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 While generally speaking I’m very pleased to hear physics words appear in everyday conversation, I would prefer for them to be used approximately correctly. ‘Exponentially‘ is a case in point – it gets used for something that keeps getting bigger, regardless of how exponential it really is. 

So, while ‘nanotechnology’ is a good word to hear (because that’s what it is, technology on the scale of nanometres), ‘megamilk’ or ‘mitre 10 mega’ is not. What is there that’s a million times more in megamilk than normal milk? Is mitre 10 mega a million times bigger than a mitre 10. I think not. 

With data storage abilities of gadgets growing exponentially (and I mean exponentially here) we are rapidly traversing the prefixes for large things: kilo (a thousand – remember when 64k RAM was a big deal?) mega (a million), giga (a billion, or ten to the power 9) and now tera (ten to the power 12) is beginning to be a household prefix. Next comes peta (10^15) and exa (10^18), zetta (now that’s a cool sounding one, 10^21) and yotta (10^24), though I admit to having looked up the last three. 

I wonder when we’ll see ‘zetta-’ things go on sale, at zetta-stores?

Going the other way, we have milli (a thousandth), a micro (a millionth), a nano (a billionth) and then pico, femto, atto, and beyond.  I came across this article today about mobile phone networks. The idea of a microcell is old hat. They’re already in the realm of  femto cells – tiny little mobile cells at airports etc (a totally mangled definition of femto if you ask me) – and people are beginning to talk about attocells – e.g. every lightbulb in your house becomes a transmitter in a separate ‘cell’. 

Actually, the article is really interesting to read, highlighting some of the problems with exponentially (again!) demand for data bandwidth. I propose we go to zeptocells, where each limb on your body is a cell.