Archive for September, 2011


Posted by on Thursday, 22 September, 2011


Maybe you hate Google.

Some do.

But you gotta admit, the big G is creative. Ideas fly out of Google  faster than films out of Bollywood – Picasa, YouTube, Maps, Panoramio, Android, Earth, Bookmarks.. Always something new.

How long can creativity like that last?

Well, recently, Google announced that it is trying to be  more focused. The  workers were having too much fun. Too much fun is never good. It annoys the investors. Hence, going forward, there’ll be no more throwing piglets at walls to see what sticks. According to Larry Page, there will be “more wood, less arrows”. (Larry’s the CEO and gets paid to maintain order). To get the wood properly aligned with the arrows, Google flipped through its multitudinous projects  to see what could go. Some projects were closed down, some remained. And some got combined. Just  in case the “we’re serious dudes now” message wasn’t clear, Google Labs, itself, got the ax.

Is creativity finally wrung out of Google’s guts? The time  spent on “go crazy” projects  (which used to be 20% of the work week) has been reduced to .. Well.. 20%. No change at all. So I guess creativity isn’t eggzactly a thing of the past. Just reducing the arrows is all. This, supposedly, keeps “The Street” happy.

One  project that was killed  is aardvark. Which you probably never heard of. It works like this.

Say you finally dumped the Subaru.

“Google,” you say, ” I finally sold my 1995 Subaru. What do I do now?”

Good question. I’m  on this.

I’m thinking “Subaru. This person probably shops at Whole Foods, wears natural fabrics, and wishes the Tea Party would drop dead!  He.she  should probably be looking at a Prius. Or a Mini.”

Well, dear reader,  aren’t I smart! In fact, I’m smarter then Google’s famous search engine which would choke on that question. And WHY am I so smart? Because I got DNA in me. I’m a human. Maybe Google Search will be that smart some day.

Don’t be a breath holder.

Well, a while ago,  Google Labs (rest in peace) realizing the problems of  “natural language” ,  decided to  waste an arrow. Maybe Google could come up with a way to get humans in the loop for certain questions.



The idea with aardvark was to “social up”. Users get to check off particular areas of knowledge. They become volunteer experts. They become the blood and bones of the animal.

As it were.

Mister ScienceAintSoBad (in his human guise) was such a user. He claimed to know about science.

Questions began to show up. Most were dopey.

As someone who works almost every day, is to stay in shape with little time? 

Sounds like a fortune cookie, doesn’t it? He was probably looking for an efficient way to exercise. No WONDER it came to me. Probably because I checked off physics.

Another on-target question:  What is the best way to tell my girlfriend I love her in every-way possible, and I don’t think she is annoying or anything she says bad about herself. 

Whatever! I don’t consider myself an expert on this subject. If I were qualified to give advice on romance, would I wear these thick glasses and dress funny? Anyway, his syntax is off. If English is his second language, I’m impressed. If it’s his first one, he needs a new dictionary.

I’m looking for a excel spreadsheet app for ipad 2 that can use imported email documents that are excel spreadsheets already from a computer.

Okay, bubs. That’s legit, I guess. But kinda lazy. Ever hear of the App Store?

And here’s a guy who really doesn’t “get” natural selection: While some species ascend high in the atmosphere it seems as if birds do not fly too high for their safety. Do they, and if not how to they know what are safe altitudes for them? Why does say a magpie not have a go at flying up to geese migration heights?

That same day I received: How can you use only two fours to equal 4? Well, I passed on that one. Too deep for me. Maybe, the submitter isn’t originally from this solar system.

I also asked aardvark some questions of my own. I wanted to know if the minuscule vibrating strings that string theory’s based on can run out of gas. In other words, are they subject to the second law of thermodynamics?

In string theory, all “particles” are comprised of vibrating strings. The associated energy and mode of vibration of the string determines which specific particle the string will be. My question: does the energy of the vibrating strings decay over time? Do the laws of thermodynamics (entropy, in particular) apply at this level?

I got this response:

Well, I’m no expert, so feel free to restate the question when the answer is unsatisfactory. I believe a string will change its energy and mode only when it comes into contact with another string. This would be the same for conventional objects, except that the objects around us come into contact with other object all of the time, hence the decay in vibration energy.

He’s “no expert” but he BELIEVES that a string.. Always good to have someone share his opinions, I guess. I did wonder why he didn’t let the question pass  to someone who KNEW the answer. But I was polite.

I thanked him.

I believe you are right though that’s what I hope to confirm. You refer to “conventional” objects. I assume you meant things that are, by convention, particles in the Standard Model (quarks et al).

Goes out on a limb:

No, they don’t apply at that level.

As I suspected but I was hoping for a bit more explanation. I thank him politely and ask why.

Sorry, I can’t help with more explanation

Can’t tell me with why. I don’t like this. If you know what yer talkin’ about, you can defend yer answer, right?

Just to clarify. You’re saying you know that the rules of thermodynamics don’t apply at that level but you don’t know why? If you don’t know why, may I (respectfully) ask why you’re so sure of the answer?

He, bravely, goes another round.

Thermodynamics is about macroscopic variables. String theory is about particle physics. I’m sorry if this doesn’t help and hope someone else can give you a satisfactory answer.

This is nonsensical (but it didn’t fool you, did it?)  Anyway, I knew there wasn’t any more juice to be extracted. In the interest of civility, I was probably hypocritical:

In fact, that confirms my own understanding. Sorry to be pushy but I couldn’t tell from your very brief statement if you were just “playing” at aardvark as, unfortunately some do. I’m not sure what motivates people to do things like that (pretend to know when they do not) but it forces you to make a judgement about whether a responder is reasonably knowledgeable. Actually, you seem at about my own scientific level and I appreciate your thoughts on this.

I suspect that what’s going on at the string level is that a string is, in essence, a quantum of energy. Without an additional energy transaction, it is eternal. Maybe I will hear from a physicist who knows.

Later that month I tried to clear up my understanding of the way that separate particles get tangled up with each other over vast distances.

Does quantum entanglement transmit information faster than the speed of light (virtually instantaneous)? Some things I’ve read say that useful information can’t be sent this way. Others seem to suggest that this is an open question.

My answer came back:

Depends on your interpretation of “transmits information”. Unmeasurable things, such as a quantum state and phase, change instantly. But measurable things, things that are within the reach of experiments, cannot be used to transport information faster than light. Quantum physics has this loophole that some physical quantities are unmeasurable, out of reach for any kind of detection. That’s why Quantum theory can play this trick on us: a physical measure changes faster than light, but not a measurable one.

Thanks, Dan, for a knowledgeable and understandable answer. ( Not your fault that quantum mechanics is so damn nuts!)

I knew we were looking for radio signals from “ETs”. I wondered how far are we looking?

SEARCH FOR EXTRATERESTRIAL LIFE: I realize that the SETI program, itself, is currently mothballed, but I’m curious about something. What are the realistic distance limitations on this kind of radio search before noise is likely to overcome even a strong signal? Are their expectations of being able to identify (not translate, just identify) an intelligent signal beyond, say, 1000 light years? Further?

The answer arrived:

ask Carl Sagan

According to Brian Greene (and others), strings are under great tension but are not necessarily anchored at the ends. What force, then, balances this tension?

I don’t know, but sometimes he himself answers this kind of questions on his facebook page:

on: his personal fb page announcements can be found when he is answering questions (he is very kind)

I admit I got a little testy. For heaven’s SAKE!

If you don’t know, don’t answer. OK?

If you don’t know the answer, don’t respond, OK?

He got testy back and raised me one:

Did you know that you can ask him questions by yourself? What is YOUR problem to talk with me like this? NOT OK! WTF?! You could ignore my ! ANSWER. AND, DO NOT SCREAM AT ME, OK? Keep in mind when you do not know an answer, it’s important to know, who knows it. Thank you.

I gave you a direct link to one of the people who definitely will be able to answer you. Even much more trustworthy then me.

Who could answer your questions better then one of the scientists, who invented all that theories? You make me angry!


no, not you make me angry, not even know you, sorry David.

Rage management, anyone?

My last exchange was with someone who asked:

What are some must-have android apps?

I said:

This one is easy to figure out with Google search. No need for aardvark, really. Lots of articles about “favorite” or “best” or “must have” apps. However, these lists probably tell you more about the writer than anything else. “Must haves” really depend on you and your lifestyle/work style. They also depend on your phone since not all apps work on all version of Android. 

As far as I am concerned, I like to set the home screen on the computers I use to “iGoogle” and then add “gadgets” for Google “tasks” “calendar”, “finance” (stock portfolio), and Google documents. Then, on the phone I set up corresponding apps. This way, all my “stuff” gets synced to all my computers/phones. Other apps I rely on are the kindle ereader app (small, of course, but always with me), note everything, and spreadsheet. Of course, “Navigator”, Google’s GPS system is terrific. Comes with my phone. Yours too, probably.

He already knew:

Ha ha I know. I asked this because I wanted to know how aardvark worked.

Thanks for the ride, aardvark. It’s been real.

Credit for the above image to Abraham Williams and Flickr Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.


Posted by on Saturday, 10 September, 2011


Dear MisterScienceAintSoBad, My sister’s mad at me because she says I pick pick pick. Can’t help it though. She’s like my grandmother. God this and God that.Don’t I have a right to challenge her dopey ideas?- A-Boy.

A-Boy: (I’m hoping the A stands for atheist and not a certain orifice.) Religious people aren’t idiots. They just believe in God

It’s not a sin.

It doesn’t mean they DENY reality. They just have an extra one that you don’t see. The majority of educated believers aren’t trying to prove Darwin wrong. Mostly, they know about fossils and other stuff that show how life evolved. Maybe they even know how the earth was formed out of cosmic dust over millions of years.

What about God? What about Genesis?

That too.

Believe it or not, it is perfectly possible for an educated person to “get” the Big Bang – even string theory – and still open a bible once-in-a-while. The interior of the human brain isn’t made for consistency.

Prayer and plain geometry. They can get along. Ask Isaac Newton. Hey. Ask his spirit.

Most people believe in God or something like. Even in Europe. Why is that hard? People believe.  Maybe they can’t explain why but it has a great explanatory force for them. Besides. It’s a layer of comfort. I were you, I wouldn’t mess with it.

This makes me ScienceIsSoBad? I don’t think so. I’m just saying that it’s possible to be too literal minded. The human brain CAN have two different ideas at the same time. Most minds do. This is what we are and I’m sorry it’s messy.

This isn’t an apologia. There ARE plenty of zealots who say that the bible’s got all the wisdom we need and science just gets in the way. But don’t tell me you don’t know some uber-rationalists who wanna smack bibles out of the hands of the misguided. You think THAT’S a tolerant attitude?

Science-minded folks need to have some respect for the evolutionary process that they defend. We evolved with a strong need to make sense of the world on a personal level. For modern humans, that seems to coexist in a delicate but, often sweet, tension with rational scientific thought. MisterScienceAintSoBad says you shouldn’t pick, pick, pick.

Thanks to Eoin O’Mahony for the image. Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.