Written by Swan Morrison
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Topics: Mathematics

Saturday, 21 August 2010

image for Tourists Flock to See Non-existent, Abstract Mathematical Concepts
Cruises now cross the Tropic of Coca Cola, the MacDonald's Meridian and numerous other such virtual locations

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, today announced the opening to the public of two further lines of longitude.

For many years, the famous Zero or Prime Meridian at the Observatory had attracted increasing numbers of tourists, each wishing to be photographed whilst standing upon it.

Queues often stretched from the Observatory to the Thames, and in 2009 visits to the Meridian had to be restricted to those who purchased tickets in advance.

With waiting times for Prime Meridian tickets exceeding two years, and many being sold for hundreds of pounds on the black market, the Observatory decided that it must act.

The new lines, representing longitudes of 0° 0' 1" West and 0° 0' 1" East, are about twenty yards either side of the Prime Meridian. It is hoped that marking these as alternative photo-opportunities will reduce demand on 0° 0' 0".

A spokesperson for the Royal Observatory confirmed that it might be possible to similarly mark 0° 0' 2" West and 0° 0' 2" East if the current plan proved successful.

The desire by tourists to be photographed in the vicinity of mathematically useful, although non-existent, abstract concepts has not been confined to Greenwich.

Passengers on Mediterranean cruises had long objected to being deprived of the special ceremonies and certificates enjoyed by those aboard ships crossing the Equator, the Tropic of Cancer, the Tropic of Capricorn and the International Date Line. Their demands led to additional imaginary lines being defined on the surface of the earth, many of which have attracted sponsorship from large organisations. Cruises now cross the Tropic of Coca Cola, the MacDonald's Meridian and numerous other such virtual locations, affording opportunities for photography, partying and merchandising.

Concerns have been raised, however, that the importance placed by many people on some "non-existent, abstract mathematical concepts", or NEAMCs, can have a negative psychological impact.

A spokesperson for the National Association of Psychologists highlighted the trauma commonly experienced by individuals, women in particular, as they approach an age which is an exact multiple of ten - for example thirty, forty, fifty or sixty. 'The increment of the first digit of their ages coupled with the resetting of the second to zero can have a devastating psychological effect,' she observed. 'The tragedy, of course, is that these ages are entirely a by-product of the decimal system, or counting to "base 10", as mathematicians describe it.'

Mathematicians tell us that a numerical system can have any base. Perhaps the best known, after decimal, is binary, as used by computers. This counts to "base 2". The binary number sequence thus runs 0, 1, 10, 11, 100, 101 and so on. The binary system, however, has never been considered a good alternative for expressing age as it rapidly reaches very large numbers which can be even more distressing in the period prior to birthdays.

An approach has fortunately been developed by a Cambridge mathematician, Professor Shirley Imnotthatold, aimed at limiting such psychological trauma. Her system allows anyone to choose his or her preferred age and keep it the same, year after year, by periodically changing the base used to count the years.

For example, should someone wish to remain in his or her twenties, thirty years in "base 10" is the same as twenty years in "base 15", and forty years in "base 10" is the same as twenty years in "base 20". If a person has a preference for his or her thirties, fifty years in "base 10" is the same as thirty-five years in "base 15".

In her paper for The International Mathematical Journal, Professor Imnotthatold notes that, '...when revealing one's age in normal conversation, it should be possible to stress the desired number while inaudibly mumbling details of the base. Also, no "next birthday" need ever end with "the big zero".'

With the increasing tendency in the modern world to place critical importance on many things that simply do not exist, it is hoped that the above initiatives and mathematical techniques can allow people to continue to enjoy placing irrational significance on NEAMCs without inconvenience or harm.

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The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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