) shows that it is of a different strain to that which caused the plagues of the 14th and 19th century — suggesting that a novel form of plague could break out and cause mass deaths. Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: Imagine if a novel that celebrated creationism won the Pulitzer? A scandal surely...meanwhile in the UK our top literary prize (open to Commonwealth and Irish authors writing in English) has gone to a book that celebrates astrology and which is written by an author who offers up psycobabble defences of astrology's truth. Seems to me that British distain for US arguments about anti-science is misplaced and we ought to focus a bit more on the way anti-science is promoted over here. Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: Researchers from the New School for Social Research in New York have demonstrated that if you read quality literary fiction you become a better person, in the sense that you are more likely to emphasise with others. Presumably we can all think of books that have changed the way we feel about the world — so this is, in a sense, a scientific confirmation of something fairly intuitive. Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: A (NSFW — lots of swearing) Australian website contrasting the views of the two main parties in Saturday's Australian website has become an overnight (quite literally) sensation and also earned its creator some anonymous threats and a call from a lawyer claiming to be working for the leader of the opposition.
00_NOP writes: Amazon seem to devolve so little power and authority to their customer service staff that they are left to make recommendations to customers that both hurt Amazon's business — by piling up additional costs — and leave customers (this one at least) just as unhappy as before. In my case they stated that the only way I could get an international order correctly charged to my gift card, as opposed to my credit card, was to refuse delivery, have the goods returned and then place a new order. Surely an IT company can have better systems than this? Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: Encryption schemes are probably not quite as secure as has been previously thought — not because of the NSA but because source word behaviour does not follow the previously assumed patterns and so entropy in the coded message is not as high as expected, report researchers at the National University of Ireland and MIT.
That lack of entropy gets reflected in the encoded message as patterns of code and so makes it easier to find brute force cracks of the encrypted message.
The threat to real world encrypted messages is probably quite low — but it would not be the first time that a small chink in the armour is revealed to be a massive gash after a bit more work! Link to Original Source
00_NOP writes: "Universal Credit" — the plan to consolidate all Britain's welfare payments into one — is the world's biggest "agile" software development project but it is now close to collapse the British government admitted yesterday. The failure, if and when it comes, could cost billions and have dire social consequences. Link to Original Source