computers

WHINGE

ATTENTION-SEEKING, DISOBEDIENT LITTLE BLIGHTERS

We have fallen upon evil times; the world has waxed old and wicked. Politics are very corrupt. Children are no longer respectful to their elders. Each man wants to make himself conspicuous and write a book.

King Naram Sin of Chaldea probably did not have this quote impressed into clay tablets around 5,800 years ago, as is often claimed, but I’m sure he would have wanted to. Maybe he was too busy organizing the Assyrian version of ICAC to put pen to clay.

We’ll ignore any interpretation that writing an article for CRANK is akin to writing a book and concentrate on the ‘respect’ aspect of the quote. I find that, more and more, I am surrounded by disrespect and attention-seeking behaviour: “listen to me” “I’m not doing that” “don’t forget me” “Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!” And so on, all day long.

The washing machine was the original prima donna. A continuous trilling echoes through the house near the end of the rinse cycle if it deems its precious cargo is ‘out of balance’. If it’s so smart, why doesn’t the damn-fool thing add some more water, swirl the clothes around a bit, and try again?

The fridge developed a much more subtle approach to attention-seeking. No amount of levelling would convince the door to shut by itself, let alone with a gentle push. A master of deception, its door looks shut and then…beep, beep, beep, on and on until you come and shut it up (pun intended).

But it was the inductive cooktop that was the final straw. Put something on it, like the shopping, and likely as not a beep will be emitted every so often until you take it off. Trill, trill—sorry that’s the washer needing its load redistributed. Where was I? Oh yes, the cooktop. Perversely, if you’re frying, and you take the pan off, it beeps. Beep, beep—sorry that’s the fridge this time, somebody didn’t shut its door properly. Trill, trill—[sigh]—the washer wasn’t satisfied with the redistribution. How can you get anything done, when even your interruptions are interrupted? Pure chaos! Taking a deep breath now… ahhhh… as for touching the marked spots on the cooktop that purportedly control power and temperature, well! Maybe it’ll condescend to turn on or off or do whatever you’d hoped would happen, but more likely is complete disdain.

The kindest way to describe the cooktop’s timer is ‘perverse’. Unlike the oven’s, which can easily be heard in the next room while watching TV, the cooktop’s timer is annoyingly insistent yet quiet enough to ensure you must be close by. But there’s worse: when you use the timer to remind you to gauge activity on hot plate 1, it assumes you want to turn off hot plate 1 at the same time! In fact, some seconds before the timer actually sounds! No doubt this is a feature of which the designers were mightily proud, and maybe something I could rectify if I could (be bothered to) read the microscopic print of the instruction manual. But as the default action? I ask you. And even more remarkable, the ultimate in intelligent design must surely be this: if you turn off hot plate 1, the timer turns off too!

And speaking of arrogance and timers, the new microwave doesn’t appear to be able to be used just as a timer—too demeaning a chore for such a self-opinionated high-tech device, I suspect.

Well, that’s a run down of the attention-seekers of the title. Now, let’s tackle those that have perfected disobedience: the TV and the computer. On second thoughts, maybe not. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I’ll get back to you after a cup of tea, a Bex and a good… beep, beep, beep, beep…. [slams fridge door]… lie down.

SERENDIPITY, WARRNAMBOOL

Thinking to save time and effort the Inuit people trained polar bears to respond to ice-box alarms, though not always with the desired results. Fortunately polar bears did not care much for fizzy pop and preserved fruits.  [Showroom windows at the Metropolitan Gas Co., 196 Flinders Street, Melbourne]. Commercial Photographic Co., ca. 1930 - ca. 1939, State Library of Victoria, H2011.52/171.

Thinking to save time and effort the Inuit people trained polar bears to respond to ice-box alarms, though not always with the desired results. Fortunately polar bears did not care much for fizzy pop and preserved fruits. [Showroom windows at the Metropolitan Gas Co., 196 Flinders Street, Melbourne]. Commercial Photographic Co., ca. 1930 - ca. 1939, State Library of Victoria, H2011.52/171.

REPROACH

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Please say my postcode 3280 aloud. What’s that? You said three two eight oh. Oh, shame, shame, shame. That fourth digit is not a letter—it’s a number. How about “3+2+8+0”? You said nought or zero—not the slightest hint of an ‘oh’. Why the compelling urge to mispronounce 0 when it is in a string of numbers? And so begins this diatribe which is naught but a grizzle about nought.

You may blame my oh-pedantry on a maths teacher who would condescendingly sneer ‘you are not a telephonist’ should oh pass anyone’s lips in class. Job-ism was alive and well in those days! But probably fair enough, since telephone numbers are certainly the greatest source of faux ohs. Triple oh, indeed. The military is not much better with a leading but unnecessary oh for an a.m. time, though ‘oh eight hundred’ commits an even greater numeric crime. Mr Bond possibly suffers the reverse problem: it is uncertain whether ‘double oh seven’ should simply be called ‘seven’ or written OO7 instead of 007.

Computer programmers quickly learnt that it was a big no-no to say oh instead of zero—so big they resorted to putting a slash through a zero, or a dot inside. It usually helped. My one free lunch when assessing mini-computers years ago was a valiant attempt by a salesman to keep me occupied while his boffins frantically tried to work out why my test program crashed their FORTRAN compiler so badly that the computer had to be rebooted. Its undoing was my innocuous but serendipitous “G0TO 50”.

Equating the slim ‘0’ to the fat ‘O’ insults one of the greatest advances in mathematics. Early drafts of Design for a positional decimal system simply left spaces in columns of numbers when there were no units or tens or hundreds. You can imagine how well such gaps would survive a newspaper editor’s urge to mangle columns of numbers by left justification (not). Fortunately, later drafts replaced those spaces with a symbol, which became our 0. It entered English from India via Arabia in two ways: as the word cipher (dated, and rarely used to mean 0) and the word zero. Nought came much earlier from the simple concept of nothing.

Why pick on 0 for gratuitous letter-calling? We don’t call 1 ‘eye’ or ‘el’, do we? Well, I suppose the Romans might have, and if they had had the nous to invent 0, ‘oh’ might be defensible. But they didn’t, which is probably ivtunviii, as my texting m8s might agree. And speaking of phones, it is ironic that you press 6 to generate an O, but 0 to generate the space it replaced so long ago—and 0 twice to generate an actual 0! *

Back to nought or zero. Which to use? Some of you may recall that the Ten TV network was once, in Melbourne at least, on Channel 0. “On the go with channel oh” was their catchcry. I delighted in saying this as “on the go with channel nought” but not “on the go with channel zero”, which at least rhymed if not scanned. That suggests the common usage was ‘nought’ back then, probably reflecting the choice between the US-preferred zero and the UK-preferred nought. Even so, there are a few exceptions where zero is accepted on bought sides of the Atlantic, countdowns being the best example: “… four, three, two, one, oh damn, I forgot to light the fuse”. I suspect that the chance of nought surviving the zero onslaught is zilch, nil, none, zip… which I’d better do, leaving you one last thought: might using ‘oh’ for 0 be just unacceptable familiarity in abbreviating (zer)o? And, if so, can ‘sev’ or 'levn' be far behind?

SERENDIPITY, WARRNAMBOOL

*The use of such ancient technology by someone who has worked with "mini-computers" and FORTRAN compilers should come as no surprise to the reader.

Telephonists of yore took great pleasure in misdirecting the calls of snobby maths teachers.  The telephone room, Melbourne Exchange . Wood engraving by Julian Rossi Ashton 1851-1942. Published by Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, Melbourne, January 29, 1881. State Library of Victoria, A/S29/01/81/37.

Telephonists of yore took great pleasure in misdirecting the calls of snobby maths teachers. The telephone room, Melbourne Exchange. Wood engraving by Julian Rossi Ashton 1851-1942. Published by Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, Melbourne, January 29, 1881. State Library of Victoria, A/S29/01/81/37.