MM by Michael Segers, All rights
do the following four items have in common--110010, 62, 50
and 32? The answer is that all four of them can, in various numbering
systems, represent the same quantity, which most of us would identify as
"50," that is, 5 x 10 plus 0 x 1 in our base-10 numbering system. If
we used a base-8 numbering system, we would express the same number as
"62," that is, 6 x 8 plus 2 x 1. In base 16, the number would be
"32" or 3 x 16 plus 2 x 1. And, in the binary, or base-2 numbering
system on which our computers operate, the same amount is "110010,"
x 32 plus
x 16 plus
x 8 plus
x 4 plus
x 4 plus
the ancient Romans, however, the number would have been L. Recently, when
a friend of mine turned forty, my trusty computer and I developed a greeting
card for her with the message, "Have an XL-ent birthday,” since XL
(subtract 10 from 50, or X from L) is the Roman numeral for 40. But, I paused.
How common are Roman numerals these days? Would a modern woman
look at "XL" and think about a number… or a clothing size? I
decided on a more traditional—or, considering how long Roman numerals have
been around, less traditional—greeting.
I thought about it, however, I realized that Roman numerals crop up all over the
place even in the last year of the second millennium. Copyright notices,
especially for movies, often use Roman numerals for the year. Chapters in books
as well as popes (John Paul II) and monarchs (Elizabeth II) are
usually identified by Roman numerals. Roman numerals are common on analog (old
fashioned, not digital) clocks and in inscriptions on buildings. And M&M
candies are the self-proclaimed candy of the new millenium, since MM =
when the Olympic Games came to Atlanta in 1996? They were the XXVI
Olympic Games, that is, the 26th games of the modern Olympic era, which began in
1896. Strangely, that number includes three phantom Olympics, the ones cancelled
because of World War I and World War II (ahem). Look for the XXVII
Olympic Games in Sidney in September, but don’t expect the Aussies to top the
pick-up truck choreography that was perhaps the most memorable moment from the
general, Roman numerals today are the numbers of pomp and circumstance. You
would hardly expect to buy a loaf of bread at a VII-XI store, would you?
But, you can still see Roman numerals on graves, government buildings, and
numbers look good, but fortunately, we have Arabic numbers, which are much
easier to compute with. Arabic numerals are just one of many debts which we owe
Arab civilization, including algebra and almanacs (most nouns in English and in
Spanish that begin with al- are of Arabic origin).
I am roving far from the number I began this rave with, two score and ten, five
decades… half a century. And, why are my ravings this week centered on that
number? Let’s just quote the poet, "At my back, I always hear, time’s
winged chariot, drawing near." What poet? Read Andrew Marvell’s whole
witty and wise poem yourself.
least, I can still hear it, but frankly, it is starting to look a little blurry
around the edges, and when I download works of literature, I find myself
reformatting them with larger fonts.
I was obsessing about three decades (XXX), I celebrated in New York City
and got mugged. A decade later (the big XL), I ended up on the other side
of the Equator, as Buenos Aires erupted in a cloud of tear gas to celebrate its
victory over rival Brazil in a soccer game. Now, I don’t rove much, except in
cyberspace, and finding the new South Carolina quarter in my pocket change while
I’ve been working on this column is about as much excitement as I want this
fact, I probably will rove no further than the river that marks the end of the
back yard and come back inside for a repeat of my big Y2K celebration—a parrot
on the shoulder, a cat in the lap, and a Marlene Dietrich video on television.
It may not be the celebration I had ever dreamed of—to tell the truth, I never
anticipated actually reaching this august age—but, since the winged chariot
hasn’t caught up with me yet, I suppose I should not be complaining. And since
you are bothering to rave along with me about my birthday, here is a gift for
suppose, however, we should update it, from "Take down this book" to
"Download this file."
continue your roving through the field of Roman numerals, here are sites that
give you history, rules that are made to be broken, and even Roman calculators.
First, here you have "Roman Numerals: History and Use"—
"Compvter Romanvs" (with the authentic Roman v instead of u)—
the "Roman Numeral And Date Conversion With Roman Calculator"—
some real fun, how about a base-60 numbering system, which still survives in the
number of seconds in a minute and minutes in an hour? Check out "Babylonian
and Egyptian Mathematics"—
your feet dry (the better to avoid the rheumatiz’) and your heart full of
noble thoughts, although truthfully, for some of us codgers, the best thought of
all is that it is still beating.
Rovin' and Ravin' with Mike
Ravin' About the Arts