Off on a Tangent 18.03

Colloquium next Thursday

  • Speaker: Dr. Darin Stephenson
  • Title: Modeling Data with Machine Learning
  • When: Thursday, October 17, 2019 @ 4:00pm
  • Where: Science Center 1000

The prevalence of large sets of data in our technological society has given prominence to the issues involved in processing, displaying, modeling, and making decisions from data. The subject of data science lies at the interface of computer science, statistics, and mathematics, and has applications in almost every field of study. One particular branch of data science involves “machine learning”, which is broadly defined as the process of programming computers to build predictive data models in an automatic way. Thus, a machine can “learn” a data model from a broad modeling framework by consideration of the available data, rather than having model parameters specified by a human. Often, such models have many thousands (or millions) of available parameters, and computers can sift through huge quantities of data in order to “train” model parameters in an incremental way. The availability of fast parallel computing (via GPUs or related cloud computing) often makes such models trainable in a reasonable amount of time. The goal is a model that both describes known training data well and also is effective in prediction for further data on which the model was not trained.

This talk will survey a few of the problems machine learning can address and give insight into some basic machine learning procedures. The talk will also highlight the 2-credit Math 295 course, “Machine Learning with Python”, which will be offered for the first time in the upcoming spring semester.

Gentile lecture to feature Ira Flatow

The Natural and Applied Sciences Division is pleased to welcome Ira Flatow to campus on Tuesday, October 15, 2019, as this year’s Gentile Lectureship Series speaker.

Mr. Flatow, who is best known as the host and executive producer of Public Radio’s Science Friday and previous host of PBS’s Newton’s Apple, will deliver a presentation entitled, “Catalysts of Creativity,” which will explore the question, “Where do new ideas come from?” 

The presentation will be held in the Concert Hall of the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, beginning at 7:00 pm.

MATH Challenge

The 2019 Michigan Autumn Take Home Challenge (or MATH Challenge) will take place in the morning (9:30am – 12:30pm) on Saturday, November 2 this year. Teams of two or three students take a three-hour exam consisting of ten interesting problems dealing with topics and concepts found in the undergraduate mathematics curriculum.  Each team takes the exam at their home campus under the supervision of a faculty advisor. 

The department pays the registration fee for each team and will provide lunch to participants afterwards. The sign-up deadline is Wednesday, October 23 at 4:00 p.m.  Interested students can sign up by sending Prof. Cinzori an email at

A group of students may sign up as a team.  Individual students are also encourage to sign up; they will be assigned to a team on the day of the competition. 

GVSU Statistics Career Day

Grand Valley State University’s Department of Statistics will be hosting a Statistics Career Day on Friday, November 15, 2019 at the Allendale campus in the Kirkhof Center.  This event will provide interested high school and college students an opportunity to learn about the many career options available in statistics and data analytics.

Participants will hear presentations from, and be able to speak informally with representatives from the government, health care, insurance, marketing, pharmaceutical, data analytics and other industries.  Some of the companies may have job openings or internships available.  Anyone with an interest in statistics or data analytics is welcome.

This event is designed to attract promising students to the field of statistics and to give students a chance to meet with corporate representatives to discuss job opportunities.

Registration is up – please go to and look for career day.

Auto-Owners Insurance’s IT/Actuarial Day

Auto-Owners invites you to their annual IT/Actuarial Day, which shows students how their degree can be used in the insurance industry.

The event is on Friday, October 18, 2019 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in Lansing, MI. Sophomores, juniors, seniors, and recent graduates with majors in Computer Science and Mathematics are invited. Faculty and staff are also welcome! Anyone who wishes to attend should fill out a registration to ensure we adequately prepare for the correct number of attendees.

Register online from now until end of day Monday, October 14th.

U of M Biostatistics Prospective Student Day

The Department of Biostatistics at the University of Michigan will hold a Prospective Student Information Day on Saturday, November 9, 2019. The purpose of this event is to provide information to students who may be interested in graduate study in biostatistics. They expect attendees to be undergraduate and masters students who have identified biostatistics as their interest area, as well as students who are completing an undergraduate degree in math, statistics, biology, or some related discipline, and have not yet decided on their future plans.

At the event, presentations by students and faculty will focus on what biostatistics is and what biostatisticians do, on the job opportunities in biostatistics, and on the admissions and financial support opportunities at the University. For more information, visit their website (where you can also register).

Problem Solvers of the Fortnight

Congratulations to Blake Harlow, Kamaron Wilcox, Hugh Thiel, Josiah Brett, Maddy Eppard, and Adam Heisler — all of whom correctly solved the Problem of the Fortnight in the last issue of America’s premiere fortnightly mathematics department news blog. 

Problem of the Fortnight

“Well, I’ve come out second best in my battle with the union,” said Noah van Ark.

“How so?” asked his sister Joan.

“Well, I needed to have the union workers move thousands of crates.  The exact number,” said Noah, consulting his notebook, “was 69,489.  The job took nine working days.  I didn’t think the union workers were putting all they had into it, but the union leaders thought otherwise.  Every day after the first day, I put six more workers on the job; and every day after the first day, each of the workers — by arrangement — shifted five fewer crates than was the quota for the day before.  The result was that, during the latter part of the period, the number of crates being moved actually began to go down.”

What was the largest number of crates moved on any one day?

Tape your solution — not just the answer — to a crate of clementines, and drop it by the Problem of the Fortnight slot outside Professor Pearson’s office (VWF 212) by 3:00 p.m. on Friday, October 18.  As always, please be sure to include your name as well as the name(s) of your math professor(s) — e.g. Woody Kreight, Professor DeKreese — on your solution.

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