Maths and Musings

If that’s Mathematics 178 at Stellenbosch University, it’s probably my dad that flunked you. If so, I’ll tell him you said thanks!

Aaah no, I was never in his class, but I remember the name.

No, it was from the duo De Bruyn (of “I give you an Epsilon, you give me a delta” fame) and van Wyk (who still lives around here and will still greet us when we run into each other in Somerset Mall).

Of course, De Bruyn being a slightly portly older man, and Van Wyk being taller, that earned them the nick names Pinky… and De Bruyn.

The other man that I will forever remember for his impact on both our lives, was a man called Jack Mackinnon, at applied mathematics. When he retired, I actually went to his office to thank him personally.

Another bit of humour about maths 178 (een sewe ag), as that we also called it een-sewe-nag. Because it was.

Ah I had a Van Wyk as well. If I recall correctly he lectured the linear algebra part. We had maths split between 114 (calculus) and 144 (linear algebra) though, similar split for second year.

Correct. He lectured Algebra. De Bruyn lectured Calculus.

Yes, from around 1999 it was split into two semester subjects rather than a year-subject, which removed the “nag” part from the equation. I wonder about the 144 designation though. How it used to work, is that the middle digit indicated whether it is a first- or second semester subject, and a 4, 5 or 6 in the middle suggests it is second-semester. But I passed that monstrosity when it was still called 178.

Then in second year we had a De Villiers. Another giant of a man, who until last year also directed the Libertas choir, but has now retired.

There was also one lecturer, and I think @PierreJ will know who I am talking about, who would cross the street and pass on the other side to avoid greeting you. Although he did once say something I remember to this day: That studying is like throwing mud at a wall. Do it long enough, and something is bound to stick.

We also had him somewhere. I actually think we was first year Calculus for us. My high school music theory teacher told me about him in matric. She sang in the Libertas choir and gave very high praise to him both musically and mathematically (she ended up pivoting to be a maths teacher after I left).

Yes, middle digit indicated first term, second term, or year subject. I actually found the semester subjects to be more intense than the year ones and the exams tended to be more in-depth. Maybe it was just a consequence of which subjects we had as year subjects. By far the most difficult one I did was mathematical statistics 318. Nothing even came close. Even my one friend (who at that point got 100% for all his maths, first and second year, and stats (maybe a 95% here and there)) failed the first test.

For act-sci majors, pass rates were increased (you could pass the subject, but had to get > 60/65/70% to be able to continue with act-sci specifically). For the first year maths it was 70% if I recall correctly, 65% for the first year math stats (which was really just counting theory) etc… Anyways, one of the easier subjects, fin maths 214 or something like that, we needed 60/65/70% for… For some inexplicable reason the lecturer (new guy, first year teaching the subject) decided to make the entire exam “theoretical” like “explain what a (insert random derivative combination name here) is and where it would be used”. Almost no calculations (pretty much took the “maths” out it come exam time). I passed (gorrelled like a beast - I wasn’t big on studying back when I was still young and idiotic), but didn’t meet the necessary % to get exemption from one of my external exams. So I redid it the next year as an extra subject (again a new lecturer, but this one was great, only calculations that time around). That class I ended up taking with the girl that would eventually become my wife (a much more diligent than me second year act sci student). The class itself wasn’t where we met, but it definitely helped!

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Man… those were the people who could get excused from any “huisvergadering” (house meeting) by simply stating: I study actuarial science.

They brought this in in 1999, if I recall, when the course was renamed “B.Sc. Mathematical sciences”. I thankfully skipped it, but my wife had this class. Thankfully just the first year.

Always better to meet people at university or church…

Haha! Not at ours… At least, I never tried playing the card, but neither did the few that studied it with me. Our res was filled with engineers and accounting majors who had very little compassion for those who didn’t have to share their pains of “toets week”.

Ours was a BCom (iirc), there wasn’t any BSc version, the BSc people took it with us but only the Math Stats, Fin Maths and Act Sci majors (I think Operational Research was added later) had it from second year onwards. Thinking back, it was a proper interesting subject that I should have paid more attention to. I really do believe that youth is wasted on the young.

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We did a course on optimisation, back in second year. Of course you do the whole linear constraints thing first (which is easy, the optimum is always on a corner of whatever N-dimensional thing your constraints create), and then we ventured into non-linear constraints, and there was this thing the lecturer called “making the constraint active”, or “maak die randwaarde aktief”. I passed the course, but never knew what that means.

Six years later, on a Saturday morning while mowing my lawn, the penny dropped. Almost ran down the street while shouting Eureka. Thankfully I was fully dressed. If only I understood that little thing earlier, it would have made life so much easier.

At my uni we had it split like this even before 1999. We had a red Calculus handbook which I did not like very much. The handbook was fine, but the prof that gave us the math class was one of the 3 that wrote the book and never looked at the book. He always proofed the statement from first principles and then that never matched what was in the book. I was so lost…

In comparison the algebra was fantastic

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this comes to mind “Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid”…

then there is the story about the janitor [ex student?] at the university of berlin who asked prof einstein if it was not a tad dicey to ask the final year physics students the same exam question in a paper than was given the previous year… prof alberts response… 'the answer has changed"

whilst you math genii reminisce old and interesting stories i suddenly recalled that my first real intro into math** came via copi’s classic “Introduction to Logic” as a 2nd year political science and philosophy student at wits in the seventies [the engineering students called us social arts folks ‘social farts’ ]… ** the art teacher at school was a beaut hence i sacrificed math for art - a real stupid move with 20/20 hindsight

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It’s funny how that never really changes. Back in my day, which was 20 years later, we always made jokes about the male students studying “BA-braaivleis”, and the ladies who were studying “BA-man-vang”. Of course, both indications that Engineering students didn’t think much of the humanities.

On that topic, I just remembered an old story. Many many years ago, ESR visited the university one day, I do not recall precisely how that happened, but it was not an official visit, it was one of those cases of someone who knew someone… and that someone was in the engineering department.

The Engineering department then decided it would be a good idea to arrange a bit of a talk/lecture. I mean, someone famous was visiting.

Then they decided not to invite the computer science people. We got wind if it anyway… but still, it was one of those weird cases where us CS people, who were normally on the sidelines of the BA-B.Eng jousting, found ourselves on the wrong end of it too