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Comment You need to know some numerical analysis (Score 5, Insightful) 226

If your calculations are processor-dependent, that's a bad sign for your code. If your results really depend on things that can be altered by the specific floating-point implementation, you need to write code that's robust to changes in the way floating-point arithmetic is done, generally by tracking the uncertainty associated with each number in your calculation. (Obviously you don't need real-time performance since you're using cloud computing in the first place.) I'm not an expert on Mathematica, but it probably has such things built in if you go through the documentation, since Mathematica notebooks are supposed to exhibit reproduceable behavior on different machines. (Which is not to say that no matter what you write it's automatically going to be reproduceable.

Archiving hardware to get consistent results is mainly used when there are legal issues and some lawyer can jump in and say, "A-ha! This bit here is different, and therefore there's some kind of fraud going on!"

Comment Re:$1400-$2400 per course? (Score 1) 177

I dunno what you mean by "UC isn't even all that prestigious," but the Times Higher Education Supplement rated UC Berkeley as the #8 university in the world and #6 in the U.S., behind Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and Princeton. In particular, they feel that it's better than the entire university system of every country that isn't the U.S. or the U.K. I'd say that's pretty good. UCLA is world-class as well, and UCSF is one of the top three or four medical schools in the world. Even the lesser-known campuses like Riverside and Irvine have strong reputations.

Comment I'm in my late 20's now (Score 1) 632

In elementary school in the late 1980's, our school librarian of all people -- a nice, fun older lady -- taught us LOGO programming. The class went relatively deep given that the students were all eight or nine years old. Our last assignment was to write a function that would draw a regular n-gon (taking n as a parameter), then incorporate that into a recursive function that would draw arbitrarily deep spirograph-type shapes using a callback function. Pretty much everyone figured it out on his or her own, as I recall. Our "computer lab" at the time consisted of someone going and setting up folding tables in a hallway or the cafeteria and then lugging a bunch of Apple //e machines out of a closet, then tearing the whole setup down after a couple of hours.

In middle school, we had a short unit on BASIC programming, by now on the Apple IIGS. By this time it was the late 1990's, and I'd started teaching myself QBASIC on our home PC; the computers we were using in school were around seven years old by this point.

In high school, I took a semester of computer science as a freshman and a year of "AP Computer Science" as a sophomore. This was largely just indoctrination into OOP. The entire course consisted of writing completely trivial C++ programs which would consist of several objects, none of whose member functions exceeded one or two lines. Nobody really enjoyed the course or learned much of anything, but we were pretty much bound to the AP curriculum so there wasn't much that could be done.

Had I my druthers, I'd design a computer science program for schoolkids by focusing more on the sort of stuff I did as a little kid, which was really conceptually much deeper and certainly a lot more fun.

Comment Re:NSA (Score 1) 416

You *definitely* don't need a PhD to work as a mathematician at the NSA, nor do you need a specific background in cryptography. If you failed abstract algebra in college you're probably not getting a job there, but my understanding is that it's not that difficult to get in so long as you're qualified, a citizen, and can pass a background check. The NSA is the single largest employer of mathematicians in the world -- they're certainly not just hiring the extreme elites.

Comment Re:The Department of Redundancy Department (Score 1) 628

Unless things have drastically changed since (recently) I went to Caltech, math is its own department -- part of the division of physics, math, and astronomy -- and CS is its own department as well -- part of the division of engineering and applied sciences. There's also an applied/computational math under the E&AS umbrella, but that's not anything like either math or CS.

Comment I don't care how the average person enjoys a story (Score 1) 238

This study tries to figure out in what way the average person enjoys a story. Aside from the fact that asking people to rate things from 1 to 10 is a great way to determine their favorite numbers and very little else, even if the study were completely accurate I wouldn't care. Why? Because the average person is the guy who makes Michael Bay, Twilight, The Jersey Shore, and Justin Bieber popular. They are the people who books like "The Secret" outsell actual literature. It's already well-established that the average person is worse than useless, dragging us into the gutter and away from the stars. If this research could start to teach us to fix what's wrong with the average person then maybe it'd be worthwhile, but it's clear from the researchers' comments that they actually think that there's something *okay* about the fact that people have gotten so stupid that they can't even follow a simple plot without having the Cliff's Notes embedded into the first paragraph.

Comment Re:Educational standards (Score 4, Informative) 741

If your idea is that the average person alive today -- never mind the average high school student -- has any knowledge at all of relativistic mechanics, evolutionary biology, computer science/engineering, medical science, etc., I think you'll find you're sadly mistaken. Yes, the average teenager knows how to use a cell phone. Clearly this is an insurmountable obstacle, and Isaac Newton himself would be unable to figure out my Nokia.

At any rate, the material on the "arithmetic" and "algebra" sections is still taught and used in schools today, and I'll outright guarantee you that if I printed those out and took them to a Calculus III section at the local university I'd be unlikely to get a very high pass rate, despite the fact that most of them have memorized how to take dozens of integrals or apply Lagrange multipliers.

Knowledge isn't worth as much as people seem to think; at its heart, it's just trivia. What matters is the ability to think, and that doesn't change from generation to generation.

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