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When Will URL Shorteners Run Out of Links?

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More than 250 million messages are tweeted daily. Approximately 290,000 status updates are posted to Facebook every minute. And who knows the number of instant messages that contain hyperlinks. Probably a lot.

One thing is for certain: A good number of those hyperlinks aren't in their original form. Thanks to URL shortening services, such as lnk.co and TinyURL, what's normally 56 characters in length for a YouTube clip can be cut down to 20, omitting all kinds of URL clutter from your Gchat message boxes and leaving plenty more room for commentary in your tweets.

But with all this link-sharing activity happening at lightning-fast rates and on ever-expanding platforms, how is it possible for these URL shortening services to keep up?

Considering most of these services say their links never expire (and, thus, cannot be recycled), they're bound to run out of character suffix combinations, right? Are URL shorteners soon to become less shortened? What's going to happen? Do aliens exist on earth? Did I forget to take my meds again?

The brainiacs behind the URL shrinking machine bitly were kind enough to answer the first question in that series. Even with 100 million shortened links saved per day and, so far, over 25 billion bitly links created since the company's 2008 inception, they don't seem to be sweating the issue:

"Bitly uses a six-character hash. Since they are alpha-numeric, each character in the hash can be A through Z, a through z, or 0 through 9. In total, there are 62 different character possibilities (26 for lower case alphabet, 26 for uppercase alphabet, and 10 for numbers). The total number of possible bitly links is thus 62 to the 6th power, which is 56,800,235,584."
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"If we ran out of hash space, which we hope happens (it means we're super popular), we would simply add an additional letter to the hash. Seven letters would result in a hash space of 62 to the 7th power: 3,521,614,606,208!"

Tweetburner, a smaller shortening service based in the Netherlands, sees roughly seven percent of their links get broken within 500 days. So they have the possibility to re-use them, but there's a bigger reason they won't max out on link combinations. "If you look at Twitter, they also shorten other shortened URLs," says Tweetburner's Maurice Beckand Verwee. "I think they together with Facebook have the biggest challenge to keep up with the shortened links."

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What is Duck Sauce?
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A plate of Chinese takeout with egg rolls and duck sauce
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We know that our favorite Chinese takeout is not really authentically Chinese, but more of an Americanized series of menu options very loosely derived from overseas inspiration. (Chinese citizens probably wouldn’t recognize chop suey or orange-glazed chicken, and fortune cookies are of Japanese origin.) It would also be unusual for "real" Chinese meals to be accompanied by a generous amount of sauce packets.

Here in the U.S., these condiments are a staple of Chinese takeout. But one in particular—“duck sauce”—doesn’t really offer a lot of information about itself. What exactly is it that we’re pouring over our egg rolls?

Smithsonian.com conducted a sauce-related investigation and made an interesting discovery, particularly if you’re not prone to sampling Chinese takeout when traveling cross-country. On the East Coast, duck sauce is similar to sweet-and-sour sauce, only fruitier; in New England, it’s brown, chunky, and served on tables; and on the West Coast, it’s almost unheard of.

While the name can describe different sauces, associating it with duck probably stems from the fact that the popular Chinese dish Peking duck is typically served with a soybean-based sauce. When dishes began to be imported to the States, the Americanization of the food involved creating a sweeter alternative using apricots that was dubbed duck sauce. (In New England, using applesauce and molasses was more common.)

But why isn’t it easily found on the West Coast? Many sauce companies are based in New York and were in operation after Chinese food had already gained a foothold in California. Attempts to expand didn’t go well, and so Chinese food aficionados will experience slightly different tastes depending on their geography. But regardless of where they are, or whether they're using the condiment as a dipping sauce for their egg rolls or a dressing for their duck, diners can rest assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of their duck sauce.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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