Monday, November 02, 2015

If, else, sometimes

May I join my friends Theodore and Evadne Google in wishing a happy birthday to George Boole (no point, he is dead, Ed.) who celebrates his 200th birthday today.

George is famous for having invented the game of “Boules” which is named after him, later developed into something called Petanque by the ungrateful French who resented having a game named after an Englishman. Petanque comes from the French words “Pet” and “ancien” – meaning “old fart”. I think that this says a lot about the French and their disrespect for the sciences in general and mathematics in particular.

Anyway, the games of boules is, as every schoolchild knows, the basis of modern computer programming. A group of nerdy men (and the occasional woman) stand around trying to get as close as possible to a solution and when everyone has had a go they all say “Fuck it, that will do” and release it as the new version of the software. Sometimes they get so close to a solution that the software nearly works.

My more fanciful friends, Eric and Cynthia Wikipedia, who run an enormously popular spoof web site report on petanque thus: “When a player loses 13 to 0, he is said to fanny … and must kiss the bottom of a girl named Fanny.” Had this sort of reward been afforded to those of us less than athletic during my schooldays, I would have made more effort to turn up for P.E.

Dear George was at one end of the scientific spectrum, trying to apply rules of order and reason to the physical universe. At the other end were the proponents of the second law of thermodynamics who believed that the natural state is one of disintegration. Until these two camps can find a common ground I shall not regret not paying attention to my dear science teachers – it was basically just RE with Bunsen burners.

I didn’t pay much attention in French either, and perhaps someone attempted to teach us how to say “Fuck it, that will do” but I do not remember. My attention lasted a couple of minutes into my first lesson where Mr Bruce introduced us to the language of Voltaire and Hugo by declaring “C’est un r├Ęgle.” Since then all opportunities to assist a puzzled Frenchman who was unsure what this item was called have evaded me. I must confess that I have not been over-enthusiastic in my pursuit of such chances, but I am still ready should the need arise. Do they still use rulers in school? I suspect their use is in decline, so perhaps Mr Bruce’s lesson might still be useful as some members of the younger generations may not recognise a ruler should they encounter one.