Sunday, January 10, 2010

Un-real estate

When we put our minds to something, surprising things can happen.  When mathematicians and scientists and kids in garage workshops began working with binary numbers and circuit boards, who could have forseen those efforts would lead in a rather short time to downloaded Beethoven symphonies and Socrates' Apology

We bought several dozen CD's of music we like and treasure.  The compact disc is much more compact than the 78 record but not nearly as compact as the computer file of the same music or text or video or pictures.  We now have downloadable movies.  I downloaded one of my favorites, "In the Spirit", starring Marlo Thomas and Elaine May, from Amazon and the file is more than 2 gigabytes.  A gigabyte is a billion bytes and a byte is 8 bits.  A bit is a 1 or a 0.  Who cares?  We all do since our health records, our medical and financial records and much of the important documentation of our lives is written in these odd little 1's and 0's.

As time goes by, the old storage of 132 kilobytes in the mainframe of the first computer I used becomes unbelievable, like the oldtime price of a nickel a gallon for gasoline.  Each time we buy a new computer, it comes with an amazing amount of storage space on it.  Yet, each machine eventually gets filled or nearly so.  My current main computer has 30 gigs on it but my friend just bought a computer with 500 gigs on it.  We ourselves make us of a 320 gig external hard drive.

If every word you ever wrote, notes to the milkman (what's a milkman?), homework assignments and school essays, your master's thesis - everything were written down, it could be probably be contained on a single DVD, about 4 gigs.  But then comes one of those big leaps.  When we switched to sound and try to preserve every sound, we need close about a gig for an hour of speech.

The surprising thing about all this is that the actual storage space is so small. The little camera cards used to store picture files are about the size of a postage stamp.  A postage stamp that hold a full length Hollywood movie!

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