Archive for July, 2018

Imperial units for measuring information

Monday, July 30th, 2018

I used to be a metric man, myself. Celsius, meter, kilometer, liter, kilogram. In fact, living in Transylvania, I was intimately familiar with even finer gradations. If you went to the grocery store, and the clerk was speaking Hungarian, you asked for 20 decagrams of raisins. If she was speaking Romanian, you asked for 200 grams. Fun, fun, fun.

But now, after decades of living in English speaking countries, this continental precision and spirit of the French revolution [1] seems overly technical. Inches, yards and miles are now dear to me and so much a part of my life, that I dread the conversion math whenever I travel abroad. So, how many liters per hundred kilometers consumes a car that goes 34 miles per gallon?

Now, however, I am getting uncomfortable when dealing with the metric system for information. Bits, Bytes, Kilobytes, Kilobits, Mega, Giga, Tera!!! What sort of continental approach is this? Ok, some people argue that these  should actually be multiples of 1024 not 1000, but then again, nobody really cares about this. One only cares about it when you go back to Best Buy and try to get a 2.4% discount because your 1TB harddisk is not really 1TB. Good luck with that.

So, somebody needs to develop a proper set of imperial units for the measure of information (IUMI). Some time ago me and my friend Srikar Rajamani came up with some names while waiting in traffic in Silicon Valley.  Somebody had to do it, no?

Let us start from the beginning. The basic unit of information in IUMI is a bite. Coincidentally, it denotes the same amount of information as the bit in the metric system. Do not confuse it with a byte. One bite is 0.125 bytes.

Now, 7 bites make a brain. No, it is not coming from this [2] but from this [3].

One brain is suitable for the representation of an ASCII character, if you don’t worry about continental letters like é or è.  

One thousand brains make a binch, or 6.83KB. You can measure your Python file’s length in binches, like in the following sentence:

My Tensorflow script is just a binch long, but it has been running for weeks!

Sixteen binches are a bounce, or 116.21KB. It is a suitable measure for measuring very badly scanned family photos, or very long personal notes to the management.

Now, obviously, one boot is twelve binches and one bard is three beet. They can be used to measure the speed of your wireless connection (beet/second) and USB drive (bards/second).

A buart is 32 bounces or 3.71MB (as opposed to the bard which is 4.08MB). There is not that much you can use a buart for, but it is important because four buarts make a ballon. A ballon is 14.872 MB, and can be used to measure the size of your old, unreadable SD cards from 2008 or the memory of your Motorola RAZR. Use kiloballon for the post-iPhone era.

The use of the kilo prefix is necessary, because we have a large step here. One bacre is 4840 bards or 19.75GB. Comes to mind, now that your SD cards are a lot larger, maybe you can use a bacre instead of a kiloballon. The conversion is simple: a bacre is 1.361 kiloballons, or 1 kiloballon is 0.734 bacres.

One bile is 1760 bacres. You can easily compute in your head that this is 34.754 TB, so it is a suitable measure of your hard disk size several years from now. Or when you speak about the size of big data as reflected by the Google and Facebook data centers: I can see for biles and biles. Finally, 1 nautical bile is 2025.37 bacres or exactly 40TB. It can be used when talking about the amount of data you lose when you keep your lifelog on 5 large hard disks in a RAID-0 configuration [4].