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February 26 2015
Sometimes I think about how many little things we probably do every day that would totally mess up the reasoning of a Sherlock-Holmes-style detective.
Like the other day we went to the cinema and I was wearing a shirt with no pockets so I put the ticket in my trouser pocket. The next day I was wearing the same trousers and I put my hand in my pocket and found the ticket there.
Now, I have a certain selection of things I always have in my trouser pockets and I don’t really like having anything else in there because it confuses my hands when I want to get something, so I took the ticket out. And I wasn’t near a rubbish bin, but I was wearing a shirt with a breast pocket. So I put the ticket in the shirt pocket.
And I thought: if I get interestingly murdered, the Sherlock-Holmes-style detective is going to deduce that I’m wearing the same shirt that I wore yesterday. Because it’s got a cinema ticket in the pocket with yesterday’s date on, and why on earth would anyone put a cinema ticket in the pocket of a shirt unless they were wearing the shirt when they went to the cinema?
Which is a bit of reasoning we would all find totally convincing if it came from a Sherlock-Holmes-style detective. But it would be wrong. Because actually there are so many other explanations for things once you take account of the fact that people are often slightly eccentric in completely trivial and unguessable ways.
“Samuel Vimes dreamed about Clues. He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way. And he distrusted the kind of person who’d take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, “Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times,” and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man’s boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he’d been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen* and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!”
—Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay
February 25 2015
Einstein’s advice to Marie Curie on dealing with trolls: “Don’t read that hogwash”
“Trolls are not a new problem.
Way back in 1911, in fact, Albert Einstein was giving Marie Curie advice on how to deal with them, as astrobiologist David Grinspoon recently discovered in a huge trove of new Einstein letters put online this week.”
Historically, the Monty Hall Problem was predated by several very similar puzzles.
In Joseph Bertrand’s box paradox (1889), three boxes are presented -- one containing two gold coins, one containing two silver coins, and the final containing one of each. Assuming the participant draws one gold coin from a box, the problem then asks what the probability is that the other coin in that box is gold. Bertrand, who concluded that the probability was ⅔, was lauded for his ability to look beyond the obvious.
A second iteration of this paradox, the Three Prisoners Problem (1959), presents a statistically identical scenario, with the same outcome. “[It’s] a wonderfully confusing little problem," its creator, Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner, later wrote, smugly. "In no other branch of mathematics is it so easy for experts to blunder as in probability theory."
First presented in a letter to the editor of The American Statistician in 1975, the Monty Hall Problem was also counterintuitive. In this letter, Steve Selvin, a University of California, Berkeley professor, splayed out the situation in the intro of this article, and contended that switching doors yields a ⅔ chance of winning the car, whereas keeping the original door results in winning only ⅓ of the time.
Over the next decade or so, the Monty Hall Problem made several appearances, first in a Journal of Economics Perspectives puzzle by Barry Nalebuff, and subsequently in a 1989 issue of Bridge Today, by Phillip Martin. Neither man’s logic was refuted, and the problem generated relatively little attention.
Then, after 15 years without incident, the Monty Hall Problem was resurrected by Marilyn vos Savant -- and an absolute shit-storm ensued.In September 1990, Marilyn vos Savant devoted one of her columns to a reader’s question, which presented a variation of the Monty Hall Problem:
“Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say #1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say #3, which has a goat. He says to you, "Do you want to pick door #2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?”
“Yes; you should switch,” she replied. “The first door has a 1/3 chance of winning, but the second door has a 2/3 chance.”
Though her answer was correct, a vast swath of academics responded with outrage. In the proceeding months, vos Savant received more than 10,000 letters -- including a pair from the Deputy Director of the Center for Defense Information, and a Research Mathematical Statistician from the National Institutes of Health -- all of which contended that she was entirely incompetent [...]via The Time Everyone “Corrected” the World’s Smartest Woman
As a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford, Elizabeth Holmes decided to transform diagnostic medicine so she dropped out of college and used her tuition money to start her own company, Theranos. Ten years later, Holmes, pictured here holding a micro-vial, is on the cutting edge of medical technology — her new blood testing method allows hundreds of tests to be run using only a few drops of blood. And, Holmes’ methods are cheaper, faster, more accurate, and less invasive than conventional methods which often require a separate vial of blood for every test.
As Holmes told Wired.com earlier this year, “I started this company because I wanted to spend my life changing our health care system. When someone you love gets really sick, most of the time when you find out, it’s too late to be able to do something about it. It’s heartbreaking… We wanted to make actionable health information accessible to people everywhere at the time it matters most. That means two things: being able to detect conditions in time to do something about them and providing access to information that can empower people to improve their lives.”
read more from A Mighty Girl
Reasons you should adore Elizabeth Holmes:
- She is featured as Forbes’ youngest self-made woman billionaire.
- Her tests will revolutionize the public health world as we know it; Making diagnostic testing accessible and affordable for more people (and potentially saving Medicare and Medicaid ~$100 billion each over the next decade). (x)
- She is a coauthor on 82 US and 189 foreign patent applications. (x)
- Her fear of needles served as a motivator for launching Theranos. (x)
Today in Computer Scientists You Haven’t Heard Of: Margaret Hamilton
This is Margaret Hamilton, standing next to one of her earlier projects: The Apollo Guidance Computer’s main operating program.
I’m going to let that sink in for a moment. Look at your image of NASA in the Apollo days. Look at miss Hamilton.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the story about how the computer crashed on Neil and Mike on their descent, leaving Neil to make the landing by hand. This story has only the barest grounding in reality.
During the descent, a checklist error left the rendezvous radar - normally used for keeping track of the Command Module in orbit - turned on. Radar is a computationally hungry beast, and the computer unhappily told Neil and Mike that it was being overtasked. It kept right on going, even though it was being overworked. It kept the truly important numbers - altitude, descent rate, fuel consumption - up to date perfectly as they descended, which allowed Neil to fly safely above the lunar surface to find a landing site.
So, here you have a computer, easily the most powerful computer for its size ever made as of 1969, controlling a flying machine above the lunar surface, and correctly juggling multiple real-time processing tasks by priority. This is something that modern computers, fifty years later, still struggle with. Margaret built it and got it right at the very dawn of the multi-tasking operating system. It was something done by Serious Computers - fridge-sized monsters with names like PDP-8 and System/360… and a series of tiny boxes that flew to the moon and back.
And then she went on and did other things. Ever heard the term “Software Engineering”? Margaret’s invention. More technically speaking, she’s responsible for parallel and asynchronous computing (which now is key to every supercomputer and major website), priority scheduling, end-to-end testing, and a huge chunk of human-computer interface theory.
She’s still active in software engineering today.
This is what a space wizard looks like.
In her own words:
“Due to an error in the checklist manual, the rendezvous radar switch was placed in the wrong position. This caused it to send erroneous signals to the computer. The result was that the computer was being asked to perform all of its normal functions for landing while receiving an extra load of spurious data which used up 15% of its time. The computer (or rather the software in it) was smart enough to recognize that it was being asked to perform more tasks than it should be performing. It then sent out an alarm, which meant to the astronaut, I’m overloaded with more tasks than I should be doing at this time and I’m going to keep only the more important tasks; i.e., the ones needed for landing … Actually, the computer was programmed to do more than recognize error conditions. A complete set of recovery programs was incorporated into the software. The software’s action, in this case, was to eliminate lower priority tasks and re-establish the more important ones … If the computer hadn’t recognized this problem and taken recovery action, I doubt if Apollo 11 would have been the successful moon landing it was.”
This woman programmed a computer smart enough to prioritize tasks and make sure essential functions were carried out first even if other tasks were going on - she’s the one who made the moon landing possible, more than anyone else. If her programming hadn’t been able to prioritize, the mission would’ve been aborted.
She’s also published a ton of papers and basically I’m so tired of people never hearing about all the brilliant coding women. Like, when it was first getting off the ground computer programming was a woman’s field - like they specifically looked for and hired women. There were also a ton of female mathematics BS and PhD candidates in the 30s-50s.
And for the record: all the programmers who created the first general-use computer were women. Wanna know why? The men thought actually building the computer -as in, the design of the machine itself - was more important than programming the computer - as in, actually making it work and telling it how to run, y’know, enabling it to actually be useful.
Men didn’t think programming was important so they relegated it to women, and once they realized programming was the MOST important part of computers they yanked those jobs away, made it a boy thing, and failed to highlight the huge role women played in pioneering the computer age.
[the image has been making the rounds on soup, but this had more info]
Annie J. Easley: Why she kicks ass
When people have their biases and prejudices, yes, I am aware. My head is not in the sand. But my thing is, if I can’t work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be so discouraged that I’d walk away. That may be a solution for some people, but it’s not mine.
She was an computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist, who worked for the Lewis Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). She was a leading member of the team which developed software for the Centaur rocket stage and one of the first African-Americans in her field.
As part of the Jim Crow laws that established and maintained racial inequality, African Americans were required to pass an onerous literacy test and pay a poll tax in order to vote. She remembers the test giver looking at her application and saying only, “You went to Xavier University. Two dollars.” Subsequently, she helped other African Americans prepare for the test.
She began her career in as a Mathematician and Computer Engineer at the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (which became NASA Lewis Research Center, 1958–1999, and subsequently the John H. Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, Ohio. She continued her education while working for the agency and in 1977, she obtained a Bachelor of Sciencein Mathematics from Cleveland State University. As part of a continuing education, Easley worked through specialization courses offered by NASA.
Her 34-year career included developing and implementing computer code that analyzed alternative power technologies, supported Centaur, determined solar, wind and energy projects, identified energy conversion systems and alternative systems to solve energy problems. Her energy assignments included studies to determine the life use of storage batteries, such as those used in electric utility vehicles. Her computer applications have been used to identify energy conversion systems that offer the improvement over commercially available technologies. She retired in 1989 (some sources say 1991).
Easley’s work with the Centaur project helped as technological foundations for the space shuttle launches and launches of communication, military and weather satellites. Her work contributed to the 1997 flight to Saturn of the Cassini probe, which was launched by the Centaur.
Annie Easley was interviewed in Cleveland, on August 21, 2001 by Sandra Johnson.The interview is stored in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Johnson Space Center Oral History Program. The 55 page interview transcript includes material on the history of the Civil Rights Movement, Glenn Research Center, Johnson Space Center, space flight, and the contribution of women to space flight.
Day 22 of #BlackHistoryYouDidntLearnInSchool - Pauli Murray
“If anyone should ask a Negro woman in America what has been her greatest achievement, her honest answer would be, “I survived!”
[via. source has better readability due to higher res images, click on through if tiny blurry fonts are not your thing.]
Another quote? "What's the point of flying a plane if you can't have fun doing it?" I love her!
Look at her! We all want to be her.
I love early aviatrices - Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, etc - they were like "oh is there a brand new job on the face of the earth? Think I'll invite myself to do it before anyone says I can't."
Not too much time goes by before Top Gun washes up once again on these shores.
via Hark, a vagrant
#BlackHistoryMonth #tbt: Being the first African American woman to travel to space is one of Mae Jemison’s many accomplishments. A dancer, Peace Corps doctor, public speaker and astronaut, Mae went to college at age 16, holds 9 honorary doctorates and has founded many STEM-related programs for students.
via She Makes Comics: A New Documentary Explores the History of Women in Comics | Bitch Media
February 22 2015
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