Google extends its tendrils into new arenas so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up. This week the giant tech company is creating digital art museums, challenging the hackers of the world, letting you play doctor on your tablet, and messing around with fractals.
Google Art Project
Going to an art museum: Sure, it’s a great way to improve your cultural cachet, but it also makes your feet hurt. Fortunately for couch potato art lovers (or those of us who can’t fly all over the world on a whim), Google is bringing some of the world’s greatest museums to you through Art Project, which takes Street View technology into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Van Gogh Museum, and others.
The level of detail offered up by up to 14 billion pixels is pretty jaw-dropping. Take “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger at the National Gallery in London. It would be easy to ignore the sheet of music that sits on a table in the painting. But with the Google Art Project’s magnification, users can see that the sheet music actually has real music painted onto it. The user can zoom-in and see the individual notes and words with pin-sharp clarity. [Wall Street Journal]
For now just one painting from each of the participating museums is captured in such detail. More could come, and the project’s founder is also seeking a way to capture three-dimensional art, like sculpture.
A Chrome Challenge
For the first time, Google is taking its Chrome browser to Pwn2Own, a competition in which hackers try to break into the major Internet browsers including Firefox and Internet Explorer. And the company is making things a little more interesting, kicking in an additional $20,000 of prize money into the pool.
The world is not smooth, made of perfect spheres and unbroken lines. Its edges are tattered and torn, ragged yet recognizable. Last week the world lost the man whose mathematics helped to explain those patterns we see all the time in nature.
On Thursday, Benoît Mandelbrot died. His great book The Fractal Geometry of Nature appeared in 1982, and its fascinating notion rests on the idea of a shape becoming more and more complicated the further in one zooms.
“Fractals are easy to explain, it’s like a romanesco cauliflower, which is to say that each small part of it is exactly the same as the entire cauliflower itself,” Catherine Hill, a Gustave Roussy Institute statistician, [says]. “It’s a curve that reproduces itself to infinity. Every time you zoom in further, you find the same curve.” [PC World]
You can’t rise from the primordial ooze if that ooze is frozen. But about three billion years ago the sun was around thirty percent dimmer, meaning our planet should have been a snowball. The puzzle has haunted scientists for decades, but a study in Science has a new answer: It argues that a dense cloud of “fractal haze” enveloped the Earth.
This isn’t the first attempt to solve the early Earth conundrum. Carl Sagan, for one, had a few ideas. First, in 1972, he speculated that the atmosphere had ammonia which could trap heat, but later work showed that the sun’s ultraviolet radiation would have broken that ammonia down. In 1996 he tried again, saying that Earth might have had a thick haze, perhaps a nitrogen-methane mix, that blocked the ultraviolet but let in enough of the sun’s then-meager rays to warm the planet. Unfortunately, that too was a no go:
Early models assumed the haze particles were spheres, and that when individual particles collided, they globbed together to make bigger spheres. These spheres blocked visible light as well as ultraviolet light, and left the Earth’s surface even colder. “It basically led us to a dead end where we couldn’t have a warm early Earth,” said Eric Wolf, a graduate student in atmospheric sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the first author of the new study. [Wired]