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Characters, Symbols and the Unicode Miracle - Computerphile

Computerphile · Youtube · 16 HN points · 8 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Computerphile's video "Characters, Symbols and the Unicode Miracle - Computerphile".
Youtube Summary
Audible free book:
Representing symbols, characters and letters that are used worldwide is no mean feat, but unicode managed it - how? Tom Scott explains how the web has settled on a standard.

More from Tom Scott: and

Data Security:

This video was filmed and edited by Sean Riley.

Computerphile is a sister project to Brady Haran's Numberphile. See the full list of Brady's video projects at:
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this video.
Feb 09, 2022 · burtekd on How UTF-8 Works
I love Tom Scott's explanation of Unicode:
In that same vein, here's my introduction to Unicode about 10 years ago from Tom Scott.

poor man gave me and many others something like half of our introduction to computer science, but has gotten far more fame as the "emoji guy" for his repeated bouts with this particular part of unicode :)
That's more about the UTF-8 encoding than Unicode itself.
More or less same the story but in an explainer video:

'Characters, Symbols and the Unicode Miracle - Computerphile'

This video is fantastic, especially if you've never really understood how Unicode worked before. Keeps it simple and gets to the point.

I remember seeing this a couple of years ago and thinking "If only this existed when I learned about UTF-8, this would've saved me a lot of bad explanations and time".

This is now my goto-video if anyone asks me how Unicode works.

> This video is fantastic, especially if you've never really understood how Unicode worked before.

Can you people really learn things on videos? My brain sort of shuts down on audiovisual material, I can only really watch and understand light movies. For more complicated material, I can only learn it by reading. There's so much essential back and forth that is impossible on a video. With a text, you have everything already in front of you and your eyes and mind can wander freely. Maybe it's just me, but I really can't stand the fixed, inflexible rhythm that is imposed by listening to speech.

Have you tried taking notes?

Maybe a silly question, but I do this a lot when I'm trying to pick up technical information from a video or a presentation, and it seems to help not least because the result is a durable, textual reference that also can provide starting points for further research. Too, you can pause a video and add a timestamp to your notes as an indexing tool for review.

I do this with a pen and a notebook, not digitally. I don't know about the vaunted "writing by hand helps memories form" effect; I can't say I've observed a dramatic difference, but maybe that's just because I keep my work and technical notes close to hand and refer to them when I need them. That said, I do recommend paper notes over digital ones for stuff like this, if only for the sake of simplicity, reliability, and ease of use.

I also like text, but if you're genuinely asking, yes! Video evidently works great for a lot of people. You can't seek it as well as text, so instead rely on your memory more to remember things that are still unclear or don't make sense yet, and see when they are explained later.

It's okay to have different learning styles I think, it's not too surprising to me that some prefer different medium

It's precisely the seeking that kills me. The only interface for seeking a video is a tiny, one-dimensional bar. How do you remember exactly where the right information occurs? On the other hand, text is visible as a whole, and the "seeking" is two-dimensional. Much more efficient to seek. I have a good visual memory and I tend to remember exactly where on a page the formula that I want appears, and just glance away at it without moving any muscles other than my eyes. To seek a part on a video, the process is overwhelmingly more complicated. And then the place where I was before the seek is lost, and you have to seek for it again. Argh!

Thanks for the answer, it turns out that we people are wildly different to each other.

Video can have chapters too, but I generally agree. The ideal format is probably text with pictures, animations, interactive models... when needed. It's a real shame that we don't have an electronic document format...
It is really common that you read only a glimpse of the entire text and trick yourself to have understood it, only realizing that mistake later. In some sense the text gives you too much information that your brain can cause frame drop, that's something you should be aware when you read the text (you for example need to rephrase the understood text yourself). By comparison a well-paced video can give the exact amount of information you have to tinker before moving on. I do agree that a well-paced video is much rarer than a well-written text in the whole internet.
> trick yourself to have understood it, only realizing that mistake later.

Exactly. My point is that technical text is never read linearly (like a video). Reading is an active process, where you scan the whole page repeatedly for all the displayed formulas, then for apparitions on these formulas inside the text, then peek at the figure, then read some words in a paragraph while looking from time to time at the figure in case it is referenced by the text. After a few minutes you have grasped everything. At least this is how I read. Looking at a video is so passive and linear that you get bored after a few seconds.

Thank you! Frame-drop is a brilliant analogy.

It wasn’t until I started learning networking concepts from a third-level/college text book that I picked up in a second-hand shop that I realised how much my brain fools me into thinking I’m absorbing information encoded in words and diagrams. The end of each chapter had questions based on the material covered in that chapter and it was only while attempting to answer them that I realised how much I had thought I’d absorbed – but hadn’t.

When buying technical books, I now try to get ones that have questions or exercises at the end of each chapter. If not, I take notes while reading by attempting to summarise each section in my own words. Answering technical questions for other people is also a great way of consolidating knowledge and filling the gaps in my own understanding.

I also want to point out this classic, to better understand Unicode in general.
Something complementary -- because this article just takes a moment to talk about the different encoding schemes -- a wonderful, terse, very informative video describing how utf-8 encoding works and why (with a little history) by Tom Scott/Computerphile:
Oct 10, 2019 · janvdberg on UTF-8 history (2003)
Obligatory Computerphile link:
That is one of my all-time favorite youtube videos... This one, and a similar one on unicode[1], are my goto exhibits when I need to illustrate to a non-technical family member how much background complexity is involved in software


I would think the time zone example would go over better than Unicode, because it's less esoteric. Almost everybody deals with time zones at some point; not everybody deals with Unicode.
Surely they do. They're just not aware of it ;)

(Yes, yes, amounts to the same thing. Except when it breaks.)

I love Numberphile too and recently stumbled on Computerphile. The style is the same for both shows -- a passionate person explaining something reasonably complex. For instance, I like Computerphile's video on the evolution of character encoding and why UTF was developed.

Jan 30, 2014 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by shill
Oct 02, 2013 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by pjvds
Sep 24, 2013 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by petenixey
Sep 23, 2013 · 5 points, 0 comments · submitted by teej
Sep 23, 2013 · 5 points, 2 comments · submitted by austengary
Shameless self promotion. He is breathless that UTF-8 encoding was designed on the back of a napkin. Well it sure as h*ll should have been that simple and that quick. After all it merely applies an ancient principle that was used by Baudot encoding, BCD, ASCII, EBCDIC and even HDLC. Use special escape characters to change the meaning of the following codes for some number of bytes following.

Blehhh... UTF-8 is important but it is the natural evolution of Unicode. As soon as folks decided to have one standard encoding to be used for all of the glyphs used in all human languages, UTF-8 was inevitable.

This reminds me of when I invented RLE in 1978. Later in 1986 someone else patented it, and GIF format ended up being encumbered by these sort of patents for many years. Was I a genius? NO! RLE was obvious and many others also invented it. I expect that the first inventor was a typist back in the 1930s or even earlier, who would have used RLE as a way to write down the encoding of an ASCII art piece without revealing the image itself.

UTF-8 was hardly "inevitable". We could well have ended up with only UTF-16, or some other variable length encoding that doesn't share the nice properties of UTF-8. Don't get me wrong, UTF-8 is pretty simple, but it's still brilliant.

Also, can it still be self-promotion when you're not promoting yourself or your creations?

PS: If you think UTF-8 works purely by "special prefix characters" I advise you to read a touch more about it.

Sep 20, 2013 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by bjz_
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