A friend of mine recently started college. I can’t specifically remember what degree plan he settled on–whether electrical engineering or computer science–but I woke up this morning with a humorous (and very geeky) joke in mind that I would like for him to share with his peers. Now, bear with me, because it was insanely funny to me when I first woke up still groggy from the morning haze. As sanity returned, however, the joke seemed markedly less amusing. Here goes:

Q: How might a CS student annoy a first year math major?
A: 0.1 + 0.2 ≈ 0.3

You might find the statement absurd. After all, it truly seems to make little sense that 0.1 plus 0.2 is approximately equal to 0.3. One-tenth and two-tenths equals three-tens. End of story. Right?

Therein lies the problem that first year math students might not appreciate (and one that hopefully CS students would!): Qualify the number base! In base 10, it’s easy enough to represent certain fractions (think 1/10th, 2/5ths, etc.) in a concise decimal representation such as 0.1 or 0.2. Of course, this breaks down with other fractions like 1/3rd or 2/3rds where the decimal representation would be 0.666666 ad infinitum. Incidentally, this is exactly why in the wonderful world of technology, you really can wind up in a situation where 0.1 + 0.2 isn’t exactly 0.3. Just as 1/3rd cannot be represented in decimal without repetition notation, 0.1 (or 1/10th) is a repeating fraction in binary (0.000110011001100110011001100110011…); thus, once the floating point is converted from its binary representation to a human readable format (rather, converting base 2 to base 10), 1/10th (in binary) would appear as 0.100000000000000005551115123126… and so on.

For further examples and a much better description of why this happens than I can write go here.

Edit: October 18. This post was meant as a jestful commentary on number bases and to highlight unexpected issues that aspiring CS majors may run into as they learn to code. I find it necessary to point this out because I have had some acquaintances with heavy mathematics backgrounds grow infuriated with me because they felt that I gloss over a few glaring points (which is intentional). Amusingly, I don’t think they read the title. :)

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I haven’t had much of a chance to catch up on a few things I was hoping to post about, but I had the most unusual experience Tuesday morning. It was so strange, in fact, that I can’t help myself from sharing it with you.

I have almost always had trouble sleeping. As far back as I can remember, I tossed and turned most school nights for whatever silly reasons kept a young boy of that age awake. I suppose it would have been (and may still be) diagnosed as some form of insomnia, but I confess that sometimes–sometimes–it is worth more to me than all the gold in the world.

Monday night/Tuesday morning was one such experience. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t get any sleep because every thirty minutes I was waking up laughing. I’m not talking about a foggy-minded chuckle, either. You know the sort: You’ve stayed up far later than any sane person would otherwise do and everything is just stupidly hialrious. Except it totally wasn’t like that at all. I think I woke up laughing at least 5 times with a loud cackle. Worse, it was my laughter that woke me up. Every time. I really wish I could remember what I was dreaming about each of those times, but I can only recall one. It made absolutely no sense, but the premise was so ridiculous I couldn’t keep myself from laughing.

It would’ve been classified as a partial flash back dream. I know you have all had this sort from time to time: You’re back in school, you’re sitting in a familiar class, maybe the instructor is someone you know–or someone you don’t–and you haven’t any idea what you’re doing there. You’re just there. I don’t recall a great deal about the class other than it was a rather peculiar combination of some room I vaguely recall from high school mixed with about three other locations at two different college campuses. I also recall that it was a mixed class–military, older folks, and younger folks all tossed in together.

Oh, and the marine I was sitting behind in this dream was ranting about some enlisted army man he couldn’t stand. That’s where this dream begins to break down into hilariousness. Not only was the marine complaining out loud, but before he was finished, he pulled a banjo out of thin air and started singing his disgust with his compatriot from another branch of the services. Weirder still, in the middle of his melodic rant about some poor army serviceman, two other guys in the class room pulled out their own banjos and started singing backup vocals. The entire scene was so outrageous and so silly that I started laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

Then I woke up–still laughing.

Sleep deprivation sucks. However, I have to confess something to you: If you’re going to be sleep deprived, it’s just way too awesome to be deprived because you can’t stop laughing in your sleep.

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I’m not normally one to rant incessantly about the wide selection of outrageous things I find on the Interwebs these days. Today, I’ll make an exception, and rather than sugar-coat it, I’m just going to come right out and say it. The Internet is to stupid ideas what an incubated petri dish is to virulent bacteria:

I’m talking about the movement that just won’t stop. Nope, not dysentery (that comes close), but the UFO-proctowtfologists. Under ordinary circumstances, these fruitcakes wouldn’t bother me, but when I noticed that they started coming out en masse following a Slashdot article on Thursday’s meteor show I was pretty annoyed. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

Yeah, that’s right. A bright, flashy light in the sky that left a vapor trail, reportedly resulted in a few sonic booms, and just freaking looked awesome couldn’t possibly be natural. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that there’s nothing in nature that comes close to being a spectacular light in the sky. Ergo, anything streaking across the wild blue yonder is obviously not a giant rock burning in the hellacious temperatures of reentry.

What really irked me was that another poster made a similar point to the one I raised above and was promptly attacked by rabid lunatics. Indeed, the passionate response he received was that of someone who, attempting to say something grossly insightful, turned out to look like an obese man in a speedo riding a unicycle around Times Square. That is to say he looked pretty damn ridiculous. The individual in question was a particular poster named “Fantabulous Lad” (not his real name) and stated:

[I’m] just pointing out that this exists, with the one simple proviso that it is not being placed conveniently in your lap for review with the shining stamp of social approval. Do you always let other people’s fear levels determine what is “real” for you? If so, then that’s actually quite normal. I just find it limiting, and prefer to think for myself since most people are frightened, delicate creatures all too ready to behave in a manner rationally counter to the demands of reality in order to stay in the good books with the herd.

(Emphasis mine, because that statement was stupider than the others.)

No. Just no. I’m not even going to bother saying anything about this (I already posted on Slashdot anyway). However, I think FDR put it best, and I quote:

It entertains me that the proof offered by our poster in this particular case was a book written by none other than Richard M. Dolan, a man credited for his whacked-out television personality. He’s also a whacked-out author who seems to believe that the government is a massive conspiracy. (Maybe he’s right but not in the way he thinks.) I think it’s great to cite a source that uses shaky evidence, anecdotes, and divining rods to find UFOs. Okay, so I made that last bit up. I think.

While Ridiculous Lad may have had a monopoly on appealing his burden of proof to whacked out whackjob whackos, there was one other post that drove me absolutely insane. This guy is really vying for first place in the annual Idiot Land Raceway races with his claims that a certain video posted on Youtube (another factually accurate site) “may be ‘sun pillars’ a [sic] phenomenon that appears right before a major seismic event.” Never mind that sun pillars are caused by certain light sources (like the sun) and are a classification of things we see known as optical phenomenon. It has nothing to do with earthquakes. Don’t bother watching the videos, either. One of them showed the devastation of an earthquake and people talking about it, and that somehow implies HAARP is to blame. Maybe it’s responsible for poor news coverage.

Just remember this the next time the sky looks funny:

What’s more, the videos Mr. unityeleventyone linked to all sorts of things like sun dogs, rainbows, pillars of smoke (from a fire), and the likes as “evidence” that the sky changes color immediately before an earthquake and everyone gets their medicine shaken whether they politely asked for it or not. I wonder what the heck happens to these people during a sunset when the sky changes color?

I have little faith in certain aspects of humanity. Especially with this Interwebs business. Never before have we had the capacity to freely share stupid ideas at the speed of light.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of The Internet is Stupid Part Two where I discuss a little bit about UFO history, conspiracies, and what you can do to piss off your own species of nutjob.

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