On learning to code: all being equal

Almost equal to symbols

Reading and writing English with reasonable competency means you expect to be able to understand anything written in English. Not at the first reading, but with patience and persistence. I’m starting to realize coding may be an exception.

As someone coming to terms with = not meaning ‘equal to’, and == not meaning it either (we need === to be completely sure), I felt a warm flash of feeling for maths today when I realized there’s a sign for ‘almost equal to’.

It’s like an equal sign but with wiggly lines to symbolize the cognitive dissonance. I’ve used several of them for the header in an attempt to make it more decorative, but unlike real equals signs, you only need one of these to be certain (or rather, make that uncertain). So far as I understand.  

Did the ‘almost equal to’ sign sneak in when no one was looking or is it more deep rooted and responsible for ideas like infinity? Before you snigger, extra research quickly reveals the concept of asymptotic equality (a half wiggly equals sign), so my wild hunch is not so wild as you might imagine.

Now all we need is a sign for ‘a bit like’ or ‘not too far from’ (and someone to adjudicate between my mother and me on whether or not Fleetwood is close to Morecambe).

It’s OK, I have no hope or expectation that even my most loyal follower will like or comment on this one. Now if there was a sympathy button…

24 thoughts on “On learning to code: all being equal

  1. katemccseattle says:

    I have often thought that there should be something other than “like” for posts that are good and well worth reading, but on topics I don’t “like”. Sympathy would be a great one.

      • Su Leslie says:

        My mum is the opposite. Our family had the biggest fights in the car because my father would give the map to mum when he was driving. It seems funny now, but at the time …. let’s just say we went to some unexpected places.

  2. Heyjude says:

    Just as long as you don’t start posting about Boolean Algebra I think I can cope. Now THAT was invented to wreck your mind! So what do you know about Box Charts? Something that stumped my daughter and her partner when trying to help their son with a GCSE paper! Never had them in ‘my’ day 🙂 though I did have the misfortune to come across one when doing my teaching exams 😦

    • susurrus says:

      I’ve fortunately side stepped box charts too, but I am fairly confident I understand how the CSS box method works – to find out, you just have to google ‘CSS cup’.

      When it comes to booleans, if we could just create a computer that would accept the wiggly equals sign as well as yes/no, then worry about the consequences of its lapse all evening, we’d have artificial intelligence cracked.

  3. margaret21 says:

    When I message Happiness Engineers at WP they’re wont to mutter vague threats about ‘needing code’ for that. That shuts me up. If you’re learning it, I’m impressed.

  4. ArtDeco says:

    Hello Susan
    As a programmer I have long ago learned that syntax isn’t really the big problem; you can either look it up or memorize it. The problem is learning to think in a very precise literal manner before coding. There is no “do what I’m thinking” subroutine. You will probably do fine with it – think how explicit you had to be with photography a while back.

    • susurrus says:

      I appreciate the reassurance. I feel I ought to be able to do it! But there is so much I find humorous along the way. Why would months of the year and days of the week be indexed differently? Why is the official W3C training website using the class: ‘widget_wysiwyg_widgets_widget’?

  5. kayrpea61 says:

    The head can be full of symbols, Susan. I like “c.” as in “Born c.1876”. It has a very similar meaning to your “half wiggly” or “tilde”. At least the tilde, ~, is on the keyboard, unlike the other symbols, which we have to seek elsewhere. 😉 cheers, Ken

    • susurrus says:

      That’s a great analogy. I’ve always liked Coleridge’s idea of negative capability too. I was going to mention it when I wrote the post, but decided that might be a step too far.

  6. biggardenblog says:

    [J] As a civil engineer I was very used to using the approximation symbol. There’s situations where an impression of precision where there is none (perhaps because certain inputs to the calculation were themselves assumptions or estimates) would be misleading. I understand the symbol to mean ‘approximately’, which is not quite the same as ‘nearly equal to’. Approximately does not imply relative correctness, whereas ‘nearly equal to’ suggests that the value to which it is nearly equal is in fact the correct value.

  7. biggardenblog says:

    [D] I seem to think that ~ is a keyboard-friendly substitute for the approximation symbol (which needs some digging for, which clearly none of us except you Susan can be bothered to do!)

    • susurrus says:

      You’ve reminded me of writing a sign like a humpback bridge. I enjoyed maths at school but it’s easy to cast some of those ideas aside as years pass, so I’m having to dig them out again. The strangest thing is I am very comfortable with complexities in the way we use and understand words, themselves symbols.

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