theodp writes: The BBC News' Laura Gray reports on a juggling notation system developed in the 80's called Siteswap (aka Quantum Juggling and Cambridge Notation) and how it has helped jugglers discover and share thousands of new tricks. Frustrated that there was no way to write down juggling moves, mathematician Colin Wright and others helped devised Siteswap, which uses sequences of numbers to encode the number of beats of each throw, which is related to their height and the hand to which the throw is made. 'Siteswap has allowed jugglers to share tricks with each other without having to meet in person or film themselves,' says James Grime, juggling enthusiast and math instructor for Cambridge University. Still unclear on the concept? Spend some time playing around with Paul Klimek's most-excellent Quantum Juggling simulator, and you too can be a Flying Karamazov Brother!
theodp writes: The NYT's Steve Lohr reports that his has been the crossover year for Big Data — as a concept, term and marketing tool. Big Data has sprung from the confines of technology circles into the mainstream, even becoming grist for Dilbert satire ('Big Data lives in The Cloud. It knows what we do.'). At first, Jim Davis, CMO at analytics software vendor SAS, viewed Big Data as part of another cycle of industry phrasemaking. 'I scoffed at it initially,' Davis recalls, noting that SAS’s big corporate customers had been mining huge amounts of data for decades. But as the vague-but-catchy term for applying tools to vast troves of data beyond that captured in standard databases gained world-wide buzz and competitors like IBM pitched solutions for Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave, 'we had to hop on the bandwagon,' Davis said (SAS now has a VP of Big Data). Hey, never underestimate the power of a meme!
theodp writes: The White House has unveiled a proposal to create a national elite teachers corps to reward the nation’s best educators in science, technology, engineering and math. In the first year, as many as 2,500 teachers in those subjects would get $20,000 stipends on top of their base salaries in exchange for a multiyear commitment to the STEM Master Teacher Corps. The Obama administration plans to expand the corps to 10,000 nationwide over the next four years, with the ultimate goal that the elite group of teachers will pass their knowledge and skills on to their colleagues to help bolster the quality of teaching nationwide.
theodp writes: 'Perhaps nothing will have as large an impact on advanced analytics in the coming year as the ongoing explosion of new and powerful data sources,' writes Bill Franks in Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave . And one of the hottest new sources of Big Data, reports the WSJ's Alexandra Alter in Your E-Book Is Reading You, is the estimated 40 million e-readers and 65 million tablets in use in the U.S. that are ripe for the picking by data scientists working for Amazon, Apple, Google, and Barnes & Noble. Some privacy watchdogs argue that e-book users should be protected from having their digital reading habits recorded. 'There's a societal ideal that what you read is nobody else's business,' says the EFF's Cindy Cohn.
theodp writes: When it comes to industry buzzwords, 2012 is shaping up to be the Year of Big Data. And to paraphrase the late Notorious B.I.G, writes Aberdeen's Mollie Lombardi, mo' data means mo' problems. In Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave, Teradata Chief Analytics Officer Bill Franks (aka Dr. Insight) offers execs and getting-up-to-speed techies a welcome look at what to do when Big Data opportunities knock. But in its effort to stay vendor-neutral, the book pretty much avoids name-dropping specific technologies. So, how about it — what specific open source or vendor software/hardware technology is your organization using to tame Big Data? Is anything working surprisingly better — or worse — than you originally thought it would?
theodp writes: Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, won’t be able to attend his 50th reunion festivities at Harvard due to the life prison sentence he drew for sending deadly mail bombs. But Kaczynski did contribute a bizarre entry to the alumni report for the class of 1962. The listing says his occupation is 'Prisoner,' and his home address is 'No. 04475-046, US Penitentiary—Max, P.O. Box 8500, Florence, CO 8126-8500.' Under the awards section, the listing says, 'Eight life sentences, issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, 1998.' The widow of one of Kaczynski's victims said she was 'disappointed in Harvard.' Also unamused by the serial killer's whimsy was the Boston Globe's Editorial Board.
theodp writes: Over at Salon, Annie Keeghan does an Upton Sinclair number on the math textbook industry. In recent years, Keeghan explains, math has become the subject du jour due to government initiatives and efforts to raise the rankings of lagging U.S. students. But with state and local budgets constrained, math textbook publishers competing for fewer available dollars are rushing their products to market before their competitors, resulting in product that in many instances is inherently, tragically flawed. Keeghan writes: 'There may be a reason you can’t figure out some of those math problems in your son or daughter’s math text and it might have nothing at all to do with you. That math homework you're trying to help your child muddle through might include problems with no possible solution. It could be that key information or steps are missing, that the problem involves a concept your child hasn’t yet been introduced to, or that the math problem is structurally unsound for a host of other reasons.' The comments on Keeghan's article are also an eye-opener — here's a sample: 'Sales and marketing budgets are astronomical because the expenses pay off more than investments in product. Sadly, most teachers are not curriculum experts and are swayed by the surface pitches. Teachers make the decisions, but are not the users (students) nor are they spending their own money. As a result, products that make their lives easier and that come with free meals and gifts are the most successful.' So, can open source or competitions build better math textbooks?
theodp writes: Everyone from gleeful journalists to investors have anointed Khan Academy a "revolution in education",' laments Mathalicious. 'It’s not.' While conceding that 'the world is better for it [Khan Academy],' the post adds: 'We’d be equally foolish to hold it up as the panacea for all that ails education. Khan Academy is great for what it is — a supplemental resource; homework help — but we’ve turned it into something it’s not. Indeed, something it was never intended to be.' So, has Khan Academy been oversold, or are things really different this time?
theodp writes: Khan Academy, the online education website that's the toast of the TED set, has attracted millions of dollars from the likes of Google, KPCB, Bill Gates, and others with its promise to reinvent education. And last summer, tech billionaires pitched Khan Academy to policymakers as a cure for what ails public schools. Still, in a blog post on How Khan Academy is using Machine Learning to Assess Student Mastery, an intern acknowledged that the naive 'streak model' used by Khan Academy to determine student proficiency — collect 10 correct answers in a row or start over (a la the toddler game Hi Ho! Cherry-O) — had 'serious flaws,' but would be replaced with a better proficiency model based on more sophisticated machine learning techniques. Alas, some commenters were less-than-impressed with the accompanying discussion of the statistical techniques that Khan Academy came up with. 'It appears that you are in the process of rediscovering item response theory [IRT],' wrote one commenter, referring Khan Academy to a Wikipedia entry on the topic and two textbooks. IRT, which is used for the development of high-stakes tests like the GMAT and GRE, was employed in a circa-1982 computerized assessment system at the Univ. of Illinois. 'The suggestion of item response theory (IRT) occurred to me, as well,' wrote another, who provided additional references, including an intro to computer-adaptive testing. 'You might find it useful to collaborate with members of the educational data mining research community,' suggested a third, pointing to additional readings. Others chimed in with their own math homework assignments for the Khan Academy Team. However, it doesn't look like Khan Academy has any time right now for math tutoring. In an update to the original blog post, Khan Academy announced Saturday that its own testing of its logistic regression proficiency model 'gave us the confidence to roll out from 10% to 100% of users,' and the crude — but perhaps that's OK — model has been launched site-wide.
theodp writes: NYU risk engineering prof Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a suggestion that won't sit too well with the banksters. In his NY Times op-ed, Taleb writes: 'I have a solution for the problem of bankers who take risks that threaten the general public: Eliminate bonuses.' The problem with the bonus system, Taleb explains, is that it provides an incentive to take risks: 'The asymmetric nature of the bonus (an incentive for success without a corresponding disincentive for failure) causes hidden risks to accumulate in the financial system and become a catalyst for disaster. This violates the fundamental rules of capitalism; Adam Smith himself was wary of the effect of limiting liability, a bedrock principle of the modern corporation.'
theodp writes: Tech bubbles happen, writes BW's Ashlee Vance, but we usually gain from the innovation left behind. But this one — driven by social networking — could leave us empty-handed. Math whiz Jeff Hammerbacher provides a good case study. One year out of Harvard, 23-year-old Hammerbacher arrived at Facebook, was given the lofty title of research scientist and put to work analyzing how people used the social networking service. Over the next two years, Hammerbacher assembled a team that built a new class of analytical technology, one which translated insights into people's relationships, tendencies, and desires into precision advertising and higher sales. But something gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google, and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,' he says. 'That sucks.' Silicon Valley historian Christophe Lecuyer agrees: 'It's clear that the new industry that is building around Internet advertising and these other services doesn't create that many jobs. The loss of manufacturing and design knowhow is truly worrisome.'