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Not so Useful Dumb User Questions

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg9148] Not so Useful Dumb User Questions
  • From: fast at newton.Colorado.EDU (Bruce Alan Fast)
  • Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 03:37:50 -0400
  • Organization: University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

 Mark Evans persists,
 > The analogy of the calculator has been misunderstood....

 We understand just fine, thanks.  Most people who use a
 calculator know something about basic arithmetic, so they
 know what to expect doing a few basic operations on decimal
 numbers.  Most people who use a word processor are literate,
 they've read a book maybe, and much of word processing is
 nothing beyond what you see painted on the keys.
 I am astounded at the attempt to compare calculators and
 word processors to advanced software.  Even in the case of
 word processors, you ignore the great difficulty that many
 people have as soon as they have to use the mouse, or menus.

 > We exhibit technical condescension when we see one novice after
 > another ask the question, "How come Sqrt[a^2] doesn't yield a?"
 > and forever return the stock answer that We Must Accomodate the
 > General Case without thinking about whether, indeed, the novice
 > has a decent right to expect "a" as his answer, or should have
 > the means to declare a in such a fashion that "a" becomes the
 > answer to "Sqrt[a^2]."

 People who don't know basic algebra -- and that is most people
 -- perhaps should be using a calculator instead of Mathematica.
 Think seriously for a minute about the consequences of having
 any "mathematical" software actually return "a" for "Sqrt[a^2]".
 When you say that we don't think "about whether, indeed, the
 novice has a decent right to expect "a" as his answer", you are
 making a huge assumption.  It has been thought about **plenty** --
 but rejected in the end, time after time, with good reasons.

  Bruce Fast                        Bruce.Fast at Colorado.EDU
  Information Technology Services   (303)492-8995
  University of Colorado            Boulder  CO  80309-0455

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