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Mind Boggling Numbers

The search engine Google got it’s name from the imaginative term "googol" given by a 9 year old boy in 1938 to his uncle, mathematician Edward Kasner, when asked to name the number 10 to the power of 100. Computers have long been associated with buzzwords for size and speed. They sound so precise but in fact they are often a bit woolly. For example 1 Kilobyte is literally 1000 bytes but it’s not really. Because of computer memory being binary (i.e. has one of two values 0 or 1) a kilobyte is actually 2 to the power of 10 (1024 – a bit more than 1000) and a megabyte is 2 to the power of 20 (1048576). (Read more about all this from University of Exeter at http://www.ex.ac.uk/trol/dictunit/notesp.htm )

Nanotechnology is the latest buzzword, which refers to devices or relativities measured in one billionth of a meter (10 to –9). The inventor of the term was Eric Drexler, then an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In “Engines of Creation”, a book published in 1986, he argued that it would be possible one day to construct self-replicating “nanomachines” that could assemble atoms into molecules, thus building new objects from the inside out. Teleporting experiments using photons are getting close to this. Now billions of dollars are being thrown at nanotechnology although it’s really just an extension of "Moore’s Law" (computing power doubles every 18 months – 1965 Gordon Moore, founder of Intel). The Google search engine currently indexes 4.3 billion textual pages which was 3.0 billion 18 months ago.

Life was much simpler when we measured in units we could relate to with our bodies – inch (thumb width), foot (length of feet), yard (length of a man's belt), cubit (distance from elbow to finger tips).

Posted Sunday, 27 June 2004

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