Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 8:14PM
In a recent paper, Eric Hehner gives the following beautiful example of people reinventing the concept of zero the hard way:
In the 1991 Toronto phone book, there is a page that helpfully gives the time difference to various places in the world; to the U.K. it says "+5", and to Costa Rica it says "-1". But to Cuba it says "NA", and the legenda explains "time difference not applicable". By 1996 they tried to correct it; for Cuba it says "=", with the same explanation. In 1997 they discovered the number 0 , but they felt the need then, and still do today, to explain that 0 means "no time difference".