The binary base race
Or how I started computing before I ever started computing.
his goes back to roughly 1970. That’s my 7th grade class and here I am and what we were doing in this class one day was studying numeric bases. Now, bases are the way that we interpret and operate on numbers.
We’re all familiar with Base 10. In Base 10, there are ten possible digits; zero through nine and a number like 12,345 is represented as you see here: one, two, three, four, five. Each of those digits represents something important. The five, for example represents the number of “ones” in the number. The four represents the number of “tens”. The three represents the number of “one hundreds”; the two represents the number of “one thousands” and the one represents the number of “ten thousands”.
Now, that sequence: one, ten, one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, those are all powers of ten. Hence, Base 10.
Now, we already knew about Base 10 and we were looking at other bases of course, but what we decided to do is to study Base 2. What we call “binary”.
Now in Base 2, there are exactly two possible digits: zero and one. So a number might look something like 10101. In this case, the right most digit represents the number of “ones” just like it did in Base 10. The next digit over, however, represents the number of “twos”. The next digit, the number of “fours”; the next digit the number of “eights” and the next the number of “sixteens” and so on.
Here the commonality that this one, two, four, eight, sixteen sequence has is that these are all powers of two. Hence, binary. Now, in case you are curious, that 10101 number represents one times sixteen plus zero times eight plus one times four plus zero times two plus one times one. In other words, that’s the equivalent of 21 decimal.
We had a base race. Now a base race was a really more of a spelling bee like thing for counting except we did it in Base 2. That made it interesting. The setup was fairly simple. We’d all get up and stand in front of the room in a line and from left to right, we’d simply start counting in Base 2. So what that means is the first person would say, “zero”. The next, “one”; the next, “one, zero”. The next, “one, one”; the next, “one, zero, zero” and so on counting one, by one, through the binary numbers.
As soon as somebody got one wrong, well, they’d have to sit down and the race would continue. As you can tell, there were probably around thirty people in the class so we ended up going through quite a few numbers. I actually don’t remember exactly where we stopped; how far we got but I’m sure we got into a least the thirties.
Now, as it turns out, I came in second or if you want to be technical about it I suppose it would be 10 to be represented in binary.
What’s interesting about this and the reason that I bring this up today is that 7th grade, 1970, that’s a full six years before I would even touch the computer for the first time in college.
That kind of struck me. I didn’t even think about for the longest time. I always considered my computing career to have started in 1976 with that introduction to Fortran programming class, but apparently, in reality, the signs were already 6 years earlier.
Now, you probably have experience that you don’t even realize applies. So my question to you is this: “What did you learn before you realized you learned it?” Much like my binary numbers, I had no idea that they would play such an important role in my life later on, and yet, here we are.
What things in real life helped you understand your technology better? Technology is full of metaphors, files and folders, clipboards, menus, dashboards, they’re all just metaphors for things we see in real life. I’m curious as to your experience and how it’s impacted your life?
As always, this video, if you’re watching anywhere but on askleo.com, here’s the link, askleo.com/22613. Leave your comments there. Let me know. This is a lighter, funner topic than some of the topics we’ve been addressing in the past and I’m curious as to what your experience has been.
As always, have fun, stay safe and don’t forget to back up.
Oh, and before we go, if you’ve ever run across this particular piece of humor in social media and so forth, now you’re in a position to understand it. There are ten kinds of people in the world: Those who understand binary and those who don’t. It’s actually a mispronunciation. The correct way to state this is that there are 10 kinds of people in the world because 10 is, of course, binary for two.
Take care, everyone.