AT LARGE: I declare

AT LARGE: I declare

There ought to be more days in September. I'm getting married in less than four weeks and I feel like so much is not yet done. I need more time. I think I shall declare that there is an extra week in between the 14th and the 21st. Rather than muck up the numbering system, I shall give the extra days colours - violet, mauve, lilac, lavender, amethyst, plum and, say, purple. That should avoid any confusion.

Oh sure, you might say such a system is terribly arbitrary. But I'm sure I would find allies amongst my friends at Optus, who have made arbitrary declarations a way of life. You remember how they suddenly declared that I would rather have "free" local telephone calls than "free" line rental, after they told me I'd like a 3GB limit on my previously unlimited Internet account?

It seems that, having more or less given up on "the Power of Yes", Optus is having a go at "the Power of Decree".

The latest decree arrived on the day my 3GB limit kicked in. In amongst all the blahooey about how this is a much better and fairer system, there was an asterisk next to each instance of the term "3GB". Asterisks in letters from service companies should always give one pause. Scrolling down, I found that this asterisk indicates that, according to Optus, "1GB = 1000MB".

Now, I suppose, linguistically speaking, this is probably right. Linguistically, a kilobyte, from the Greek "kilo" meaning thousand, should be 1000 bytes, and a megabyte, from the Greek "mega" meaning really big, is usually taken as indicating a million (which is from the Latin "mille" meaning thousand, but don't confuse me), and so should be 1,000,000 bytes, or a thousand of the previously defined literal kilobytes. Thus a gigabyte, from the Greek "giga" meaning Gustavo Kuerten, should be a thousand megabytes.

(Actually, "giga" means giant, and "tera", as in terabyte, means monster - bet you never knew computers were so scary.)In computing, we don't do things that way. We count everything in exponents of two - a kilobyte is 2^10 bytes - 1024 of them. Likewise, a megabyte is 2^20 bytes and a gigabyte is 2^30 bytes. In other words, a gigabyte is 2^10 megabytes - 1024 of them. We use the Greek names for convenience, more than anything else. Optus uses them to (let's not mince words) rip its customers off - my limit should be 3072MB per month, but Optus has declared that I don't get the extra 72MB that I have, through no choice of my own, paid for. Of course, one could assume that Optus is also declaring that 1MB = 1000KB, and that 1KB = 1000 bytes; in that case, 3GB equals 3,000,000,000 bytes, rather than the 3,221,225,472 bytes that I should be entitled to if it were all measured properly and fairly - a massive difference of 210.9MB per month. (I don't know, of course, how Optus is measuring megabytes or kilobytes - for all I know, they're rounding bytes up to 10 bits for convenience; please don't ask me to do the math on that.)And of course, the penalty for exceeding these limits is that, for the remainder of the month, my download speed will be limited to that of a "standard" dial-up connection. Optus has a decree for that one, too: a "standard" dial-up connection is 28.8Kbps. I don't know anyone who still uses a 28.8Kbps modem. I don't even think, in my massive archives of technological detritus, that I have one lying around. To my understanding, 56Kbps has been the "standard" dial-up speed for some years now (even though you never truly achieved that kind of throughput - it was nice to imagine you could).

Naturally, I wrote an e-mail to Optus's customer support, expressing my dissatisfaction with this arrangement. I received an automatically generated reply within a few minutes, saying that a human being would respond to my letter "within 24 hours". (Actually, it said Optus is "committed" to answering customer service queries within 24 hours, with another asterisk telling me that it wouldn't be able to respond in 24 hours in cases of network outages or if anything actually serious goes wrong; that's what I call commitment.) As I write this, a further 36 hours have elapsed, with no word from Optus. Perhaps this is another decree - 24 hours equals 36 (or however long it actually takes for Optus to respond). Does that mean that my limit of 3GB per month is actually a limit of 3GB every month and a half? This arrangement gets worse and worse by the minute!

Of course, if that were true, I'd have an extra two weeks to get ready for my wedding. I could live with that.

Matthew JC. Powell hereby declares himself taller and slimmer. Burst the bubble on

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