Why not subscribe?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Over-mathematizing the simple

Admit it. This formula looks a bit intimidating. But what is it?

I'm somewhat associated with a re-engineering project in which simple names for things ("store") are being replaced with more obscure names ("venue"). This adds unnecessary confusion, and in a re-engineering project there's already enough confusion.

In this spirit, I found a statistical reference to the Heavyside Function, which sounds impressive. Here it is, straight out of the journal, in section 3.1:

So, this is a complicated way to say "is the number (z) equal to or greater than zero", which is a lot easier to understand.

But there's more madness. As it turns out, the Heavyside function is more commonly spelled as the heaviside function, thus obscuring the meaning even further. Wikipedia, apparently with a straight face, notes

and, as if that wasn't obscuring what's really going on enough, notes that often an integral representation of the heaviside function is useful:

As for me, I think I'll just keep using IF statements.


  1. Anonymous8:20 PM

    Is that your work ID badge photo?

  2. The photo's not THAT bad, is it?

    Remember what they have to work with.

  3. Anonymous8:21 AM

    I'll agree it's confusing. I sure didn't recognize the integral. The integral form has at least one advantage over the if form. The usual tools of mathematics -- derivative, integral, put it in any formula really -- are available to you. You can't take the second derivative of if very easily.....