Masters of maths

Some engineers are so concerned with getting their results down on paper they are ignoring the vitally important concept of presenting their methodolody to their colleagues in an understandable fashion.

An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Whenever I take a look at my son Paul’s homework, I’m filled with anxiety. It’s not that he gets his calculations wrong, you understand, it’s just the presentation that bothers me.

In fact, I think it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Paul’s mathematics jotter looks as though an anisomorpha buprestoides, with its feet dipped in Pelikan 4001, has taken a leisurely wander across the page.

Naturally, you might expect that things in industry would be a little different. But I’m sorry to say that they’re not. Some engineers, scientists and mathematicians are so concerned with getting their results down on paper as quickly as possible they are ignoring the vitally important concept of presenting their methodolody to their colleagues in an understandable fashion.

You’d think that when computers came along, they might have helped. But instead, they’ve added more problems.

The Chief Engineer at the large British Aerospace Company knows what I’m talking about, that’s for sure. Just the other month, one of his engineering co-workers decided to use a popular spreadsheet program to perform a rather complex mathematical function on some data. And it was the job of the luckless Chief Engineer to check his work.

Unfortunately, once the rather complex formulae that the engineer had developed had been entered into the spreadsheet, they too resembled the manic wanderings of an American insect. And it took the Chief Engineer over an hour to decipher the meaning behind the mayhem.

Been there, done that: The Anisomorpha buprestoides – At maturity, males will remain attached to the females, not letting go even if it means the female Anisomorpha buprestoides has to drag him.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because the Chief Engineer was a Belt and Braces man, once he had mastered the mathematical notation his colleague had developed, he decided to check the results from the calculations using his own rather more sophisticated software – Mathcad from Mathsoft.

And it was then that the Chief Engineer noticed something rather surprising. There was a glaring disparity between the results from the spreadsheet software and those from his own. Not only were the equations in the spreadsheet software darned difficult to comprehend, the results that the spreadsheet generated were simply wrong too!

At that month’s engineering meeting, the Chief Engineer decided to put an end to any more of the nonsense emanating from the use of spreadsheets as mathematical tools. He insisted that his colleagues all used the rather more intuitive software that he himself relied on. Easy to use and understand software that used standard mathematical notation integrated with text and graphs.

Mathcad from Mathsoft is not a spreadsheet: this software uses standard mathematical notation that’s a lot easier to understand.

And that was the end of it. All the engineers at the Large British Aerospace Company are now as Happy As Larry. The new Mathsoft software allows them to develop mathematical formulae just as they would in a jotter, presenting their ideas clearly and concisely to their colleagues in a most understandable way. And not only that, it gives them the right answers everytime too!

Hopefully, a free copy of this software will soon be winging its way to a young man I know very soon. It certainly couldn’t hurt, could it?