Machine Learning for March Madness Is a Competition In Itself – DANIEL OBERHAUS SCIENCE 03.30.19 07:00 AM

You have a far better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot—one in 300 billion—than you do of filling out a perfect March Madness bracket. The challenge for statisticians, then, is developing mathematical models that improve these dismal odds as much as possible.

Lance King/Getty Images

This year, 47 million Americans will spend an estimated $8.5 billion betting on the outcome of the NCAA basketball championships, a cultural ritual appropriately known as March Madness. Before the tournament starts, anyone who wants to place a bet must fill out a bracket, which holds their predictions for each of the 63 championship games. The winner of a betting pool is the one whose bracket most closely mirrors the results of the championship.

For most people, making a bracket is a way to flex their knowledge of collegiate basketball and maybe make a few bucks by outguessing their colleagues in the office betting pool. But for the mathematically inclined, accurately predicting March Madness brackets is a technical problem in search of a solution.

In the past few years, the proliferation of open source machine learning tools and robust, publicly available datasets have added a technological twist to March Madness: Data scientists and statisticians now compete to develop the most accurate machine learning models for bracket predictions. In these competitions, knowing how to wield random forests and logistic regression counts for more than court smarts. In fact, knowing too much about basketball might hurt your odds. Welcome to the world of Machine Learning Madness.

What Are the Odds`

Betting and sports have always been closely linked, but as the size of professional and collegiate leagues ballooned during the later half of the 20th century, predicting the outcomes of sporting competitions became exponentially more difficult. In 1939, just eight teams competed in the inaugural NCAA basketball tournament, which would make the odds of filling out a perfect bracket around one in 128. When the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 1951, those odds were lowered to one in 32,768, but this is still pretty good compared to your chances of filling out a perfect 64-team bracket today, which is around one in 9.2 quintillion.

There’s an important caveat here, however. These odds are calculated as if each team had a 50-50 chance of winning each game in the tournament, but in reality, some teams have a clear advantage over their opponents. For example, in the first round of March Madness the highest ranked teams (the first seeds) are pitted against the lowest ranked teams (the sixteenth seeds) in each division. Given that a sixteenth seed has beat a first seed only a single time in the history of March Madness, the outcomes of these games can be considered a given. As calculated by Duke University math professor Jonathan Mattingly, treating the outcomes of these games as guaranteed wins for the one seeds increases the odds of selecting a perfect bracket by six orders of magnitude to a measly one in 2.4 trillion.

In short, you have a far better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot—one in 300 billion—than you do of filling out a perfect March Madness bracket. The challenge for statisticians, then, is developing mathematical models that improve these dismal odds as much as possible. Tournament modeling or “bracketology” is a nearly alchemical process that involves identifying the most important factors in a team’s success and combining these elements in such a way that they produce the most accurate possible prediction about a team’s future performance.

These models will never be perfect, of course. There’s simply too much randomness in the system being modeled—players get injured, rosters change, coaches quit, and so on. This “noise” is something that no model will ever be able to fully anticipate. “The point is to try to find the trend and be more accurate than if you’re just going with your gut,” says Tim Chartier, an associate professor of mathematics at Davidson College, where he teaches a class on bracketology. “There’s only so much you can expect out of the model and then you just have to watch it play out with the randomness taking effect.”

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Youuuuu might be a gun nut if . . . – LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV MARCH 30, 2019 12:00PM (UTC)

Guns stand for sale at a gun show on November 24, 2018 in Naples, Florida. (Getty/Spencer Platt)

Woe be unto the innocent bystander, or even the less-than-innocent liberal wuss Salon columnist, if you raise your hand and say something . . . anything . . . about guns and gun ownership. Boy, are the gun nuts ever ready for you!

The first thing they accuse you of is wanting to ban guns, all guns. You want to take their guns away! Or the government does. Or somebody does. I mean, look at the reaction of the NRA to something as sane as the recent ban on bump stocks, which take an “ordinary” (if such a thing can be called ordinary) semiautomatic assault rifle and turn it into a fully-automatic weapon. You’d think they were coming to take guns away from gun owners, when in fact, it’s an utterly defensible ban on a device that converts a legal gun into an illegal weapon of mass destruction. The shooter in Las Vegas had bump stocks on nearly all of the 24 guns that were found in his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel after he killed 58 concert-goers and wounded over 400. Bump stocks are what enabled him to fire more than 1,000 rounds down on the crowd across the street from his hotel room. If you listen to the NRA, you would think that banning bump-stocks is the first step on a slippery slope to disarming America.

It’s bullshit, of course, as are many of the so-called “arguments” you get from gun nuts. I heard from one lunatic last week who used the old automobile straw man: cars kill, so what are you saying, we should ban cars, too? Wow. You got me there.

Then they go after you for mis-using, or mis-interpreting gun language. Define an “assault weapon!” AR-15 style rifles aren’t “assault weapons” because they don’t have “select fire.” On and on they go, down the rabbit hole of military-macho-gun-speak. One recent “review” in Tactical Life Magazine of something called the CMMG MkG Banshee AR Pistol described it as having such features as “Radial-Delayed blowback operating system . . . ambidextrous charging handles, sling plates and safeties as well as Tailhook Mod 2 arm braces from Gear Head Works . . . a five-inch, 4140 chrome-moly barrel with .578×28-tpi muzzle threading for devices like suppressors, and a knurled thread protector . . . a full-length top rail, M-LOK slots on the sides and a hand stop on the bottom.” My goodness! You would think that would be enough stuff for any self-respecting assault weapon! But no! There is more! “CMMG then installs a mil-spec-style single-stage trigger as well as a Magpul MOE pistol grip.”

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2 Mistakes To Avoid In A Job Interview – Ashira Prossack Mar 30, 2019, 12:17am


No matter how prepared you are for an interview, there are still two mistakes that can affect your chances of getting the job. The reason why? They’re related to the one thing that you do in every interview – talk. The two biggest mistakes you can make in an interview are either talking too much or talking too little. The key is finding the balance between them.

Simply put, the more you talk, the more people forget. A well spoken 90 second answer is much more impactful than a five minute monologue. On the flip side, talking too little won’t help the hiring manager fully understand your abilities.

Chances are, you already know which category you’re going to fall into well before the interview. If you’re not sure, think about the last time you were nervous, such as a performance review or in a meeting with your boss. Did you talk a lot or were you fairly quiet? That will be a good indicator of how you’ll be on a job interview.

Talking too much.

Talking too much in an interview can come across like you’re trying too hard, are overly confident or cocky, or nervous. One of the biggest dangers of talking too much is simply running out of time. The hiring manager might cut out a few questions so that you don’t go over the allotted time or you won’t get the chance to ask your questions at the end. Don’t rob yourself of these opportunities by over-answering any of the questions you’re asked.

The best thing you can do is learn how to self-edit. Interview questions are designed for the hiring manager to be able to learn a lot about you in a short amount of time. Make the hiring manager’s job easier and boost your chances of getting the job by giving detailed but concise answers. This is especially critical for the ‘tell me about a time when you…’ questions. The hiring manager doesn’t need to know every single detail, just the most important and relevant points. If you’re asked for two examples, give two examples, not four.

Some people are just naturally chatty. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does need to be reigned in a bit during an interview. If you’re a chatty person, pay close attention to how you’re responding to questions in an interview. Make sure that you’re answering questions directly and not rambling. Practice giving answers that are three to five sentences long. Make a list of the most important points you want to discuss and challenge yourself to describe them in as few sentences as possible.

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Police release body-cam video of Willie McCoy killing, showing him asleep in car – Sam LevinFirst published on Fri 29 Mar 2019 18.05 EDT`

Footage is consistent with claims of McCoy’s family, who said officers did not try to wake him or talk to him before shooting

Vallejo police have released footage of the killing of Willie McCoy at a Taco Bell, showing six officers shooting the 20-year-old who was sleeping in his car.

The disturbing body-camera videos show the young rapper had moved his hand to scratch his shoulder before officers opened fire. The footage is consistent with key claims of McCoy’s family, who watched footage earlier this month and said the officers “executed” him while he was not alert or awake. The videos, released after significant pressure, show:

  • The officers did not try to wake McCoy up or talk to him after they spotted a gun in his lap, and instead pointed their firearms at his head directly outside the car as he slept for several minutes.
  • One officer said: “I’m going to pull him out and snatch his ass.”
  • The officers then realized the firearm did not have a magazine in it, noting to each other that if it was loaded, it would have a single bullet in it: “He’s only got one shot if he shoots.”
  • The officers then appeared to make a plan to fire at him, with one saying, “If he reaches for it, you know what to do.”
  • McCoy eventually started to move, scratching his shoulder and not yet appearing alert or saying anything to officers, and several seconds later, all six officers fired at him.
Police bodycam shows shooting of Willie McCoy – video

Vallejo police officials slowed down the video in the final seconds before the shootings, adding a caption that said “hand reaches to gun on lap”. The videos of the 9 February incident, however, are blurry in that moment and show McCoy’s body moving slightly, but do not capture his hand moving to the firearm, which is not visible in the footage.

Marc McCoy, Willie’s older brother, told the Guardian on Friday that he was glad the public would finally see the video, but was not confident it would lead to justice.

“There’s a thousand videos on YouTube that show police misconduct, whether it’s beatings of citizens or killing them,” said Marc, 50. “It gets dismissed … The Vallejo police saw the video, and they don’t think there’s anything wrong with it or that the officers did anything criminal.”

The police department in Vallejo, 30 miles north-east of San Francisco, has repeatedly claimed that the six officers fired out of “fear for their own safety”. The footage, however, shows some of them talking somewhat calmly for nearly five minutes before they opened fire. Two officers began shooting almost immediately after they arrived on scene as backup.

After the officers stopped shooting, they all kept their guns pointed at the car, shouting, “Let me see your hands! Put your hands up!” One said, “Officers are okay.”

Police hit Willie with an estimated 25 shots, including in his face, throat, chest, ear and arms. John Burris, the family’s lawyer, showed reporters graphic photos of Willie’s body at a news conference Friday, saying, “He was shot to pieces.”

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The Supreme Court Just Halted This Texas Death Row Inmate’s Execution – Nathalie Baptiste March 29, 2019 3:49 PM

He claimed it would violate his religious freedom. They agreed.

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Patrick Murphy was granted a rare stay of execution by the US Supreme Court in a 7-2 vote that took place two hours after he was scheduled to be executed. Murphy’s religious discrimination claim argued that because he was a converted Buddhist, he needed a spiritual adviser to help him get to the Pure Land after death. Only prison employees are allowed to be in the execution chamber, and in the Huntsville Unit in Texas only Christian and Muslim clerics are on staff.

“As this Court has repeatedly held, governmental discrimination against religion—in particular, discrimination against religious persons, religious organizations, and religious speech—violates the Constitution,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion. Because inmates of other religious denominations are provided with clerics, he wrote,  allowing Murphy to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser by his side in the death chamber infringes on his religious freedom.

The court’s decision on Murphy, a white man who converted to Buddhism, sharply contrasts with their decision regarding Domineque Ray, a black Muslim death row inmate who was recently executed in Alabama after the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in February to lift a stay granted by a federal court. Ray, who was sentenced to death for the 1995 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, argued that his religious rights were being violated because Alabama would not allow a Muslim cleric into the death chamber. Like Texas, Alabama only allows prison employees to be inside the chamber, but there are no others but Christian clerics on staff.

“Ray has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the state puts him to death,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent. But the high court did not review the religious aspect of the case, instead it focused on a procedural issue, noting that the timing of the claim was too late for consideration—a charge the court’s liberal justices rejected.

Murphy is one of the last living members of a group known as the Texas Seven. One of the men died by suicide before he was arrested, and the rest were sentenced to death. Four of them have already been executed. In late 2000, Murphy and six other men, escaped from the Connally Unit in South Texas and went on a crime spree that ended on Christmas Eve. While several members of the group were robbing a sporting goods store, someone called the police. Murphy was outside in the getaway car when he spotted police officer Aubrey Hawkins responding to the call. Murphy radioed his accomplices urging them to leave the store. When the men came outside, five of them started shooting, killing Hawkins.

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Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe – Anil Ananthaswamy March 28, 2019

Stemming from the “F-theory” branch of string theory, each solution replicates key features of the standard model of particle physics

Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe
Credit: Getty Images

Physicists who have been roaming the “landscape” of string theory—the space of zillions and zillions of mathematical solutions of the theory, where each solution provides the kinds of equations physicists need to describe reality—have stumbled upon a subset of such equations that have the same set of matter particles as exists in our universe.

But this is no small subset: there are at least a quadrillion such solutions, making it the largest such set ever found in string theory.

According to string theory, all particles and fundamental forces arise from the vibrational states of tiny strings. For mathematical consistency, these strings vibrate in 10-dimensional spacetime. And for consistency with our familiar everyday experience of the universe, with three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time, the additional six dimensions are “compactified” so as to be undetectable.

Different compactifications lead to different solutions. In string theory, a “solution” implies a vacuum of spacetime that is governed by Einstein’s theory of gravity coupled to a quantum field theory. Each solution describes a unique universe, with its own set of particles, fundamental forces and other such defining properties.

Some string theorists have focused their efforts on trying to find ways to connect string theory to properties of our known, observable universe—particularly the standard model of particle physics, which describes all known particles and all their mutual forces except gravity.

Much of this effort has involved a version of string theory in which the strings interact weakly. However, in the past two decades, a new branch of string theory called F-theory has allowed physicists to work with strongly interacting, or strongly coupled, strings.

“An intriguing, surprising result is that when the coupling is large, we can start describing the theory very geometrically,” says Mirjam Cvetic of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

This means that string theorists can use algebraic geometry—which uses algebraic techniques to tackle geometric problems—to analyze the various ways of compactifying extra dimensions in F-theory and to find solutions. Mathematicians have been independently studying some of the geometric forms that appear in F-theory. “They provide us physicists a vast toolkit”, says Ling Lin, also of the University of Pennsylvania. “The geometry is really the key… it is the ‘language’ that makes F-theory such a powerful framework.”

Now, Cvetic, Lin, James Halverson of Northeastern University in Boston, and their colleagues have used such techniques to identify a class of solutions with string vibrational modes that lead to a similar spectrum of fermions (or, particles of matter) as is described by the standard model—including the property that all fermions come in three generations (for example, the electron, muon and tau are the three generations of one type of fermion).

The F-theory solutions found by Cvetic and colleagues have particles that also exhibit the handedness, or chirality, of the standard model particles. In particle physics lingo, the solutions reproduce the exact “chiral spectrum” of standard model particles. For example, the quarks and leptons in these solutions come in left and right-handed versions, as they do in our universe.

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Activist groups gather at a Decrim NY rally in Foley Square on Feb. 25, 2019. Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

THERE ISN’T MUCH to recommend the current iteration of American presidential elections, which now begin some two years before the day voters go to the polls. One upside, though, is that it opens up policy conversations that are usually closed off. The result is the beginning of a public conversation about decriminalizing sex work.

Three Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination — Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — have weighed in on the rights of sex workers. Harris and Gabbard have said they support the decriminalization of sex work, while Sanders was noncommittal in his response. The mere fact that presidential candidates are being asked about sex work, however, represents a shift in the public discourse on the sex work community. Yet there’s a ways to go: The Intercept reached out to the other congressional Democrats running for president — Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke — and got no response.

The sex workers’ rights movement was galvanized in 2018 in reaction to the passage of legislation known as SESTA-FOSTA, which purported to curb sex trafficking by holding online platforms legally liable for any content found to “knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking.” All congressional Democrats running for president voted for SESTA-FOSTA.

Passage of the law resulted in the shutdown of prominent personal ad sites and marketplaces, forcing sex workers to resort to working on the streets or with pimps. It also led sex workers, who often feel abandoned by the progressive left, to organize and ramp up their activism. The urgency of the situation is pushing advocates to define what they actually mean by “decriminalization” and to push for policy changes at state, local, and national levels. The organizing has produced the most results in New York, where activists working with lawmakers have launched a campaign to decriminalize sex work in the state, and it’s also created tensions around the Democratic Socialists of America’s endorsement of Sanders for president.

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