The Pigeon Vs. Internet (big O notation)

WithYouWithMe - January 30, 2022

The Pigeon Vs. Internet  

In 2009, Unlimited IT, a South African IT company decided to run a race between a courier pigeon and the broadband speed available at the country. The pigeon was to carry a 4GB stick and the internet company was going to send data over its broadband lines.  

The race was to be 60 miles long. Winston, an 11-month-old carrier pigeon was up to the task of beating the almighty internet. For it to be a fair race, the internet company made a rule that Winston had to be on a regular diet, no funny stuff with the food, for example, no hormones to make the bird go faster.  

Winston won! Winston delivered 4GB in 1 hour and 8 minutes, while the data transferred over broadband-only achieved 4% of what Winston delivered.  

This story is often used to describe Big O notation. In mathematics, big O is used to describe the limiting behaviour of a function. And in computer science, big O is used to classify algorithms based on their performance. We don't have to go through the drama of training a pigeon and setting-up this type of event. The pigeon has a transfer speed of O of 1 (O1) and its constant time with respect to the size of the input (it doesn't take more time with more input). The internet speed would be described as O of n squared (On), it scales linearly with the amount of input.  

Big O notation gets complex fast and outside my mathematical abilities. But it is a cool story because we would have never expected a flapping bird in the sky to be faster than the internet. 

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