Friday, 27 January 2017

27/01/17 - Google Easter Eggs

Google’s search engine is one of those things that’s so very good at what it does, it’s become a verb – like Hoover or Rollerblade or Jet Ski. Or, um, Taser. If someone asks you a dumb question, you’d never tell them to ‘just Bing it’. You wouldn’t suggest they Ask Jeeves. It’s become such a ubiquitous thing that Microsoft Word even accepts ‘google’ as a word with a lower-case g. This doesn’t demonstrate itself fully here as you’re reading it, so you’ll just have to trust me. I’m drafting this in Word, and there’s no red squiggly line. It’s exactly as exciting as you think it is.

But I’ve got a revelation for you. Well, not just one, but a series of revelations. You see, Google is more than merely a one-dimensional search bar that helps you find stuff. It’s dynamic, it’s interesting, it’s full of secrets… and this is largely because the people who work there, herding all the ones and zeroes into their appropriate pens with their little digital sheepdogs, clearly feel there’s more to life than ad-ranked search results and massive tax avoidance. So they’ve started dicking about. Google is now riddled with secret little easter eggs that only reveal themselves when you search for the right things. Everyone knows that when you search for the word ‘anagram’ it comes back with ‘did you mean ‘nag a ram’?’, but there’s far more to it than that. Strap yourselves in as we investigate just how deep this rabbit-hole goes…

Search: flip a coin
Indecisive? Can’t deal with binary decision-making? Too much of a forward-thrusting millennial to carry cash? Google this phrase, and it’ll randomly bring up either heads or tails for you.

Search: roll a die
If you find yourself in the improbable situation of having to choose between six options, this is the next logical step on from the coin-flip. (Could also help with board games if you’ve lost the die.)

Search: askew
Obviously Google can’t be this literal with all search results (‘explode’ could lead to court cases), but searching for this will make the page… slightly askew.

Search: fun facts
There’s quite a lot of information on the internet. Searching for ‘fun facts’ allows just one grain of this infinite cosmos of data to filter into the fabric of your day, giving you a handy conversation starter if you’re off on a blind date or find yourself stuck in a lift with a tedious colleague.
(Cynicism aside, I’ve just been refreshing this one for a few minutes and have already learnt several useful things…)
[Oh, and a further point on this one – it also works with the search term ‘I’m feeling curious’, reviving a feature that the Google homepage used to have back when this was all fields]

Search: do a barrel roll

Search: solitaire
If you’re typing weird stuff into Google to see what happens, you’ve evidently got time to fritter away. So searching for ‘solitaire’ will help you to do that.

Search: [name of movie actor] bacon number
You’re probably familiar with the idea of ‘six degrees of separation’; i.e. that everyone on Earth is only six or fewer acquaintance links away from any other person. ‘Six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ is a parlour game in which players try to link any other Hollywood celeb to Kevin Bacon via six shared movies or fewer. And if you Google, say, ‘Brad Pitt bacon number’ or ‘Jerry Hall bacon number’, the search engine will happily oblige, listing all the connections in the chain.

Search: tic tac toe
Bored of solitaire? Here, play with Google’s noughts and crosses widget instead.

Search: what sound does a [name of animal] make?
If you’ve forgotten what ducks do, or need to demonstrate to a simpleton some of the key identifiers between pigs, dogs and cows, this is the search term for you.

Search: Google in 1998
Want to reminisce about how shit the internet was in the nineties? Here you go, let it all come flooding back.

Search: the answer to life, the universe, and everything
One for the Douglas Adams fans here.

Search: recursion
Now, this one really is geeky. ‘Recursion’, to a programmer, is a term referring to a function that calls back to itself. So if you search for it, Google says ‘did you mean ‘recursion’?’ – and clicking on the link just gives you the same results again. NEEEEEEERD!

Search: zerg rush
This summons forth an army of Os that invade the screen and destroy everything. Apparently this has something to do with the video game StarCraft. I know nothing about StarCraft.

Search: Super Mario Bros
With many search terms, you’ll get a ‘Knowledge Graph’ box on the right hand side of the screen when the results come up, giving some key facts and images about the thing in question. Search for Super Mario Bros, and the Knowledge Graph will contain one of the ?-blocks like in the game… and if you click it, a coin will come out as it makes the correct Nintendo noise. Ah, nostalgia.

Search: Sonic the Hedgehog
…and if you search for Sonic the Hedgehog, the Knowledge Graph will give you a little clickable Sonic that spins around on demand.

Search: Pac-Man
Everyone loves Pac-Man. Pac-Man is a classic. And if you search for Pac-Man, then you can play Pac-Man. Pac-Man!

Search: Atari Breakout
In the mood for more games? Switch over to Google Images, then search for Atari Breakout. (n.b. if you grew up with an Acorn Archimedes, like I did, you’ll know this game as ‘Fireball’.)

Search: once in a blue moon
Searching for this returns the result ‘1.16699016 × 10-8 hertz’. Why? Well, if you’re a maths dork, you could convert that number from seconds into years (1 hertz = 1 cycle per second) to get 2.7 years, the approximate time between blue moons – a blue moon being a month in which there are two full moons. There, I’ve explained that one in slightly too much detail so you don’t even need to Google it. But you do now know that when someone says ‘once in a blue moon’, they mean (perhaps unwittingly) ‘once every 2.7 years’.

There are probably loads more of these, but if you don’t mind I’m going to spend a little time Googling ‘fun facts’. I’ve already learned why Starbucks is called Starbucks, what the first product was to wear a barcode, which animals have four stomachs, what Spam is made of, how long cats remember things, the age of the oldest Galapagos tortoise, and when crayons were invented. Another couple of days of this and I could become the most knowledgeable man who ever lived. (Or an insufferable bore. Two sides of the same coin, really.)

Bad Lip Reading of Trump's Inauguration

The Netherlands welcomes Trump in his own words

Friday, 6 January 2017

06/01/17 - OK, Okay, O.K.

‘OK’ (or ‘okay’) is one of the most commonly-used words in the English language, although no-one knows where it really came from. Its nuances are subtle but diverse, and yet the entire English-speaking world  - and much more besides – has an innate understanding of them. As an adjective it means ‘adequate’ or ‘acceptable’ (‘these pants are okay to wear again’), but can also mean ‘mediocre’ (‘the new Die Hard movie is okay, I suppose’). As a noun or verb it denotes assent (‘your wife okayed that shirt, did she?’). As an interjection, it can signify agreement or compliance (‘okay, last-minute trip to Tijuana sounds good’). It can also be used to seek confirmation – ‘is this Bananaman tattoo okay?’. And, naturally, ‘okay’, ‘OK’ and ‘O.K.’ all mean approval, acknowledgement, acceptance and agreement. OK, let’s go. It’s OK, your mum okayed it. Everything is A-OK.

So, where do people think it came from? Well, there are a number of options. For instance…

Oll Korrect
This sounds stupid, but is widely accepted by many dictionaries as being the source. Even so, there are numerous different accounts of where ‘oll korrect’ came from. Some claim that it sat with soap man James Pyle, who took out an ad in the New York Times for O.K. Soap in 1862 – his obituary in 1900 credited his relentless use of the initials as being what pushed them into the mainstream consciousness; however it was apparently the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson who coined it, with Pyle merely popularising it… and it was around 1830 that Jackson reportedly started saying ‘OK’, his legendarily poor spelling leading him to believe that ‘OK’ stood for ‘all correct’.
Other sources state, in a less convoluted manner, that there was a fad for comical misspellings in the 1830s, and ‘oll korrect’/‘OK’ grew organically during that time.

Och Aye
This is a pretty plausible explanation. Those with a thick Scottish accent, as you’re probably aware by stereotype if nothing else, have been known to say ‘och, aye’ to mean ‘oh, yes’. The Ulster pronunciation is pretty close to the modern ‘okay’ too. So some linguists place the genesis of it with Scotch-Irish American immigrants at various dates between 1700 (or before) and the mid-1800s.

Aux Quais
French for ‘on the quays’ or ‘to the docks’, this version is said to originate variously between around 1780 and 1820, referring to cotton bales that were accepted for export from New Orleans, or stencilled on Puerto Rican rum cases that had been approved for export. Or in the American Revolutionary War, referring to the, er, appointments made by French sailors with American girls. A variant of this is ‘Aux Cayes’, referring to the Haitian seaport of Les Cayes (which, incidentally, is spelled ‘Okay’ in Haitian Creole) – again talking about markings on export rum.

Omnis Korrecta
A rather more likely-sounding version of ‘oll korrect’, omnis korrecta is Latin for ‘all correct’. Schoolmasters would apparently mark their pupils’ work with ‘OK’ in the mid- to late-nineteenth century if they’d got everything right.

Old Kinderhook
Martin van Buren, the 8th President of the United States, was born in a place named Kinderhook, New York. In the 1840 presidential election, the nickname ‘Old Kinderhook’ was used in his campaign, the shortened ‘O.K.’ supposedly passing into the common lexicon as something solid and trustworthy. (Opposing wags reinterpreted his ‘O.K.’ as ‘Out of Kash’, ‘Orful Kalamity’, and other ribald put-downs.) 

Mobilian Jargon was a pidgin trade language used between frontiersmen and Native Americans along the Gulf of Mexico. It was in common use from the early 1700s right up to the 1950s as a means of facilitating trade between natives and European settlers. ‘Oke’ (or ‘okeh’) is a Choctaw word meaning ‘it is’. (In a more modern context, it works as a suffix, spelt ‘-okii’.) It’s been suggested that Stonewall Jackson originally adopted ‘oke’ from the Choctaws.

In the 1960s, it was suggested that early 19th-century West African slaves may have introduced ‘waw-kay’ to the American Deep South – ‘waw’ meaning yes, ‘-kay’ used for emphasis, supposedly coming from the Wolof language of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania.
The same theory also cites the Mandinka language’s ‘o ke’ (meaning ‘certainly’ or ‘do it’).

Order Received
Bit tenuous, this one. Apparently ‘O.K.’ was a common misspelling of ‘O.R.’ for ‘order received’ in the late 18th- and early 19th-century, owing to the similar shapes of the letters R and K. Not convinced by that, but a fair few people claim that as the source of it all.

Ohne korrektur/Otto Kaiser
Two suggestions that originate from the German language. ‘Ohne korrektur’ means ‘without correction’, and Otto Kaiser was an industrialist who’d stamp ‘O.K.’ on his goods when they were ready for shipping. The former feels like a retronym, while the latter doesn’t feel significant enough to create a global linguistic phenomenon. But again, many people suggest these as the origins of ‘OK’.

Ochen Khorosho
This is a Russian phrase - очень хорошо – meaning ‘very well’. Now, this only works if you take the phrase from a later transcription to English rather than using the traditional Russian phrase, as ‘khorosho’ begins with Kha (X), not Ka (K). So this should really give us the phrase ‘OX’. Next!

Some suggest that ‘O.K.’ stands for O’Kelly, or alternatively Obediah Kelly, who was an early railroad agent. It’s not clear why they think this is relevant. Moving on…

Ola Kala
This is a Greek phrase - Όλα Καλά – which means ‘everything is fine’. Supposedly used by Greek teachers in marking their pupils’ work, while the global ubiquity of Greek sailors would allow it to spread. Also an abbreviation reportedly used by Greek immigrants in the US when sending telegrams home. Pretty much as credible as the ‘omnis korrecta’ theory.
(Another unrelated Greek one: ‘och’ was an Ancient Greek incantation against fleas.)

Ober Kommando
‘O.K.’ was broadly used in the 1780s and ’90s as a shortening of ‘Ober Kommando’, or ‘High Command’. This stemmed from Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Inspector General of the Continental Army, stamping ‘O.K.’ all over his correspondence.

Open Key
This is a global telegraph signal meaning ‘ready to transmit’. Of course, the telegraph wasn’t invented until 1844, which doesn’t explain the earlier uses of ‘O.K.’…

This is Finnish for ‘correct’. The crux of this theory is how much you believe that the Finnish language might have influenced other tongues so widely. Seems unlikely.

Outer Keel
Another nautical one. Timber in a wooden-hulled boat would be marked for seaworthiness; ‘O.K. no.1’ would be the first to be laid, and so forth.

Smacks of desperation, this one. The sixteenth-century name for a harvest festival in the east of England? Oh, come on…

Orrin Kendall
This was the name of a supplier of biscuits to the Union War Department during the American Civil War. The O.K. biscuits were of high quality, so things that were good became known as ‘O.K.’. Hmmm.

The Old English word for ‘seaworthy’, shortened to ‘H.G.’, which was then pronounced by Norwegian and Danish sailors as ‘hah gay’, which became ‘oh kay’. Nope, not buying that.

Note that that’s a zero, not a letter ‘o’. ‘0K’ stands for ‘zero killed’, a contraction traditionally used in military despatches when talking about a conflict in which no fatalities occurred.

O qu'oui
From the French, it’s an emphatic way of saying yes. (‘Oh, but yes!’) Feasible? Maybe.

There are various other suggestions, and word geeks have been arguing for generations about why we all say ‘okay’. However, the most likely explanation is probably that there’s an element of truth in a number of these theories, and it’s not just their prevalence in little pockets around the world but their recognisability to others that’s helped it to achieve its modern ubiquity. And that’s probably as good an answer as you’re going to get, OK?

Cassetteboy’s 2016 round-up

Dumb things in Home Alone that everyone just ignored

A neat metaphor for life itself