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# Day 9 - Binary

Community Manager

Binary Haiku
With just two fingers
Counting to two fifty-five
Joined with seven friends

When I was first learning about computers and the idea of binary numbers was introduced, I was lost. This was around 1985 and I was just a fledgling technologist. Seriously, though, what’s so wrong with the decimal numbers that we all know and love?

It wasn’t until high school (and my first programming class) that I truly began to understand the concept. “Began” is the key word here. There I was, sitting in computer science class learning to program in Pascal.  I decided to go “off book” and write my own character generator for Dungeons & Dragons in my free time.  For my character generator, I needed to track several Boolean values (true/false). I thought to myself, "If I happen to have an array of these, how is that any different than a binary number ( [TFTTTTFF] = [10111100] = 188 )?" It was my first eureka moment.

Fast forward about five years and I’m trying to understand the whole concept of “networks.” Subnet masks were (and in some ways, are) the bane of my existence. Thankfully, I found tools which could help me out (https://www.solarwinds.com/free-tools/advanced-subnet-calculator). [Sidebar: this was my first introduction to SolarWinds]. These resources gave me a better understanding of how addressing worked and because of that, how binary worked in practical information systems management.

Binary is integral to all computing, but it’s been hidden by layer upon layer of abstraction… and that’s okay. The levels of abstraction make it easier for humans to interact with computers. But many computer users aren’t programmers, nor do they want to be. That being said, thinking in a binary fashion is still useful.

So, what does binary mean to me? Honestly, it revolves more around troubleshooting than anything else. As many of you, I spent some time working on a help desk. I realized that most issues we investigated were binary in nature.

What’s the first thing you ask yourself when troubleshooting an issue? For me, it’s “Is it the network or is it the server?” This is a binary question: one with only two answers. After that initial test, you halved the possible troubleshooting you need to do.  So, it’s the network (this time), so the next question is “Do you have a valid IP address?” Again, based on the answer, half of your possible troubleshooting is no longer valid. If you put yourself in this mindset, it should aid you troubleshoot any issue you encounter.

In my opinion, you can look at binary in two ways (see what I did there?): as the underpinning of the entire computing framework or used when thinking about how you interact with said framework.

46 Comments
Level 15

i think my brain is wired backwards. i completely understand binary as it relates to subnetting, but have 0 idea how it works to produce letters!

one of the many mysteries i’ve yet to google.

i 100% agree with the troubleshooting aspect as well. i am a very visual learner and setup yes/no (binary) flowcharts all of the time to cement concepts in my long-term memory

Level 12

digital encoding/decoding system

MVP

There are 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don't.

My first dabble with SolarWinds software was also the subnet calculator! I come from a networking background so I had to learn binary, subnetting, supernetting, etc. but sometimes it was just easier to have the subnet calculator nearby.

MVP

In my electrical engineering undergraduate courses we had two types the analog and the digital. While we all took the same courses the analog students could build you multiple stage amplifiers. These could take the output of a transistor radio [to translate for today a smartphone headphone jack] and drive a pair of huge stand speakers with a woofer, mid-range, and tweeter. It was impressive. I was a digital guy, I could not get my amps to work properly, I could do the mathematical theory fine, but build one, nope. Yet, I could do state machines and binary logic really well. One final exam question was to design the logic for a traffic light. I remember it because I initially got a zero on it. But when I went to the TA to dispute the grade I successfully demonstrated that my state machine was valid and my logic sound. I just had come up with a different answer than was on the answer sheet they used. I was hooked. I had been programming stuff since 1980, but now had the opportunity to code in machine language on an 8086. One of my roommates and I would compete to see who could get their code the shortest and satisfy the assignment. One time, we each had our code down around 30 lines, while another of our roommates had his around 30 pages! I loved operating in the binary sphere. Shift left to multiply by 2, shift right to divide by two, and so on.

I think my ease with binary, octal, and hex stemmed from around 4th or 5th grade when I started doing Math Modules. You might remember SRA Reading modules, well these were for Math. That is when I learned about MOD functions and BASES. By the time I got to college it was pretty simple to think in base 2, 8 or 16 [0x02, 0x08, or 0x10].

By the time I got to graduate school I had been doing computer networking for about 5 years. Bit masks were no problem for me, binary compare operations where just easy. Then in one of my chip design classes I did simulation routines for a Cascadable 4-Bit Comparator  and laid out the chip design. I wasn't a Hardware Computer engineer so my work was never fabricated like some others in the class, but it was a great experience.

It is hard to say how much of this has served me well in the IT profession. Understanding what is going on at the transistor level, the Manchester encoding schemes for Ethernet signalling, what happens when a bit is laid down on a hard disk or tape and the latent data hidden in the lower magnetic domains, is fascinating to me, but knowing how to work with binary [and other bases] has been a foundational piece of knowledge for me.

Happy Holidays

486170707920486f6c6964617973

0100100001100001011100000111000001111001001000000100100001101111011011000110100101100100011000010111100101110011

I am no stranger to Binary, I actually have a binary clock on my desk that people still ask me if its a device checking my Servers downstairs.   I laugh and say no.   I did like how several years ago the band Clutch released a song, 10001110101.

Here is a snippet.

Ribonucleic acid freak out, the power of prayer.

Long halls of science and all the lunatics committed there.

Robot Lords of Tokyo, SMILE TASTE KITTENS!

Did you not know that the royal hunting grounds are always forbidden?

Are you rolling tape now? Bits and pieces large and small

Sector, vector, eat them all.

It's already in their eyes.

Among the metal ones a messenger will soon arrive.

10001110101

Periodic table with a center piece of mind.

10001110101

Periodic table with a center piece of mind.

Each persons unique idea of Binary is fascinating to me, to some its a simple way to tell time, A.K.A my desk clock, to others is a simple computer language, and to others is subnets etc.   I really liked the idea of a hard rock band using it as their take on what ever it is they were going for.  Some who have analyzed the song say its a tribute to the Band Rush for their album 2112, to others they believe its a warning of a count down to man extinction due to the lines being blurred by creating artificial intelligence.  Who knows the real meaning of the song, but its a cool song none the less.   Binary is very complex for being so simple at least in Rock music.   Have a great Saturday everyone.

MVP

Binary...

Binary is the state I strive to work towards. "It" is either "this" or "that". There is no gray area. Decisions can then be made from there. Directions can be taken. Very little will fall through the cracks. And also, very little is unknown too. Obviously, life in true binary is unrealistic as very little of life goes as planned and there is always deviation and disruption. But one can dream.

Level 14

Ahh, Binary.  My first true mathematical love.  As a child, I would do Binary math in my head instead of counting sheep at night. 1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128,256,512,1024, etc. I would count as high as I could and would drift off to sleep somewhere along the line.  Number line if you will.  That initial nerdiness has served me well over the years.  From working on mainframes and writing machine language code, building PC's, subnetting, packet and intrusion analysis, and computer forensics.  I still do Hex and Binary multiplication during meetings when I get bored.  You never forget your first true love.

MVP

I was immediately reminded of the not-so-excellent ST:NG episode involving the Binars:  Binaries 11001001 - YouTube

Poor Wesley.

Like many of us, I learned binary, then octal, then hex.  I thought Hex was pretty cool for its efficiency in dealing with larger numbers through fewer characters, while matching binary demands.

Then I got into electronics, and the on/off characteristics of electricity took me nicely into logic.  With gates, and, or, nand, and nor--and more!  Soon I was using 8080A chips and building simple digital counters (back in 1979 it was pretty cool).  Breadboards gave way to solder guns, but when microsoldering eliminated my ability to manually replace failed components I was disgusted.  Throwing out circuit boards because chips overheated and failed . . . well, that's just a waste of money, and creation of toxic waste.

Eventually I left the board-level elecdtronicsc and concentrated on engineering from a bigger perspective.  And now I'm using binary in many ways.  Is there budget?  Yes or no.  Is it secure, yes or no.  Is it safe?  Yes or no.  Do we need a support contract, can we use it for more than ten years, is it resilient, is it compliant,  . . .  All answers have just two states--yes, or no.

Binary.

Or it can be simpler, as in a dear friend's world:  does it have raisins baked in it?  If no, she'll eat it.  If yes, she won't.  She says she imagines bugs got baked into the pastry when there are raisins present.

What a great way to ruin a nice cinnamon raisin roll!

Level 14

Life is ones and zeroes!

it is yes or no

it is good or bad

it is day and night

it is on or off ... but it is never that simple.

MVP

When I took an online class towards CCNA I still couldn't wrap my head around binary subnetting. Now that I figured it out, I tend to solve it fast but in a different way than most people were taught. Whenever I've done math, I find myself applying shortcuts in my head like an efficiency thing. I like the idea of trying to get binary outcomes for scenarios, but likewise it's helpful to think outside the box too. Hexidecimal on the other hand, is also fun and not too complicated. It's even easier for networking considering you need it for ipv6 (only one digit changes for the broadcast IP), but that isn't necessarily true for folks outside of network who may not understand what an ip address is or why they have one.

Level 11

I was taught Binary in Mathematics in school and then, it seemed easy, fast forward to today, and all I see is nothing 1 and 0 with little or no understanding of what the numbers mean.

Level 11

Subnetting: When I think of binary I think of subnetting. I am a network guy and the first time I was introduced to subnetting I was confused until my instructor showed us it in binary and not in IP form. Made so much more sense to me after that.

Level 10

As we progress in civilisational terms, it looks like everything is becoming less binary. There is no black and white answer, there is only lighter and darker shades of grey. And in a sense this applies to the world of technology; it all runs off 1's and 0's, but when we work with it we [rarely*] work at the binary code level - it's all abstracted out in layers and levels until we reach the point where we say "I don't know, let's just restart it and see what happens"

*I appreciate some people probably do work at this level but there may not be a lot of you out there proportionally

Level 10

As my old professor in college used to say, computer is all about 0s and 1s. Binary is the bedrock of what we do.

MVP

When I used to teach, subnetting was probably one of the hardest concepts for the students to grab.  This of course, is based on binary.  When breaking it out into binary to figure out the first / last IP address of a /22, it makes thing easier.  Even today, I can't rattle off the IP ranges off the top of my head for anything outside of /8, /16, and /24.  But I know enough binary to be able to solve the problem.

Side note, when I went to boyscout camp this summer as a leader, one of the scouts from another troop was counting in binary from 0 - 31 with his fingers.  Which is easy to do if you know binary.  But he was able to do it so fast, I couldn't keep up.  I can only assume he was doing it correctly.

Level 9

MVP

In the computer world there can be a multitude of results or manifestations of ideas, however it all comes down to 1's and 0's. Everything underneath is either a 1 or a 0 - electronically either off or on. (Yes there is quantum computing where there is the additional state of both off and on at the same time - but it's still a manifestation of on and off)

The world is constantly trying to blur the lines and make everything gray, but underneath it all comes down to yes/no, true/false, on/off. However you want to look at it. The gray is a manifestation of combinations of true/false. It's not critical to "speak in binary" to understand working with computers, but once you accept that everything comes down to 1's and 0's then it gets easier to understand why they can do what they do and more importantly why they are so literal and sometimes very frustrating.

With people when we understand that they are a combination of the decisions that they have made good/bad, the environmental effects good/bad, their family life good/bad, etc. Then we can begin to understand that they are a manifestation of all of those elements combined. There are good and bad things about every person. We look at the manifestations and make judgments - I would suggest rather that we look at the manifestations and seek to know the person better to understand their past and be a part of their future. We all know that a wrong 1 or 0 in a computer program can bring down the whole thing - but would you ever throw away an entire system because one 0 or 1 was out of place. No, you would debug it to get to the root of the matter and continue to improve upon what you had. All to often we throw away people because of one missing 1 or 0 rather than trying to be part of their growth and value.

Level 15

If there is one thing Binary has taught us, it is this...

Just as a series of 1's and 0's... on's and off's...can make a machine result in a certain pattern or path until it is rewritten...reprogrammed...or rebooted...

So a series of right's and wrong's...opportunities taken or missed... can set a person on a pattern or path until a conscious effort is made to reset the trajectory.

Level 9

Binary is simply on or off.  Making numbers for this is simple.  Letters, on the other hand, makes no sense to me.

Level 10

The problem with binary, is misapplication. While it is great for computer systems, most things in life have quite a few more options than on or off.

Level 12

Pretty simple really, On or off.

Level 21

While binary is buried in many layers of abstraction it's still critical that new folks coming up in the tech world understand these basics.  I have watched a lot of techs get hired at our company with many of them not understanding some of these basic principals of how computers work and what I have found is that the lack of these basic principals results in poor troubleshooting skills.  You need to be able to think like a computer to troubleshoot a computer.

Level 9

Of all the people in my life who ask me tech questions my Father-in-law is notorious for asking me the most difficult to explain (at least for me). Recently he asked me about IP addresses, followed by subnets, which led to me trying to explain binary. He asks questions like this so often, and about such varying topics, I have put together a theory that he is actually an evil genius just toying around with me!

Level 9

I still don't quite know binary. I do know its all ones and zeros but don't fully comprehend it.

Community Manager

For those who want some entertaining, yet informative, check out Crash Course Computer Science.

Level 9

Binary, my old friend.  I had to revisit this guy a couple months ago in learning ladder logic.  Binary still means the same in ladder logic, but has a new use for me.

Level 9

I learned binary long ago and quickly forgot it.  I didn't see the value in knowing it at the time, other than knowing it was the language used by computers to communicate.  Once I started subnetting, I saw the value of understanding binary and it became fun.

Level 11

I really love the T-Shirt, "There are 10 types of people: those that get this and those who don't." It really plays to the geek base, which I guess would be "2".

Joking aside, binary thought seems to have crept further into our lives and our public discourse, even if it's debatable whether binary logic in the devices we increasingly utilize is directly influencing the trend. I remember a teacher I had back around 1983-85. He'd ask a student whether he had completed his assignment. Upon the student's equivocation, the "lights on/lights off" game would ensue: 'Lights on' - (turns off lights) - 'lights off'. (Turning the lights back on) 'You did the assignment' - (Turns the lights back off) - 'You did not.'

Moving forward closer to today, we can see more examples, e.g., "You're with us, or you're against us."

Of course, our political climate in the USA is the elephant in this room. It's not that new. I had a roommate in 1995 tell me, "Republicans are evil." Both sides demonizing the other long predates the seeming extreme of Donald Trump.  Camps no longer just disagree. If you are in one, you must be in lockstep with the group, or you are out, bad, horrible. Word was that John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi could not be in the same room together, not even for a non-partisan or non-political event - award ceremonies or charity events for instance. Students often now find it so hard to fathom anyone disagreeing with their stance that they feel 'triggered' at learning there is an opposing viewpoint and deny or demonize it and anyone who holds it. Everything is black and white, yes or no, on or off. In a word, binary.

It would be nice for us to learn we are not computers, that shades of grey still exist, that one can actually agree with someone on some topics but not others, that you can disagree with another yer still respect or, perish the thought, even like them. As much as binary logic has enabled today's technology and conveniences, humans are not binary.

Level 20

Why binary?

It is much harder to build components that use more than two states/levels/whatever. For example, the transistors used in logic are either closed and don't conduct at all, or wide open. Having them half open would require much more precision and use extra power. Nevertheless, sometimes more states are used for packing more data, but rarely (e.g. modern NAND flash memory, modulation in modems).  If you use more than two states you need to be compatible to binary, because the rest of the world uses it. Three is out because the conversion to binary would require expensive multiplication or division with remainder. Instead you go directly to four or a higher power of two.

Level 14

Binary is the basic language.  You only get 2 choices.  Sometimes that is the best option to have.  Too many choices can lead to issues.   The question is which of the 2 sets of choices will you pick from?   YES/NO or ON/OFF?

Level 9

Right there with you. Also a network guy and subnetting more than a /8, /16 or /24 just didn't click with me until I started writing it out in binary. Then the lightbulb came on and it all made sense. My brain was trying to make it harder than it was. Seeing it in binary "dumbed it down" so to speak.

Level 10

Although the obvious thing we think of coding, o's and 1's. However when I say the work Binary, my first thought was of a star system with two stars, or a Binary Star system.

Level 10

Binary is the simplest way of representing numbers.  Anything else is more complicated.

Level 14

I remember a guy doing his PhD when I was at Uni (mid 1980s).  He was building a trinary computer.  He was struggling until I suggested using light instead of electricity.  I have to admit the maths he was doing suddenly made binary seem easy.

Level 17

The thing about binary notation - and what I end up focusing on when I teach binary to others - is the idea of place value.

Most people on this forum already know that in binary 0001 is 1, 0010 is 2, 0100 is 4 and 1000 is 8. But WHY?

Or more to the point, in decimal notation we understand that 010 is 10 times more than 001, and 100 is ten times more than that. But WHY?

Because really what we are dealing with is exponents.

X3  X2  X1  X0

• X to the 0 power is always 1
• X to the power of 1 is the number itself
• ...and so on...

So if you are dealing in decimal (ie: "base number 10) notation

• 100  is 1
• 101  is 10
• 102 is 100
• ...and so on

And if you are working in binary (ie: base number 2) notation:

• 20 is 1
• 21 is 2
• 23 is 4
• ...and so on

I have always found it somehow revelatory and comforting to know that we're not dealing with two numbering systems, but the same system with two different expressions.

Level 10

Community Manager

Or, when you are desperate, the Windows Calculator does programming logic...

MVP

Image of the circuit design. For some reason it would not let me put it into my original post:

Level 12

I remember learning binary in college. It was interesting. I can still calculate it in my head pretty well, but not as well as I used to.

MVP

Being a 'network' guy binary has been a part of my life for a long time now. However it was very nearly wasn't the case.

There is a method of binary calculation called Two's complement. Two's complement - Wikipedia I learnt about this at the first University I attended, got tested and passed with a good mark.

Upon attending a second university we were working with Two’s complement again however the lecturer was so appalling I actually unlearned it because he explained it in such a confusing way.

So if something has you stumped maybe try learning it in a new way.

Level 12

Let's go the Binary way and leave the digits behind.

MVP

01010111 01101111 01110101 01101100 01100100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01100010 01100101 00100000 01100001 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 00100000 01101001 01100100 01100101 01100001 00111111 00100000 01010010 01100101 01100001 01101100 01101100 01111001 00111111

MVP

Would that be a good idea? Really?

Level 10

Level 9

binary consist of zeros and ones.

Level 14

I also have a hard time understanding binary in alpha values....for subnetting, my brain easily understands it as "math".

About the Author
Kevin's first computer was the family TI-99/4A. He's learned computing the best way possible: by fixing his own broken machines. He was a SolarWinds customer for nearly 10 years before joining the company. He's worked the range of IT jobs: from the 3-person consultancy to the international law firm. Along the way, he's become a SolarWinds advocate and evangelist of monitoring glory. His passions include shooting archery, blacksmithing, playing D&D, and helping IT professionals leave at a reasonable time each and every day.