Certainty

It was cold in the computer lab. I finished typing with a flourishing [Enter] and…

A bunch of compilation errors longer than the menu list of McDonald’s poured onto the screen.

What?!? I checked my program again, and found it. A missing semicolon. I typed
cc lab01.c -o lab01
again with a slightly less flourishing [Enter] and…

A blinking cursor on the Unix command prompt. Yes! I was certain it was error-free. Oh right, I had to run the program to check that it’s actually correct… No program is certain till you test it. And even then…

Oh boot camp…

Which reminds me of the time when I was in military boot camp. Everyone was tired. The corporals and sergeants and officers might be bossing you around, but at the end of the week, even they wanted to leave camp on time.

However, leaving the camp on time on Saturday depended on the ranking officer.

There was a saying that when the ranking officer said everybody could leave at 1:30pm on Saturday, it didn’t mean everybody could actually leave at 1:30pm on Saturday. The sergeants advised all of us recruits to keep our hopes down. Then when it actually happened, we could take it as a pleasant surprise.

Maybe it was “Everybody eats lunch at the cookhouse. Inspection of bunk at 1pm. The whole company can leave at 1:30pm if they pass.”.

You know what? Everyone ate with gusto. Everyone rushed back (with impeccably cleaned utensils of course) to the bunk. Buckets of water to wash the floor and walls. Even corridors weren’t spared. Lockers were wiped. Uniforms were tidied. Beds were made and arranged in strict 90 degrees to the walls and in line with the beds on the opposite wall.

Even then, we weren’t certain we could leave at 1:30pm. Which reminds me of a story I read…

Telling weather

There’s a book series called Elenium written by the late David Eddings. In it, there’s a race of people called Elenes. This race was described as being impeccably logical, almost to a fault.

There was a scene where this Elene logic was being made fun of. A character said that it would take an Elene forever to tell you what the weather was like, even if all you needed to do was look out the window. Another character said,

“Ahhh, but when an Elene tells you it’s raining, you’re absolutely certain that it’s raining.”

It didn’t happen, till it happened.

Because I read David Eddings *cough*, I didn’t feel too bad waiting for the go-ahead to leave camp. If it happened at 1:30pm, we were happy. Even if we could only leave at 2:30pm, we counted our blessings.

Back at the lab…

I typed “lab01” at the command prompt to run my program. The bane of my Unix C programming existence happened.

Segmentation fault.

The worst kind of error because it’s one of the hardest to trace and find the bug. And I was doing matrix computations. With malloc here and pointer there.

Nothing is absolutely certain. The best you can do is have a good chance. The only things that are certain are in the past. And you know what they say about history?

History is written by victors.

Go make something happen.