Alex and I visit the Google Sci Foo convention

by on June 25, 2013 at 6:38 am in Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink

It was excellent, and for me the two highlights were hearing some of the world’s top cosmologists debate inflation theory (theirs, not ours), and Larry Page discussing  his vision for Google looking forward and why internet access by balloon makes sense.

I saw a display of Google Glass but I still don’t get it.  It struck me as excellent for people who want to send photos to their Facebook page in real time, or record their children, but that’s not me.  What I like about the iPad is that it pulls you out of the world, whereas Glass seems to integrate “the flow of information world” with “the real world.”  Why spoil two such wonderful things?  But I’ll be the first to admit that a) the defect in my understanding of Glass is my fault alone, and b) I will buy one immediately once it is available.

The best new question I heard was this: if you could change the physical laws of the universe so as to create more life in it, what would you do?  Make gravity stronger or weaker?  Change which constants?  Have stars distributed more densely throughout the universe?  More or less carbon?  And so on.  The ultimate point of the question is to get you thinking about whether our universe is fine-tuned for life after all.

The cafeteria food was not nearly as good as what I have had in the New York Google and it struck me as overrated and most likely in decline.  The vegetarian dishes were best.  What you should do is eat in the Telugu restaurant Pessaratu, Andhra mess-style food, in Sunnyvale, get the lentils and make sure you eat them with your fingers, South Indian-style, for the maximum taste experience.

1 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 6:46 am

After it passes through the gee whiz phase, hopefully the point of Google Glass will be to handle all the BS and get home faster- and then tell me which of the weeds are edible.

2 Andrew June 25, 2013 at 8:47 am

Lower or increase the vapor pressure of water.

3 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 9:13 am

(A) Affordable (B) available (C) healthy (D) requires you to get into a van while a DC economist blindfolds you and takes you to a place that can only be found with GPS coordinates: Pick two.

4 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 9:17 am

My kingdom for a comment deleter.

5 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 11:57 am

Less entropy.

6 Al June 25, 2013 at 6:57 am

It’s interesting that Indian cuisine doesn’t seem particularly amenable to eating by hand. Naan isn’t nearly as absorbent as Nyala, bread, or biscuits. Most curries are not thick, and easily slip through the fingers. Finger food delivery systems–burritos, pitas, buns, seaweed wraps, lavash, etc…–are not abundant.

7 Anon June 25, 2013 at 8:04 am

South Indian food (with rice instead of chapati or Nan) is perhaps more amenable. Also like use of chopsticks its a matter of expertise ; the older generation can eat rice with a very liquid Charu (“rasam”) off a banana leaf (serving as a plate) , some thing that is pretty diificult for many younger people despite practice…

8 Adrian Ratnapala June 25, 2013 at 10:07 am

Regarding curries: That’s why you mix it with rice (or bread).

Regarding Naan: scoop, don’t soak.

It’s really not that hard.

9 Axa June 25, 2013 at 7:27 am

Great question. Why when eating with fingers food is more tasty. Inox cutlery alters the food taste? Or simply your brain is already happy before you eat when you say f*ck rules? Maybe eating without a spoon just produces pleasure to a person that everyday uses a spoon.

10 wrparks June 25, 2013 at 9:57 am

The foodie equivalent of the placebo effect maybe?

11 Ashok Rao June 25, 2013 at 10:21 am

I don’t think you’re going to feel iconoclastic much using your fingers in a restaurant called “Pessaratu”.

12 adam June 25, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I assume it’s because using utensils can leave a slight metallic (/wooden for chopsticks) taste in the mouth.

Maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough, but I eat south indian food all the time and don’t really taste much difference with/without utensils.

13 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm

A blind taste test is in order: eating food from the fingers of a hand model, versus a chopsticks, versus my buddy Karl.

14 Rory Sutherland June 27, 2013 at 7:57 am

I think this effect was first noted by the food pioneer and gastronomist Colonel Harland Sanders.

15 Bill Benzon June 25, 2013 at 7:38 am

On changing laws of the universe to create more life, from a paper I co-authored with David Hays:

We take as our touchstone the work of Ilya Prigogine, who won the Nobel prize for demonstrating that order can arise by accident (Prigogine and Stengers 1984; Prigogine 1980; Nicolis and Prigogine 1977). He showed that when certain kinds of thermodynamic systems get far from equilibrium order can arise spontaneously. These systems include, but are not limited to, living systems. In general, so-called dissipative systems are such that small fluctuations can be amplified to the point where they change the behavior of the system. These systems have very large numbers of parts and the spontaneous order they exhibit arises on the macroscopic temporal and spatial scales of the whole system rather than on the microscopic temporal and spatial scales of its very many component parts. Further, since these processes are irreversible, it follows that time is not simply an empty vessel in which things just happen. The passage of time, rather, is intrinsic to physical process…

Physical scale makes a difference. The physical laws which apply at the atomic scale, and smaller, are not the same as those which apply to relatively large objects. That the pattern of physical law should change with scale, that is a complexity inherent in the fabric of the universe, that is a complexity which does not exist in a Newtonian universe. At the molecular level life is subject to the quantum mechanical laws of the micro-universe. But multi-celled organisms are large enough that, considered as homogeneous physical bodies, they exist in the macroscopic world of Newtonian mechanics. Life thus straddles a complexity which inheres in the very structure of the universe.

16 dearieme June 25, 2013 at 10:17 am

“These systems include, but are not limited to, …”: I’ve noticed that American lawyers do this too, patronising the reader by half-explaining what “include” means. Why?

17 Cliff June 25, 2013 at 11:41 am

It’s called giving examples

18 Cliff June 25, 2013 at 11:42 am

Meh, never mind

19 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 11:53 am

Why do lawyers patronize readers?

Because noone listens to them talk.

20 Disgruntled Bastard June 25, 2013 at 9:28 am

Only an asshole would wear Google Glass in public ….

21 Mark Thorson June 25, 2013 at 9:37 am

Then it should sell very well. Blockbuster, in fact.

22 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 9:39 am

“Only an asshole would wear Google Glass in public …”

Until about 3 weeks later when it is required by law.

23 dearieme June 25, 2013 at 10:18 am

“Only an asshole would wear Google Glass in public …”: oh, I must have got it wrong; I’d assumed that they were worn on the head.

24 Brad Spahn June 25, 2013 at 9:38 am

Do you have other intel on Silicon Valley Ethnic food? I’m heading to Stanford this fall and am a little concerned that I’m entering a wasteland. If anyone can point me to the Bay Area equivalent of Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide, I would be forever grateful.

25 Leland is a girl's name June 25, 2013 at 10:12 am

Ethnic food is easy to find once you leave downtown Palo Alto and Mountain View, which are full of expensive little twee restaurants.

There’s a little pink taqueria about a mile and a half south of Stanford on El Camino Real that I highly recommend. Get the gambarones imperiale.

26 Frederic Mari June 25, 2013 at 10:01 am

Google Glasses are only the first step on the road to the old cyberpunk trope of artificial eyes, overlaying the world with info. It’s the civilian adaptation of a military HUD. Say, you’re scanning the street ahead of you and you’re in the mood for food and, instantly, every time you glance around, restaurants are highlighted, with their specialties, ethnic or otherwise, their price range and their overall user rating.

Sounds pretty useful to me, if a bit overwhelming.

27 Adrian Ratnapala June 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

Yep. Maybe.

I can imagine some kind of sense in Cyborgising the human race even though google-glass seems stupid to me.

A proper wearable computer, with a full-eye screen and some kind of glove for control would be more useful – but there is no way users would accept it. Thus something like Glass might be a wedge, that makes people accept that sort of thing little by little.

28 Dan Weber June 25, 2013 at 11:55 am

Knowing it’s a v1 makes it more tolerable to look at.

The biggest issue people have with Glass (“you are an asshole”, as Gawker says for rage-views) is that it’s obvious you are using it. Once it becomes small enough that you can’t tell who is using it, it will become a non-issue.

29 Frederic Mari June 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm

What Dan said. It’s only v1. I personally am not interested… yet. But it will get to be full-eye HUD one of these days, with lots of info about your surrounding. My only potential issue is the possible info overload. Ads can be enough of a distraction on billboards if you’re driving. Getting them directly on your retina is unlikely to improve things.

30 Finch June 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm

It would be awesome for sports. Alignment marks in golf. Routes in football. Alerts to checkers behind you in hockey. They’ll probably need to be banned, if for no other reason than consistency with silly PED rules.

31 Frederic Mari June 26, 2013 at 6:12 am

Hadn’t particularly thought of that but GPWM.

32 dearieme June 25, 2013 at 10:14 am

“The best new question I heard was this: if you could change the physical laws of the universe so as to create more life in it, what would you do?” Ooh, you are a tease.

33 JWatts June 25, 2013 at 11:57 am

“The best new question I heard was this: if you could change the physical laws of the universe so as to create more life in it, what would you do?” Change which constants? Have stars distributed more densely throughout the universe? More or less carbon? And so on. The ultimate point of the question is to get you thinking about whether our universe is fine-tuned for life after all.

The Universe is nearly completely empty and has been for billions of years. So, it’s hard to believe it is fine-tuned for large quantities of life , though perhaps it’s a quality issue. You know, nice large lawn in the suburbs kind of thing.

34 Rahul June 25, 2013 at 1:29 pm

What fraction of the Universe have we sampled at a sensitivity high enough to confidently rule out presence of life there.

35 JWatts June 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Well, if you rule out some kind of hypothetical life form that lives in deep space at temperatures approaching absolute zero, then about 99.9999999999999999999958%.

So all of the matter in the universe would fit into about 1 billion cubic light years, or a cube that’s approximately 1,000 light years on each side. That means that only about 0.0000000000000000000042 percent of the universe contains any matter. The universe is a pretty empty place!

36 JWatts June 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm

To clarify, even if you assume that every star in the universe is surrounded by planets teaming with life, the universe is still far more barren on average than the least habitable desert on Earth. Space if vast. And it’s a cold, cold vacuum.

37 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Why limit yourself to only the observable realities!?

38 Cyrus June 25, 2013 at 3:50 pm

If the universe is continuously infinite and the the life forms therein only countably so, points about the distance between life forms are really just quibbling.

39 MG June 25, 2013 at 12:16 pm

My take on the “best new question” is creating more life pales in comparison with creating more (potentially) intelligent life, which pales in comparison with creating more (potentially) intelligent life that can more easily communicate/interact with each other. I think any change that facilitates the evolution of life as pure information, and the exchange of information at faster than light rates may begn to make the universe a more “comprehenively interesting” place in which to “live”.

40 Andrew' June 25, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Yeah, much more pressing question – “how do we create less life without using neurotoxins?”

41 Bernard Guerrero June 25, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I want to say water, which implies we need more oxygen, which further implies that we need more “helium burning” via the triple-alpha process for stellar nucleosynthesis. Too Earth-centric?

42 Nanga Fakir June 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Typo alert: It’s “Andhra” and not ‘Andrha’.

43 Larry June 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Put the stars close enough together that they are reachable at well-under light speed with travel times in months. Or allow FTL travel.

And why are there not more world cuisines? I can think of French, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese (several), Indian (N&S), Thai/Viet, “Mediterranean” and of course BBQ and Asian fusion. My test is “available across the American Midwest”, except for the latter two, which qualify because they are “widely available outside the US”.

It’s also worth listing cuisines that are little loved even within their home country, such as British. Others?

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