Sometimes we get ripped off in subtle ways. An example of this is the thumb drive for my computer which I recently bought. It purports to have a capacity of 8GB, but it really doesn’t, for two reasons.
Because the internal architecture of computers depends on switches which can be in one of two states, computer storage comes in exponents of 2. A bit is one such switch and a byte is an array of eight, or 2 cubed. Unfortunately, when computer science was in its infancy, it was decided to hijack terminology from the decimal world to describe binary quantities. Kilo in decimal-speak means 1000 (10 to the power of 3), but in the binary world it is taken to mean 2 to the power of 10, which is 1024.
Similarly, Giga in decimal is the prefix which means 10 to the power of 9 (1,000,000,000), but in binary it means 2 to the power of 30, or 1,073,741,824. In my view it is reasonable when purchasing a computer storage device to assume that the quantity quoted is a binary quantity, not a decimal one, but this is not what actually happens. My so-called 8 Gigabyte drive, which should store 2 to the power of 33 bytes (8,589,934,592) actually only stores the decimal quantity (8,000,000,000 bytes), so I have been short-changed by nearly 600MB, enough to store a full length feature film.
To be completely fair, this is partly the fault of the computer scientists who should have come up with their own terminology from the beginning; the other (larger) part of the fault comes from the hardware marketers who cynically exploit the ambiguity to gain a competitive edge in a cut-throat market.
We also get ripped off in blatant, unsubtle ways. This same drive contains files which are allegedly essential for the correct operation of the device, and are not removable. These files are not stored in an area in addition to the 8 GB which I am supposed to have; they are part of the 8GB, so they eat further into the amount of storage I thought I was buying and would have available for my use.
These files are Windows executable files which are of no use to me whatsoever because I don’t run Windows on my computer—the files don’t do anything at all, but take up a few hundred MB of space which I thought I was buying for my own use. Because it isn’t worth the manufacturer’s while to produce different versions of their product for different operating platforms, we all have to suffer because of poor Windows design, even if we don’t use Windows.
What can we do about it? Not a lot, unfortunately. I suppose we could approach the advertising standards authority and tell them that this thing we have bought isn’t what it says on the tin, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope from that quarter, or from other related agencies or consumer protection organizations. We just have to put up with it if we want to buy these things, and be aware that we aren’t going to get what we should be getting.
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.
I trust you’ve seen this xkcd?