Schrödinger’s GIF

Let’s have a look at this this tweet from about two weeks ago:

Mom: Lemme answer your questions about life, baby 5YO: If no one’s there to see it, does a GIF keep moving? M: 5: M: Play your video game

Good Question! We can ask Schrödinger for help.

One can set up a common case: We have some thumbnails of GIF images on a website, for example a page that presents a GIF collection. One of those GIFs is opened in a new background browser tab by the user. We don’t know how the browser preferences have been set by the user. Thus, we cannot be sure whether the content in the new tab will already load in the background or just when the user switches to this tab. Furthermore, there is a chance that the image is not even an animated GIF. But perhaps it is. There is no way to determine which kind of GIF is opened in the background tab until it is opened. It is both possible that the image in the background tab has finished loading or has not even started to load.

So, we have a GIF opened in a tab, but no knowledge about its animation status. We can resolve this by a direct observation and open the background tab and see if the GIF is animated. But until then the parameters are uncertain and therefore the GIF animation is both playing and not playing (just like Shrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive).

On top of that, the state of the GIF animation is distorted by our observation process. When we open the tab that before was only in the background, its state might change. According to the browser preferences it may be loading only when it is opened or beforehand (or never, e.g. when the URL is on a blacklist). When the tab is opened, it starts loading (if it isn’t already fully loaded). And we can not directly observe the loading state it had as a background tab, we can only assume it from our observation of the now opened tab.

So, next time when you want to practice some philosophy or brain acrobatics, just open a GIF in a new background tab.



Statistics and Procrastination

Recently, I had a lot of stuff to do for various research and other projects and unfortunately this will go on for some time. So, the article ratio in this blog will stay at a moderate level for some weeks, sorry.

But luckily there’s procrastination!

Sitting in the library, reading and writing stuff may cause some damage in your head eventually and even staring out the window won’t be a cure then. So I ended up typing stuff into search engines. And I thought it might be interesting to look for “GIF” in Google’s Ngram Viewer. This entertained me for some time and brought my sanity back to an almost normal level (believe it or not).

Right now I don’t have the time to analyse the graphs in detail, I regret. But hey, at least here is an overview on how often the word GIF appears in Google’s scanned book corpora of several languages. I also looked for APNG and MNG in English books. You will notice that, even before the invention of the file format in 1987, the graphs are slightly above zero. The explanation for that is simple. Of course, “graphics interchange format” is not the only possible solution for the abbreviation “GIF”. Some other incidents, I stumble upon from time to time, are Gif-sur-Yvette, a municipality near Paris, the German “Gesellschaft für Interdisziplinäre Forschung” and “German Israeli Research Foundation”, as well as the “Glucocorticoid Increasing Factor”, the “Neuronal Growth Inhibitory Factor” and the “Gastric Intrinsic Factor Gene“. So, if you’ll ever search for literature about GIFs, beware of those :)

Ok. Now for the statistics! Maybe I will have a more detailed look on them later. Remember that these graphs only show trends for books and don’t cover online usage!





Chinese – You might wonder why I searched for “GIF” instead of the chinese glyph. Well, because I don’t know it, of course. But even the chinese version of Wikipedia uses the latin alphabet for it.




French – The high percentage of “Gif”, even before the 90s, may relate to Gif-sur-Yvette


Russian – I also included ГИФ and ДЖИФ as cyrillic alternatives. Honestly, I have no clue what “Гиф” means or if it is a proper russian word at all, but the phrase seems to be not as popular now as some years ago. Actually, the downward trend became serious right when GIFs became popular. Note that there are no results for “ДЖИФ”, which is read as “jiff”.


And English again, but this time for APNG and MNG. APNG seems to be an almost unique ETLA, but MNG refers to a lot of stuff.



My humble tribute to APNG

based on "Big Buck Bunny"
based on “Big Buck Bunny

As mentioned before, APNGs are still hard to find and we need to create more of them ourselves. So I tried something. All three of them are based on Creative Commons or Public Domain content (for sources follow the links under the thumbnails) and therefore free to use, of course. Just click on the thumbnails on the right to watch them in full size.

based on "Tears of Steel"
based on “Tears of Steel

sidenote: WordPress prevents me (probably by accident) from embedding animated PNGs directly in the article. To be more specific: If I do so, they are shown as a still image, but not as an animation. The reason is that the width and height of the image are automatically added as an attribute right behind the file url, for example “animation.png?w=500”.

based on serial photography by Eadweard Muybridge
based on serial photography by Eadweard Muybridge

This way, Firefox doesn’t seem to be able to interpret the PNG as an APNG and the animation is gone. And I can’t do anything to avoid that. So I chose the ugly way and embed them only as thumbnails, so the animation will appear when the images are opened in full size. Better than nothing.
Or does somebody know a workaround?

edit [2015/01/05]: Almost forgot to name the image sources.