## Saturday, 27 October 2012

### Algorithms

There is no such thing as random. There is always an algorithm. Perhaps it is so complicated that it appears random, but I know that there must be an algorithm somewhere.

In the gym, I usually do my cardio exercise on the step master. I recently discovered that one of the exercises you can choose is called 'around the world'. The impact varies according to mountains and sights in the continents I 'visit'. E.g. going through Sahara is low impact, while the Eiffel Tower is one narrow peak with high impact. Now I am trying to deduce the algorithm...

• There are six continents: South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceana.
• The workout does not always start in South America but could start anywhere on the list. The order of continents remains the same.
• A 25 minute workout and a 30 minute workout visit three continents. 9 minutes in the first, 10 minutes in the second and the remainder in the third.
• A 53 minute workout (which I did today) visit all six continents, 4'20'' in the first, and ten minutes in the others except of course for the last one, which lasts a little less.
• Thus below a threshold this workout visits only a subset of continents, and above the threshold all six.
Next step is of course to deduce the threshold. Maybe there is more than one threshold, the likely thing is that 50-60 minutes equals 6 continents, 40-50 equals 5, etc. So what's with the 9-10-11 minutes versus the something-10-10-10-10-something? I got to go on the step master till I've figured it out!

OK computer algorithms are easy because I know that they are there. Other algorithms are much more difficult. (Heaven forbid that they simply don't exist)

First time you meet a person, you shake hands. At some stage, if you see the person often or become close, you stop touching and just say hello when you meet. Then at some stage you may become so close that you hug the person when you meet. This algorithm I've learned. I've also learned that sometimes you don't hug a person that you've hugged before because you saw him or her recently. But sometimes it becomes more complicated than that. Maybe you hug upon arrival but not when you leave. Or the other way around. Or both. Or neither, even though you didn't see these hugable people for a long time. Please teach me the algorithm!

Ending e-mails is a similar story. The Danish greetings are different from the English greetings, of course, but the idea would be more or less the same: From 'sincerely' over 'best regards' and no greeting - just the name, to 'with love' (in Danish the abbreviated form is rather common) or maybe 'hugs', there is a development of increasing proximity. But what does it mean when a colleague writes 'with love' one week and simply 'regards' the next? When a friend moves from 'hugs' to 'with love' to 'best regards'? When a person I never met before ends their e-mail 'with love'? THAT algorithm is not installed on my computer! I've got my own but I am not sure it works to the purpose. To colleagues I write 'best regards', to friends 'with love', except for the selected few that receive 'hugs' from me. My algorithm works, most of the time, but it feels like speaking very broken French to French-speaking people. The risk of making mistakes, also offensive mistakes, is rather high, and there is nothing I can do, because nobody taught me the algorithm.