# algebra

And now for something completely different...
Well, not really, but kind of different.
I realize that my niche here has become discussing science-based medicine, evidence-based medicine, and the atrocities committed against both by proponents of so-called "complementary and alternative" medicine, but every so often I need a change of pace. Unfortunately, that change of pace was something I came across in the New York Times on Sunday in the form of a commentary so bad that I seriously wondered if it was a parody or a practical joke. Alas, it wasn't. I'm referring to an article by Andrew Hacker…

A couple of "kids these days are bad at math" stories crossed my feed reader last week, first a New York Times blog post about remedial math, then a Cocktail Party Physics post on confusion about equals signs. The first was brought to my attention via a locked LiveJournal post taking the obligatory "Who cares if kids know how to factor polynomials, anyway?" tack, which was obvious bait for me, given that I have in the past held forth on the importance of algebra for science students (both of these are, at some level, about algebra).
Of course, these articles aren't about science students, so…

The other day I found myself faced with six equations that needed to be solved algebraically. Just so you know, I am a big fan of paper for most of these cases - but this was out of control. I was making silly mistakes and causing all sorts of problems. What to do? My first though was to use some symbolic plugins for python. I tried sympy and it is nice. However, it was not giving correct solutions for solving 3 equations - I don't know if this is a bug or what.
Maxima
I think I found Maxima through Wikipedia's Computer algebra system page. It's free and free and runs on Mac OS X and…

**pre-reqs:** *none*
I know who you are. I have seen you before and talked to you before. You are taking introductory physics and you are scared. Why does this have to be so difficult? It seems like there are a bazillion equations. Calm down, I will try to help. First, realize that algebra and trig are typically a pre requisite course for introductory physics. Your instructor probably expects that you have already mastered this material. Perhaps you did well in algebra (maybe you earned a B). But maybe you just worked hard and never really "got it". That is ok. There are many…