Saturday, April 09, 2011

Some statistically sound but not completely accurate advice for a poet

"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."

- Charles Babbage's advice for poet Alfred Tennyson.

Charles Babbage FRS was a philosopher, a mathematician, an engineer, an inventor and a bit of an eccentric and curmudgeon. He designed the "difference engine', which was the first mechanical computer, so he is regarded as the "father of the computer". Babbage's brain was preserved and the separate halves of his brain are on display at two different London science museums. If you'd like to see his whole brain I guess you could make a day of it.

Babbage is one of the 175 famous people who are in this most huge and interesting list:

A referenced list of 175 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum


krex said...

Being devils advocate as a hobby, I would have to argue that the poem says that a man is born every time one dies but does not say that some there are not some also born at times in addition to those . IE..that sentence would read..."I child is only born when a man dies ."

Kind of a strange over sight . I t also doesn't give a specific time frame or location . There are places on earth at any given time where that exact description may have been true but other times, say during the black plague, where the population could not keep up with the death rate and the end result is theorized as creating an environment that encouraged mechanical innovation and mass production ,(as their were fewer hands to work the land) .... The above is also a great example of why people hate aspies :)

Lili Marlene said...

I heard about this quote from the funny TV show QI, and they lampooned Babbage a bit, but also mentioned his amazing invention. He was characterized as the first computer geek.

Justthisguy said...

When I worked for Dennis Hayes back in 1976 or so, soldering his S-100-bus modems together, he proposed that we should have a company picnic, with pay, on Babbage's birthday, December 26th. As with almost all of his proposals and promises, he reneged.

All of us in the original crew could barely contain our glee when we found that his wife, Melita Easters Hayes, took him for the largest divorce settlement in the history of the State of Georgia. (Everybody and his dog was buying Hayes modems back then.)

Melita's theory was that Dennis would not have kept his nose to the grindstone and built up the company, had she not been riding his ass the whole time, thus he owed her for that. Those of us who knew Dennis when we were all undergraduates at Ga. Tech believed this.

He was pretty sharp if made to keep his mind on business, but left to his own devices, he tended to follow his membrum virile wherever it wanted to go. Melita caught him and that organ chasing a cute young female employee, and the rest is history.

Lili Marlene said...

Another semi-scandalous comment from Justthisguy sneaks through.