15 April 2014

far better

Preparing a lecture on robust estimation for my class on Thursday, I ran across this gem:

"Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise." - John Tukey.

09 April 2014

Math in Computer Science

When I was at Wisconsin for my PhD, I visited two highschool calculus classes to try to show the students how useful math can be in real life. We looked at fourier integrals (integration by parts, and useful for modeling cell phone signals!) and decision statistics (when should the basketball team decide to recruit a player?) and talked about all kinds of jobs and the math that they used. Of course, when it came down to it, the students knew their parents don't use math each day in their jobs-- And even a math diehard like me has to admit that in a regular working day, the majority of jobs don't have math.

But that's why I really liked this article that was shared with me awhile ago by my friend Brian Cobb. It's written by a programmer advocating for more math understanding. As the author says, many people (in this case, the three articles he cites) believe that "from a workaday perspective, math is essentially useless." But the fact is, so many real innovations were driven by changing mathematical models and understandings of applications for programming.

My favorite line, of course: "mathematics is a tool for understanding phenomena in the world: the motion of the planets, the patterns in data, the perception of color, or any of a myriad things in the world"... and isn't that a worthy goal?