Technology

Facebook Has Invented an Entirely New Unit of Time

Love Curiosity? Subscribe to our email to get our stories delivered to your inbox daily. Sign up here.

We don't have the time to dig into all the different ways someone could measure time. Generally, we structure our lives around years, months, days, hours ... you know, the big ones. The easy ones. But time measurements can get as nitty gritty as you need them to. In Facebook's case, the company needed a unit of time that just wasn't there. So they invented an entirely new one.

Net Flick

Allow us to introduce you to the "flick," the new unit of time developed by a Facebook engineer. Chances are, you won't be measuring how long you've been on the treadmill or how long to cook your turkey in flicks. But for a select group, the new unit could become quite helpful. Initially created by Christopher Horvath in late 2016 and launched by Facebook Open Source in January 2018, the flick is equal to precisely one 705,600,000th of a second. It's just a tad longer than a nanosecond, but still shorter than a microsecond. Finally, right?

Like we said, understanding the flick probably won't impact your daily life. But here's a hint as to how this little sliver of a second could be helpful for some. Here are some numbers into which 1/705,600,000 divides evenly: 1/8, 1/16, 1/22.05, 1/24, 1/25, 1/30, 1/32, 1/44.1, 1/48, 1/50, 1/60, 1/90, 1/100, 1/120.

Still confused? All of these numbers are also frame rates or frequencies involved in displaying movies, music, and other media. Working any of those figures out into decimals yields a nasty, often neverending line of digits. The flick is here to clean it up. For example, 1/24th of a second is 29,400,000 flicks. If we were to try to measure that fraction of a second as a decimal, it would be 0.0416666666666666... Ew.

Nice and Precise

To put it into another context, imagine baking a cake, but all the ingredients come in strange ratios and confusing fractions of fractions. Then, one day, you're given a recipe that calls for just one pinch of this, two scoops of this. Not only does the flick simplify the numbers that media engineers work with, it will improve accuracy too. In the cake example, these round units would give you a more delicious cake because the measurements are spot-on with no guesswork. When long-running decimals get chopped off and rounded into a workable number, who knows what kind of valuable stuff is getting left off or ever-so-slightly skewed. That misalignment in precision could stack up over time to lead to some hairy problems, especially on team collaborations.

Facebook's concern here isn't necessarily with simplifying streaming video or playing music. The flick was developed more specifically by Facebook's Oculus team, showing that the company is still betting big on virtual reality. (Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2004.) If this is something that could help you, you can download the flick's format and code at GitHub.

The History of Frame Rate for Film

Share the knowledge!
Written by Joanie Faletto February 8, 2018