What if? XKCD knows.

There’s an extension of the XKCD site that poses the question “What if” on various scenarios. Like:

If you could teleport to a random place of the surface of the Earth, what are the odds that you’ll see signs of intelligent life?

Of course, the first answer is you’ll probably land in water.


But the most interesting answer is this:

Wait for nightfall.

At any given time, there are hundreds of satellites in the sky. Most of them are too faint to see, but if you’re in an area without much light pollution, and you look carefully enough, there’s virtually always a satellite visible. Their rapid motion across the sky and various highly inclined orbits make them unlikely to be anything but artificial.

It’s often said that the Great Wall of China is the only human artifact that can be seen from space. This is wrong.

But in my opinion, the real problem with this factoid isn’t that it’s wrong—it’s that it overlooks a much cooler point. The Great Wall of China may not be the only artifact on Earth that you can see from a satellite … but our satellites are the only human artifacts that you can see from everywhere on Earth.

Want to see signs of intelligent life? Just look up.

When I lived in England, I used to go out at night and watch the satellites in the sky. Since I was living in the countryside, there was no light pollution, and the sky was always loaded with more stars than I had ever seen in my life. And amid all those stars, you could see shiny objects move across the sky, very small, but always there. If you live in the city, you’ll never see that.

Google autocomplete and family relationships


As anyone who uses the Google search engine knows, when you start to type out a question, you’ll immediately get a dropdown of questions that begin with the same wording. That’s called autocomplete.

So many questions are asked on Google, that the database immediately draws up the most frequently asked ones using that phrasing, assuming that chances are since everyone else is asking them, you’re asking the same thing.

It’s a good indication of the state of mind of the world. When so many people are asking the same question, that’s a sociological trend.

A few days before I saw this cartoon on XKDC (click on it for a larger image), I was experimenting with Google’s autocomplete function and wondering what would come up when the focus involved families.

It is not encouraging.

Just go to Google, type in the following terms and see what pops up:

Why does my father
Why does my mother
Why does my husband
Why does my wife
Why does my sister
Why does my brother
Why does my son
Why does my daughter
Why does my aunt
Why does my uncle

The autocomplete on these terms makes you feel like your trapped in an episode of “The Jerry Springer Show” or “Maury” or any of those live daytime shows that dwell on the depravity of ancestry.

The only family situation in autocomplete that didn’t repulse me was:

Why does my grandfather

Have a go at it. You’ll be surprised, and depressed, by the results.

There are a lot of unhappy families out there.


Finding your way around Geoguessr

geoguessrThe XKCD.com illustration at the right isn’t what I have a hard time with on Geoguessr.

I can pretty much figure out where I am within a couple of meters as long as the road signs are in Roman letter.

But I seem to spend a good percentage of my time stuck somewhere in Russia and China bombarded with signs that I can’t translate.

Here’s what I do. I land. I do a 360 degree turn. I look for clues: street address, road markers, phone numbers on trucks and buses, business signs.

Eventually, I’ll find something that’s helpful. Then, do a little Internet cross checking, pull up Google maps, figure out how close you can get to the place in the photo using the street view and mark your location on Geoguessr. I can do this almost everywhere in the world.

Except for Russia and China.

Really. I can find my way around a tiny remote island without a problem. The Marshall Islands, the Canary Islands. Anything that has streets off the African coast. Every country seems to include Roman letters in their signage. Even Japan uses various forms of spelling: characters, its own alphabet and Roman letters. It takes a while longer to figure out where you are, but eventually, you can hit the mark.

And, I guess knowing any Romance language will help. If you can read signs in French, you can figure out signs in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. But it’s not essential. I don’t know any Nordic language, but I still can mark where I am.

At least with the Greeks, the letters are close enough that you can work out in your head what the corresponding Roman letter is.

But the Russians and the Chinese rarely provide those clues. Maybe twice, when I’ve found my way to a Russian highway, I see a sign with Roman letters, and then, even when it’s an odd spelling, I’ll figure it out. But that’s rare.

Minutes before I saw the above cartoon, I was on a roll. I zipped through a town in Iowa, a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco and not far from Stockholm, and got more than 6,000 points on each.

Then I hit Russia. Twice. Game over.

Here the link: http://geoguessr.com/. Give it a shot and see where you end up.


Subways of North America

It brings back fond memories of all the subway systems we’ve been on. subways_largeClick on it to get a really big version. From xkcd.com: