Thursday, 28 October 2010

This Is About Nothing

Zero means nothing, and nothing is no thing. You can't count nothing because there's no thing to count. Cavemen didn't need to count much so they got by by scratching a few short vertical lines on cave walls to do their additions and subtractions.  Later on men realised the enormity of having to count lines and so they devised numerals to denote quantities. I would guess that most ancient civilisations used groups of 10 as their counting base, as per the number of fingers on a man's hand.

The Mayans however used 20 as their grouping factor - perhaps they were nimble with their toes as well. Imagine if we had 20 different numerals in our numbering system, we would have learnt to sing "One little, two little...... TWENTY little Mayan boys" in our toddlerhood. And that might not be a bad thing, perhaps we would have started using a lot more of our brains early in life. Also, if grouped in twenties, number symbols won't be repeated as often as groups of ten, so if you are 50 plus of age as I am, in a base of twenty, 50 would be only 25.

It is said that the Mayans were the first to see the need for a symbol to denote zero. It is shaped like an eye. In fact it is interesting how the Mayans represented numbers, with dots and bars.


The Arabs however took the bars and placed them vertically, diagonally, horizontally and with a couple of round shapes, designed their numerals. I think their representation of zero is the most efficient. You see, if you need to symbolize nothingness, a void, you'd use something that takes up no space, wouldn't you? Why not a little dot? And that is exactly what the Arabs have used, and I think that's brilliant.


Unfortunately, although modern civilisation adopted the Arabic numbering system, the numerals themselves did not catch on. Westerners probably did not like the squiggly look of Arabic script including it's right-to-left orientation (but numbers are written from left to right). But they liked how the Indians symbolised zero. If you look at Hindi and Tamil scripts, you can see how curly-wurly the writing is. Yes, it seems that they have taken the Arabic dot and extended it into a little circurl which was subsequently adopted by the West.

The Chinese however have nothing round in their characters from my observations, they are mainly lines fashioned into mini pictures that fit into square boxes.


Although it sounds pretty cute - "ling", the character for zero looks complicated.

I would reckon doing maths with pictures can get tedious and I suspect that's why the Chinese too are now using the Arabic numbering system. Combined with their skills on the abacus it was hard to beat the Chinese at arithmetics in my day.

Sometimes I just wonder at how different races developed their scripts those long years ago. To a certain extent the styles seem to reflect the way they sound too - most obvious is the Indian roly-poly pronunciation that kind of corresponds with the curly-wurly letters. You'd probably be able to imagine Arabic guttural staccato emanating from their squigglies. And It's not too difficult to associate Chinese sing-song style with the swishy lines of their boxed-in characters - which perhaps also account for the difficulty with rolling their R's.

We Malays have no script to call our own, being accommodating by nature, we use what is plonked upon us by whoever had conquered us. It shows when we speak Malay to a non-native speaker, we tend to pick up the way they sound and speak in the same manner. For example using "lu" and "gua" with a Chinese, or saying "kaloo" instead of "kalau" with a Tamil, even with Indonesians we would go "bagimanaa ini Pak" instead of "macam maner ni" as is usual.

Interestingly though when I was shopping in Singapore one day in the ninety's, a Malay promoter named Yati told me about a "jeeloh" percent interest on something or other in thick Chinese accent. "Jeeloh"? I asked. "Yes, worr.." said she.

I must have looked very much like an Ah Soh.

Oh yes, about zeroes. We have taken them for granted after centuries of use but think how awkward it would be had the Roman empire not implode and we would have to calculate with  letters - and no zero. 10 is X. 50 is L. 100 is C. 1000 is M.

How would we ever write a cheque for Rm1.7 trillion?

How would we even show Zero percent?

Though Zero is nothing it's still a big deal.

Monday, 25 October 2010

It's a Puzzling Post

It begins with three of us, hubby, Munie and I going back to Taman Arboratum in the Kiara hills yesterday morning - after a 6-month hiatus.

Noticed that a few new signboards had been put up along the tarmac path.

The first says that the park is now under the purview of the National Department of Landscapes.

That was since 1st August 2010. Good news indeed and about time too.

This place was slated for a luxury hillside residential development and is nestled between the Taman Tun Dato' Ismail Recreational Park and the sprawling KLGCC Golf Course.

It would have been a very desirable address to live in and to coolly mention to the curious.

Although roads and drainage are  already in place,  nature lovers of TTDI and the surrounds have managed to stop the project.

Yesterday in full throng, exercisers descended on this place and then ascended the sometimes steep inclines for a vigorous workout.

Hubby did three and a half circuits, Munie two.

I cheated and went the opposite direction which is mainly downhill for one round.

Still  huffed and puffed in places and worked up a sweat.

They had erected a signboard where Sg. Pencala originates and also one  further downstream cautioning people about polluting the stream or introducing aquatic animals there.

Came across this flower in full bloom. Am hopeless where flora is concerned and have no inkling what it is.

Bumped into a friend... Suzy, and exchanged pleasantries.

I took the "strolling" theme further by finishing my single round and then buying the Sunday papers at the end of the trek.

I plonked on the seller's plastic stool to read while waiting for the other two to be done with their masochistic acts.

And there I undertook my own route for pleasurable pain - the CRYPTIC crossword puzzle!

Years ago, before marriage and baggage, I used to tackle the one in the New Straits Times.

It was taken from the Daily Telegraph and was of course British-oriented with clues that refer to very British icons like the Queen, their political parties, the British Rail, or the Tube, or even plain tea.

But the one in the Sunday Star is on general knowledge and you can almost always find the answers in the clues themselves.

That's what makes cryptic crosswords so enjoyable. rather than the straightforward ones for which you must possess a wide vocabulary or a Roget's Thesaurus at hand.

Take this cryptic clue:

Further chaos in Laos (4 letters)

I bet word pundits like those I have on Facebook will instantly spot the answer to be the word "ALSO".

It has nothing to do with  Laos the country, except the letters.

"chaos"  indicates a jumbling up of the letters that make up the answer. If you re-arrange the letters L.A.O.S, you get "ALSO" which is a synonym of "further" which is the answer.

Here's another one:

He could be in Madrid and Paris at the same time (8 letters)

The answer is neither a super-hero nor a cartoon character. Since Madrid is in Spain, the clue may be referring to a Senor, but if you can spot that "and Paris" is an anagram of "Spaniard", then you can be 99% sure that that is the correct answer.

Fun isn't it?

Anyway, those were the only two clues I managed to solve while waiting for my super-heroes.

How about this one?

Is afraid of disturbing adders (6)

(I'm not giving the answer)

Actually none in my family have taken to crossword puzzles like I have.

I'm also the only one who enjoys diabolical Sudoku.

Am I nerdy or what?

Sudoku was very popular when it first came out.

Although it has nothing to do with calculating anything, some people are put off by the numbers in the puzzle.

Actually it's just about  pattern recognition - and putting symbols in their rightful places.

The reason the puzzle designer used numbers in the first place is probably because everyone knows them and thus will have universal appeal.

Speaking of numbers, when I first went to school, they taught me to say

Nought, One, Two, Three, Four, Five....

Then Nought became Oh as in "Agent Double Oh Seven" or "Peejot (Peugeot) Five Oh Five".

Was it in Form Four when Oh evolved into Zero with maths teacher droning "when dee y dee x tends to Zero... ba,bla,bla...".

Now they tell me zero is not a number... it is a concept, and you can go from zero to hero!

OK... I'm not sure what this posting is about. Hence the title.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


The paths of least resistance are fraught with toll plazas.

If you live where I do, tolls are a pain in the purse. You become adept at seeking routes that avoid them, often as the situation presents itself, unless of course you ride a motorbike, because you get free passage through these plazas, even if you are a rich Singaporean and ride one of those SUPER bikes..

And that's why sometimes, especially in the wedding season, you see convoys of kapchai bikes conquering the lanes of these tolled expressways, reducing them to paths of havoc and danger. When approaching these swarms, you carefully overtake them but still keep an eye on the mirrors in case someone decides to make a go at becoming the leader of the pack and overtakes everbody, including yourself, at top speed.

Once while driving on the fast lane I saw a rider speeding on the road shoulder simultaneously talking with his pal who was on another motorbike on the slow lane, both of then not noticing a car parked a few yards ahead. The inevitable happened; he was flung 10 feet into the air, his friend skidded on the road. We drove on, somewhat traumatised by the scene, me thinking about their mothers... and also that had we been a few minutes later we might have gotten stuck in the ensuing jam.

Yup, sometimes I'm nasty that way.

We would expect roads we pay to use to be relatively safe and the traffic smooth-flowing. But there had been  countless times in my experience where traffic basically came to a standstill - on the fast lane. Most often on the inter-city expressways these are due to accidents, be they major or minor.

However on those that criss-cross the Klang Valley, a crawl can be due to no reason at all - just  a humongous build-up of traffic - especially on Friday evenings. But some people still pay these dreadfully expensive toll charges because doing the "normal" roads is even more exasperating.

To get to my housing area in USJ Subang Jaya, if you come from the Ampang side you pay a total of RM4.40 at two toll plazes on the KESAS. If from Kampong Pandan or Bukit Bintang, you may want to get on the MEX and then join the KESAS at Bukit Jalil. You'll have to pay an extra RM1.50 though on top of the RM4.40.

From the Damasara/TTDI area you use the LDP and exit at Sunway without paying toll and then join the Kewajipan mandatory jam. Or you can proceed further, pay RM1.60 before joining the KESAS and paying a further RM2.20, for an earlier arrival.

If from KL Jalan TAR area, you can make your way to the NPE in Bangsar, pay RM1.60 each at two toll plazas, exit at the Sunway Pyramid and join the *Kewajipan mandatory jam. Or you could exit on the LDP and then join KESAS as above.

From Damansara Heights or Kiara, you can use the Kerinchi Link - pay RM1.50 - then proceed to the NPE via Jalan Gasing PJ and pay RM1.60 at the Subang Jaya toll plaza and then decide whether to join Kewajipan and its crawl or use LDP and KESAS.

From Shah Alam you pay RM1.00 on the Federal Highway or.. surprise, surprise... nothing on the KESAS. But from Klang and Banting, you'll have to pay a certain amount near the Jalan Kebun exit.

As you can see, the charges are exhorbitant. Many brave the jams each morning and evening sacrificing a few hours of time to save about RM200 every month.

But for me as a retiree and not having to commute on a daily basis, I figure spending some ringgit on tolls do not make me any less poorer than I am, or make me any richer... when I do not spend.

No resistance from me on using the paths of least resistance.

But I do have to submit to the **Summit choke-up each time I venture out of my haven.

* Kewajipan - is the road in Subang Jaya notorious for it's jams - they say "wajib jam" (jam is mandatory)
** Summit - the road opposite the Summit Hotel on Jalan Kewajipan where the jam for outgoing traffic is at it's summit, so to speak