Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Lunar Eclipse Defined by Wikipedia

In cel­e­bra­tion of today’s lunar eclipse, Google‘s logo fea­tures an ani­mat­ed moon.  When you click through, as usu­al, you get a page of relat­ed search results.

A lit­tle while ago, one of the top results includ­ed a sur­pris­ing def­i­n­i­tion of “lunar eclipse” from Wikipedia:

Accord­ing to Wikipedia:

Lunar eclipse: A lunar eclipse is when the moon turns black and explodes, releas­ing a poi­so­nous gas, killing all of human­i­ty.  Of course this can occur only when the Sun, …

The page had already been cor­rect­ed by the time I saw it.  But the false def­i­n­i­tion was appar­ent­ly cached and show­ing up in Google’s search results, until a lit­tle while ago.

I love Wikipedia. But it’s still fun­ny.

Check out the page devot­ed to Google Doo­dles.

Synthetic Biology Conference

Feb. 3-4, 2011 – Syn­thet­ic Biol­o­gy con­fer­ence held at Google’s Wash­ing­ton, D.C. offices

I am par­tic­i­pat­ing in a syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy con­fer­ence called “Here Be Drag­ons: Gov­ern­ing a Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly Uncer­tain Future.” 

Stel­lar cast of speak­ers from sci­ence AND sci­ence fic­tion:  Drew Endy, Andrew Hes­sel, George Church, Robert J. Sawyer, Neal Stephen­son, Bruce Ster­ling, Robert Wright, and many more!

Part of the Future Tense series, the event is co-sponsored by Slate mag­a­zine, Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty, and the New Amer­i­ca Foun­da­tion, and will explore gov­er­nance issues sur­round­ing new, rapidly-developing fields of sci­ence.

How do we pro­ceed when we have no maps for the­se unex­plored ter­ri­to­ries?


Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 3, 2011 – 8:30am – Fri­day, Feb­ru­ary 4, 2011 – 1:30pm

Google, DC
1101 New York Avenue, N.W.
Wash­ing­ton, DC 20005 

Hi-Tech Magic Teaser

At the end of the Sifta­bles ses­sion, I met Seth Raphael (also here), who was sit­ting two seats over from me.  We also hap­pen to be shar­ing a stage togeth­er tonight at the LateTech event – I’ll be doing sci­ence com­e­dy and Seth presents “a new tech­no­log­i­cal mag­ic show.”

In the three or four min­utes we spoke, Seth gave me an absolute­ly amaz­ing demon­stra­tion of his abil­i­ties.

He told me that when top hats and hand­ker­chiefs were in style magi­cians devel­oped pre­sen­ta­tions mak­ing use of them.  But they are no longer in style.  So, as a mod­ern magi­cian, he draws from more mod­ern mate­ri­als.

His demon­stra­tion involved a Google search that I defined.

He asked me to type two ran­dom words into the search field but not to hit Enter yet.  I typed “turtle opin­ion.”  He sug­gest­ed I add a third word because my two words were going to gen­er­ate too many hits.  I added “can­dy.”

He jot­ted some­thing down on a piece of scratch paper that I pro­vid­ed.

Then he asked me to hit Enter on my Google search and, as I did, he quick­ly put his paper face­down.   He esti­mat­ed that it took him about a third of a sec­ond to do so.  The Google search took slight­ly less time.

Now here’s the amaz­ing part:

Seth had writ­ten down on the piece of paper the num­ber 2,510,001.

Google returned 2,510,000 results.

Then, appar­ent­ly off the top of his head, he typed in a url at that he claimed is the one result/page that Google missed.

And, as a bonus, there was anoth­er num­ber that he’d first writ­ten and then scratched out…  it was 3,540,000.  And, when we removed “can­dy” from the search, so that it was sim­ply on “turtle opin­ion,” that was exact­ly how many results the search returned.

How did he do it?

I can’t wait to see what else he has up his vir­tu­al sleeve.


Odyssey Moon Eyes Lunar X Prize

Odyssey Moon is mak­ing a bid for the Google Lunar X Prize:


From their web­site:

Odyssey Moon is the first team to com­plete reg­is­tra­tion for the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE com­pe­ti­tion. The com­pa­ny made its first pub­lic debut on Decem­ber 6th, 2007, at the Space Invest­ment Sum­mit in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, unveil­ing its plans to make his­to­ry with the first pri­vate robot­ic mis­sion to the sur­face of the Moon and win the Google Lunar X PRIZE. The inau­gu­ral Odyssey Moon mis­sion will involve a unique small robot­ic lan­der designed to deliv­er sci­en­tific, explo­ration and com­mer­cial pay­loads to the sur­face of the Moon.

Good luck! The more the mer­ri­er!

There’s a pro­mo video on their web­site but a longer ver­sion is avail­able on YouTube:


And the X PRIZE Foundation’s own video from last year explains their “incen­tivized com­pe­ti­tion,” inspired by the $25,000 Orteig Prize which Charles Lind­bergh won for the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris:


Science Foo Camp 2008: Chapter 2 – The Hotel

The Sci­Foo expe­ri­ence begins before the first ses­sion – even before we get to the Google­plex (Get thee to the Google­plex!).

There was the Wiki, as pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed, for first vir­tu­al encoun­ters.  Then Sci­Foo week­end arrived.

On Fri­day after­noon, my taller half and I checked into the Wild Palms Hotel in Sun­ny­vale.  Sad­ly, jeal­ous­ly, Tara would not be join­ing me at the uncon­fer­ence.  As I frol­icked at the vast Google empire, she’d be get­ting to know every square inch of our lit­tle hotel room.  Where­as I’d be inter­act­ing with 200 sci­en­tists and sci­ence and sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers, she’d be inter­fac­ing with a stack of sci­ence and sci­ence fic­tion books.  I’d have Neal Stephen­son; she’d have The Dia­mond Age.  I’d have Ann Druyan; she’d have Shad­ows of For­got­ten Ances­tors.

Shut­tles would begin fer­ry­ing campers to the Google­plex around 5:15pm.  Tara and I went down to the hotel lob­by a lit­tle ear­ly to join the gath­er­ing crowd.  We round­ed a cor­ner and bumped right into Esther and George Dyson, sit­ting exact­ly as cap­tured here in their nat­u­ral habi­tat by Bet­sy Devine.  They were very sweet and wished us first-timers a great expe­ri­ence.

Min­utes lat­er, Prab­hat Agar­wal intro­duced him­self.  Prab­hat is a for­mer condensed-matter physi­cist who now works for the Future and Emerg­ing Tech­nolo­gies Unit at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.  His job is to iden­ti­fy and sup­port new areas of information-related sci­ence, and he told us about his per­son­al inter­est in how we rec­og­nize some­thing as new.  I’m still con­vinced that we rely most­ly on the new-concept smell.

Jim Hardy has a pic from a few min­utes lat­er of Tara and me talk­ing to Bri­an Cox and his wife Gia Mili­novich.  Tara and Gia are in oppo­si­tion, and I’m near­ly total­ly eclipsed by Bri­an.  John Gilbey’s left eye makes a spe­cial uncred­it­ed appear­ance.  [Jim sends along this link to a big­ger ver­sion]

This was the first of sev­er­al con­ver­sa­tions I’d have with Bri­an and Gia.  Bri­an is a par­ti­cle physi­cist who works on the ATLAS exper­i­ment at the Large Hadron Col­lid­er at CERN in Geneva.  Gia calls her­self a sci­ence groupie and broad­cast­er.  She’s worked on some pret­ty cool stuff like the CERN pod­cast and Walk­ing with Robots and the new X-Files movie.

They are not only a cou­ple but also a cou­ple of the peo­ple I’d see the most through­out the week­end.  We end­ed up in a lot of the same ses­sions, although I was sor­ry to miss Brian’s LHC ses­sion.

We talked a bit about the LHC and laughed about the well-publicized fear that it would cre­ate micro-black holes that would destroy the Earth.  Although there is a chance that MBH’s will be cre­at­ed, it would require that the uni­verse con­tain a few extra unseen dimen­sions, an aspect that is wished for by string the­o­rists and oth­ers but still unproven (at least by us ter­rans in our local 4-dimensional space­time realm).  Also, if cre­at­ed, the black holes would be so small and like­ly dis­ap­pear so quick­ly (due to Hawk­ing Radi­a­tion) that they may be unde­tectable by the LHC’s sen­sors.  A far cry from devour­ing the plan­et.

For an excel­lent fic­tion­al treat­ment of a sim­i­lar cat­a­stro­phe on Mars, check out Lar­ry Niven’s Hugo Award-winning short sto­ry, The Hole Man.  Much fun!

A few min­utes before we start­ed board­ing the shut­tles, Steve Goldfin­ger intro­duced him­self to me and Tara.  He lives up in the Mar­in area, as I recall, and we live in SF.  Steve is co-founder of Glob­al Foot­print Net­work.  We sat togeth­er on the ride to the Google­plex, dis­cussing sus­tain­abil­i­ty (his field) and sci­ence com­e­dy (mine).

Steve also men­tioned hav­ing been impressed with some sci­ence fic­tion by Kim Stan­ley Robin­son – although we laughed when he acci­den­tal­ly called him “Kim Stan­ley Ander­sen,” which I sug­gest­ed was a mash-up with Hans Chris­tian Ander­sen.

I don’t know which Robin­son work he was talk­ing about but sus­tain­abil­i­ty was a major the­me (which it often is for Robin­son) and it was not the Mars Tril­o­gy (per­haps the Three Cal­i­for­ni­as Tril­o­gy or his most recent nov­els Forty Signs of Rain and Fifty Degrees Below).

As we arrived at Google, Steve and I exchanged busi­ness cards.  I had a great time chat­ting with him, but after we left the shut­tle, I only ever saw him in pass­ing per­haps once more.

Tara reads Niven & Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye. On the night­stand: Asimov's The God's Them­selves, Sagan & Druyan's Shad­ows of For­got­ten Ances­tors, Farmer's To Your Scat­tered Bod­ies Go, Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight. Tara is a vora­cious read­er.

Science Foo Camp 2008 on Nature Podcast

While at Sci­ence Foo Camp 2008, I grabbed a few quick inter­views for the Nature pod­cast, which was post­ed today on  Just a few sound­bites from atten­dees David Bauer, Bri­an Cox, Chris Patil, and Mar­t­in Rees. And a shout out to me.

It’s the lat­est episode so, for now, you can find it here.  When it gets moved to the archive, I’ll link to its per­ma­nent loca­tion.*

Thanks to every­one who took the time to speak to me!

* Update:  Here’s the pod­cast episode (21 August 2008) in mp3.  And also a text tran­scrip­tion.

Science Foo Camp 2008: Chapter 1 – The Wiki & What I Missed

[I’ve made one pre­vi­ous Sci­Foo post, in antic­i­pa­tion (and trep­i­da­tion) of the approach­ing week­end.]

Where to begin? How to cap­ture the essence of such an over­whelm­ing expe­ri­ence? Nature! O’Reilly! The Google­plex! 200 cer­ti­fied sci­ence genius­es! No less than four (4) Nobel Lau­re­ates! And oth­er incom­plete sen­tences!

By design, Sci­ence Foo Camp has no real agen­da until we get there and cre­ate it, and even then, it’s com­plete­ly flex­i­ble. But, about three months in advance, a wiki was estab­lished for every­one to post to with descrip­tions of our­selves and ideas for ses­sions we’d like to see or lead. This was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn a lit­tle bit about our fel­low campers and to be that much more pre­pared by the time we got there, since time would be so pre­cious.

[Note to Lee Smolin: I’m not sure about the rest of the Uni­verse but, at Sci­Foo, the flow of time is very real and very fast.]

If you ever get the chance to attend Sci­Foo, take advan­tage of the wiki. Start ear­ly. Most of the campers post­ed brief bios with their areas of research and inter­ests and links to home­pages, blogs, com­pa­nies, and orga­ni­za­tions.  For the ones that didn’t, there’s Google.  If they’re at Sci­Foo, you won’t have any trou­ble find­ing ’em. Most of them have Wikipedia entries.

My only wish for “improv­ing” the amaz­ing crea­ture that is Sci­Foo would be to length­en it just a bit. I want more!  Per­haps extend the Fri­day and Sun­day to full days. Give us just a lit­tle extra time to take it all in. There are so many fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple, so many intrigu­ing ses­sions.  There’s no way to meet every­one or attend every ses­sion you’d like. With as many as four­teen (14!) simul­ta­ne­ous ses­sions in each hour time slot, no mat­ter how much you expe­ri­ence, there’s still a sense that you missed out on a lot of cool stuff.

Of course, even if it were a week long, I’m sure I’d feel the same.

Betsy Devine\'s morning session

For the first ses­sion of the week­end, I missed Carl Diet­rich’s “Ener­gy for Long Dis­tance Trans­porta­tion” because I want­ed to catch Bet­sy Devine’s “5-minute Talks by Smart Peo­ple About Web 2.0 Tools for Sci­ence” (fea­tur­ing Tim O’Reilly, Esther Dyson & Anne Woj­ci­cki, Chris Ander­son, Barend Mons, and Vic­to­ria Stod­den).

And I missed Carl again, for the last ses­sion of the week­end, when he talked about his fly­ing car, because I want­ed to see Broth­er Guy Con­sol­mag­no explain why the Pope has an astronomer (and a mete­orite col­lec­tion!).

I real­ly should’ve been at “Trans­form­ing Edu­ca­tion – Mak­ing Sci­ence Fun and Rel­e­vant for Kids and Stu­dents,” but I want­ed to hear Aubrey de Grey, Chris Patil, and Atti­la Csor­das talk about Aging and Life Exten­sion.

After a fas­ci­nat­ing chat Sat­ur­day morn­ing with Eric Wasser­mann on the 15-minute shut­tle ride from the hotel to the Google­plex (about the expe­ri­ence of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and the illu­sion of con­scious­ness), I would’ve loved to have sat in on his ses­sion a few hours lat­er about the ethics and impli­ca­tions of brain enhance­ment. But I also want­ed to con­tribute to “Seduc­ing the Pub­lic with Sci­ence” (ini­ti­at­ed – on the wiki – by John Gilbey and Jen­ny Rohn – and includ­ing Tim O’Reilly,Seducing the Public - Tim O'Reilly, Marc Hodosh, Kevin Grazier, et al Ann Druyan, Marc Hodosh, Ben Goldacre, Euge­nie Scott and oth­ers). And, at the exact same time, I was miss­ing NASA Ames Direc­tor Pete Wor­den’s ses­sion on Set­tling Mars, and “LHC: The Uni­verse and All That” with Bri­an Cox, Max Tegmark, Mar­t­in Rees, and Betsy’s hus­band, Nobel Lau­re­ate Frank Wilczek!

Impos­si­ble choic­es that have to be made!

I missed Paul Stamets’ ses­sion on How Fungi Can Save the World, as well as Paul Davies’ ses­sion on Mul­ti­ple Ori­gins of Life and a “Shad­ow Bios­phere” on Earth, and ses­sions on the World­Wide Tele­scope and brain read­ing neu­ral pros­thet­ics, the future of quan­tum com­put­ing, 23andMe, build­ing bet­ter cli­mate mod­els, and sev­er­al more – all in the Sat­ur­day 4pm time slot – because I want­ed to sit in on a ses­sion with Lee Smolin, Max Tegmark, and Gar­rett Lisi called “Incu­bat­ing Adven­tur­ous Sci­ence and the FQXi.”

It wasn’t until Sun­day morn­ing, when I got into a great con­ver­sa­tion with the won­der­ful Dan Janzen about cater­pil­lars and moths, that I real­ized I shouldn’t have missed his pre­sen­ta­tion the day before on DNA bar­cod­ing the world’s species – all 10,000,000 of them.

But what could I do?  I was up to my ears in dark mat­ter – pick­ing the brain of Patri­cia Bur­chat, head of the Physics depart­ment at Stan­ford, who helped me final­ly under­stand how we could know – from our nar­row van­tage point – that the expan­sion rate of the Uni­verse has increased.

I could go on. And on. Expand­ing like the Uni­verse. And that’s what the week­end was real­ly about.

Look­ing over the list of campers, I fig­ure I had sub­stan­tial, inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions with at least 50 dif­fer­ent peo­ple, on prob­a­bly 50 dif­fer­ent top­ics – plus, I attend­ed about a dozen ses­sions, ask­ing ques­tions or con­tribut­ing com­ments dur­ing quite a few.

And I enter­tained per­haps the smartest crowd I’ve ever played with 45 min­utes of sci­ence humor at my own sur­pris­ing­ly well-attended ses­sion, Sat­ur­day night after din­ner (while, just down the hall, Mar­t­in Rees and Nick Bostrom led a somber dis­cus­sion called “Exis­ten­tial Risks & Glob­al Cat­a­stroph­ic Risks.”)

There was some­thing for every­one.

In the end, there were some peo­ple – like Jim Hardy and Chris Patil and Bri­an Cox and his wife Gia Mili­novich and John Gilbey and Nick Bostrom and David Bauer and Lars Jeppe­sen and Simon Quel­len Field – with whom I had mul­ti­ple chances to chat. And, yet, there are scores of peo­ple I nev­er met. I had no idea (until I was back home in San Fran­cis­co) that there were four Nobel Lau­re­ates among us; I met only one. On the final day there were some faces that didn’t even look famil­iar to me… had they real­ly been here all week­end?

[more to come]

Science Foo Camp 2008: Chapter 0

This is a hel­lu­va week. I’ve been pro­mot­ing and prepar­ing for my upcom­ing sci­ence com­e­dy show at the San Fran­cis­co Punch Line: Ratio­nal Com­e­dy for an Irra­tional Plan­et, Mon­day, August 11, 8pm, please come.

But between now and Mon­day I have what promis­es to be one of the most mem­o­rable week­ends of my life…

Fri­day through Sun­day, I’ll be attend­ing Sci­ence Foo Camp 2008 (“Sci­Foo”).

What is Sci­Foo, you ask?

Well, it’s an invitation-only gath­er­ing orga­nized by Nature, O’Reilly Media, and Google, and host­ed at the famed Google­plex in Moun­tain View, CA.

It’s a week­end of inter­ac­tive ses­sions. All del­e­gates are also pre­sen­ters. There’s no agen­da until we get there and then it is deter­mined col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly and sub­ject to change through­out the week­end.

And who was invit­ed?

Read the rest of this entry »