April 8th, 2005

krazy koati

Any talking out loud with any librarian

I thought I was joking when I said outside was a band warming up and stomping on balloons. It proved to be a band warming up, and people inflating a lot of party balloons, occasionally popping them. Sometimes I feel like the straight man in my own life.

I was out of my ordinary environs on a consulting mission. A couple of secondary school (roughly, early high school) students had problems with a computer simulation of a neat little problem, light scattering through biological tissues. The university happily sent a Computer Science instructor and me as Monte Carlo instructor to consult for an hour. The students had copied a complex and slightly overdesigned program from a book and were frustrated that its results were wrong.

Some of the trouble was the students hadn't written complex programs in any language, much less C, before. As a consequence they didn't understand the program's structure, or how its components reflected the physical model. I'm glad to say I was the one who ultimately spotted the biggest current problem: they forgot to include a semicolon at the end of a line ``while ((rnd = RandomNumber(0, 1)) <= 0)'' which had undesired side effects on the logic. Now while they still get wrong results, they're wrong in more interesting ways. This we name progress.

Also one of my all-time favorite comic strips ever reran yesterday. I'm happy.

Trivia: To dissect a square into the sum of distinct smaller squares requires cutting it into at least 21 but not more than 55 component smaller squares. Source: Lure of the Integers, Joe Roberts.

Currently Reading: Proteus Combined, Charles Sheffield.