Mr. Smith, was the maths teacher for my computer BTech (having dropped out of sixth form). He was a bit of an oddball to say the least. It wasn’t so much, the yellow chequered trousers that he was so fond of wearing, but rather his nervous tic. When challenged with even the simplest of questions or situations, he would simultaneously twitch his head and sniff. He was fine when explaining things that he knew, but if put on the spot with a question, it was immediately possible to measure his level of ignorance or confusion.
The more difficult the question, the faster and more furious the sniffs became.
One of he areas of discomfort was, rather oddly, computers. One could immediately tell he was out of his depth during the “practical” lessons. We would be set a simple challenge to write a program that performed some very basic mathematical function. By this, I mean “really” simple. White a program that would allow two values to be input, add them together and display the result. Programs that could be written in less than a minute were dragged out to fill one long tedious hour.
It was during one of these practical lessons, that we were given the task of writing a program that converted decimal numbers into binary. He had explained a method, which involved subtracting bit values, starting from the most significant, from the input value. Basically, he wanted a program that emulated this procedure, even if it was limited to values from 0 thru 255.
Having finished my program, I languished at my desk. Mr. Smith didn’t like his students in this state. For him there was only one conclusion: you were stuck.
“No, sir, I’m not stuck.”
<sniff> <sniff> “What’s the problem?”
“There is no problem, I’ve finished.”
<sniff> “Are you sure you’ve done it <sniff> properly?”
“Ok, <sniff> <sniff> show me.”
I typed 191 into program, which dutifully spat out “10111111”.
<sniff> “Yes, very good. Ok.”
“But, my program can also do this.”, I said whilst typing a rather long number,
“Including decimal places.”, I continued, whilst typing about 20-30 digits in all.
There was a look of bewilderment on his face, interspersed with sniffs, as he failed to grasp quite what I was suggesting.
As I pressed the return key, a cascade of zeros and ones scrolled up the screen.
Like a geiger counter presented with a substantial lump of Strontium 90, he went into sniff overload.
<sniff> <sniff> <sniff> “Oh, ” <sniff> “I” <sniff> <sniff> “don’t think” <sniff> <sniff> <sniff> “that’s right” <sniff>
Going red in the face, he continued his erratic sniffing and cautiously backed away, unable to comprehend what he had just witnessed.