December 07, 2006

Extra, Extra, Read All About it: Not A Number Reinvented!

BBC - Berkshire - Features - 1200-year-old problem 'easy' and SvD: 1200-årigt problem
kan vara löst
demonstrate one thing: journalists don't know anything about math. And they rather copy each other than ask an expert if a story is real.

The real story is that a researcher at University of Reading apparently has reinvented Not A Number to 'solve' the problem of division by zero. And he has managed to teach a class of schoolchildren about it.

Let's ignore that NaN has been around for many years, that we know 1/z has a real singularity at zero, that the extended complex plane together with the the Riemann sphere also neatly fixes the problem as does the extended real number line and wheel theory.

But even the quote from Dr Anderson makes me wonder: "Imagine you're landing on an aeroplane and the automatic pilot's working," he suggests. "If it divides by zero and the computer stops working - you're in big trouble. If your heart pacemaker divides by zero, you're dead."

Ever heard of interrupts? Fault tolerant computing? The IEEE 754r standard? After all, he is said to be from the computer science department.

So now I'm eagerly awaiting the truth: who has been pranking or misunderstanding whom here?

Posted by Anders3 at December 7, 2006 06:03 PM