Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Joy Of Trivia

Have you spent lazy afternoons doing nothing? Not even TV I mean?
Ok let me make it more colourful ... it is winter ... the sky is clear ... sun light streaming in ... and you are lying in an hammock eyes closed just dozing away ... heavenly!

That's the kind of joy I derive collecting trivia. Knowledge that has absolutely no role to play in my day to day activity. I collect trivia as I read books that are by no means trivial. Sort of serendipity. But at times I come across books that are packed with trivia. That is pure joy!

So here's a list all trivia that I picked up from just one chapter of this book.
Meanwhile ...

Trivia #1: The first book that was written in the west on Indo-Arabic numbers was in 1202. The title of the book is Liber Abaci (Abacus ... Abaci. Get it?) It was entirely hand-written by Leonardo Pisano. Never heard of him? Sure? Heard of Fibonacci? The same person associated with Fibonacci Numbers (go read The Da Vinci Code or a good book on maths). Well, Leonardo Pisano is better known as Fibonacci.

Trivia #2: We all know Roman numerals - I, II, III, IV etc. But what did the Greeks use? They were a very advanced civilisation. The concept of proof comes from them. Pythagoras was a Greek. So what did he use for numbers. It turns out that Greeks used their alphabets for numerals. Thus, a is 1, p is 5, d is 10, r is 100 and so on. With such a primitive numbering scheme they managed to advance so much, I wonder what wonders they could do if they knew the Indo-Arabic numbering scheme.

Trivia #3: This must be known to many among you. The word algorithm is derived from the name of the great Arab mathematician who lived around 825 AD, al-Khowarizmi. He was the first mathematician to establish rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing using the Indo-Arabic numbers. Come on! I cannot believe that the Indians invented zero, but did not know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply! Historians, please dig deeper.

Trivia #4: In Florence, there was an edict issued in 1229 to ban the use of Indo-Arabic numbers. People who had to learn the new numbers had to disguise themselves as Muslims. It was not until the early 1500s that Europe finally accepted 1, 2, 3 ...

Trivia #5: Remember the pains in the early schooling days when you had to memorise the multiplication tables. Well you can blame al-Khowarizmi for that. He invented it.

Now, isn't this knowledge absolutely fantastic and utterly useless at the same time? Utterly did I just say "utterly useless"? I am wrong. It always helps to set up a context. Such information makes a subject interesting. It generates just the kind of interest that is needed to start learning a subject.

Now coming to the book from which I have taken all this interesting fact ... It is Against The Gods by Peter L. Bernstein. The book is about the remarkable story of risk. It is worth its weight in gold. The financial wizards of Wall St, would do well to memorise this book.

Note: The picture used here belongs to Fleurdepix.

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