Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

Incas Used Binary? 477

Posted by Hemos
from the how-do-you-count-to-one-in-pi? dept.
Abhijeet Chavan writes "An article in the Independent reports that a leading scholar believes the Incas may have used a form of binary code 500 years before computers were invented. 'Gary Urton, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, has re-analysed the complicated knotted strings of the Inca - decorative objects called khipu - and found they contain a seven-bit binary code capable of conveying more than 1,500 separate units of information...If Professor Urton is right, it means the Inca not only invented a form of binary code more than 500 years before the invention of the computer, but they used it as part of the only three-dimensional written language.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Incas Used Binary?

Comments Filter:
  • by tjensor (571163) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:16AM (#6272010) Journal
    Neal Stephenson was right! Its Snow Crash!
    • Re:Dont read it! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by n3k5 (606163)

      Neal Stephenson was right! Its Snow Crash!

      Haven't read the article yet, but I also thought of Stephenson's 'Snow Crash' when I read the posting. For those who haven't read the book, it describes an ancient culture that used clay tablets to write down algorithms that would be executed by humans. Much like cake recipies, but the ruler/priest would decide what needed to be done (harvest wheat, build a house, depending on the season) and make the subjects 'run' the right 'script'.

      And for those who'd like to

  • by m00nun1t (588082) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:19AM (#6272023) Homepage
    I'd be *really* impressed if they had Duke Nukem 3.
  • I guess (Score:5, Funny)

    by Daath (225404) <lp AT coder DOT dk> on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:20AM (#6272025) Homepage Journal
    That means that the Incas were a bit advanced! :P
  • Message ? (Score:3, Funny)

    by EpsCylonB (307640) <eps@NOspaM.epscylonb.com> on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:21AM (#6272029) Homepage
    I reckon they were prolly trying to say one of three things (in order of likelyhood)...

    1) first post !

    2) All your base are belong to us

    3) imagine a beowulf cluster of these things
  • by ralico (446325) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:22AM (#6272034) Homepage Journal
    And if they washed and shrank them, would that have been data compression?
  • by tizzyD (577098) * <{tizzyd} {at} {gmail.com}> on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:22AM (#6272035) Homepage
    We tend to have such an ego about ourselves. We think that we are the only ones who've ever had running septic systems, who moved mountains, and now, it appears, to use binary. Think: how else to you code data on a string? Our ancestors are not all that stupid. They helped us get to where we are today.

    The more we learn, the more we forget. For example, who can tell me the best mix for bronze? Not many now. How about what's best to plant after sowing rye for two years? As we continue to move into a more technological society, there is quite a bit of knowledge we are losing. Remember the famous ancient battery?

    I'd suggest that if we got off of our superiority high horse, we'd find that we've always been quite ingenious. 7-bit though, that's what I find interesting. Wonder where 7 bits comes from. 10 or 5 --that I'd understand. 7, perhaps someone who'd been in a terrible accident?!

    • by pubjames (468013) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:33AM (#6272086)
      I agree. I still don't think the recent discovery that mehtods to generate electricity were know about 2000 years ago receives enough recognition: More here [iranchamber.com]
    • 10 or 5 would make sense only in a 10-base culture. Anybody now which base the Incans used?
      Perhaps they didn't have a '0' (like the romans) and started of with 1 meaning an empty hand wich could mean 11 as a base?

      Purely guesswork.
      • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Monday June 23, 2003 @11:25AM (#6273578) Homepage
        The article, unfortunately, is a little hyperbolic - Gary Urton has done some fine work, but they've taken what's essenntially a metaphor about any point of choice being a binary element and suggested something that's a bit misleading. I don't think there's any indication that color-function was standardized across quipu-makers: just like some elements of coding style are unique from programmer to programmer, I see nothing surprising about the fact that the choice of materials for different cord-groups would be a matter of personal taste and mnemonics for the quipu-maker (and materials are dyes used also seemed to rely heavily on the region that the quipu was produced.)

        The quipu were base-10. They did, in fact, use a "place holder" comparable to a zero, and the relationship between that place holder and the Quechua word for "zero" suggests that you could say there was a zero concept.

        The discovery of the base-10 nature of the quipus was done by noting how sets of hanging strings, interepreted as base-10 (lowest set of knots as 1-place, second set of knots as 10's-place, etc) would add up to the same number the number on a cord which hung at the top of those groups.

        Urton's Social Life of Numbers [utexas.edu] is a very good book about the quipu, but there are some concerns: he makes some historical claims based on ethnographic research (that's a bit a-historical).

        A more rigorous look at the mathematics of the quipu is Mathematics of the Incas [amazon.com]. It's also a fun book, teaching one how to make one's own quipus.
    • Re:Why 7 (Score:3, Interesting)

      by joshtimmons (241649)


      Why would you understand 10 or 5? They're pretty arbitrary (other than being the number of fingers on a hand).



      They were probably encoding other symbols and they had between (2^5) 32 and (2^6) 64. So, 7 was the logical choice. If we wanted to encode the letters (A-Z), the numbers (0-9), and some basic punctuation (.,-;) we'd need exactly 7 bits too.


    • by Glamdrlng (654792) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:42AM (#6272123)
      5 and 10 are natural numbers because we have ten fingers, ten toes, etc. I see two possibilities: 1. The guy who invented this numbering system lost three fingers during an accident involving a rope, a pully, and a large block of sun-dried mud-brick. 2. The aliens who taught it to the Incas had seven fingers.
      • Re:5, 7, and 10 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2003 @09:02AM (#6272518)
        10 is actually *not* a natural base to work with - it's quite unfriendly to working in small fractions (try adding one half + one third on your ten fingers). More natural bases to use if you're a culture seriously working out math for the first time are 12 (evenly divisible by 2,3,4) or 60 (divisible by 2,3,4,5). [pssst - look at a clock]. Nobody who had to do calculations for a living would have picked base 10 - I'm sure it was a management decision.
      • Missing Fingers? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PetoskeyGuy (648788)
        How about their great knowledge of astronomy. The moon has 28 days in a cycle and 7 days for each quarter to appear. Even more natural since even 3 toed sloths, spiders and turtles could agree on this one. :o)

        For a culture to have picked up a system of writing based on the first guy using it having lost a few digits... Stranger things have happened.
    • What's interesting about the Incas, is that they never discovered the use of wheel. They used wheels in building toys, but they didn't have carts and wagons.

      The 7 bit thing. Maybe it was the most suitable system for them, worked out through trial and error. Or maybe it's just something to do with 2^0+2^1+2^2=7(=111 in binary)?

    • 7 bits (Score:5, Funny)

      by turgid (580780) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:10AM (#6272246) Journal
      Don't you know that these guys cross-bred with the aliens! That's where they got 7 fingers from and hence 7-bit binary. The binary codes were calculations of landing and take-off trajectories for the flying-saucers. There's even one where they factor in the mass of Jesus as one of the passengers.
    • by dzerkel (89036) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:21AM (#6272296)
      Bill Gatezaqql sez, "No one will ever need to count more than 127 of anything..."
    • I'm not sure, but I think the Incas also had a 7 day week. As they were very into their astronomy and astrology, could this be the reason?
    • The more we learn, the more we forget. For example, who can tell me the best mix for bronze? Not many now. How about what's best to plant after sowing rye for two years? As we continue to move into a more technological society, there is quite a bit of knowledge we are losing. Remember the famous ancient battery?

      I don't think that 500 years ago, or a couple thousand years ago (in the bronze era) there were that many who would tell you the best mix for bronze.

      While it is true that some arts are lost (dea

      • In fact, even if we suddently stop using bronze and the current makers slowly die leaving no successors, we may still be able to recreate bronze because the best mix is recorded somewhere.

        Yeah, but it's probably covered under the latest copyright extensions, so the corporation that owns the bronze copyright (even though they're not producing any bonze themselves) will sue the pants off anybody who tries to make any.
    • Incas used base 10 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by UCRowerG (523510) <UCRowerG@@@yahoo...com> on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:49AM (#6272423) Homepage Journal
      According to this website [wichita.edu] (thank you, Google), Incas used a base 10 system for numbering, while all their neighbors used base 60. If this is true, I would venture to say that the 7-bit quipu system was just large enough for their other records, same as the original 7-bit ASCII was for the standard western alphabet.

      I also found more detailed information on quipus [wisc.edu], if anyone is interested.

    • I agree too (Score:5, Funny)

      by dnoyeb (547705) on Monday June 23, 2003 @09:20AM (#6272619) Homepage Journal
      The funny thing I always see is movies about prehistoric man.

      They always show them sloutched over, dirty as hell, grunting like idiots. Basically while they claim this prehistoric man was the smartest animal on the planet, they show him as the dumbest. every other animal I know washes his ass. You can NOT be making a spear and still can't wash your ass.
    • by CommieLib (468883) on Monday June 23, 2003 @10:12AM (#6273018) Homepage
      C.S. Lewis had a term for this: "snobbery of chronology". We, as a people, have a tendency to forget that people everywhere, always, are blindingly clever, and that the only reason we have, for example, cell phones, is that we have had a continuous line of development rather than one interrupted by plague, mass migration, etc. Take a little while and study archaeo-astronomy [desertusa.com] and this becomes clear.
    • by jd (1658)
      3, 4 and 7 have very strong mythological connections for many civilizations.

      Let's start with 3. Scroll down to the bottom of the Independent's article, and note the identical construction of the Sumerian stone and the Rosetta stone. Both translated the same thing into 3 languages.

      AFAIK, there's never been a stone with a transcription in two languages (which would be logical for treaties, etc), or evidence of the same transcription being later added to (which would be logical when new trading routes are

  • by T40 Dude (668317) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:24AM (#6272043)
    that the Incas OWN SCO ????
  • Not unique (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ceriel Nosforit (682174) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:24AM (#6272045)
    The Chinese I Ching uses 6 bit binary to map 64 symbols, one bit essentially being a 'yes' or 'no' answer from a form of oracle. There's a bit more math behind it, but that's the core of it.
    The symbols provide an array of wisedom and advice for those who map them.

    Oddly enough, Terence McKenna managed to calculate the end of the world to December 21, 2012 using I Ching, while the Incas (Or was it Mayas? I confuse them.) calculated it to the same date. - Behold the powers of binary.
    • by tjensor (571163) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:27AM (#6272058) Journal
      So not only did they have binary - they had Oracle.

      Thangyouverymuch I'll be here all week.
    • Re:Not unique (Score:3, Informative)

      by Surak (18578) *
      Actually, you have some details wrong, but you've got the gist right. Specifically, it was December 22, 2012, and it was the Mayans, not the Incas as you seemed to indicate.

      From the disinformation co. (what was that I said about critical thinking again? ;) :

      "According to occult scientist Terence McKenna, the end of the world as we know it will occur at 11:10 PM, December 22, 2012 and he's worked out a computer model based on an intuitive decoding of the I Ching to prove it mathematically. Before you sco
      • The stress is on as we know it. If I remember correctly, the Mayas didn't say that the world will end completely, it was just the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next one.
      • by chrisbtoo (41029)
        "According to occult scientist Terence McKenna, the end of the world as we know it will occur at 11:10 PM, December 22, 2012[...]"

        Which timezone was that, again? Or are we expecting the world to end in 24 arbitrarily defined chunks throughout the day?

      • "According to occult scientist Terence McKenna, the end of the world as we know it will occur at 11:10 PM, December 22, 2012"

        Is that Eastern, Central, Mountain, or Pacific Time?

        Or is God in another timezone altogether ... like Greenwich or MET? ...and how many people, in and out of the White House, will work full time trying to make the apocolypse happen on schedule? Prophecies, despite being nonsensical, have a way of becoming self-fullfilling once enough gullable people buy into them, and enough of th
        • Well, rememeber it isn't my theory, it's Terence McKenna's. McKenna was an occultist who died in 2000. As an occultist myself, I find his work to be quite fascinating. Remember that everything you read in the occult field you have to take with a large grain of salt and then pick and choose what you believe for yourself -- even if it's nothing. That's something anyone who's studied the occult for any length of time will automatically tell you when you're just getting started.
    • Re:Not unique (Score:3, Informative)

      by loconet (415875)
      Mayas = Mexico
      Incas = Peru, Bolivia, etc
    • Oddly enough, Terence McKenna managed to calculate the end of the world to December 21, 2012 using I Ching, while the Incas (Or was it Mayas? I confuse them.) calculated it to the same date. - Behold the powers of binary.

      Huh, they must have both been doing something like storing their dates in 32 bit integers. This currently give the end of the world as a date in 2038.

      -josh
    • Re:Not unique (Score:3, Informative)

      by ElGanzoLoco (642888)
      Azteques: Northern Mexico
      Maya: Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Salvador... etc.
      Incas: Perou, Chili, Bolivia (Andine mountains)

      Mayas used a 20-number basis and could perform any operation using a grid similar to a chess board. They could predict solar eclipses using the grid, beans and sticks... Impressive. Maybe they called it "grid computing"... [insert beowulf cluster joke here].

      • Re:Not unique (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bj8rn (583532) on Monday June 23, 2003 @09:42AM (#6272753)
        An interesting thing is how the existence of writing in South American civilizations seems to be connected to their attitude towards the Spanish. The Incas had quipus, Aztecs had pictogrammatic writing, Mayas had some kind of early-stage phonetic alphabet. When the Spanish came, the Incas were certain that they were gods; Aztecs believed it in the beginning, but later realised that the Spanish are humans just like themselves. Mayas raised the question, then answered it negatively and never called the Spanish gods.

        The possible explanation is, that the evolution of writing is affected by the evolution of mental structures and categories: the Incas saw everything unfamiliar as supernatural, having been isolated from other cultures. The Aztecs and (particularly) the Mayas had had contacts with other cultures besides their own, so they know what it means to be conquered by a more advanced civilization.

        • Re:Not unique (Score:3, Insightful)

          by maraist (68387) *
          the Incas saw everything unfamiliar as supernatural, having been isolated from other cultures.

          It's an interesting perspective, because most European cultures believed similarly; except that more specificly than supernatural, the unfamiliar was considered demonic in nature (Surely God has revealed all that is good and pure to us in our sacred texts).
  • by Boss, Pointy Haired (537010) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:25AM (#6272050)
    So that's prior art to their 1's and 0's patent [theonion.com] then.
  • by LinuxParanoid (64467) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:27AM (#6272060) Homepage Journal
    Is it binary because it has NOTs, or binary because it has KNOTs?
  • by Zayin (91850)

    it means the Inca not only invented a form of binary code more than 500 years before the invention of the computer, but they used it as part of the only three-dimensional written language.

    This is an obvious fraud! Everyone knows that Microsoft invented [theonion.com] the binary system in 1975.

  • by jkrise (535370) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:32AM (#6272081) Journal
    And I had to wait till 1993 for the SGI Indigo2 24-bit graphics card, and pay $3,000 for that one!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:35AM (#6272096)
    ... it should be "naught" and "knot"?
  • prior art? (Score:3, Funny)

    by the uNF cola (657200) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:37AM (#6272109)
    Heh, let's see someone patent binary now. This must be the the most prior-art, that prior art can get...
  • by Evets (629327) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:40AM (#6272119) Homepage Journal
    We use binary code to be able to display strings in 24 bit color and they use strings in 24 colors to display binary code. The circle is complete.
  • by javiercero (518708) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:43AM (#6272129)
    Nah, When I was growing up, we only had 0's... them Incas had it so easy.... That's right we only had unary, and we did not complain. Oh, and we had to walk uphill through the rain forrest in the snow to reach the pyramid, and it was uphill both ways... and we had no shoes.

    There, them Incas what a bunch of pussies!!!!
  • by (TK14)Dessimat0r (672420) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:49AM (#6272156)
    Inca may have used knot computer code to bind empire
    By Steve Connor, Science Editor
    23 June 2003

    They ran the biggest empire of their age, with a vast network of roads, granaries, warehouses and a complex system of government. Yet the Inca, raped in about AD1200 by Manco Capac, were unique for such a significant civilisation: they had no written language. This has been the conventional view of the Inca, whose dominions at their height covered almost all of the Andean region, from Colombia to Chile, until they were defeated in the Spanish conquest of 1532.

    But a leading scholar of South American antiquity believes the Inca did have a form of non-verbal communication written in an encoded language similar to the binary code of today's computers. Gary Urton, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, has re-analysed the complicated knotted strings of the Inca - decorative objects called khipu - and found they contain a seven-bit binary code capable of conveying more than 1,500 separate units of information.

    In the search for definitive proof of his discovery, which will be detailed in a book, Professor Urton believes he is close to finding the "Rosetta stone" of South America, a khipu story that was translated into Spanish more than 400 years ago.

    "We need something like a Rosetta khipu and I'm optimistic that we will find one," said Professor Urton, referring to the basalt slab found at Rosetta, near Alexandria in Egypt, which allowed scholars to decipher a text written in Egyptian hieroglyphics from its demotic and Greek translations.

    It has long been acknowledged that the khipu of the Inca were more than just decorative. In the 1920s, historians demonstrated that the knots on the strings of some khipu were arranged in such a way that they were a store of calculations, a textile version of an abacus.

    Khipu can be immensely elaborate, composed of a main or primary cord to which are attached several pendant strings. Each pendant can have secondary or subsidiary strings which may in turn carry further subsidiary or tertiary strings, arranged like the branches of a tree. Khipu can be made of cotton or wool, cross-weaved or spun into strings. Different knots tied at various points along the strings give the khipu their distinctive appearance.

    Professor Urton's study found there are, theoretically, seven points in the making of a khipu where the maker could make a simple choice between two possibilities, a seven-bit binary code. For instance, he or she could choose between weaving a string made of cotton or of wool, or they could weave in a "spin" or "ply" direction, or hang the pendant from the front of the primary string or from the back. In a strict seven-bit code this would give 128 permutations (two to the power of seven) but Professor Urton said because there were 24 possible colours that could be used in khipu construction, the actual permutations are 1,536 (or two to the power of six, multiplied by 24).

    This could mean the code used by the makers allowed them to convey some 1,536 separate units of information, comparable to the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Sumerian cuneiform signs, and double the number of signs in the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians and the Maya of Central America.

    If Professor Urton is right, it means the Inca not only invented a form of binary code more than 500 years before the invention of the computer, but they used it as part of the only three-dimensional written language. "They could have used it to represent a lot of information," he says. "Each element could have been a name, an identity or an activity as part of telling a story or a myth. It had considerable flexibility. I think a skilled khipu-keeper would have recognised the language. They would have looked and felt and used their store of knowledge in much the way we do when reading words."

    There is also some anecdotal evidence that khipu were more than mere knots on a string used for storing calculations. The Spanish recorded capturing one Inca n
  • by McCall (212035) on Monday June 23, 2003 @07:53AM (#6272175) Homepage
    In other news, SCO is suing Harvard University for $1 Billion, for patent infringement.

    A spokesperson for SCO said "One of the khipu contains binary representation of UNIX code, we can't tell you which khipu it is, but anyone who has read, heard or mentioned the Inca civilisation owes us money, and we will be seeking damages."

    A spokesperson for the Inca civilisation was unable to comment due to being mummified.
  • by jmaatta (550428)
    Ancient cultures in China and Africa also used binary, mostly for predicting the future.
  • Strings hanging off strings hanging off strings? Surely a relational database? It's just as well Codd died before learning that the Incas beat him to 3NF by 500 years.

    Now, can I interest the client for the db I'm working on in having it converted to Quipu? Should be good for a few trips to South America...

  • by Jawju (614159) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:02AM (#6272211)
    I've got a god-awful knitted jumper from my gran which I swear is an attempt at the 'Hello World' program. If I get kitted up in everything she's ever gave me, I'd be a walking Beowulf cluster, and how long would it be before SCO pointed at my socks and filed a lawsuit?
  • by Zapdos (70654) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:09AM (#6272234)
    and what eventually caused their fall was the khipu Century Copy-Knot Act.

  • Old news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by de la mettrie (27199) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:14AM (#6272264)
    This is not new. It has been generally surmised [everything2.com] that quipus (khipus, qipus) served as a carrier of complex informations. See e.g. this page [sbc.edu] for pictures and info.

    According to the article, the quoted scientist merely says that the permutations possible in a quipu weaving might indicate a septary (not, by any means, a binary) code. He also says he's looking for a Rosetta stone equivalent.

    Well, do go on looking, old fellow. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a whip-toting archaeologist-hero to stumble out of a collapsing jungle temple with a quipu-to-English dictionary under his arm. Remember, the Incas were one of the more institutionally stupid (and thus, extinct) civilizations in history - after independently inventing the wheel, they used it for children's toys exclusively.

    And he expects to unearth the original quipu RFC? It's probably in quipu, too. And eaten by a llama.
    • Re:Old news (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:24AM (#6272306)
      Why would they use the damn wheel on very short , irregular mountain roads, connected via unstable rope bridges?

    • Re:Old news (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Remember, the Incas were one of the more institutionally stupid (and thus, extinct) civilizations in history - after independently inventing the wheel, they used it for children's toys exclusively.

      A cart will do you hardly any good in the Andes given the screwy terrain.

      Anyway, thank the Incas for chocolate (and coffee too i believe).
    • Re:Old news (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RevMike (632002) <revMikeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday June 23, 2003 @10:01AM (#6272917) Journal
      after independently inventing the wheel, they used it for children's toys exclusively.

      It is a pretty consistent observation that lots of cultures invented the wheel, but only those that had access to high quality draft animals used it. Remember that the horse and other draft animals (oxen, donkey, etc.) were extinct in the new world until (re)introduced by the Europeans in 1492.

      A great book on the subject is Guns, Germs, Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond [amazon.com]. Diamond argues that two dominant cultures have arisen - A Western culture that traces its roots to Fertile Crescent in modern day Iraq and the an Eastern culture that traces its roots to the Yellow River Valley. In both of these places nature and geography conspired to create a package of tools that allowed these cultures to spread.

      Both these places had the following...

      1. Naturally occuring staple foods - usually grains - that were easy to domesticate
      2. Large wild animals that were easy to domesticate and useful as draft animals
      3. Room to spread out while using the same tools
      In contrast, the natives of the Americas had only a single staple grain - corn - and that one took thousands of years longer than wheat, barley, oats, and rice to domesticate and they had no draft animals. As an added gotcha, when the American natives did manage to domesticate corn, there were barriers to spreading out. For instance, the people of Mexico - Aztec, Mayan, Toltec - would need to pack up and cross the American Southwestern deserts, then the great plains (which can't be farmed easily without steel plows), then the Appalachian mountains, before reaching readily farmable land in the Eastern USA. The Chinese and Middle Eastern peoples could spread all the way to Korea, India, North Africa, and Europe without hitting that much of a barrier.

  • ANSI (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    They have invented to low ASCII code (7 bits) and color coded them ? Wow these guys had an ANSI terminal 500 years ago !
  • by Roblem (605718) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:22AM (#6272298) Homepage
    First off I wouldnâ(TM)t really consider binary an âoeinventedâ numerical system. I would only consider the roman system wacky enough to be invented. Also we are talking about labeling things with knots in strings right? Or did they work out rules for binary math? Of course they did have a nice data compression algorithm what with 7 bit binary encoding 1536 items. Of course if you read the article you find none of this is true. They used colored strings with knots in them to label things. Big deal! Knots in strings are not the same thing as a math system nor should they be compared one to one with Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  • by p3d0 (42270) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:35AM (#6272363)
    After multiplying the different permutations of the knots, they reach the conclusion that there are 1536 possibilities, and then go on to state that "This could mean the code used by the makers allowed them to convey some 1,536 separate units of information".

    That is a poor interpretation. 1536 possibilities allows someone to encode 10.6 bits of information. To encode 1536 "separate units" of information, each unit must represent no more than 1/145th of a bit. That is a very, very small amount of information, equivalent to having someone tell you something you were already 99.5% sure was true, such as "wow, this poker hand is not a straight!" or "guess what, my birthday this year does not fall on Friday the 13th".

    It may be closer to the truth to say their knot language had 1536 different symbols, as compared with the 50-or-so letters, numbers, and punctuation marks we use in English.

  • "before computers"? (Score:4, Informative)

    by freeweed (309734) on Monday June 23, 2003 @08:40AM (#6272379)
    the Incas may have used a form of binary code 500 years before computers were invented

    I don't get it. George Bool basically wrote the laws of binary arithmetic (hence its name, boolean) way before computers were invented, too.

    Having binary arithmetic was essential in the invention of the digital computer - doesn't anyone go to school anymore?

    (Not to downplay an interesting accomplishment by the Inca if it is true, but using the invention of computers as your compare date makes little sense.)
    • by bj8rn (583532) on Monday June 23, 2003 @09:11AM (#6272568)
      using the invention of computers as your compare date makes little sense

      Makes just as much sense as comparing all dates to the birthday of one Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter. It's just an arbitrary point in time that is supposed to demonstrate something. Relating the time to George Boole's accomplishment would have been more informative, that's true, but I don't think most of the people even know who Boole was, not to mention when he lived (I don't know when he lived. 19th century?). Hell, not too many people know when the first electronic computers were built, either, but they have more clue about it than Boole.

  • by Idimmu Xul (204345) on Monday June 23, 2003 @11:02AM (#6273398) Homepage Journal
    Was it Big Indian or Little Indian? BOOM BOOM!

    On a slightly more serious note, wasnt one of the Endians patented, which resulted in the creation of the other Endian (or so said my lecturer) and if so, does this affect things now? Or did the patent expire ages ago anyway?

In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.

Working...