This is not my first blog. There have been others, some euthanized and some abandoned. The ruins of my former blogs are filled with rotten links and gutted by expired hosting. There is, though, an occasional post worth saving. This was originally posted on May 14, 2008.
Some time in 2005 I was studying for my Differential Equations final exam, thinking to myself, “I can have a computer solve all of these problems for me. I will never do this again.” I had thought this in frustration many times throughout my mathematical education, and to be honest it was getting less and less true as the math got more advanced. This time, though, I followed that thought up with another one that hadn’t previously occurred to me: if computers can be given explicit instructions that allow them to solve differential equations, I should be able to write down similarly explicit instructions for myself. Verbalizing the specific steps necessary to solve the problems I was working on seemed like a good study activity. Additionally, I was allowed a page of notes to use on the exam, so if I could organize the steps so that they all fit on a page I could actually use this work during the test. I ended up spending a couple of hours in a study room with my textbook and a pad of graph paper, creating a flowchart for solving second order linear differential equations with constant coefficients. I tied with one other student for the highest grade on the final.
Recently I’ve been playing with Ubuntu, and as a way of gaining some familiarity with the OpenOffice suite of productivity apps I decided to create a digital version of my SOLDE flowchart. It is sized to fit on a sheet of 8.5×11 paper, and I am releasing it under creative commons license. If you think it would be of use to you, or know others who might like to use it, feel free to email it, print it out, pass it around. I think it might make a good handout for differential equations students. (It’s under a share-alike license, so you can make derivative works as well, provided they are also creative commons licensed. One possible improvement might be to create a flowchart for variation of parameters, which gets glossed over on this one.)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.