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Bug#684128: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said...

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it
means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many
different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away...

A man walked into a bank, and wrote out a withdrawal slip for $1073.74
on an account that he had there. He handed it to a teller, who said:

"Thank you, sir, I'll get that for you immediately."

The teller went to the bank's cash dispenser to get the money. When he
came back, he handed the man ten $100 bills. Seeing this, the man said:

"I'm sorry, that's not what I asked for, if you look at the withdrawal
slip I gave you."

"Well, it's close enough, don't you think?"

"Look, I was quite specific, I asked for $1073.74, not just something
within eight percent of it."

"Only incredibly picky people really care about differences of that

"Just about everybody understands the importance of such a difference."

"I think you probably have a strange definition of 'just about
everybody'. In reality, I think that just about nobody cares about
$1073.74 versus $1000.00. This is basically splitting hairs, which we
don't have time for."

"Why can't you just do what I asked you to?"

"Actually, our cash machine can't accommodate transactions like that,
because the people who designed it were in a rush and didn't bother with
exact calculations; it justs sticks a few zeros on the end of every
number you give it."

"Aren't exact calculations kind of the whole point of having computers?"

"Look, I already told you, you're being incredibly picky, and just
splitting hairs, and we don't have time for it."

"In that case, I'd like to change my withdrawal to $1100, because $1000
is less than what I actually need."

"Well, then, you should have thought of that in the first place. We've
already processed your request for approximately $1000, and we can't
undo it now. You'll just have to close out your account and start all
over again."

A few days later, the man returned to the same bank, carrying a package.
He handed it to the teller he had spoken to previously.

"I understand why you made me open a whole new account, just so I could
get as much money as I asked for. It's because your equipment is
defective. Look, just to show that there's no hard feelings, I brought
you a new cash machine, which actually does what it's told to. You can
have it, so none of your customers will be subjected to this absurd
inconvenience in the future."

"That's very kind of you, sir, but how do we know that this machine is
actually reliable? What if it implements some kludge even more
ridiculous than trying to do arithmetic by appending '000' to a string,
like the last one did? We've had it for YEARS AND YEARS, and nobody ever
bothered to do anything about it until you did. You see, our programmers
really don't give a rat's ass about seven or eight percent differences
like that. They have Important Things To Do."

"I thought of that too. Look, here's a comprehensive test report,
showing that my machine produces exactly the same results as your
current one for every transaction which that one is actually capable of.
But my machine, unlike yours, actually does what the customer asks of
it, rather than making some dumb approximation for the convenience of
programmers who were less than Incredibly Picky. Of course there's no
way to test those results against the current machine, but if you can
think of any correctness test which would satisfy you, I'll be happy to
carry it out."

"Again, that's very kind of you, sir. We'll be happy to accept your
machine, and give it due consideration and study."

Eight months later, the man returned to the bank once again, just to see
if anything had changed. It hadn't. The new cash machine was sitting on
a shelf, gathering dust. It did not seem that anybody had even looked at
it in all that time. Maybe the bank would someday remember it, if they
ever felt the need to give their customers what they actually asked for.
Or maybe they wouldn't.

After all, the bank had Important Things To Do.


Of course, nothing like this could ever happen in the Real World(TM).

Because if it did, such an institution would be laughed out of
existence. For example, if anybody were so careless about the size of
computer filesystems, they would be subjected to scorn and derision, as
when the author of resize2fs(8) says:

    Note: when kilobytes is used above, I mean real, power-of-2
    kilobytes, (i.e., 1024 bytes), which some politically correct folks
    insist should be the stupid-sounding "kibibytes". The same holds
    true for megabytes, also sometimes known as "mebibytes", or
    gigabytes, as the amazingly silly "gibibytes". Makes you want to
    gibber, doesn't it?

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