Tuesday, May 25, 2010

(empo-tymshft) That's sorta big

I'm sure that any of us over the age of 8 has noticed how rapid technological changes can be.

The first personal computer that I ever owned was a Macintosh Plus, which was a wonderful computer that provided a wealth of functionality. And storage - boy, it had storage. My Macintosh Plus happened to have a hard disk with TWENTY MEGABYTES of storage. I wasn't limited to floppy disk storage - I had TWENTY MEGABYTES of disk space to play with.

Back then, if you had said "terabyte" to me, I would have looked at you with a look of utter confusion. But as time went on, I eventually had to learn what a gigabyte was, and then I had to learn what a terabyte was.

In fact, a few years after I bought that Macintosh Plus, the whole world had to learn what a zettabyte and a yottabyte were. You see, in 1991, an official proposal was adopted that defined the zetta- and yotta- prefixes, which represent 10 to the 21st power, and 10 to the 24th power, respectively.

Now I haven't had to refer to a yotta-anything yet, but eventually that time will come.

And while for some people, yotta might seem like a lotta, for others yotta is notta enough. Take jimvb:

For the first time this week, I saw yotta- actually being used. The sun puts out 380 yottawatts of power, says Nearest Star, by Leon Golub and Jay M. Pasachoff, page 12.

So what's jimvb going to do when he runs into a thousand yottas of something. Jimvb had an idea:

I can see how these endings were derived. zetta is z + -etta, which is an alteration of septi-, meaning 7, as 21 is 7 groups of three. yotta is y + -otta, an alteration of octo-, meaning 8. The pattern here is that we go backwards from the beginning of the alphabet, starting with z and y, and we follow it up with an alteration of the Greek or Latin for the next number. According to this pattern, the next ending should be xona-, since x comes before y in the alphabet, and 9 is noni- in Latin.

So jimvb, without the official blessing of The Powers That Be, began coming up with some new prefixes. In addition to xona for 10 to the 27th power, he came up with weka (10 to the 30th) and a number of other prefixes, all the way up to luma (10 to the 63rd power).

But buried in jimvb's list is a prefix that is bound to cause a bit of confusion. You see, after xona, weka, vunda, uda, and treda, jimvb specified sorta as the prefix for 10 to the 42nd power.

Yes, sorta.

What happens when we say that Elvis Presley weighed a sortagram?

Or that you want to get a sortameter away from your significant other?

Or that your portable music device uses a sortawatt of power?

But I guess it could be worse, if you decided to consume some pepta bismol tablets. (Pepta is 10 to the 51st power. That's a lot of pink powder.)
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