Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Third Base" by Brian Hayes. American Scientist, November/December 2001, pages 490-494.

The advantages and applications of the base three (ternary) numbering system are the subject of this article. Hayes offers a measure of efficiency for numbering systems and, although we are more familiar with the decimal and binary systems, he finds that among natural numbers, three serves as the most economical base. Hayes also gives examples of computer hardware---not currently in use---based on the ternary system. Finally, with a nod to Martha Stewart, Hayes shows how using a ternary system could improve the look of your filing cabinet.

--- Mike Breen