Archive for the ‘Numbers’ Category

The Introversion Star

June 8, 2023

From Max Vasilatos on Facebook yesterday, her report of a 9-pointed star (you don’t see a lot of them) in a notice for a meeting (the details of which are not relevant here): octagrams with rewards for attending — snacks! prizes! — plus a central enneagram, with the inducement of introvert-friendliness; presumably, no one will be pushed or prodded into participating actively in anything that would make them uncomfortable. Ah, the Introvert, or Introversion,  Star!

(#1) It’s ok, you can just sit on the sidelines and watch (Nora Ephron’s 1970 collection of essays, Wallflower at the Orgy, leaps to my mind)

Now it turns out that a 9-pointed star is a symbol of the Baháʼí faith. But before you get all excited by that, let me remind you that the most neutral of stars, the 5-pointed star — which little kids in my country learn to draw rapidly as “a picture of a star” and which older kids here learn to fold as “paper stars”, especially for Christmas — is also the pentagram, the symbol of Satan and his powers; and that 9-pointed stars could be taken to stand for a vast number of things in different contexts (I’ll provide a sample below), not just for Faith and the Godhood in Baháʼí. The enneagram doesn’t intrinsically mean these Baháʼí notions, or introversion, or whatever; it’s just a shape. It’s Just Stuff, as I’m given to saying. (There’s a Page on this blog about my postings on It’s Just Stuff.)


Why not oneteen, twoteen?

March 3, 2023

(Or, for that matter, why not onety-one, onety-two?)

These are questions that kids acquiring English frequently ask, as Ruthie does in this One Big Happy strip:

(#1) Kids are pattern-seeking organisms, and when confronted with a deviation from a pattern, are inclined either to silently, unconsciously, eliminate the deviation in favor of the pattern; or to explicitly lodge a complaint, as Ruthie does here

Ruthie asks a why-question, and there is an answer to it — a complex, fascinating answer supplied briefly for the general reader by Arika Okrent in several places (see below) — but it’s of no use to Ruthie, because that answer is about the history of English, while she wants to know what sense it makes for English to work this way now, and why don’t we fix it.

Alas for Ruthie, the only fair answer to her question is that English just is as it is, and it doesn’t really make sense. Bite the bullet, kid.


Ten to one

September 4, 2019

The One Big Happy from 8/7:

Ah, the ambiguity in ten to one, turning on two dfferent uses of to. Ruthie’s grandfather intends one sense, Ruthie gets another (closer to her everyday experience).



July 3, 2019

On Facebook this morning, from Lisa Cohen in Chicago, this query (lightly edited):

Shapenote friends, am I the only weirdo who does this? When I see a bus with a number from a new to me route, I try to see if I can recall the corresponding tune in the Denson book. This confession brought to you by my pride in recalling that 49B is “Mear” without needing to look it up.

I replied:

In my current life, I don’t see many buses. But dates, dates do it for me. Yesterday (7/2) was Bellevue (72b), today (7/3) is Cusseta (73t) and Arlington (73b). D-Day (6/6) is the wonderful Jordan (First) (66). In the reverse direction, St. Thomas (34b), the standard first warm-up song in Palo Alto, is my grand-daughter Opal’s birthday (3/4, March 4th).

I will explain some of the inside-shapenote stuff.


The 6-fold way

May 19, 2018

A fabulous design from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky yesterday:

(#1) “6-fold” (or: “The 6-fold Way”)

To come. On 6-fold symmetry: snowflakes (natural and in paper), many monocot flowers, Kekulé’s carbon ring for benzene, the major colors of the color wheel (reproduced in the rainbow flag for Gay Pride).

Then on number, color, and gender parallelisms, which will give us 6 as purple and queer. And how the opposition of the secondary hues green with purple in #1 parallels the opposition of the primary hues blue with red (and, in the background of #1, the opposition of the primary hues red with yellow).

And on the name 6-fold way, adapted from the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism and Murray Gell-Mann’s adaptation of the idea (under the name The Eightfold Way) to a theory organizing subatomic particles.



August 14, 2016

Chatting last week with a friend about changes in New York city, centered around the demolishing of Pennsylvania Station, the inadequacies of the current building known as Penn Station, and the endlessly unfulfilled plans (perhaps now moving forward) to turn the Farley Post Office into a new Pennsylvania Station. And my friend remarked that he’d been in NYC a few years ago and was astonished to discover that the Pennsylvabia Hotel still had the phone number PEnnsylvania 6-5000 — trusting that that reference would, um ring a bell for me (this only works for people of a certain age, or fans of swing music). So it did, and gave me an earworm for the rest of the day.



April 17, 2015

An xkcd (from 9/5/14) that I seem to have overlooked:

The sevens here: Disney’s seven dwarfs, the seven major taxonomic ranks, the seven continents, the seven deadly sins, seven layer dip, the seven layers of the OSI model [Open Systems Interconnection model], the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In the mouseover, we get more: seven days of the week, the Seven Sisters colleges, the seven seas, the seven colors of the rainbow, the Pleiades (seven sisters), the seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the seven seals in the Book of Revelation.

The number 7 is freighted with meaning.