The Number of the Beast

Further to last week’s post about the pevasive nature of spreadsheets in the city, in what spare time I used to have, I have been wrestling with “S104 – Introduction to Science” for the Open University.

I used to really enjoy science at School – well, some of it – well, Physics. In part I put that down to some excellent teachers – specifically Malcom Ruckledge and Lawrie Prescott – both of whom were inspirational in their own ways.

The other part is probably down to Ernest Rutherford who, in 1962, famously said “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.”.

Well I guess I was fortunate at school in that I studied ‘Nuffield’ physics up to ‘A’ Level. Nuffield teaches the principles of how things happen/work rather than requiring the memorising of equations. Indeed all the relevant equations were printed on the front cover of the exam sheets, one simply (or not so simply) had to apply the appropriate equations.

That learning has stood me in reasonably good stead, I understand the principles, if not the detail.

Until now, and the OU.

I now find myself presented with impenetrable equations, and trying to remember the rules of numbers of significant figures and decimal places. I have resigned myself that I want to know the ‘how and why’ much more than the ‘how much’.


For example I’m really interested in the whole subject of plate tectonics, continental drift and all that.

But do I really need to know that (Geographically at least) Europe and the United States are drifting apart at a rate of 1 centimetre a year?

Posted in computing, diary.

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