May 19, 2010

Mauel, Michael Silver_nugget
[APAM 1601] Introduction to Computational Math and Physics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

You should not take this course unless you are REALLY into physics or math. The topics we covered this semester were Kepler's Laws of Motion, Randomness, Data Compression via Fourier Transforms, and Quantum Mechanics. If none of this sounds remotely interesting to you, this course is not for you and will be a 3-hour weekly waste of your time. You also should not take this course if you have had no programming experience. Mauel hardly goes over the basics of Mathematica, and introduces new constructs and functions with only a passing statement. If you really want to know what your code is saying or want to create really cool/intricate projects, you will have to spend some time learning Mathematica code by yourself, which will be a bigger challenge if you haven't taken AP Comp Sci or COMS 1007.

Having said that, if you are interested in these topics and understand (fairly) simple programming concepts such as loops, arrays, and modules, this course will be worthwhile. Mauel is a fantastic and very enthusiastic professor. I don't think I've ever had a teacher as enthusiastic about his/her subject as Mauel is. It's also stunning just how knowledgeable he is in such a wide range of topics. He is also incredibly helpful on a one-on-one level, so do yourself a favor and take advantage of this: talk to him after class, email him, and schedule office hour visits.

However, he does tend to move quickly at times, and if you are lost at the beginning of a topic.. you'll be hopelessly lost until the end. And this brings up a major problem of the course: it doesn't really have a purpose. It doesn't go nearly in-depth enough into the topics to give you a full understanding of them, there really isn't any programming he's teaching, and you don't really learn Mathematica. By the end, it's just one large copy+paste festival to get a project complete on time.

Still, if this course sounds interesting to you, take it for a week or two, see what you think. If you don't like it after three weeks or so, drop it. It won't be worth your time and effort.

Workload:

Fairly light. Optional homeworks. The only grades come from the projects that are due once ever 3-4 weeks.