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September 21, 2008

Zero-Sum Game

By: Bernard Chazelle

One of the many privileges of my line of work is that I get to do much of it while walking, alone, by a beautiful lake. I usually take a pen and a piece of paper but I rarely use them. Calculations are a tiny part of doing math.

Today, I saw a man fishing. A woman walked by and asked him, "Any luck?" He replied, "No." Then a fish swam by and asked the other fish, "Any luck?" They replied, "Yes."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at September 21, 2008 05:26 PM

Is one of the other privileges of your line of work working on a Sunday?

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at September 21, 2008 05:51 PM

It's really "play" not "work," so I get to do it every day of the week. I call it work only to deceive my employer.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at September 21, 2008 06:22 PM

the other chief advantage is that you often get mistaken for a schizophrenic.

At least in my case: how else should the general public interpret a unshaven person on a park bench who draws triangles on paper and then shouts at the triangles?

Posted by: mathpants at September 21, 2008 07:10 PM

mathpants: I am a firm believer that shouting at triangles makes them more coooperative!

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at September 21, 2008 08:27 PM

I enjoy my job too. Shoveling horseshit, tho sadly, some cowshit gets mixed in these dayz. SOMETIMES I get mistaken 4 a 'cowboy' because of it, but in REALITY equestrian IS my sign.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 21, 2008 08:29 PM

Pardon my ignorance, but what do you do Mr. Chazelle? I do gather it has something to do with math...

btw, your music posts are awesome. Even if I can't understand a bit of the theory you broaden my horizons every time.

Posted by: tim at September 21, 2008 09:55 PM

Sorry, I didn't want this post to be about me. It was about the fish.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at September 21, 2008 10:05 PM

So you saw some talking fish?

And how does that make you feel? :)

But anyway, I don't have any idea what you are getting at so I'll just go on a tangent here. I tend to view government as a negative sum game. (gov doesn't produce anything only consumes blah blah) -- So that is the reason that I poo poo progressive ideas, not because I am against the principles of it, just for using government as the means.

Posted by: tim at September 21, 2008 10:29 PM

Two little fish, swimming along.
Big fish passes by, says, "How's the water today?"
After he's gone, one little fish says to the other, "What's 'water'?"

Posted by: Roy Belmont at September 21, 2008 11:19 PM

I love reading this Blog, mostly for the insight but also for the point of view. I love my job because I don't work at the call center anymore. Of course now I have to convince people I can write a database query, but it sure beats the hell out of getting yelled at on the phone all day. Do you suppose shouting at databases works as well as shouting at triangles?

Posted by: 77south at September 22, 2008 12:07 AM

The fish remind me of a Kiwi joke (one from New Zealand):

Tama the Fisherman'
Tama was stopped by a Department Of Conservation officer, somewhere near
Taupo recently, with
two buckets of fish leaving a stream well known for its fishing.
The officer asked him, "Do you have a license to catch those fish?"
Tama replied "These are my pet fish."
"Pet fish!?" the officer asked.
"Yes sir. Every night I take these fish down to the stream and let
them swim around for a while. I whistle and they jump back into the
buckets, and I take them home."
"That's a bunch of crap! Fish can't do that!"
Tama looked at the officer for a moment, and then said "Here I'll show
you, it really works."
"O.K. I've got to see this!" The officer was curious now. Tama poured
the fish into the stream and stood and waited.
After several minutes, the officer turned to him and said "Well?"
"Well, What?" Tama responded.

"When are you going to call them back?" The officer prompted.

"Call who back?" Tama asked.
"The fish." replied the officer.
"What fish?" asked Tama..

Posted by: Glenn Condell at September 22, 2008 12:59 AM

I'm not sure why this is so exactly, but I thought Bernard's observation was funnier once I recalled that the lake in question is probably the one built by Andrew Carnegie. Is it?

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at September 22, 2008 07:53 AM


shouting sometimes works, but not when they're obtuse.

I'll get my coat.

Posted by: mathpants at September 22, 2008 10:10 AM

Fishy Morality

Once a renowned philosopher and moralist was traveling through Nasruddin's village and asked Nasruddin where there was a good place to eat. Nasruddin suggested a place and the scholar, hungry for conversation, invited Mullah Nasruddin to join him. Much obliged, Mullah Nasruddin accompanied the scholar to a nearby restaurant, where they asked the waiter about the special of the day.

"Fish! Fresh Fish!" replied the waiter.

"Bring us two," they requested.

A few minutes later, the waiter brought out a large platter with two cooked fish on it, one of which was quite a bit smaller than the other. Without hesitating, Mullah Nasruddin took the larger of the fish and put in on his plate. The scholar, giving Mullah Nasruddin a look of intense disbelief, proceed to tell him that what he did was not only flagrantly selfish, but that it violated the principles of almost every known moral, religious, and ethical system. Mullah Nasruddin listened to the philosopher's extempore lecture patiently, and when he had finally exhausted his resources, Mullah Nasruddin said,

"Well, Sir, what would you have done?"

"I, being a conscientious human, would have taken the smaller fish for myself." said the scholar.

"And here you are," Mullah Nasruddin said, and placed the smaller fish on the gentleman's plate.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at September 22, 2008 09:45 PM

If I was the fish asking the question, I would have said, "Aren't you lucky!" and they would have replied, "Yes".

Posted by: Rupa Shah at September 22, 2008 09:55 PM