[lbo-talk] More on science

Dwayne Monroe idoru345 at yahoo.com
Tue May 15 09:22:31 PDT 2007

Chuck Grimes:

Most people are not interested in developing that background, and yet they believe in some vague democratic idea that all knowledge should be accessible---then proceed to resent the specialist as forming some kind of anti-democratic elite.



Yes, but in this particular case my friend (let's call her Fergie) was willing to start the process but found one of the premier sources touted as being introductory to be anything but...at least not for the general reader.

Of course, I'm using "general reader" in a very, well, general way. For me, as for you, the level's just fine.

Which isn't surprising: as boy, I put safety goggles on my beloved Border Collie and launched home made model rockets from my back yard; I pause during the day to think about gamma ray bursts and trangenic goats.

At night, I dream of electric sheep.

So for that portion of the "general reader" population which includes particle accelerator besotted lads like myself (and, I'd safely wager, you too) humbling complexity is a big part of a topic's come hither seduction.

But Fergie only wanted to be brought up to speed, in a reasonably well informed layperson way, on current thinking not necessarily start a deep solar physics education program.

Carrol, responding to Joanna, writes:

The essence of computing is in the _use_ of it, not in its abstract science. Who knew more about pianos: Beethoven & Liszt or those who manufactured them? Science is important of course, but the nature of computers can only be _really_ understood by those who use them to get things done and who wouldn't know Turing from a Stanley Steamer.


Yes and no.

The yes.

If, for example, I want to master Python programming I can skip Turing and focus on the Python forums, O'Reilly guides and my own efforts. If I'm serious and enjoy a strong aptitude for the language I'll become quite good indeed, perhaps even brilliant.

The no.

Right now I'm involved in a large scale data warehousing and reporting project for a multi-billion dollar financial services firm. The software vendor, NETIK, has made many promises. Some of these will be kept and others won't. Of the ones that won't be kept, failure can be explained by looking deeply at the limitations of databases as commercially implemented; limitations explained by database theory.

I have spent a great deal of time, both within academic settings and post academe - studying these problems. This background in theory has inoculated me against vendor marketing viruses - claims of ever newer and ever improved software methods. To be honest, that doesn't help with the inevitable office political problems which arise when projects budgeted in the millions miss targets or altogether fail.

Still, a theory background helps me analyze, prepare for projected stumbles and engineer workarounds.


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