Who gives a flick?

2 min read

Two days ago, reports flooded in about the Facebook ‘flick’ – a new unit of time. *Cue excitement* But hold on, it actually made a new unit of time? Wait, what? How do you even do that? Is there permission involved? Can I just stand up and claim I have created a new unit of time … preferably one that will allow me a lie-in?

Father to the flick and Facebook engineer, Christopher Horvath, shared his idea many ‘flicks’ ago, AKA last year, on the social media site, but it wasn’t until last Monday that the flick went from concept to bona-fide unit.

Our whole lives revolve around the concept of time, which is a bizarre thought in itself, so how have we managed without the knowledge of the flick until now? What exactly will this time unit offer the world? Will kids be counting in flicks? Will the morning alarm snooze by the flick? Will the next smart watch tick in flicks? Probably not.

Actually, it’ll really just affect those working with video and audio. It’s been designed to divide frames evenly and therefore, easily. Editors could already subdivide frames, but the maths would involve complicated fraction work – and nobody likes that.

GitHub explains the use of the flick: “When working creating visual effects for film, television, and other media, it is common to run simulations or other time-integrating processes which subdivide a single frame of time into a fixed, integer number of subdivisions. It is handy to be able to accumulate these subdivisions to create exact 1-frame and 1-second intervals, for a variety of reasons.”

The flick is slightly longer than the nanosecond, but much shorter than the microsecond. It is, in fact, 1/705,600,000 of a second and apparently that’s very handy because it divides equally into a set of numbers which editors often use in their work. For example, one frame from a 24frame/s video lasts for 29,400,000 flicks.

The flick, according to GitHub provides: “A simple, convenient std::chrono::duration to work with when writing code that works with simulation and time in media, but not explicitly to handle complex variable-rate playback scenarios.”

The flick seems to have had positive feedback so far, but the general consensus – as far as I can work it out – is: ‘we already knew the answer to this problem, Facebook’s just made it easier to work out’.

Commenting on the new unit, Imagination Technologies – which knows more than a thing or two about video and graphics – said: ‘From our perspective, it’s a worthwhile idea and helpful at all sorts of levels from programming to editing, especially for software. Ultimately, it simplifies thinking about a problem already solved (when did you last watch a film with sync issues?) rather than enabling profoundly new solutions. However, we don’t think it really impacts what we are doing’.

It’s like realising you’ve been sitting at the tap end of the bath all your life. You feel a little silly about it and you know that sitting at the other end is going to make life comfier from now on. But really, the result will be the same.

According to a report from the BBC, this isn’t the first time a corporation has made a new unit of time. Remember when Swatch introduced Internet Time, which divided the day into 1000 ‘.beats’ to eliminate the need for time zones? Me neither. Apparently, for some reason, it didn’t catch on.