Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mere calculation

With the right software, a set of numbers can yield their mean, standard deviation and other statistics quickly and accurately.  When I took my first statistics, we focused on making classes of the data (0-4, 5-9, etc) and then tallying the figures into counts for each class.  Today, software can get the descriptive statistics with just a click of the mouse.
We definitely have different tools now.  I have gotten to the point of thinking "Well, that is merely calculation", disdaining the arithmetic work.  However, I can see that in previous centuries, what is mere calculation today was agonizing work then.  We are now at the point where our machines are more trusted than we are.  If you proudly tell your advisor or your boss that you did all the figuring with pencil and paper, she will probably insist that you do the work using computers and machines.  THAT result will be trusted.

If you studied trigonometry (bet you did and you now use it daily), you probably remember trig tables and log tables.  They were precious and in the previous centuries would have captured lots of grueling calculation.  Today, it is more likely that the cosine of 19 degrees is calculated fresh and on the spot.  No table, just super quick calculation.  Cosine of 19 degrees to 11 digits - just click here. Notice you get a free and advanced trig calculator right on the Google search page.  

If you are in the mood to check your math knowledge or explore some new parts of math or revisit some of the stuff you used to do, look into the many abilities of Excel, the Microsoft spreadsheet or the many alternatives including free ones, such as Open Office.  Or, try "Men of Mathematics" by E.T. Bell, "How to Lie with Statistics" by D. Huff, "Introduction to Finite Mathematics" by J. Kemeny and others and "The Improbability Principle" by David Hand.  The Kemeny book is available free in a download from Dartmouth and most of the others are inexpensive Kindle books on Amazon.

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