October 16, 2005

The looming threat of dozenalism

Today, I wish to call your attention, to the Dozenal Society. Who are they? I do not wish to be alarmist, but they are dedicated to replacing our ancient and well-proven base-ten method of counting, with counting by the base of twelve. The international legitimacy of the metric system moves them not at all, these mathematical Jacobins: Twelve they must have. Twelve, indeed. They reason is that twelve is more easily factored than ten, but in our modern age of computers, that is nonsense. Surely, a computer could very easily find a way, to divide ten by three or by seven and get a whole number out of it. They are very clever, those boffins with their computers, and you won't see them messing about with strange radices.

Besides, you do not need to divide numbers by three, because two is company and three, is a crowd. If there are three at supper, that is one too many, or one too few, and in any case, the host should pay the bill without vulgarly dividing it among the party. The trouble is not with the currency, or with the numbering. It is with your own ill-breeding. You need to accept that it is you who have done wrong, and not the Treasury at all.

But it is worse than that. They say,

...the next really useful number [is] sixty, but this latter number is rather too large to be chosen as an every-day number base.

Well you know who counted by sixty, do you not? The Babylonians, that is who, and the Mayans or the Aztecs or one of those, and no doubt many other nations of perfectly alarming savages. And you can see, that sixty, is their ultimate goal: They defer it, merely on grounds of practicality, but quite surely as soon as they are able, they will be teaching your children the customs of ancient Babylonia, at the public expense.

Please, consider the children. It would not do to go back to the bad old days of farthings, and groats, when the lower classes could not use money because there were too many coins for them to understand, the poor ignorant creatures.

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This is too much to bear. I just spent all year memorizing pi to 100,000 decimal places and now you tell me we are going to change to base twelve.
The Maya, and the later Mexica(Aztecs) used a vigesimal system and developed the concept of place-value notation and the null cypher. They could also predict various astronomical events through calculation. They also had a VERY accurate calendar system. They were not savages!
This was all done circa 600 AD, when your ancestors were still swinging in the trees.
Now the Babylonians, they were indeed savages. And don't get me started on the Assyrians.
Jake, now you have learned the value of planning ahead.

Ms. Diver, I am quite sure my ancestors in AD 600 were perfectly respectable people, who did not climb trees. And I do not know what "vigesimal" is, but it sounds like something not very nice. It does not matter whether they counted by sixty, or by twenty, or by two and one half. They could not have behaved very well, living so far from civilization, of that I am certain. I suppose they must have been rather like Australians.
Ms. Helen,
I am sorry, I misunderstood your post. Still, it is not often I am able to pontificate on the ancient Maya, my bestest, most favourite subject.
Okay, maybe your ancestors were not that arboreal, I concede.
It is good to have a favouourite subject! I did not mean to be impolite.

Jake, I am sorry, but if you memorize 100,000 digits of π in base twelve, there will really be 248,832 of them, you see, because that is twelve to the fifth power. So you will have to work much harder, to achieve an equally useless result, and that is why I am opposed to it.
Killer fact: The Maya couldn't calculate π so had to improvise with dodecahedrons instead of spheres.
jake the peg,
Filthy lie, that is.
The Maya used an icosahedron with geodesics to mimic the sphere.
A Mayan "Bucky Ball" as it were.
Now prepare yourself for the traditional Mayan punishment of a 10 litre pulque enema using a hollowed out cactus.
Sorry, MD - and I meant the long pointy spheres that you throw at animals.

Helen, you're a doctor: is there a word for people with an irrational fear of base 12?
I believe, Jake, they are called "cunts".
That, I should say, is what Maslow called them. Freud would not speak of them at all, and B. F. Skinner was rather afraid of twelve himself, the poor thing.
Skinner? The West Midlands-born "stand-up"? It's a shame he's not afraid of more things, like television cameras.
Yes, the one who trained the audience to laugh, whenever he rang a little bell. He went mad, and had to be put down.
Where do clowans fit in here?
not a dran thign. but its time isn it. oh yes its time.
Clowns use base 1. Bastards!
You're all pussies. I grew up learning about pounds, shillings and pence - twenty shillings to a pound, and 12 pence to a shilling. When I was eight years old I could subtract 1 shilling and threepence from four shillings sevenpence halfpenny no bother. Unless of course you had given me four guineas in the first place.
hiop - yep. an lok waht it did to u!
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