BitPhysics: What is a Bit?

 Posted by James Paige on February 21st, 2001

What is a bit? Bits are tiny particles of computer matter that make up everything in your computer. They are much too small to see except with a powerful microscope. Your computer contains a theoretically infinite number of them, whizzing around, and bouncing off each other. There are two main kinds of bits, zeros and ones. A zero is a place where a something could be but isn’t, and a one is a place where something actually is. Bits combine together in different patterns to form bytes


Bytes
Bytes, sometimes known as chars are made up of clusters of zero and one bits stuck together. Depending on the combination and order of the bits, you get a different byte. Bytes are big enough to see with the naked eye, but they are only visible in certain kinds of files. There are 256 kinds of bytes that appear in nature, as shown by this ASCII Chart of the Elements
[ASCII Chart of the Elements]

Computer Scientists have actually produced even higher numbered bytes by smashing together ordinary bytes in a bit accelerator. These artificial bytes, known as UTF are highly unstable, and prone to exploding suddenly. There is a great deal of controvercy in the computer science community about whether or not the use of these bytes in actual programs is safe for consumers.


The Three States of Data
Groups of bytes all stuck together is called data. Applications, Games, Documents, and all other types of programs and files are made out of data.

  • The first, or gaseous state of data is numbers. Numbers are made up of single bytes, or of multiple bytes that stick together to form data molecules. The number of bytes in a molecule determines what kind of number it is. The most common are ints, floats, and longints (sometimes known as doubles), but there are many other types.
  • The second, or liquid state of data is known by many different names such as strings, streams, and objects. Liquid data flows fluidly through programs.
  • The third, or solid state of data is files. A file has a solid shape that can support its own weight. Most programs melt files, work with them as liquid or gaseous data, and then freeze the results back into solid files again.

Did you know?
Different types of files have different melting points. Drivers and Applications keep their solid shapes very well. Documents however, melt at a much lower temperature. If you don’t correctly store a word-processor document, it can actually sublimate directly back into bytes without even passing through the liquid data stage. On the other hand, dirty pictures in your web browser’s cache have one of the highest melting points of any known computer substance. They can remain solid for months even after being deleted!


Where do bits come from?
Most Computer Scientists theorize that before your computer is turned on, all the possible bits are concentrated into one tiny imeasurably small point in the very center of memory, and when you turn on the power switch, they all explode outward filling the entire computer. This is known as the Bit Bang theory.Others believe that each bit in the computer was placed there on purposed by an all-knowing all-powerful supernatural force who existed even before the computer was turned on. This theory is known as Programmerism. Programmerism was once widely believed, but in modern times many computer scientists have criticized it as foolish and unscientific.

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