The Bistromathic Drive

Just like I said yesterday, today’s topic from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the Bistromathic drive. The fragment is taken from the third book in the series, Life, the Universe, and Everything – chapter 7.

Without further ado, here it is, read by Douglas Adams:

[trilu-audio]http://www.trilulilu.ro/DouglasAdams/849515d1ef0e82[/trilu-audio]

The Bistromathic Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing vast interstellar distances without all that dangerous mucking about with Improbability Factors.

Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behavior of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that time was not an absolute but depended on the observer’s movement in space, and that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer’s movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer’s movement in restaurants.

The first non-absolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.

The second non-absolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of maths, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field.

The third and most mysterious piece of non-absoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the bill, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table, and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a sub-phenomenon in this field.)

The baffling discrepancies which used to occur at this point remained uninvestigated for centuries simply because no one took them seriously. They were at the time put down to such things as politeness, rudeness, meanness, flashness, tiredness, emotionality, or the lateness of the hour, and completely forgotten about on the following morning. They were never tested under laboratory conditions, of course, because they never occurred in laboratories – not in reputable laboratories at least.

And so it was only with the advent of pocket computers that the startling truth became finally apparent, and it was this:

Numbers written on restaurant bills within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe.

This single fact took the scientific world by storm. It completely revolutionized it. So many mathematical conferences got held in such good restaurants that many of the finest minds of a generation died of obesity and heart failure and the science of maths was put back by years.

Slowly, however, the implications of the idea began to be understood. To begin with it had been too stark, too crazy, too much what the man in the street would have said, “Oh yes, I could have told you that,” about. Then some phrases like “Interactive Subjectivity Frameworks” were invented, and everybody was able to relax and get on with it.

The small groups of monks who had taken up hanging around the major research institutes singing strange chants to the effect that the Universe was only a figment of its own imagination were eventually given a street theatre grant and went away.

In the book, the Bistromathic Drive is used in Slartibartfast‘s craft Starship Bistromath and works by exploiting the irrational mathematics that apply to numbers on a waiter’s cheque pad and groups of people in restaurants.Here are some more details on how to operate such a means of travel:

  • The bridge instruments of the Starship Bistromath are ensconced in fake wine bottles.
  • The central computational area is a fake Italian restaurant table with seating for twelve encased in a glass cage. The table is decked with a faded red and white check tablecloth with mathematically positioned cigarette burns. A group of robot customers sit round the table, attended by robot waiters.
  • The mathematics play themselves out in the complex interplay between continuously circulating keys, menus, watches, cheque books, credit cards, bill pads and scribblings on paper napkins.
  • “On a waiter’s bill pad,” explains Slartibartfast, “numbers dance. Reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and anything is possible.”
  • Should the ship’s captain sit at the table, the mathematical functions speed up; the customers become more vociferous and wave at each other. Eventually, the equation balances, and the customers become polite and civil once more. The more heated the argument, the more complex the equation, and the farther the ship may travel.

Tomorrow’s fragment will be related to what “that wholly remarkable book”, the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, has to say about the Universe. :)

2 thoughts on “The Bistromathic Drive

  1. This book is great. :)
    “The story goes that I first had the idea for THHGTTG while lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck” (Douglas Adams).

  2. “The history of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is now so complicated that every time I tell it I contradict myself, and whenever I do get it right I’m misquoted. Anything that is put down wrong here is, as far as I’m concerned, wrong for good. The idea for the title first cropped up while I was lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1971. Not particularly drunk, just the sort of drunk you get when you have a couple of stiff Gössers after not having eaten for two days straight, on account of being a penniless hitchhiker. We are talking of a mild inability to stand up. I was traveling with a copy of the Hitch Hiker s Guide to Europe by Ken Walsh, a very battered copy that I had borrowed from someone. In fact, since this was 1971 and I still have the book, it must count as stolen by now. I didn’t have a copy of Europe on Five Dollars a Day (as it then was) because I wasn’t in that financial league. Night was beginning to fall on my field as it spun lazily underneath me. I was wondering where I could go that was cheaper than Innsbruck, revolved less and didn’t do the sort of things to me that Innsbruck had done to me that afternoon.

    What had happened was this. I had been walking through the town trying to find a particular address, and being thoroughly lost I stopped to ask for directions from a man in the street. I knew this mightn’t be easy because I don’t speak German, but I was still surprised to discover just how much difficulty I was having communicating with this particular man. Gradually the truth dawned on me as we struggled in vain to understand each other that of all the people in Innsbruck I could have stopped to ask, the one I had picked did not speak English, did not speak French and was also deaf and dumb. With a series of sincerely apologetic hand movements, I disentangled myself, and a few minutes later, on another street, I stopped and asked another man who also turned out to be deaf and dumb, which was when I bought the beers.

    I ventured back onto the street. I tried again.

    When the third man I spoke to turned out to be deaf and dumb and also blind I began to feel a terrible weight settling on my shoulders; wherever I looked the trees and buildings took on dark and menacing aspects. I pulled my coat tightly around me and hurried lurching down the street, whipped by a sudden gusting wind. I bumped into someone and stammered an apology, but he was deaf and dumb and unable to understand me. The sky loured. The pavement seemed to tip and spin. If I hadn’t happened then to duck down a side street and pass a hotel where a convention for the deaf was being held, there is every chance that my mind would have cracked completely and I would have spent the rest of my life writing the sort of books for which Kafka became famous and dribbling.

    As it is I went to lie in a field, along with my Hitch Hiker’s Guide to Europe, and when the stars came out it occurred to me that if only someone would write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well, then I for one would be off like a shot. Having had this thought I promptly fell asleep and forgot about it for six years.” (Douglas Adams)

    :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comments will be sent to the moderation queue.