Nerd Splaining Large Numbers

Holy shit — the Economist really outdid itself. What now? In this post, they explained why Gangnam Style will break YouTube’s view counter. They used 3726 characters and 612 words to explain that computer integers don’t go on forever. When the Gangnam Style counter reaches 2,147,483,647 it will stop counting. Why?

Integers are stored in a series of ones and zeroes. On a 32-bit platform, you can only store value in 32 consecutive ones or zeros. Go to this binary to decimal calculator and put 32 ones in the binary field. Press “Calculate” and you’ll get this answer: 4294967295.

But the Gangnam Style counter is maxed at half of that? How come? That’s because computers use positive and negative numbers. The range falls above and below zero, i.e., from -2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647. Gangnam Style is approaching the upper bound.

If YouTube switched to 64-bit architecture they could capture up to 9 quintilian views.

Remember kids, there are 10 kinds of people in this world. Those who understand binary numbers and those who don’t.

[Economist: Wordy Word Words on Computer Integers]

 

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The Times Discovers Bayesian Statistics

From the Article:

A famously counterintuitive puzzle that lends itself to a Bayesian approach is the Monty Hall problem, in which Mr. Hall, longtime host of the game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” hides a car behind one of three doors and a goat behind each of the other two. The contestant picks Door No. 1, but before opening it, Mr. Hall opens Door No. 2 to reveal a goat. Should the contestant stick with No. 1 or switch to No. 3, or does it matter?

A Bayesian calculation would start with one-third odds that any given door hides the car, then update that knowledge with the new data: Door No. 2 had a goat. The odds that the contestant guessed right — that the car is behind No. 1 — remain one in three. Thus, the odds that she guessed wrong are two in three. And if she guessed wrong, the car must be behind Door No. 3. So she should indeed switch.

[NY Times: The Odds, Continually Updated]

 

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Apple’s New Locking Screws

As residents in the Information Age, we consider ourselves clever sorts. We no longer waste hours on bar stools arguing about the year of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. Before someone rebuts with his second “nuh-uh” we’ve smart-phoned the answer: 1941

But are we right?

I just got the answer by Googling. Like most people, I clicked the first link of the search results. In many cases, that link goes to Wikipedia and this was no exception. The free encylopedia is an excellent source of information but like all sources, it’s prone to error. So unless our bar bet is substantial, we probably won’t cross reference the findings. “I guess the next round is on me…”

Apple's locking screws keep users out of their phones

Was this new Apple new proprietary locking screw designed to keep customers from opening their phones? (© 2012 Imgur, LLC)

That was certainly the case when a Swedish firm broke the news about Apple’s new iPhone screws. They were designed specifically to prevent its owner from opening the phone. Given Apple’s penchant for limiting access to the owners of its products, the story struck a nerve. It was picked up by MacWorld, Wired and Yahoo and spread across the Internets.

There was just one problem: the story wasn’t true. Oh, it was truthy. It struck most readers as the type of thing Apple would do but it was a hoax all the same.

The locking screws were fabricated by a Swedish company named Day4. Their intent was to see how easiliy they could spread disinformation. They designed a peculiar screw and posted it to Reddit  along with the following message: “A friend took a photo a while ago at that fruit company, they are obviously even creating their own screws.”

That’s it. Neither Apple nor its phone were mentioned in the message. But Day4’s timing was excellent. iPhone 5 is expected to be announced in September and tech media outlets are jonsing for information. If those outlets would have cross-referenced their information, they would have discovered it was all from a single source. That should have raised red flags. Would those flags have halted publication? I don’t know. Everyone wants to be first with a scoop.

In the Information Age, it is often consumers – not distributors – who must perform integrity checks. When a politician stone-cold misrepresents information, the media rarely corrects his inaccuracies. Instead it notes that the other side disagrees. Instead of a debate in which we’ve established the facts, we tend to argue with two separate sets of “facts.”

On this site, I’m not driven to publish scoops. The Day4 prank is already several days old. All the code and configurations you’ll find here were tested before publication. My facts are generally double-checked. And with regard to the event that accompanies this story, you can confidently assert that Joe DiMaggio batted safely in 56 straight games back in 1941. That information is confirmed by multiple sources….

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