Comparing lists - somewhat OT, but still ...

Christian Stapfer nil at dev.nul
Sun Oct 16 15:16:39 CEST 2005

"Ron Adam" <rrr at> wrote in message 
news:cTp4f.16180$ae.11317 at
> Christian Stapfer wrote:
>> This discussion begins to sound like the recurring
>> arguments one hears between theoretical and
>> experimental physicists. Experimentalists tend
>> to overrate the importance of experimental data
>> (setting up a useful experiment, how to interpret
>> the experimental data one then gathers, and whether
>> one stands any chance of detecting systematic errors
>> of measurement, all depend on having a good *theory*
>> in the first place). Theoreticians, on the other hand,
>> tend to overrate the importance of the coherence of
>> theories. In truth, *both* are needed: good theories
>> *and* carefully collected experimental data.
>> Regards,
>> Christian
> An interesting parallel can be made concerning management of production vs 
> management of creativity.
> In general, production needs checks and feedback to insure quality, but 
> will often come to a stand still if incomplete resources are available.
> Where as creativity needs checks to insure production, but in many cases 
> can still be productive even with incomplete or questionable resources. 
> The quality may very quite a bit in both directions, but in creative 
> tasks, that is to be expected.
> In many ways programmers are a mixture of these two.  I think I and Steven 
> use a style that is closer to the creative approach. I get the feeling 
> your background may be closer to the production style.
> Both are good and needed for different types of tasks. And I think most 
> programmers can switch styles to some degree if they need to.

Come to think of an experience that I shared
with a student who was one of those highly
creative experimentalists you seem to have
in mind. He had just bought a new PC and
wanted to check how fast its floating point
unit was as compared to our VAX. After
having done his wonderfully creative
experimenting, he was utterly dejected: "Our (old)
VAX is over 10'000 times faster than my new PC",
he told me, almost in despair. Whereupon I,
always the uncreative, dogmatic theoretician,
who does not believe that much in the decisiveness
of the outcome of mere experiments, told him
that this was *impossible*, that he *must* have
made a mistake...

    It turned out that the VAX compiler had been
clever enough to hoist his simple-minded test
code out of the driving loop. In fact, our VAX
calculated the body of the loop only *once*
and thus *immediately* announced that it had finished
the whole test - the compiler on this student's
PC, on the other hand, had not been clever enough
for this type of optimization: hence the difference...

  I think this is really a cautionary tale for
experimentalists: don't *believe* in the decisiveness
of the outcomes your experiments, but try to *understand*
them instead (i.e. relate them to your theoretical grasp
of the situation)...


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