Posted December 09, 2013
Recently, a dear friend turned 30. Being my longest tenured friend, I gave her a call to wish her well on the dawn of her fourth decade.
Like many, she was somewhat distressed by the prospect of turning 30. (In retrospect, opening the conversation with "Hey old lady!" was probably not the best choice.) Being that I had passed that same milestone only a few months before, she asked me how I got through it.
"I realized that 30 is a totally arbitrary number and that it is just another birthday."
I could tell she recognized the logic of the statement, but the sentiment rang hollow. Sure, it's an arbitrary number, but it's an arbitrary number that ends in zero. I decided to try another tack.
"That's just because we use base-10 for our numbers. If we used base-16, you would still have two years until you turn 20!"
She was intrigued by this prospect. But being one of the 99% of people who do not regularly think in other bases, she needed a quick refresher. "What's base-16?"
"It's when you don't go into double digits until 16, so in base-16, one-zero equals 16."
"Oh, right. But what do you do when you get above 9?"
"Well, most commonly you use letters. In base-16, which is also called hexadecimal, you use letters. So it goes 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10."
"So I just turned 1E?"
"I like that! I'm going to tell everyone that I'm not turning 30, I'm just turning 1E!"
I'm not sure the deviation into base-16 helped assuage her fears about the interminable march of time, but for a moment a little math distracted her from her worries.