Monday 24 August 2009

Descartes Day

In these modern times with such a rapid pace of progress we often mistake old or antiquated as meaning irrelevant. But we couldn't be more wrong.

I learned yesterday, from a child's book, that major principles on which much of my Actionscript is based were invented (or discovered) 372 years ago in the year 1637. The man we have to thank for bothering to write his discovery (or invention) down is the mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes (pronounced day-cart).

And what was this great principle? What we now take for granted, the Cartesian Coordinate System (what we refer to as X and Y coordinates).

Allow me to quote that kid's book:

"Graphs turn pairs of numbers represented by x and y into meaningful shapes. This idea was invented by the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who is perhaps more famous for saying "I think, therefore I am." It allowed people to solve geometric problems with algebra and algebraic problems with geometry."
(Bridgman, R, 1000 Inventions and Discoveries, Dorling Kindersley Limited,
2002, pp 90)

If Descartes hadn't invented the system no doubt someone else would at some point - such is human ingenuity - so I don't for one minute suggest that _xmouse or _root.movieclip._y would not be possible without him. But the fact that Descartes was at least one of the independent inventors, and could be bothered to record and share his invention way back in 1637, deserves him some credit. So, today I briefly doff my cap to Descartes for his coordinate system (in much the same way I might tip my hat to Sir Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the WWW) or Thomas Knoll (a founder developer of Photoshop) were I to pass them on the street).

The Wikipedia article on Cartesian Coordinates is an excellent introduction, and even gives formulas for transformation, reflection and rotation of geometry (all of which could form the basis of some useful Actionscript).

Just remember that with Flash the (0,0) point of the cartesian coordinate system is the top left hand corner (not the bottom left hand corner as it is with graphs).

Moving on...

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