Wednesday, May 18, 2005


This post seems quite unrelated to checkers programming (but it's not), but I can't help it - I just have to digress! Across the street from our house, a mobile phone company is planning to build a base station. Concerned citizens in the neighbourhood have already formed an anti-antenna interest group and are trying to prevent it. My neighbour, a 50-ish woman, asked me what I thought about it, and also told me that she had heard (at a meeting of this anti-antenna-group) that such an antenna was especially dangerous within a 46-meter radius. Because we live within this radius the woman was concerned.

I am constantly amazed at how little the general public understands about the basics of physics, or science as a whole. Our society is dominated more and more by ever-improving technology, but nobody understands it. You can claim ridiculous stuff - like that an antenna is dangerous within a certain radius, but not any more if you take one step further away from it, and people don't understand that this kind of reasoning is hogwash. If I had tried to explain to her that there was such a thing as ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, and what the difference is in terms of health hazards, I would have failed completely (If you really want to know about health issues and mobile phones, see the FAQ of John E. Moulder). This phenomenon I just observed is called innumeracy and is the much-overlooked but much more common cousin of illiteracy. I don't know if there is also such an in/il-term for not knowing any science. If there was, it would explain why people hold magnets in their hands for hours in the belief that this will cure them from some kind of disease; and also people would stop asking for proofs that something is safe. You can only prove that something (mobile phones, genetically engineered food, smoking etc) is not safe, never that it is safe.

You will ask: what has all of this got to do with checkers programming? It's quite simple: programming is sometimes called computer science, and when you write a checkers program and want to make it better, you have to make use of scientific methods. You need to devise methods to test your program, so that you can measure progress. You need to apply changes and either reject them or accept them on the basis of your test method. If you don't have the tools to test your program, and if you don't regularly test your changes, your program will not improve. I guess my neighbour will never write a good checkers program!

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