Basic Principals of Mathematics Abandoned

August 19, 2005

Do you ever get a document whose paragraphs are numbered? I see quite a few with paragraph number schemes like this:




This bugs me. Shouldn't paragraph 1.1 and paragraph 1.10 be the same thing? 1.1 is the same number as 1.10. Similarly, paragraphs 1.11, 1.12, etc. should all come before paragraph 1.2. It's just basic math.

Sometimes, you even get more decimals. As in paragraph 2.6.4. I've even seen them go to These aren't even numbers.


Have we become too stupid in society to just read straight narrative text? Obviously, you aren't that stupid if you've read this far. Are you insulted when an author thinks that you won't comprehend his logic if his paragraphs aren't numbered for you?

I am.

I received a document from one of my client's other vendors last week. The document was labeled "version 0.1." Why on earth would you start with a version number that was less than one? They might as well just print a little statement like this on the cover page:

We didn't really try very hard to put meaningful content into this document. We just whipped it out as quickly as we could, because the client was bugging us and we had already missed our first deadline for this document. Nevertheless, documenting this requirement is less important to us than putting out the fires cause by our previous lack of documentation, so we decided to half-ass this one.

Of course, you can't put that sort of statement, so it's just indicated by "version 0.1." At least they gave it the one tenth. I suppose that they could have just started with version zero.

I noticed another term used in business meetings that has completely abandoned its original mathematical meaning. In meetings, when you refer to the "lowest common denominator" when comparing things, it generally means of all of those things, the one whose comparison is crappiest.

For example, we were working on matching up how different systems store international address fields. The one with the "lowest common denominator" was the one with only a single address line, and nowhere to indicate which country the address was in.

In math, the lowest common denominator would be the lowest number that includes all of the factors of the numbers being compared. For example, the lowest common denominator of 4 and 6 is 12, since 4 and 6 both divide evenly by 12.

This is almost the opposite of the business meeting definition. For the business meeting jargon, it means the one with the fewest features. In math, it will usually be a number greater than all of the numbers being compared (12 is greater than 4 and 6).

I therefore proclaim that the use of "least common denominator" to refer to the crappiest of the comparison group is babble. There are plenty of synonyms that actually do mean "crappiest." Those should be used instead.