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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Of Sheep and the Philosophy of Numbers

Good grief, it's a month since anyone bothered to update the blog. We've got a good excuse... mainly due to work, heat (of the climatic variety, not the other sort. Dirty, dirty people.), the total and abject sense of apathy brought on by excessive doses of both of the above, and good old fashioned bone laziness. Oh, and the fact that we totally forgot it existed. Oops.

Anyway, here's a quick filler until we find something mildly interesting to post about (provided we remember to do so.)

While #2 and I were having a cigarette and discussing the vicissitudes of the Visual Basic concepts of null, empty and nothing (heartfelt thanks to Big Bill for C#. All hail C#.) I wondered how the hell one explains the concept of null.

I vaguely remember something about apples and pears, way back in my childhood years, but for some bizarre reason which #2 attributed to the sun, we started discussing them in terms of sheep. Now one, two or even 6, 000, 639 sheep can be explained fairly easily. Fractions can be explained with equal ease, although it's a bit messy if we start cutting sheep up. (Also, #3 sustains that if we slice up a sheep it no longer counts as a sheep since it's dead.)

We're a bit on shaky ground with zero. Basically, there are zero sheep running loose on my desk as I type this. There are zero sheep running about the room, and #3 is currently doing things I wouldn't care to repeat in polite company to zero sheep at the moment. There are zero sheep wherever there are no sheep.


The zero sheep is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window. Or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work. When you go to Church. When you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

(paraphrase from The Matrix)

We couldn't bring our heads around the idea of a negative sheep.

Things got even freakier as we discussed null. In decent programming languages null values just don't exist. It's different from a zero value - a zero implies that there are zero units of a given type, while a null implies that there isn't anything, not even a zero.

In the end we concluded that there can be null sheep. You can have a sign pointing to zero or more sheep. That is a value. Then you can have a sign that is not pointing, which is the null value.

I think it's time for coffee and red pills now.

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Blogger Eric said...

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," claimed the poet William Blake. Perhaps that applies to sheep and numbers too!

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