data, everywhere, do I have enough to sync? In a modern twist from Samuel
Taylor Coleridge’s line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it seems to me
that we are surrounded by data – yet there are two interesting issues
associated with that data. Firstly, what is data? Secondly, how much do I need.

first issue is one that I see confusing people every day. Let me go back to the
beginning to get to the end. Computers are pretty simple. They can understand on
or off. Yes or no. If only teenagers could be so simple! I digress – technically,
they use a binary system (computers that is – not teenagers). Everything stored
in a computer is a 1 or a 0. This is called a bit of data. A byte of data is
made up of 8 bits of data. With 8 bits you can have 256 different
possibilities. This gives you enough to have every letter of the alphabet
covered – in upper and lower case – and the ten numerals plus a range of
special characters such as #, %, &, etc. So one byte of data isn’t much.
One letter. Even though a byte is the basic unit of data, we don’t normally
talk about how many bytes we are using in the same way we don’t normally talk
about the mass of our car in grams. The unit is too small to be practical. We
therefore typically use kilobytes, which means 1,000 bytes – or does it? If we
want to be absolutely accurate, the SI prefix kilo means 1,000 therefore a kilobyte (kB) is 1,000 bytes BUT in
computer terms a kilobyte often refers to 1,024 bytes. The prefix kilo was
initially used as 1,000 approximates to 1,024 but many computer firms and
carriers use 1,024 bytes as one kilobyte (technically represented by KB). If
you want to impress at the next party you are at, roll out the term kibibyte
(KiB) as the unambiguous term for 1,024 bytes to remove the confusion!

forward, one kilobyte is not that much data. 1,000 characters including spaces.
As a guide, the editor instructs me to write this column to be 650 words long.
That is a little less than 4,000 characters. Based on the information above,
that would use approximately 4kB of space on my computer. When I look at this
document that was written in Microsoft Word though it shows the size of the
document is 52KB. The extra space is taken up with additional information such
as fonts, formatting, footers, etc. As kilobytes are not that large, it is rare
that we even talk in those terms anymore. Data is sometimes spoken about in
megabytes (MB) meaning 1,000 kilobytes or most commonly in gigabytes (GB)
meaning 1,000 megabytes. Based on the information above, 1MB would be enough
data to store twenty Microsoft Word documents with an article of this size. 1GB
would logically give you 20,000 Word documents.

is easy though. Videos and photos are the real data users. A photo on a
smartphone can typically be 4MB in size. That means our 1GB is now down to 250
photos. A 30 second video on a smartphone would be around 200MB. 1GB now only
accounts for 5 videos.

all relates to the storage of information. We are somewhat familiar with this.
We might buy a smartphone with 32GB of storage space or a computer with a 500GB
hard drive. Each document we create or photo we take is stored on this device.
How much data you need is obviously determined by what you intend to store. If
you want to video every goo or gah of your new born, then be prepared to start
talking in terabytes for your storage. If you just like the idea of text and no
visual representation, then your storage needs are much lower.

next big issue, and the one I will go through in detail next week, is how the
monthly GB we buy from our Internet Service Provider or Mobile Phone Carrier
relates to our storage data. What does it all mean when we see an NBN plan with
500GB of data or a mobile plan with 8GB of data? Read next week to find out

Mathew Dickerson

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