Month: January 2014

Today we celebrate the oldest form of binary encoding of text still in use…

Source: NPR article referenced in this blog postToday is World Braille Day, which celebrates Louis Braille birthday.  While most people know that Braille is a method for the blind to be able to read by using tactile bumps, what many may not realize is that it is the oldest form of binary encoding of text that is still in use today*.

While often binary is characterized as being ones and zeros, in reality the physical expression of binary rarely is this.  Instead it is anything that can be in one of two distinct forms.  With hard disks, it is usually having many magnets that are either facing north to south or south to north.  With DVDs and CDs, it is having little mirrors that either reflect or don’t reflect a laser.  In flash drives, it is whether gates of electrons are opened or closed.  Each of these is used to encode a single “bit”.

In Braille, it is a matter of whether there is a bump or not.  And by having a set of 6 (or 8) places where a bump could potentially be, then combining these in patterns allows every letter to be encoded.  This is similar to how ASCII (and now Unicode) uses individual bit in sets of 8 (with ASCII) to encode letters in the English Alphabet (and with Unicode any alphabet).  These set of 8 are called bytes (although technically a byte can be defined as more than 8 bits, 8 bits to a byte is generally recognized as the de facto standard)

So happy World’s Oldest Binary Encoding of Text Day!

* – There are older forms of binary encoding of text such as Night Writing, which Braille is based on, but these are not in use any longer.  Also, Morse Code was invented slightly after Braille, although technically it uses more than 2 symbols, it is mostly a binary method of encoding text also. There are even older binary encoding system such as punched cards for looms, but these didn’t encode text.