15 April, 2007

Minnesota Bound

I am currently en route from Orlando, FL on my way back from an SPIE conference where a colleague authored and presented a paper. I tagged along as a result of my co-author status.....senor' coat-tails has been the title that comes to mind.

A number of interesting topics were presented, primarily concerned with wireless communications and fields of study concerning sensors. An observation worth noting was the evident differences in the disciplines of the presenters and how it affected the detail of the topic and the presentation style.

As I've said in the past, I am a software engineer by trade, having a BS and MS degree in Computer Science. Both school and industry alike, I've been surrounded by individuals both in Comp Sci as well as other engineering disciplines such as physics, electrical as well as mechanical engineering and the differences in the disciplines are very evident.

As much as a person wishes not to admit it....computer science is still a 'soft' science. Sure, it is far more disciplined than the likes of some other engineering persuasions, but is still far less structured as the likes of pure mathematics, physics, optics, electrical or mechanical engineering. The majority of the presentations were conducted by doctorates of physics, electrical or optical engineering, but every once in a while you'd get a computer science major up there and the presentation took a different tone. The best way I can say it is that the logic was softer or more fuzzy. Most presentations from more formal disciplines would be followed with mathematical description of the technology. Computer science presentations rarely had such formality, with the occasional exception to a presenter that had an undergrad degree in a more disciplined major and a PhD in computer science.

Am I knocking Comp Sci...to a degree I am doing just that. With the minor exception to those that pursue theoretical computer science focuses which are more in line with formal mathematics the majority of us still groan in the presence of a formal proof, a detailed description of the fundamental technology in the only pure language...mathematics. As a result, I think we give up the things that could make our discipline more successful. I can, for one, say that if we took a more structured look at proving techniques on paper rather than jump in and start coding we may have less error-prone technologies.

I'm not touting that we should all begin doing formal proofs on the effectiveness and efficiency of our authored algorithms. Instead, I'm saying that perhaps it's worth a 1/2 a day investigation on paper before firing up your trusty editor out of the gate.

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