01 October 2009

Babbage

Charles Babbage: a prototypical geek for more reasons than being the first computer engineer. Raynor points out him getting all pedantic on Alfred Tennyson for improperly representing population growth dynamics in verse:
charles babbage ... wrote the following to alfred tennyson in response to his poem, “the vision of sin” »
In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads,

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

… If this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest:

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment 1 1/16 is born.

Strictly speaking, the actual figure is so long I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry.
(Babbage was also the first to express the "Garbage in, garbage out" principle:
On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
I would say based on the misuse of quantitative models for mortgage lending, and the subsequent Congressional hearings, that we have not done much to exterminate the breed of confusion Babbage saw in Parliament.)

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