Google Civilization 

Google does not intend to compete with existing publishers for existing markets.

Publishing as I understand it is, for the most part, an ordinary business like a bakery, with the caveat that many of its employees think of their industry as charitable and culturally important. Google’s publishing experiments need to be considered in light of their stated ambition to organize and make available all of the world’s information, which a few people at Google have estimated will take 300 years. The estimate makes a flashy sound bite, but I think it accurately reflects Google’s directors’ thinking. Google is one of few organizations in the world whose directors think on a scale of centuries.

Google’s ambitions are international, secular, philosophical, and historical, embodying an ethos that harks back to the European Enlightenment in its elitism and energy, with the flexibility and strength of 19C, 20C, and 21C engineering and information sciences to support their confidence.

About five thousand people work at Google, so any individual employee there is almost literally “one in a million.” Few organizations have ever leveraged the labor of five thousand people as successfully and influentially as Google has, especially in such a short time. (Google’s seventh birthday was in September 2005.)

George Dyson in an Edge essay says Google reminds him of a 14C European cathedral as it’s being built in the 12C. When I’m optimistic, it reminds me of the glory days of Attic Greece, when a confident, educated population of citizens could establish a civilization by fiat. They could make it. Civilization civilizes by example, by being more desirable than any alternatives available to people nearby.

At its most ordinary and in its most likely historical development, Google is a late-20C U.S. corporation that manages data on digital computers and sells advertising based on its management. It’s a big business. But on its better days, Google might be a harbinger for a better civilization.


Molecular images oversimplified and Bohr's gold 

Science textbook illustrations routinely omit what equipment and materials were required to produce them, but I just learned something odd and interesting from David S. Goodsell’s book Our Molecular Nature.
When studying a molecule, researchers typically need large supplies and must choose a source that is rich in the particular molecule. For instance, much of the work on myoglobin has been performed on the protein from sperm whale muscle, because whale muscles contain large quantities of the protein to store oxygen during their extended dives.
Fascinating, no? Pretty pictures often take liberties in their presentation of data, but sperm whale muscle and myoglobin? Who knew? (Except Dr. Goodsell, of course.)

And weblog-post part two, learned from Philip Ball’s book The Ingredients: During World War II, when two German Jewish physicists asked Niels Bohr to guard their Nobel Prize medallions, Bohr and a colleague melted the gold into a colloid suspension and kept it in unmarked jars in their laboratory, to prevent Nazis from seizing it. After the war, they recovered the gold and recast the medals.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?