[nSLUG] APL (was: On programming)

Jamie Fifield jamie at fifield.ca
Wed Oct 22 18:50:31 ADT 2003

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But I had to do it, and dammit, so should everyone else.

Besides, anyone going to university to learn is silly.  You go for,
uh, other things.  (Granted, the mathematics can come in handy here
for calculating optimal curves...)

You can pick up the knowledge after in "the real world" where you have
instruction manuals, calculators and no managers going "Quick, if I left
the office to go to a sales meeting 13.2349824km away, and I travelled
at 57.4km/h, would I arrive before our competitor who has to travel
14.6172313km but travels at 58.1km/h?  Take into account wind
resistance and the average pot hole distribution along the respective 

I cannot even remember the last time my manager asked me that question!


On Wed, Oct 22, 2003 at 03:33:37PM -0300, Jeff Warnica wrote:
> This gives me a perfect opening for my standard complaint on math and
> math education.
> Calculus, at least at the first year level, is a requirement for
> graduation from just about any 'higher education' in
> science/engineering. The only modern reason for this that I can see that
> it continues to be taught is a 'test of streangth' / 'if I did it, you
> should do it'. And because of that, math education in high school is all
> pre-calculus; math earlier then that is all pre-pre....
> Through both my brother (who has a BSC/math from Dal), and my high
> school Calculus tutor (whos specific job I never knew but was a
> profesional 'real world' mathamatician (as opposed to an accademic); he
> worked on hard math problem for the US defence industry for a while), it
> is my understanding that in second and third year courses students are
> taught shortcuts and tricks that generaly make solving calculus problems
> easier. But of course your not allowed to use any of those tricks in
> first year courses.
> The reason that Im sure woluld be given by anyone in authority for this
> is that you need to learn how it works before you can learn the
> shortcuts. Which is petty bulshit for the other %99.9 of the people who
> wont be going on to upper level calculus education; even excluding CS,
> not all upper math is calculus. For the %99.9 of the people calculus
> should be taught because it is a convient way of sloving a certin set of
> problem types with paper and pencil.
> Of course, in 2003, and for that matter in 1945, sufficently complex
> problems (and these days 'trivial' problems too...) arn't solved with
> paper and pencil, there solved with machines desigined for computation.
> Don't even try to give me the 'but calculus is infinitly percise'
> argument: we live in a finite universe, with measuring equiptement only
> capable of finite percision. If the 15th digit of pi is out, it will
> only matter to people who are building something on the scale of a Dyson
> Spehere.
> So what we have today is a math education system desigined in the 19th
> century; for when anyone doing sufficently hard math problem used
> calculus. It once made sence to educate university students with
> calculus; they might need it at some point. Comparativily, Discrete math
> isnt taught, typically, untill second year university, and then only to
> CS students.
> Its interesting to wonder what would happen if Jr and Sr High math
> wasent taught with the unstated goal of 'calculus in first year uni',
> but with 'programming in first year uni'.. I think, with the possible
> exception of recursion, all the concepts taught in firsr year university
> progamming courses could be grasped as easily by jr high students then
> whatever there getting now. Infinitly more usefull; obviously more
> usefull to the students; and therfor more engaging to them.
> But my opinions are uninportant; Im not a member of the cult of
> university graduates.
> On Tue, 2003-10-21 at 13:58, Ron Dewar wrote:
> > I have to admit that this tweaked my interest, 'cause I recall
> > programming (well, solving math problems) in APL, and when I saw
> > George's post, I had one of those 'where are they now?' sort of
> > moments.   At the time, APL was THE solution for a lot of us - an
> > interpretted language that mathematicians understood, based on
> > notation that made sense.  
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Jamie Fifield
<jamie at fifield.ca>

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