Did Google Profit From “Googol”?

Back in the 1930’s, Columbia University mathematician and professor Edward Kasner apparently asked his young nephew for a term to describe a large number, in this case, 10 to the 100th power (1 followed by 100 zeros). The name “googol” stuck, and in 1940 the professor published a book containing the concept. Now the Baltimore Sun reports that relatives of Professor Kasner are considering legal action because “they believe Google has gained financially at their expense.”

My initial reaction to this story was that they are grasping at straws to get in on the potential financial windfall of Google’s upcoming IPO, but after reading the interview with Peri Fleisher, Kasner’s great-niece, I think that they may have a case, albeit a long shot:

I [Fleisher] see some hypocrisy there. They [Google] have ignored us. Other than changing a couple of letters on the name, they are capitalizing on it. This is a business. These guys are going to make billions of dollars. It’s not a cute little thing.

Ethically, they could have been more giving. If nothing else, they should have given us the opportunity to operate as insiders for the IPO.

In the back of my mind, when I started using Google back in 1998 (not 1988, as the article erroneously asserts) I recognized the reference and wondered about it, but I never imagined that the relatives of the inventor would come forth in this manner. Of course, I also never imagined that a fledgling test search engine would eclipse every other one the way it did. IANAL, but I’d be surprised if they got anywere, as I doubt “googol” has any sort of trademark associated with it, and even if it did, proving that Google benefitted from its use may be difficult. Can’t hurt to try, I guess…


I’m back from Dearborn, but posts will probably be scarce this week as I catch up with things. Thanks to Shaft and czar for holding down the fort while I was gone. Eventually, I plan on posting about my stay in Michigan, along with photos from there and the Andrews Air Force Base Air Show that Shaft and I went to last Friday.

I’ll be experimenting with some things this week related to the “relaunch” of Blogger, including better permalinks, built-in comments, and some new posting options. Don’t be surprised if some of the archived post links (among other things) are messed up while I try and figure out some of the new features.

Another Brilliant Congressman from California

The story: A concerned constituent, Mr. Daniel Dow of the California 13th District, wrote his congressman an intelligent, thoughtful letter to express his disappointment regarding a particular vote on a resolution supporting the troops, but condemming the recent prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq. The congressman, Pete Stark (D-CA) personally called the constituent back, leaving a decidedly less-than-eloquent response (.WAV format). In it, he told the constituent, “you don’t know what you’re talking about”, “I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you”, and he implied that Mr. Dow, a veteran Staff Sgt. recently returned from Kosovo, doesn’t care about the enlisted troops in our armed forces.

Now, I think it’s pretty cool that someone from that level of office would take the time and the interest to personally call a constituent to discuss an issue, but… Maybe he could have expressed something other than utter contempt for an individual that he is supposedly there to represent? There was no, “I appreciate your opinion, but felt it best to vote the way I did and here’s why”, or anything constructive or even democratic about it. It kinda makes you wonder why we need to be “represented” at all, if this is the level of service we can expect.

Duckpin Bowling Fading into Obscurity?

As a kid, I grew up with duckpin bowling as a popular pastime for things like birthday parties. After talking with some of my Denver friends, I was surprised that none of them had heard of such a thing. According to this article in WaPo (free registration required), it’s pretty much an East Coast phenomenon, having been invented in Baltimore around the turn of the last century. Unfortunately, it seems to be dying out, with only a small handful of lanes still open. Unlike tenpin bowling, according to the article, nobody has ever played a perfect game of duckpin in the 100+ years the sport has been around.


I’ll be at a conference in Dearborn, Michigan next week, so once again I’ll have to rely on Shaft and Czar to pick up the slack. Have a good week…

Conflict Map

Conflict Map is a very cool Shockwave-based interactive site that compiles information about “200 wars [‘armed conflict with at least 1,000 military battle deaths’] from 1899-2001.” The cool part is the way that they use their interactive map window to display all of the information about each conflict, and the degree to which you can customize this display makes it that much better. Balancing all of the information about armed conflict is a similar method of displaying Nobel Peace Prize nominees and winners. It’s hard to do this site justice; I highly recommend you take a look for yourself.