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Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 11:02 AM

Hi everyone,

I am fairly new to programming and i really do find it interesting. I am learning Java and C# and hopefully ill learn other languages but i am having a slight problem.

Most of programming-if not all- consists of problem solving right?.....that is the trouble i am having. My problem solving skills are not good when it comes to programming, im just not sure on how to go around and solve a certain problem. I know this is kind of tricky because it would depend on the problem itself. I sometimes think im over-thinking a problem which is actually quite simple sometimes.

So what i am trying to say is does anyone have any good ideas, resources or ways in which i can boost up my problem solving skils?

Thanks guys

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 11:05 AM

oh and i forgot to add currently im learning Prolog, which isint the easiest of languages especially if you have awful problem solving skills like me lol!
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#3 hookiethe1  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 11:09 AM

Prolog is a fun language that allows you to make some pretty simple pattern matching apps, but it can also be pretty abstract when things get more complicated so be careful with it.
The best advice I think I can give is to keep learning programming concepts, it's difficult to solve any problem in any field unless you know what tools you have at your disposal, they kind of go hand in hand.
The more programming you learn and experience, the more tools you'll have to solve problems and the easier it will get.
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#4 lordofduct  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 11:10 AM

math

(though some like to debate me on this one)

Math is problem solving... every study of math is learning how to approach and abstract problems at a quantifiable level. Math is a great mental work out into problem solving.

Other than actually just solving random problems. Math is the most consistent, structured, and deliberate method to exercising your problem solving skills.

e.g. see my siggy (under the picture)



Of course you'll need to expand on that afterward. You can't solve problems in a specific field without knowledge of it. But given the idea of "ways in which i can boost up my problem solving skils?", math is the equivalent of a work out. Just because you work out doesn't make you a boxer, but to be a damn good boxer you probably are going to need to work out.

This post has been edited by lordofduct: 29 December 2010 - 11:14 AM

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#5 rgfirefly24  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 11:46 AM

i would have to agree with lordofduct on the math helping with problem solving skills. One of my coworkers recently posed 2 problems to me. The first was, if you have two trains traveling toward each other, and a bird travels between the two trains starting from the same starting position that train A started at, and turning around when it meets a train, how far did the bird have to travel before the two trains meet. the question was really to test if you could come up with the most simple solution to the problem, not solve it. The other was the find the Actual width and height of a TV given its diaganal dimension and its aspect ratio. both of them were semi challenging, and sparked alot of problem solving thoughts.
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#6 tlhIn`toq  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 11:49 AM

I'm not sure we can help with this.

What kind of problems are we talking about....

How to solve for x.... a+b2/pi*r2

Problem... Move the VW bug to the other side of the wall using only a paperclip and a rock

Problem... The TV doesn't work. Fix it

Problem... You have to create a sales database with multiple products of multiple categories that will be used by 17 sales stations at the same time, while not giving clerks the ability to void a sale.

Problem... Create a navigational route from point A to point B, that covers this list of 13 GPS waypoints but avoid all highways.


"How to I solve problems better?" is a just a LOT vague when trying to apply it to the real world.
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#7 Kilorn  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 11:58 AM

To me, problem solving has always been more about creating a logical method of resolving some sort of issue. For math, there are already formulas for solving problems, but for a lot of things, such as the trains traveling in opposite directions and how long will it take before they meet in the middle or whatever, that requires you to think logically about how to approach the problem. As far as teaching someone to think logically, I don't think that's physically possible. If you give us some specifics, we might be able to help point you in the right direction for creating a method of solving the problem, but without any specific problems, nobody can say "This is exactly how you solve a problem." beyond saying the best way is to analyze the problem, create a method for solving, and testing that method.

This post has been edited by Kilorn: 29 December 2010 - 11:58 AM

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#8 lordofduct  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 12:38 PM

To me it sounded like the OP was asking the question in general form. They states they understands the answer is tricky and is basically looking for a way to boost their problem solving skills, not "How to I solve problems better?".

That's dealing with generics. Not that the question is to generic to answer, but that they're looking for a generic method of assistance.



For example,

if I asked for some methods in a general form to help with my health. What can I do to make my general health better? You wouldn't ask me "what kind of health? Cardiovascular? Mental? Weight issues?". No, the answer is general... it would be to work out regularly and eat a balanced diet.


IMO the problem solving equivalent is math. Take for instance the game 'brain age' for the Nintendo DS... it is meant to give your brain a 'work out' and improve your cognitive and problem solving skills. And low and behold what does the game consist of mostly? Math! (with some reading and pattern recognition mixed in as well... but IMO pattern recognition has a lot to do with math and actually math has an entire area of study dedicated to pattern recognition and analysis).

As Kilorn said, problem solving has to do with logics. And I agree... and what 'work out' could you do that is deliberate and structured in 'logic'... Math. Math helps you learn logics.

This post has been edited by lordofduct: 29 December 2010 - 12:39 PM

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#9 tlhIn`toq  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 01:20 PM

View Postlordofduct, on 29 December 2010 - 11:38 AM, said:

... is basically looking for a way to boost their problem solving skills, not "How do I solve problems better?".


You lost me there. To me these are just two different phrasings for the same thing.
  • boost my problem solving skills
  • How do I solve problems better
  • How do I better analyze a problem to get to the best solution

Pick whatever phrasing you like, it means the same thing.

The problem with the OP's question is the very vague term 'problem solving'. To you it infers math-like skills. But to someone else it means real-world situations with objects. How do you get out of a 40' deep well that you fell in to with only a 6' stick? To someone else it means figuring out why a system of 3 computers and a weather station isn't working.

I know some people who would take the weather station problem and start at one end (Point 'A') and keep working until the get to the other end of the network (Point 'X') conducting 17 check in a linear fashion.
Some people would check the results at the halfway point, cutting the problem in half right way. Then based on that result check at the halfway point of either the left or right half. Then cut in half again. Rapidly quartering the problem with only 2 checks.

I'm not sure you can teach how to think in a more logical fashion. We have one guy at my company that just can't seem to get the idea of logical problem analysis. He works (and thinks) by ritual. If the last time he encountered a failed SchmegleGadget it was resolved by hitting the shelf with his fist then reboot the Fragle, then flip the Greck upside down.... That is what he does every single time. He just can't grasp the idea that he should *understand* how the parts work together and what logical affect each of his steps has. The idea that hitting the shelf actually causes a loose connector to re-seat is beyond him. He won't go look for the *why* that action works.

Sadly this guy is not the only one I've seen that thinks this way. Many 'techs' at our client sites seem to do the same thing. Its more like a witch's ceremony or a Catholic rite than a problem analysis.

As you pointed out, many of the brainteasers out there don't really help you think any more logically. They just run you through enough puzzles to help you build up your mental database of patterns to recognize.
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#10 lordofduct  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 01:35 PM

the difference is specifics vs generalities

you hear problem solving and you think specifics

I hear problem solving and I think generalities



You merely listed examples of solving problems. Why be so specific? A question can be general. Like my example question:

"What can I do to make my general health better?"

There is a simple generic question, with a simple generic answer. We don't need to get into specifics about every type of health out there... we could list tons of examples of health, may it be teeth, heart, lung, foot, eye, etc. All of them requiring varying methods of attack. BUT there is a general over all answer as well and it's about practice.

Problem solving is about practice as well (ignore the math bit right now). It's about learning methods of logic. You aren't born with structured logic... you learn it. Yeah we're born with the basics of logic ready to be honed, but we have to do the honing. Don't tell me you've been approaching problems with the same logics your entire life.

Logics - particular methods of reasoning or argumentation... or the science that investigate these principles.

Shit, there's an entire area of study based around logics. And it can't be learned? Then why do they teach it!? I call BS on anyone who thinks you can not learn new forms of logic! It might sound right, like you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but it's bullshit... and logically doesn't make sense.

Problem solving as we all seem to have agreed has a lot to do with logics.

And what helps as a good booster for something? Practice... a work out. What kind of work outs are good, one that is consistent, structured, and deliberate. Though this is a subjective opinion, but it is a commonly accepted one... you go to a gym because there is structure to it. You make an agenda for your work outs. Same goes with practice at school, you have structure and agendas... you don't blithely practice education... it's generally believed chaotically approaching any practice won't work (of course this too is debatable).




Now back at the math... I say math (don't see it), because math is a method that can be used to work out and practice logics. Logics are used for problem solving. So by practicing math, you are practicing problem solving in a structured manner.








Of course if he wants specifics, then he'll need to be more specific.

This post has been edited by lordofduct: 29 December 2010 - 02:16 PM

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#11 hookiethe1  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 03:56 PM

http://www.braingle.com/index.php
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#12 tlhIn`toq  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 29 December 2010 - 04:30 PM

I love a spirited conversation where people don't get offended.

View Postlordofduct, on 29 December 2010 - 12:35 PM, said:

the difference is specifics vs generalities

you hear problem solving and you think specifics

I hear problem solving and I think generalities

Funny because I was thinking the same thing, only flipped 180 degrees. The point I'm making is that "problem solving" is far too general, where you seem to keep taking it back to an schoolastic environment. In my opinion one can't provide any kind of useful suggestion or technique for something so general as "problem solving skills" without narrowing it down to a more specific need.


Quote

You merely listed examples of solving problems. Why be so specific? A question can be general. Like my example question:
"What can I do to make my general health better?"
Is this not an example of taking the OP's general question and narrowing the scope to a more specific need of health? And if so, your go-to answer of 'do more math practice to build a more logical way of thinking' in no way applies.

Quote

You aren't born with structured logic... you learn it.

I disagree to a point. That statement is based on an idealized concept that all people are created equal. Which is also BS. Some people have a talent for painting, because their brains are organically pre-disposed to it. They are hardwired with a greater ability due to their spacial perception and eye-hand coordination. Some people are born with a talent for logical problem solving because they are hardwired with more of the right kind of connections for that. Some people are born with a greater language learning capability.

With that born-in hardwired talent as a base, we then learn techniques to take advantage of it. No amount of practice will take someone with no musical ability and turn him into a concert pianist. By the same token, no amount of math problems or puzzle solving books/games will take someone devoid of a talent of logic or problem solving and magically gift it to them.

Luckily most people have some ability in most areas, just to a lessor or greater degree than the person next to them. So most people given enough time and practic can learn to do most things to an average level proficiency. For some, whatever that skill is will alway be work and never really come naturally, whether it be painting, golf or logic puzzles.

Quote

Yeah we're born with the basics of logic ready to be honed, but we have to do the honing. Don't tell me you've been approaching problems with the same logics your entire life.

No. Some people are born with a higher logic ability than others. We are not all born with the basics of logic, and not all born with the same natural ability at it.

Honing is about technique, not ability. I think everyone is born with a hardwired limit for each skill type. I may learn new techniques for solving math problems in less time. But that won't change my hardwired logical thinking ability level.

Quote

Shit, there's an entire area of study based around logics. And it can't be learned? Then why do they teach it!?

Because the guy that majored in it from the last generation needs a job, and teaching it to the next generation is about all he can get with that degree. Like being a philosophy major generally means you either teach philosophy or make mocha frappicinios at Startbucks for the people that went to school for useful careers. Because colleges are businesses with courses of study as their products. The more variety in their products the more customers they have and the more money they make. A store that only sells 16oz canned kidney beans from one vendor won't stay in business very long.
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#13 lordofduct  Icon User is offline

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Re: Problem Solving Skills

Posted 30 December 2010 - 07:41 AM

Quote

I love a spirited conversation where people don't get offended.


Agreed!




Quote

I disagree to a point. That statement is based on an idealized concept that all people are created equal. Which is also BS. Some people have a talent for painting, because their brains are organically pre-disposed to it. They are hardwired with a greater ability due to their spacial perception and eye-hand coordination. Some people are born with a talent for logical problem solving because they are hardwired with more of the right kind of connections for that. Some people are born with a greater language learning capability.


...

No. Some people are born with a higher logic ability than others. We are not all born with the basics of logic, and not all born with the same natural ability at it.

Honing is about technique, not ability. I think everyone is born with a hardwired limit for each skill type. I may learn new techniques for solving math problems in less time. But that won't change my hardwired logical thinking ability level.


Just because I say that you can learn new methods of logic, and that you aren't born with all logic inherently does not mean that I am saying everyone has equal potential. Yes we are each born with varying potential in varying things. But it's not black and white.

Some people may not have fully cracked open all their potential in logics.

And just because you have a potential, that isn't necessarily a simple cap that you just run into... one can hone, plateau, hone some more and start climbing again, and then maybe plateau. At some point you may finally hit your final plateau, but you'll never actually know if you have.


Of course honing is about technique. And what was my suggested technique? Math. It's not the only technique, but I'm saying it's a damn good one.

The artist who is organically predisposed to paint doesn't come out the womb a painter. He practices, and practices, and practices, and even once famous or considered amazing... he practices some more. Their art style changing and morphing all through out life until the day they stop painting. Through out his life he'll learn new techniques of painting, he'll hone techniques of painting, he'll come up with new abstract ideas about what to paint. He most likely will have mentors who will teach these things to him, either directly (in person) or indirectly (through text and inspiration).

kilorn said:

As far as teaching someone to think logically, I don't think that's physically possible.


tlhIn said:

I'm not sure you can teach how to think in a more logical fashion.


You and Kilorn alike said logics can not be taught or learned (or at least you aren't sure). I beg to differ. Logics is not a constant... it may have a potential, but that doesn't mean it can't be learned or taught. I have a greater potential with computer science and math than many others... does that mean I never learned computers and math? If not, then what happened? How did this knowledge form in my head?

Maybe this is falling on differing definitions of 'logic'. I go by this definition (in this I leave out definitions pertaining to the science of logics):

Quote

logic -
a particular method of reasoning or argumentation: We were unable to follow his logic.

the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study.


Both describe methods and principles. And I believe methods and principles can be taught or trained. And one can teach or train themselves. For me personally practicing math has taught me different ways to look at problems. Not specific patterns to look for, but methods to juggle large sets of data in my head and still be able to analyze them. I didn't always have these methods of logic and problem solving, I learned them through practice.





Quote

Because the guy that majored in it from the last generation needs a job, and teaching it to the next generation is about all he can get with that degree. Like being a philosophy major generally means you either teach philosophy or make mocha frappicinios at Startbucks for the people that went to school for useful careers. Because colleges are businesses with courses of study as their products. The more variety in their products the more customers they have and the more money they make. A store that only sells 16oz canned kidney beans from one vendor won't stay in business very long.


It's funny, but doesn't necessarily make your statement true.

Apply the logic of this statement to any other study... does it still hold? You say it exists because the person that majored in it needs a job. Possibly, but not always.

There's actually many careers that utilize logics. I have family on my mother's side who were philosophers and others who studied logistics going back many generations. They've worked in varying fields of military, state, private sector, etc.

I didn't necessarily say one majors in Logics. I said it's a study. Just because the career field of a major in some study isn't massive doesn't mean that study is useless and can't be learned (as opposed to be inherent). When you want to be a physicist, you take math. You didn't major in math, and math wasn't useless... it was very useful. And actually in a lot of sciences, law, engineering, etc you're required some logics courses. Are you asserting that you are only required to take these classes (the logics classes) to give the guy teaching it a job? That the courses have nothing to do with the major it's being applied to? That's a rather strong assertion...

This post has been edited by lordofduct: 30 December 2010 - 09:10 AM

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