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Undercolor/850105/Off Color Sleepyhead

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UnderColor, Volume 1, Number 5, February 20, 1985

  • Title: Off Color Sleepyhead
  • Author: Richard Ramella
  • Synopsis: On Rene Descartes
  • Page Scans: Link

Article

Your Color Computer is what it is partly because a 16th Century boy was allowed to sleep late.

His name was Rene, and he attended a Jesuit college at La Fleche, France. The Society of Jesus (SJ) was founded in 1534, and was well established by the time young Rene became a student. From the start, the Jesuits built their rep on the quality of education they offered.

At the time of our story, Rene was adjudged not in the best of health. Consequently, he was permitted to stay in bed until noon. The accounts I've read don’t say whether this was permitted on Sunday; I doubt it. Also, I doubt many Jesuit colleges operate that way these days.

So there's the kid, grinning, snoozing and goodness knows what else, until time for lunch. You’d think such a boy would amount to nothing!

But then came the slugabed's idea.

He pictured two lines intersecting at right angles, that divided a field into quadrants. The value of the intersection of the lines was zero. He pictured the entire arrangement divided into increments of any uniform size. Maybe he didn’t think this at the time, but let's call the across increments X, the down increments Y. In this way, the X values right of zero are plus, those to the left are minus. The Y values below zero are minus, the ones above it plus.

Let us now pause while three centuries pass. Zap! The computer is invented. Someone remembered what the

sleepyhead came up with and decided to apply it to computer graphics.

So that's why, on your Color Computer, you can SET and PSET color graphics points on the screen. The system used by computers is not quite the same as that envisioned in bed by Rene; the across X positions begin at the top screen left with a zero and work rightward; the Y positions begin at the same place and work down the screen. What is important is this: It requires but two numbers to specify a given point on a rectangular two-dimensional field. It's called setting Cartesian coordinates.

Young Rene was Rene Descartes, who became more famous for his ideas in philosophy than mathematics.

In Color Basic you can set graphics points 0-63 on the across X axis, and 0-31 on the down Y axis. The form is SET(X,Y,C), with C standing for a color numbered from 1-8. In Extended Color Basic the highest resolution lets you PSET coordinates 0-255 for X, 0-191 for Y.

Rene "I think, therefore I am" Descartes had no intention of laying any of the groundwork for computers. If he had foreseen some of the mundane results of computer graphics he might have attached a rider to his concept stipulating "No aliens, please!" But the future works with the past as it will.

In a larger sense, Cartesian coordinates laid the groundwork for analytical geography. Suddenly geometricians could

portray the paths of equations. Sine waves, log expressions, circles, curves, parabolas, wheat harvests, mortality rates, projections — mathematics was given a kind of physical reality that led to new understanding.

I'll stop here because I am wise enough to realize I could easily get in over my head if I tried to explain much more. Things like graphic representations of regular and periodic phenomena: radio, sound and light waves. Or rates of growth, imaginary numbers, stock market projections, bell curves. And stuff like that.

One thing is certain: even if it's Wednesday, we should all stay in bed until noon tomorrow and see what ideas come

to mind in that somnolent, creative time from 7 a.m. to noon.

If the boss calls, tell him we're thinking about serious stuff. (end)

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