Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
It is reported that the Yuki Native Americans of California used an octal system because they counted using the spaces between their fingers rather than the fingers themselves. Octal counting may have been used in the past instead of decimal counting, by counting the spaces like the Yuki or by counting the fingers other than the thumbs. This may explain why the Latin word novem (nine) is so much like the word novus (new). It may have meant a new number.
Donald Knuth wrote in his book The Art of Computer Programming that King Charles XII of Sweden was the inventor of octal in Europe. Octal numerals can be made from binary numerals by grouping consecutive digits into groups of three (starting from the right). For example, the binary representation for decimal 74 is 1001010, which groups into 1 001 010 — so the octal representation is 112.
Octal is sometimes used in computing instead of hexadecimal, perhaps most often in conjunction with file permissions under UNIX systems (see Chmod). It has the advantage of not requiring any extra symbols as digits (the hexadecimal system is base-16 and therefore needs six additional symbols beyond 0–9). It is also used for digital displays. However it has a disadvantage in that while two hex digits make a byte, three octal digits would be required, with the most significant octal digit inelegantly representing only two binary digits (and in a series the same octal digit would represent one binary digit from the next byte).
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