The Math You Learned

Steve Yegge has posted an essay, entitled Math For Programmers, in which he posits that
  • Most programmers think they don't need to know math
  • Most programmers are correct, but...
  • Math is a lot easier to pick up after you know how to program
  • They teach math all wrong in school (at least, in terms of a future as a programmer)
  • Knowing even a little of the right kinds of math can enable you do write some pretty interesting programs that would otherwise be too hard.
  • Math can be fun

It's an interesting essay; I agree with much of it. I found the follow-up comments to add quite a lot to the discussion (even though a few of the people commenting seem to have stopped reading Yegge's essay at about the third sentence.)

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March 21, 2006 in category Science, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Teaching Tomorrow's Employees Today

International Business Machines Corp. [IBM], worried the United States is losing its competitive edge, will financially back employees who want to leave the company to become math and science teachers. ... Up to 100 IBM employees will be eligible for the program in its trial phase. The goal is to help fill shortfalls in the nation's teaching ranks, a problem expected to grow with the retirement of today's educators. ...

If selected, the employees would be allowed to take a leave of absence from the company, which includes full benefits and up to half their salary, depending on length of service. In addition, the employees could get up to $15,000 in tuition reimbursements and stipends while they seek teaching credentials and begin student-teaching.

IBM pushes math and science education, CNN Technology, Friday, September 16, 2005

When I first read this, I was impressed. It sounded like a terrific idea.

Then I read on...

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September 29, 2005 in category Life, the Universe, and Everything, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

On Intelligence - take-away lessons

Some take-away lessons from On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins...

The book concentrates on the neocortext (aka the cortex), a cauliflower-like sheet of tissue on the outer surface of the brain. "Almost everything we think of as intelligence — perception, language, mathematics, art, music, and planning — occurs here. your neocortex is reading this weblog entry.

The average human neocortex, spread out, would be about the size of an unfolded dinner napkin, built of 6 layers, in total about the thickness of a 6 business cards. Anatomists estimate the typical human neocortex to contain around 30 billion neurons (perhaps less, perhaps more). These cells contain all of your memories, knowledge, skills, and life experience. They are "you".

The hippocampus is the "uppermost" level of the neocortex. That's pretty neat. The hippocampus creates longterm memories (which are then stored in the neocortext).

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January 8, 2005 in category Books, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

On Intelligence

Why hasn't Artificial Intelligence taken off? Why don't we have robots? How "smart" is your car? What is "intelligence" after all? Where does creativity enter the equation? Is the brain just a computer without the silicon?

Oicover Jeff Hawkins' book On Intelligence (written with co-author Sandra Blakeslee) addresses these questions and does an admirable job. Hawkins is the original architect of the Palm computer; Blakeslee is a 30-year veteran science writer for the NY Times.

The gist of the book is Hawkins' personal theory of intelligence and why AI has never gone anywhere, and will continue to go nowhere, until we change our way of thinking about Intelligence. He says this isn't a completely new theory but apparently the bits and pieces haven't been presented in a coherent and persuasive whole before.

The book is written very clearly in a nice, readable, conversational style. Although I suspect that much of the wordsmithing is Ms. Blakeslees, the ideas are all from Jeff Hawkins, representing thoughts and theories he's been formulating since 1979.

Jeff's theory is that AI hasn't worked (and won't work) because computer scientists dismiss the brain and how it works, deciding that "we can do better". Many AI "experts" insist that AI is just around the corner -- AI will be great "just as soon as we have faster more powerful computers".

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January 1, 2005 in category Books, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Things of Science

[ The title of this essay is taken from one of the best-loved memories of my childhood — the fascinating and exciting contents of the dark-blue boxes that arrived monthly from my membership in Things of Science (distributed by Science Service, the people who bring you the weekly periodical, Science News). Things of Science was pure delight. Each month brought something wonderful — an adventure in color theory or magnetism, cards impregnated with different odors, beans to plant, special papers to investigate, polarizing filters, aerodynamics... I kept every one and then when I moved out of my parents house, I left them all behind; like many such things, they are no more. I regret the loss.

This essay is dedicated to those memories. ]


US Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham gave a speech today at SLAC (the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center). Spouse (Rich) has been working at SLAC these past 9 months so he attended the speech, then we talked about it over dinner.

Some excerpts from the speech:

[Children] ask a lot of questions about the world around them, which is certainly where scientists start their work, and they are constant observers of nature, another clear sign of a good scientist.
...
So, given that children are by nature curious about nature, given the quick start in math and science they seem to get in the early grades, and given the advantages they enjoy growing up with Internet access, in a nation that is a global scientific superpower given all this, student achievement in science and math should be off the charts.

But it isn't.

Somewhere in the process something happens. Our children lose interest in science and math, and they fall behind the rest of the world.
...
American students don't start out behind those of other countries, but they fall behind during the middle school years.
...
...we should remember that basic knowledge of science and math is part of our common culture. Just as with basic literacy, our nation requires a citizenry that can understand, and function in, the modern world.

The Secretary mentioned a number of current initiatives and programs underway to address the problems mentioned above, then said

That is why today I am announcing a new DOE initiative called STARS: Scientists Teaching and Reaching Students.

This is a bold series of projects which we believe will have a very significant impact on the challenge we face.

First, we will address what is perhaps the most vexing problem in student success in science—the steady decline in achievement after the 4th grade.

Starting today, I will be directing each of our labs to design and execute a new program aimed at bringing 1,000 fifth graders and 1,000 eighth graders to their sites each year for math and science appreciation days, with the goal of exposing a broad range of students at an important time in their lives to the exciting possibilities of science.

In this way, we will reach some 34,000 fifth and eighth graders each year and begin to capture and secure their natural interest in science.

It's an interesting idea...

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July 9, 2004 in category Science | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hardly Sugar Free

In searching the web yesterday for stats on how much added sugar the average American consumes, I came across a page from the Sugar Council entitled The Real Scoop on Sugar Consumption

How much sugar do Americans really eat? Not as much as reported. Using information from a 2001 report1 as illustration, a general statement like "Americans consume more than 150 pounds of sugar in a year" is not only thoroughly misleading, it is completely wrong. Such false assertions perpetuate the myth that "Americans eat too much sugar." As you will see later, the average American consumes no more than 1.6 ounces of sugar per day.

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January 24, 2004 in category Science | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fear and Caution Could Kill You

Are you afraid of new situations? Or are you a bold adventurer? Do you prefer predictable, familiar surroundings? Or do you like to explore and try new things? You may feel safe, but you might not live as long as those who are less inhibited! At least... if you're a rat.

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December 13, 2003 in category Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sweet Tooth

Saccharin. Cyclamate. Aspartame. Sucralose. Tagatose. Alitame. Xylitol. Maltitol. Lactitol. Isomalt. Erythritol. Mannitol. Sorbitol.

If it tastes like sugar, but it's not...

People like sugar; people like sweet foods. Unfortunately, sucrose ("table sugar") is, well, fattening. It also promotes tooth decay, increases your blood glucose levels, and triggers the insulin reaction. For decades, dieters, diabetics, and people concerned about their teeth have sought an alternative to sucrose. Although the perfect solution has not yet been discovered, we do have many choices.

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October 18, 2003 in category Science | Permalink | Comments (0)