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21 Jo P Sept 08

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  • 1. The Joy of Programming S.G. GaneSh Believe It Or Not! Part I This month’s column is inspired by Ripley’s ‘Believe It Or not’. We’ll look at some unusual facts about the Indian connections and contributions to computer science. even if you do not know much about computers, I’m sure you will enjoy reading this! Y ou may not believe the following trivia, but that’s If you travel in South India, particularly Tamil Nadu, you where the fun lies! can see beautiful ‘kolams’ on the floor in front of houses, A modern computer equivalent of a hashing for decoration. They are related to ‘fractals’—self-similar algorithm was used in Indian music a few centuries before geometric figures—that are well known in computer science hashing was invented for use in computer data structures! in formal language theory and used extensively in image Hashing is a fundamental technique used to derive a processing and graphics. To quote from Marcia Ascher’s numeric key from a value to quickly find the index in a table. book called Mathematics Elsewhere: An Exploration of Many lovers of Carnatic music know the ‘Katapayadi Sutra’ Ideas Across Cultures: “In addition to their importance that is used to find the ‘Mela’ number from a ‘Mela’ name; what to the people of Tamil Nadu, the creation of kolam designs they may now know is that it is in fact a hashing algorithm. has become part of the computer science literature, serving Hashing was originally developed by H.P. Luhn of IBM in as examples for some types of languages. Thus, the kolam 1953 for use in computers; though the ‘Katapayadi Sutra’ was provides an exemplar of the way mathematical ideas in obviously not meant to be used for hash tables, it provided a a traditional setting can reach beyond their own cultural scheme to derive numbers from names, which is nothing but a boundaries to enrich and contribute to scholarly interests.” hashing algorithm as we know it today. The word ‘algorithm’ traces its origins to the Figure 1: The ‘snake kolam’ that can be produced from deterministic Indian number system and algebra! context-free L-System The word ‘algorithm’ comes from ‘al-Khwarizmi’, the name of an Arabic mathematician who wrote a book on the Indian number system and algebra. The West learnt the numbering system mainly from this book and referred to the book on Indian numbers as ‘al-Khwarizmi book’ which when written and pronounced in Latin became the ‘algorism’ book. To quote If you have any interesting ‘believe it or not’ trivia like from wikipedia: “The word ‘algorism’ originally referred only those featured here, do feel free to send them to me. to the rules of performing arithmetic using Arabic numerals but evolved via European Latin translation of al-Khwarizmi’s Further reading & reFerences name into ‘algorithm’ by the 18th century. The word evolved to include all definite procedures for solving problems or • The Katapayadi Formula and the Modern Hashing ‘ performing tasks.” Technique’, A.V. Raman, IEEE Annals of the History of India built its first electronic computer—TIFRAC— Computing, 1997 indigenously in 1956! • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algorithm#Origin_of_the_word TIFRAC (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research • www.ias.ac.in/resonance/May2008/p420-429.pdf Automatic Calculator) built at TIFR, Mumbai, was the first • Mathematics Elsewhere: An Exploration of Ideas ‘ operational electronic computer developed in India. It Across Cultures’, Marcia Ascher, Princeton University was built using vacuum tubes; had 2 KB of 40-bit memory Press, 2002 words; and programming was done in its assembly language. • he snake kolam image used in the article is T Input was done using paper tapes and output with an taken from coco.ccu.uniovi.es/malva/sketchbook/ electronic typewriter. It was a huge machine with high power lssketchbook/examples/fractal/fractal.htm consumption, but it was powerful enough for scientists from all over India to come and use the computer! S.G. Ganesh is a research engineer in Siemens (Corporate Many of the ‘kolams’ (seen in south Indian homes) Technology). His latest book is “60 Tips on Object Oriented Programming”, published by Tata McGraw-Hill in December are related to ‘fractals’ and can be generated by last year. You can reach him at sgganesh@gmail.com. computer programs. www.openITis.com | LINUX For YoU | SepTember 2008 105

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