Monday, August 30, 2010

Who coined Google's unofficial motto Don't Be Evil? (Hint: It wasn't Larry Page, Sergei Brin or Eric Schmidt)

IMG_8283Image by tantek via FlickrTwelve years ago this week -- Sept. 4, 1998 -- Google was founded by Stanford students Larry Page and Sergei Brin. What began as a project to improve academic paper citations has since become arguably the most powerful media company on earth. No small part of Google's monstrous growth was the loyalty of the tech community, which the company won over with its upstart idealist motto "Don't Be Evil."

With repeated privacy gaffes like Google Buzz's contact list exposure or the Wi-Fi packet sniffing performed by Google Street View survey vehicles, people have begun to doubt whether the Don't Be Evil mantra is still practiced at Google. With Google's blatant net neutrality sellout to Verizon, some suspect Don't Be Evil was never a serious part of Google's corporate DNA.

To that end, it's worth noting that Don't Be Evil is a phrase that was suggested to Brin and Page, rather than suggested by Brin and Page. And it wasn't current CEO Eric Schmidt that brought Don't Be Evil into Google's company culture. Instead, it was one of Google's most influential early employees that coined Don't be Evil as a core company value -- an employee that, perhaps tellingly, is no longer with the company.

Who coined Google's unofficial motto Don't Be Evil? 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nerd Word going on hiatus

Due to a surfeit of commitments -- and the fact that it's starting to feel like a me-too feature nobody really needs -- the Nerd Word of the Week is going on indefinite hiatus. In fact, the entire content makeup of may be in for an overhaul here as soon as I clear some daylight in my schedule. Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How many dwarf planets are bigger than Pluto?

This now obsolete 2004 artist's rendition show...Image via WikipediaFour years ago today, the International Astronomical Union voted to revise the current IAU definition of a planet -- adopting the one that didn't include Pluto. This, of course, led to some blowback in the astronomy community (and the sci-fi/internet community, too). Team Pluto, however, didn't have much in the way of empirical evidence to back the position Pluto deserved to stay -- especially since it wasn't even the largest member of the newly minted dwarf planet group to which it now belongs.

How many dwarf planets are bigger than Pluto?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nerd Word of the Week: Schminternet

Net Neutrality protest at  Google HQ - GoogleR...Image by Steve Rhodes via FlickrSchminternet (n.) - A version of the Internet that does not operate under net neutrality standards and thus has tiered access and "surfing tolls" for certain content, services, or websites. The phrase is named after Google CEO Eric Schmidt who notably reversed course on net neutrality when Google forged a traffic prioritization pact with Verizon. The term was coined by Jeff Jarvis who snarked on Twitter: "The Schminternet = not the internet. Comes with new fees."

I bring it up because: The Google-Verizon wireless traffic pact just won't die. Wired referred to Google as a "net neutrality surrender monkey" (earning extra points for the Simpsons reference) and Jon Stewart took shots at Google from his perch atop The Daily Show. While some predicted Google would sell out years ago, it is nonetheless disillusioning that the company once seen as the champion of the open internet is now playing the same self-serving corporate games it formerly opposed. If things keep in this direction, the backlash is only going to get stronger and calling Google's tiered internet the Schminternet is the nicest thing web activists will say about Eric Schmidt or his company.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why was the Compact Disc standardized at 120 mm wide?

Corrosion of a Compact Disc (Depeche Mode - Co...Image via WikipediaMy daughter is home sick and I'm behind on all three of my jobs, so let's just acknowledge the 28th birthday of the public release of compact discs with this CD-related Geek Trivia I wrote a few years ago:
Philips and Sony co-developed the CD, with much of the technology derived from Philips’ existing (though ultimately unsuccessful) LaserDisc video efforts. When the first compact disc rolled off the assembly line on Aug. 17, 1982, that line was at a Philips plant in Germany.
The two companies collectively developed and agreed on the specifications found in IEC 60908, but the basis for at least one of those specs — the 120-mm diameter of the CD — was somewhat controversial, especially when you hear the possible reasoning behind it. 
Get the answer here.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nerd Word of the Week: HOPA girl

Image mercilessly stolen from theChive.
HOPA girl (n.) - An internet meme that seems too good to be true, but becomes popular anyway. Also known as a dry erase girl, whiteboard girl, Jenny DryErase or HPOA girl. Named after a hoax perpetrated by theChive, a meme-centered website, in which a brokerage employee resigns by mass-emailing pictures of herself holding a whiteboard to her colleagues. The whiteboard details the employee's reason for the theatrical resignation: Her boss referred to her as a HOPA, a mangled form of the acronym for hot piece of ass.

I bring it up because: HOPA girl went down this week, and in so doing sparked a navel-gazing debate amongst the blogosphere about the nature of memes and the gullibility of traffic-starved bloggers. Basically, once one major site runs with a HOPA girl meme -- which by definition seems too good to be true and thus likely to be a hoax -- every other major meme site has to run with it too. All it takes is one high-profile sucker and the whole Internet is obligated to play along for fear of losing immediate traffic. Thus, expect to see more HOPA girls, not less --especially since the guys behind HOPA girl have done this before. So much for the web being the future of (serious) journalism.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What famous Golden Age Hollywood actress holds an underlying patent for Wi-Fi technology?

Hedy LamarrImage via Wikipedia
Wi-Fi technology is one the lynchpins of the modern computing age (especially for those poor iPhone users trying to eek out data consumption on AT&T's crippled cell network). Still, like all modern tech, Wi-Fi was built on the technical specifications that came before it -- many of which arrived via unlikely or unnoticed contributors.

Take, for example, basic spread-spectrum frequency hopping, the process by which radio signals are varied to ensure that no passing form of interference or jamming can subvert the transmission. The concept goes back at least as far as Nikola Tesla who patented a remote control torpedo in 1898. Tesla, however, is not the only famous name to hold an underlying patent for Wi-Fi technology. Modern Wi-Fi tech owes its existence in part to performer with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

What famous Golden Age Hollywood actress holds an underlying patent for Wi-Fi technology?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Nerd Word of the Week: Plutoed

Pluto / Charon From HydraImage by Dallas1200am via Flickr
Plutoed (adj.) -- From the verb to Pluto, refers to any idea or object that science has determined either didn't exist, or existed in manner very different than previously believed. Basically, anything that has been scientifically retconned. The term comes from the celestial object Pluto, which was infamously reclassified as a non-planet in 2006.

I bring it up because: As Greg Van Eekhout noted -- and possibly coined this week's nerd word in so doing -- they just totally Plutoed torosaurus. While the dinosaur species triceratops and torosaurus were originally thought to be separate, recent evidence shows that a triceratops is really just a juvenile torosaurus. Thus, one species had to be Plutoed, and since triceratops has more name recognition, torosaurus is now a deprecated species. Frankly, I wish this logic had been around when brontosaurus was Plutoed, because apatosaurus just isn't as cool.
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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What operating system ran the world's first Web server? (Hint: It wasn't Windows, Mac or Linux!)

This NeXT Computer was used by Sir Tim Berners...Image via Wikipedia
On Aug. 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee first shared his ideas for the World Wide Web via the Internet. (Yes, the Internet and the World Wide Web are different things, though the distinction is more nebulous these days.) Berners-Lee actually waited several months before sharing his Web concepts with the larger online world; history's first Web server went live from CERN on Christmas Day 1990.

In the interim, Berners-Lee spent time perfecting his World Wide Web software, including the concepts of a server and a browser. He did all this on a then-outdated workstation running an operating system that was neither Windows, Macintosh, nor Linux (the last of which wasn't even invented yet).

What operating system ran the world's first Web server?