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

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.

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