Last week Base 8. This week FRACTIONS!
Typing fractions in e-mails and text files
Ozzie Osband, Licensed Geek (ham radio license N4SCY)

In discussing "writing" by typing on computers, I would like to bring up the problem of typing fractions on a keyboard. At the end of Tom Lehrer's song "New Math", he promised that after talking about subtraction in Base 8, "Next week FRACTIONS", but he never followed up.

Most style manuals would have a typist spell the fraction "One and a half" as 1 1/2 (One Space One Slash Two).

I'm a ham radio operator. Ham radio is a a hobby that grew out of telegraphy over radio, and the Morse Code characters themselves are based on dots, dashes, and the spaces between these two types of "audio components" that make up each character. The ITU (International Telecommunications Union) Telegraph Regulations on the transmission of telegrams (still in effect today) state that fractions shall be transmitted with the "dash" character between the whole number and the numerator, with the numerator and denominator separated by a "slant bar" character, usually just called "slash". Our "One and a half would be typed as "One Dash One Slash Two" (1-1/2). By using the dash character instead of a space character, there is no confusion when transmitting or receiving fractions using the Morse Code, and later using the Baudot code via Telex. Today we use use Unicode characters, a descendant of ASCII (the American Standard Code for Information Interchange)

As an aside, "Back-slash" is ONLY used in describing Microsoft file names on a Windows based computer, while "Forward Slash" is redundent, since only the word "slash" is necessary for expressing Web Addresses and file name locations on the Internet.

I consider e-mails to be the direct linear descendant of Telegrams, and so I proudly use the Telegraph required format for typing fractions in my e-mails and other typed correspondence. Then again, I admit that I consider myself a Licensed Geek, since I hold Ham Radio License N4SCY.

The Telegraph Regulations on Signatures in Telegrams state that a Signature shall be intented 5 or more spaces, so I use that rule in my e-mails as well.

          Ozzie, Licensed Geek (ham radio license N4SCY)


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