The other day, an alien being visited me at my house and asked to borrow my copy of the Encylopedia Britannica so he could take back all human knowledge to his planet. After a fruitless argument about whether the Encyclopedia Britannica constituted all human knowledge, I gave in and let him use the books. He put them in a machine which began to scan the pages very quickly.
Curious, I asked, "Is that machine recording the contents of the books?" He replied, "No, it's just translating the text into a form that can be easily stored on this," holding up what appeared to be an ordinary iron bar, like you could buy at any hardware store, about a foot long. "What's that?" I asked. He replied, "an ordinary iron bar, like you could buy at any hardware store."
The machine beeped, and he laid the bar flat onto a platform in it. A needle then scratched a small groove across the bar, across the shorter of the two dimensions. "Amazing", I said, "my people have technology to record information in a groove," holding up a 33rpm vinyl record ("The Doors" in case anyone is wondering) "but we could never encode nearly that much information in a groove that small." Examining the disk, the alien said, "I see, you encode information by varying the depth of the groove. That's not how we do it. The groove my machine placed in the bar has a perfectly uniform depth, width, and height, and it places a groove of the same dimensions every time I use it."
"How can you be sure it's uniform?" I asked, hoping to catch him off guard, as I was beginning to wonder whether he was a *real* alien, what with that Brooklyn accent and all. "Simple", he replied, "we have technology with vastly greater levels of precision than anything you humans have accomplished."
"So how did you encode the entire text of the Encyclopedia in it?" I asked.
He told me.
Question 1: What was his answer?
Question 2: Several days later, I realized that it would not be possible, according to the laws of physics as we now know them, to encode anything near the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in this method, and therefore, either he was a hoax, or one of the fundamental assumptions of physics is wrong. Why?
* Frank J. Perricone * firstname.lastname@example.org * fidonet#1:325/611 *
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