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Happy decade

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Happy decade to all us non-mathematicians

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

Happy New Decade! I'm sending that wish out to everybody except mathematicians.

It's not that I'm prejudiced against people who count for a living, mind you.

I'm just upset that they don't know how to count.

I had a pretty high view of mathematicians, in fact, until a few months ago. That's when my boss told me I had the date wrong for the beginning of the next century.

It wasn't the first day of 2000, he told me. It was the first day of 2001.

I should explain that my boss is hard-working and sober. He wasn't trying to be funny, either. He was just telling me what his boss told him. And, as it turned out, the boss of his boss was just going along with the experts—who just happened to be mathematicians.

Now I understand that math is a tough subject. It's hard enough to count these days, and when you have to add and subtract and do other things like multiply and divide, you can really get messed up.

So I've always felt sorry for mathematicians.

But no more. I'm mad, and I'm not going to take it any more. The beginning of something is the beginning, darn it.

I took my frustration out on my ex-friend Herbie, who's a mathematician. I gave him a call on January. 1.

"Set me straight,'' I told him. "Do mathematicians really say the next century begins on January. 1, 2001?''

"Of course,'' Herbie said. "When you count, you start with 1. Mathematicians are like everybody else. They say `one, two, three, go' just like you and me. They don't say `zero, one, two, go,' right?''

Herbie had a point. But it still didn't make sense.

"Tell me,'' he said. "What's the first day of the year?''

"January first,'' I said.

"Not January zeroeth?''

"No, Herbie, of course not. But you're not helping me out at all. Common sense tells me that the first day of the next century has got to be the first day of the year 2000.''

"What does common sense have to do with it? To mathematicians, rules are rules. When you count, you start with one, not zero.''

It was then I spotted an opening.

"Who says we're counting? We're talking about when something starts, not whether we can count from one number to another.''

"But that's how you tell where the beginning is,'' Herbie said.

"Wrong, Herb.''

I was on a roll. I switched subjects to hide my next thrust.

"How's your granddaughter, by the way?''

"Huh? She's fine. What's that have to do with anything?''

"How old is she, Herb? Haven't seen her in a while.''

"Seven months. Now, as to the way mathematicians count. . .''

"Ah, not quite a year old,'' I said. "But she's not zero-something, is she?''

"What? Of course she's not. Stop being silly. Now if we can get back to. .

"But I thought you mathematicians started counting with one?''

"Not for things like ages. Just for centuries,'' he said.

"Don't centuries get old, too? Don't they have ages?''

"You're trying to confuse me,'' Herbie said. "Math is math and that's that.

If you don't have anything more to say I'll get back to my crossword.''

"Yes,'' I told him. "I'd like to wish you a Happy New Decade.''

"That's nice,'' he said.

"But I said I'd like to do it, Herbie. I didn't say I was going to.''

"Huh? Why?''

"Because it hasn't started yet. Not for you, at least. You're a year early.''

"Now just a minute.''

"No, I've got it all figured out,'' I told him as I started to hang up the phone. "I'll call you next year at the same time. Then I'll wish you a Happy New Decade.''

"And, Herbie,'' I added, "You can count on it.''

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