THE ANSWER TO LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING
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AN ESSAY ON 256000 BIT ARITHMETICS
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HOW TO WIN THE NOBEL PRIZE IN ALL FIELDS OF SCIENCE & NONSCIENCE
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A SHORT JOURNEY INTO THE LOGICS OF ANNIHILATOLOGY
by Richard Karsmakers
The whole idea behind this article and the corresponding program
(called "42.PRG", source file called "42.S"; both present in the
"PROGRAMS" folder) actually came up when we were lying in a £60
hotel room in London, during the by now famous "LateST NEWS
Some people will discard it as nonsense.
Some people, on the other hand, will regard it to be the most
significant breakthrough since the invention of the wheel, the
discovery of fire or even the design of the digital watch.
Just imagine the following.
The screen of the Atari ST, in monochrome mode, is 640 times 400
pixels in size. That's 32000 bytes of screen memory - so that's
256000 bits (each pixel is a bit). On that screen, you can
display quite a lot of pictures. To be more precise: 2 to the
power of 256000.
Now, this number is quite difficult to comprehend. When compared
with it, even the total number of atoms in the entire universe
seems to be absurdly small. Any number seems really small.
Imagine a number that is about 10 DIN A4 pages large when
printed out (using 'condensed' printing at 120 CPL): That's as
near as you will get. It's just about 75,000 digits in size. To
compare: The distance from earth to the sun is only less than 10
digits in size when measured in kilometres - and only ten or so
digits longer when measured in a much smaller unit.
The total number of seconds an average human lives is also about
10 digits, and the total number of atoms in the universe about 20
(maybe more...let's say 30).
Whatever you try to visualise: This number, 2 to the power of
256000, is huge.
Now for the nice bit
Let me put it even more radical.
We already came to the conclusion that many pictures are
possible on the ST. But just imagine what is possible there -
what will be on those pictures.
There will be screenshots of ALL games and other software
packages ever launched or that will ever be launched on any
computer system with an indentical or lower screen resolution,
with all animation sequences possible - and even combinations of
all of these products. There will be digitized pictures of every
human on this earth in every possible (and impossible) pose with
every possible set of clothes (or parts thereof) with all other
combinations of all other humans, non-humans, animals and extra-
terrestrial lifeforms possible. There will be variously styled
artistic (and non-artistic) impressions of every countryside,
object or whatever as drawn by every human being, monkey, animal
or extra-terrestrial lifeform existent or non-existent. There
will be a screenshot of level 66 of "Gridrunner" and pictures of
Napoleon on Pluto (now that's something else than Elba), Pope
John Paul II wearing casual clothes (or any other pope alive,
dead, or even not yet born), Metallica wearing Dutch folk-clothes
performing the Albanian anthem using sitars, bagpipes and bongos,
Atilla the Hun playing "Bubble Bobble" with Florence Nightengale
on a Casio FX-82 calculator, the boy next door shaving his legs
with a Samurai sword, Cronos Warchild nursing Arnold
Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, a picture of yourself sitting
behind an Amiga (bwaaaaarrggghh!) in all possible poses, a
picture of the most beautiful woman (or man) ever to be created
in the entire universe (according to anyone's personal taste!)
and every other crazy thing that anyone's twisted mind can
possibly come up with.
Also, the screen will at certain times display all excerpts of
all novels, poems, user manuals or any other piece of literature
and non-literature ever written (or not yet written) in all
languages using all possible (and impossible) fonts/character
sets ever designed - in all sizes.
Now, we have arrived at the interesting bit.
At a certain time, the screen will display the manuscript of
Newton's gravity laws and of all of Einstein's theories.
And....it will also (at a certain moment) contain the formulae
that form the Grand Unified Theory, the answer to Life, the
Universe and Everything (also the question), a formula of the
drug that will help to cure AIDS (as well as a perfect screenplay
on how to contract this disease to check it), the perfect
loveletter that will persuade any member of the opposite sex, the
reason why the Dinosaurs became extinct, an explanation of where
the Universe came from, the address of God, the name of some
obscure island where the Dodo still lives, a complete map of the
DNA structure of each organic lifeform existent (or non-existent)
anywhere in the known (and un-known) Universe, the address of
every single interesting person in the world (Brooke Shields,
Yngwie Malmsteen, Samantha Fox, the ST NEWS editorial staff),
blueprints of every machine ever designed or to be designed
(including that 4096-bit processor based machine you always
wanted and that simply offers everything you always wanted), the
date on which World War III will start, and quite a lot more.
A Minor Mishap
There is a flaw to this theory, however.
In between the enormous giga-tetra-mega-billio-tera-ultra-super
amount of useful things, there will be an even MORE giga-tetra-
mega-billio-tera-ultra-super amount of totally useless things.
Like an unimaginably large number of WRONG formulae that comprise
the Grand Unified Theory, or the wrong chemical formula of the
substance that will cure AIDS (as well as an incredible number of
wrong screenplays on how to contract it that have to do with
exchanging lightbulbs, sitting on dirty toilet seats and being
stung by overzealous gnats).
I can go even further: If mankind would ever be able to display
all screens possible and check the validity of its contents, one
will also eventually know EVERYTHING. So, in the case of serious
diseases, if no valid cure is ever put on the screen, there quite
simply is none. If you've checked all the addresses where the
screens told you where God lives and you haven't found Him, this
means that He has either moved to one of the addresses you've
checked earlier, or that He is non-existent as well (this is also
valid for Brooke Shields, Yngwie Malmsteen, Samantha Fox and the
ST NEWS editorial staff).
Pump up the Volume
And that's just the graphical bit.
As you will probably know, you can sample sound on the ST. And
it's logical to assume that EVERY sound (or piece of music) that
fits into 32 Kb of memory (the 256000 bits, remember?) will be
present as well - on every decent (and less decent) sampling
All pieces of music (single channels, multi channels, baroque,
classical, hard core, Stock-Aitken-Waterman, Heavy Metal, etc.)
will be present - even the music that yet has to be written and
that will hit the charts on July 13th 3452 on the planet Ambulor
Eight (providing that this planet actually exists and that
mankind hasn't found ways to obliterate the universe by then).
So, basically, all a modern composer would need would be a
computer, some digi-play software, and the program "42.PRG".
Sooner or later he would create something that EVERYBODY will
like. He would become so rich that he could never ever in his
life spend all the money. There might then in fact be one number
in the entire universe bigger than his bank account contents: The
number 2 to the power of 256000.
But, then again, he will make quite a lot of stuff NOBODY will
like, too (to be placed in the same category as Stock-Aitken-
Waterman stuff, of course).
And, just imagine: At a reasonable sampling rate, you can have
about ten songs of Napalm Death there as well...
Not only sound can be sampled: Speech can be recorded as well.
So you will probably get excerpts of all the literature meant
earlier read to you, as well as all other possible combinations
of all words in all languages processed through any speech rape
module you can imagine (and even those you can't imagine). The
computer will probably also launch all the worst curses at you,
as well as MUCH more.
And those were just the graphical and sound bits.
In theory (and in practise as well), the actual programs that
you execute can also be 32000 bytes in length. So, apart from the
enormously incomprehensible amount of pictures and digitized
sounds, those 32000 bytes can also comprise literally ANY program
that would fit in that space.
Small shoot-'em-up games that redefine programming knowledge.
Parts of a game that, when put together in the right order, will
comprise a massive game for every computer system on the market
(as well as those not quite yet on the market). Handy utilities
that will allow you to calculate precisely what 2 to the power of
256000 is. A program that compresses 75% off your files.
Maybe there will also be a program that removes all borders and
scrolls the WHOLE screen while playing a game, or a virus that
will write through the write-protect.
Then again, maybe not.
But you can rest assure that any program that will not be
present in due time, will be IMPOSSIBLE to program.
And I am not even talking about compressed versions of much
larger programs. Programs of up to about 100 Kb can then be
present on those screens - which kinda increases the enormous
But we come back soon to the one, rather enormous, flaw in this
For most of the graphics will look rather nonsensical, most of
the music will sound inaudible, and most of the programs created
with it will probably end up with a TOS Error 33.
This will, thus, call into life a new science.
Since all scientists will probably refrain from finding things
out for themselves from the invention of this program on, they
will have to check everything that appears on the screen. Check
whether you can really cure AIDS by eating an apple. Check
whether God really lives on Downing Street 10. Check whether one
plus one really makes four. Check whether Metallica actually
plays sitars and bongos. Check whether all those formulae slammed
on the screen at a certain time really comprise the Grand Unified
So these scientists will be permanently busy with the
annihilation of non-valid screens, sounds, and programs.
I would also like to add that the only number bigger than 2 to
the power of 256000 will be the years needed to annihilate all
So we have the super-exclusive honour of hereby offering you the
program "42.PRG". The answer to Life, the Universe and
Unfortunately, it's also all the wrong answers to Life, the
Universe and Everything (like Two Metric Tons, Wednesday, Three,
That Door Down Yonder, Michael Jackson, Forty-one, My
Greatgranddad's Cousin, Try Your Left Small Toe, Very Splattered,
Just Under That Mutant Mushroom, Why Don't You Use Stefan's
Smelly Socks And You'll Find Out, etc.).
But we have still found it necessary to write this seemingly
miraculous program. Stefan did all of the coding, and from the
source file you should at least be able to learn the principles
of 256000 bit arithmatics.
So this article might turn out not to be totally useless after
Just consider yourself lucky that we didn't have an ATW here
(with a resolution of 1280 by 980....2 to the power of 1254400).
Thanks to Robert van Engelen for calculating the exact number of
2 to the power of 256000 and its exact length. A program with
which high powers can be calculated (written by him) can be found
in the "PROGRAMS" folder and is called "POWER.S" (for "DevPac").
A Basic version was also written but not included on this disk
since it would take 88 days to calculate our magic number using
that (interpreter version).
With Robert's machine code program, calculating 2 to the power
of 256000 took just under six hours and resulted in a figure
77064 digits long. The result of this calculation is stored in
the "PROGRAMS" folder as well (in a 50% compressed file), and is
called "POWER.DAT". It can be put on printer or screen using the
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.