course
Scientific Computation I

May 2011

The very hilarious review below says it all. I'd bet money that it was written by a TA. Who btw were super helpful with everything the course threw at us, as they knew the real challenge was understanding what Prof. Traub wanted. While Traub is a great man in his field (don't talk to him about it though), and is hilarious and cute, he is not a great lecturer as it is impossible to follow him. And it's not because the material is too hard. Nor because we cover too much.

May 2010

Scientific Computation I is an elaborate practical joke. You will walk into this class the first day with a healthy respect for Joseph Traub and his towering reputation in the community. After all, you're taking Scientific Computation from the man who invented scientific computation as a serious topic of study. Then you will receive the first homework assignment. You will look at it. You will wonder if there's been some mistake. You will wonder if Prof. Traub accidentally sent his 12-year-old great-great-grandchild's homework to the TAs to copy instead of the real assignment. Why? Because the assignment instructs you to "choose five different scientific problems and their continuous mathematical models." Not understand, not describe, not explain, just "choose". It's not a mistake, the TAs will assure you, and they will remind you not to waste your time looking for the actual equations on which these models are based. Remember that time freshman year when your Calc II class talked about Taylor series? That seventy-five minute lecture was all of SciComp. You'll talk about Taylor series the very first day, but as the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months, you'll wonder when you get to move onto something else. You don't. At last, the final exam will be offered. The TAs will admonish you, as they did before the midterm, that decorating your blue books with animal pictures and dirty limericks may sway them to grade your answers more leniently. You will turn the page over, and feel an odd sense of déjà vu. The questions on the final look familiar. They are, in fact, the very same questions that you went over during your review session a week before -- identical, coefficient for coefficient, variable for variable, word for word. Only one thing is out of place: a question asking for a brief essay on the historical origins of weather prediction. And it is at that moment you'll realize you've been had. This is not a math class, you are not meant to learn anything, there is, in fact, nothing for you to learn -- you're just the punchline of a joke that Joseph Traub likes to tell from time to time.

May 2009

Try to stay away from this professor. He is really old and doesn't know how to teach. You won't be able to hear his voice and anything you do hear won't be comprehensible. Basically, you don't need the lecture for this class. The subject material is sooo easy. Taylor, Newton, Taylor, Taylor, etc. "Everything derives from Taylor." Really, the material is a joke but he doesn't know how to teach and will confuse the f out of you. I taught myself the whole course. The double extra credit is the stupidest thing I've heard of. (Find errors in newspapers) What does this have to do with anything?? I cannot overstate what a horrible experience this has been with Traub teaching, because I love the material. Its all about approximating functions that can't be fully solved. Its really all very interesting, but Traub's class is a complete waste of time. There are people always sleeping in class, its ridiculous. Most people try to sit in the back so they don't have to look at this guy and be trying to figure out what he's trying to say. His explanations are sooo unclear, the TA was a big help - the TA was even confused about Traub's explanations. There were apparently 3 TAs for this class although only 1 was actually of help. 1 was a complete nuisance and the other was okay but arrogant. All in all, the will probably have to take this class and with Traub so go find somebody's midterms. Oh, by the way. most of the material does NOT come from the book so you need to go to class and somehow try to understand what he's trying to get across. "CAN WE DO BETTER???" or as he writes it, "CWDB" This guy loves to abbreviate things but doesn't say what he's abbreviating, this class is a comedy show. He's also obsessed with Google and the number of search results. Dude, that is an approximation but he takes it way too literally. I once asked him a question (well, actually more than once) and both times he said, "Look it up on wikipedia" hahaha wtf. Oh, and sometimes he will forget to finish his point on a topic and then test you on it. crazy.

May 2009

I can understand what the course is supposed to be and why it could be a required and important course for CS students (particularly, the part in the course description about an "Introduction to computation on digital computers" and the discussion of chaos), but the course as it is now has little to offer: First off, Traub himself is incomprehensible. However, is absolutely necessary to go to class, otherwise you will have no idea what is going on since he quite often teaches random topics of interest to him that are nowhere to be found in the book (though I cannot guarantee that going will actually solve this problem since many a time I have looked back at my notes for reference only to find that the three or four lines he scribbled on the board lacked context and explanation -- I learned this on the first day and therefore started writing down everything he said as well, but this still did not help). At least twice a day he will ask the class a question only to be faced with a sea of blank stares (and the course was in the middle of the day!) because nobody has a clue what he's talking about. He usually waits for a full minute or two of awkward silence before moving on. One day, we spent the whole hour and fifteen minutes discussing climate change (he honestly covered the entire board with evidence that its happening/evidence that its not happening/evidence it is caused by man/etc.) for no reason! This was a terrible waste of time, but not a single person left, probably for fear that he would stop wasting time and start covering actual material and that then they would be lost. Worst of all, the structure of the course and the depth of the material covered lead you to simply memorize a bunch of equations for the midterm and final and promptly forget it all. Overall, there are one or two nuggets of wisdom to be gained from this course, but the CS department should not make us go through an entire semester of incoherent randomness just for that!

Apr 2009

We're now 3 weeks away from the final exam and I still don't really know what the point of this class is. The first day of class we spent half the time discussing how Moore's law is the most important law in computer science. First of all... that's BS. Moore's law is an observation of fact, not a force that drives (though, granted, it did have some effect... but to call it more important than anything Turing did?). Moving on... The man is somewhat insane. It isn't hard to do well, but he is cutting back on the extra credit. From what I hear, there used to be possible to get more than 20% of your grade be extra credit, and anyone who gets over a 100% gets an A+. Now he "only" gives out 16% possible extra credit. 10% of that extra credit is in the form of problems (not hard). 6% is in giving him articles from newspapers that have errors in them. The thing is, he decides how "worthy" the error is. I've sent him plenty of articles this semester, and only one of which was "worthy" of the extra credit. All of them had numerical or factual errors... it's just somewhat ridiculous. The class really is pretty darned easy. The thing is, though, you NEED to go to class and pay attention (even though it is very difficult to do so...), as his exams are based largely off lecture (e.g. what are the benefits to using the Newton method... some of the reasons are very subjective). He also gets a lot of his test problems from the homework (also, if you know someone who took the class, try to get ahold of their midterm... he tends to repeat midterm questions). Speaking of the homework, he gives out about 30+ problems over the course of the semester. All of them are fairly trivial, yet time consuming, and are downright annoying. How many times do I have to program a very trivial algorithm before its obvious that I can code? Apparently about 10 times. Again, I still don't really get the point of this class, not to mention I don't get why it is required. There is nothing this class has taught me that I couldn't have taught myself with a little pre-calc knowledge and the knowledge I got in 1004. A hint for the midterm/final: write down a whiteboard (or something) every function you've learned up until that exam, and each function's pros/cons, and study from that. The things he tests you on are the things the homeworks are on: the same very limited applications of the functions that you see on the homeworks.

May 2008

OMG WTF. It doesn't matter, as you have to take this class to graduate with a CS major. Traub is crazy! He was probably pretty good in his time, but the lectures were incoherent. I hope you like getting your homework emailed to you in all caps in something like (but not!) LaTeX formatting. What? On the other hand, it's not very hard to do well, and the exams generally recap the homework. Generally.

Feb 2008

AP is the best professor I've had at Columbia. His lectures are the only ones I've ever bothered to go to, as he actually teaches instead of preaches. He goes over what is important, tells you implicitly what is going to be on tests, and goes step by step so it's almost impossible to get lost. If you do, he'll stop and explain. He doesn't believe in pointlessly long questions or tests. He's focused on the principles, the tricks, that are necessary, and on how these things are useful in applications; specifically finance, which is excellent for CS as many job opportunities will be finance related.

May 2007

Enjoyed the class and Traub is pretty good, but 2 thoughts: 1. Class needs to have more programming assignments, that are more challenging. Rather than tell us to use the Newton method to find the root of a particular equation, we should be given a general, possibly multipart problem that we are allowed to solve using all the tools at our disposal at the time. 2. We probably could have moved quite a bit faster in the material covered. Topics such as numerical differentiation and linear algebra were not touched upon. So while Traub himself does a decent job, the class needs to be harder.

May 2004

Completely miserable teacher, you will learn absolutely nothing in the class. He's not even coherent during lecture (which really doesn't matter, considering the few people who actually show up to lecture aren't even conscious).

May 2004

Traub's lectures are absolutely incoherent. The class seemed somewhat interesting no paper; however, the interest stops there. Towards the end of the semester, hardly nobody went to class. That's because 1. the material was too easy, 2. his lectures were uninformative. Sometimes, I questioned his competency when he couldn't answer questions related to the subject. He would, instead, "smoothly" ask his brilliant T.A. on how to solve some problems and jokingly hand over the chalk. Haha? Traub has to be top five of the worst 3000+ level professors I've had. I shouldn't care about even writing this review because I'm receiving my dipolma in four hours, but I feel like the world should know. Stay away from him.

Nov 2003

A very affable old man and a decent lecturer. However I feel that he makes this class harder than it is supposed to be by covering topics not in the book or by going in deeper Math than appropriate and necessary for the Computer Science major. Of course, this can a great thing if you're interested in CS theory, Quantum Computing in particular, which is his field. The average student though may find his class to be reasonable and clear, before he suddenly veers into something nobody understands. Sidenote: this class is at 9:10 so a lot of people don't show up. I missed some classes myself--the apparent confusion is partly our responsibility.

May 2003

It is true he grades very easily, gives very easy exams, and doesn't give much work, and many students seem to like him for that. However, as a teacher, he is either incompetent or apathetic. Usually without notes or any sort of reference, his lectures consist of mumble-jumble and untidy, all-over-the-blackboard scriblings that are more often confusing than not. I could hardly focus in class and, when I did, I had no idea what he was talking about. I would not dare to say this with many other professors, but with Traub, the ineffectiveness of lectures is as least as much his fault as mine. In addition, as one of the senior faculty members, Traub seems to be very into research and to have a lot of administrative duties, which may explain the quality of his teaching. On the plus side, he is a very friendly and relaxed, even somewhat fatherly to us little undergrads. Also, I imagine that, if you are a very dedicated student who reads ahead of class, knows what the lectures will be about, and makes every painstaking effort to stay awake for all 75 minutes, you should be able to understand him. (But then, given that most normal students study from the book on their own, the question will be: if you are so good, why do you have to go to class at all?) So, yes, he is your man for your A's and A+'s, but little else.

Feb 2003

He is definitely one of the best professors I have had! His laid back style of teaching is really something that none of the other professors possess. He is very approachable and friendly, and tries to get some participation during class. The material is somewhat dull, but since many of the CS majors have to take SciComp anyway, might as well take it with him. The workload isn't bad at all, and the tests are rather easy, since he asks straight forward questions.

Apr 2002

This guy should teach more! Since you have to take Sci Comp anyway, you may as well take it with Prof. Traub, because you will enjoy it. He learns the names of students in the class, and he encourages participation without belittling students -- every comment is valid, even the wrong answers. His jokes are actually funny, and for a CS prof that's saying something. Likes to plug his research in quantum computing, so if you're into that this is your guy.