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matt

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on failure to communicate [Mar. 7th, 2007|07:57 am]
matt
thinking about http://www.haacked.com/archive/2007/02/27/Why_Cant_Programmers._Read.aspx

A lot of little things converging lately on my brain. I'm thinking a lot about word problems and interview questions and math and programming. I think of myself as a smart person- i'd like to think that my career is as a professional smart person- but I get flustered a lot, too, and it's not uncommon for me to not fully hear what a person is asking before I begin formulating an answer. I don't think that's a capital crime, mind you, but it can be hard to recover from that. I think it says a lot about a person how they recover from a bad hypothesis, more so than how well they can answer a question on the first try.

I'm also thinking a lot about logical positivism, and as a philosophy, I'm wondering if my opinion over time has been morphing into the belief that it's the worst possible philosophy... except for all the others. I think as a society we've sort of come to expect that the answers in science are in the back of the book, in the teacher's guide, and things like gravity and evolution and whatnot are just firmly decided and that's that. Not that I don't think that they are, mind you, but I'm terrified of how we teach it, where prominent science programs say things like "we found this bug in africa and south america, and that tells us the two continents must have been connected". The answer might be right, but there's three kinds of people who hear that. There's the person who's hasn't had a privileged upbringing, who's not really been exposed to the concepts of evolution, genetic drift, and geological plate theory; and those who have. And, sort-of within that second group, there is a separate class of people who are highly privileged and can explain in simple terms how we believe those hypotheses, as opposed to the rest of the privileged class, who just ape it because they agree with smart people who've said it. What's the difference, in reality, between that third class and the first? Is the basis for their beliefs any more sound? If you don't have the ability to chink the armor of the things you believe, does believing in science gain you any additional benefit over believing whatever the ruling class believes, be it God or nature or science or IPU? It's even worse, because there's a huge, unhealed rift in society between agnostic science-believers (probably blue state people) and theistic religion-believers (probably red state people), though I'm sure there are a lot of woo-woo blue state people (probably if I had to classify, they'd be called green state people) in a less significant but possible third faction rift, too. I think having a significant resurgence in red state power, now (hopefully) on the wane, has brought a lot of that to the surface. I still think that despite the Bushs and the Halliburtons, that for the most part corporations and industry are strongly wedded to science as the dominant paradigm, and most of the real power-brokers even if they believe Jesus saves, they realize that Science earns.

Wow, that got rambling. I guess that's the price paid for writing before work, when I havent had time to edit and clean up my thoughts. You just get them in stram of consciousness form. I wonder if that's a good or a bad thing for people who read my journal?

In other news, I'm curious about something, about my readers. I'm kind of interested, not in a "can you solve this problem", but in a "how/would you solve this problem" kind of way. One of my co-workers posted a brain-twister on his wall, in an attempt to see how many people could come up with a solution. Here's the problem:

Get the next number in the sequence

1
1 1
2 1
1 2 1 1
1 1 1 2 2 1
3 1 2 2 1 1
1 3 1 1 2 2 2 1
?

I'm not so much interested in if you can solve it. I'm more interested in how you would solve it. Are you the type of person who is bored by such a test? Are you intimidated by it? Does it excite or frustrate you? Are you the kind of person who would google the answer? Are you bored by this, or have you seen it and know the answer already? Are you the person who would try to come up with a "O(log n)" program to solve it for any member "n" of the sequence? Does talking about O(log n) solutions turn you on, even if you don't know what they are? Does it turn you on more if you do know what it is?

I think it would be kind of interesting to find out, of the people who read this, what kind of person you think you are. Answer honestly- I'll even turn screening on this post if you're not sure you want to go on public record (let me know if I can unscreen it!)
LinkReply

Comments:
(Screened comment)
[User Picture]From: hbergeronx
2007-03-07 07:45 pm (UTC)

Re: I can answer your question, but not the problem

your approach to the problem is sound- you don't actually need mathematics to solve the problem.
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[User Picture]From: minimo
2007-03-07 07:45 pm (UTC)
(Public is fine)

I like this kind of puzzle, but over the years, I've lost the little bit of stick-to-it-iveness I ever had. I see it's some kind of pattern, and I like patterns. Years ago, I probably would have thought "Oh, I can do that," and done it. I'd solve it by looking at each line and finding a relationship to the previous lines. Something about adding to the previous number, skipping over something--not in patient mode now. I know I used to be smarter, and I hate that knowledge.
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[User Picture]From: hbergeronx
2007-03-07 07:52 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way in some respects- although it's not that I feel any less smart, but that I actively don't want to be any "mensa" smarter because I don't think it adds too much to my life to do so.

Although, I guess I can be sucked into wasting time on Sudoku type puzzles, so I'm not sure how much my last sentence is a bit of a lie.
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(Screened comment)
[User Picture]From: hbergeronx
2007-03-08 03:01 am (UTC)
The series has important mathematical properties, a background in set theory is helpful but not necessary, and the sequence is not related to anything external to the series. Your solution is not correct. The answer *can* be googled at any time by googling the last string of numbers but it's more fun if you can figure it out yourself.

The coworker who posted it says he likes to use it as an interview question, mostly to hear the person work through their thought process on solving it. He also has a bad reputation as an evil interviewer, apparently.
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(Screened comment)
[User Picture]From: hbergeronx
2007-03-08 04:11 am (UTC)
Result! it does, indeed.
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