Self Taught Computer Science

Over the last year I’ve felt as if I’ve reached a plateau. I cannot put my finger on why this is or why IProgramming-Plateau.png feel like this but regardless of what programming language I use C/Perl/Java I feel like I’m just moving boxes. This is not the first time I have felt like this either.

I don’t think this is a problem with the languages I’m using I think its more of a problem with me and the applications I tend to be working on.

After a while (not a very long while) developing CRUD applications loses its appeal. Developing network apps, GUI’s etc…. they all start to look dull when you’ve done them a few times. My experience with GUI’s is very limited so the above statement is an assumption in that regard.

I have no idea why this is but I’m sure that the more experienced programmer could probably shed some light on this. I personally think that unless something stretches your ability it will eventually lose it’s novelty.

Though, surely as a programmer who loves to program I should be able to entertain myself in almost any application I write but for me this does not seem to be the case. I’ve never been one for mental wanking and I would prefer not to start. Over complicating an application just to keep it interesting doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I watch programmers fall into this trap all the time and its sad to see them commit this cardinal sin. The worst thing is having to watch them explain their contraption as if it’s a simple solution when it’s obviously a complicated  mess of a thing. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been guilty of this sin and in quite a few cases been oblivious of it. Its almost as bad as the Not Invented Here syndrome so prevalent in our trade.

I personally think my main problem is that I do not feel as if I am getting any better. I look at old applications and where I would normally see a dozen ways to improve it I see two or none. I know I’ve not learnt all there is to know and I know I will never learn all there is to know about this subject so why have I hit this wall. Have I reached the limits of my ability or is this a normal phenomenon that programmers go through?

My opinion is that I am seeing things through the wrong goggles. Most of my education has been self taught so its been led mostly by interest as opposed to formally taught. I’ve been studying with the Open University for several years now in order to get some background mathematics etc but I still think there are areas that I need to improve on in particular around Computer Science.

Unfortunately the Open University computing courses are more geared towards popular topics, Java etc in order to attract more students. Having done a few of their computing courses I wish I hadn’t bothered because I gained more from my own work than I did from the taught courses. I cannot say the same thing about the mathematics though. I decided to start mathematics because I knew that whatever I learnt would be applicable regardless of the current fashion or trends in industry.

Having looked around this for some time I have decided that what I need to do is to start my own computer science program to build on the mathematics I’m doing with the Open University. The areas I’m really interested in is how to go about writing my own computer language, compiler, virtual machine etc so I’ve been looking around to see what other universities are doing and what books they are using in this area.

Having done a fair bit of looking I spotted a definite trend towards functional languages and the further I looked into this the more I noticed that All Roads Lead To Lisp. Or to scheme or to some variant thereof. Abstracting a bit further I am being steered towards learning a functional language. The two languages that interest me the most in this area are Scheme and Haskell. Now all I need to do is decide what books and resources I need to start a course in this area. Most resources online point towards Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SICP) in order to get started so I am looking at this now. I am not sure if I’ll try and tackle Haskell until I get a bit more familiar with scheme although having looked at Haskell the language is appealing to me.

Watch this space for more installments on my self taught Comp Sci education!

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Open University M203 Pure Mathematics Course

Is driving me nuts. The last block ie
Analysis B
is trying to cover so much ground so fast I have hardly got time to catch my breath. This is in part due to my preparation ie
MST121
MS221
These courses are meant to be adequate preparation for M203 but having just started reading.
Hardy G. H: A Course of Pure Mathematics.
Courant R: Differential and Integral Calculus Vol. 1
they seem to spend a lot more time on the fundamentals of calculus ie limits and functions than I ever did previously. Hardy’s book is very explanatory but hard to follow and deserves some concentration but so far I have found the first few pages a treat to read. I like the way “he preaches to the cannibals” which is just what I need.
I am not sure if MST121 and MS221 are enough preparation for M203. I have done very well in all of my coursework but my algebra is just not up to scratch. I can tell this when I am reading some of the material and they appear to make leaps from one bit to another. If you are thinking about doing M203 or the next course M208 then make sure that you have a good grounding in algebra. The best arena for brushing up on your algebra or at least for me is “real analysis” particularly sequences limits and series.
I have decided I won’t be attempting Complex Analysis M337 next year because my algebra is just not hot enough yet. I will do it in 2 years time when the course runs again. Its a shame because I really wanted to do M337 next year.

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A Mathematician’s Apology

I started reading
A Mathematician’s Apology
Author: G. H. Hardy (Foreward by C. P. Snow)
ISBN: 052142706
this one as soon as it arrived through the post. It is quite a small book and even smaller when you open the cover, at least in this edition it is since they have left over an inch of margin around the text.
I really enjoyed it. I have to say that I enjoyed the forward by Mr Snow as much as the content by Hardy. I think this was because he was writing about the Author of whom I would like to know more whereas Hardy was writing about his subject rather than himself. You can get a feel for Hardy’s character from the text, particularly near the end but I thought that it dealt mainly about his take on mathematics.
The book is definitely some sort of apology, I thinks its open for debate whether he needed to apologize for anything but he obviously felt the need to justify himself in some way.
Personally I don’t think Hardy had any more need to justify himself than Da Vinci, Matisse or Michelangelo, Hardy was an artist its just that his art was mathematics which like some forms of art is not appreciated by the masses. However, this does not mean that what he created wasn’t beautiful or worthwhile. In fact years later it was found that a lot of what Hardy had created was of immense use.

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More bloody Books

I am never going to finish “From Here to Infinity”. I was about half way through Mr Stewarts book when I got an urge to browse Amazon, big mistake.
I spotted the following books all of which I ordered
A concise History of Mathematics.
Author: Dirk J. Struik
A Mathematician’s Apology
Author: G. H. Hardy (Forward by C. P. Snow)
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
Author: Paul Hoffman
A History Of Mathematics (An Introduction)
Author: Victor J. Katz

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Does Mathematics ever get any easier

I don’t think so. Just when I think I am getting to grips with something I get a good slap around the face from out of the blue. Is it this that has kept people all through the ages fighting for some insight in the hope that they might deliver a good slap back.
It all seems so much like an enormous quagmire were an unwary step might have you screaming for help before being swallowed up in muddy oblivion. On the other hand when you hear Ian Stewart describing Mathematics in his books he seems to alternate from quagmire to utopia. I have yet to find this utopia (but I’m still looking) and as far as I am aware there are no maps for sale down the local camping store.
I just wish I had a torch or even a compass, so even though I have no idea what direction is the best to take I have an idea what direction I am heading in and can be psychologically comforted.
Mathematics is the most frustrating yet fascinating subject I have come across. I just hope I find a compass soon and I imagine I am not alone.

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M203 Group Theory

Is over and thank the lord. My tutor had told me that the Group theory was much easier than the linear algebra, unfortunately for me this was not the case. It was only when I handed him the Tutor Marked Assignment ( TMA ) that I found out he had specialized in Group theory so I think he might be a bit biased 😉
I think it was because I was unable to see an immediate use for it. I loved its elegance and I enjoyed the course more than the linear algebra but I found it much tougher going. I have been using linear algebra during the process of building a vector space search engine so it is nothing new to me and I could see a use for it which I lacked with Groups.
Still haven’t decided what I am going to study next year but I would like to do a a bit more work on group theory. I have a summer school coming up soon and I am hoping to get some idea of what might be suitable for my level 3 courses next year.
I managed to get 92% for the TMA so I must have done something right.

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M203 TMA04

This was the analysis block of the course and so far it has been the easiest I have done. I think this is because it was one of the more enjoyable blocks I have done on M203. We are now studying Groups and so far it is looking OK but I will reserve judgment on this until the TMA has been and gone

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