Math is a fundamental used in many programming languages.

In a way, one could look at programming languages as supersets of math.

What's the harm?

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    I failed maths in Year 11 and 12 and I failed it at University as well. I think my lecturer gave me a Pass Conceded to get me out of her class. Programmer != mathematician! – Mark Henderson Apr 18 '10 at 22:05
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    Some alternatives are listed at MathOverflow's What kind of questions should I not ask here?. – Arjan Apr 18 '10 at 22:44
  • In a way, one could look at programming question as a subset of all questions. There's a reason we're not Yahoo!® Answers. I'm assuming, of course, that you mean subsets unless you take programming to be larger than math. – waiwai933 Apr 18 '10 at 23:22
  • @waiwai933, can you help me make a trajectory calculation algorithm for my homing missiles in the new Gumby vs. Blockheads game I'm making? – macek Apr 18 '10 at 23:29
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    @macek: Here's some very basic info on physics: spreadsheets.google.com/… You can use parametrics for plotting where the ind. variable is time. :) Seriously, however, if you have a problems with the physics part or with understanding how parametrics work, then SO is not the place. If you have a problem with implementing parametric in a language, then SO is suitable. – waiwai933 Apr 18 '10 at 23:37

In response to Arjan's suggestion, MathOverflow is really for professional mathematicians, and unless you already have a degree in math your questions are likely to be closed as off topic. In addition, since Stack Overflow is for programming questions, the only math questions that are relevant there are those dealing with programming.

However, there is a proposal in place for a mathematics SE site for regular people. I suggest you vote on that question to show your support, and hopefully it will be created as a StackExchange 2.0 site.

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    I like the implication that professional mathematicians are irregular people ;-) – James McNellis Apr 18 '10 at 22:24

My approach has been to separate math questions into a few categories:

  1. The math can not be evaluated in advance, or in closed form and will be implemented in code. OK This includes all questions in numeric methods.
  2. The question relates to how math can be represented in code or to the risks of treating coded math as if it were the real thing. Mostly OK, but also probably a duplicate: we're done most of the easy topics in this realm.
  3. The question relates to writing computer algebra systems. Obviously OK To using computer algebra systems? Depends. Is it Turing complete? Can you write scripts in it? If so, keep it. If not send it to Super User.
  4. The math is being evaluated in advance in order to avoid doing it in code. Not OK
  5. The question relates to the mathy aspects of computer science in a purely abstract way. computerScience != programming so, Not OK
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    +1 I like this approach. – Jon Seigel Apr 18 '10 at 22:47
  • I think regardless of how specialized a question may get, if it is well formulated, has a specific answer, and lies under the umbrella of programming, why not let someone answer it? – macek Apr 18 '10 at 23:22
  • @macek: the problem isn't questions that are "specialized", the problem is questions that are off topic. Here is what the faq says "What kind of questions can I ask here? Programming questions, of course!" What it doesn't say is "Questions that programmers wonder about" or "Things that interest programmers" or "Things that come up when you're writing a program", it says "Programming questions". Math you do in order to not write code is deeply interesting and valuable and also off topic. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Apr 19 '10 at 1:30

It doesn't make sense to field purely mathematics-related questions because they happen to be a stumbling block to the programmer. They belong in a specialized forum for that purpose.

By your logic, I should be able to about physics and the behavior of gravity because it was part of the simulations I have written; how about talking about poker strategy when I was writing high-speed poker evaluators; we should talk about the stock market when I was writing some data mining applications. Or, let's talk about color theory because I wrote some photo manipulation software awhile back and I got stuck with those problems.

Mathematics is a field in and unto itself and not a topic of computer science or programming.

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    Yea, i think we should be able to discuss all aspects of any programming. Sure, there's going to be niche questions, but there's a good chance someone has the know-how to answer them. Isn't that the whole point? If i want to implement realistic jumping in my platformer game, I'd probably ask a question about a gravity equation. Talking about poker strategy if you're implementing AI is not entirely useless if you can build a good question around it. All of these things are debatable. My point is, if you can build a suitable question within the realm of programming, why not let someone answer? – macek Apr 18 '10 at 23:19
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    Because then you end up with a site where you can talk about anything. It has been a long-held, core belief of these site--and maybe someone can chime in with a reference here--that a site needs well defined boundaries to define their scope. When you can simply talk about anything, the site fails. I've seen way too many forums fail in just that manner so I believe in the premise 100-million percent. – Robert Cartaino Apr 19 '10 at 0:48

Let me guess: This question is related to this closed question on SO?

I'd argue that the closure is correct, partially because in the question, you explicitly state:


I'm not looking for programming-related algorithms here. I want to know if it is possible to represent this with pure mathematical functions alone.

That pretty much makes it not programming-related.

Moving past that, I consider myself a pretty decent programmer. I'm no rock star, and I'm definitely not egotistical enough to call myself "good." But I do my job, I do it well, I keep learning, and (as one should do) keep getting better.

I suck at math. Royally suck at math. As in, would likely have not gotten admitted to most reputable CS programs on account of how awful I am at it.

As others have said, math != programming. Not in any way, shape nor form. Yes, math is sometimes needed for certain applications of programming, but to say one is a subset (or superset) of the other is a fallacy. Thinking in terms of a Venn diagram, there is an intersection between the two -- but even that border zone, unless it requires code to get there, is inappropriate for Stack Overflow.

By your logic of letting anything related to developing a software program go, I could ask questions (these last two weeks alone) on:

  • The stock market
  • Banks and lending
  • The entertainment industry's business practices
  • Logistics for handling inventory in a warehouse

Obviously, not a one of those topics is Stack Overflow material. Thus, neither is math, unless you need help converting your math into code.

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Math is a fundamental used in many programming languages.

No, some forms of arithmetic evaluation are implemented in them.

In a way, one could look at programming languages as supersets of math.

Following from Turing et al, a subset, surely.

What's the harm?

Programming is basically not mathematics. I think of myself as a pretty good programmer, but as a rotten mathematician, when I think of myself as one at all. The two fields only really intersect because they happen to use some common notation.

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  • Subjective. Maybe your programs don't involve math beyond 1+1=2. – macek Apr 18 '10 at 23:31
  • @macek Computers can't do math beyond 1+1=2 – nb69307 Apr 18 '10 at 23:34
  • @Neil: I was under the impression that computers did 1(2)+1(2)=11(2), where anything in parentheses should be in subscript (because of the base). – waiwai933 Apr 18 '10 at 23:40
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    @waiwai: you mistyped 1(2)+1(2)=10(2) – quack quixote Apr 18 '10 at 23:57
  • @quack: I stand corrected. – waiwai933 Apr 19 '10 at 0:20
  • My point was that computers can't do anything except basic arithmetic (and can't understand what they are doing while they do it) - that's not mathematics. – nb69307 Apr 19 '10 at 0:22
  • @waiway,@quack... you really mean 1+1=0 with the carry bit set! – Mark Harrison Apr 19 '10 at 0:48

Wouldn't that require the formatting options like used at MathOverflow?

(Beware: apparently, MathOverlow is only for very advanced, research-level questions by mathematicians.)

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    The guys at Mathsoverflow don't like us pushing traffic their way - their site is a very high level site for university professors and whatnot – Mark Henderson Apr 18 '10 at 22:04
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    @Farseeker, indeed I didn't know that until I read Kyle's answer. Still, I stand by my statement about the formatting. Wouldn't (little) advanced mathematical questions require that? (If one could do with the SO formatting, then I guess the question would be about programming after all.) – Arjan Apr 18 '10 at 22:27
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    @Farseeker, read his original post. He didn't recommend I ask questions there. He simply suggested support math-related questions would require additional formatting support on StackOverflow. – macek Apr 18 '10 at 23:33

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