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22 June 2006 @ 10:19 am
I've decided what my current 'serious' book is going to be - last summer I read a book about the Reformation while I was sitting in the sun (and at other times, but the point is to do something improving while I'm just lazing about in the garden), this summer (and probably longer) I'm going to work my way through "The Art of Computer Programming" by Donald E. Knuth. We bought a fancy box set of Vol 1-3 a few years ago for rather a lot of money, because it's one of those books one should have (if one is into computer programming anyway). But neither of us have ever read it, so I thought I would. Should keep me out of mischief for the foreseeable future ;)

The first parts are some reasonably hairy looking maths - much as it pains me to admit it I'm taking the advice in the very first section & skimming it (reasonably carefully) rather than absolutely trying to understand it. I'll have to come back to it later as I'm sure it'll be necessary. It's a little embarassing to put myself in the class of people that are 'not mathematically inclined' because, well, I am mathematically inclined, and I was really rather good at pure maths back when I was in practice. But I don't think I've done any maths since first year at university, and that doesn't really count as I didn't work at it (didn't need to pass the course, and there was too much mechanics for my tastes, so I didn't bother). So it's 14 years since I last seriously looked at a mathematics problem. And it shows :/ I think I need to get hold of an A-level standard pure maths text book and work my way through it. I wonder if my old school still have the one we used, and if they're likely to sell one if so. Wish I could remember the name of it, or the authors or anything, as I rather liked it.

Other geeky things - installed gourmet, finally, which I'd not been using since I reinstalled linux on this machine a few months ago. And found a bug in it (which I've duely reported). I was quite pleased with myself as I had to track down all the dependencies & install them (there's no gourmet ebuild). Small things, eh ;) Despite all that I've read about Gentoo being a hard distribution to use as a newbie/end-user now that it's actually installed I find it easier in some ways to use than any of the previous linux distributions we've used. OK, I don't do anything to the kernel myself & I get J to do the config file stuff that needs doing after rebuilds of stuff, but there's not very much of that. And it's offset by the fact that I can install my own software, on a whim mostly, with very little trouble, which certainly hasn't been the case in the past.
Current Mood: geekygeeky
Current Music: Various "Electric Dreams"
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 12:26 pm (UTC)
What maths topics are in the A-level maths books?
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 12:40 pm (UTC)
UK schools don't (or at least, didn't) tend to split maths up as much as US schools seem to and we didn't do a modular course so it's all just 'pure maths' or 'stats' in my head. And my memories of what was in the syllabus when I did A levels is a tad hazy ;) But things that ring bells for the pure maths part are: algebra (quite a bit on solving quadratics), differential equations (not partials, that came at uni), stuff with sines & cosines and using identities to solve equations, I think there was some basic group theory, matrices (kinda tied in with the latter iirc). But other than that - it's 14 years since I did the exams & I've even forgotten what it was I used to know ;)

Oh, and there must've been something about summing series as the page of Knuth I've just read had lots of things I think I used to know, and that was what it was about.
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 01:03 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Over here, differential equations and group theory are done in college, while the rest is high school, though it might be gone over with more depth in college. Er, given a decent high school, and college (which is to say, there are definitely places where people are taking remedial maths in college).
contents under pressure / handle with care: sanrio - readinggraphxgrrl on June 22nd, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)
It definitely depends on the school (I discovered much later that my high school was ranked best in our state during the time I was attending it)--we were doing some of those sorts of things in the "College Algebra" and calculus courses that I took in high school.

We had some higher level courses as well that I could have gotten into if I hadn't been trying to avoid math as much as possible. I was stuffing my schedule with foreign language instead.

I rather started tuning out after some of the more complex trigonometry because I could do well enough to not fail the class without really trying to absorb anything--I spent most of the time in my math classes reading unrelated novels, much to my instructor's chagrin.
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 02:38 pm (UTC)
In my high school, there was one calculus class (first period, too; what a great way to wake up :-), and I think 2 real analysis classes (which I didn't see the point of, since everything we did in there we did in calculus first and more in depth (except vectors), but it was a co-requisite, so I took it). Everything else was standard hs stuff.

I'm curious: which foreign languages did you take?
(My school offered French, Spanish, German, and Latin.)

I'm still weak on trig, in the sense that it's not intuitive; I have to reteach myself every time I go over it. (Which happens more often than for most people; I edit hs math books for a living...).
contents under pressure / handle with care: sanrio - readinggraphxgrrl on June 22nd, 2006 02:47 pm (UTC)
I had AP US History at 7:30 AM my senior year, I'm just glad I enjoyed the subject and had a teacher with a tendency to jump up on his desk when he thought people were drifting off.

I just took French throughout, we had the option of French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Japanese. We could also take Russian if we wanted to bus across town for a period to the other high school.

I kept taking AP French throughout my last two years (I'd started with French in 7th grade) because in my junior year they'd replaced our regular seven period schedule with a block schedule (four classes a day for 90 minutes each, year long classes were covered in a semester). This basically meant that to get a year of French I had to start taking AP French over and over.

This actually worked really well, as the instructor ended up dividing us into groups of people who actually wanted to take the AP test and the rest of us that were there for practice and instruction. We read a lot of French novels (including some existential stuff, which is fun enough in English, let alone sorting it out in French) and wrote a lot of formal essays.
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 03:04 pm (UTC)
I started French in 7th grade, too, so I was in French 5 by senior year; we didn't have an official AP French class. The 20-odd people in the class were there because they wanted to be, though (the hs had either 2 or 3 years required). We did some French history and poetry, but never got to novels...
John: 2003jarel on June 22nd, 2006 03:20 pm (UTC)
Dumb question
contents under pressure / handle with care: sanrio - readinggraphxgrrl on June 22nd, 2006 03:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Dumb question
Advanced Placement. :)

You had the option of taking a test at the end of the year that could potentially be put towards college credits for that course material depending on your test scores. Various universities deal with AP credits differently, so they had varying levels of usefulness.

Many schools used AP classes in the place of higher level courses in various subjects, with sometimes unfortunate results--as it could mean teachers were teaching to the test rather than really covering the course material.
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 03:34 pm (UTC)


School started at 9am for us, finished at 3:30pm.
contents under pressure / handle with care: cooking - timergraphxgrrl on June 22nd, 2006 03:46 pm (UTC)
7:30 to 2:45. Fun times. ;)

It varies by school and district certainly. My senior year the schedule was something like this:

7:30 - 9:00: Block A
9:15 - 10:45: Block B
11:00 - 12:30: Block C
1:15 - 2:45: Block D

I'm actually tempted to say that I'm mis-remembering and school might have started earlier, as I knew we had three blocks in the morning--but I seem to remember a longer break in the morning as well.

My high school apparently does a 7:45 to 3:05 schedule now, but I couldn't tell you off the top of my head how that differed from mine now that I'm eleven years out. ;)
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure ours was: 8:50-9:40, 9:40-10:30, break, 10:50-11:40. 11:40-12:30, lunch, 1:30-2:20. 2:20-3:10.

So I was slightly out with the times I gave earlier, but till I thought about lesson times I didn't remember ;) Some subjects you got double lessons (science for instance, so you could fit the practicals in). And in the last two years Wedsnesday afternoons were always frees (with other frees depending on your timetable) which you were supposed to use for sports or for voluntary work - I helped in a primary school as that was much more palatable than sports ;)
contents under pressure / handle with care: sanrio - readinggraphxgrrl on June 22nd, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, our block schedule system made things really wacky in the last two years I was at school. You had some classes alternating days, except Fridays when you had all your classes for a shorter period of time. Because I had one afternoon class that was year long and thus only met every other day, in my last two years I had afternoons off half the time. The class was yearbook, and I was the editor, so I actually rarely ever left campus--it got interesting for those people who didn't have another class to go to on those off days.
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC)
(My school offered French, Spanish, German, and Latin.)

That's almost exactly what my school offered, though I think Spanish was a very transitory offering (once the teacher moved on it stopped happening). You could also take exams in Urdu or Bengali, but I don't think there were actual lessons, just 'this is what the exam might look like' classes - it was aimed at those who spoke it at home.

I took French from age 11-16, Latin 13-16 (so got GCSEs in those) and German just at age 13 (I didn't have timetable space for 3 language GCSEs so I had to drop one of them & German was less fun than Latin).

Yeah, I did notice this was aimed at graphxgrrl, but I thought I'd answer anyway.
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 04:17 pm (UTC)
I think my high school was homogeneous enough that it didn't have people who didn't speak enough English to take exams.

I took French from age 10-17, Latin 13-15 (and would've taken a third year had the school not placed it at the same time slot as the only French class I could take senior year, plus told me I was taking French over the Latin), plus afterschool (= not covering nearly as much material) classes in Hebrew from age 6-16 (I picked more up later when I lived in Israel).
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC)
About a third of my school's intake came from families who'd come from Pakistan or Bangladesh within the last 2 or 3 generations, hence Urdu & Bengali.

In addition to that we had a handful of children in every year who came for a year or two because their parents were working either at the university (I grew up in Oxford) or at one of the hospitals. So there was a fairly broad mix of different nationalities - of the people I knew well enough to know I can remember Icelandic, Yugoslavian, Japanese, Chinese, Israeli and I'm quite sure I've forgotten lots.

But it's still fair to say that about two thirds of the school intake was English middle & working class.
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC)
My high school had about 1700 kids, and I was one of a handful of Jews. One or two black kids (they were black back then, not African-American) and a half-Scottish/half-Indian guy who came half-way through rounded out the non-WASP population.

Midstate MA is likely less whitebread these days, but back then, it was all the same people.
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 04:47 pm (UTC)
I've also just realised I mis-read your comment - people generally spoke enough English for the exams (though a few exceptions, who got to take dictionaries in), but if you could already speak/understand/read/write Urdu or Bengali you could be put in for GCSE in the subject. If you weren't already at about the standard to take the exam then there weren't lessons in the languages.
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
Ah, and now I realize I misunderstood your earlier comment. Proficiency in other-language leading to passing GCSE in that language, rather than "not enough English to take exams in general, must get them translated so student can understand material in some other language". (Things not so far off from this have happened in some US schools, depending on the students they get...)
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 03:50 pm (UTC)
I think the theory was that you'd learn basics of quite a lot of things, then at the next stage you learn them in more depth. There were also two possible maths A-levels - Maths & Further Maths. I did both, and basically Further Maths did all the same topics as Maths but in more depth. (You couldn't do just Further Maths, the point was that the syllabus was 'everything in the Maths syllabus plus these extra things'.)

Which is an interesting counterpoint to my normal thoughts about the English education system (as it was when I was in it, anyway, I'm somewhat out of touch now). Basically I think we specialised too much too early, normal maximum of 9 subjects at GCSE level (exams taken at 16 years old) and normal maximum of 4 at A-level (exams taken at 18 years old). Which means that effectively you close off large chunks of future study/employment at the tender age of 13 when you choose your GCSE subjects - I dropped history at this point, for instance. And then you narrow it down a lot at 16 when you choose your A-level subjects - I took Maths, Further Maths, Biology and Chemistry. My degree choices were therefore pretty much restricted to Biological or Chemical sciences, or Mathematics. Big choice to have made when I was 16. It's probably less like that in Arts subjects as you would end up taking 3 or 4 more disparate subjects at A-level, but the division into Arts-person and Sciences-person was made to some extent at 13 and solidified at 16.

So given what little I know about how US schooling works I think it's a bit of a better system - in that as I understand it the first year (or more?) of US university level education is broader than the last 2 years of my high school education and you specialise after that.

But it seems that within maths we covered a broader range of topics (presumably at a lesser depth).
contents under pressure / handle with care: sanrio - readinggraphxgrrl on June 22nd, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC)
That said, there are a lot of people who graduate from college in "General Studies". ;)

I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, it does seem counterproductive to ask a teenager to make decisions that will lock them into a certain career path.

I knew at 13 that I enjoyed graphic design, I wouldn't have been able to label it that however. Though I likely would have ended up in the arts track in the English system anyhow and turned out fine.

In my school district (and things vary wildly from district to district and state to state, or rather they did before the current Federal administration) we pretty much chose a general range of studies that fit within a certain set of graduation requirements and it was up to us to make sure they fit the admission requirements of any universities we thought we might want to attend.

In most cases (in my day) you didn't specialize until college, and as I noted above you could still graduate without ever specializing in anything as long as you had the requisite courses in certain areas.

Of course, I'm a college drop-out with a technical/vocational degree, so I'm not the best example of the wonders of our educational system. The trouble I found is that because I'd gone to a really GOOD high school my first year at university was incredibly dull because other people had a less rigorous time in high school.
magidmagid on June 22nd, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
What I remember of high school and college was that in high school there were minimum requirements that everyone had to meet to graduate (4 years of English classes, 2.5 of history, 2 of language, 2 of science, 2 or 3 of math, 3.5 of gym), but the classes had different ratings on them, so the smartest kids took honors level history, while the others figured out whether they should take "college 1", "college 2", or "general" level classes. The minimum requirements didn't fill up a schedule; there were definitely extra areas that could be covered (more of the academic stuff, or business classes (typing, shorthand, etc), or art, or vocational classes (automotive repair, etc)).

Once I got to college, I had to choose a major, and had the option to have either more than one major or a minor. I ended up with a major in (medieval) history and a minor in math... and there was time to take classes in Greek drama, anthropology, and other stuff like that.
kierangiant on June 22nd, 2006 01:18 pm (UTC)
in the old-style Scottish SYS (sixth-year studies) maths, we had a choice of 5 papers/topics to choose from. i have no memory of what fields they were.
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)
You've just reminded me that I should've said English schools not UK schools, as clearly Scottish Highers/whatever are likely be totally different :)
Johnjarel on June 22nd, 2006 03:46 pm (UTC)
Like you, I really can't remember what we did in A-level maths - but partly that's 'cause we covered almost everything in Further Maths before we got taught it in 'normal maths. Made for some really exciting maths classes :S
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
I think our Further Maths teacher did a bit better at trying to cover stuff after the Maths class did it - obviously our first topic in FM we did before we did it in M, but by the time it came round to that in M the revision was useful.
Dai Akustipe on June 22nd, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)
I've got that same Knuth box set. I haven't gotten around to reading the bulk of them, though I've picked sections here and there on occasion and used them as reference material.

I've never really dedicated time to getting a decent handle on MIX, which makes the examples a little hard to follow :)
Margaretpling on June 22nd, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I noticed that after about another 100 pages of maths I get to make sure I learn about MIX coz otherwise the whole thing won't make much sense ;)