These days we’re so used to dealing in Gigs and Megs, we forget about the more humble units of memory, the smallest units, the Bits and the Bytes. A bit is the smallest unit of memory there is, and is a constructed word coming from binary numeral digit. A bit can read either 1 or 0, and that’s it. A byte, a couple of levels up used to mean a collection of bits, now it is almost exclusively used to mean 8 bits.
There is now in fact a stage between bit and byte, a nibble which at 4 bits is half a byte (geddit.) You can find out more about these vitally important building locks of memory here.
Byte as well as being a memory component was whilst I was growing up, one if not the most influential computer magazine involved (see here for a fuller story on this). Whilst at school and while practicing for my junior nerd badge I was an avid purchaser of computer magazines. This habit took up all the money that I wasn’t spending on sweets at the time, and probably protected me from developing a weight problem till I got to 6th form.
Each week I would go down to the newsagent and see what issues of Byte, Your Computer, Personal Computer World and others more short lived had come in. With a quarter pound of some tooth rotting substance held in one hand, I would turn the pages on the mysterious world of computers (not PC’s,) that could be assembled by soldering iron.
As well as ZX80’s, there were Commodore PET’s, TRS 80s and UK 101s. The letters pages were filled with knowledgeable queries about languages such as FORTRAN & PASCAL and something that was so simple it was BASIC.
My interest in computers went hand in hand with an almost complete lack of talent for programming. Whilst my contemporaries were able to construct games that seemed to be the equivalent of those professionally coded, my own efforts barely went further than being able to a phrase to scroll down the page,
I did however, persevere, and after spending more hours with a redundant even in the 80’s set of punch cards, managed to pass a computer studies ‘O’ level. This was about the high point. Through the next couple of years, my interest in computers was mainly shown with the speed that I would pirate someone else’s game or perhaps rarely purchase one.
At college the twin new distractions of girls and booze, smothered what remained of the embers of my enthusiasm, plus the fact that I could never have afforded one of the whizzy new machines like the Macintosh or the Compaq that started to become available.
By the time I started wandering back to the world of IT, no one talked any more in terms of bits and bytes. Even RAM had started to be forgotten, just referred to as memory. Bits and bytes are still there though, and you now have far more of them at your beck and call them. Like many useful; things in life, we don’t think of them anymore. Come on let’s hear it for the little guy.