Review of: Numbers
(In case you’re confused: Oliver Miller is currently writing a book where he reviews everything in the known universe, and then gives those things grades. See one of his previous columns for more details, for example… this one.)
Zero: What is the deal with zero? Zero is just one of those things that gets weirder the longer that you think about it. And hey, here’s a fun fact. Did you know that it took until the 14th century for someone to invent the idea of “zero”? Yep, we’ve had all the other numbers for forever, but it took a thousand years longer to came up with zero. Why? Because zero is batshit insane, that’s why.
Here’s a simple example: How many enormous man-eating tigers are in your bedroom right now? Zero, right? But… is that a thing? Don’t you always have zero tigers in your bedroom? So what does it mean to point that out? Does it mean something? Nothing? Everything?
Weirdness. And also, if you divide zero by anything, you get… zero, which freaks me out and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. ANY-way… zero, you rock and we salute you. You are thing, and yet not a thing. You embody all possible contradiction, and that’s pretty cool. Grade: A
One: “One is the loneliest number,” or so they say. But one isn’t really all that bad. For example, if you’ve just gotten out of a shitty, quasi-abusive relationship, then “one” is pretty cool and liberating, and it also means that you don’t get dragged by your girlfriend to see movies like “Sex and the City 2: The Quickening,” or whatever. But I, uh, digress.
Also, “one” is a good way to discuss something that you never want to do again. Like, “I saw ‘Sex and the City’ once, and that was plenty, thanks.” Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything. Grade: B-minus
Three: Here’s another fun fact.¹ In the most primitive cultures, the counting system goes like this: “One… two… lots of stuff.” So there is no word for “three” and no word for any other number after that, either. That’s pretty supremely lazy and I love it. It’s a sort of “‘C’ is for Cookie… and that’s good enough for me” approach to counting and there’s nothing wrong with that. Grade: B
Eight: Eight is probably my favorite number, beating out even zero. (And some scholars claim that zero isn’t actually a number, but let’s not get dragged down into that whole zero discussion again.)
First of all, if you turn eight sideways, you get the infinity sign, which is pretty cool. Also, without eight, we wouldn’t have the whole “Seven ate nine” joke, and that would be bad. …And finally, eight is necessary for spelling out “BOOBS” on your calculator in 5th grade math class, which is basically the only thing that I remember from math class.² Grade: A-plus
A million: A million is a really necessary number for hyperbole, and I love hyperbole. I mean I really love hyperbole. I love hyperbole so much that I want to take it behind the bleachers and get it pregnant. That’s how much I love hyperbole.
So a million is really good for expressing things in exaggerated form, like, say, for example: “He has a million vintage ‘Star Wars’ figures, what a geek.” Or, “She dragged him to see the ‘Sex and the City’ movies like a million times, what a bitch.” Ahem. Grade: C-minus
Googolplex: It’s a real number! Go and look it up, slacker! A “googolplex” is a one with ten thousand zeros behind it. I swear to you that this is true.
A “googolplex” is also the basis for a really annoying argument that I got into in 1st grade. Some kid said: “Hey, do you know what the biggest number is? It’s a billion.” And me, being Mr. Smarty-Pants, Glassy-Face About to Get His Ass-Kicked Kid, had to say this in response: “Actually, that’s wrong. Actually, the largest number of all time is googolplex.” This didn’t go over well, and all the other kids laughed at me and called me a liar and who would make up a stupid word like googlewhatever, anyway?
It sucks to lose an argument when you know that you’re right. And it make it even worse, the week before, I had “lost” another argument when I told my homeroom class that unicorns weren’t real, and I got laughed at and called a liar again. Goddamn it, I’m still pissed off about this. In conclusion, unicorns still aren’t real, and fuck you, googolplex, you’ve caused me nothing but pain in my life. Grade: D
Roman numerals: Are kids still forced to learn Roman numerals in school? Because I remember having to study them for an ungodly length of time. Why did we have to study them at all? My best guess: apparently our teachers thought it was vitally important that we one day be able to translate the copyright dates on old movies.³
I only ever paid attention in English class, so the only non-English related things that I remember from school are: In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Fifty nifty United States, mercury is a metal, the Earth has a core, a mantle, and a crust… and I also remember all the Roman numerals for some reason.4
Also, it’s amazing that the Romans could conquer the entire civilized world and rule it for 2,500 years while still calling five “V” and fifty “L,” and with a system where a number like 8,576 turns out to be “VMMMDLXXVI.”5 But hey, they managed it somehow. …And seriously, fifty is “L”? That’s fucking retarded.
My theory as to why the Romans were so successful? They were basically wearing bathrobes the whole time.6 …Have you ever gone away on vacation and you ended up never changing out of your bathrobe and you just lounged around in it the whole day? …It’s incredibly goddamn relaxing. But what if you could feel like that all the time? That loose-fitting “bathrobe-y” chilled out feeling? If people could wear bathrobes to the office, instead of stress-y confining suits, then I predict that worker productivity would rise by like five hundred percent. You just feel great when you’re wearing one and I feel like you could get anything done that way.
Anyhow, that’s my theory for how the Romans conquered the world: bathrobes. Which managed to offset the stupidity of Roman numerals, which — as I’ve mentioned before — really sucked ass. Gradus: Deficio retardatio, superbus splendidus.
1) If you haven’t picked up on this yet, whenever I say something like, “Hey, here’s a fun fact,” I am, of course, lying about the “fun” part.
2) Do kids even still use calculators, or is it all iPads and whatevers now? Christ, I’m old.
3) Yeah, I stole this joke from ‘The Simpsons.’ So sue me.
4) And also, I learned that you can spell “BOOBS” on a calculator, obviously.
5) My roommate randomly walked into the room while I was writing this, and I said: “Hey, give me a number; any number.” And she said “8,576.” Go figure.
6) Yeah, they called them “togas”… but they were bathrobes.
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