Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

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DEAL: For $25 - Add A Second Phone Number To Your Smartphone for life! Use promo code SLASHDOT25. Also, Slashdot's Facebook page has a chat bot now. Message it for stories and more. Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 Internet speed test! × ## US Wins Math Olympiad For First Time In 21 Years280 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." ## Mathematicians Team Up To Close the Prime Gap194 Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "On May 13, an obscure mathematician garnered worldwide attention and accolades from the mathematics community for settling a long-standing open question about prime numbers. Yitang Zhang showed that even though primes get increasingly rare as you go further out along the number line, you will never stop finding pairs of primes separated by at most 70 million. His finding was the first time anyone had managed to put a finite bound on the gaps between prime numbers, representing a major leap toward proving the centuries-old twin primes conjecture, which posits that there are infinitely many pairs of primes separated by only two (such as 11 and 13). Now Erica Klarreich reports at Quanta Magazine that other mathematicians quickly realized that it should be possible to push this separation bound quite a bit lower. By the end of May, mathematicians had uncovered simple tweaks to Zhang's argument that brought the bound below 60 million. Then Terence Tao, a winner of the Fields Medal, mathematics' highest honor, created a 'Polymath project,' an open, online collaboration to improve the bound that attracted dozens of participants. By July 27, the team had succeeded in reducing the proven bound on prime gaps from 70 million to 4,680. Now James Maynard has upped the ante by presenting an independent proof that pushes the gap down to 600. A new Polymath project is in the planning stages, to try to combine the collaboration's techniques with Maynard's approach to push this bound even lower. Zhang's work and, to a lesser degree, Maynard's fits the archetype of the solitary mathematical genius, working for years in the proverbial garret until he is ready to dazzle the world with a great discovery. The Polymath project couldn't be more different — fast and furious, massively collaborative, fueled by the instant gratification of setting a new world record. 'It's important to have people who are willing to work in isolation and buck the conventional wisdom,' says Tao. Polymath, by contrast, is 'entirely groupthink.' Not every math problem would lend itself to such collaboration, but this one did." ## Australian Air Force's Recruiting Puzzle Shown To Be Unsolvable113 KernelMuncher writes "Australia's Royal Air Force has been left red-faced after a job ad asked applicants to solve a complex math problem that was revealed to be unsolvable. The service posted the puzzle in a bid to attract the country's best minds to its ranks. 'If you have what it takes to be an engineer in the Air Force call the number below,' it read, above a complicated formula which candidates had to crack. But there was a slight difficulty: The problem had typos and ended up not giving potential operatives the correct contact information." ## Firefox Is the First Browser To Pass the MathML Acid2 Test134 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.'" ## Ask Slashdot: How Many of You Actually Use Math?1086 An anonymous reader writes with a question that makes a good follow-on to the claim that mathematics requirements in U.S. schools unnecessarily limit students' educational choices: "I'm a high school student who is interested in a career in a computer science or game development related position. I've been told by teachers and parents that math classes are a must for any technology related career. I've been dabbling around Unity3D and OGRE for about two years now and have been programming for longer than that, but I've never had to use any math beyond trigonometry (which I took as a Freshman). This makes me wonder: will I actually use calculus and above, or is it just a popular idea that you need to be a mathematician in order to program? What are your experiences?" ## The Numbers Behind the Copyright Math311 TheUnknownCoder writes "The MPAA claims$58 billion in actual U.S. economic losses and 373,000 lost jobs due to piracy. Where are these numbers coming from? Rob Reid puts these numbers into perspective in this TED Talk, leaving us even more puzzled about the math behind copyright laws. 'Ignoring improbabilities like pirated steaks and daffodils, I looked at actual employment and headcount in actual content industries, and found nothing approaching the claimed losses. There are definitely concrete and quantifiable piracy-related losses in the American music industry. The Recording Industry Association’s website has a robust and credible database that details industry sales going back to 1973, which any researcher can access for a few bucks (and annoying as I’ve found the RIAA to be on certain occasions, I applaud them for making this data available). I used it to compare the industry’s revenues in 1999 (when Napster debuted) to 2010 (the most recent available data). Sales plunged from $14.6 billion down to$6.8 billion — a drop that I rounded to $8 billion in my talk. This number is broadly supported by other sources, and I find it to be entirely credible. But this pattern just isn’t echoed in other major content industries.'" ## Is Poor Numeracy Ruining Lives?489 Hugh Pickens writes "The BBC reports on how millions of people struggle to understand a payslip or a train timetable, or pay a household bill. Government figures show that almost half the working population of England have only primary school math skills, and research suggests that weak math skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, poverty and long-term illness. 'We are paying for this in our science, technology and engineering industries but also in people's own ability to earn funds and manage their lives,' says Chris Humphries. He is the chairman of National Numeracy, an organization seeking to emulate the success of the National Literacy Trust, which has helped improve reading and writing standards since it was set up nearly 20 years ago. The Department for Education wants the vast majority of young people to study math up to 18 within a decade to meet the growing demand for employees with high level and intermediate math skills. 'It is simply inexcusable for anyone to say "I can't do maths,"' adds Humphries. " ## Are You Better At Math Than a 4th (or 10th) Grader?845 New submitter newslash.formatb points to this Washington Post blog post, which "discusses the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (specifically, the math part). One of the school board members took it and was unable to answer any of the 60 math questions, though he guessed correctly on 10 of them. He then goes on to claim that the math isn't relevant to many people. P.S. — if you want to feel like Einstein, check out some sample questions." Maybe this is mostly about the kind of life skills that are sufficient to succeed in management. ## Requiring Algebra II In High School Gains Momentum490 ChadHurley writes with this quote from the Washington Post: "Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates. In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students. The effort has been led by Achieve, a group organized by governors and business leaders and funded by corporations and their foundations, to improve the skills of the workforce. Although US economic strength has been attributed in part to high levels of education, the workforce is lagging in the percentage of younger workers with college degrees, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development." ## How Much Math Do We Really Need?1153 Pickens writes "G.V. Ramanathan, a professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes in the Washington Post that although a lot of effort and money has been spent to make mathematics seem essential, unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everybody's daily life. 'All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss,' writes Ramanathan. 'Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.' Ramanathan says that the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body, but even with generous government grants over the past 25 years, countless courses, conferences, and books written on how to teach teachers to teach, where is the evidence that these efforts have helped students? A 2008 review by the Education Department found that the nation is at 'greater risk now' than it was in 1983, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores for 17-year-olds have remained stagnant since the 1980s (PDF). Meanwhile those who do love math and science have been doing very well and our graduate schools are the best in the world. 'As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?'" ## How Allies Used Math Against German Tanks330 Pepebuho writes "This an article about how the allies were able to estimate the number of German tanks produced in World War 2 based on the serial numbers of the tanks. Neat! Godwin does not apply." ## Most Useful OS For High-School Science Education?434 Clayperion writes "I teach at a high school program for gifted students which emphasizes math, science, and technology. Currently we have two computer labs for the students: A new programming lab (all Dell PCs running XP, MS Visual C++, Eclipse, and SolidWorks for programming and CAD) and an old general-purpose lab (all Macs running OS X 10.3, with software ranging from some legacy OS 9 science applications to MathCad). Most of our students eventually pursue graduate degrees in science and engineering, and we would like them to have experience with the tools they will find out in industry. As we look to replace the old machines, there has been a push to switch to PCs with XP so that there is only a single platform to support. There are over 5000 machines on the district's network and the IT department is very small (fewer than 10 people), so the fewer hardware and software differences between the machines, the better. Without opening a flame war as to which one is 'better,' I'd like to know what those of you in the science and engineering fields actually use more in your labs (hardware, OS, software), so that we can decide which platform to support. It will most likely have to be either XP or OS 10.6, with very restricted permissions to students and teachers, as that is the comfort level of IT and administration, but I'll push for whatever would benefit the students the most." ## Perelman Urged To Accept$1m Prize421

krou writes "The Warm Home charity in St. Petersburg, Grigory Perelman's home-town, has urged the math genius and recluse to accept the \$1m Millennium Prize for solving the Poincaré conjecture, and donate it to charities. Perelman has refused to accept the award, telling one reporter through the closed door of his flat, 'I have all I want,' and another who managed to call him on his mobile, 'You are disturbing me. I am picking mushrooms.'"

## Math Anxiety Affects Skills As Basic As Counting210

thirty-seven writes "According to four Canadian psychologists, a study they have conducted shows that math anxiety, 'the feeling of fear and dread of performing mathematical calculations,' can negatively affect mathematical tasks much simpler and more basic than previously thought. In the study, participants were asked to count black squares on a white screen. The number of squares shown ranged from one to nine and participants were given as much time as they wanted before answering. When the number of squares was in the subitizing range (one to four), both math-anxious and non-math-anxious participants performed equally well, but when the number of squares was in the counting range (five to nine), the math-anxious group took longer and were less accurate. The University of Waterloo's news release about the study includes this interesting note: 'Previous studies have shown that a weakness in basic math abilities has a greater negative effect on employment opportunities than reading difficulties [do].'"

## Which Math For Programmers?466

An anonymous reader writes "It is no news that the greatest computer scientists and programmers are/were mathematicians. As a kid 'hacking' if-else programs, I was not aware of the importance of math in programming, but few years later, when I read Engines of Logic by Martin Davis I started becoming increasingly more convinced of this. Unfortunately, math doesn't return my love, and prefers me to struggle with it. Now, as the end of the semester approaches, I am faced with a dilemma: What math subject to choose next? I have two choices: 'Discreet structures with graph theory' (discrete math; proofs, sets, algorithms and graphs) on one side, and 'Selected math chapters' (math analysis; vectors, euclidean space, differentials) on the other. I'm scared of the second one because it's said to be harder. But contrary to my own opinion, one assistant told me that it would be more useful for a programmer compared to the first subject. Then again, he's not a programmer. That's why I turn to you for help, fellow slashdotters — any advice?"

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