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Chapter 1: The Advent of Stats: Simon's Story

The Snowflake Experiment

I started doing this in the late nineties when I was looking for a challenge to try out our Computer Science classes. The aim was to see if I would find any way to develop a better understanding of computer science if we didn’t talk about what programs we looked at and what we did with them. I felt like this was a bit amateurish when it comes to trying to understand machine learning or simulations. Once I got my start, I made a study of other people doing what I had done.

A few months later I met a student, John Stuart Adamson, in a very uncomfortable week in January 2001. I had read his book about the “Snowflakes” experiment, and felt it didn’d be a good time to ask him to do a talk about it. I made him come to my office at the School of Art and Design on Dallas campus, which I was in charge of building, and the only thing I could find was a paperback in a non-publishing bookstore.

The following day I met John in person, and had a chance to ask some questions. For my part, I didn’ts believe he could answer my questions, but I am more curious about him, and so I asked him questions until he answered them, and this is what he wrote in his book. I am sort of amazed at the length of my experience with him.

I soon realized what the word “curiosity” really meant to me and those of my students who were interested in these topics. That is why I wasn’t always able to answer questions in my class. Sometimes I did, but much of the time I didn't. This was never a major problem, but it was a crutch for me. In this case, I realized that the truth is not being able to ask questions, and that I needed to ask the questions myself, especially if I were to have to communicate to a great number of people in the world.

To create the first Stats package, I had to learn a lot about statistics. My interest in statistics was born at my graduation, when I discovered one of William Wiley’s earliest.