Prime numbers, beans, religion, objects and hype. (July 1998)

Innovations and new discoveries can be presented to the world in a variety of different ways. Just publishing them usually means that they will probably be overlooked, whereas marketing can sometimes increase expectations beyond what can be realistically delivered. PDM's editor Neil McNaughton examines some alternative approaches.

Pythagoras, living about 2,500 years ago, and best known today for the theorem concerning the square on the hypotenuse, knew a lot about many other aspects of math. For instance that squared numbers are the sums of consecutive odd numbers, a fact that I found totally mind-boggling when I read it recently. My mind is easily boggled I suppose. But what was more interesting was Pythagoras' marketing technique. Rather than publishing, or at least broadcasting his knowledge to the hoi paloi in the Agora, Pythagoras set up a secret society dedicated to the study of numbers. Since numbers had such magical properties, they were venerated, and various rules were imposed on the Pythagoreans.

Beans means..

One essential requirement for instance was that they did not eat beans "because they resemble testicles". The secrecy requirement could be taken to be one of the first examples of a non-disclosure agreement (the chap who did 'disclose' the Pythagorean finding that the square root of 2 is irrational was drowned by Mr. P. himself). But the "no-beans" rule is more akin to the workings of the modern marketing person. Nothing to do with the technology, just some floss and spin designed to enhance by mystification. With the increasing focus that the IT community is placing on the Object Paradigm it is useful to know whether we are in the mainstream of the theory, or staring in horror at the beans. Given that even the most elementary discovery in number theory can be associated with the most extravagant ideological claims, how do we sort out the fact from the fantasy in the great object debate? In case you do not realize the extent of the ramping up of the new technology, try this enthusiastic "in praise of objects" piece of purple prose... "Smith seeks nothing less than to revise our understanding not only of the machines we build, but also of the world with which they interact. Smith's search [..] ultimately leads to a radical overhaul of our traditional conception of metaphysics". I submit that we are back with the no-beaners here.

OO cuisine?

Over the last few moths we have heard industry leaders outline their views on interoperability. POSC's ongoing Interop group is currently analyzing the submissions and will be presenting the results at the New Orleans SEG in September. The SEG conference is also the date for the big roll-out of the Open Spirit specification (closely linked with the POSC effort). In this issue of PDM we hear how CGG is using OO technology today to inter-operate with software from both Landmark and GeoQuest. In fact this latter announcement opens up an interesting question, do we need "official" standards for interoperability? Check out the side box below to see how this has not been the case for Internet telephony. So we await the SEG with considerable interest. We don't expect to find any secret societies, and if we spill the beans (oops..) on something of note, we sure hope not to get drowned by anyone. In my research for this article though, I did notice that beans are conspicuously absent from Cajun cuisine. Makes you wonder..

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