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Old 2005-03-12, 20:19   #1
Mystwalker
 
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Lightbulb Proposal: "Math for beginners" subforum

Hi all,

as there have been some uncomfortable threads lately, I thought of a possible solution that could satisfy everyone.

My personal opinions/assumptions:

1. The math experts here often want to help others with their math-related questions. But they require that the questioner has already done some investigations for him/herself and to provide the problem in a form that the experts can understand and help in a minimal amount of their precious time. All that is totally ok with me.

2. Even beginners with "unsufficient" math skills to meet the requirements written above have questions they like to be answered. In addition, they might be driven be fascination about mathematics, so a rejection would probably be counter-productive (lost time due to flaming, possible lost potentials, lost GIMPS members, ...).


My idea is to create a "Math for beginners" subforum. Here, everyone is allowed to ask questions, regardless of his/her skill level. My hope is that they (start to?) embrace mathematics (seeing that a lot of people don't think that more than school math is ever needed and all mathematicians live in ivory towers). Chances are that some are that interested that they really try to learn more. Even if their skills won't benefit GIMPS or individuals/groups in this forum, I think it's good for "mankind as a whole" (every little bit helps... ).
Apart from that, it should definitely help GIMPS, as I guess many of those people will devote (some of) their computing power to this project.

On the other hand, this would free the "real" math subforum. Maybe Bob et al. could think up some "requirements" (books, papers, ...) that persons posting in this forum should meet. If necessary, a threads can be moved to the beginners subforum.

Of course, no expert is restricted from the beginners forum, instead, he's of course very welcome.


Well, this was my idea. If there are few to no supporters, I don't mind. Even then, maybe others have better solutions to restore peace and harmony to this forum.

Last fiddled with by Mystwalker on 2005-03-12 at 20:21
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Old 2005-03-12, 22:46   #2
cheesehead
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mystwalker
1. The math experts here often want to help others with their math-related questions. But they
... that is, some of them
or
, to various degrees, ...
:-)
Quote:
require that the questioner has already done some investigations for him/herself and to provide the problem in a form that the experts can understand and help in a minimal amount of their precious time.
- - -

Quote:
My idea is to create a "Math for beginners" subforum. Here, everyone is allowed to ask questions, regardless of his/her skill level.
Or, rather:
Here, responders are expected to refrain from angry/angering retorts, pedantry and unnecessary pickiness, regardless of the wording of questioners' posts --- and there will be prominent forum labelling, notification, and thorough monitoring to that effect.

After all, everyone is already allowed to ask questions regardless of skill, and we really can't, and shouldn't even try to, control that.

- - -
Quote:
this would free the "real" math subforum.
... or the current "Math" subforum would be renamed "Advanced Math" ... or "Math for only Those Who Do Their Homework Beforehand and Wear Asbestos (You Have Been Warned!)"

Quote:
Maybe Bob et al. could think up some "requirements" (books, papers, ...) that persons posting in this forum should meet.
Oh, please ...

Not everyone who can post "advanced" stuff has published.

Just judge the "books" by their contents, not their "covers".

Quote:
Of course, no expert is restricted from the beginners forum, instead, he's of course very welcome.
It would be behavior that would be restricted, right?

Last fiddled with by cheesehead on 2005-03-12 at 22:53
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Old 2005-03-12, 23:10   #3
Primeinator
 
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I think that a beginner's math forum would be very beneficial...especially to those who are about as far in their math education as I am (i.e. halfway through high school-american high school that is, so I probably know less than a lot of Europeans).
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Old 2005-03-12, 23:22   #4
Mystwalker
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheesehead
Oh, please ...

Not everyone who can post "advanced" stuff has published.

Just judge the "books" by their contents, not their "covers".
Sorry, unclear point of mine.
I meant "having read", not "having published".


Concerning the other answers:
I think the meaning is more or less the same, only the wording differs. I wanted to make it "decider-friendly"...

Whatsoever, the short story is to provide discussion room for beginners as well as experts in a way that clashes can be reduced to a minimum (for a relaxed ambiance), whereas communication efficiency can be maximized.
I'm not fixed on my further proposals.
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Old 2005-03-13, 00:47   #5
jasong
 
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Being one of the people who is ignorant of the way things like LLR tests actually work, I would like to point out that there is more than one type of poster. Even if you require people to know their stuff you're still going to get garbage sooner or later. Myself, I have a tendency of saying things that put people off just enough to where they're very mildly shocked, but not in a way that would make them want to post.

There are also people who's conceited pride only surfaces when they know the only way you'll be able to interact with them is through their anonymous username. How the heck do you convince THEM not to post in the forum.

As far as respectable and intelligent conversation goes, that's great. But many people(here comes the reason I encountered this thread) want to have the conversation and simply want a place to go to educate themselves.

Personally I would LOVE to be able to go to website, pay or otherwise, and simply download files that would essentially amount to a tailor-made math book. If someone would make a Sticky that tells people what they need to know and where to get the info, that would be fabulous.

Some people are stupid because they choose to be, but some people are stupid because they're afraid to ask question that...


WAIT FOR IT




Make them appear stupid.

Basic information to start with is all many of us need.
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Old 2005-03-13, 01:58   #6
Peter Nelson
 
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I think this is an excellent solution to what is evidently a problem.

From my reading of various posts, the forum participant whose posting typifies what is perceived by some as intolerant is Bob Silverman.

I do respect Mr Silverman's undoubted mathematical expertise (having read some of his papers), which is far greater than mine will ever be in this field. However, I have noticed, he is also not infallible.

However, in my opinion he would do better to rephrase his posts in a less adversarial manner, or express his frustration with trivial posts a little more gently.

I agree that we could have two (or 3?) forum areas within "Math" to cater for the differing levels of participants.

However the precise names are open to negotiation.

Perhaps rather than "Beginners Math" and "Advanced Math",

how about "MATHS FOR NORMAL PEOPLE"
and "MATHS FOR MATHEMATICIANS"

Several people have pointed out before that some of us learn by asking questions, suggesting methods that occur to us, and by discussing why something won't work etc.

Mr Silverman probably has been down many of these roads before and tends to criticise such attempts as being dead ends. I don't object to someone pointing out that the idea has been explored before, perhaps even posting a link or reference to the earlier work is the solution rather than just saying "waste of time". Suggestion of a book or paper to read (or a series of these) would be welcomed by someone genuinely interested, rather than "learn about this subject before posting".

I believe that the majority of forum users are NOT mathematics specialists. I suggest that by creating "MATH FOR NORMAL PEOPLE" such people will be able to discuss and learn some relevant maths, possibly assisted by the real mathematicians if they are willing to donate their time to explain it in layman's terms.

Within the "Math for Normal People" area I would suggest that clear guidelines exist in terms of acceptable interaction. eg to welcome genuine enquiry, foster learning, POLITELY point out if someone is at a dead end, and to help by posting helpful resources/links. It should be absolutely forbidden to criticise a participant because of their current knowledge level, lack of formal notation, or perception of their assumptions. And also rudeness should be frowned upon. I have no objection to some one pointing out "that is a silly question" but this can always be done in a polite way, explaining WHY it is a silly question in the respondant's opinion.

eg a recent thread asked for the "list of primes". Someone responded along the lines of would they like just the first half of the list?
I took the time to explain the list never ends but provided links to finite lists and software capable of producing them up to various ranges. I believe this educated the original poster provided he followed the links and followed the explanation of how the software works. This is the kind of attitude I would like to receive when I ask a question, not receive a flame! (From the adage treat people the way you would wish to be treated yourself).

However, advanced developments could be confined to the "MATHS FOR MATHEMATICIANS" and within this would be requirement to post things with proofs, theories described in a mathematically formal way, without explanation of underlying basics. This would allow the work to develop without getting these important developments lost amid a sea of everyone else's exploration.

Everyone can continue to read either area if they understand the material.
Similarly, I would encourage the real mathematicians to help the beginners in the "normal people" forum. Those who have little tolerance of beginners can confine their interaction to the advanced area.

I am sorry that this approach seems to be the solution, but I fear it is.

Mr Silverman has stated that he believes that mersenneforum.org is for mathematicians (or certainly his opinion is that the maths area is), which I don't entirely agree with. PART of the forum is for maths, and certainly one would expect mathematicians to use it, though not exclusively. It seems that it will keep people happy if we clearly delineate these functions because elementary questions appear to frustrate some mathematicians.

I would be delighted if this excellent idea could be implemented ASAP, with all existing maths threads categorised as either "for normal people" or advanced and moved accordingly.

It should also be noted that ALL THE OTHER areas/threads about hardware etc can follow the same principles as the "maths for normal people" area. That is, any level of maths or question is welcome eg "how do I run Prime95" thru "what is the latency of a 64 bit multiply-accumulate instruction on the Itanium architecture".

For example Mr Silverman may be an expert in maths but a normal person in other domains of knowledge. We do not look down on him or criticise his lack of knowledge in these other areas (even if we happen to know a little more), but offer to share our knowledge rather than tell him to do a PHD in the subject and "go read about it" before posting.

Whilst the content of Mr Silverman's posts is generally correct and sometimes insightful, his style detracts from this and turns off some readers.

Finally, sorry Bob if I seem to have picked on you - there are others whose postings sometimes cause offence too but their names didn't spring to mind!

Maybe there are some who really can't be bothered to read, in which case they could have an area just for them:
"MATHS FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO ASK STUPID QUESTIONS ABOUT THINGS THEY ARE COMPLETELY IGNORANT OF AND CAN'T BE BOTHERED TO READ AT ALL"
This would enable us to avoid such participants altogether if we wish!

Kind regards, Peter
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Old 2005-03-13, 03:42   #7
Orgasmic Troll
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For a very simple and shallow reason, I object to the suggestion of "Math(s) for normal people" and "Math(s) for mathematicians" because of the implication that mathematicians aren't normal ;)

Despite that there exist mathematicians who certainly aren't normal, I would very much prefer that we don't apply a label, or imply one. I know that in high school, I didn't pursue math further because I didn't think I was a "math-type" Turns out that it's probably the most defining thing about me.
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Old 2005-03-13, 11:35   #8
R.D. Silverman
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TravisT
For a very simple and shallow reason, I object to the suggestion of "Math(s) for normal people" and "Math(s) for mathematicians" because of the implication that mathematicians aren't normal ;)

Despite that there exist mathematicians who certainly aren't normal, I would very much prefer that we don't apply a label, or imply one. I know that in high school, I didn't pursue math further because I didn't think I was a "math-type" Turns out that it's probably the most defining thing about me.
I think everyone is missing the point.

This isn't about math. Or math knowledge.

It is about DUE DILIGENCE.

I complain that people have not done it before they post.

*ANY* teacher gets annoyed when people ask for help without first
having done their reading and/or homework. Noone should be posting
in this forum without having studied at least one book in elementary
number theory. Noone should be discussing "derivatives" if they don't
know their definition. etc.
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Old 2005-03-13, 13:36   #9
T.Rex
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mystwalker
My idea is to create a "Math for beginners" subforum. Here, everyone is allowed to ask questions, regardless of his/her skill level. My hope is that they (start to?) embrace mathematics (seeing that a lot of people don't think that more than school math is ever needed and all mathematicians live in ivory towers). Chances are that some are that interested that they really try to learn more. Even if their skills won't benefit GIMPS or individuals/groups in this forum, I think it's good for "mankind as a whole"
Good idea !
I would also suggest to have a web-page providing links to the better explanations provided by the forum. A forum is pleasant, but it's a shame that very good explanations will disappear in the depth of the forum, time after time ; leading to people asking again the same questions, though the answers are already on the forum site.
Or everyone could provide papers about: Mersenne numbers, LLT, FFT, ... The Math pages of the GIMPS are too simple. As an example, I've started to collect the properties of Mersenne numbers: Properties .... If each of us could contribute with one or 2 pages, it would be easy and fast to build a GIMPS/Mersenne Library that could answer many questions of new GIMPS addicts or of new people interested to learn more about Maths.
Tony
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Old 2005-03-13, 14:22   #10
xilman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R.D. Silverman
I think everyone is missing the point.

This isn't about math. Or math knowledge.

It is about DUE DILIGENCE.

I complain that people have not done it before they post.

*ANY* teacher gets annoyed when people ask for help without first
having done their reading and/or homework. Noone should be posting
in this forum without having studied at least one book in elementary
number theory. Noone should be discussing "derivatives" if they don't
know their definition. etc.
Ah, the word should. I completely agree with the sentiments expressed in your final paragraph.

On the other hand, I can virtually guarantee that some people won't even though they should. In that case, what is the best approach to follow?

At least three alternatives are apparent to me:
  • educate them;
  • ignore them;
  • chide them.
That is my preferred order of types of response. Even if the poster is ignorant and ignorant of their ignorance, the posting may still be of value in that it's an opportunity to educate not only that person but also the many bystanders.

If the posting displays ignorance about a subject and I recognise my ignorance of the same subject, I try to sit back and let someone educate me as a byproduct. If the posting is on a subject that I know something about, often I ignore the post anyway. Life is too short for me to take time to answer everything and I consider myself neither contractually nor morally obliged to make the attempt.

The final alternative is very rarely acceptable in my opinion. Sometimes the frustration level rises too high and I lash out. I almost invariably regret doing so afterwards. Most of the time, I hope, the escalation never goes beyond the second alternative.

My advice to all, and certainly not just to Bob, is to cultivate a relaxed attitude to postings in public fora. The very fact we're having this discussion suggests to me that several people here need to cool down and not take matters so seriously and so personally.


Paul

Last fiddled with by xilman on 2005-03-13 at 14:24 Reason: Fix minor speeling misteak
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Old 2005-03-13, 15:38   #11
cheesehead
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R.D. Silverman
I think everyone is missing the point.

This isn't about math. Or math knowledge.

It is about DUE DILIGENCE.
No, Mr. Silverman, it's you who are missing the point.

Your assumption that the Math subforum is only for those meeting your requirements is the root of the problem. This is, instead, a public forum, open to all even if they haven't exercised due diligence, just as the rest of mersenneforum.org is. You may desire a forum for only those who exercise due diligence, but this is not such a one. At least not so far.

If you disagree, please point out to us where your requirements are reflected in the official rules of this forum. If you can't do that, then you have not exercised due diligence in making your pronouncement about the purposes of this forum!

Can you show us that you apply your own stated standards to your own posts, as I suggested earlier?

Quote:
Noone should be posting in this forum without having studied at least one book in elementary number theory. Noone should be discussing "derivatives" if they don't know their definition. etc.
Please show us where you are authorized to require that by the official rules of this forum or else admit that you yourself have not done your homework before making a pronouncement in a public forum.

Last fiddled with by cheesehead on 2005-03-13 at 15:44
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