369 (+2)Posted: November 3, 2012
The post before my previous post was my 369th post. I only saw because I’m in manual posting mode at the moment and it’s funny how my brain immediately started to pull the number apart. It’s the first three powers of 3, of course, 3, 6, 9, but it’s also 123 x 3 (and I almost always notice 1,2,3). It’s divisible by 9 (because the digits add up to 9), which means it’s also divisible by 3 (which give us 123 as I said earlier). So it’s non-prime (no surprises there). Some people will trigger on the 36x part because of the 365/366 number of days in the year.
That’s pretty much where I stop on this, and no doubt there will be much more in the comments from more mathematical folk than I, but numbers almost always pop out at me. Like some people (certainly not all) in the fields of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, numbers and facts fascinate me. However, I know many fine Computer Scientists who do not notice these things at all – and this is one of those great examples where the stereotypes fall down. Our discipline, like all the others, has mathematical people, some of whom are also artists, musicians, poets, jugglers, juggalos, but it also has people who are not as mathematical. This is one of the problems when we try to establish who might be good at what we do or who might enjoy it. We try to come up with a simple identification scheme that we can apply – the risk being, of course, that if we get it wrong we risk excluding more people than we include.
So many students tell me that they can’t do computing/programming because they’re no good at maths. Point 1, you’re probably better at maths than you think, but Point 2, you don’t have to be good at maths to program unless you’re doing some serious formal and proof work, algorithmic efficiencies or mathematical scientific programming. You can get by on a reasonable understanding of the basics, and yes, I do mean algebra here but very, very low level, and focus as you need to. Yes, certain things will make more sense if your mind is trained in a certain way, but this comes with training and practice.
It’s too easy to put people in a box when they like or remember numbers, and forget that half the population (at one stage) could bellow out 8675309 if they were singing along to the radio. Or recite their own phone number from the house they lived in when they were 10, for that matter. We’re all good for about 7 digit numbers, and a few of these slots, although the introduction of smart phones has reduced the number of numbers we have to remember.
So in this 369(+2)th post, let me speak to everyone out there who ever thought that the door to programming was closed because they couldn’t get through math, or really didn’t enjoy it. Programming is all about solving problems, only some of which are mathematical. Do you like solving problems? Did you successfully dress yourself today?
Did you, at any stage in the past month, run across an unfamiliar door handle and find yourself able to open it, based on applying previous principles, to the extent that you successfully traversed the door? Congratulations, human, you have the requisite skills to solve problems. Programming can give you a set of tools to apply that skill to bigger problems, for your own enjoyment or to the benefit of more people.