Max Learning's Digital Dozen

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1. bit   2. Byte   3. Code   4. Data   5. Program   6. Chip   7. CPU   8. RAM   9. ROM   10. Computer   11. Peripheral   12. System

0 or 1 used for Off or On
Acronym: bt = zoo-u-fooo (bit: zero or one used for off or on).

  • Mathematically, 0 and 1 are the two digits of the binary (aka base 2) number system.
  • Bit (biht) is a contraction of binary digit (BII-nair-ee DIH-jit).
  • In computing, 0 is used as shorthand for off; 1 is used as shorthand for on.
But Max. Are bits real? Can I see them?
Well, K.N., if you mean are there tiny 0s and 1s floating around inside the circuits of your computer, the answer is no. What does exist are off or on switches that block or send pulses of electrical current. Bits are symbols that represent what is real, namely, switches and currents.

As you can see in the diagram, when a switch is off (0), it blocks electrical flow and there is no pulse. However, when the switch is toggled on (1) it permits a pulse of electricity to flow along a wire. When toggled off again, it blocks the pulse.

Like a form of Morse Code, it is these off/on pulses that send messages to other parts of the computer and eventually to us.

As a Unit of Measure
Bits are also used to measure capacities and speeds. For large numbers of bits we add prefixes such as K or M followed by a lowercase "b" as in: 

  • Kb = Kilobit (KIL-oh-bit) = Thousand bits (actually 1,024).
  • Mb = Megabit (MAAG-uh-bit) = Million bits (technically 1,024 x 1,024 = 1,048,576).


So what good are bits to me?

When it's time to buy or upgrade a computer system, T.E., you'll use bits to compare the capacities and speeds of various components. You may have to decide, for example, whether to get a 32- or 64-bit CPU, a 16- or 32-bit data bus, a 33.6 or 56 Kbps (bits per second) modem, or a 10 or 100 Mbps network connection.

These measurements have a direct bearing on how fast, how well, or even if, your computer can do the job you want it to do.

As the smallest unit of software, bits are the building blocks for bytes, the next term in the Digital Dozen.

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