Thread: An EWD a day
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Old 06-24-2008, 10:27 AM
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Mary Pat Campbell
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Something a little more mundane today --EWD 831 on numbering starting with 0:
Quote:
The above has been triggered by a recent incident, when, in an emotional outburst, one of my mathematical colleagues at the University —not a computing scientist— accused a number of younger computing scientists of "pedantry" because —as they do by habit— they started numbering at zero. He took consciously adopting the most sensible convention as a provocation. (Also the "End of ..." convention is viewed of as provocative; but the convention is useful: I know of a student who almost failed at an examination by the tacit assumption that the questions ended at the bottom of the first page.) I think Antony Jay is right when he states: "In corporate religions as in others, the heretic must be cast out not because of the probability that he is wrong but because of the possibility that he is right."
Now I cut out the technical argument Dijkstra makes (relating to sets of consecutive natural numbers, and including zero as a natural number), and he writes about starting numbering at 0 more than once in his EWDs. A different one on the same topic mentions that in numbering his pages, all he has to look at is how many pages he's already completed. So when he starts, there are no pages completed yet, so this is page 0.... John Conway also liked starting his counting with 0, and his argument had to do with dealing with the empty set.

The reason I bring this up is a couple weeks ago, the fact that two different programming languages that were used by the same person used different indexing standards and this caused a problem for us -- in one language, the first item is indexed with a 0, in the other it is indexed with 1. From my own dealing with programming, I've found that certain things really are easier if the first index is 0.

Anybody else's thoughts on this?

ALSO: relating to corporate heretics, that statement could go many ways. Those who are contrary but generally wrong are more annoying than anything else. They may be booted for being a pain-in-the-ass, but generally there's no great urgency and it's definitely not going to end up in personal recriminations.

But it seems to me when someone has a legitimate point-of-view that contradicts the party line, it =is= urgent to get them out, and sometimes some ad hominem is thrown their way for good measure pour encourager les autres.

This is not necessarily a bad thing -- I think starting with either 1 or 0 is legitimate (as an example), and each standard has its points. I don't think there's necessarily a right answer on that issue. When a decision has been made between two evenly matched choices, and some players refuse to move on, then it would probably be best to force them to move on by going elsewhere. The ad hominem is not necessary, but sometimes when a decision has been made, you cannot tolerate the presence of those who will work strongly to undermine it.
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Last edited by campbell; 06-24-2008 at 10:33 AM..
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