Wednesday, August 15, 2007

So, why "inverse?"

One upon a time, back before normal humans were allowed on the Internet, or practically anyone else for that matter, I used to dial up BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) on my exceptionally slow modem, over the phone lines. That would be like having to dial a different phone number every time you wanted to go to a different web page. The isolated nature of each of these boards made each of them feel a bit more like a community than most things you get on the Internet today.

I visited some of the real-time chat boards regularly. Chats like this are weird, you don't see them a lot now days. The weird thing is that you can be in the same room as a couple dozen other people, and you can all be talking together, or you can all be talking at the same time. Trying to parse out a single conversation line from all of the noise is really strange at first, but with a little practice, it becomes pretty easy. The human brain is very cool.

Anyway, every user had a "handle," which is your user name. I'm not sure where the term "handle" disappeared to, but it was a good term.

My handle was Matrix. I'm not sure exactly why, mostly I thought the word sounded cool, but also suggested my math-nerdiness. I had recently been learning about them in university. They are a mathematical table of numbers that one can do interesting things with. It's very important to note that this was before The Matrix the movie came out. The original obscure nerdiness is gone, and replaced by nerdiness-in-black-leather. I really like the movie, but now it would just seem too fanboyish to use it as an alias, when that's not what it was about.

Ah, but all is not lost. Similar to the way the inverse of a real number x=1/y (or x=y^-1) means that xy=1, the inverse of a matrix M^-1 is the matrix such that MM^1=I, where I is the identity matrix (a square matrix with 1's on the diagonal from the top left to the bottom right, and 0's everywhere else). It's a very useful and interesting property. All of this is well explained on the Wikipedia page above, so I will not geek out at this time, enticing as it may be.

So, I have adopted the name inverse, without capitalization for reasons that I'm not really clear on. I'm obsessive about correct capitalization when I'm writing and posting, so perhaps it's simply subversive only to me. It's a nerdy word, it's related to matrices, and it means in some respect "upside down" or "opposite." The page is called "inverse thinking," which literally means "me thinking," but also means "upside down thinking," or maybe "unconventional thinking."

I like it.

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