back to article Facebook invents new unit of time to measure modern attention spans: 1/705,600,000 of a sec

Video effects designers who work with C++ code have a new unit of time to work with called a "flick." Short for "frame-tick" if you're willing to overlook the absence of the letter "l" from either word, a flick lasts 1/705,600,000 of a second. It's a bit longer than a nanosecond, which clocks in at one billionth (1/1,000,000, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pedant Warning

    "If you represent the duration of a single frame at 1/24 fps in nanoseconds and then multiply that by 24, the result isn't exactly a billion."

    No, it would be 576 billion. Or did you mean to say "If you represent the duration of a single frame at 24 fps in nanoseconds...."

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Pedant Warning

      I thought it made sense , more or less.

      Your version says the same pretty much , if you add the x24 on the end.

      I think Tom Scotts video floating point calcs would explain this better...

      Having said that , I'll try the authors suggestion ....

      Represent the duration of a single 24fps frame in nanoseconds....

      ok 1 billion / 24 = 41,666,666.66666667 nano seconds per frame

      "then multiply that by 24, the result isn't exactly a billion."

      ok <presses x24 on calc> , nope that *is* a billion.

      maybe my calculator is rounding off the recurring sixes at the right point ...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That's not new.

    It's about the length of time I give a fuck during yet another management meeting. We've been calling it a MangleSecond all this time.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    Maybe I missed something, but...

    ...IIRC even nuclear weapon engineers don't work on time scales that short. Why the ridiculously small unit? Surely something a few orders of magnitude longer would do?

    1. ratfox Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Maybe I missed something, but...

      It's a unit in which various fractions of a second can be represented. If you want a unit in which both 1/24 and 1/25 seconds are integers, you need something that is 1/600 seconds or smaller. As you add more and more fractions you want to represent, your unit becomes smaller and smaller. At that point, you already need an int64 to store anything useful, so you might as well add a few zeroes just to be sure you'll never need more.

      It's like amounts of money tend to be stored in micros of currency unit, not because you care about a micropound, but because you want to be sure never to need more precision than is available, and by the time you need that precision, you don't want to recode everything.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Maybe I missed something, but...

      "IIRC even nuclear weapon engineers don't work on time scales that short."

      Why would you think that? I routinely work with picoseconds and femtoseconds; nanoseconds are actually pretty long as far as physics is concerned (I'm actually in particle physics, but nuclear physics uses timescales just as short).

    3. ravenviz

      Re: Maybe I missed something, but...

      Why the ridiculously small unit?

      It's to measure accurately the mixed state of being on facebook / not being on facebook

    4. PleebSmasher

      Re: Maybe I missed something, but...

      El Reg forgot to mention that the flick will also be able to encompass the weird legacy audio/video related rational numbers.

      Factors like 44.1, 29.97, and 23.976023976230... (NTSC frame rate, last 6 digits repeating) will result in an integer number of flicks.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Always Thought that

    Zuck was from a different dimension. This goes to prove it.

    I am so glad that I have avoided FB all these years and have no intention of going over to the Zuck side.

    Posting AC as I don't want the evil Zuck rays to find me and force me to join FB and other antisocial media junk sites.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: Always Thought that

      "I am so glad that I have avoided FB all these years "

      You little hero, you.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Always Thought that

      I suspect that this "time" was designed to count anyone (all of us none users) who even thought of following a link to FB as another FB user to inflate the numbers. The only way out is to not even think or mention FB.. Oops.. my bad.. mentioned them twice, they counted 2 clicks.

    3. kain preacher Silver badge

      Re: Always Thought that

      Every one has a Face Book page. You just might not know it.

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Always Thought that

      Yep, the Faecebook and its bottom-feeding mouth-breathing Jeremy Kyle featuring typical users can F off.

  6. Peter Galbavy

    ... and it's not even 24 fps either. It's 23.957 or whatever (too lazy to go confirm) and is the result of history :)

  7. Alan J. Wylie

    Don't forget the microfortnight as used to configure VAX/VMS timeout.

    1. richardcox13

      > Don't forget the microfortnight

      And in the key unit of velocity the attoparsec per microfortnight (quite useful at human scales).

  8. The Alphabet

    People: "we want chronological order"

    Facebook: "you need a new measure of time!"

  9. Gomez Adams

    Can I throw pengo-second into the mix which is an indeterminately small unit of time where the smallness is dependent on the context so can arbitrarily be equated to a milli / micro / nano / etc second.

  10. The answer is 42

    speeding?

    In the good old days, light speed was 1 foot per nanosecond. Isn't that good enough?

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: speeding?

      " light speed was 1 foot per nanosecond"

      Thats a hell of a coincidence isnt it? how did the universe know to make it equal to some of our best known units?

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: speeding?

        just done some sums .. its not far off that:

        186282 miles per second

        5280 feet per mile

        = 982080000 feet per second

        12 inches in a foot

        =11784960000 inches per second

        1000000000 a billion nanos in a sec

        =11.78496 inches per nanosecond

        Although that margin is probably significant when considering light speed and associated distances.

  11. VinceH Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "Without flicks functions written to perform accurate conversions, the losses accumulating through timing mismatches would result in a loss of precision and could throw off the execution of the simulation."

    I'd say FTFY - but in fact they probably have written those functions, specifically to handle 'flicks'.

    All that's happened is that someone has discovered maths, worked out the lowest common multiple of the frame rates (x 1000), given it a name, and shouted about it as though it's some kind of miracle.

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Thinking about this while in the shower, I've imagined a scenario that may have played out at their premises.

      * cue wavy special effect to change the location from El Reg's comments page to Programmer Bob's desk...

      Programmer Bob is sat at his desk, working away - or at least using his computer for something, which may or may not be work - when he decides he needs a coffee, so he gets up to head for the canteen. His route takes him past Supervisor Bob's office, where he can see Supervisor Bob deep in conversation with Marketing Bob.

      He gives them a nod as he walks past, and Supervisor Bob waves at him to come in.

      "Hey Programmer Bob," says Supervisor Bob, "I'm glad I caught you. I just wanted to check something. I was looking over some of your code earlier, and I noticed something, and wanted to clarify. You've defined a constant - frick - as seven hundred and five million, six hundred thousand, and used it in various places. What is it?"

      "Uh, hey, yeah, we work to a precision of one one thousandth of a frame - that's a frame tick - and various frame rates. That number is the lowest common multiple; we can use it for the math* in any frame rate without resorting to complicated fractions."

      "Ah, thought it was something like that."

      Noticing the blank expression on Marketing Bob's face, Supervisor Bob starts to explain.

      "You know that there are various different frame rates used in video?" he asks.

      "Yeah," says Marketing Bob.

      "And you know we work to a precision of one one thousandth of a frame?"

      "Yeah," says Marketing Bob, showing early signs of not knowing at all.

      Supervisor Bob nods to Programmer Bob to continue.

      "Well, the math* surrounding this can be quite complicated," he explains, "and representing frames - or fractions of frames - in a number of nanoseconds can be messy and imprecise."

      "Okaaaay," says Marketing Bob, nodding, while his face looks increasingly blank.

      "So I figured, let's work out the lowest common multiple of all the frame rates multiplied by a thousand. That's seven hundred and five million, six hundred thousand. Define that as a constant, which I've called frick - it's short for frame tick - and we can use that throughout our code. One thousandth of each frame rate - the precision we work to - can be represented by a certain number of fricks."

      "I see," says Marketing Bob, looking at Supervisor Bob in the hope he might offer a clue about what Programmer Bob just explained.

      "Basically," says Supervisor Bob, trying to make things clearer and summarising what Programmer Bob said, "Programmer Bob has worked out a number that's really useful for the math* in our code. Seconds and nanoseconds aren't accurate enough, but the constant frick is a good way to represent each amount of time we need to work to."

      "Aha!" says Marketing Bob, "So Programmer Bob has invented a new unit of time?"

      "Well..." starts both Programmer Bob and Supervisor Bob, hesitatingly.

      "That's genius!" exclaims Marketing Bob, getting up out of his chair, "I think we can do something with that. I'm off to write a press release. Can you email me an explanation - in simple terms if possible, I don't want to confuse the people we send it to."

      He goes to walk out of the door, then hesitates.

      "One thing, though. Can you change its name - frick sounds a bit sweary. How about a flick? That's got huge potential!"

      * 'math' rather than 'maths' because all three Bobs are probably Overpuddlians.

      1. Alistair Silver badge
        Windows

        "He goes to walk out of the door, then hesitates.

        One thing, though. Can you change its name - frick sounds a bit sweary. How about a flick? That's got huge potential And Bob's yer uncle!"

        FTFY Vince.

        1. VinceH Silver badge
          Pint

          Obvious joke is obvious - so obvious that I didn't see it! ;)

          Actually, though, I wouldn't have Marketing Bob say it at the end; I reckon Programmer Bob should have said it when he finished his explanation.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      The idea is that nano-second results aren't converted up to a common frame rate, but that a common denominator is used from the outset. Making something a convention often does require publicising it, though a movie studio could suggest it to the digital effects houses they subcontract to - often many work on the same production.

  12. Jedit
    Go

    Days since last flick was given

    By a strange coincidence, the flick is also the exact length of time that it is worth devoting to any "tag a friend" post on Facebook.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "If you represent the duration of a single frame at 1/24 fps in nanoseconds and then multiply that by 24, the result isn't exactly a billion. And that imprecision can cause problems."

    Imprecision from being close to but not exactly a thousand/million/billion boesn't seem to have hampered the storage industry (and also allowed legions of pedants to jump in with "but they're not giviing you a full GB" on a regular basis)

  14. Christian Berger Silver badge

    That's not news

    Developers invent their own timescales all the time. For example I once made a Unix-epoch clone starting at the year 2000. IBM-PCs calculated the time in 1/18.2065 Hz intervalls, making an overflow of the 16-Bit Number roughly every 3600 seconds.

    On 16-Bit systems it's common to count seconds of the week, because that nicely fits in a 16 Bit number.

    1. inmypjs Silver badge

      Re: That's not news

      No it isn't news except it comes from farcebook which means hundreds of millions of morons (including the BBC) think it is news.

      1. petef

        Re: That's not news

        Indeed, here is a quote from the BBC story:

        A flick, derived from "frame-tick", is 1/705,600,000 of a second - the next unit of time after a nanosecond.

  15. sawatts
  16. Christian Berger Silver badge

    I wonder how that is supposed to work in the US

    In the US television has the weird framerate of 30000/1001 Hz because when colour was introduced there it clashed with sound, and instead of slightly changing the audio subcarrier frequency, they changed the framerate. Therefore today all of their framerates for colour video are derived from that number. Of course seconds are still seconds, so you'll have seconds with 30 frames and seconds with 29 frames.

    1. SeanEllis

      Re: I wonder how that is supposed to work in the US

      I've seen 29.97, 30.00 and 30.03 fps for US video. If we assume that these are actually 30000/1001, 30000/1000 and 30000/999 rounded to two digits, these all result in integer number of flicks per frame.

  17. sjsmoto

    From the headline I thought FB figured out how long it took people to skip their ads.

  18. Linker3000

    Units of measurement...

    http://units.wikia.com/wiki/Mickey

    1. hellwig Silver badge

      Re: Units of measurement...

      I used IBM's definition of a Mickey, because it was specified in their x86 assembly manual.

  19. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    Just use rational arithmetic for fractions of a second.

  20. Alister Silver badge

    What ever happened to the tic, the sec or the mo?

    The flick joins a few other obscure time intervals including a jiffy (the definition varies), a shake (10 nanoseconds), and a microcentury (~52 minutes or a millionth of a century,

    Or any other unit regularly used in conjunction with the phrase

    "I'll be back in a..."

  21. Beach pebble
    Pint

    Why waste a flicking second more

    FB, flick the switch when you're off.

  22. hellwig Silver badge

    Imperial Systems Lives On!

    All hail the US! We'll invent whatever frickin' units we need, and screw the rest of you!

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: Imperial Systems Lives On!

      "All hail the US! We'll invent whatever flickin' units we need, and screw the rest of you!"

      FTFY

      Where's the "this is what style of markup we use, and it's help document" when I need it? And while I'm at it, where's the icon selection thingy? Maybe I need to let a few more things through uMatrix?

  23. onefang Silver badge

    What about other languages?

    'Video effects designers who work with C++ code have a new unit of time to work with called a "flick."

    'Short for "frame-tick" if you're willing to overlook the absence of the letter "l" from either word, a flick lasts 1/705,600,000 of a second.'

    So would those working in C use 1/705,600,000-1 of a second? Lua people would use 1+1/705,600,000, coz that's 1 based rather than 0 based like C and C++. Python people prefer significant white space, but I'm no Python person, so I have no idea where they would put that, 1 / 705 600 000 perhaps?

    There are 97 other languages on my resume, but I can't be arsed to go through them right now.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was always told that if you flick it more than once you were playing with it.

  25. crediblywitless

    There are pi seconds in a nanocentury. To a rough approximation.

  26. Nimby
    Joke

    Optical Character Recognition Error

    I'm pretty sure that the original whitepaper used a 'u' ... but when the print copy was scanned in a smudge on the glass caused OCR misread it as 'li'. Which may be the only universe in which I would give a f*ck about any ridiculous unit of time that Facebook "invented".

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