THE Prime Minister has recently been criticised for misquoting and misrepresenting some figures, regarding the number of criminal deportees dumped on our island. Later analysis, assisted by a prompt rebuttal from US authorities, suggested that the actual figure may be much lower than the one quoted; a modest eight, instead of a massive eight hundred.
Although the scale of the difference is an astounding two orders of magnitude, the underlying message, of the harmful impact of deportees on our policing and safety, remains. Given the sizeable difference, this incident also raises the issue of what constitutes a reasonable number.
From the perspective of a computer system, there are surprisingly few reasonable numbers, despite their impressive ability to represent large numbers. Computers are limited by their hardware when representing numbers. For example, a 32-bit computer can easily count numbers up to 4 billion (10 digits long), while 64-bit computers may count numbers up to 18 billion-billion (20 digits long). Despite this wide range of numbers that can be represented by computers, there are basically three reasonable numbers, namely:
* Zero — Representing that something is logically false, or should not be allowed. For example, being denied access to a protected file.
* One — Indicating that something is logically true, or may only occur once. For example, an ATM dispensing your requested cash.
* Infinity — No limit, except as imposed by your machine’s hardware. For example, the number of files stored on a server.
All other numbers are simply customary, psychologically acceptable, or conveniently chosen, based on external factors. You may encounter some of these limits on a regular basis. Ever wondered why you are only allowed three (3) opportunities to enter your password before being locked out? Maybe you have noticed that menus and lists are usually restricted to nine (9) items. Perhaps you have already observed that the minimum length of your password is set to eight (8) characters. Why not five or six instead?
Understanding the reason for choosing a particular number, is a very small part of the training and skill-set of your IT staff. Within reason, these limits should be applied in a holistic and judicious manner to avoid compromising your ICT systems, or falling foul of your policies.
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About the Author
Dr.Lyndell St. Ville is an ICT Consultant based in Saint Lucia. His expertise includes systems analysis, design, and capacity building.