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Just how big are kilo-, mega-, giga-, and tera-?

I was watching a video hosted by Jeremy Clarkson earlier called “Inventions That Changed the World: The Computer.” It got me thinking about just how amazing these machines have actually become. We started with machines capable of computing a couple numbers at a time to the Colossus which used a series of 1,800 valves to perform computing functions all the way up to ENIAC with 17,000 tubes to the microprocessors of today, which have moved past those archaic valves and tubes to hundreds of millions of tiny and reliable transistors capable of performing a lot of math very quickly.


It got me thinking about some of these specs we take for granted. A computer (as stupid as it is from time to time) is a brilliant machine. A true modern marvel. At one point in time, the only SI prefix we really used was kilo- or 1,000. Other SI prefixes like mega-, giga-, and even tera- have become pretty commonplace thanks to the computer. But how big are they? To illustrate this, I asked myself the question, “What if we used these prefixes in other applications? And how big would they be?”


What if we used them in distance?


I’ll start with a meter. A meter is pretty easy to wrap your mind around: the rest of the world knows it, but for you fellow American types, it's about 40 inches - right over a yard or 3 feet. A kilometer is pretty easy to wrap your mind around too - just over a half a mile. On the highway, you cover this distance in about half a minute.


But what about a megameter? It’s 1,000 kilometers or 1,000,000 meters Well that would be like driving from Washington, DC to Bangor, Maine. From Salt Lake City to Albuquerque. From Los Angeles to Sacramento. Or From Amarillo to Corpus Christi. In Europe, it’s like driving from Hamburg, Germany to Geneva, Switzerland. If you live in Australia, it’s slightly longer than the distance between Sydney and Brisbane.



A gigameter? It’s 1,000 megameters, 1,000,000 kilometers, or 1 billion meters. At the equator, the earth is 40,008 kilometers around. So we'll call it 40 megameters. A string one gigameter long would be enough to wrap around the planet at the equator twenty-five times.


A tetrameter is 1,000 gigameters, 1,000,000 megameters, 1 billion kilometers, and 1 trillion meters. That is equivalent to a round trip from the earth to the sun........




three times. And that's still only 90% of it. You'd make it 2/3 of the way back to the sun before you complete your terameter run.


And most of your computers these days have at least 500 gigabytes of storage. I've got 1.6 terabytes myself. And yet we throw these prefixes around. But when you take a second to think about just how far we've come in the field of computer science, you can't help but admit that they're pretty amazing. :muffins::twi:

  • Brohoof 2


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@, I took a programming class once using QB64 and that's when I determined that I'm not bound to be a programmer. It was easily one of the most difficult classes I'd ever taken. So I can only imagine what using an ENIAC simulator would have been like. 

  • Brohoof 1

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At this point, smartphones are more capable than the computers used in the moon landing.  Just wait till we finally get to exascale computing.  We'll be able to really crazy stuff, like full simulate a brain and figure out some intense nuclear fusion stuff.

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