The Chess Board Clock

What the hell is this?

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There's a story about the invention of the chessboard that's probably not true since it's a math parable and the chessboard was invented a really, really long time ago. According to the story, the man who invented chess brought the board to the king, and the king was so taken with it he offered the man whatever he wanted. The man supposedly said, "Well, I'd like one grain of rice on the first square of the board, two on the second, four on the third, and so on, each having twice as much as the last square until all the squares are covered."

"That seems reasonable," said the king, not being a mathematician. The king quickly discovers that in order to complete the request, he would need more grain than has ever grown or will ever grow in all the world. Upon discovering this, he beheads the man, the stupidest part of this story being it having a character smart enough to make a balanced strategy game yet too dumb not to try to con ax-happy kings.

But there's another problem with the story. People always toss around huge numbers of things to describe exponential growth, and "all the grain, ever" is just as meaningless as a billion light years. There's just no way to really fit it in your mind, and seeing 1 go to 100,000,000,000,000 doesn't have the umph it should.

All this came to mind while I was idly programming something to create every possible 8x8 pixel black and white image, and I suddenly realized that it was going to take a very, very long time.

The Chess Board Clock is an attempt to get closer to comprehending how quickly the tiny goes to the enormous in exponential growth. It's basically a binary clock counting down 2 to the 63rd power in hundredths of a second. (Another way to put it, since my non-mathy friends pointed out that this is gibberish to them: the first square changes every 1/100th of a second, the second square changes every 2/100ths of a second, the third every 4/100ths of a second, the fourth every 8/100ths of a second, etc.) The invisibly rapid motion of cycling through little numbers in the upper left gives way to an agonizingly slow progression of the bottom-right-most black square, which represents the highest order of binary magnitude the clock has reached. I hope it becomes viscerally clear why it's going to take so long to get to that last square, just a few inches away.

I've included some notes about the squares you probably won't be alive to see.


Stuff blinking really fast

Should be in Star Trek time now, after a quick world war. Or in the Matrix. Or in the Matrix thinking we're in Star Trek.

Now we're in Star Trek: The Next Generation. We've finally sorted out our Shakespeare quotes and proverbs and attributed them to the right species.

Welcome to the 28th century. The Earth will get closer to Mars than ever before, shortening day trips. If Arthur C. Clarke was right, we've just settled Thalassa.

If anything blew up in the Orion Nebula last week, we'll know by now.

The Mayan Calendar will require a sixth digit. Everybody freaks out. Again.

Theoretically, if we make it this far, we might be a type II civilization. Which would be sweet.

10,000+ years from now. Just mull that over for a second. We just figured out how to plant things in the ground 10,000 ago.

If you deposit one dollar in a savings account with a 0.4 percent annual compound interest rate and try to figure out what it will be worth 20,000 years from now in python, python will tell you you have infinite money. I personally believe python is wrong on this point, but you will certainly have a lot of money.

The First Galactic Empire has collapsed, the 30,000 years of darkness have passed, and we're well into the second galactic empire. Still haven't encountered aliens.

By now, some people believe we'll look like anime characters. Other people say this is bullshit.

This is approximately when the Earth will recover from global warming if we let it get going. Also, too late.

Javascript's date calculation tools no longer work, but are scheduled to be updated in the ECMA 8 specification.

In just a few more tens of thousands of years, a confused Englishman will show up and develop an inappropriate crush on a young girl.

The last "that's what she said" joke has been told. Our cesium atomic clocks may be one second off.

If anyone in the Triangulum Galaxy has been trying to tell us something, we'll start hearing about it around now. Holly is figuring out what to tell Lister when he wakes up.

The right stream today may be another Grand Canyon by this time. Hopefully they'll have thought of a better name.

Phobos has disintegrated, and its remains are crashing into Mars. The housing market plummets.

If we start heading for Kepler 22B immediately, we'll almost be there by this time, so don't you make me turn this car around.

Africa and Europe are the same place. Switzerland remains neutral during border disputes.

We will almost certainly have been hit by a very big thing by now. Ideally, we can just watch from Mars.

We have finally had a longer run than dinosaurs, so everyone can shut up about how they ruled the Earth longer than we've been sharpening sticks. The Smithsonian website will probably still look like that, however, making everyone wonder what was the point.

A galactic year and a half has passed. All the continents have merged into a new supercontinent, which, optimistically, we've already named.

CO2 levels drop so far, life stops working. On a shorter timescale, we would call this ironic.

The sun's getting bigger. Mars becomes naturally warm enough for life, and everybody feels really stupid about all the terraforming.

The Earth's magnetic field has shut down, and without its protection, the radiation from the sun has wiped out all life on Earth. It's 300 degrees fahrenheit at the North Pole. Andromeda is looking uncomfortably close. The moon is no longer stabilizing the Earth's tilt. This clock starts over.

Click on a square to see when it will turn black for the first time.


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