14 December 12
A Mathematical Dabbling Duck
This has been a good week for me in terms of learning a bit of math. At work I’ve been posed with a question that turns out to be an instance of the set covering problem, and this has taken me on a whirlwind tour through a bit of graph theory, computational complexity, and integer linear programming. (Of the latter, for months now we’ve traveled past a sign on campus announcing a workshop on mixed integer programming, not knowing that it would be my fate to learn enough of the stuff to contemplate setting up the formulation of such problems on a computer.)
I’m not great at math, but I do enjoy mathematical thinking. I do a lot better when I am able to see a problem in visual terms, and tend to stumble when faced with an onslaught of lots of notation. It is nice that we’re in an era where there are lots of excellent books at all levels about math being written that are aimed at non-mathematicians. Right now I’m slowly reading through Cristopher Moore and Stephen Mertens’ massive but highly-touted tome The Nature of Computation. The study of computational complexity is profound and deep stuff, and even if I don’t follow most of the details there’s a lot I can get out of the book.