Remedial thoughts make you question things…

I’m in the middle of writing a networking primer (for the 3rd time. sigh.) and I’m in the middle of the “teaching binary” section, and it’s got me thinking about an old joke…

There are 10 kinds of people in the world.

Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Yes, hahaha, very amusing. You can even buy it on a shirt. But here’s what I just realized…it doesn’t work as a spoken joke at all.

While writing about binary and decimal, I’ve had to be very careful to pay attention in my sentences to whether I’m writing the word for a value or I’m writing a number. The number 10 is very different than the value ten. The joke works with “There are 10 types….”, but you can’t say “There are ten types…”, because 10 isn’t ten in binary. In binary, 10 is two.

I may be the slowest horse here, but the clear distinction just occurred to me that a written word indicates a value. I am now retroactively aggravated at everyone I’ve ever talked to that pronounced “10” as “ten” when they meant anything except the decimal number 10.

Am I wrong?

  • sabrina

    Well, the joke doesn’t flow so well if they wrote it as 10 sub 2, I suppose — worse, it might make people actually ask you to explain the T-shirt!

  • I completely agree. The number b10 is not pronounced “ten”, it’s “two”. The words “ten” and “two” do not mean the written numbers “10” and “2”, their means are specific counts. The same concepts would apply no matter what base your using.

    This does remind my loosely of a joke between some of my friends and I. It is sometimes very useful to be able to count to high numbers on your fingers. Obviously using one finger for each value is incredibly inefficient; but counting in binary allows you to count over 1000. Counting in binary on your fingers results in 4, 128, and 132 having alternate meanings to the general amusement of onlookers.

  • I’ve run into something similar. It’s not something I have to write about often but when I document my micro-controller projects I generally prefix the various units ti differentiate them. 0x for hex, b for binary and then anything without a prefix is assumed decimal. It works but it’s easy to get tied in knots!

  • mibus

    You’re right, if one uses the assumption that all spoken-word numbers are in base-10.

    “Ten” in speech is reserved for the decimal number 10 – but only because it’s base that you were brought up using.

    In a hypothetical world where base-2 is the norm, “ten” would be used to describe “10” (ie. “two” in decimal); what we call “ten” they’d call “thousand and ten”.

    That’s my 2c. Er, 10c. Er… ;)