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Why Text Messages Are Only 160 Characters

The LA Times recently delved into the history of the text message -- specifically, why text messages are limited to 160 characters. The answer starts in Germany, in 1985, when researcher Friedhelm Hillebrand was thinking about adding a text messaging service to the nascent cellular telephone system. He typed various statements, questions, and brief messages on a typewriter. When he reviewed what he had typed, he saw a pattern: they all fit within 160 characters. Perhaps if he had been a more verbose writer, we'd have longer text messages today -- but no, Hillebrand was convinced that his short messages were just the right length. As the LA Times recounts it: "This is perfectly sufficient," he recalled thinking during that epiphany of 1985, when he was 45 years old. "Perfectly sufficient." Hillebrand started looking for a way to fit these "short messages" into the existing cell phone network...and the rest is history.

Read a bit more about the early days of SMS (Short Messaging Service):

Initially, Hillebrand's team could fit only 128 characters into that space, but that didn't seem like nearly enough. With a little tweaking and a decision to cut down the set of possible letters, numbers and symbols that the system could represent, they squeezed out room for another 32 characters.

Still, his committee wondered, would the 160-character maximum be enough space to prove a useful form of communication? Having zero market research, they based their initial assumptions on two "convincing arguments," Hillebrand said.

For one, they found that postcards often contained fewer than 150 characters.

Second, they analyzed a set of messages sent through Telex, a then-prevalent telegraphy network for business professionals. Despite not having a technical limitation, Hillebrand said, Telex transmissions were usually about the same length as postcards.

So did Hillebrand get rich from his invention? Not exactly. He's still working in mobile communications, and recently wrote a book (with a >$200 sticker price!) about his work on early cell phone networks.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user semarr, used via Creative Commons license.)

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Pop Culture
How to Perform the Star Wars Theme—On Calculators
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The iconic Star Wars theme has been recreated with glass harps, theremins, and even cat meows. Now, Laughing Squid reports that the team over at YouTube channel It’s a small world have created a version that can be played on calculators.

The channel’s math-related music videos feature covers of popular songs like Luis Fonsi’s "Despacito," Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You," and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, all of which are performed on two or more calculators. The Star Wars theme, though, is played across five devices, positioned together into a makeshift keyboard of sorts.

The video begins with a math-musician who transcribes number combinations into notes. Then, they break into an elaborate practice chord sequence on two, and then four, calculators. Once they’re all warmed up, they begin playing the epic opening song we all know and love, which you can hear for yourself in all its electronic glory below.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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Somnox, Kickstarter
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technology
This Cuddly Robot Is Designed to Lull You to Sleep
Somnox, Kickstarter
Somnox, Kickstarter

For people seeking all the benefits of a human sleeping companion without the human part, there’s a new Kickstarter-backed product. As Mashable reports, Somnox, the self-proclaimed “world’s first sleep robot,” is designed to give you a more comfortable, energizing night’s rest.

The bean-shaped cushion is the perfect size and shape for cuddling as you drift to sleep. Beneath its soft exterior is hardware designed to get you to deep sleep faster. Somnox rises and falls to mimic the movements of human breathing. Lay with the pillow long enough and the designers claim your breath will naturally sync to its rhythm, thus prepping your body for sleep.

Somnox can also be set to play sounds and music. Some content, like guided mediation, lullabies, and gentle heart beats, come built-in, but you can also upload audio of your own. And you don’t need to worry about shutting it off: Once you've customized its breathing and audio behaviors through the app, the device does what it's programed to do and powers down automatically.

Having a robotic sleep aide will cost you: You need to pledge about $533 to the team’s Kickstarter to reserve one. Even with the steep price tag, the campaign surpassed its funding goal.

[h/t Mashable]

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