Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hey Indians, thanks for nothing!

I’m retired now. Again.

People keep asking me, "what are you going to do now that you’re retired," and I say "Nothing. A whole lot of nothing." Sometimes I’ll say "maybe I’ll study physics again" by which of course I also mean "nothing" since nothing is the biggest thing happening in modern physics.

Nothing is very important to me these days. As the bohemian royalty of rhapsodic rock once sang "nothing really matters to me". To understand the topic deeper I began reading "the book of nothing" by the physicist john d. barrow. The beginning of the book talks about the invention of the number 0 as both a place-filler and as a concept meaning nothing. It was the Indians who first understood this number and concept deeply, thousands of years ago. The Indians had a rich history in the concept of nothingness, emptiness, beginning and endness, the void that is all, and zero. The Indians were the first to really “get” zero.

Here in Silicon Valley, world center of computing technology, Indians are everywhere, and that’s a good thing because without the Indians, Silicon Valley would just be Valley. This is because the modern computer is based on a binary system of ones and zeros. Were it not for the Indians, fully half of the digits used in computers would not exist, computers would not exist, and my job would not exist from which I could retire. So thank you, Indians. Thanks for nothing!

Contrast the Indian technology with the Mayans. At about the same time Indians were doing lots of fancy base-10 calculations, including zeros, the Mayans were using base 20 (a symbol for each number from one to twenty), but no zero. The Mayans attempted to bootstrap a base-20 computer industry, but with no zero they were missing 5% of what they needed for decent calculations. The Mayan computers sucked! They were terrible! So bad, in fact, that the only program they ever managed to create was PowerPoint, which, thousands of years later, would be universally recognized as the most useless, destructive program ever written.

With PowerPoint as their only computing tool, the collapse of the Mayan civilization was inevitable; as inevitable as is the collapse of any organization that makes its decisions based on PowerPoint slides. This is why Mayan society ceased long ago but Indian society and Silicon Valley are still vibrant.

    BTW, in my copious new retirement time, I’ve been able to learn a few ancient languages and initiate some archeological investigation, and I’ve found that despite his otherwise well-researched book, Mr. Barrow is wrong about the Indians inventing zero. Zero was actually first invented about fourteen thousand years ago by a cave-dwelling Neanderthal named Ugg. (Ugg was known to be extremely smart, although a little awkward in social situations.) Ugg was very excited by his new creation of zero, but because no one had yet invented any of the other digits Ugg’s breakthrough never caught on among his colleagues.

    Another interesting thing we can deduce about Ugg, if I’m correctly interpreting the cave drawing I’ve recently uncovered, is that Ugg was likely the first person to ever invent a computer (and not the Mayans, as is commonly believed). Ugg was so forward thinking that he/she also invented the internet (and not Vannevar Bush-Gore, as is commonly believed). But there were problems with Ugg’s execution:
    • Ugg created only one computer with no other nodes to connect to
    • Ugg’s short-sighted two-byte addressing scheme, known as ipv2, would not have been large enough to make it even through the bronze age
    • Ugg did not open-source the project, so of course it was no good
    • Ugg’s computer quickly filled up with 99% porn and spam

    I have also been able to disprove one other common misconception. Ugg was able to buy insurance.
So that’s what I’ve been able to learn in just the first half of my first day of idle retirement. It goes to show: Everything is interesting if you look at it deep enough, and that includes nothing.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see the length of your posts has increased since your retirement! But how about frequency? Well frequency, (wave)length, that's all the same according to my fellow citizen Louis de Broglie ;)