This is calculated through careful measurement of the residual activity (per gram C) remaining in a sample whose age is Unknown, compared with the activity present in Modern and Background samples. Thus 1950, is year 0 BP by convention in radiocarbon dating and is deemed to be the 'present'.
You can get an idea of the relationship between C14 and age at the Carbon Dating calculator page. 1950 was chosen for no particular reason other than to honour the publication of the first radiocarbon dates calculated in December 1949 (Taylor, 19).
All D14C values are normalized to the base value of -25.0 per mille with respect to the standard carbonate (VPDB).
D14C is calculated using: Figure 1: Decay curve for C14 showing the activity at one half-life (t/2).
Standard errors released with each radiocarbon assay (see below) are usually rounded by convention (Stuiver and Polach, 1977).