Of course, that's just an approximation...

Flashback to the 1970s, when this college student pilot fish works nights as a computer operator -- and he gets to use the big machine for his homework, too.

"My calculus professor asked us to write a Fortran program to simulate a Monte Carlo method of determining the area under a graph," says fish. "You have a formula that, for a given input, tells you whether your result lies above or below a less-than-typical plot line. You run the formula using a random set of inputs, then count what percentage of 'hits' are below the line. That is then used to approximate the area under the curve.

"It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the more random numbers you use, the closer you get to fairly approximating the area.

"So I wrote the Fortran program to successively iterate using more and more random inputs, so I could demonstrate how the area calculation improves. I'd start with 10, print out the answer, gradually move to 100, printing answers along the way, then increase to 1,000, and so on.

"It didn't take long at all to get the first answer from the mighty 32K mainframe. The next one took a bit longer, and the next longer still.

"It occurred to me that I should time the differences between answers and come up with a guess as to how long I'd have to wait for the final answer in my series of calculations.

"I didn't need to be an expert in calculus to compute the estimate: Well over 10 years! I hit the stop button and went back home."

Don't stop sending Sharky your true tales of IT life just because it's summer. Email your stories to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll score a sharp Shark shirt every time I use one. Comment on today's tale at Sharky's Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

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