lunes, 11 de diciembre de 2006

Dividing by zero

A few days ago, the BBC reported a story about a professor, Dr James Anderson, who solved the 1200-year-old problem of dividing by zero; a story which was also quickly picked up at Slashdot.

The professor goes over to declare that solving this problem is important because: “Imagine you're landing on an aeroplane and the automatic pilot's working,” he suggests. “If it divides by zero and the computer stops working - you're in big trouble. If your heart pacemaker divides by zero, you're dead.”

In case there is any doubt, most of this “theory” is pure nonsense. First, dividing by zero is not “an unsolved problem” and, second, you don't solve problems by making up new symbols or definitions (which is, mostly, what he does). From the computing point of view he seems to be (for some strange reason) trying to reinvent the concept of NaN, while from the mathematics point of view he seriously seems to be lacking some understanding of Calculus (where questions about dividing by zero are better answered and asked).

In the videos shown at the BBC's report he also “proves” that 00 = Nullity (his new made up number, which is also equal to 0/0) already suggesting that there is some real trouble going on in his theory. Most calculators will tell you that 00 = 1, Wikipedia has a nice (but a bit technical) explanation of the situation in this case.

To get an idea of the craziness of this guy, kike also pointed me out to Dr Anderson's website, Book of Paragon, where he claims to be working on “The perspex [...] a machine that is more powerful than the Turing machine [and] more powerful than any theoretically possible digital computer”. WTF!?

But well, on the good side, this ended up creating a lot of hilarious comments from readers both on the BBC forum and the discussion threads in Slashdot. I wasted all of my Sunday collecting the best jokes from there, so you should better really laugh out loud.


I can also make up new numbers/theories/solve problems

Making up pretend numbers = I ARE MATH SMARTNESS. I hereby propose a new number that is to be called "squnch." It has a value of 23, -78, Pi, and the color orange; simultaneously. Also, it is lemon-scented. I suspect that the proper use of Squnchificonics will be able to solve all sorts of previously impossible mathematical problems, as well as leaving behind a fresh, invigorating scent. Grant money now plx.

I invented the number 5. People seem to like it.

I just solved the P=NP problem. The answer is peeequalsennpeeanswer - a special word I made up which represents a complete proof.

Frenchy McBritish
This is ridiculous. I've been using nullity for years. Only instead of "nullity" I call it "socks." And by "using" I mean "wearing on my feet."

I have deviced to rename 316 to "Brian" - is that ok with everyone?

I did a paper on this, as a sophomore (I think, Im went to a swedish school). I introduced some silly symbol representing 0/0, then I used it to solve tan(0) and some probability equations proving I was a superhero somewhere in the universe... I got a c- :)

Christopher Morris
Mathematicians have announced the existence of a new whole number, which lies between 27 and 28. "We don't know why it's there or what is does," said Cambridge mathematician Dr. Hilliard Halliard. "We only know that it doesn't behave properly when put into equations and that it is divisible by 6; though only once."

I know a child that makes up words... maybe he can explain black holes to the bbc.

WOW. I wish i could make up numbers.

I came up with the same solution years ago except I used the symbol "Doh!".

I define all of the world's problems as monkeys, therefore we don't have any more problems, just monkeys. Let's go see if it made a difference!

John Summerson
Excellent work by Dr Anderson. Now all we need is a new name for the exact number that spans megative infinity to positive infinity. I shall call it 'Allity'. Bow before it's Inexpressable Truth. I also propose that the smallest positive number above 0 be called 'Smallity'.

The universe/time explodes/implodes


I keep popping in and out of the future. There's nothing cool about this. You've killed us all.

Black holes, everywhere. Nice job, Dr. Anderson.


The Universe
I warned you guys not to divide by zero. Now you're gonna get swallowed by a black hole.

Captain Obvious
You can't divide by zero! The Universe will implode!

Thanks for destroying the universe.

Dennis The Tiger
The real trick is to divide the square root of any negative number by zero, and then survive the resulting black hole.

whats the point of dividing by zero other then to fool and trap your enemies into a time paradox?

Malfunctioning hardwarwe/software

I was about to view the video clip ...

... but my RealPlayer divided by zero and crashed.

I hate it when my bike divides by zero and the brakes stop working.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We're nullity minutes into this flight, and we're cruising at nullity knots, at an altitude of nullity feet below sea level. We've got a nice tailwind blowing along an axis perpendicular to spacetime, so we hope to arrive at our destination (7i-4) minutes early."

Every time I divide by zero, I just get "oh shi-" on my calculator.

Funny That
This has to be a joke of some sort! Some great comments below though: Bob:"The program wont crash, but the plane sure as hell will." :0)

My pacemaker divided by zero and nullity happened.

I am funnier than you
Binary? That's easy. Each bit can be one of 0, 1 or Nullity. Yes you can fit 3 values into each bit, 9 bits into each byte. When buy a 1GB SD card, make sure it works with MP3 players that support Nullity. MP3 players that do not support such a number will blow your brains out when they divide by zero.

Famous people reply

I have nothing to say.

Wait, I can figure this one out... Okay.. So, nullity is--*Matrix explodes*

In my country we hunt mathematicians.

Who is this guy who says I can't solve problems? Heck, I've been dead for more than 2500 years, so where does the 1200 years come in? Go meet my mate Giuseppe Peano who first wrote down the basic axioms of arithmetic. He'll tell you whether there's a Nullity or not!

I told you this day would come.

Steve Irwin
I divided by zero, and nullity didn't help me. AT ALL.

Forrest Gump
Mama always said... Nullity is as nullity does...

About Dr Anderson

A concerned American
This Mr. Anderson should stop teaching kids garbage and go trisect an angle or something.

There is a common term that refers to the process of dividing by zero to get a nullity. It's called a "stupidity".

> Seriously though...if this interpretation is incorrect.

Your interpretation is correct but for proper mathematical representation it should be reduced to its simplest form. While simpler reductions may be possible I believe the following best conveys the essence of the equation: "Dr. Anderson is a pompous idiot."

mike in sj, calif.
next week, the professor will explain perpetual motion.

Funniest BBC article ever. I hope this guy has a lot of savings so he can retire to an island somewhere.

I guess stupid has no lower limit.

Finally, we can divide a number by the number of friends this guy has

My view of the problem. 1 Idiot/1 Idiot=Nullity Idiot

Some that seem to be more serious/real comments (but still are funny)

Dr Roy Johnstone
I am a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Reading University. I wish to distance myself completely from the utterings of Dr Anderson. He is NOT a member of the Mathematics Department and cannot represent the views of the Mathemtics Department. The idea that dividing by zero has been an unsolved problem for mathematicians for hundreds of years is laughable. His `solution' is nothing more than the unnecessary use of terminolgy to indicate that a division by zero has been attempted. The promotion of his ideas to school children is likely to confuse rather than enlighten them. He is being very irresponsible.

To those saying this is some kind of 'hoax': This is not a hoax. I was taught by Dr Anderson at Reading Uni while studying Computer Science. He used to tell us about his work to solve this problem.

ha im in the front row. it was fun and we got to miss a lesson. yum

You have got to be kidding me. Looking forward to seeing Reading University maths application plummit.

Angry Reader
Anyone in their right mind would have realized that this man is in deep mental trouble. By publishing his childish nonsense the BBC actively harms the reputation of Reading University. This is not funny!

Generic jokes and more stupidity

I have discovered a truly remarkable proof which this text box is too small to contain.

Rubbish, Only Chuck Norris can divide by zero.

R.C. J. Weasel
Dr. Anderson's theory leads to some surprising conclusions, such as the idea that either you can't do anything with this nullity, or 1 = 0.

I divided this news story by zero and got forty-two.

Brain on red
2+2=5_for sure!!!!

Matt Green

Lumocolour O'Shaugnessy
Will this new fangled contraption help me get a bigger slice of a shared pizza?

The New Math
turns out nullity is also the last decimal digit in pi.

A Brit
What is math?

Mr Gently
I tried this on my calculator, it just said "A suffusion of yellow". Again.

> Marbleless
> > The boojum
> >
> > Is it just me or does it sound like he thinks he's invented the NaN?
> YaNaN, Yet Another NaN? ;)

Nah... It's more on the lines of "Not another NaN"... heh heh... Not another Nan!, recursive... gettit?

(returns to its corner)

> I can't hand you -1 oranges either.

No, but I can reach out my hand to bitchslap you and take your orange.

"Nullity" is newspeak for "undefined"

denebian devil
My calculus class always used to divide by zero... just for very large values of zero.

mod original post up by 0/0 points :)

"Thou shalt not divide by zero, lest thee bringeth a mighty tragedy unto thine land."

If you wouldn't mind emailing me your name, address, and credit card number (used only for verification and other stuff) I will send you 1 (one) Nobel prize in the field of mathematics for a limited time offer not exceed 5 days. By accepting this offer you are agreeing that I, the arbitrary nullity, will thus forth be bequeathed of all known possessions you, the numbskull who happens to be still reading this. Furthermore, without further ado, we bring you something completely differential.

I am quite sure nudity would be a more appealing number

I thought that was %

I've seen an article on BBC saying that UK does not have enough scientists but I didn't realized until now that it was such a huge problem ...

For some reason we also had a thread of “light bulb” jokes in Slashdot

How many light bulbs does it take to change a light bulb?

One, if it knows its own Goedel number.

How many computer scientists does it take to change a lightbulb?


How many computer programmers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Only two - but they have to be really small.

How many Microsoft programmers does it take to change a lightbulb?

None - their manager just declares darkness to be the new standard.

How many computer programmers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

None. It's a hardware problem

How many hardware engineers does it take to chage a light bulb?

None, we'll fix it in the driver.

5 comentarios:

r0dr160 dijo...

Jajaja, hoy me llego ese mail. No le habia puesto mucho atención y pense que en realidad era algo chido. Ahora me siento vacio (o debiería decir 0/0)

Rafael Peñaloza dijo...

No puede ser! En verdad, me siento decepcionado del mundo.

Kike dijo...

jajaja... excelente recopilacion! me rei muchisimo... saludos!

Joachim dijo...

The BBC interviewed him again. This time he addresses the rant against his work. Look:

juan antonio dijo...

Thanks Joachim for pointing this out. I have written as an update a new post to discuss my point of view with respect to his reply.