Math & Counting


You've seen it before in movies, a series of ones and zeros. Now you have a name to go with it: Bits! Here is an example of some Bits:


According to Wikipedia:

"The bit is a basic unit of information in computing and digital communications ... The bit represents a logical state with one of two possible values. These values are most commonly represented as either "1" or "0", but other representations such as true/false, yes/no, +/−, or on/off are common."

Let's take emphasis to the "represents a logical state with one of two possible values." So a bit b, can be either a 1 or a 0. That means a single bit has two combinations (1 or 0). Let's make this a little more abstract: a single bit can represent two distinct things.

As an example, let's say we own a light tower at a dock. If the light is on, aka 1, then a boat can dock now. If the light is off, aka 0, then the boat can't dock now. Simple, on or off. 1 = dock; 0 = no dock. But what if we need to tell the people in the boats more than just two things? Well, we can get more lights (aka more bits). If we have two bits, we now have 2 * 2 = 4 possible combinations, so we can represent 4 things in total now.

Assume the boaters know which light is on the left and which is on the right. Now we can signal four different states of docking:

00 = can't dock now
01 = can dock in 1 hour
10 = can dock in 2 hours
11 = can dock now 

So if the left light is on, but the right is not, then you can dock in 2 hours. In this way, we just encoded 4 different states of being. Pretty cool right? How in only two series of 1's and 0's we got that much information out. So how does it scale?

Scaling Bits

If 1 bit can encode 2 data states. 2 bits can encode 4 data states. 3 bits can encode 2 * 2 * 2 = 8 data states. The pattern here is called the power of twos. To get the number of states your bits can represent is simple: raise 2 to the power of the number of states you have. Here is a fancy function for it:

states(b) = 2 ^ b

Where b is the number of bits you have. So if you have 8 bits, then you have 2 ^ 8 = 256 different states you can represent... Yeah, that scales very fast. If you just had 8 flash lights, you could represent 256 different things to your friend across the street. Pretty cool. You may have noticed already, but its an exponential ramp-up on the number of states you can represent, which is good for us computer scientist.

Bits & Bytes

Often, we need to use more than just a single bit. We call a set of 8 bits a byte. Using our earlier maths, a single byte can represent 256 different states. When we use bits to store human data, we usually need much more than 1 byte. This is where our SI table comes for bytes:

1 kilobyte (kb) = 1024 bytes = 8192 bits
1 megabyte (mb) = 1024 kb 
1 gigabyte (gb) = 1024 mb
1 terabyte (tb) = 1024 gb

You probably have more or equal to 256 GB of disk storage right? That means your disk has 2147483648 bits ready to hold either a 1 or 0 in it's place. That also means that your hard disk can represent 2 ^ 2147483648 different states. That's insane. How they do that with hardware is out of the scope of this handbook, but know that they do it with a little electrical engineering magic.


We talk about bytes so much that it is often easier to refer to a binary number in a completely new counting system called hexadecimal because it is more concise. Hexadecimal is one type of number system. Decimal, the one we usually count in, is another. To understand these bases and how to look at hex, watch this khan academy video


As a recap, Hex is converted to decimal and binary like so:

0 = 0 (10) = 0000
1 = 1 (10) = 0001
2 = 2 (10) = 0010
3 = 3 (10) = 0011
4 = 4 (10) = 0100
5 = 5 (10) = 0101
6 = 6 (10) = 0110
7 = 7 (10) = 0111
8 = 8 (10) = 1000
9 = 9 (10) = 1001
A = 10 (10) = 1010
B = 11 (10) = 1001
C = 12 (10) = 1100
D = 13 (10) = 1101
E = 14 (10) = 1110
F = 15 (10) = 1111

To make it clear that we are writing in hex, and not decimal, we will always append a 0x to the beginning of the number. So when we say 0x0F, you know we mean 15 in decimal.

To tie this all together, we go back to how many bits are in a byte. There are 8 bits in a byte which we usually write like so 0000 0000. We write it like that because the hex representation is 0x00. Now we can refer to bigger bit numbers really easy. For instance, if we wanted to refer to 20 decimal we would just write 0x14, which is 0001 0100 in binary. If you were confused about that conversion, re-watch the video above.

Remember that hex bytes can also scale just like we did earlier with bits. We can represent huge numbers with hex that we would not normally talk about, like:


Which represents the number 140737351860368 in decimal. Yup that value took 6 bytes to represent. Aka 6*8 bits.

Now that we understand the fundamentals of bits, lets move on to using them in logic.