Ternary clock and the ternary system

From: Marko Mäkelä (msmakela_at_cc.hut.fi)
Date: 1999-09-07 14:20:02

A while ago when I was visiting a friend's summer cottage where there was
an old wall clock that uses unary system for announcing even hours, I got
the idea of building a ternary clock, a clock using three distinct sounds
instead of one for announcing hours.  Has anyone heard about such clocks?
The ternary system would be optimal: there are 3 one-digit codes and nine
two-digit codes, totalling 12.

A related thing is packing ternary digits efficiently.  I had to do this
in a research project.  I saw some old code that used 2 bits per digit.  
I made some calculations and saw that you can pack 5 ternary digits in 8
bits (3^5=243 < 256=2^8).  The next saving will be when using 176-bit
words, which can hold 111 ternary digits.

Well, what does this have to do with old computers?  Maybe the latter
observation could be useful in compressing data.  I've heard that the
ternary system would be more optimal than the binary system, because
3 is closer to the Neper constant e than 2 is.  Can anyone confirm this?


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