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Comment Lottery: the regressive tax (Score 2) 374

the vast majority of tickets are purchased by about 20 percent of the population. These high-frequency players tend to be poor and uneducated, which is why critics refer to lotteries as a regressive tax.

And yet a Massachusetts auditor for the lottery says of people gaming the lottery system:

The problem is that when there's a lot of money involved, unscrupulous people are always going to be looking for new ways to game the system, or worse.

Exactly. So why don't I feel sorry for them?

Comment Re:Quite strange. (Score 2) 89

We do put a lot of credence on imaging as people, but this breakthrough discovery doesn't have that same problem. It's not like we waited to discover exoplanets until we imaged them directly. That discovery happened a decade ago, and was done using the pull of a planet on its host star.

Imaging is a powerful step forward. Localization matters. You've piled up all of the signal associated with a planet in a bin, where that signal is very easy to differentiate from background signals and from noise. There is no doubt that the image shown in this case that four planets exist. That kind of confidence is hard to get from fitting the 4-way pull of those planets on a host star over a period of many years.

Comment Re:We need better "image" classification standards (Score 1) 89

As with a lot of things, context is everything. By itself, one of these images doesn't say much. But when you know that it was pointed toward a system known (through independent measurements) to have planets, and that it was taken in an infrared band where lukewarm blackbody spectrum of dusty planets are expected to have peak, and the "blobs" are at angular separations that correspond in distance to tens of AUs (1 AU is the distance of the Earth from the Sun), then you start to have something. As with all of science, new developments "stand on the shoulders of giants", and in this case, that is the substantial literature that has built up in the last decade around exoplanetary systems.

And as for an image classification system: published, peer-reviewed papers are the fundamental units of science. Because of the context issue, a thousand words is worth substantially more than a stand-alone picture. The "image" is just a figure in a paper, and loses its value outside that context.

Comment Re:Quite strange. (Score 3, Insightful) 89

It is all rather miraculous, how far scientific instrumentation has come, but I'm not quite sure what you're getting at with:

is considered "direct imaging" and is somehow more reliable and more worthy of our trust than the Doppler shifts, wobbles and loss of brightness due to osculation!

This is "direct imaging", because it is directly measuring the spatial distribution of photons arriving from this system, even if it is done with mirrors and CCDs, and not your eye. This sets this measurement apart from the other techniques you have described for inferring the presence of planets from their gravitational pull on the host star.

As for "somehow more reliable", I don't think there's any need for hand-wavy words like "somehow". All of these measurements you mention have error bars (and it should be a crime that any scientific press release be allowed to drop the error bars when reporting). Simultaneously fitting for four separate orbits (including distance from star, mass of planet, inclination of orbit, etc) for this many planets means there is substantial covariance between the parameters you are fitting for. Direct imaging, on the other hand, only has to stand out relative to the noise background. It is hard to judge from the color scale of the images, but these look like easily >5sigma detections of each planet.

Comment Re:It's not MY data, it's YOUR data (Score 2, Informative) 113

An anecdote:

One day, my bank (Chase, for the record) started repeatedly threatening to shut down my account if I did not confirm that "suspicious activity" on my account was legit. I wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. I started getting multiple threats a week, and when I once traveled and lost cell service for a week, they disabled my account.

When I pushed them on the issue, they confessed that my account was on a list of potentially compromised accounts. They told me that some entity had called in to place it there, but they would not name names. This was an infuriating example of how far we are from being able to hold businesses accountable for data theft. They were not going to tell me about the potential ID theft until I threatened to close my account, and they allowed a business to (apparently) anonymously phone in cases of ID theft.

Submission + - Recycling programs for electronics (

AaronParsons writes: "An interesting NY Times article describes currently available programs for post-consumer electronics. One of the many interesting points in the article is that electronics manufacturers should be held responsible for recycling their products post-consumer:

Maybe since they have some responsibility for the cleanup, it will motivate them to think about how you design for the environment and the commodity value at the end of the life.


Comment Sky coverage + Observing Time = Discoveries (Score 3, Interesting) 154

The cool thing is that in astronomy, we're still miles from having full sky coverage 24/7. This means that even if you have a (relatively) small telescope, you can still see things the big ones can't just by looking somewhere no one else is at a particular time.

I wish they described how the discovered got funneled up to the supernova scientists on the paper published on it. She must have been with someone who really knew that the "new star" she saw there wasn't supposed to be there, and that person deserves some credit, too!

Comment Python (and C, and Fortran) (Score 3, Interesting) 794

I'm a scientist who does the bulk of his programming in Python. Numpy (the numerical package for Python) runs at only a 30% overhead over C. When that's not fast enough, I drop into C/C++ for bottlenecks and wrap that back into Python (using the Python C API more often than swig/boost). When there's a great Fortran library that's fast and battle tested, I wrap that into Python using F2Py--and I don't even know that much Fortran.

Just like it's good to know more than one spoken language, it's good to know more than one programming language. It's a mistake to think one programming language fits all needs. That said, it can also be helpful to know one really well, and others enough to convert them into your primary language. For me, Python fills that role very adequately, and I would highly recommend it be a part (read: part) of the undergraduate programming curriculum.

Comment Is the extrapolation valid? (Score 1) 528

A driving force in evolution (linguistic and otherwise) is isolation. Population isolation allows for a subgroup to drift from the global average by preventing the dilution of mutated genes (or memes) into the larger population. Historically, much linguistic evolution can be attributed to the isolation of communities from one another, and this evolution has contributed to the regularization of verbs, as well as the introduction of new irregularities borrowed from neighboring languages, etc. But now, with global communication, language standardization, and a much heavier reliance on the written word, might not the ways in which language evolves change? Global communication adds a lot of inertia to a language (although it does increase cross-breeding between languages). I think it is bold (and inaccurate) to extrapolate from past linguistic mutations to the future in the light of the fundamental changes that have occurred in communication.

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