Category Archives: Sayings

Do you exaggerate when you go online?

OK, so you’re sat in front of your computer and you switch it on and go online, but before you even type anything anywhere, do you realise you’ve just perpetuated a very old lie?

Baron Münchhausen

We have to go back a few years before the internet, and before modern computers, in fact all the way back to the 18th century and to Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen, better know to us now simply as Baron Münchhausen.

The Baron became famous in his lifetime for telling fantastic stories about his life, many of which were just plainly impossible.  His tales inspired books and even Hollywood films and many of his exploits became classic examples of adynata.

His name became so famous that he even has a medical condition named after him, which affects people who attempt to draw attention to themselves through either making themselves or others ill.

In one of his tales Baron Münchhausen found himself and his horse stuck in quicksand and in an incredible feat of strength (and one which defies several laws of physics) he is able to pull both himself and his horse by pulling on his pigtails.

Münchhausen pulling at his pigtails

Münchhausen’s contribution to this story is now at an end and we move forward a few decades and travel all the way to the Wild West where the good folk were no slouches in creating their own version of this incredible feat, and if one was faced with an impossible task it was said to be akin to “pulling oneself over a fence by one’s bootstraps”.

This phrase, often simply shortened to “pulling himself by the bootstraps” was commonly used for what seemed an impossible task.

Roll forward several more decades, and in the 1950s, when computer technology was gathering pace, engineers realised they’d created a paradox whereby a computer cannot run without first loading software, but must be running before any software can be loaded.

What they needed was a hardwired program to read an operating program which would then allow the computer to read and execute other instructions.  This hardwired program became known as a “Bootstrap” which would be activated via a button, and this was soon shortened to “Boot”.

Ever since then we’ve called switching on a computer “Booting Up”, thus following in Baron Münchhausen’s example of seemingly doing the impossible.

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Posted by on Thursday 26th January 2012 in Computers, People, Sayings


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