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### World Cup Prediction Failures

Re:Look at the numbers first (312 comments)

Goldman Sachs gave Brazil (the "favorite") only a 13% chance of winning the world cup.

The fact that Brazil was eliminated is not at odds with the reports.

Exactly. The editorial comment has the misconception that this form of betting aims to find the winner.

Instead, they are looking for models which better predict to the "true" likelihood of any team winning. These models output a series of probabilities, and the amount of money you can make depends on the disparity between this distribution and that predicted by the current betting odds. You place a family of bets which target this disparity proportionally, and then after a sufficient number of events you'll make money reliably.

If other people start predicing the odds more accurately, you'll find that the disparity between betting odds and your model will narrow, and there'll be less opportunity for you to make money. There are a lot of people doing this sort of thing professionally, since sports betting is supposedly a less efficient market than share trading.

more than 4 years ago
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### Tattoos For the Math and Science Geek?

Re:Before you do it (1186 comments)

Um, if you're gonna get it tattoo'd, you probably want to go with the more traditional form of: e^(i*pi) + 1 = 0. This single equation shows a relationship between 5 important mathematical constants, as opposed to the other form, which just shows 3 (I don't think -1 qualifies, as i is the more fundamental).

So you tattoo something safe, and then people start using tau instead of pi.

more than 4 years ago
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### A Battle of Wits On the Net's Effect On the Mind

Sure, Pinker's opinion is worth more than comments here, where we're mostly pissing into the wind. There's an underlying problem though, which is that there's no easy way to distinguish the hard-nosed and appropriately qualified opinion of an academic expert from a well thought out but speculative personal opinion, especially in an op-ed piece like this.

The ideal would be a kind of argument tree of claims and evidence which ultimately supports the conclusion at hand, preferably with a wiki-like structure and references to the scientific literature. Something like that backing an op-ed piece would, although being a whole lot more work, let you and me work out how seriously academic X has thought out their position, or whether they too were pissing into the wind.

more than 4 years ago
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### A Battle of Wits On the Net's Effect On the Mind

The fundamental argument they are having is whether or not deep thinkers learn to be deep thinkers or if they are born to be deep thinkers. If thinking deeply is a learned behavior, then Carr may have a good argument. Then you move on to the specifics of whether or not the Internet promotes skimming or thinking deeply (my opinion is it depends greatly on where you go on the internet). If deep thinkers are born that way, then it doesn't matter.

The argument seems more subtle than that. Carr thinks that deep thinking is learned (or at least, promoted) through old methods of media consumption, but that our new methods of consumption are ruining this ability. Pinker also thinks that deep thinking is a learned behaviour, but that it is taught (and learned) in the institutions where it is most needed, in particular in universities.

Pinker's not worried about recent changes, because he's confident that people who need these skills pick them up, and uses increasing success in sciences as evidence that nothing is going too wrong. Carr doesn't believe this evidence is sufficient, since he believes that modern science may not need deep thinking for its advances. That claim seems to severely underestimate the difficulty of doing good science, or even average science, and seems trivially false.

Really though, Carr values "deep thinking" in and of itself, and doesn't care if people who need it can do it. He's worried that the general population as a whole will not be able to think deeply on anything, but instead will become light "skimmers" of information. It seems to me that the ability to skim and critically combine information from multiple sources is incredibly important now, maybe more important than the "deep thinking" Carr promotes.

I definitely side with Pinker here. The skills are always around for those who want or need them. Nothing about our current consumption habits prevents us from learning them or using our self-control and employing them. Carr should be deeply uncomfortable with the amount of information we need to wade through day in day out, and realise that people are just adapting to do the best they can in our modern environment.

more than 4 years ago
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### New York Times Bans Use of Word "Tweet"

Re:He has a point (426 comments)

Imagine imagine yourself reading the NYT archive from the 1920s and finding "flivver" or "flapper". Now imagine someone in a hundred years reading the archive of the now-current NYT and finding "tweet". Same deal.

He's may be too uptight* about it, but his idea is not completely without merit.

[*: 40 years ago?]

In 100 years, the archive will interactively back up the word tweet with a wealth of information about Twitter and the culture of the times, for those interested. For those not, it will simply paraphrase tweet with something comprehensible to the person reading it, so that they can understand and move on.

I don't think thoughts of future archiving should deter us from using language however we see fit.

more than 4 years ago
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### MA High School Forces All Students To Buy MacBooks

Now having RTFA, they are providing a rental scheme which looks quite reasonable, and financial assistance to parents who aren't able to meet even that. Seems very reasonable to me.

more than 4 years ago
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### MA High School Forces All Students To Buy MacBooks

Is it really necessarily to require every student to have a laptop in order to learn? Are they saying it's nearly impossible to correctly teach students without this technology?

I went to a privileged school, and when I went to high school years ago they brought out their first laptop policy. In many ways, the laptops were "wasted" for official classes, and it was quickly learned that 95% of classes didn't need or use the laptop. For the other 5%, it was really very useful. The side effect of everyone having laptops was a lot of tinkering by all the students, and that had real benefit too.

Laptop schemes are nothing new. There are two questions in this case: why standardise on MacBooks, and what will they do about the underprivileged kids?

As to why they standardise at all, that's clear. It will save them a lot of support effort. They may also be able to do some bulk deal for all these laptops, instead of families having to purchase them at retail price. Whilst I'd love them to demand laptops running Ubuntu instead, I think choosing Macs is reasonably defensible.

As for underprivileged kids, the school clearly needs a policy where their laptops are subsidised or bought outright. If they do something like this, then far from screwing the poor parents they'll be doing the kids a huge favour, likely giving them access to some tech literacy that only comes from having your own machine you can use night and day. Will they do the right thing? I don't know, but it's far better to focus pressure on this particular issue than on the broader issue of requiring laptops.

more than 4 years ago
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### For taking notes by hand, I prefer ...

Plain paper all the way (373 comments)

I find that lined paper doesn't give the flexibility to mix text and diagrams. As time has passed, I'm getting fussier and looking harder for plain paper notepads. Unfortunately, there's often none except for artist sketchpads, where the paper is far thicker than I'd need. Anyone else end up stealing paper from the printer for notes?

more than 4 years ago
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### What Scientists Really Think About Religion

The real deal is that the scientific method can never really disprove the existence of God, so there can be no genuine conflict between science and the belief in God.

That's not quite true. Science demands a kind of skepticism in evaluating evidence, and makes heavy use of principles such as Occam's Razor to prune the space of propositions considered realistic given the evidence. Despite not being able to disprove many things, it certainly passes judgement on beliefs about the world which are beyond the minimum required to explain the world around us (e.g. the Flying Spaghetti Monster). The scientific mindset requires us to discard propositions which are spurious and unsupported by concrete evidence. The belief in one or more gods or an afterlife certainly fails to meet standards of evidence; scientific rigour would thus allows as to discard such beliefs. If further evidence can be brought to bear, great! Until then...

more than 4 years ago
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### FSF Response To Steve Jobs's Letter

Re:Let the users decide (572 comments)

Hypocrisy is putting forth a set of philosophical arguments against Flash while performing the exact same business practices that he's decrying.

Jobs doesn't make philosophical arguments against Flash though, he only makes business arguments.

His problem is that Adobe dropped the ball, and are lagging instead of innovating. Jobs claims Flash is the number one source of crashes on OS X, and Adobe has done nothing about it. In the mobile device space, Flash doesn't yet support use of hardware acceleration in video decoding, which means massively increased resource usage and thus reduced battery time. Since Adobe lags on these issues, Apple prefers a process they can contribute to and in some sense control, hence open standards in this area of their business. If Adobe had not dropped the ball, Jobs would be happy to use Flash and there'd be no conflict to see.

more than 4 years ago
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### Memorizing Language / Spelling Techniques?

There are ideographic relationships between concepts and what's in the characters. Each of the elements in complex characters bears some of the meaning of the word. Dictionaries for Chinese and Japanese Kanji are in fact organized in this manner (by character radical). I can't recommend a particular manner of memorizing them (i failed abysmally at the task as a child, and am functionally illiterate as a result), however the relationships are there if you want to look for them.

I also have studied Chinese as a child and Japanese as an adult, neither to a fluent level, and can vouch for the parent's suggestion to look at components during study. That's about half of Heisig's method, which other posters have mentioned, the other half being to not worry about pronunciation until you've first learned the meaning of many characters. (Aside: plenty of people vouch for Heisig, plenty criticise it too; I don't know of any studies showing that it really works, only anecdotes from individuals.)

The only point I'll add is that learning characters is a big memorisation task, and many characters aren't based on strong visual meaning. Don't feel bad about inventing a story to help you remember, even if the story is technically wrong or makes incorrect assumptions about components. Chinese and Japanese teachers make up such stories all the time to teach characters to their students, since as a pure memorisation technique it works.

more than 4 years ago
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### Memorizing Language / Spelling Techniques?

that's pretty interesting. I'd guess that the phonetic part of japanese (hiragana & katakana) is probably even shallower than spanish tho.

Exactly. It's only the kanji script which makes the Japanese writing system as a whole deep. You take an already deep writing system from one language (Chinese), smush it over the top of an existing spoken language (native Japanese), salt it by borrowing pronunciations from the first language during three or four historic periods (i.e. different dialects), and you get a very weak relationship between the sounds you're saying and the glyphs you're writing, at least compared to other languages.

Hey, that's what makes Japanese fun =)

more than 4 years ago
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### Memorizing Language / Spelling Techniques?

since there is no relation between sound and shape of the characters

so it's sort of like in English then?

You're right on the money. They call the complexity of a writing system's form-sound relationship orthographic depth. English is a deep language, Chinese is deeper, Japanese is deeper still. Spanish on the other hand is orthographically shallow. So it's considered easier to learn to read and write in Spanish, than English, in English than Chinese, in Chinese than Japanese.

more than 4 years ago
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### California To Create Public Animal Abuser Registry

Re:Politicians and the public are.. (404 comments)

Yes, actually that is what they do. I'm from the midwest and in a city (I think it was near Kansas City) they were proposing opening a small (like 1 week) hunting season in this park that was overwhelmed with deer (far beyond the carrying capacity and people kept hitting deer left and right) and they seriously proposed putting birth control or something in the food to stop this overpopulation. And this is in Missouri where the first day of deer season practically is a state holiday! Let alone what the idiots in California are thinking.

In similar situations in Australia, animals (e.g. kangaroos) are simply culled to keep their population down. It's still a bit controversial though. IMHO, animal rights groups don't quite have a coherent take on this, and seem to object to culling on principal. Animals suffer in the wild too though, and if their population is allowed to explode, the amount of suffering will increase as many starve. I'm all for population controls like culling done humanely.

That said, if you could plausibly implement birth control, that would be far more humane. It works in situations where you're the one giving them food to begin with (e.g. pigeons), but I can't see how it be cheap enough to do otherwise.

more than 4 years ago
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### Debunking a Climate-Change Skeptic

Re:The whole argument is tedious... (807 comments)

It only makes sense to take precautions so as to avoid any chance of eliminating your own species. If you're wrong, you spent some money unnecessarily.

Despite catastrophic consequences, I sincerely doubt that humanity would perish if global warming continues unabated. I wouldn't want to live in that world though, and surely a lot of people would suffer or die. However, reducing emissions doesn't come for free either. The cost of being wrong, aside from setting society back a few decades, is to keep another generation or two of third worlders in severe poverty. That's hardly free, so it's good that the science gets appropriately debated. Now I just wish that politics would hurry up and iterate towards the same level of consensus as is there in the science.

more than 4 years ago
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### "Logan's Run" Syndrome In Programming

Just a few days ago there was a post right here on Slashdot asking how easy it was to cheat in CS. Based on the forum discussions, a significant number of students today get programming degrees and can't produce a lick of decent code.

This has certainly been my experience. I don't know how they graduate, but they do, just, every time. I never heard of someone who didn't graduate because they couldn't code. Somehow they fumble their way through every project and still pass. I'd say maybe 30% of graduates of the degree I'm thinking of could not write a small program correctly in their language of their choice in any reasonable time. That said, employers aren't hiring people who just pass fresh out of uni, so it's not really a problem for the job market. There are also plenty of good, even excellent, programmers who come out of the degree. I'd much prefer to tighten things up though, so the degree itself was worth more.

more than 3 years ago
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### "Logan's Run" Syndrome In Programming

"The fact that you have 30 years of COBOL experience doesn't help you if you don't learn new technologies." learning a new language is easy. Learning to program is hard. c, java, c#, php, perl, are all very much alike. Once you know one learning the rest are easy.

Learning a new language is easy if you commonly take the time to learn a new language and challenge the assumption that your current pet language is best for business. If you have only used two or three languages in 30 years, people might rightly question why you haven't explored your own field more.

What experence teachs you is when you need to use a hash vs a btree.

That's actually what a computer science degree teaches you. Experience would instead help you to see to the core of a new problem, and find that one or two insights which turn a complex problem into a simpler one. It would also help you to manage client expectations, so that even with similar output everyone would be happier.

more than 3 years ago
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### India Ditches UN Climate Change Group

People may disagree on the monetary costs associated with various outcomes. That does not mean that monetary costs are impossible to assign. In fact, we have to assign costs and benefits to various scenarios in order to judge if one outcome is more beneficial than another. Saying "costs are impossible to assign" is a fancy way of throwing up one's hands and giving up thinking about the problem. If you can't assign costs, how can you judge whether the course of action you've chosen is the best one?

I'm all for reducing the problem to the numbers we can project. Perhaps what I really object to is reducing those numbers further (i.e. human lives lost, suffering increased) to just a single dollar amount. There's a pretty significant value judgement there which is not "objective" economic modelling. Come up with a new measure, call it person-years of poverty, and let's talk about how that measure changes between the two scenarios, (potentially) independently of the other measurable projections.

more than 4 years ago
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### India Ditches UN Climate Change Group

It certainty of the data depends on the question you're trying to answer. Is the earth warming? Absolutely. We have numerous bits of evidence from ice cores, tree rings, and soil samples that confirm that the earth's climate is warmer now than it was before. Is mankind causing this warming? There is more uncertainty here, but signs are increasingly pointing towards the affirmative.

The real question is, "Does the cost of adaptation outweigh the cost of going carbon free?" Humanity is the most adaptable species on the planet. It may very well be the case that the cost of adapting to climate change outweighs the cost of stopping climate change.

I don't doubt that humans will survive no matter the climate change which occurs. When you talk about comparing cost, we should be clear that there's no monetary value we can put on the possible outcomes. On the one hand, if changing climate patterns mean that species become extinct, arable land is lost, millions don't escape poverty, suffering increases, many die. If we halt climate change, but in doing so slightly increase suffering in first-world countries, reduce resources in third-world countries, millions don't escape poverty, suffering still increases, many die. Let's compare. The third world, hard to say which is better. The first world would probably be better off doing nothing, in terms of limiting suffering and keeping people's standard of living. As for species dying? What price do we assign? It's a question of ideology, of philosophy, the price we put on such things, and thus which is the better course. Let's not pretend otherwise.

more than 4 years ago
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### Ireland's Blasphemy Law Goes Into Effect

Re:This is one of occasions wher... (845 comments)

Science has answered many of the questions that religion once was used for, but that doesn't mean there are many deep questions to which the scientific method cannot be applied.

Naturally, and there is a deep philosophic tradition which focuses on these questions. I'm deeply suspicious about the "solutions" to these problems chosen by traditional religions. Whilst I agree that in most cases they evolved through argument and popularity over long time periods, they carry far too much arbitrary baggage. Modern philosophy seems better at getting to the core of the idea and discarding the somewhat arbitrary baggage along for the ride.

more than 4 years ago

# Slashdot: News for Nerds

One of the chief duties of the mathematician in acting as an advisor... is to discourage... from expecting too much from mathematics. -- N. Wiener