# Foo - Math is good for what again?

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View Full Version : Math is good for what again?

Cromulent
03-29-06, 11:45 AM
I know we have some very smart people out there working in engineering and science. I'm writing a commercial about math. So to you chemists, engineers, physicists, programmers, meteorologists (and anyone else who uses math in their daily lives) I ask this: what do you do that requires math, what kind of math do you use, and what do you use it for?

Thanks.

jschen
03-29-06, 12:44 PM
What exactly is your target audience for your commercial, and what are you trying to convey?

I'm a synthetic organic chemist. In a sense, I don't use much math. In my day to day work, just addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Just to calculate molecular weights and ratios of things, mostly. Oh, and I have to be able to count. (How many carbons does that molecule have? Let's see... 1, 2, 3, 4...)

But there's a lot more to math than crunching numbers. Every time you ask yourself whether something is "better", you're doing some sort of mental math. Every time you're putting a value on something, you're doing math. Every comparison--qualitative or quantitative--is a form of math. When put that way, the thinking in my line of work is largely mathematical. In that sense, the most important and common math I do is qualitative comparisons (sometimes backed up by quantitative measurements, but usually not), order of magnitude estimates, and checks for reasonableness.

Sorry it's such a vague and long-winded answer. In truth, a lot of my friends ask me the same question about the math I do in my line of work. On the face of it, we don't do much math. But that's so far from the truth.

2manybikes
03-29-06, 12:46 PM
Counting money. Balancing the check book, or the home budget.

Cromulent
03-29-06, 12:58 PM
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. The ad will be aimed at middle and high-school kids. Maybe I should rephrase the question. Does the entire universe open up when you understand and can use math. I mean that in a M-Theory sense, but also in an everyday sense. I know that an outfielder uses mental math when chasing down a fly ball - not in a Newtonian kind of way - but she creates mental models, checks them against what she knows from her experiences as an outfielder, and predicts where the ball will be right before she catches it. It's probably more algorithmic than anything else, but that's not the point.

I'm interested in hearing from folks who engineer things - chemicals, materials, bridges, circuits, computer programs, genetic algorithms, artificial life, etc. How does math shape what you do? What kinds of math do you use? And how does knowing math and how to use it change your perception of the world?

The greatest thing about math is that you can use it to create and predict. Maybe that's how I go with it.

Any input here is wonderful...

Cromulent
03-29-06, 12:59 PM
Counting money. Balancing the check book, or the home budget.
Balancing the checkbiook and bugeting are good. Thank you.

CyLowe97
03-29-06, 02:04 PM
As a Liberal Arts educated guy now working in process and metrics for a big telecom/networking company, I can tell you that math does not seem important on the surface, but virtually everything has an underpinning of math, whether it's counting orders and percentages within our different work queues, figuring out how much percentage of one's paycheck should go into a 401k so the family can eat and live, or plain old watching the clock to figure out how long it is until going home time.

The one thing that math does outside of the numbers is provides a way to build logic into daily decisions. Math requires one to get from the 'problem' to the 'solution' and along the way be able to show how one gets to the proper solution. This is an element of critical thinking that is really needed in an educated society. The problem requires the student to comprehend what's being asked and to react in a rational and calculated way. It doesn't seem like there is a relation to other courses, but from hard sciences, which demand a rigid rationality to experiments, to such things as an essay in an English or history class, which demand the writer to understand the question and provide a solid basis for the response given.

Yeah, a calculator can tell you the percentage or square root, but a good math class can instill the building blocks of WHY that percentage happened, or what that percentage means. Mental drills keep the mind sharp and math is a good place to start.

KingTermite
03-29-06, 02:49 PM
I'm a software engineer for embedded type software applications (satellites, space shuttle, military vehicles, etc...). Math that I use with purposes:

Algebra - Unit Conversion, determining navigation parameters with missing information, testing expected outcomes for a software test.
Trigonometry - calculation of standard navigation formulas, calculation of gps navgiation formulas
Number bases - Working out hex/binary bit masks to twiddle only the bits I want to twiddle, testing results from memory/registers read from a piece of hardware.
Logic - Truth tables to ensure all possible outcomes are accounted for, overall algorithm design to ensure program logic is sound.

Taerom
03-29-06, 03:05 PM
KT, I am studying Software Engineering at my university, but I'm not really sure if that's what I want to do after I graduate. I have always wondered why I would need the calculus that I'm learning. Thanks for your response, it clears things up a little bit.

KingTermite
03-29-06, 03:16 PM
KT, I am studying Software Engineering at my university, but I'm not really sure if that's what I want to do after I graduate. I have always wondered why I would need the calculus that I'm learning. Thanks for your response, it clears things up a little bit.
I don't regret any of the math that I had to take. Even the statistics comes in handy now and then (need to go add that).

Keep in mind though...math was "my subject", so it would not have bothered me much anyway. I always liked math classes. :)

Scout!
03-29-06, 03:52 PM
The greatest thing about math is that you can use it to create and predict.
I'd say the greatest thing about math is that it's a distillation of the structure of human thought. You should study it for the same reason you should study poetry.

I'm a grad student in statistics. My particular field is population genetics. For example, I'm writing a program to infer past population size from a set of dna samples of present day individuals. In order to do that sort of thing one first needs a mathematical model of the process, and then you figure out how to infer the underlying structure from what you are able to observe. In my case, one observes genetic diversity and one infers population size.

It's the kind of thing where you take data and "feed it into the computer". Someone has to tell the computer how to make sense of it. Most likely, there's some sophisticated mathematics behind what the computer does.

Cromulent
03-29-06, 04:01 PM
I'd say the greatest thing about math is that it's a distillation of the structure of human thought. You should study it for the same reason you should study poetry.

I'm a grad student in statistics. My particular field is population genetics. For example, I'm writing a program to infer past population size from a set of dna samples of present day individuals. In order to do that sort of thing one first needs a mathematical model of the process, and then you figure out how to infer the underlying structure from what you are able to observe. In my case, one observes genetic diversity and one infers population size.

It's the kind of thing where you take data and "feed it into the computer". Someone has to tell the computer how to make sense of it. Most likely, there's some sophisticated mathematics behind what the computer does.
Cool! Thanks.

Keith99
03-29-06, 04:04 PM
If you can't do math you can't figure out if it is worth buying that 12 pack of Newcastle or a 12 pack of Bud.

This is proof that most Americans can't do math.

Cromulent
03-29-06, 04:05 PM
If you can't do math you can't figure out if it is worth buying that 12 pack of Newcastle or a 12 pack of Bud.

This is proof that most Americans can't do math.
Or have no taste in beer.

MERTON
03-29-06, 04:20 PM
math is needed to measure things. that's it.

Keith99
03-29-06, 05:21 PM
Math is the foundation of many other things and ways of thinking. It is a major foundation of economics. The man who thinks he does not use math uses things like 'The Law of Supply and demand' all the time without realizing it. We all know if there are more who want to sell the price goes down, more wanting to buy it goes up. That is just the very rough cut of that one law. One who really uses math will see applications of laws like this in unexpected places. Sometimes 'doing the math' serves as a very effective B*llsh1t indicator. The following was posted in the P&R forum on a thread about women being killed or aborted.

This is a huge issue in India right now--and it's not simply a cultural issue, as in other societies. Mainly it has to do with the extravagant dowry required to marry off a daughter, which is exacerbated by the man-to-woman ratio that makes marrying off a daughter very competitive. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars, cars, extravagant gifts, etc.

Notice it says the situation is 'exacerbated by the man-to-woman ratio'. Now let's do some math, applying the law of supply and demand to be exact. Women are being killed. This means fewer women. This means the man to woman ratio is going toward more men fewer women. So there is a smaller supply of women. Yet the quote says it is harder to marry off a daughter. That is garbage. It will become easier.

Once you have been alerted you might just begin to wonder about the truth of the rest of the small quote. That would be a good thing as the parts of India where this occurs are the remote rural areas of India where wages are the lowest. Are tens of thousands of dollars even possible in those areas? Are cars good for anything where there are few if any paved roads?

03-29-06, 05:22 PM
Counting money. Balancing the check book, or the home budget.

More to the point, making money. Get your MBA in finance from the U. of Chicago and you'll be using those math skills aplenty.

hi565
03-29-06, 05:26 PM
To be completely honest with you...Adding up how many bannanas I am going to use. Some of the stuff I am learning in math class I will NEVER use...That is unless I want to be a math teacher. Which i dont. So I probably am not the right person to be asking this question. :D

56/12 and 22/28
03-29-06, 06:40 PM
Figuring out gear inches. :)

iamlucky13
03-29-06, 10:36 PM
Calculating loading on forklift parts and related test stands at work. Designing a potato gun. Calculating angles and distances on various things that need to be made (framing a house for example). Figuring out long it takes to get from here to there. Figuring out my gas mileage. Calculating interest. Showing people who don't know how to estimate things why a 5 g acceleration on a 100 km maglev ramp will not give a space capsule orbital velocity (and therefore they shouldn't invest money in it...I once showed this math to someone and they didn't believe me). Determining how many pounds of nails to buy when building a house. Figuring out how many square feet of new carpet you need in the living room. Solving for the value of a resistor in an LED circuit. Writing the code that generates output on my website. Simply amusing myself with classic math problems.

I'm somewhat disappointed that most of the math I use at work is algebra and trig, but I do get to delve into minute bits of calculus on occasion. I really enjoyed learning it, but now it's fading away from disuse.

oboeguy
03-30-06, 12:32 AM
I'm one of those (somewhat) smart people the OP mentions. My advice? Don't confuse math with arithmetic. Anyhow, look-up operations research (my field) for about a zillion cool applications of math / engineering / computers.

CPcyclist
03-30-06, 12:43 AM
Counting money. Balancing the check book, or the home budget.
+++++1

understanding loans/any credit, whether or not a sale is OK, Good, or Great or for that mater if the ring you up right when you check out.

Being able to tell how much more you need to save for your next bike/part for your bike.

Katrogen
03-30-06, 10:01 PM
Math is a beautiful subject that makes you think logically. It has a set of rules that explain and correspond with reality. Its how the world works. When presented with a problem it can always be solved. There is always an answer, the cold hard fact, there is no questioning involved, no emotional or subjective decision making.

I'm not amazing at math, its my highest skill and most enjoyable class but I won't be the next Einstein. I have always respected the math teachers I've had and felt a great challenge when in math class. When you get a math problem you are forced to think through it and then once you solve it you get one of the best feelings in the world. Especially if you teach it all yourself. Its great to watch the material build up on itself also...

I'm going into pharmacy and will not be doing anything more complicated then countin' pills but its a very valuable subject. That's all I got to say!

Katrogen
03-30-06, 10:06 PM
Math is a beautiful subject that makes you think logically. It has a set of rules that explain and correspond with reality. Its how the world works. When presented with a problem it can always be solved. There is always an answer, the cold hard fact, there is no questioning involved, no emotional or subjective decision making.

I'm not amazing at math, its my highest skill and most enjoyable class but I won't be the next Einstein. I have always respected the math teachers I've had and felt a great challenge when in math class. When you get a math problem you are forced to think through it and then once you solve it you get one of the best feelings in the world. Especially if you teach it all yourself. Its great to watch the material build up on itself also...

I'm going into pharmacy and will not be doing anything more complicated then countin' pills but its a very valuable subject. That's all I got to say!

Katrogen
03-30-06, 10:06 PM
Math is a beautiful subject that makes you think logically. It has a set of rules that explain and correspond with reality. Its how the world works. When presented with a problem it can always be solved. There is always an answer, the cold hard fact, there is no questioning involved, no emotional or subjective decision making.

I'm not amazing at math, its my highest skill and most enjoyable class but I won't be the next Einstein. I have always respected the math teachers I've had and felt a great challenge when in math class. When you get a math problem you are forced to think through it and then once you solve it you get one of the best feelings in the world. Especially if you teach it all yourself. Its great to watch the material build up on itself also...

I'm going into pharmacy and will not be doing anything more complicated then countin' pills but its a very valuable subject. That's all I got to say!

Taerom
03-30-06, 11:31 PM
I think I have just the opposite view of math. Sure, it has a nice set of rules that you can follow to get the answer, but I just have a hard time relating math to anything in "reality". To me, it's just a bunch of numbers and letters and complex equations and rules that have nothing to do with anything. I have a hard time memorizing rules and equations if I don't think they relate to anything in my life.

When you get a math problem you are forced to think through it and then once you solve it you get one of the best feelings in the world.

When I solve a math problem, it's just another random number that I got from following some vague set of rules or plugging other random numbers into some equation. Even in "story problems" that are supposed to relate the subject to things in the real world, I can never see how I'll have to use it ever in my life.

That being said, I have nothing against math. I think it is important skill to learn how to work through a problem to find a solution logically. That's my only reason for forcing myself through my calc classes and trying to get good grades.

djbrod
03-31-06, 12:39 AM
Picking up chicks?

jschen
03-31-06, 12:40 AM
Picking up chicks?
:lol: Maybe... but it doesn't seem to work for me. :mad:

djbrod
03-31-06, 12:45 AM
Me neither. :( However, I remain hopeful.

grapetonix
04-02-06, 07:38 AM
I use a lot of math in my electrical engineering program, but the pure math courses i did was IMO a bit overkill and prestigeful for the purpose and just got me bitter. Now that most people aren't that fluent/interested in electronics, math can be good for a little of everything, from predicting the stockmarket to balancing the checkbook to just getting an understanding of any man-made or natural system. It's the "universal language of technology" pretty much. An engineer or economist may not need to play around with equations all the time but the mathematical way of thinking is necessary.

boyze
04-02-06, 11:22 AM
Take a look around you. Math is part of everything. If you're reading this post then math is what brought the image to the screen, designed and built the computer......... If you're sitting in a room then math was used to design and construct it. Your breakfast had math behind the cereal, milk and bacon and the china and utensils to eat it. Ride a bike? Well math was a key part of the bike design, production, marketing, selling, buying, maintaining and use. I think anyone would be hard pressed to find any element of life that math is not a part of.

cooker
04-02-06, 01:47 PM
Two points to make:

Most of us will never use higher order math in our day to day lives, but we rely heavily on people who do use it...engineers who ensure buildings don't fall over or bridges collapse, pharmacologists who calculate how the body distributes and disposes of drugs, to give just two of thousands of examples. And your classmates are going to be those people. So you want them to have a good math education even if you don't see the value for yourself. And who knows, you might end up needing it in your job and it'll be harder to catch on to then than now.

Also, all learning is somehow integrated and synthesized in your brain, and makes it more nimble, and adaptable. The brain makes connections and uses learning in ways we don't even understand. A well known example is that teaching music improves math scores (http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/Home.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=RecordDetails&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED425918&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=eric_accno&objectId=0900000b8009516b). Presumably the brain developes some kind of capacity from one kind of learning, that it can use in another kind of learning. Presumably, teaching math also has spinoff benefits for mental functioning in some other way. So even if you're not interested in math, you can view it as a kind of "cross-training" for what you are interested in.

jschen
04-02-06, 09:55 PM
Great points, cooker. :beer: