Google Blogoscoped

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Finger Flip Flop

You can use your two hands to count in binary form. Start by holding your right and left hand above the table you are sitting at (if there's no table around, hold your hands above your legs). As no finger touches the surface, this will be zero. Now tap the right-most little finger; this is number 1. Compare to binary counting to understand why:

We tapped the combination 0000000001, because we represent "1" with a tapping finger and "0" with a finger still in the air.

Binary counting is easy: if the first digit from the right is "activated" and set to 1, we will add 1 in our decimal system. If the second digit is active, we add 2. If the third digit from the right is active, we add 4. We add 8 for the fourth digit, and so on. As you can see each finger starting from the right-hand little finger is twice as "valuable" as the previous one.

Using our 10 fingers, we can now count to 1,023 – with enough training and concentration, that is. Here are the combinations from 1-10 to get you started, and even if you never counted this way before you can see a pattern (it's the pattern computers use as their base, too):

     left/ right hand
 1 - 00000 00001
 2 - 00000 00010
 3 - 00000 00011
 4 - 00000 00100
 5 - 00000 00101
 6 - 00000 00110
 7 - 00000 00111*
 8 - 00000 01000
 9 - 00000 01001
10 - 00000 01010

*Let's understand number 7: the first digit is active, and the second, and the third, so we add up 1 + 2 + 4 = 7.

Watch me count to 31 [WMV] and try it yourself.

If it looks hard at first note this will get very easy after a while, and you can train anywhere (even in front of TV, though you might annoy those around you and reveal your inner geek). After a while you can use both hands and increase speed. Compare if you are correct by entering e.g. "29 in binary" into Google (no quotes). The Google calculator will show you the number.

Update: Matt Webb uses his hands to count even higher...


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