This week we’re counting down the top ten best numbers ever. We’ve excluded numbers such as music tracks or dress outfits and are concentrating instead on actual digits that changed the world or in any other way briefly obsessed me this week.
3.1415927. We’ve got a long and bumpy road ahead of us so we’d best start with the one number you can eat. And which never runs out.
8. The number 8 is the subject of the only clean maths joke I know. What did the 0 say to the 8? “Nice belt”.
4 and 2. The two numbers most responsible for the decline of the English language and the reason literacy is going to hell. Sorry, that’s 2 hell 4 you.
Million million and thousand million. The most amazing maths fact ever: one million million equals one thousand million. During the EU referendum debacle, Nigel Farage was asked which definition of billion he was using and allegedly said it was a trivial difference. That’s a man you want running your economy. Sorry, autocorrect: I meant ruining.
The answer, since you ask, is that he didn’t have a damn clue and cared even less about it. But any time you hear the word billion, it means one thousand million. Official. It’s called the Short System and while we think of it as American, the UK government adopted it in 1974.
Unofficially it’s called the stupid system and the one where somebody wanted to be called a billionaire when they still had quite some way to go.
23. I’m not making this stuff up, I’m just enjoying how the number 5 number isn’t number 5. Instead, there is a thing called the 23 Enigma that claims the number is profoundly significant. No, profoundly. As in being somehow inherently bound into the universe. People really believe this – Google it – but what I like is that this in itself is an example of confirmation bias. You think 23 is significant, so you see 23 in significant places. You see what you want to see, in other words.
2. When you switch your computer on and off again, you’re not fixing something, you’re making a small sacrifice to the god of two, the god of binary. Everything computers do for us is based on what bits are on and what are off.
K. Binary is base 2 and where we think of everything in base 10 because that’s how many fingers we’ve got, these two bases do blur together at one point. At K. In binary when you say 1K you mean 1,024 somethings. This computer term has been borrowed by business but business said bollocks to that 24 bit, 1K equals 1,000.
So if you earned an average of 40k or £40,000/year for forty years, you’ve just been screwed out of £38,400. That’s like working for nothing for pretty much a year. You know, the same way women are paid.
Hex. Base 16. It would been a bit of a stretch to say that the fact we shorten hexadecimal to hex is because it is the cursed base. But I did play hexadecimal Sudoku just once and still wake up clutching a crucifix.
Before we reveal our all-time #1, here are some honourable mentions. F. That’s another base 16 number but I already told you I only know one clean maths joke. 70. There’s nothing special or wrong about 70, but I only recently learned that the number doesn’t exist in French. You have to say the equivalent of 60 plus 10. Funny old world, isn’t it? Infinity. I could go on about this one.
And now, our number 1:
0. Zero. The last digit to be invented – and it was invented, it had to be thought up. Seriously, human beings survived for eleventy-million years without a zero and if it weren’t for ancient Indian mathematicians, we still wouldn’t have it. How would writers understand how much we were being paid if we didn’t have a word for zero?