Base one zero

One of the things I see sporadically is mention of numbers being written in base 10, as if this meant anything. Think for a little while and you'll see that, if I say I'm writing numbers in base 10, I haven't told you what number-base I'm using. I have told you that I'm denoting numbers using sequences of digits in some base – but, whatever base I'm using, 10 is simply the denotation for the number I'm using as my base. If you're going to entertain, by discussing which base you're using, the possibility that you might not be using the default base your culture uses, you should read sequences of digits out as such: read base 10 as base one zero and it'd be easier to realize why it means base the number-base I'm using. It's like a sign telling you You are here – doubtless true, but utterly useless.

If I'm writing in base seventeen, then seventeen is written 10, two hundred and eighty-nine is written 100 and these are pronounced one zero and one zero zero; the latter is not pronounced one hundred, since one hundred is written 5f (if we use the letters a through g for the digits denoting ten through sixteen, variously; this matches a common idiom in how computer programs represent numbers in bases larger than ten). If I'm writing in base two hundred and fifty-six then two-hundred and fifty-six is written 10 (and you may have problems coming up with suitable characters to represent the last few dozen digits). If I'm writing in base two, then two is written 10. (There are 10 kinds of people in this world: those who grok binary and those who don't.) It doesn't matter what base I use, I'm always writing in base 10.

What folk mean, when they imagine that base 10 means anything, is usually that they're writing in base ten. Unfortunately, they're presuming that I know to read a sequence of digits in base ten to know that one zero means ten, so that I can infer that what they mean is that they're writing in base ten. But what they've actually written doesn't tell me that – it just relies on a default assumption that I would have made anyway, if they'd simply not wasted their time trying (and failing) to tell me what base they were using. Forcing me to guess what base you're using in order to make sense of your attempt to tell me what base you're using is a waste of time.

If you want to say what base you're using, use words: trying to use a digit sequence to denote the number you're using just complicates the situation with the issue of what base should be used to read the digit sequence !

On a related note, pronouncing a time, such as 07:00, as oh seven hundred hours is stupid and broken. First off, that oh is both superfluous and wrong: it's a zero, not the letter between N and P in the western alphabet; and you don't need to mention it because the time is seven. If you want to be really specific, its exactly seven; if you want to be sure no-one thinks you're using a twelve-hour clock so might mean nineteen, say seven aye emm. In any case, the 00 after the colon doesn't denote hundred – it denotes sixty, due to the peculiarities of how we denote times – and if you're going to mention it, you're specifying time to the minute, so call it seven o'clock and no minutes or, if you really insist on mentioning every digit, zero seven hours and zero zero minutes.

Written by Eddy.