2803: Geohydrotypography

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The Atlantic is expanding at about 10 ppm (points per month).
Title text: The Atlantic is expanding at about 10 ppm (points per month).


This comic is another entry in the "My Hobby" series of comics.

Plate tectonics is the understanding that the Earth's lithosphere is divided up into separate 'plates', which carry the continents and (in the case of the Atlantic) are slowly moving apart under geological action that mostly drives the respective coastlines away from the deep centre of the ocean. Here, Randall explains that if the surface of the Atlantic Ocean were covered in a certain size of printed text (as if its surface were a giant sheet of printed paper, which it is not[citation needed]), the shifting of the continents would increase the amount of text by about 100 words per second.

Randall says that his hobby is geohydrotypography, which is a compound of 'geo' (from the Greek for earth), 'hydro' (water), 'typo' (type, as in printing) and 'graphy' (a descriptive science) - in other words, the arrangement of letters, words and symbols on the water surfaces of the earth. He may mean that he enjoys studying such arrangements, and/or that he likes arranging such text himself.

The title text is a pun on "ppm," which is generally understood to mean "parts per million" (a dimensionless unit of concentration). Here, it instead describes the rate of the ocean's expansion, about 40 millimeters per year, in "points per month." A point in typography is 1/72 of an inch, or 127/360 =~ 0.3528 millimeters. The expansion sideways would steadily allow more characters on the first line (and thus intermittently more words, 'unwrapping' the first word seen on the next line) and cascading this effect onto every subsequent line spread out vertically along the roughly 13,000km (depending upon your choice of limits) North/South 'height' of the writing medium.

The exact calculation needs various assumptions. Font families of a given well-defined vertical size/separation can each exhibit varying general widths of character, and be subject to various possible degrees of kerning, depending upon what precise choice of text is made (unless using a strictly a fixed-width font). The spacing between successive lines would need to be chosen. The word that does (or does not) have to be wrapped at the first line-break can affect which groups of words may (or may not) need to wrap on subsequent lines, in a cascading effect that can create almost chaotic changes from just a single reassessment. However, the law of large numbers would likely minimize the effect of this variability, such that an estimate from known averages would yield a result with a very small amount of relative error. It is not known which (ballpark) number Randall assigned as the current word count as of posting the comic.

The exact extent of the Atlantic Ocean can also be differently interpreted: where it meets the Southern and Arctic oceans, whether to include bordering 'seas' such as the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas, what to do where the 'text' may have to cross/break-across islands (e.g., the Bahamas, Azores, etc., some of these being treated as Atlantic boundaries with the comic's relatively much larger size of "ocean text"), possibly even whether to track the precise tidal inundations at the coastlines at any particular moment, which would make the resulting word count per second probably fluctuate with the tides (unless high-/low-/median watermarks were actually chosen as standard). All these factors, and more, make it difficult to precisely define the total number of characters (and thus words) that would fit, though the annual increase in the approximate area of the ocean could allow us to assume some approximately greater number of characters (based upon an approximation of their average page-area requirements) which could be divided by the approximate number needed for a general corpus of words (and its spacing) to determine the approximate additional text that could now be added for any given span of time. Knowing Randall, he has used the best approximations that he could find and determined that the possible cumulative errors were not unacceptable.

Relying on the lost nursery rhyme "44.1 million square miles the Atlantic ocean is", and confirming on Wikipedia, about 5 trillion characters would fit. Assuming 1 byte per character, that's the amount of RAM on just 2 Summit supercomputers, the fastest supercomputer as of 7/2023. Quick testing on a modern laptop shows that Chrome takes about 0.1 second to add 1 character to a DIV element per million characters already there. For example: if a paragraph is already 50 million characters long, adding one character takes 5 second. To keep up with the 100 words per second at a barely acceptable 24 frames per second, the laptop would need to be 10 billion times faster - not that difficult, if humanity would dedicate one laptop per human for this task, and the complexity of this amount of parallel processing was solved. On the other hand, only 50,000 Summits would be needed. Please keep in mind these are very approximate numbers, as Chrome is always getting better, and there are many possible optimizations, including perhaps a new company would compete with Google rendering ocean-size paragraphs.

Note that the text as it appears on the globe in the comic is not 12 point, but instead is close to 1.5 billion point.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A depiction primarily of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding landmasses. The land is black, leaving the oceans and seas white except for the following words written in sixteen lines of text (from just below the tip of Greenland/Arctic Ocean down to slightly above the Falkland Islands/Southern Ocean) that are, for the most part, wrapped between the Atlantic coastline 'margins' (as defined by the Americas on the left and Europe/Africa on the right, or significant island groups:]
If you
the surface of
the Atlantic Ocean
with twelve-point
printed text,
with the lines
wrapping at
the coasts, the
expansion of
the ocean basin
due to plate
tectonics would
increase your word
count by about 100
words per second.
[Caption below the panel:]
My Hobby: Geohydrotypography

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100 words per minute seems… fast. 04:47, 18 July 2023 (UTC)

Yes, has anyone done the maths on this claim?Thisfox (talk) 09:52, 18 July 2023 (UTC)
The claim is actually "per second"... and given the size of the Atlantic it's actually not thaaat much. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 11:02, 18 July 2023 (UTC)
The height of 12pt text is stated as approx(!) 4.233mm, which is possibly from the tops of the risers to the bottom of sub-line descenders but not sure if it includes the extra line_spacing that prevents them touching across. If the (quoted) 13,000km figure is accepted as close enough, that's over 3x109 lines of text, each expanding by (up to) the "fingernail growth" rate often described. That's a lot of compound extension going on.
The width is variable ('l' vs 'm'; then possible kerning of 'AV'- or 'rj'-like combinations vs 'AA' and 'rr', depending on font), so I don't really know where to start with the exact width-gain-per-line being mapped to characters (then to whole words that can be stocasticall inserted into the available new space). There are probably printers/publishers who have a good idea of how many pages some raw text (not yet actually suitably repaginated) actually might take up, at least to within the nearest quire. 11:41, 18 July 2023 (UTC)

Is it accurate to say it's a portmaneau of geology, hydrology and typography? Surely the geo- and hydro- could also be considered here to have come from the root words (the same way they have in geology and hydrology) because they're just adding scope to the -ography from typography, or rather specifying that it's typography involving *geo* and *hydro*. 06:41, 18 July 2023 (UTC)

It may see obvious to most, but I'd like to suggest a bit more literal explanation of the mechanics involved. It took me far too many readings, both of the comic and the explanation, to realize that the comic's "expansion of the ocean basin due to plate tectonics" is independent from the characters being "written" on the ocean. The word-wrap effects are just due to the existing rate of expansion due to plate tectonics. I was looking for some kind of typically Randallian closed loop (as in 688: Self-Description). Der57 (talk) 07:25, 18 July 2023 (UTC)

Why geology and hydrology when geography and hydrography are perfectly valid things? If it is a portmanteau, it could clearly be of three different "graphy" words.. 09:10, 18 July 2023 (UTC)

Agree Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 11:02, 18 July 2023 (UTC)
There's a difference between geology and geography. The root "-logy" being of knowledge, "-graphy" that of measurement and recording.
Very roughly, the first I'd consider covers what we know of the underlying plate techtonics/etc, whilst the latter is how people understand/use the surface (not necessarily the land); I think geology applies to the comic more than geography (certainly far from many of its more prominant subfields, such as political geography). Yes, there's overlaps (where physical geography derives from/demonstrates various direct aspect of surface geology), but I think I'd say geology is the prime driver here.
Hydrology vs hydrography, I'd skew the other way as far as relevence to the comic. It's the measure of the extent of the ocean rather than the understood movements of water (which, significantly to the layperson, includes aquifers and rivers and other land-observed watery analyses even more irrelevent to the hypothetical than that of the actual ocean currents which presumably Randall has no problem 'writing' over).
..if only I could think of a reason to choose "typology" over "typography", then I could really go for a more awkward interpretation of what the composite word construction should be rooted in. ;) 11:12, 18 July 2023 (UTC)
I don't think it's a portmanteau at all - rather, it's a neologism: the measurement and recording of text on the water surfaces of the earth. So there is no -ology or -graphy applicable to the component parts of the word; just one -graphy applied to the whole thing. (Also, it doesn't necessarily mean that he himself enjoys typing on the water - just that he likes studying / measuring it.) 16:14, 18 July 2023 (UTC)

Imho, this is some of Randall's finest work. In a very large portfolio of very fine work. Boatster (talk) 00:01, 19 July 2023 (UTC)

It took me a bit to realize that the width of the Atlantic doesn't matter. ~ Megan she/her talk/contribs 01:02, 20 July 2023 (UTC)

Well, it does if it approaches (<~2x?) the width of a single typical 12pt word. And further when it reduces down to demanding hyphens for the longest words. But, yes, such effects are so smeared out that there'd be a rare (non-zero) chance of re-wrapping making the rate increase go wild (and unusually static for a long while). 08:14, 20 July 2023 (UTC)
Since the width stays constant, we can ignore its size in area increase calculations. We also know the width of the Atlantic is huge compared with a 12pt word. ~ Megan she/her talk/contribs 15:19, 20 July 2023 (UTC)
Ummm... The point is that the width is not constant. It's increasing. But I thought you'd realised that the point was not the massive instantaneous width(s), as differently defined at different latitudes, 'merely' the imperceptible increases of width at all latitudes that sum together as being the space for the increasing number of words that would flow between these expanding margins. What we can ignore is how many actual words any actual full area will contain, we're looking at just the new words possible from just the new area (very very thin but very very tall) that's added. 15:32, 20 July 2023 (UTC)

For what it's worth, chatGPT4 says this. "The Atlantic Ocean is expanding at a rate of about 2.5 cm/year (or about 0.0000000794 miles/year) due to seafloor spreading along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Assuming this expansion is fairly evenly spread over the entire surface of the Atlantic Ocean, we can convert this to the equivalent in point size for the text, considering there are approximately 72 points to an inch, and one inch is approximately 2.54 cm. So, the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean in points per year would be approximately: 2.5 cm/year * (1 inch / 2.54 cm) * 72 points/inch ≈ 70.866 points/year For simplicity, let's assume each line of 12pt text is exactly 12pt high (though in reality it would be a bit more due to line spacing), and each line contains 10 words (as a rough average). So, each point of expansion would add about 10/12 = 0.833 words. Therefore, the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean in words per year due to seafloor spreading is approximately: 70.866 points/year * 0.833 words/point ≈ 59 words/year This is equivalent to: 59 words/year / (365.25 days/year * 24 hours/day * 60 minutes/minute * 60 seconds/second) ≈ 0.00000187 words/second So, with these assumptions and approximations, the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean due to plate tectonics might increase your word count by approximately 0.00000187 words per second. 18:49, 20 July 2023 (UTC)

"So, each point of expansion would add about 10/12 = 0.833 words." Meaning that, in 12pt text, a word is smaller than a letter? I think the pile (1838: Machine Learning) may need a bit more stirring. (Comment by someone who's better at catching GPT errors than knowing how to comment here; sorry if I did it wrong.) 17:00, 25 July 2023 (UTC)
(On the latter point, you replied close enough. Though could have use ~~~, giving (your version of) "", rather than trying to manually write in the timestamp to try to emulate the ~~~~, which gives the full signature aitomatically. I've put the full thing there, for you, and now here is my own... ;) 19:00, 25 July 2023 (UTC)

Took me a BIT to get this. I thought he was describing the comic, the 30-whatever words written on a MAP view, that their room would expand by 100 words, took me a bit of time to realize he meant on the real ocean, one inch of text covering 1 inch of real ocean. THAT I can believe. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:04, 22 July 2023 (UTC)