Friday, March 18, 2011

Nybbles and octal

Lately i have been thinking about nybbles a lot, those nybbles which are half a byte of course. A byte is standardised these days as 8 bits worth of data in computing thus a nybble is 4 bits (the Apple II disk drive controller apparently used 5 and 6 bit nybbles but that just sounds weird).

Why have i been thinking about nybbles? Thats unclear to honest. Nybbles tend to not be something i use in everyday work and play though i do like the word and have used it in the comic series i write as the name of a drone spacecraft. I enjoy geek humour such as which created this term from byte.

4-bit computing of course was the dawn of the (single chip) microprocessor age as the first Intel microprocessors like the 4004 were 4-bit or could handle a nybble of data at a time (though oddly enough the term nybble appears to have not been invented until after 4-bit chips were a bit old hat). With my retro-tech obsession thus i really dig computers that can only handle nybbles.

Octal is something else i really like, these are base 8 numerals also used in computing (though the horrendous base 16 hexadecimals are more common and something i do tend to use a lot). I always liked the ease and elegance of converting from octal to binary. 3 binary digits represent one digit of octal so it makes converting them by hand easy.

According to Wikipedia several American Indian and Mesoamerican tribes used base 8. Maybe we should have used base 8 ourselves instead of 10. It would mean, for example, that the current year is 3733. It would also mean i am nearly 50 though instead of 40 so maybe we'll leave things as they are.

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