Alien number systems (by )

An interesting question came up on Twitter, and it started to be hard to fit what I wanted to say in tweets, so I decided to write it up on here.

Basically, the brief (as I read it) was to design a writing system for numbers that might be used by a civilisation who used numbers to measure physical quantities, rather than to count things. My theory is that we developed positional number systems as they make it easy to add up totals in columns, and that accounting was the original driving force behind our development of numbers.

Now, scientists and engineers like to use "scientific notation", which means you write a number like "1.57 * 10^5"; generally three or so digits, written in the form of a single digit, a decimal place, then two or so more digits, then a multiplier by a power of ten. That's convenient because measurements of the real world generally have a given precision, easily expressed as a number of digits that can be obtained, independent of their magnitude, which is then easily expressed as an exponent.

So, I reckon, a civilisation that built its number system for scientific notation might do things a bit differently.

So here's what I came up with.

Let's have ten digits; I'll write them as 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 as that's a convenient set of symbols on my keyboard, but to avoid confusion, I'll write numbers in my proposed system inside curly brackets, like so: {943}.

The digits represent powers of two. 9 is 2^9, or 512; 0 is 2^0, or 1. To write a number in the range 1 to 1023, we turn it into binary and write the digits corresponding to the bits that are one, in descending order. So the number {943} means 2^9 + 2^4 + 2^3, or 536. You always write the digits in descending order.

You can't write zero that way, except as an empty string, but that can be mistaken for "nothing has yet been written", so let's use a separate symbol for zero: say {X}.

If we want to express fractions, we use a radix point. The digits after the radix point are another number that is, basically, divided by 1024; so one and a half would be written {0.9}. If you need more than ten bits of precision after the radix point, use another one; {0..9} would mean 1+1/2048. I'm tempted to reverse the order of the digits on the right of the radix point, making 0 represent 512 and 1 represent 256 and so on, so that {0.0} represents one and a half; but perhaps that's just more complicated.

But the way of representing very small numbers, or very large numbers, is to use exponential notation. But because the exponent of a number is more significant than the mantissa (the bit we've already discussed so far), it should go first, with a separator symbol. We write the exponent as a number in the above format; 1024 is raised to that number and then multiplied by the mantissa.

So if we use {$} as our separator symbol, one is written {0}, three is written {10}, 3*1024 is written {0$10}, and so on.

Very small numbers are written using a dividing exponent, which comes AFTER the mantissa and uses a different separator (say {/}). So {10/0} is 3/1024.

A number like 1023 is awkward to write - it's {9876543210}. But unless you need that level of precision, the entire ten bits, you'd normally just round it to 1024 - {0$0}.

I chose ten digits, not because I happen to have ten of them on my keyboard, but because it means that the simple form with no radix points gives you a range from 0..1023, which is about three significant figures in decimal; the precision to which higher-precision engineering measurements are made to. It's just plain difficult to be more precise than that with mass-produced instruments (you can, but the instruments tend to be very fussy about being calibrated and looked after). A civilisation with better technology than us might routinely use ten bits of precision by default for day to day calculations, I reckon.

The reason I went for the powers-of-two-as-digits representation is that you use more digits to represent more accuracy, rather than larger numbers as we do in our positional number system. However, there's some wasted space; I mandated that the digits be listed in descending order, so my number system doesn't have a meaning for a digit sequence like {123}. Perhaps that could be used for something?

The Tree of Knowledge Not Just the STEM (by )

Ok so I got the idea for a picture yesterday to do with women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths which has been labeled STEM - I don't really like the phrase as most people haven't got a clue what it is and it just sounds wrong to me. Anyway I couldn't find the pens I wanted and had run out of room in the sketch pad I wanted (I thought it should have been an Inspira Picture) so this is more a concept/idea piece and I may re-do it at some point.

The Knowledge Tree Ada Lovelace Day

Ada is watering the roots and that is supposed to be an astronaut at the top! Enjoy!

Ada Lovelace Day 2013 (by )

Ada Lovelace Day is a celebration of women in technology and science - it was started a few years ago by the lovely Suw, and me and Al have taken part in it every year so far! One day we might even make it to London for some of the talks and things that happen (this year they even had Neil Gaiman though we saw him at the weekend anyway but still!) - sadly (or happily) I have college this week so that was another year of no Ada events boo hiss.

This year we have chosen the designer of... Sugru!

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh - she is an extra special inspiration to me, as not only has she had the idea for and then developed and sold sugru, a funky silicon rubber you can fix things or improve things with, but she shows that art and science together can drive innovation to make the world better! (I've already blogged about that here).

The story goes that she had the idea whilst doing her MA in design production in London, the first attempts were smelly and ugly and then they weren't but they didn't stick to enough things. She knew what she wanted it to do and she teamed up with scientists but didn't just hand the job over.

Alaric told me about the sugru before you could actually buy the stuff - I was sad as I was being told that I was never going to achieve anything being a scientific artist or artistic scientist, his words were something like, 'but there's this new stuff that's amazing sort of like air dry putty but is still flexible and strong and stuff and it was invented by an artist who knew wanted a substance that didn't exist for her designs so she went and learnt about the chemistry of rubber and silicon!'

The story of sugru and the company built up around it is fascinating and can be found here.

It is not just about the sugru or the science behind it - it is about determination and following your dream, of keeping going even when it looks like you are set to fail. They have run out of money and risen from the ashes. Their mottos are 'The Future Needs Fixing' and 'Hack Things Better' which goes straight back to Jane's core idea - she didn't want to keep buying new things all the time - she wanted to fix the broken things or upgrade what she already had. This is perfect for upcyclers and reusing recyclers like me and Alaric and as it turns out many many other people.

She has given the world a new way to make things, to fix things! It is technology and engineering, it is art and science and it is wonderful.

The word sugru means to play - it is a corruption of an irish word and we have taken it at its base meaning - so far we have made/fixed:

Purely arty objects:

My first sugru project of a flower and metal bracelet

Little creatures for the visually impaired and blind to touch and explore

Fixed things:

knives with manky split handles

Broken mugs that have sentimental value as our little ones have decorated them

The sink - in several ways!

Made things better:

My crutches needed a bit of handle alteration to stop my little finger going numb when I used them

Little feet on phones and lap tops to stop them over heating

Decorations for boring welly slippers (this came out of a failed project to fix shoes with the stuff)

Improved the hooks in the kitchen so things don't fall off anymore

Embedded electronics into head dresses

Embedded magnets onto things like our phones so they are easily mountable in the car

And these are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head!

It has been to the poles, to the desert, under the sea and even in space!

So thankyou Jane for being an inspiration and our Ada Lovelace Day hero of 2013 🙂

Badges and Books and Yay! (by )

Yesterday I received through the post the little button badges of one of my illustrations - it is the Mummy Eating Cherry Pie. I am so pleased with them! I gave the girls their badges as soon as they came home from school.

Badges of Egyptian Mummy eating apple pie

There are a hundred of these and they are for the launch of The Little Book of Spoogy Poetry 🙂 And to just add the icing to the cake yesterday - they themselves arrived! I thought I need to go and pick them up so was really chuffed to get them delivered to my door 🙂

Books! The Little Book of Spoogy Poetry

I'll be sending out the pre-orders at the weekend and shall be finishing off the book marks today!

To say I am excited is an understatement, the girls already have a copy in their room and insisted I read it too them last night 🙂 Mary is actually responding to the poems now which is lovely 🙂

A Month of Chickens (by )

I ment to do this post at the weekend but just didn't get the time! We have now had the chickens a month.

Dino herd under the trampoline

The anti peak spray seems to have worked wonders! And they will now let you stroke them though they do still spend a lot of their time running away from Mary who still excitedly cries 'Chicken!' everytime she sees or hears them.

My dad has decided they are velociraptors and they do have a tendency to come and stare in at you whilst you are cooking, they also tap their beaks on the door. I found this shopping list in his hand writing:

spread, olbas oil, cake, toothpaste, nappies size 5, cheese, bananas, VELOCIRAPTOR

Now cake is a bit iffy but velociraptor?

He says he just needed to check how it was spelt and the shopping list was a scrape piece of paper - I say LICKLY STORY!

But back tot he chickens - their feathers are looking really good!

feathers pretty much all there now!

We are still collecting the stats and the eggometer tells us that we are now under a £5 an egg but we are still out of pocket! However it has gotten down to that in a month and I ended up buying a run so when I do the cost benefit stuff I will do different combinations to show how economic this keeping chickens business actually is! They seem to go through about a sack of food and just over one of straw a month. When the jet washer needs replacing it will have to count as a chicken cost as we are jet washing the decking weekly at the mo but again that should reduce once we build the larger run - but of course you then have material costs for that!

The run should be sorted by the spring hopefully but I'm not too worried about it over the winter but chicken poo in summer will be a different matter!

Autumn sun and reading in the garden

The girls have been sitting in the autumn sun watching the birds and we do the main feeding and watering when Jean comes in from school - the corn is proving a very good tactic. Jean sprinkles that, whilst Mary sort of throws it about a bit (including on the poor things!), then Jean puts their food out and Mary does their grit. We all check for eggs and if needed I clean things up a bit and put fresh straw in the nest boxes. They mustn't have too much corn as it is a treat but I wanted something where we were properly interacting with them and weren't the scary things that just come and catch them!

They put themselves away in the hen house when it is getting dark but are also now more wary of being caught in the first place! They fluff themselves up if a cat gets two near them and spend their time trying to get into the shed (where we keep supplies) or into the bunny's run to eat his food, he on the other hand has been found eating their bedding in the nest box (though this was the day I'd run out of straw and say had put hay in instead and he loves hay!), I am forever having to remove him from the chicken run as he will eat their food!

We love the chickens! Also they have fluffy legs! (and yes the photo is upside down - I'll try and sort it later!)

Fluffy legs and bum on our chickens!

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