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Memory size discrepancy in products

Question : Why is a thumb drive or an MP3 player's memory size usually smaller than what is stated on the package?

Answer : There are several reasons for this, one of which is because people are famously imprecise. Take cooking, for example. People say "add a pinch of this" and never say how much a "pinch" really is.

If they want to be more precise, maybe they will say "add a teaspoon of that" but even then, teaspoons come in various shapes and sizes. There's actually a standard for "teaspoon" (five-millilitre) but unless you're that fussy and fastidious, a teaspoon is a teaspoon.

Human minds work in a decidedly illogical way. While they're capable of logic, they're also capable of making decisions based on inference, assumption and plain guesswork sometimes. This sort of decision making is what makes humans different from computers. This sort of decision making also means humans tend to make lots of mistakes. In fact, they make so many mistakes, there's actually a saying "To err is human".

All this indirect, emotional, instinctive thinking, however, also has its advantages. For instance, if I were to write a sentence like this: "ths iz rIly bd splg" most people would be able to figure it out. Software designed to understand language (translation software, etc) might probably reject this as bad input. So in some ways, humans are "smarter" than computers.

In some other ways, computers have the advantage. The important thing to note is that humans think differently from the way computers "think".

People think in more abstract terms ("it's too hot in here, I'll just turn on the air-conditioner") while computers "think" in more concrete terms ("the room temperature is now above x degrees Celsius, so I'll turn on the air-conditioner"). This is probably why not a lot of people understand computers and how (unless they're specifically trained to do so). There are efforts to make computers more understandable to humans, and vice versa.

In fact, there's a whole branch of logic dedicated to making computers more "human" -- it's called "fuzzy logic". The name itself tells you how illogical humans can be -- logic by definition cannot be "fuzzy". If it's "fuzzy" it must not be completely logical.

"Fuzzy" logic is not "fuzzy" at all, it just creates the impression of "fuzziness" in that it appears to mimic human thinking. You have to "tell" a computer how hot is "too hot" before it knows, but humans just know, no one has to tell a human he's too hot. All the fuzzy logic in the world will not make a computer think the way humans think.

Another reason is that people want things to be easy and simple. Because of that, they are willing to live with some imprecision. Nothing in the world is really that precise. Ask anyone his age, and he might say, for in stance, that he is 31 years old. Chances are he probably won't say he's 31 years, so many months, so many days and some hours and minutes and seconds old. Part of the reason, though, is probably because he doesn't want to take the time to calculate his precise age.

People want things to be simple and easy because they can be easily understood and accepted. While some people are interested in the nitty-gritty details, a lot of people are just turned off. Another reason is because round numbers are easier to remember. It's easier to remember, for instance, one billion dollars ($1,000,000, 000) than to remember one billion, two hundred and forty-nine million, nine hundred and eighty-five thousand, three hundred and twelve dollars and thirty-nine cents.

People who sell hardware know all of these things, and that is part of the reason why the stated memory capacity on storage devices and MP3 players seem smaller than they actually are - it's because the numbers have been adjusted to make the product more appealing and memorable. But how do they get away with it? We'll find out in the next instalment.


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Getting past a memory bug

Adding memory to your PC


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