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    I’m a far, far better programmer than I am a mathematician, and for one simple reason: I have a new program when I’m done. If I want to learn about a new data structure or algorithm or whatever, I can read about how it works, find out what it’s good for and go write a program that uses it.

    Sequence data structures? Let’s write a text editor. Parsers and lexers? Let’s write a compiler. And so on…

    I just don’t know how to get that with math. The article points out that summing the first n odd integers gets n^2. That’s great, but that doesn’t get me anything. It’s elegant, I understand it, but I don’t grok it because it’s not something I feel like is going to be useful later.

    With programming, I can see something even if I don’t know how it works yet. When I was 12 I had no idea how operating systems (one of the most complex, overarching subjects in computer science,) really worked, but I could sit in front of a computer and see the operating system and get an idea of what the end result could be. I could fiddle with multiple programs at once and get an intuitive idea of a process, etc.

    I can’t sit down in front of a topology textbook and see (if not understand the underlying meaning) the goal before I even read the first page. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

    So…what am I doing wrong? I’m good at the kinds of math that make me a better programmer for the kind of code I write: basic algebra, combinatorics, and so on. I don’t even know where to begin or how to…see the next hill so I have something to work towards…with other kinds of math.

    Any ideas?

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      The problem is far greater than just school mathematics….

      After I emerged from the dark hell that was academic maths and physics into the light of industrial software engineering… a light dawned in me.

      It suddenly became blindingly obvious… just as you can have very very badly written, obtuse software and documentation you can have Good code, Good documentation.

      There are principles you can enumerate as to what creates clear, simple, understandable code and documentation…..

      …and smells you can enumerate as to what makes it horrible.

      In the torrid realm of extremely constrained devices written in hand squeezed assembler… you could get incredible arcane undecipherable code.

      In the equally torrid realm of pay per page academic paper publishing… an arcane, obtuse and opaque jargony language has evolved.

      If you stand back from the academic tradition and look at scientific publishing as documentation… by far most of it is utterly appalling disgustingly Bad.

      In the age of electronic publishing… there is no longer any excuse beyond hide bound tradition.

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        I study computer science at the University of Oslo. I’m mostly pretty good at the actual computer science, but dropped the mathematics course after not being able to complete the first obligatory homework. I understood little of it, and trying to google for some of the strange words the professor had used, I found that the only mention of it was on the online version of the homework description. He had used words he had invented and not mentioned anywhere, seemingly not even in slides. (The word, by the way, was attraktorbasseng: https://www.google.no/search?q=attraktorbasseng)

        If this is generally indicative of mathematics in academia, something does indeed seem off.

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          There is a great line by Polya. Something like: The typical math professor says A, writes B on the blackboard, means C, and should have been D.

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        I found myself jonesing for more after the primes example, but then there was nothing.

        Excellent way of putting it, but could have been longer!

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          A far better article of a similar nature is located here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/04/25/stop-telling-kids-youre-bad-at-math-you-are-spreading-math-anxiety-like-a-virus/?utm_term=.62b96c7b6252.

          Everyone has different ways of learning and understanding mathematics, some people are more axiomatic digesting deep theories and conjectures before arriving at problems , and the other hand some people are more head-strong and learn by solving problems.

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            Why are people falling over to try to show that everybody can be good at maths?

            Is it because women are bad at maths, at the ideological imperative is that women are equal to men therefore the reason they aren’t as good at maths is because the education system is not doing it correctly?

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              women are bad at maths

              This might stand as simply tasteless if it weren’t lacking a basis in reality (results skew substantially towards girls in secondary school where the topics in TFA are taught).

              The ‘ideological imperative’ here is your insistence on repeating an offensive fabrication, and it’s distinctly unwelcome.

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                Well for SAT maths, males outscore females.

                The link you provided only uses result from one school.

                Am I misinterpreting the result or does the SAT have no ‘basis in reality’?

                on repeating an offensive fabrication

                It is unfortunate that you find either my ignorance or the truth offensive.

                Personally I would not.