up arrow 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]