The Separator in Number Systems

Here’s something that has started ticking me off ever since I’ve started using Paypal more often. The separator in number systems. Namely: the decimal and the comma.

Number System Separator

I think it is first important to talk about our number system. We use a decimal number system. We count from 1 to 9, and then we add another digit to signify a 10’s position. From there, we count from 1 to 9 again, only this time, having a “1” in the 10’s position. So in essence, we count from 11 to 19.

This is all great until you start dealing with larger numbers. When you deal with a 12-digit number, it is much easier to separate thousands from millions from billions, etc. And hence, we use a separator to denote that change in magnitude. We also use a separator to denote fractional parts of 1. That is, a number one-and-a-half would have a notation 1[separator]5. What goes into this [separator] is what I want to talk about.

Now, in some countries, they use the comma “,” as a separator for those large magnitudes and a “.” as a separator for smaller magnitudes. For example 1,567.35 is the way I am familiar with. However, other countries will switch the positions of those separators round. Their number will look like 1.567,35. This is very common in Europe.

I’m going to flat out say that notation is wrong. I don’t care about the cultural or traditional aspects of this. This is flat out wrong, incorrect and bad notation, and here’s why.

While this may not affect everyday life, it causes serious problems in mathematics. The comma is normally used as a separator for variables when writing vectors (multi-dimensional lists) out. For example, if you want to write a 2D co-ordinate out, you’d write (6,5). Using the incorrect notation of a comma, that looks like you are writing a 1D co-ordinate of 6.5, which is wrong. The comma has always been used a separator in mathematics and should stay that way to maintain consistency.

Also, in programming languages, we use a point (.) to denote fractional values. Adding a comma will just make the compiler yell at you because commas are reserved exclusively for function calls with multiple arguments. Please, for goodness sake… stop with this madness!

While I’m ranting about this, I might as well state why this ticked me off. It turns out Paypal has terrible customer service and an even worse web-design team. I noticed this numbering system implemented on my Paypal page and sent in a question to their customer service team asking how I could switch the system. Turns out, they don’t have such an option.

What’s worse, it took me several messages back and forth with the morons in customer service. They kept requesting me to upload pictures from a non-existent page, with a non-existent button. So, unfortunately, I’m stuck with Paypal until there exists a better alternative to them that integrates really well with eBay. Can’t wait for that to happen. I’ll be one of the first people to switch and it’s not because of bad web design. It’s because of terrible customer service.

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