Once upon a time I thought it would be “good for me” to learn denotational semantics. It looked like people were doing cool things with it, it looked like languages that leaned on it heavily (like ML) were worth learning, so I got a couple of books and started reading.
A couple books later I was still as confused as ever. And mad, too.
Even in an introductory text I got the sense that the authors were trying to make themselves look smart at their readers’ expense. A page into a new chapter and they’d whip out a completely new symbol (a crippled-looking M, or a Q doubled-over in agony), surround it with a constellation of superscripts and italic subscripts, then incant “… it is therefore obvious that…” and be off into the galactic void, sky-writing with half of the goddamn Greek and Egyptian alphabets. I felt stuck in mud, dumb as a sack of bricks, and seriously doubting that giving the authors unsupervised access to TeX had been a good idea.
I can see myself in a course using that book as a text . . . well, no I can’t. I’d wind up in a corner muttering about wacko square-brackets with candy-striped uprights and the semantics of lambda-something-or-other under zeta-prime reduction.
I think my head is built wrong when it comes to mathematical notation. I see a gaggle of heiroglyphs in close formation and I have to think hard about operator precedence and how the particles in the statements need to be parsed, and in what order. Vanilla math, no problem. Calculus, I have to think about the ‘dx’ stuff. Denotational semantics, well, I nearly threw one book across the room when the author started using undefined operators from out of the blue; no definition, nothing to help me understand the particular rabbits on that page. Okay, professor, I hereby declare (goofy squiggle) to mean “my prof is a poopy head, x dx,” put that in your theorem prover and smoke it. But you’ll never figure out what (goofy squiggle) really means, because I won’t define it anywhere. It seems only fair that way.
Is this how academic feuds start?
So I went back to writing tools and operating systems, an ignorant man, a person upon whom attempts at enlightenment had been squandered, but a happier one.