[LMB] Re: OT: Rocket Scientist = Genius

Alfred Kelgarries alfredkelgarries at hotmail.com
Thu Apr 6 10:38:02 BST 2006

>Given that the average"educated" adult American of the late 1940's and 
>early 1950's barely completed basic algebra, men who routinely solved 
>equations so complex they required a ***COMPUTER*** (size of a freight car, 
>powered like a steel smelter, run by men in lab coats with reels of tape 
>doing arcane things...)

As I'm in a recursive mood tonight (been doing the last part of that 
non-stop for the last three hours, good thing I work at home...) I'll reply 
to my own post with my personal favorite Computer/math story, told by my 
boss about his college days in Denver, Co..

There is a math genius (for real) there named Chuck Sherrill (sadly deceased 
now). He was hired by Ball Areospace in the late 1960's to solve a 
terrifying problem with a new mainframe they had bought, which no programmer 
or in-house math guy could solve. Ballhad a drop-dead deadline for a moon 
orbiter and if the computer couldn't be made to work right they were going 
to default. The problem was it kept giving bogus answers to any 
trigonometric equation, sometime way off, sometimes almost right, sometimes 
dead on. The program was in FORTRAN, which Chuck knew well. He was given the 
source, read through it while the CITO, the VP for Ops and some other 
bigwigs sat watching him in hope and fear. Chuck agreed to do the job for a 
tidy sum (he never admitted how much, but it was clearly substantial), got a 
signed contract and agreed to come in the next day and "have a go at it". He 
did just that, and to everyone's delight and terror his fixed progam worked 
perfectly, in test after test. The executives joyously gave him a check on 
the spot, which he went and cashed promptly. He then returned and gave the 
programmers his "fixed" code. The programmers had forgotten that in two 
quadrants of the circle, sine and cosine are negative. Despite six math 
majors staring at the code, nobody saw it. (Sherrill's haste to cash the 
check was then quite understandable...)

Alfred Kelgarries
"War is the art of lying to  your enemies better than they can lie to  you." 
Sun Tzu, modern version

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