June, 2009

  • The Old New Thing

    Why does Explorer use the term KB instead of KiB?


    Although the International Electronic Commission established the term kibibyte for 1024 bytes, with the abbreviation KiB, Windows Explorer continues to use the abbreviation KB. Why doesn't Explorer get with the program?

    Because nobody else is on the program either.

    If you look around you, you'll find that nobody (to within experimental error) uses the terms kibibyte and KiB. When you buy computer memory, the amount is specified in megabytes and gigabytes, not mebibytes and gibibytes. The storage capacity printed on your blank CD is indicated in megabytes. Every document on the Internet (to within experimental error) which talks about memory and storage uses the terms kilobyte/KB, megabyte/MB, gigabyte/GB, etc. You have to go out of your way to find people who use the terms kibibyte/KiB, mebibyte/MiB, gibibyte/GiB, etc.

    In other words, the entire computing industry has ignored the guidance of the IEC.

    Explorer is just following existing practice. Everybody (to within experimental error) refers to 1024 bytes as a kilobyte, not a kibibyte. If Explorer were to switch to the term kibibyte, it would merely be showing users information in a form they cannot understand, and for what purpose? So you can feel superior because you know what that term means and other people don't.

    For an explanation of other storage units, you can consult this helpful chart from xkcd.

  • The Old New Thing

    Why isn't there a separate British English version of Windows?


    My friend ::Wendy:: asks why there is an American English version of Windows but not a British English version.

    I am not the expert on this subject (Michael Kaplan might be a bit closer), but I can speculate on the reasons for this. This is all conjecture, so who knows how accurate it is. (Actually, most of what I write is conjecture; I just don't bother calling it out each time it happens.)

    Let's look at it this way: You have the time and money to translate the American English version of Windows into 20 other languages. Do you spend one of those slots to translate it into a language that is mutually intelligible with American English? If you have to choose between a language which is already mutually intelligible with one you already covered or a language without which an entire audience would be unable to use Windows, which are you going to pick? In concrete terms: Which is more important, that people who prefer British English don't have to suffer through the indignity of reading American English, or that people in Thailand be able to use Windows at all?

    Okay, maybe if you're one of those indignitized (indignitised?) British English speakers, then you don't mind that an entire country of over 60 million people lose access to Windows so you can see your words spelled correctly. (But then again, you'd still have to take a back seat to Indian English, since they outnumber you by a huge margin.)

    Mind you, the English language isn't the only one with this problem. There are dozens of variations on the Spanish language, but Windows chooses just one of them as its "Spanish language edition" and people who prefer some other variation will just have to suffer through a translation into a nearby (but not perfect) dialect.

    Who knows, maybe a group of Anglophiles will be inspired to form a committee to standardise terminology in order to develop a LIP for British English.

    My premise destroyed: Then again, Windows is available in both European Portuguese and its upstart offspring Brazilian Portuguese, which as far as I'm aware are for the most part mutually inteliligible. So who knows what the criteria are.

    Bonus: Aha, it looks like Michael blogged about this after all.

  • The Old New Thing

    Why does MS-DOS use 8.3 filenames instead of, say, 11.2 or 16.16?


    When I discussed years ago why operating system files tend to follow the old 8.3 file name convention, I neglected to mention why the old MS-DOS filename convention was 8.3 and not, say, 11.2 or 16.16.

    It's a holdover from CP/M.

    As I noted when I discussed the old MS-DOS wildcard matching rules, MS-DOS worked hard at being compatible with CP/M. And CP/M used 8.3 filenames.

    Why did CP/M use 8.3 filenames? I don't know. There's nothing obvious in the CP/M directory format that explains why those two reserved bytes couldn't have been used to extend the file name to 10.3. But maybe they figured that eight was a convenient number.

  • The Old New Thing

    Fortune cookie fortunes are getting less and less interesting all the time


    I remember reading a story about the history of fortune cookie fortunes, and how the pool of fortunes has been getting smaller because people keep complaining about them. In the article, they gave as an example that the fortune "You will meet a stranger" was removed from the fortune library because somebody complained that it was too scary.

    The effects of this trend toward meaningless fortunes continue to be felt. A few years ago, I opened a fortune cookie and looked at the slip of paper inside. It read simply

    Someone will give you something.
  • The Old New Thing

    Foreign languages can be used as a secret code, but it's not always a good secret code


    Some years ago, I went out to dinner with a group of friends to a Chinese restaurant, and when the check was delivered to the table, one of my friends looked at it and handed it to me. "It appears to be written in some sort of secret code."

    It was written in Chinese.

    I pointed out that they probably chose the worst possible code in the world, seeing as they chose something known to over a billion people.

    Using a foreign language as a secret code is common when walking around out in public. You can say whatever you want about the people around you, and you can have a certain degree of confidence that your secret code will not be broken if you choose a language sufficiently obscure relative to the situation.

    A colleague of mine told me that in his college days, he went on a trip to Germany with a few friends, one of whom spoke German. (I'm led to believe that knowing German comes in handy in Germany.) They boarded a train and introduced themselves to a pair of German students who shared the cabin with them. The German students spoke English, so there was some opportunity for small talk, but eventually the conversation petered out and the two groups conversed among themselves.

    The German students started talking to each other about their cabinmates, saying things that were not entirely complimentary. The German-speaking member of the other group leaned over to another member of his group and announced in a stage whisper, "They think we don't understand German."

    The German students promptly shut up.

  • The Old New Thing

    Whew, I'm not doing *that* again!


    When I met Sara Ford at the 2008 PDC, I got to talk to her author-a-author. I asked her how the book-writing experience was.

    "I'm never doing that again!" she replied.

    Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel about it, too. Steve Makofsky agrees. (Though, to be fair, what Sara was not going to do was write a book in three months, as opposed to swearing off writing books entirely.)

    By the way, my book is now available in Chinese. I don't get any royalties when people buy a translated copy, so buy it or not, I don't care. Actually, I make barely any money from the book at all. During one six-month period, I sold a net of two copies in the United States. Enough to maybe buy a cup of tea. Seeing as most of the book content is available for free on this Web site, I'm not entirely convinced that giving away your book for free increases sales. (Or maybe the conclusion is that my book's sales would have been even worse if it weren't available here online. Perhaps it would have sold only one copy.)

  • The Old New Thing

    The butter and the money for the butter


    In a discussion a few years ago, I saw the phrase, "Now you have the butter and the money." This was new to me, and a little Web searching (guided in part by a guess at the author's nationality) revealed it to be a French proverb, the full version of which is On ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l'argent du beurre: "You can't have the butter and the money for the butter." It's a really nice phrase, and maybe someday I'll be able to use it.

    Bonus butter idiom: Reading the blog of a German colleague, I ran across the phrase alles wieder in Butter ("everything back in butter"), which from context appeared to mean something like "everything's all right again." Some more Web searching suggests that I was basically right, and that the idiom comes from the Middle Ages: To prevent glassware transported over the Alps from breaking in transit, a clever businessman discovered that he could set the glasses in a cask, then pour hot butter over them. As the butter cooled, it held the glasses in place, thereby preventing them from rattling against each other and cracking during transport. Everything was back in butter.

  • The Old New Thing

    High school students guess what happens to money deposited into checking accounts


    In August 2007, the results of the first nationwide high school economics graduation tests were released. (Download the report [pdf].) It appears that the results were better than expected, but let's not celebrate too quickly: The results were that 42% of students rated "Proficient" and 3% "Advanced". And only 52% of the students could answer this multiple-choice question correctly:

    What happens to most of the money deposited in checking accounts at a commercial bank?
    1. It is used to pay the bank's expenses.
    2. It is loaned to other bank customers.
    3. It is kept in the bank's vault until depositors withdraw the funds.
    4. It is paid to owners of the bank as return on their investment.

    I guess 48% of the students have never seen It's a Wonderful Life.

  • The Old New Thing

    Management-speak: Upping the sats and stimulating the ecosystem


    Here's another sentence that's so loaded with buzzwords and buzzphrases I'm not sure what language it's written in.

    I just want to have creative control over how my audience can interact with me without resorting to complex hacking in a way that is easy to explain but ups our blogging audiences sats to a new level that may also stimulate a developer ecosytem that breeds quality innovation...

    The ellipses are in the original, if that helps any.

    The scary thing is: The person who wrote this isn't even a manager.

  • The Old New Thing

    Don't you hate it when someone leaks a ref to your clothes?


    The other night I had a dream in which one of my friends said, "Check out my clothes closet. This dress is hideous, but I can't get rid of it because there's still a reference to it from my blog." The dresses were labeled 001.jpg through 059.jpg.

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