Software Musings

Keeping Score

Posted on: 23/05/2007

There was a remarkably precise headline on a news item on the BBC website a couple of days ago. It said “Scores of people killed in Lebanon”. The first line of the story said that 40 people had been killed so the headline was accurate. Some months ago the company I work for, which employs about 30’000 people, announced that it was laying off 3’000 of us. I mentioned to someone that we were being decimated only to be told that it wasn’t as bad as that—it was only one in ten.

Although it may seem to be a digression, I would also like to comment on the Ottawa Ice Hockey team. This team has recently found its way into the North American Ice Hockey’s equivalent of the FA Cup Final—the Stanley Cup, named after Frederick Stanley, the Governor General of Canada from 1888. Ice Hockey is portrayed over here as a very masculine pursuit (although the Canadian women’s team seems somewhat more successful than the men’s team) based around fitness, speed and strength. Ottawa’s team is called “The Senators” and it will be playing a team from Anaheim called the “Mighty Ducks”. To reach the final, Ottawa beat a team called “The Penguins”.

In 389BC as the Gauls entered Rome, the Senators were certainly courageous. Sitting motionless in the council chamber in their finest robes they awaited the Gauls and death. As Livy reports:

…when [the Gauls] reached the Forum there they found the aged senators of the city, who had elected to remain behind when everyone else fled to the Capitoline, clad in their official robes and waiting calmly and gravely for their certain deaths. “They might have been statues in some holy place, and for a while the Gallic warriors stood entranced; then on an impulse one of them touched the beard of a certain Marcus Papirus, and the Roman struck him on the head with his ivory staff.” Naturally, the outraged Gaul promptly killed him, and all the senators were massacred before the barbarians recommenced their looting and burning, and laid siege to the Capitoline Hill.

While this illustrates the courage of ancient senators (incidentally far beyond that required of today’s senators on Parliament Hill), I would argue that old men with white beards, whatever their courage, is still not the type of model that one would wish for an ice hockey team. And then, what can we say about the courage, fitness, speed and strength of ducks and penguins?

On another tack, my daughter reports that the mild medicine she bought to help my 5 month old grandson with his teething said that he was neither to work heavy machinery nor to drive a car while using it. And to date she has prevented him from doing either.

And a final tack. Every morning I look for inspiration at a toothpaste tube that says, in French, “Protection contre la carie” and, in English, “Cavity Protection”. It is not clear to me how an inanimate substance such as toothpaste can know whether I am a French speaker (and it is therefore to protect me against cavities) or an English speaker (and therefore it is to protect my cavities).

Sometimes the world and I don’t seem to be as one.


2 Responses to "Keeping Score"

Recently I heard on Sky News a much more interesting mathematical statement:

between five and six people were killed in the explosion.

I indulged in a spot of deep thought once again while the wind was in my hair (or at least whistling around my crash helmet) on the 21 mile journey home this morning. Were we to stretch further the already tortured logic impaled on your final tack, is it reasonable to deduce that any bilingual user of your brand of toothpaste may expect, in addition to protection against cavities, that those cavities already formed would be protected? Likewise, for those who are ignorant of both tongues, are both species of protection withheld?

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May 2007
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The author of this blog used to be an employee of Nortel. Even when he worked for Nortel the views expressed in the blog did not represent the views of Nortel. Now that he has left, the chances are even smaller that his views match those of Nortel.
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