I suggest a simple number-to-string scheme for easily recognising and comparing numbers.

There seems to be a number of cases where you want to check that two numbers are the same. This could be comparing a number on a printed record to a number on screen, comparing document IDs over the phone, seeing if two people share a phone number, or a bunch of other scenarios. This is highly error prone. Given that you can raed wrods wrhee the lertets are mxied up wouthit porbelms, it’s no wonder that 85142 and 85412 are easily confused.

Humans are a lot better at concepts, and therefore words. Given the lines “snowman, blue kiwi” and “snowman, red camel”, anyone will easily see that they’re not the same. Even though “snowman, red camel” has three times as many characters as “85412”, I think most people would find the former easier for both long term and short term memorization.

These happen to be actual examples from a simple number-to-string conversion scheme I devised. It’s based on a set of ten adjectives and a hundred mostly cute and happy nouns. I call the resulting strings “cutecodes”. You can test them below, by typing in some digits and hoping that my javascript skills haven’t rotted.

Cutecode test:
Javascript off?

The digits are grouped in threes, the first digit picks an adjective and the last two pick a noun. Here are some thoughts that went into the system:

  • There should be a sizable amount of words. Here, an adjective and a noun will uniquely identify three digits. With some more work, you might have a hundred adjectives and a thousand nouns, for five digits.
  • The words should be pleasant and inoffensive, no matter which order they’re put in. People might object to having “burning deamon” as their order number. “Cutecodes” came from the resulting high concentration of cute nouns. I tried not making it sappy though, since it should be usable in a serious corporate setting.
  • Words should not be excessively culture specific. It’s hard making it global, but I avoided words like “gopher” which are primarly American. People will have a harder time remembering words if the concept are difficult to relate to. Since this is a proof of concept there are still some, like “lemur”.
  • With four digits you get two nouns rather than two adjectives and a noun. This is because a “small, green pencil” and “green, small pencil” is the same concept but would map to different numbers (with this rule, you get “ginger, pencil” instead)

It could be convenient to be able to convert cutecodes to numbers by hand. One way would be to use “A” and “B” as “0”, “C” and “D” as 1, etc, and picking the words so that “BArn” is 00, “CAlf” is “10” and so forth. So far, the nouns are just listed in alphabetical order, so you know that “earthworm, red carrot” is a lot less than “wizard, small mushroom”.

Instead of even trying, I chose single syllable adjectives and double syllable nouns, all with mostly the same rythm: “black camel, green lemur, sweet raincoat, young almond, white puzzle, small lemming, dry bubble”. This sounds nice and takes the same number of syllables to say as the number.

Finally, the words should be chosen so that they can be translated unambiguously between a few major languages. I didn’t bother with this either.

I imagine that this could be shown wherever strings of more than 3-4 digits are displayed, to increase recognition by humans.

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