bits, bytes, and other measurements

Perhaps the most asinine discussion/argument/soapbox session I’ve read yet on Slashdot is in the comments of this post about BS tech support answers. It’s a discussion about bits and bytes that descends into definitions of kilo and mega and nibbles and a bunch of other units, and everyone seems to think their viewpoint is right. You’d think it was a discussion of the merits of a Mac vs. the merits of the PC the way some people position their opinions.

I think it’s really simple – define the units for the conversation/context at hand, and away we go. I do this to eliminate confusion for my customers by defining a Megabyte as 1,000,000 bytes of information, and a Gigabyte as 1,000,000,000 bytes of information. Mathematicians (hi Axe!) do this to define their systems so that other people can understand what the hell they’re talking about (NB: other people=other mathematicians. I’ve tried to understand, but get lost by the middle of the whiteboard). Measurements are simply a frame of reference, and if you define that frame of reference for a given situation I think things are ok. Most organisations use the definitions I do, so I’m not too worried. If I was trying to pitch a kilometre as 1024 metres, people might look at my funny. To almost everyone, kilo is a thousand, and mega is a million, so I’ll use that.

For me and my customers, it simplifies how we measure things and how we bill. All the reporting is done in bytes, and moving a decimal is much simpler than dividing by orders of 1024. Some people would argue that we do also do it this way to cheat customers out of the extra bytes if we calculated it “correctly”, but when you look at the quantities we include, it’s really immaterial for the overwhelming majority of our base (and you try explaining to someone not familiar with binary systems orders of 1024).

When you actually get to some of the tech BS sharing, it’s quite funny. As usual with /., it just takes a while to find the good stuff.

The best one I had was a NAS 6000 call. 1.4 TB of storage in a hot swapable RAID 5. The customer had filled it with data and deleted the original source. No backup (you can see where this is going). Luser decides to demonstrate hot swap drives by removing two drives and swapping them.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“remember that it’s lengthwise, not across when you slash your wrists. Across is just a cry for help.”

Amen, bruddah.