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More Code In Movies: Nmap Meets Snowden ( 73

After Saturday's story about the code samples in the new movie Arrival, an anonymous reader reminded us of this classic essay at For reasons unknown, Hollywood has decided that Nmap is the tool to show whenever hacking scenes are needed... While Nmap had been used in some previous obscure movies, it was The Matrix Reloaded which really turned Nmap into a movie star! has a tradition -- the first person to notify them when new Nmap appears in a new movie wins a signed copy of Nmap Network Scanning "or a T-shirt of your choice from the Zero Day Clothing Nmap Store." (The site adds that "movie script writers, artists, and digital asset managers are also welcome to email Fyodor for advice.") And just added another film, Oliver Stone's new movie about Edward Snowden. In one early scene, Snowden is given a network security challenge at a CIA training class which is expected to take 5 to 8 hours. But with the help Nmap and a custom Nmap NSE script named ptest.nse, Snowden stuns the professor by completing everything in 38 minutes!
According to the site, even the movie's trailer features Nmap. Anybody else have their own favorite stories about code in the movies?

How Stephen Wolfram Devised Interstellar Travel (And Code Samples) For 'Arrival' ( 102

The new movie "Arrival" depicts first contact with aliens, and its producers faced the question of how interstellar spacecraft would actually work. They turned to futurist Stephen Wolfram, who came up with an answer overnight, and also tasked his son with writing much of the computer code seen on displays in the movie. Slashdot reader mirandakatz brings us Wolfram's story: Christopher was well aware that code shown in movies often doesn't make sense (a favorite, regardless of context, seems to be the source code for nmap.c in Linux). But he wanted to create code that would make sense, and would actually do the analyses that would be going on in the movie... For instance, there's a nice shot of rearranging alien "handwriting," in which one sees a Wolfram Language notebook with rather elegant Wolfram Language code in it. And, yes, those lines of code actually do the transformation that's in the notebook. It's real stuff, with real computations being done...

For the movie, I wanted to have a particular theory for interstellar travel. And who knows, maybe one day in the distant future it'll turn out to be correct. But as of now, we certainly don't know. In fact, for all we know, there's just some simple "hack" in existing physics that'll immediately make interstellar travel possible.

Wolfram's theory posited that space is just one of the attributes emerging from a low-level network of nodes, where long-range connections occasionally break out of three-dimensional space altogether. His 6,900-word essay (originally published on his blog) also suggests film-making has "some structural similarities" with software development -- and grapples with the question of how we'd actually communicate with aliens once they've arrived.
Education Disses Wolfram Language, Touts Apple's Swift Playgrounds ( 241

America is changing the way it teaches computer science. "There are now 31 states that allow CS to count towards high school graduation," according to an announcement this week by the White House, while a new Advance Placement course "will be offered in more than 2,000 U.S. classrooms this fall...the largest course launch in the history of the AP exam." But what's the best way to teach coding? theodp reports: Tech-backed, one of the leaders of the new CSforAll Consortium that was announced at the White House on Wednesday, took to its blog Thursday to say "Thanks, Tim [Cook], for supporting the effort to give every student the opportunity to learn computer science," giving a shout out to Apple for providing "resources for teachers who want to put Swift Playgrounds in their classrooms. (A day earlier, the White House said Apple developed Swift Playgrounds "in support of the President's call to action" for CS for All).

Curiously, CEO Hadi Partovi argued Friday that "the Wolfram Language has serious shortcomings for broad educational use" in an EdSurge op-ed that was called a "response to a recent blog post by Stephen Wolfram" on Wolfram's ambitious plan to teach computational thinking in schools. Partovi's complaints? "It requires login for all but the simplest use cases, but doesn't provide any privacy safeguards for young children (required in the U.S. through legislation such as COPPA). Also, a serious user would need to pay for usage, making implementation inaccessible in most schools. Lastly, it's a bit difficult to use by students who struggle with English reading or writing, such as English language learners or early elementary school students."

The submission ultimately asks how should computer science be taught to teenagers. "Would you be inclined to embrace Wolfram's approach, Apple's Swift Playgrounds, Microsoft TEALS' Java-centric AP CS curriculum, or something else (e.g., R, Tableau, Excel+VBA)?"

Stephen Wolfram Reveals Ambitious Plan to Teach Computational Thinking ( 76

Can we teach future generations how to solve their problems with computers? Slashdot reader mirandakatz writes: Doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers -- whatever the profession, it'll soon be full of computational thinking. Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram argues on Backchannel that it's essential we start teaching kids to talk to computers today to ensure their success in the future -- and he's got a comprehensive lesson plan.
Arguing that Wikipedia popularized "a more direct style of presenting information," Wolfram writes that computer-assisted education continues the trend, "taking things which could only be talked around, and turning them into things that can be shown through computation directly and explicitly." Wolfram's 11,000-word essay adds that "with all the knowledge and automation that we've built into the Wolfram Language we're finally now to the point where we have the technology to be able to directly teach broad computational thinking, even to kids.." (And without having to start off with loops and conditionals...)

Golden State and the Mathematical Magic of Seventy-Three ( 102

Charles Bethea has written a fascinating piece on the number '73' for The New Yorker. Below are some tidbits from the story but I urge you to hit the New Yorker link and read the story in entirety there. Bethea writes: "I am aware of the Warriors's push for seventy-three wins," Ken Ono, a professor of mathematics at Emory University and the author of "The Web of Modularity: Arithmetic of the Coefficients of Modular Forms and q-series," said recently. [...] Professor Ono worked as a math consultant on a film called "The Man Who Knew Infinity," which stars Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons, and which screens this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, in New York. The movie centers on the friendship of the legendary Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Patel) and his Cambridge University colleague G. H. Hardy (Irons), and it depicts a famous story that Hardy once told about Ramanujan. "I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney," Hardy said. "I had ridden in taxicab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. "No," he replied. "It is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways." One cubed plus twelve cubed, and nine cubed plus ten cubed. This was the first of what came to be known as "taxicab numbers." [...] So what does Professor Ono think of seventy-three? "I really like the number seventy-three," he said. "It is the sixth 'emirp.'" An emirp, he explained, is a prime number that remains prime when its digits are reversed. (Emirp, of course, is 'prime' spelled backward.)

Ask Slashdot: Math-Related Present For a Bright 10-Year-Old? 238

peetm writes: I have an above averagely bright nephew, aged 10, who's into maths and whose birthday is coming up soon. I'd like to get him a suitable present – most likely one that's mathematically centred. At Christmas we sat together while I helped him build a few very simple Python programs that 'animated' some simple but interesting maths, e.g., we built a factorial function, investigated the Collatz conjecture (3n + 1 problem) and talked about, but didn't implement Eratosthenes' Sieve – one step too far for him at the moment perhaps. I've looked about for books that might blend computing + maths, but haven't really found anything appropriate for a 10-year-old. I should be indebted to anyone who might suggest either a suitable maths book, or one that brings in some facet of computing. Or, if not a book, then some other present that might pique his interest.

Stephen Wolfram: No Need To Teach With 'Toy Programming Languages' Like Scratch ( 214

theodp writes: From Stephen Wolfram's blog post announcing the Wolfram Programming Lab: "It's a very important — and in fact transformative — moment for programming education. In the past one could use a 'toy programming language' like Scratch, or one could use a professional low-level programming language like C++ or Java. Scratch is easy to use, but is very limited. C++ or Java can ultimately do much more (though they don't have built-in knowledge), but you need to put in significant time—and get deep into the engineering details—to make programs that get beyond a toy level of functionality. With the Wolfram Language, though, it's a completely different story. Because now even beginners can write programs that do really interesting things. And the programs don't have to just be 'computer science exercises': they can be programs that immediately connect to the real world, and to what students study across the whole curriculum. Wolfram Programming Lab gives people a broad way to learn modern programming — and to acquire an incredibly valuable career-building practical skill. But it also helps develop the kind of computational thinking that's increasingly central to today's world." So, when it comes to programming education, are schools hitchIng their cart to the wrong horse?

Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace 124

theodp writes: To commemorate the 200th birthday of Ada Lovelace, Google's CS Education in Media Program partnered with YouTube Kids on Happy Birthday Ada! for Computer Science Education Week. For those seeking (much!) more information on The Enchantress of Numbers, Stephen Wolfram has penned a pretty epic blog post, Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace. "Ada Lovelace was born 200 years ago today," Wolfram begins. "To some she is a great hero in the history of computing; to others an overestimated minor figure. I've been curious for a long time what the real story is. And in preparation for her bicentennial, I decided to try to solve what for me has always been the 'mystery of Ada'." If you're not up for the full 12,000+ word read, skip to "The Final Story" for the TL;DR summary.

Stephen Wolfram's Free Book Teaches the Wolfram Language To Kids 105

theodp writes: Stephen Wolfram received a PhD in particle physics at age 20 (his thesis committee included Richard Feynman). So it's probably not too surprising that Wolfram's new book, An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language (free on the web), aspires to teach those new to programming how to do much more than just move Minecraft and Star Wars characters around. "The goal of the book," explains Wolfram in a blog post, "is to take people from zero to the point where they know enough about the Wolfram Language that they can routinely use it to create programs for things they want to do. And when I say 'zero', I really mean 'zero'. This is a book for everyone. It doesn't assume any knowledge of programming, or math (beyond basic arithmetic), or anything else. It just starts from scratch and explains things. I've tried to make it appropriate for both adults and kids. I think it'll work for typical kids aged about 12 and up."

Interviews: Ask Stephen Wolfram a Question 210

Stephen Wolfram's accomplishments and contributions to science and computing are numerous. He earned a PhD in particle physics from Caltech at 20, and has been cited by over 30,000 research publications. Wolfram is the the author of A New Kind of Science, creator of Mathematica, the creator of Wolfram Alpha, and the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research. He developed Wolfram Language, a general multi-paradigm programming language, in 2014. Stephen has graciously agreed to answer any questions you may have for him. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.

Wolfram Language Demo Impresses 216

theodp writes "The devil will be in the details, but if you were stoked about last November's announcement of the Wolfram programming language, you'll be pleased to know that a just-released dry-but-insanely-great demo delivered by Stephen Wolfram does not disappoint. Even if you're not in love with the syntax or are a FOSS devotee, you'll find it hard not to be impressed by Wolfram's 4-line solution to a traveling salesman tour of the capitals of Western Europe, 6-line camera-capture-to-image-manipulation demo, or 2-line web crawling and data visualization example. And that's just for starters. So, start your Raspberry Pi engines, kids!"

Why Improbable Things Really Aren't 166

First time accepted submitter sixoh1 writes "Scientific American has an excellent summary of a new book 'The Improbabilty Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day' by David J. Hand. The summary offers a quick way to relate statistical math (something that's really hard to intuit) to our daily experiences with unlikely events. The simple equations here make it easier to understand that improbable things really are not so improbable, which Hand call the 'Improbability Principle:' 'How can a huge number of opportunities occur without people realizing they are there? The law of combinations, a related strand of the Improbability Principle, points the way. It says: the number of combinations of interacting elements increases exponentially with the number of elements. The 'birthday problem' is a well-known example. Now if only we could harness this to make an infinite improbability drive!"

Can Wolfram Alpha Tell Which Team Will Win the Super Bowl? 126

Nerval's Lobster writes "Which football team will win the Super Bowl this weekend? That's a multi-million-dollar question, given the amount of cash people will bet on either the Seattle Seahawks or the Denver Broncos to win. Fortunately, Wolfram Alpha (the self-billed "computational knowledge engine") can analyze the historical statistics for both teams and throw out some potentially useful numbers. Developed by Stephen Wolfram and based his Wolfram Research's Mathematica analytical platform, Wolfram Alpha is an altogether different search engine from Bing or Google, which generally return pages of blue hyperlinks in response to queries. Instead of multiple results leading to still other Webpages, Wolfram Alpha usually returns set of definitive, numerical answers. (A lengthy rundown of the engine's capabilities is found on its 'About' page.) So how does Wolfram's engine, which features sophisticated algorithms chewing through trillions of pieces of data, break down the potentials for Sunday's game? Out of the 38 times the two teams have met on the field, the Broncos have triumphed 25 times (versus 12 wins for the Seahawks), scoring 98 total touchdowns to the Seahawks' 84. It's definitely advantage Broncos, in that sense. But the teams' percentages are fairly close with regard to total yardage, penalties, penalty yards, and other metrics, although the Seahawks have managed to nab more interceptions (47, versus the Broncos' 37). But while Wolfram Alpha can crunch all the historical data it wants, and that data can suggest one team will likely triumph over another, there's always the likelihood that something random—a freak injury, or a tweak to the player lineup—can change the course of the game in ways that nobody can anticipate. Also, given how player and coaching rosters vary from year to year, the teams taking the field can change radically between meetings." EA has correctly predicted eight of the last ten Super Bowl winners using the latest Madden game.

An OS You'll Love? AI Experts Weigh In On Her 175

theodp writes "Weighing in for the WSJ on Spike Jonze's Oscar-nominated, futuristic love story Her (parodies), Stephen Wolfram — whose Wolfram Alpha drives the AI-like component of Siri — thinks that an operating system like Samantha as depicted in the film isn't that far off. In Her, OS Samantha and employee Theodore Twombly have a relationship that appears to exhibit all the elements of a typical romance, despite the OS's lack of a physical body. They talk late into the night, relax on the beach, and even double date with friends. Both Wolfram and Google director of research Peter Norvig (who hadn't yet seen the film) believe this type of emotional attachment isn't a big hurdle to clear. 'People are only too keen, I think, to anthropomorphize things around them,' explained Wolfram. 'Whether they're stuffed animals, Tamagotchi, things in videogames, whatever else.' By the way, why no supporting actor nomination for Jonze's portrayal of foul-mouthed animated video game character Alien Child?"

Putting the Wolfram Language (and Mathematica) On Every Raspberry Pi 99

An anonymous reader writes "Working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, effective immediately, there's a pilot release of the Wolfram Language — as well as Mathematica—that will soon be bundled as part of the standard system software for every Raspberry Pi computer. Quite soon the Wolfram Language is going to start showing up in lots of places, notably on the web and in the cloud."

Stephen Wolfram Developing New Programming Language 168

Nerval's Lobster writes "Stephen Wolfram, the chief designer of the Mathematica software platform and the Wolfram Alpha 'computation knowledge engine,' has another massive project in the works—although he's remaining somewhat vague about details for the time being. In simplest terms, the project is a new programming language—which he's dubbing the 'Wolfram Language'—which will allow developers and software engineers to program a wide variety of complex functions in a streamlined fashion, for pretty much every single type of hardware from PCs and smartphones all the way up to datacenters and embedded systems. The Language will leverage automation to cut out much of the nitpicking complexity that dominates current programming. 'The Wolfram Language does things automatically whenever you want it to,' he wrote in a recent blog posting. 'Whether it's selecting an optimal algorithm for something. Or picking the most aesthetic layout. Or parallelizing a computation efficiently. Or figuring out the semantic meaning of a piece of data. Or, for that matter, predicting what you might want to do next. Or understanding input you've given in natural language.' In other words, he's proposing a general-purpose programming language with a mind-boggling amount of functions built right in. At this year's SXSW, Wolfram alluded to his decades of work coming together in 'a very nice way,' and this is clearly what he meant. And while it's tempting to dismiss anyone who makes sweeping statements about radically changing the existing paradigm, he does have a record of launching very big projects (Wolfram Alpha contains more than 10 trillion pieces of data cultivated from primary sources, along with tens of thousands of algorithms and equations) that function reliably. At many points over the past few years, he's also expressed a belief that simple equations and programming can converge to create and support enormously complicated systems. Combine all those factors together, and it's clear that Wolfram's pronouncements—no matter how grandiose—can't simply be dismissed. But it remains to be seen how much of an impact he actually has on programming as an art and science."

Why Computers Still Don't Understand People 277

Gary Marcus writes in the New Yorker about the state of artificial intelligence, and how we take it for granted that AI involves a very particular, very narrow definition of intelligence. A computer's ability to answer questions is still largely dependent on whether the computer has seen that question before. Quoting: "Siri and Google’s voice searches may be able to understand canned sentences like 'What movies are showing near me at seven o’clock?,' but what about questions—'Can an alligator run the hundred-metre hurdles?'—that nobody has heard before? Any ordinary adult can figure that one out. (No. Alligators can’t hurdle.) But if you type the question into Google, you get information about Florida Gators track and field. Other search engines, like Wolfram Alpha, can’t answer the question, either. Watson, the computer system that won “Jeopardy!,” likely wouldn’t do much better. In a terrific paper just presented at the premier international conference on artificial intelligence (PDF), Levesque, a University of Toronto computer scientist who studies these questions, has taken just about everyone in the field of A.I. to task. ...Levesque argues that the Turing test is almost meaningless, because it is far too easy to game. ... To try and get the field back on track, Levesque is encouraging artificial-intelligence researchers to consider a different test that is much harder to game ..."

Wolfram Alpha Drills Deep Into Facebook Data 70

Nerval's Lobster writes "Back in January, when Wolfram Alpha launched an updated version of its Personal Analytics for Facebook module, the self-billed 'computational knowledge engine' asked users to contribute their detailed Facebook data for research purposes. The researchers at Wolfram Alpha, having crunched all that information, are now offering some data on how users interact with Facebook. For starters, the median number of 'friends' is 342, with the average number of friends peaking for those in their late teens before declining at a steady rate. Younger people also have a tendency to largely add Facebook friends around their own age — for example, someone who's 20 might have lots of friends in the twenty-something range, and comparatively few in other decades of life—while middle-aged people tend to have friends across the age spectrum. Beyond that, the Wolfram Alpha blog offers up some interesting information about friend counts (and 'friend of friend' counts), how friends' networks tend to 'cluster' around life events such as school and sports teams, and even how peoples' postings tend to evolve as they get older — as people age, for example, they tend to talk less about video games and more about politics. 'It feels like we're starting to be able to train a serious "computational telescope" on the "social universe,"' the blog concluded. 'And it's letting us discover all sorts of phenomena.'"

SXSW: Stephen Wolfram Jumps On Bandwagon For Cloud, Mobile Devices 36

Nerval's Lobster writes "At this year's SXSW conference, Stephen Wolfram—most famous in tech circles as the chief designer of the Mathematica software platform, as well as the Wolfram Alpha 'computation knowledge engine'—demonstrated his upcoming Programming Cloud, and indicated he was developing a mobile platform for engineering and mathematical applications based on the Wolfram programming language built for Mathematica. He also talked more broadly about the future of Wolfram Alpha, which he said will become more anticipatory of peoples' queries. 'People generally don't understand all the things that Wolfram Alpha can do,' Wolfram told the audience. His researchers are also working on a system modeler tool, which will allow researchers to simulate complex devices with tens of thousands of components; in theory, you could even use such a platform for 3D printing. Wolfram also wants to set Wolfram Alpha loose on documents, with the ability to apply complex calculations to, say, company spreadsheets. 'A whole bunch of things that I've been working on for 30 years are converging in a very nice way,' he said."

Wolfram Alpha Number-Crunches the Super Bowl 67

Nerval's Lobster writes "Whatever your actual feelings about football and this weekend's Super Bowl, you have to admire Wolfram Alpha's willingness to crunch any dataset and see what it can find. The self-billed 'computational knowledge engine' has analyzed the historical data for both teams involved in this Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII. Its conclusion? The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are 'annoyingly similar' when it comes to numbers, although some players stand out as potential game changers — if the math plays out right."

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