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    How the 'Top Gun' Twitter Crashed and Burned

    Written by

    Michael Byrne


    The Twitter account @555uhz was/is a script that posted sequential stills of the major motion picture Top Gun every half hour on the :15 and :45s. The twice-an-hour rate of posting is the account's title: .000555 frames per second is .000555 Hertz is 555 microHertz (uHz). It was a flipbook: spool up and down the account at about 24 frames per second (the typical framerate of a movie and the rate at which human eyes cease perceiving blackness in between frames) and you would kinda-sorta be watching the movie, at least a muted version of it in segments whose lengths are subject to how much of the account you have loaded in your browser. More likely, you'd be beginning to wonder what watching a movie even is.

    When we checked in last weekend, the account was about a quarter of the way through the movie (1,400 frames of around 6,600 frames, based on one-ish samples per second). As I was writing my original post about 555uhz, which was mostly me being impressed with my bare minimum unit/math knowledge, sporadic frames/posts from the account were being gutted: “Media not displayed: This image has been removed in response to a complaint from the copyright holder.”

    Three days ago, the account got the full-on freeze from Twitter and there have been no new posts. Much of the film is still intact on @555uhz and, with it, that mild brain game at the root of the account about turning a social media service into a de facto video player. Looking at Top Gun one second samples is also just kind of fun and disorienting and, wow, what a ridiculous movie ostensibly made for adults.

    The proprietor of the account was pretty easy to find. Replying to the @555uhz’s very first tweet you’ll find this:  

    @ra is programmer/engineer Ramsey Nasser, who told me last week: “@555uhz totally started with the realization of ‘I could tweet a movie’ and not a whole lot more,” and “I am not 100 percent what I want to do next with this or other bots” following the Paramount Pictures copyright takedown. Nasser’s also responsible for @everyunicode, tasked with tweeting every single character in the Unicode 6.2 Standard. At a rate of two per hour, that task should be finished in 2076.

    @555uhz’s Top Gun project, barring copyright intervention, could have gone on for years with a different sampling rate. As it is, Nasser sampled the film at one frame per second, vs. the usual 24 frames per second. At the latter rate, @555uhz would have nearly half million frames to tweet vs. the 6,600 generated by 1 fps sampling. It’s the difference between years and months.

    “My original intent was to tweet every frame,” Nasser told me, “but that would have taken years. I am not opposed to long running bots, but I already have @everyunicode that will be running for about 60 years, and I wanted the ability to load in another movie once Top Gun finished within a reasonable amount of time. So, 1fps is the framerate that is slow enough to capture the entire movie, but fast enough to finish in less than a year.”

    Daniel Nazer, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told me yesterday that Nasser's project is clearly within the bounds fair use. "It is entirely non-commercial and it seems very unlikely someone would follow that account as a substitute for watching the actual movie (both important factors for a fair use analysis)," he said. "It's unfortunate that the studio is trying to shut down an interesting artistic project that causes them no harm. In fact, it only helps promote interest in the original movie."

    That's just it. @555uhz is an art project. No one is really watching this movie in any way approaching what Paramount's definition of "watching a movie" could possibly be. It's an experiment, a cool way of reframing how we think about watching movies (which is only good for movies). It's one of those many situations in which it'd be nice to see a copyright owner just be an adult about something. 

    In the meantime, we still have the slow flicker of @everyunicode to see us through. Check this out: ㈻​.

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