[Beowulf] about clusters in high schools

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Mon Jan 30 10:15:58 PST 2006

On Mon, 30 Jan 2006, Joshua Halpern wrote:

>> What they are "good" for is teaching physics (or, I'm sure, certain
>> parts of engineering), especially where visualization or certain kinds
>> of numerical exploration are the object of the exercise. 
> They are really good at solving "one time" problems or ones where the 
> optimization you can get from coding does not justify the investment in time 
> needed for coding (or learning how to do so). This takes them considerably 
> beyond being just teaching tools.

I was just referring to the academic side of things where explains WHY I
was saying that.  Optimization is utterly irrelevant to students in all
of the exercises I mentioned, and the point isn't "learning to code", it
is "learning just barely enough about coding to be able to hack a simple
template for solving F = ma for various force laws and numerically
integrate it as a set of coupled ODES".

However, yes, they (and maple and mathematica etc as well as perl and
python) are all useful for this fundamental reason.  They are all
variously "simpler" as interpreter environments than compilers tend to
be, they all come with prebuilt library functions to do lots of stuff
(not so much perl and python per se, but with modules).  I (rarely) use
them myself, mostly to visualize a numerically generable curve that
isn't tabulated anywhere.  But I really think that their "best" use is
in teaching, and that the price one pays for using it there is that
people DO use them beyond the point where the learning/speed etc
tradeoff is reached.


> Josh Halpern
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Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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