Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Computer Who Couldn't Compute

The teacher who supposedly taught me plain geometry in my sophomore year at Natrona County High School worked during the summer vacation as a computer for my father. That was back in the days when ``computer'' was a recognized job description like ``jug hustler'' and ``gravity observer''---both of which were jobs that I actually have held.

It was fortunate for Alan---who is now an emeritus processor of computer science---and myself that we found it easy to work with axiomatic systems, and thus were able to teach ourselves geometry, since it was quite clear to us that our teacher really did not understand that sort of thing. I don't know if any of the others in the class really learned anything from him. In fact, my father was convinced that he simply could not compute, that he could not follow the instructions that were given to him in his temporary capacity as a computer.

I, on the other hand, have always found that type of ``computing'' to come quite easily, and so, eight years later when my evidence teacher in law school taught us evidence as an axiomatic system, I found it easy to do very well on the final exam without having to do any studying at all. Of course, at that time, I did not realize that I was computing something, for no computations were involved.

That I would have made a good computer is, of course, nothing for which I can take any credit, anymore that I can be condemned for not being able to spell. Nor, I suppose, could my old teacher have been blamed for the fact that he couldn't compute.


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