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Monday, January 22, 2018

From undisciplined to interdisciplinary | MIT News

"Math professor Philippe Rigollet, once a “not very disciplined” student, moves between computer science and statistics" notes Larry Hardesty, computer science and technology writer at the MIT News Office.

Originally from the small town of Cluny, in the Burgundy region of France, Philippe Rigollet made the move to MIT in 2014.
Photo: Bryce Vickmark

In 1996, when he was a high school senior in the small town of Cluny, in the Burgundy region of France, Philippe Rigollet applied to several of the two-year preparatory schools that most French students attend before moving on to university. His transcript reported a stellar math grade of 19.5 out of 20, but in the small space allotted for comments, his math teacher had written “fainéant.”

Rigollet translates that word as “slacker.”

“They were really looking for slackers in those preparatory schools,” Rigollet says. “They didn’t want people who were burned out at the end of high school and couldn’t push it, because it was much harder.”

“Slacker” is not an epithet that people tend to associate with MIT professors, and Rigollet was tenured in the Department of Mathematics last year. He is also part of MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society. But in high school, Rigollet says, “I was not very disciplined about learning stuff I didn’t want to learn.” 

Fortunately, there’s a lot that he has wanted to learn. His work is notable for its interdisciplinarity, moving back and forth between the fields of statistics and computer science and bringing insights from each to the other.

Rigollet was born in a rural French town with a population of only 365. His mother was a speech therapist, and his father taught grades two through five at the local elementary school. The 30-odd students in those four grades shared a single classroom, and during math class, Rigollet’s father would pose questions to each group in turn.

“That’s where I got used to being good at math,” Rigollet says. “I would try to listen to the harder questions from the upper class.”

The community was predominantly agrarian — “Raising chickens was a big thing,” Rigollet says — but his parents had a side line in door-to-door sales of health, beauty, and home-care products for Amway. Starting when Rigollet was 4, the family would attend Amway workshops in the U.S. for a week or two almost every year.

“That balanced out somehow the fact that I had a pretty limited perspective from where I grew up — the fact that I got to visit the United States,” Rigollet says.

“Going to the mall, having Taco Bell, it was just a dream for me.”

It also explains why, despite being educated entirely in France, Rigollet speaks such fluid, idiomatic English. “My first full sentence was ‘Can I have change for the game room?’” he says.

Mathematical freedom
On the strength of his placement exams, Rigollet earned a spot at a prestigious preparatory school in Lyon, which specialized in math and physics. He still had difficulty making himself learn stuff he didn’t want to learn, however: He excelled in math, but in physics, “I was just getting by,” he says.

“In physics, the rules were set a little too strongly for me,” he says. “Math allowed you more to have your own proof or your own way of thinking. It’s funny, because some people look for structure in math, and I’m looking for freedom. In what I’m doing now, I choose the model I want, and I do the math I want, and I do the description I want of these things.”...

For a statistician with an interest in computer science, however, a department of operations research and financial engineering was never a perfect fit. So in 2015, Rigollet moved to MIT. There he has continued to pursue parallel research tracks in pure statistics and machine learning. Some of his earliest work at MIT concerned statistical methods that could be used to optimize both the design of clinical trials and the targeting of ads to web users. More recently, he’s been investigating statistical techniques for interpreting data produced by the imaging technique known as cryoelectron microscopy, whose inventors were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
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Source: MIT News


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Millikin math majors discuss plans for future careers | Millikin University


A mathematics degree prepares graduates for a number of rapidly growing positions, such as a mathematician, teacher, scientist, technology professional, engineer, statistician and more. 

Photo: Millikin University

According to Bestcolleges.com, as of 2015, some of the top 10 fastest-growing positions in the United States are in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), showing how important a math degree can be when it comes to developing a career.

Recently, a few Millikin University mathematics majors shared their career aspirations and discussed the importance of applying knowledge they've gained.

Among the students was Ryan Sikora, a junior from Hickory Hills, Ill., who is studying mathematics actuarial science. Sikora, who passed the Society of Actuaries' Exam P (Probability) on his first attempt in September 2017, chose actuarial science to assess risk in insurance, finance and other industries and professions.

"I've put so much work in the studies I've been doing now, and seeing all that hard work pay off has been incredible," Sikora said. "The reason I chose math and particularly actuarial science is that growing up, I was a good numbers guy. It just made sense to me. My senior year in high school, I took my first statistics class and just fell in love with the material."

Millikin's Department of Mathematics prepares actuarial science majors for two Society of Actuaries' exams, as well as two of the Validation by Educational Experience (VEE) requirements of the Society of Actuaries. The pass rate on the exam Sikora took is about 30 to 40 percent, and most students have to take it more than once to get a passing score.

"When our students do actuarial science they take a lot of business courses and many of them get a finance minor," said Dr. Joe Stickles, chair of the Mathematics Department at Millikin. "Being a math major gives you the skills to be able to succeed in almost anything that is science-related, business-related, because it teaches you how to think."

Dr. Stickles added, "Some math majors go on to law school because law is very logical, so choosing a math major to go to law school is a good choice. Philosophy is a good choice, but also psychology. Psychology programs love math people because they don't have to teach them all of the statistics."...

Dr. Stickles noted the importance of exposing Millikin mathematics majors to different experiences so that they are able to make changes and have the foundation to do anything they want to do.

"We're very big on getting our students to be able to do things independently," Dr. Stickles said.
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Source: Millikin University


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Career Spotlight: Inside Actuarial Science | Knowledge Wharton Highschool

"How’s this for an unexpected new-year trend: actuarial science" inform Knowledge@Wharton High School.


Take, for instance, a January 2018 headline from News24, South Africa’s largest digital publisher. Takalani Bambela from Limpopo’s Tshivhase Secondary School near Johannesburg achieved the region’s top score in math and science on his matric exam. Matriculation or matric is a term commonly used in South Africa to refer to the final year of high school and the qualification received on graduating from high school. Bambela told News24 that he plans to study actuarial science at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, adding, “With actuarial science, I will be able to use the mathematical skills which I would have attained … to help local businesses assess and manage the risks that they will encounter along the journey of their businesses. This will result in local businesses growing … then there will be more inflow of money into our country resulting in our economy growing.”

A world away near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the U.S., Michelle McGrath, a senior at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, is on a similar career track. McGrath, who was recently accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, also plans to study actuarial science. “I discovered my desire to be an actuary when I enrolled in AP Statistics my junior year of high school,” says McGrath, who this year is tackling AP Economics to further explore her interest in business. “I liked that there were a lot of real-world applications that we explored in statistics, which is not common for many math classes. I always knew that I wanted to major in something relating to math in college. Once my teacher mentioned being an actuary to the class, I explored the aspects of the job and thought it’d be the perfect major for me.”

From Johannesburg to Philadelphia and beyond, actuarial science is in demand these days. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that employment of actuaries is projected to grow 22% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. And actuaries often rank high on lists of top STEM careers, top-paying jobs and even best jobs for women.
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Source: Knowledge Wharton Highschool


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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Two exciting books to help build strong girls | Science Book a Day

It’s a scientific fact: Women rock! 

Photo: Storyblocks.com

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.


Girls Think of Everything:
Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women

In kitchens and living rooms, in garages and labs and basements, even in converted chicken coops, women and girls have invented ingenious innovations that have made our lives simpler and better. Their creations are some of the most enduring (the windshield wiper) and best loved (the chocolate chip cookie). What inspired these women, and just how did they turn their ideas into realities?

Features women inventors Ruth Wakefield, Mary Anderson, Stephanie Kwolek, Bette Nesmith Graham, Patsy O. Sherman, Ann Moore, Grace Murray Hopper, Margaret E. Knight, Jeanne Lee Crews, and Valerie L. Thomas, as well as young inventors ten-year-old Becky Schroeder and eleven-year-old Alexia Abernathy. Illustrated in vibrant collage by Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet.
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Women In Science by Rachel Ignotofsky.
A illustrated gift book profiling 50 famous women scientists from the ancient Greek mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer, Hypatia, to Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist.

Women in Science:
50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

A charmingly illustrated and educational book, New York Times best seller Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more! 

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Source: Science Book a Day


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10 New Books We Recommend This Week| New York Times - Book Review - Editors’ Choice

Follow on Twitter as @johnwilliamsnyt
"Among our recommended works of fiction this week is Ali Smith’s “Winter,” an “insubordinate folk tale” that continues her projected quartet tied to the seasons" summarizes John Williams, Daily Books Editor and Staff Writer.

Two classic novels, Nella Larsen’s “Passing” (1929) and George S. Schuyler’s “Black No More” (1931), have been reissued in time for Black History Month. Ruby Namdar’s “The Ruined House” is an intense novel about Jewish life that won Israel’s most lucrative literary award. And Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s “The World Goes On” is full of the sprawling sentences for which the Hungarian writer has become known. In nonfiction, a wide array of subjects: threats to democracy, ancient crafts, strategy during the Vietnam War, Ezra Pound in confinement and the Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee’s literary criticism.

Photo: Storyblocks.com

How Democracies Die
HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. (Crown, $26.)
In this “lucid and essential” guide, two political scientists write about the norms that have sustained American democracy, and argue that President Trump has tried to eviscerate more than one of those norms. Our critic Jennifer Szalai, summarizing the book’s circumspect conclusion, writes: “There is no democratic paradise, no easy way out. Democracy, when it functions properly, is hard, grinding work. This message may not be as loud and as lurid as what passes for politics these days, but it might be the one we need to hear.” 

Late Essays: 2006-2017
LATE ESSAYS: 2006-2017, by J. M. Coetzee. (Viking, $28.)  
In his own work, the Nobel Prize-winning author may reinvent the rules of fiction, but his literary criticism hews to more traditional formulas, enriched with fascinating biographies of writers and brilliant psychologizing of their characters. The subjects of these 23 essays include Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” 

Source: New York Times 


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Clever coder uses AI to make disturbingly cool music videos | TNW - Artificial Intelligence

What happens when you take a perfectly good neural network and, figuratively, stick a screwdriver in its brain? writes Tristan Greene, sailor gleefully writing about consumer-friendly artificial intelligence advances.

Photo: TNW
You get melancholy glitch-art music videos that turn talking heads into digital puppets.

A machine learning developer named Jeff Zito made a series of music videos using a deep learning network based on Face2Face. Originally developed to generate stunningly realistic image transfers, like controlling a digital Obama in real-time using your own facial movements, this project takes it in a different direction.

Sometimes the best AI isn’t good enough. When it comes to art, for example, computations and algorithms often don’t matter as much as chaos and noise do. By fiddling with the network’s controls – essentially introducing less-than-optimum parameters — Zito was able to generate stark videos that remind us of everything weird about Max Headroom.

Lord Over- Reflection 


We reached out to Zito to find out where his inspiration came from, he told us:
The intention was to create art, absolutely. Training these networks with hi-def images takes days on the cloud, which unfortunately is not free, so there’s not a lot of room to experiment in a purposeless way. We had a few unsuccessful attempts, which in this backwards world means producing content that’s too accurate and sterile, before we started to understand what kind of content to use and how to utilize it effectively.
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Source: TNW and Lord Over Channel (YouTube)


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Weaving Music Through Life and Learning | Coronado Times Newspaper

Music enhances the education of our children by helping them to make connections and broadening the depth with which they think and feel. If we are to hope for a society of culturally literate people, music must be a vital part of our children’s education.” ~Yo-Yo Ma


"While most people seem to agree that music education is of great importance and value to teaching a well-rounded child, school districts across the country are cutting music programs. Typically, it’s one of the first areas to go when budget cuts loom over schools" continues Christ Church Day School.


Photo: Christ Church Day School

At Christ Church Day School, we believe participating in music helps stimulate the brain in unique ways, which help children learn and grow. This activity in itself helps them academically, but when you infuse music into all aspects of learning, the benefits are exponential. That’s why we’ve made music education part of our curriculum and learning environment.

Twice a week, our music teacher teaches a half-hour class where students learn rhythm, music history (including lessons on classical composers), and songs that they will sing for chapel and around the flagpole daily. They also prepare pieces for the Christmas program and the Spring Sing in May. This year’s Spring Sing will include music from and around 1957 to celebrate the school’s 60th anniversary.

Music class is not limited to singing. Our kids love the hands-on opportunity to play music as well. Upper grades are taught to use recorders and large hand bells, and students use the smaller hand bells, which sound beautiful when ringing through the chapel.

Students who enjoy the performance aspect of singing can join the after-school choir club. This choir sings prepared pieces at chapel services on Tuesday’s communion service. In a very special opportunity last December, the choir sang at the Hotel del Coronado. At this holiday kickoff with Santa and tree decorating, the CCDS choir sang festive and meaningful holiday tunes as one of the choral groups invited from the community.

Drop in on CCDS any given day and you’ll hear music at some point. Around the flagpole we sing patriotic songs as well as more standard songs that are great for kids to learn and carry with them as they grow older.

Each classroom has their own ways they infuse music into their academic schedule. Older students like to listen to classical music on their earphones while they work, while the younger kids love to sing songs that help them learn things like the days of the week or practice their math skills.
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Source: Coronado Times Newspaper 


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Are Computers Becoming Better at Composing Music than Humans? | KQED - Arts

Photo: Rachael Myrow
"Artificial intelligence is all the rage these days in Silicon Valley  – and no wonder. There appears to be no end to the possible applications" according to Rachael Myrow, KQED’s Silicon Valley Arts Reporter.

Some say AI is simply freeing humans of the boring tasks, so we can pursue activities that bring us joy. But what if AI is better at those things, too? Like, writing music?


For starters, we’re way past the advent of computer-composed music. That hurdle was crossed back in 1957 when professors Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign programmed the “Illiac Suite for String Quartet,” on the ILLIAC I computer.

Another big moment in computer music history: 1996, when Brian Eno’s album “Generative Music 1” was released on floppy disk, an old form of data storage familiar to Baby Boomers.
Here’s Eno back in the day talking about it on the now defunct BBC Radio 3 program, Mixing It. “To explain this simply, in the computer there’s a little synthesizer, basically. What I do is provide sets of rules that tell the computer how to make that sound card work,” Eno says.
The music his programming generated was different every time the program was run, but the code essentially dictated the output.

Today, scientists at lots of tech companies are working on something a little more sophisticated. Neural networks develop their own rules from the materials they’re fed.
Research scientist Doug Eck runs a group at Google called Magenta. “I think that what we’re doing that’s different from previous attempts to apply technology and computation to art is really caring about machine learning, specifically. Deep neural networks. Recurrent neural networks. Reinforcement learning.  I guess the best way to put it is: it’s easier to help a machine learn to solve a problem with data than to try to build the solution in.”... 

Music with Artificial Intelligence 


It’s not bad. It’s not quite my cup of tea, either, but a lot of what makes music exciting to me is messy, idiosyncratic and specific to time and place. Then again, wait a few years, and it’s possible AI will be able to replicate that, too.
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Source: KQED and Andrew Huang Channel (YouTube)


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New England Music Academy is a hidden gem | Community Advocate

Melanie Petrucci
Photo: Bonnie Adams
"Tucked away in an inconspicuous location in Westborough, the New England Music Academy (NEMA) is situated in a warm environment where children and adults can learn and explore music in a fun and accessible way" notes Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter.

A NEMA instructor  with a student.
Photo: submitted

Located in the Westborough Shopping Plaza, 30 Lyman Street, Suite 50, NEMA welcomes anyone who wants to learn and experience music, to come for a visit, check out a class and “grow together in music.”

NEMA founder Deanna Wong was looking for a music program for her son who was four at the time.  She wanted the best of both worlds.  She wanted real music theory for her son but didn’t want it to be intimidating, heavy and complex.

“We found a music school that did just that while living in Colorado.  They taught a parent-child team where the parent would learn everything with their child and it was real music,” Wong enthusiastically shared. They were learning about quarter notes and time signatures and all elements of music and it was geared toward the young child – the four, five and six-year-old.

When her family moved back to the East Coast, she wanted the same experience for her younger son.

“Every child should have this opportunity,” Wong said, adding, “To have this much fun learning about real music, its foundational.”

Wong was at a turning point in her life and knew that opening her own school was what she wanted to do. She found a curriculum very similar to the one in Colorado which was first and foremost, fun, because that’s how children learn. The New England Music Academy was born.

In business since 2005, NEMA has flourished. It continues to grow and classes fill quickly.  They are also continuing to hire experienced teachers to better serve their students’ needs.
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Source: Community Advocate


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Kids learn better through play | Cyprus Mail - Entertainment

"Kids normally have to get physically involved to learn, enjoy the process of learning and want to continue learning" inform Maria Gregoriou, Author at Cyprus Mail.



Next Saturday the capital will offer kids three choices to get involved with a hands-on way of learning, that will have them discover what negative space in art is, dive into the wonderful world of music and see how pictures can become animated.

The workshop dealing with negative space in art will run at the Loukia and Michael Zampelas Art Museum from 10am until 1pm. Children from seven-years-old will investigate the aesthetic and conceptual abilities of the negative space while using plaster.

Negative space may be most evident when the space around a subject – not the subject itself – forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape, and such space occasionally is used to artistic effect as the real subject of an image.

Artist Rebecca Efstathiou will help participants explore the plastic properties of gypsum – a soft sulfate mineral that is the main substance in plaster – by using various moulds. By the end of the workshop, the children will have created a series of small sculptures.

Efstathiou, who studied Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University, primarily works with abstract oil paintings and oil on paper. In recent years her work has explored the boundaries of brush marks and surface relationship, where an inner event occurs simultaneously with an outside one to create a constant battle of control.

The music workshop of the day, under the name One Love, will welcome children from five to 10-years-old to get involved in the world of reggae music with musician Elenitsa Georgiou.

Georgiou will get the kids involved in musical games that will get their energy levels up as they move to reggae vibes. The two-hour workshop will include a small introduction to the genre, a chance for the kids to see how the guitar plays a part in reggae music, choreographies that will have the kids dancing to the rhythm while also enjoying the funny side of dancing, improvisation with percussion instruments, while also enabling the kids to become an orchestra with their bells.

Music teacher Georgiou received her bachelor’s degree in Music from the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki. She then went on to receive a masters in Music and Creative Arts in Education from the University of Exeter. Georgiou has also attended workshops in mime, physical theatre, teaching music to children and folktale storytelling. She has organised and participated in theatrical performances for adults and children and musical concerts, singing traditional songs.
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Source: Cyprus Mail 


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