[Edu-sig] python teacher = mathematics teacher (namespace)

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Mon Jan 12 23:54:35 CET 2009

Hi Gregor --

I appreciate your fixing for the record my spelling of Arthur's last
name (Siegel, not Siegal).

I actually double checked, did all that "making sure" behavior before
hitting the send button, and *still* got it wrong.  I even reread his
obituary in the NYT, though didn't include the link in my email.  Here
it is:


For those joining us recently, Arthur was a voluminous contributor to
this list, someone I also knew in person, my last dinner with him,
David Lansky and the latter's two boys (another Ben) was a joyous
occasion.  He loved passionate argument, was very good at it.

Yes Gregor, I'm very much looking forward to meeting you.  The
tutorial format is my playing "nutty professor" with Holden keeping me
on track (I tend to wander, but within a discrete set of topics).  My
goal is to have something useful to anyone teaching Python as a part
of their job, not just in academia, using a "already doing this with
kids" backdrop in Portland i.e. realistic futurism.  And in actual
fact, I'll be flying home to start teaching at Saturday Academy right
after the conference.

Regarding the difference between maths and computer science when it
comes to proofs, both boil down to ultimate incompleteness ** i.e.
there's no way to prove everything, so bootstrapping the system
involves things *other than* provable inputs (same as with any
language), and these inputs vary from namespace to namespace.

For example, we're brow beaten in grade school into accepting that
"space is 3D", but in Portland we use counter-arguments to box that
way of thinking into a namespace, next to which we present others,
just as valid.  Here's a link to my recent essay on precisely this
topic FYI (copy at Math Forum later today):


See you soon,


** re Incompleteness:
(about one of the world's chief Godel scholars)

On Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 1:24 PM, Gregor Lingl <gregor.lingl at aon.at> wrote:
> kirby urner schrieb:
>> ...
>> If you go back to the start of the Edu-Sig archives, where I do most
>> of this work, you'll find Tim Peters and Arthur Siegal using a
>> math-through-programming approach.
> Hi Kirby,
> I do strongly sympathize with your approach to this question - alas: in
> contrast
> to most of my students (of math), which do not because of the same reason
> they do not like to play the piano, even if they like to hear piano playing.
> Nevertheless I think, that not only executable notations have to be correct
> but
> also the notations of people's names (in pythonista's namespace) - even if
> they
> are not alive anymore.
> Arthur Siegel was a very vivid and exiting (sometimes excited) opponent
> in discussions with you and therefore I'm sure that you will miss him a lot.
> He deserves to be cited by his correct name.
> I expect to visit chicago too this year and I hope to have the opportunity
> to
> meet you there and also to find a tiny place in the ever growing crowd that
> will be listening to your presentation.
> Regards,
> Gregor
> P. S.: notwithstanding the overall appropriateness of your comparison there
> is perhaps special difference between the world of mathematics and the world
> of electronic computing. Supposed that proofs of mathematical theorems are
> at
> the heart of mathematicians' output, those proofs *have* to be correct.
> On the other hand - as far as I was told and what I experienced - there are
> very few substantial computer programs which are correct (i. e. bugfree).
>> Tim cites 'Concrete Mathematics',
>> Knuth a co-author, and similar to 'The Book of Numbers' in some ways
>> (what Iverson-Hui take on).  Siegal is doing projective geometry with
>> Pygeo, which I think you'll still find, c/o his estate.
>> I work with Ian Benson, a top curriculum writer in the UK, who is very
>> connected in the Python community.
>> Although Python itself is open source, a lot of private sector
>> business do curriculum writing for profit, so some of these efforts
>> aren't going to feature in academic papers.
>> http://tizard.stanford.edu/groups/sociality/wiki/d4276/Visiting_Professorship_(Kingston_University).html
>> I gave a talk to London Knowledge Lab on how I do Python, which you
>> may be interested in, also my Chicago talk at Pycon last year drew
>> large crowds, expecting even more this year, plus I have 3 hours this
>> time [ and blah blah ]
>> http://www.bfi.org/our_programs/bfi_community/python
>> http://blog.showmedo.com/2008/07/30/your-pythonic-math-class-of-the-future-chicago-pycon-screencast/
>> Kirby
>> """
>> So the way I'm thinking of it, we're all math teachers if we teach
>> Python, a live (executable) math notation (MN) for implementing
>> logic-numeric solutions to problems.  We've been trained, especially
>> in the Anglophone tradition, to maintain all these sharp turf lines,
>> such that we might be computer scientists in some way, but even there,
>> we're supposed to respect these various record locking schemes based
>> on degrees and such claptrap.  Mathematics is something removed from
>> our purview and relegated to some elite that maybe only uses paper and
>> pencil (or so "they" like to pretend -- many use Mathematica or
>> MathCad most of the time i.e. live MNs, just as we do).
>> Now that the concept of "namespace" has reached some maturity, I think
>> it's easy to explain that namespaces differ in how they use key words
>> (like "maths") and equating describing Python teaching or programming
>> in general as mathematics is maybe not university-speak, but
>> consistency in design is what we're looking for, not necessarily the
>> approval of Oxbridge dons or whatever gowned authorities.
>> So, on with the math teaching!
>> Kirby
>> PS:  some of you may have wondered about my "Cockfight!" allusion,
>> saying one of my computers was set aside for that purpose.  It's just
>> a concept.  I'm not able to write a game as sophisticated as Spore
>> coming from a tiny office with only a few partners, most of whom have
>> other day jobs as well.  I clarify this humble truth in my blog this
>> morning, with a link back to this list.
>> http://controlroom.blogspot.com/2009/01/cockfight.html
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