I’m dedicating this week’s Geek Trivia to all the Web-heads
out there who know the secret history of Seraphim Proudleduck, the eventual
success of a little chunk of software called BackRub, and the comedic potential
of the number e. No fair trying to
Google the answers, boys and girls, because each of the above subjects is
itself an oblique reference to the Don’t-Be-Evil Empire we know today as

Since the typical Geek Trivia reader is a total Google
addict, you’ve probably already discovered that Seraphim Proudleduck is an
absurdly common term on the Web. That particular nonsensical phrase was the
basis of a search engine optimization contest held in late 2004, with the
objective being to design a Web page that would return the top Google search
result for Seraphim Proudleduck. All
of which is to say that Google has become so ingrained into Web culture that
people construct contests around its use

As to BackRub? Well, BackRub was Google before Google was
Google. That is, BackRub was the original nickname for the Google search
technology that Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed as Stanford students.
Since the system used backlinks to attribute relevance and prominence to Web
sites, Brin and Page thought BackRub was a clever name for the software.

The BackRub-naming logic was probably just the first of many
clues to the off-center sense of humor that would come to characterize Google’s
corporate culture. Take, for example, its notorious love of mathematical
in-jokes, especially ones that use above-basic math concepts such as pi and
natural log base e.(The latter found a notorious place in Google’s infamous
IPO filing

In addition, buildings on Google’s campus bear unusual
names, including 0, 1, e,
pi, and phi—the last representing the so-called golden ratio that has
inspired mathematicians and artists since the days of Pythagoras. And, of
course, there’s Google’s own name, which is a reference to a googol—a one with
100 zeroes behind it (10100).

Still, perhaps no single anecdote from Google’s past
illustrates its playful nature better than the company’s first case mod.
BackRub/Google’s very first storage assembly was a homemade contraption
sporting a case built from a somewhat unlikely—and highly whimsical—choice of


Which somewhat unlikely and highly whimsical building
material did Google’s founders use to construct portions of the outer case for
Google’s first storage assembly—a hodge-podge contraption built when Larry Page
and Sergey Brin were still Stanford students?

A collection of red, yellow, blue, and
green Lego building blocks
constituted the bulk of the storage assembly,
holding twin cooling fans in place and providing a perch for twin Lego
to watch over the precious data sequestered inside the
device. The blocks’ color scheme should sound familiar—it’s the same one used
in the Google logo. While at Stanford, Page and Brin were notorious Lego
fanatics; the former even built a working computer printer entirely out of Lego

The storage assembly, which built the original BackRub
index, required far more capacity than any conventional student project—or
commercial product—could procure in 1996. To get the then-staggering 40
gigabytes of necessary capacity, Page and Brin had to lash 10 separate 4-GB
hard drives together, and they built the Lego housing to hold their
Frankenstein storage system.

The Lego storage assembly stayed in service until 1999, when
Google took it offline and donated it to Stanford. Today, the Lego Server
resides in Stanford’s Computer Science Department as part of a display of
landmark computing devices. (Ironically, the Google artifact makes its home in
a building named after Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates—but that’s a punch line
for another day.)

The chronological display makes no explicit mention of the
Legos, merely characterizing the housing as a “low-cost cabinet.” Of
course, considering what the Lego server looked like in its
original laboratory setting
—surrounded by erratically stacked and
cross-linked PCs and equipment—perhaps the more surprising fact isn’t that the
cabinet was made of Legos, but that it had a housing at all.

Whether the Lego server (or Legos in general) influenced the
actual choice and order of colors in the Google logo is a subject of debate.
But whatever the case, the original Lego-enclosed storage assembly is
undoubtedly a worthy object of techno-historical reverence—and a blockbuster
example of computer Geek Trivia.

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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the March 22 edition of Geek
Trivia, “Eagles
over (Millennium) Falcons.”
TechRepublic member PatZA disputed my criticism of Han Solo’s infamous speed-distance
faux pas in the original Star Wars.

“When planning hyperspace
trips, you have to plot a course that doesn’t fly you too close to strong
gravity wells, such as a sun, black holes, etc. The reason for this is that a
gravity well will pull you out of hyperspace. And if you pop out of hyperspace
too close to a star or some such, your engines may not be strong enough to pull
you out.

“Now, the parsec thing comes in
with the speed of your craft. Faster craft can travel closer to suns and black
holes, as their engines are strong enough to resist the gravity. This is why
Solo could do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, as opposed to bulkier, slower craft
that would have to take a longer course around the local stars and the Maw.
(For those of you who don’t know, the Maw is a famous black hole in the Kessel
system. Inside was located the Empire’s Maw facility, where the Death Star and
Sun Crusher were developed.)”

Actually, the
Maw is a collection of black holes
known as the Maw Cluster—which held the Imperial Maw Installation. Kevin J.
Anderson first introduced the Maw in his 1994 Star Wars novel Jedi
. And, besides the fact
that I’m not sure black holes exist
, it’s still an obvious attempt to cover
up Solo’s idle and technically inaccurate boasting. Keep quibbling, and may The
Force be with you.

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The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.