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Twitter Infinite

Web comic XKCD is great for lots of laughs, and a little learning too. If you want a little less laughing, but lots more learning, there’s always the weekly XKCD What-If. This week it answers the eternal question, “How long would it take to read every possible English language tweet?” First you need to figure out how many valid English tweets there are. The answer is surprisingly complicated.

If you just look at the raw numbers, you have 140 characters per tweet. There are 26 English letters, plus the space. So with 27 characters, you come up with 10200 possible strings of letters and spaces. But then there is Unicode to deal with, which brings the total number up to 10800. That is a 1 followed by 800 zeros. Sounding insane? Not to fear, most of these permutations are meaningless nonsense. To get to the true valid English tweets, we have to apply some information theory.

To find out how many likely valid English tweets there are, we can estimate that value based on the information contained in each letter for aggregated samples. In the mid-20th century, Claude Shannon pioneered several key concepts in information theory. Among his contributions was the discovery that, on average, each letter contains 1.0-1.2 bytes of information. This was based on having test subjects guess on blanked out letters in a sentence. It sounds bizarre, but the compression ratio he predicted holds true when tested.

So where does that leave the math, according to XKCD? In a piece of text with n bits of information, there are 2n different messages possible. So 2140*1.1 equals 2*1046 different English tweets. This calculation is based on unicity distance, a principal in cryptography for predicting variations. Still a big number, but much less than the 10800 figure from before.

Back to the original question: how long would it take to read all of them? Just 1047 seconds, which is 3*1039 years. But that’s just if you read straight through! Let’s say you work a 16 hour day reading tweets out loud before retiring for a night of fitful sleep. At that rate, the heat death of the universe would have happened several duodecillion years before you finished the task.

XKCD creates a handy new unit of time to make this easier to grasp. Imagine each day was 1032 years long (again, that’s a 1 followed by 32 zeros). It would take ten thousand years made up of these super-long days to finish reading all those tweets. In short: lots of tweets and lots of years. It’s math!

Now read: Algorithm will tweet in your place after you die

Winter Storm Nemo

Click to enlarge

If you live in the northeastern part of the US, you might have gotten an emergency weather alert on your phone yesterday, warning you of an impending snowpocalypse that was set to ravage the land, but also adorably named Nemo. As the storm approaches, looking out your window today should have yielded a nice shot of an erratic landscape of snow or rain. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have some pictures of the storm hitting the North American landmass, showcasing the storm in its impressive, freezing glory.

Weather.com, which took it upon themselves to begin naming winter storms in the same vein of naming hurricanes, named this storm Nemo not after the Disney fish, but after the Greek boy name that means “from the valley,” or “nobody” in Latin. For those of you who may experience the eight to 16 inches of snow that Nemo is predicted to unleash upon certain parts of the northeastern US, you probably don’t consider the storm a nobody. Other parts of the northeastern US are expected to get around one to two feet of snow, coupled with winds strong enough to be considered hurricane force (albeit the very minimum of what would register as hurricane-force winds).

If you’re legitimately worried about Nemo, just remember to stay inside where it is warm, and perhaps don’t spend all of your time on Twitter or blogs that have scary headlines about snow dooming us all. Perhaps you also shouldn’t watch a certain weather-based Dennis Quaid vehicle either.

Some gadgets, like the iPhone 5, out there claim to be oleophobic, making it easier for the oil to be wiped away from the screen. Imagine if the oil was never allowed to smudge the screen at all, instead just beading up and rolling away on its own? A demonstration of some new superhydrophobic spray might make you want to buy it by the barrel and apply it to everything you own.

Superhydrophobic and superomniphobic coatings aren’t new, but they grow more impressive every day. It’s the kind of material that seems like it would be great on everything, applied so that you never need to worry about spills or even getting the last bit of ketchup out of the bottle. The nanoscale coating process usually involved spraying your coating on a perfectly dry substance and letting it sit long enough to dry again. As long as you don’t scuff, scrape, or otherwise damage the surface of the item you sprayed, the coating will protect the surface of whatever you apply it to for years.

This new video is one of the first commercial applications of a superhydrophobic material that can be purchased, and I bet the guys at UltraTech International wish they had a consumer ready product to sell after releasing this video.

Ever Dry Superhydrophobic coating

 

The Every Dry coating demonstrations are all really impressive, showing as any kind of liquid just beads up and rolls away from the coated surface. The coating even works well enough to keep water contained in an area surrounded by coating, as demonstrated towards the end of the video. One of the defining factors of this material is how resistant it is to scuffs and scrapes, measuring 110 on the Tabor Abrasion Method.

This material is designed to stand up to daily use, according to the manufacturer, though it’s the kind of thing where each use case will determine how long it actually lasts. Every Dry uses a combination of two different materials, applied in a top and bottom coat, to provide the protective layer you see in the video.

It’s the kind of thing that makes you wish your smartphone was completely encased in for the next time someone at a restaurant accidentally spills a drink or you accidentally drop your phone in mud. Given the rate of improvement this technology has seen in the past few years, it makes you hopeful that your next smartphone comes with a shiny superhydrophobic coating.

Space Marine - Games Workshop

When you hear the phrase “space marine”, you’d only guess that it’s related to Games Workshop if you’re familiar with the company’s Warhammer games. After all, space marines have been featured prominently in science fiction since the 1930s and well as in major releases including the movie Aliens, the Halo series, and even Quake. Now Games Workshop, the British company famous for their tabletop combat games, has decided to try and solidify their position as the sole owner of “Space Marines” by seeking legal action against authors who use the title.

While Games Workshop owns much of the Google search results for the title, it’s a science fiction trope that dates back decades. From Bob Olsen’s Captain Brink of the Space Marines in 1932 to the nameless space marine protagonist in the Doom series, the world is filled with references to the classic science fiction trope that has nothing to do with Games Workshop. The seemingly endless supply of creative effort that the Games Workshop team have put into their Adeptus Astartes characters, including dozens of books and in game stories, is by far the most impressive collection of Space Marine related material, but should that give them the right to own the trope altogether?

Space Marine

For a brief time Amazon had incorrectly removed Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth from their online store after receiving a DMCA takedown notice from Games Workshop. Since takedown notices have nothing to do with trademarks — which is the only claim Games Workshop has for the phrase — there was no legitmate reason for Amazon to honor the request. After a plea from the Hogarth, the book has returned to Amazon’s digital shelves.

In the US and the UK, the trademark that Games Workshop holds only applies to games and miniatures. In Europe, the trademark applies to printed materials on any kind, which still doesn’t apply to Hogarth’s book. It’s also worth pointing out that Spots the Space Marine is a story about a Mother that bakes cookies, and couldn’t possibly threaten the Games Workshop empire in any way.

It is unlikely that this is the last we hear of Games Workshop wielding their legal ownership of the space marine trademark. The company already fights regular battles online against companies who make off-brand miniatures that drastically undercut their steep pricing. As 3D printing becomes more popular, it seems only a matter of time before 3D models of popular miniatures find their way into makerspace websites for free. Hopefully their legal battles remain in the relevant areas after this incident, and the company stops trying to take control of the space marine trope.