Helen writes, “I am getting married soon, and I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate who I was before, something to remember my old name (as I am going to take my future husband’s surname when I get married), but I also wanted it to be a secret. So this is what I got…”

Carl: Helen wrote her name in ASCII, the lingua franca of computers. Before ASCII was developed in the 1960s, computers often had no way to send text to one another, with dozens of different systems for representing letters and numbers. Even after ASCII was created, it didn’t become common until 1981, when IBM used it for the first personal computers. Now ASCII is ubiquitous–a rare thing for such an old computer technology.

But Helen’s hidden name has roots that reach much further back than the Kennedy administration–centuries, in fact. ASCII is a binary code, which can be represented easily by an electric current flipping between two levels, or, numerically, as a string of 1s and 0s. Letters, numbers, and symbols can be represented in ASCII by an eight-digit number. Instead of the base-10 system we are all familiar with, this is a base-two number. (So 3 can be represented by 11 [2+1], for example.) The power of binary codes was understood long ago. The I Ching, for example, is a series of symbols built up from solid and broken bars. In Western mathematics, the father of binary codes was Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). Leibniz recognized that turning numbers into binary made them extremely simple to handly mathematically. In fact, he speculated, you could build a machine that would do math based on binary numbers by sifting marbles through slots–a dream of the computers that would come centuries later.

But Leibniz saw a deeper meaning in the binary. “One is enough to derive everything from nothing,” he wrote. To Leibniz, 0 represented the void, and 1 represented God. Only by translating nature into binary numbers did Leibniz believe that we attain perfect knowledge of the divine, by seeing its underlying reality and beauty. It was no coincidence that seven–as in the seventh day of creation, when all was created–is 111.

To Leibniz, I’d imagine, a binary code tattoo would not say what we once were, but what will forever be.

(For those of you who want to decode Helen’s surname, here’s a handy converter.)

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“I hope computer science counts”–Robert Newsom

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“here is a pic of my tattoo based on the golden spiral and a nautilus shell. i’ve wanted to get this done since high school and finally got up the courage to take the plunge earlier this year. it is now a constant reminder that mathematics is the language of nature.”–Thom

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“I got this tattoo, which encircles my left wrist, in 2000. The tat is described by this function(1/n)*sin(nx)

with n from 1 to 6. I had done a lot of work with fourier transforms on the research project I was involved in as an undergrad physics student, and just find the entire concept very beautiful. At the time that I got the tat, I was a master’s student in materials science and was taking a class on fourier optics. As music also plays a very large role in my life, the image/concept has a double meaning for me. As an added ‘feature’, the artist made a small mistake on the inside of my wrist (the n=4 line disappears for a bit). This really bugged me at first until I decided it was a good metaphor for how the messy reality of life is never perfectly represented by our mathematical theories.”

–Andrea Grant (now a climatology PhD student in Switzerland, where nerdy tattoos are still pretty shocking….)

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“It is an approximation of the locus of connectedness for the Julia sets of the family of functions f(z) = z^2 + lambda/(z^2) (rotated by pi/2). This is analogous to the standard Mandelbrot set (which applies to the family f(z) = z^2 + c), but holds additional fascination because for lambda values which are in the interior of one of the subdomains of the connectedness locus, the Julia set is a Universal Curve. To me this represents the structure unifying chaos (since Julia sets are chaotic) and order (since Universal Curves act as a sort of catalog of all planar curves).” –Aaron

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“I don’t quite have a science tattoo, but I have a math tattoo. That’s close enough, right?”Now, for the explanation. This is a formula called the Y Combinator. It is a fixed-point combinator in the lambda calculus and was discovered by Haskell Curry, a rather prolific mathematician and logician whose work helped start Computer Science.

“What this formula does is calculates the fixed point of a function, which in turn allows for recursion by calling on that fixed point; recursion is perhaps the single most important concept in Computer Science. Being a computer scientist and a mathematician, this formula is very important to me and represents the innate beauty of computer science and mathematical logic.” –Mark

[Note from Carl: Math is most welcome at the Emporium]

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“This is my science tattoo. It’s the greek symbol for Phi, and it represents the golden ratio.” –Jeff

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“Here’s mine, a rough approximation of the golden spiral… but more accurately a simple logarithmic spiral.”–Dave Stroup

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“I’m an evolutionary biologist student at Middlebury College. This tattoo was done at True Love Tattoo in Berkeley CA and is my attempt to show both the beauty and my love of chaos in nature. “–Sam Dakota Miller

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“I am a Rocket Scientist (Friends Named me that, more like Mechanical Engineer) and an Amatuer Astronomer. Got this tattoo on my inner right arm, since the Science inside of me is screaming to come out. Going to get another related Tattoo on my left inner arm next year. Not really going much further than that (as far as I know). ” –Spacemanbobby

Originally published here: www.flickr.com/photos/spacemanbob/1084139169/

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