On Jan 17, 13, at 13:50 PM, Richard Fateman wrote:
> On 1/16/2013 8:54 PM, W Craig Carter wrote: >> On Jan 17, 13, at 12:14 PM, Richard Fateman wrote: >>>> >>> There may be such courses in physics, statistics, etc departments, >>> but this should be classified as a utility course, akin to "how to use >>> the microwave oven in the lunchroom". >> >> Was this analogy meant to be pejorative? > Not especially,. just illustrative.
OK, no harm, no foul. I think we nearly agree. There are certainly parts of "real computer science" that would benefit engineers. I don't mistake what I do as "real computer science" or "real mathematics". My only goal is to teach the students how to think. I find Mathematica an excellent tool to do that, and they acquire useful tools in the process. I am confident that I am doing the right thing.
I spend far too much time defending this position; so I am sensitized to the microwave comment. Please consider the comment below on this.
> > I have met physical scientists who assume that a computer scientist knows LOTS of > programming languages, not just FORTRAN. I have seen programming languages designed > by physicists who tried to learn by osmosis, but made some fundamental errors.
True. I agree that most of my colleagues are unaware of large difference between computer science and programming in a language. I imagine this is a source of frustration to many computer scientists. However, there are many examples of the converse misunderstandings as well.
>> > I hope it is not called Introduction to Computer Science.
I have no illusions that I'm teaching computer science. However, I am pleased that I can explain a Hamming distance metric and the students can immediately see the utility of the concept, but I don't expect them to construct an efficient algorithm to compute a metric. However, I would be very pleased if my applied science students tried to construct an algorithm---however inefficient---out of mere curiousity.
>> Equally important, the students learn math and a means to acquire more math on their own---and quickly. > So the course is something like "Introduction to Mathematical Modeling in Material Science" > perhaps "... with an introduction to programming language X...".
Correct. I confess to the sin of pride with the content of that course. I believe every applied science department should have one like it. Linear algebra isn't required for engineers at my institution. I consider this extremely short sighted. However, to convince a curriculum committee to agree, I had to make the course serve multiple purposes---including an introduction to linear algebra.
>> I teach fundamental concepts of my discipline by using novice programming, numerical analysis, symbolic algebra: voila, canonical discipline knowledge and transferable skills in one course. > eh,sounds like E7 except last I heard, it didn't include symbolic algebra, but > made some fuss about object-oriented programming.
No such fuss in my case: it pleases me when see they difference between Cos[Pi] and Cos[ArcCos[-1.0]] and when to use one or the other. I realize there are finer points of interval arithmetic that I don't comprehend as fully as I'd like, but I don't think this should disqualify me from teaching the nature of precision and symbolic computation.
> >> >> The "microwave usage" analogy diminishes the importance of an indispensable tool to an applied scientist or engineer. > I think a microwave oven is indispensable too :)
Indeed--my life would be much richer without microwave ovens; but that wealth was purchased with no effort whatsoever and I don't have any transferable skills besides those which transfer between popcorn and frozen dinners.
The intellectual benefits of learning how to use a microwave shouldn't be compared to those of learning a useful tool with utilities beyond what the manufacturer imagined.
>> >> I have physical science colleagues who consider programing and linear algebra to be superfluous because they use spreadsheet tools. > I think that is justifiable, for some people. Many mathematicians consider computers quite worthless > because to them, mathematics has to do with creating proofs, and computers (mostly) don't do this.
That's a fairly broad brush, but OK. However, I consider that inflexible viewpoint ("worthless") as anything but shameful intolerance for that group of many.
> > Some professional engineers lived their whole careers using tables in handbooks. Times change, > of course, but not all engineers do terribly novel things.
Agreed. I imagine (hope) that you might agree that description is not limited to engineers.
> > It is unlikely that an engineer will be called upon to write one, much less a collection, of > different sorting programs. So a course on algorithms that provided such an experience would > seem to be, vocationally speaking, unnecessary. Though the exercise might be intellectually enlightening > nevertheless.
My opinion is that distinctions between computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists, etc continue to become much more diffuse; this makes me optimistic---but it also might make me uninformed.
I am not sure if you would classify yourself as a computer scientist or as a mathematician--I would guess you would be more content not to classify yourself within one discipline at all---and you may object with others trying to classify your contributions as one or the other?