Glad to see a reference to counting in binary on one’s fingers. I’ve done this since I started playing double bass in an orchestra. Bassists sometimes have long rests between their entries, but counting on two hands obviously means putting down your bow. This is a bad idea: one, it looks sloppy; two, you can miss your next entry if you miscount and suddenly spot the conductor frantically cueing you. It takes a bar (measure) or so to pick up and reposition your bow, especially if you are to avoid a loud “crack” as the flailing bow hits the stand or your bass in the process, which sort of spoils the magic of a concert!

Anyway, I worked out that I could count up to 31 bars on my left hand without taking this risk. Once I got the hang of it, I could do it without thinking and actually listen to the orchestra during my own rest!

(Plus it’s an excellent way of counting paces if you need to keep track of how far you’ve walked in poor visibility. Count double paces and you can keep counting for more than a kilometre.)

]]>When asking students to count on their fingers, if you suggest they can go past ten, they often come up with a base five process: count ones on the right hand, and groups of five on the left, leading to representations of numbers from 0 to 30. But in fact, with symbols for 0 to 5 available on each hand, a base six numeration is more natural here, leading to numbers from 0 to 55 (base six), that is, 0 to 35.

But the winner in the number representation contest is base two. Regarding each finger as a digit, we get base two numerals from 0 to 1111111111 (that is, 0 to 1023).

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