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Sunday, October 30, 2005

We so-called experts have been wrong for almost 7 years

Those of us who teach math and computer science have been proud of our knowledge that a kilobyte is really 1024 bytes, not 1000. So “Y2K” doesn’t really refer to 2000 but to 2048. Similarly, we believe (and teach) that a megabyte is really 220, or 1,048,576 — not 1,000,000.

But it turns out that we’re all wrong. Furthermore, we’ve been wrong for almost seven years! According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (the authority on these things), the international standard since December, 1998, has been that the kilo- prefix means 1000. The correct prefix for 1024 is actually kibi-, not kilo-.

Similarly, mega- and giga- are powers of 10, but mebi- and gibi- are powers of 2. You can have two tries to guess what the “bi” syllable stands for in kibi-, mebi-, and gibi-.

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