The Alice and Bob After Dinner Speech

Funny article on Coding Theory. No need to know or even care what coding theory is. Just read the article.
Source: The Alice and Bob After Dinner Speech

There is a story about a student of information theory on his first day at college. He had entered a strange, bizarre world. The only sounds were the occasional calling out of a number by one of the professors, followed by laughter. One professor would say ’52’, there would be a short pause then peals of laughter. Someone else says ‘713’, same thing, everyone falls down laughing.

“What’s going on here?” he asked his tutor.

“We’re telling jokes,” said his tutor.

“Telling jokes?”

“Yes, you see, we’ve all worked here so long we know each other’s jokes. There are a thousand of them. So, being information theorists we applied data compression. We just assigned them all numbers, 0 through 999. It saves a lot of time and effort. Would you like to try? Just say any number 0 to 999…”

He wasn’t fully convinced. But he tried. Very quietly he whispered “477”.

Hardly a murmur.

He looked at his tutor. “What’s wrong?” he said. “Try again,” says the tutor.

So he does. “318” – same again, not a thing, hardly a murmur.

“Something’s wrong,” he says.

“Well,” says the tutor, “it’s like this – it’s not so much the joke as the way you tell it!”


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I started reading Science Fiction in the 1950s. I started Writing SF in the 1960s. Then, I had a life. Now I am retired, raising chickens and keeping bees. I am still an avid reader and I have sold about 70 stories in the last 20 years.
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