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Bits & Bytes …

by Suzanne Hooley

"Suzanne Sez … " (Short Editorial Zone)

I like numbers and statistics … but it’s what I would call an ‘acquired taste’!   Back in the day, I absolutely hated the stuff … in my senior year of high school, my “Statistics & Probability” class and the evil “CS 100” about killed me.   “CS 100″ was a newly-created (and mandatory for graduation) computer programming class, which involved creating, running, and storing computer programs on a series of roughly 7″ x 3” horizontal punch cards.   As I remember (shudder!), we used this large typewriter-like keypunch machine to manually punch lines of programming code onto the cards … 1 line of code per card.   We then ran our cards through a large IBM card-reader to see if our program “worked”!   And it really stunk huge when you wrote your code incorrectly, or mis-keyed characters into the machine … you had to re-do the whole mess, sometimes multiple times!   My classmates and I slogged our way through, with the collective motivation that “C’s get degrees” … and all the while wondered “what the heck are we ever going to need THIS stuff for anyway”!!!   But I digress … !

Over the years, I’ve grown to embrace numbers and data-trending … to understand and appreciate the implications of such … to look backwards at ‘fact’, to project forward anticipating ‘fortune’ … to make choices and hedge a desired outcome, to ‘right the ship’ again when necessary.   Numbers always tell a story … they’re like a language or a computer program:  what can appear to the eye and brain as random gibberish, can actually be interpreted and evaluated to present a ‘big picture’ or a microcosm of such.

Recently I was reading an I.T. news article (you see what happened to me?!), and I learned a new word … and a new number:  “zettabyte”.   What, might you ask, is a “zettabyte”?!   Let me start by saying that a “zettabyte” exponentially exceeds the quantity of TWO OTHER words and numbers that I did not yet know either:  a “petabyte” and an “exabyte”.

The article cited the year 2015 as the likely beginning of what it called the “zettabyte era”:  when annual Internet data traffic would approach “one zettabyte”.   Think about how we now work daily in megabytes and gigabytes … and once upon a time, a gigabyte was considered a lot of space!   Some of us have maybe even heard of terabytes, which follows gigabytes in the progression of increasing orders of magnitude.   A terabyte is realistically a lot of data, right?   OK … hold on, steady yourself … it gets even more dizzying … !!

So … knowing that a gigabyte is approximately 1 billion bytes (10 to the 9th power; 2 to the 30th power bytes, or 1024 megabytes) … consider the terabyte (1024 gigabytes) … the petabyte (1024 terabytes) … the exabyte (1024 petabytes) … and now the zettabyte (1024 exabytes), which is (are you ready for this?) 2 to the 70th power bytes, approximately 10 to the 21st power … the latter of which is written as “a 1 followed by 21 zeroes”!!

The article went on to quantify the data capacity of a zettabyte in terms of things that we can (sort of!) wrap our little human brains around:  “the equivalent of 250 billion DVD’s of data, 36 million years of HD video, or the volume of the Great Wall of China if an 11 oz. cup of liquid represents a gigabyte of data”.   That’s the annual amount of data projected to be transmitted around the Internet by 2015 … a zettabyte.   Wow.

As I think back to that particular “death of me” school year in the late 70’s, maybe it was a rather ‘fateful turning-point’ of sorts … I look where I started … and I look where I am now … I look at the skill set and knowledge I’ve acquired … and I look at what technology has allowed to be available to me.   So to the old “CS 100” curriculum and all its painstaking, trial-and-error programming agony, I smile and raise my coffee mug in a respectful toast of gratitude:  “Thanks for ‘byting’ me!”   (wink)

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