Using standardized SI prefixes

Phillip Susi psusi at
Fri Jun 15 17:46:10 UTC 2007

Christof Kr├╝ger wrote:
> Unfortunately, computer designers, technicians etc. are not living in an
> isolated world (well.. maybe some of them).
> No one wants to forbid the computer people to use base 2 numbers. They
> are just asked to write KiB instead of KB if they mean base 2
> quantities, because the rest of the world already uses kilo as 1000.
> Changing the rest of the world makes no sense and having distinct names
> for distinct thing does no harm.

Different disciplines often ascribe different meanings to the same 
words, so there is no reason why the prefix "Kilo" can not mean 1024 in 
the context of computer science, so please stop complaining about that. 
  You should just learn that in this context, that is what it means. 
Always has and always will.

> Yup, I totally agree. But why do we call it "kilo" then, when we
> actually mean 1024? Someone found it handy dozens of years ago and

Because we needed a name, and Kilo is a good one to use.  There is no 
rule that says you can't use the word for a different meaning in a 
different context.

> everybody has adapted it. So back then, someone was redefining your pi
> to 3 because it was close enough and now we should leave it this way?
> Remember that until computers have been invented (or binary logic), kilo
> has always meant 1000.

And before computers were invented the word mouse always referred to a 
small hairy rodent.  I don't see you complaining that it can also refer 
to the computer pointing device on your desk.  When someone says they 
caught a mouse or they clicked with their mouse, you can easily infer 
which one they mean.

> However, I don't agree that this should hold true in computer science.
> One possible meaning of KB is "1000 bytes". The other is "1024 bytes".
> Now take the sentence: "Hello John. I've got a file here and want to
> send it to you. It's 25KB large." Now please extract from the context
> which meaning is significant here? The problem is that the both possible
> meanings depict exactly the same: a quantity of bytes.

The context clearly indicates the meaning is 1024.  When referring to 
bytes that context uses 1024.  Also capitalizing the K is another 
indicator.  There is no ambiguity in that sentence to anyone familiar 
with the computer science context.

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