Geek Trivia: Cents of humor

What geek-centric joke did Google hide in its IPO filing documents?

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Geeks and non-geeks alike have long recognized Google as the undisputed king of Internet search engines. But true technophiles regard the search authority as one of the few remaining holdouts of the all-but-extinct dot-com culture.

Google employees are still the object of envy from their techno-industry compatriots due to their lavish company perks, which include free massage treatments and yoga instruction, as well as an onsite doctor and dentist, and the realization of the mythical free lunch every day. For most, these benefits now seem almost like relics of a bygone era.

But before you begin scanning Google's job openings for a spot in geek paradise, you may want to make doubly sure that a listing isn't just another example of the former upstart start-up's sense of humor. After all, Google made headlines a couple months back with a job listing for its new Copernicus Center, scheduled to open on the surface of the moon in 2007.

It should come as no surprise that the job posting was nothing more than a snarky public relations gimmick, but it worked. Google garnered not only substantive media attention in both mainstream (CNN) and geek (Slashdot) quarters, but rumor has it that several wishful thinkers actually applied for the fictional jobs.

Indeed, Google's developers built humor into the search engine itself by virtue of its I'm Feeling Lucky button. Designers ostensibly created it to take searchers directly to the most likely result for any given query, but on more than one occasion they've used it for prankster purposes.

The most famous example of this practice was last year's "error page," generated by an I'm Feeling Lucky query for the phrase "weapons of mass destruction." Once again, Google received extra attention and traffic numbers simply by being a little funny and perhaps more than a little politically savvy.

Of course, Google has needed little humor to help its Q rating recently, thanks to its expected multibillion-dollar initial public offering (IPO) that has financial investors salivating. However, a little geek-centric humor has found its way into the Google IPO process, provided you know what you're looking for.


What geek-centric joke did Google hide in its filings for an initial public offering (IPO) of stock?

If one were so inclined to read the full text of Google's rather unorthodox IPO application as filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission—and provided one were familiar with somewhat advanced mathematics—your eye might pause upon a familiar number below the listing of Proposed Maximum Aggregate Offering Price: 2,718,281,828. These are the first ten digits of Euler's number, otherwise known as Napier's constant, the natural log base, or e.

So while the common stock analyst would only see that Google expects to generate more than $2.7 billion from its IPO, the math geeks of the world can pause for a momentary chuckle at having slipped another inside joke past the "civilians" of the business world.

For those of you too far removed from high school mathematics to recall the natural log base (a group that includes the Trivia Geek), mathematicians use Euler's number to simplify the computation of certain exponents in theoretical mathematics. In other words, the average person would have absolutely no reason to ever use the natural log base, which is probably why Google chose it for its little inside joke.

The press often directly attributes this practice of embracing and cultivating practical jokes into Google's business dealings to the company's cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Indeed, many have feared that Google's corporate culture will be lost in the wake of its IPO, as the one-time start-up becomes just another slave to investors' demands for quarterly profits.

But have no fear: Besides the higher-math cameos, Google's IPO is a surprisingly savvy business document. The company designed the IPO share sale and voting structure to ensure that Brin and Page maintain control of their company, which should keep unreasonable investor interference at bay—and keep the quirky Google humor in play.

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 a future edition of Geek Trivia.

Picking up where we left off before my hiatus, let's revisit the quibble regarding the April 21 edition of Geek Trivia, "Personal success," which discussed the historical significance of the MITS Altair 8800 personal computer. Legend has it that the Altair's name is a science fiction reference, specifically a Star Trek episode.

TechRepublic member T. E. Walker somewhat admonished me for not properly identifying the episode as "Amok Time," which first discusses Spock's famous seven-year itch. More important, the starship Enterprise changes course and travels away from the Altair system to save Spock's life.

The real quibble, however, comes from members Thotful and Wdunwoody, who both rightfully point out that the planet Altair IV was the setting for the 1950s sci-fi classic film Forbidden Planet, which might also have influenced the famous PC's naming convention.

Alas, we may never know which answer is right, simply because the Altair's developers have publicly stated that they don't remember, but far be it from us to let such trifles stand in the way of good Geek Trivia.

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.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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