Thinking about the square root of fuck all. Originally a Twitter thread, now also a blog post.

‘The square root of fuck all’ is a British phrase meaning ‘little or nothing’. Eg: “it was a paid gig, yes, but by the time I’d paid all the musicians plus covered travel and expenses I ended up with the square root of fuck all”.

The interesting question, for certain values of interesting, is which is bigger? The square root of fuck all, or fuck all?

As we shall see, this depends on how much fuck all is. Mathematicians among you, please move on. There is nothing to see here that you don’t already know. Your version of this thread post will probably be funnier, and also will star out the word ‘fuck’ so people can see it.

‘Fuck all’ is a British phrase meaning ‘little or nothing’. Eg: I wrote a whole thread post that repeatedly used the word ‘fuck’ so it won’t surprise me if it gets fuck all response.

The square root of a number is another number which, when multiplied by itself, results in the first number. For example the square root of 4 is 2, because 2*2=4. The square root of 25, similarly, is 5. And the square root of 0.25 is 0.5.

That last one seems counter-intuitive. How can the square root of a number be larger than the number you started with? Except it is. 0.5 times 0.5 is the same as half of 0.5, which is obviously 0.25. So the square root of 0.25 is 0.5.

Turns out the square root of any number less than 1 and greater than 0 is larger than the original number. Eg: the square root of 0.5 is roughly 0.7071067811865476, which, by coincidence, is roughly the amount of pennies that Spotify owe me for all-time streams of my music.

That’s the square root of fuck all, obviously. But it’s also, quite clearly, fuck all. This would imply that fuck all and the square root of fuck all were the same. Could we at last be getting some traction on our original question?

If X is the square root of fuck all, and Y is fuck all, but X=Y, then there are only two possible values for X and Y, which are zero and one. 1*1=1 and 0*0=0, which is to say, both fuck all and its square root are both either 0 or 1. Remind you of anything?

That’s right: binary: the base 2 number system that underlies all computing, from your mobile phone to your Mum’s laptop to the server hosting the website you are looking at now. In binary, all numbers are made up of either 0s or 1s.

In computing, all things - colours, images, audio files, accounts payable, minimum thresholds for payout, Spotify’s annual profit, Daniel Ek’s net worth, and so on - are represented under the hood by binary numbers. All made up of 0s and 1s. We call these 0s and 1s ‘bits’.

HOWEVER, it is also vitally important, in normal computing, that we know which bits are 0 and which bits are 1. You can’t have bits flipping between 0 and 1. Otherwise, a value of 00000001 might suddenly turn into 11111110, an increase from 1 to 254.

Interestingly, 1 to 254 is roughly the ratio between a median worker’s salary and a CEO’s salary in many parts of the world. So you can see why it’s so terribly important that the bits don’t flip.

In quantum computing, of course, which doesn’t exist yet, things are different. There, bits can be 0 or 1, but they can also be somewhere in between, aligned along a probability spectrum where you don’t know what the value of any particular bit is until you look at it.

The bits in quantum computing are all like Schrödinger’s cat, somehow both alive and dead simultaneously until you look in the box. This is why quantum computer programs are so hard to debug. I would not want to debug a program where all the bits were cats.

Does this shed any light on the relationship between fuck all and the square root of fuck all? If we consider these as being more like quantum bits, or as cats, if you will, then their values could be considered as probabilities somewhere in the range between 0 and 1.

If that is so, then the square root of fuck all, as we have seen, is definitely at least a little larger than fuck all, since the square root of a number between 0 and 1 is larger than the original number.

Speaking of original numbers, mine are both on Spotify and on Bandcamp. However, if you listen to them on Spotify, I get the square root of fuck all. Or fuck all. Whichever is smaller.

On Bandcamp, by contrast, I get an entirely different number, chosen by yourself. Zero is the lower bound (you can stream there for free if you like), but the upper bound is up to you.

So please - and not just for me, but for all the music you listen to - consider the Bandcamp option for your music streaming needs. Mine is on - and if your favourite musician is not on Bandcamp, ask them why they hate money.

PS: If you are still wondering about the cats, my apologies. They were a red herring.

PPS: Now the cats have a red herring they are happy. You can stop worrying about them. Here’s my bandcamp link again: