Nov. 22nd, 2011

terriko: (Default)
Lots of people have gotten in touch with me over the past few days, but for those of you who might want to know what's up but not want to overwhelm me with more questions, here's some answers:

1. John made it in on Sunday night (after more excitement with his flights than we'd hoped, but he made it in only an hour late), so I am not alone in the house. (And, in fact, the house is rarely empty as he's working from there.)

2. We have had some repairs done to the windows including the one used to gain entry to the house. The landlords have been really great about it all and have a long list of further upgrades that will be done once the immediate stuff is out of the way, including motion-sensor activated outdoor floodlights, padlocks for the exterior gates, etc.

3. We've got an appointment for an assessment with an alarm company next week so we'll see what additional measures they recommend.

4. John has updated his insurance to ensure that it covers all of my stuff in the case of a break-in where theft is the goal.

5. For those concerned, no, I'm not going to run out and buy a gun no matter what the police recommended. Given my complete lack of expertise with firearms, I fully understand that having one in the house would likely make me less safe at this stage. That said, knowledge is power, so I am going to learn to operate a firearm even if I ultimately decide not to go that route.

6. I still want a dog, though. ;) (And yes, this is a big, long-term decision, so John and I will have to figure that out together. But my vote's still for a dog.)

7. I am really, honestly, fine. As I've said elsewhere, this would have been a lot more scary if I had ever been seriously scared during the encounter, but the guy was really more odd than threatening. I reserve the right to change my mind about this (I've been told by several people that it's fairly normal to be much more disturbed after the fact) but for now everything's well in hand.
terriko: (Default)
I got a really interesting query today that boiled down to, "How much math do you need to write code?"

The short answer to this is, "Not that much" or perhaps "it depends on what you want the code to do." But here's part of what I actually wrote back:

---

To be honest, the level of math required to write code is pretty small. A grade school understanding is often sufficient; there's a reason we can teach 7 year olds to program! Modern programming languages are much less math-oriented: I once spent an afternoon teaching my then 11 year old sister and her friends how to write dynamic database-driven websites, and the only math they used was to add up the scores on the "what animal are you most like?" quizzes they wanted to write.

The math in computer science comes a lot later: for deeper analysis of algorithms and running time, we use algebra and mathematical proofs in an academic setting. But... to tell the truth, relatively few programmers need or use this kind of deeper understanding in their day-to-day jobs. And in my experience teaching students, many people find this stuff easier to learn by doing, so they only really begin to grasp it *after* they have gotten comfortable writing programs.

In short: you probably have all the math skills you need to write code, and if you decide you want to do more hardcore CS later, it'll be easier to learn the math along the way anyhow!

---

There's some nuance there that I didn't really tease out -- the deeper understanding of algorithms and program behaviour is what characterizes the real "science" out of computer science. And maybe the world would be a better place if more programmers did actually use deeper analysis in their day-to-day jobs. But you don't have to be an academic-style computer scientist to write code! Still, it's a very interesting question, given that historically programming actually did require a lot more math, and our perceptions and stereotypes haven't really kept up with the reality of the field.

Perhaps it's time for me to write another presentation? ;)

(For context: my old slideshow about women, computing and math got included in this TechCrunch post about Racism and Meritocracy, so I've been getting a lot of mail, including the one that spawned this post.)

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