Saturday, August 11, 2012

How many?

When we hear the words "million" or "billion" these days, the subject is often money, budgets, finance.  Large numbers come in handy for that topic.  However, as the number of billionaires in the world rises, we may soon have the first trillionaire, if such a person doesn't already exist.  

As wealth and complexity grow, will we run out of numbers, numerical families?  Not for a while.  We have the powers of ten system, sometimes called "orders of magnitude".  Since most of us have ten fingers, it is convenient to group things in tens.  When we have ten groups, we can say "Ok, one super-group" for "hundred".  Then 10 super-groups for "one thousand" or "K" for "kilo" or "grand", sometimes called "big ones" as in that car costs "50 big ones".  Then, the routine begins over in the thousand family: one, ten and hundred thousands until we jump to the next family of millions and then on to billions and trillions.

But today, it isn't money where we start to see big numbers, it is in computing and digital information.  We had "kilobytes" or thousands of one-zero bits of memory capacity when I began Fortran study in 1965.  Later, storage moved to "megabytes" or millions of bits.  Then, on to "gigabytes" or billions of info bits.  The cellphone-sized external backup to my hard drive moves attention to the next family, the terabyte family of trillions.  It can hold ¾ of a terabyte and costs $80.  My brother-in-law bought a two terabyte backup external hard disk for about the same price.

Computer people are ready with the next families:
Name Power of 10 binary

kilobyte (kB) 3 10
megabyte (MB) 6 20
gigabyte (GB) 9 30
terabyte (TB) 12 40
petabyte (PB) 15 50
exabyte (EB) 18 60
zettabyte (ZB) 21 70
yottabyte (YB) 24 80

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