Monday, April 30, 2007

Grapes and Lemons

When most people need answers, they ask Google. So where do Google engineers get answers to our questions? Well, that's why we have whiteboards.

At Google, a whiteboard is a communal free-association machine. For example, suppose I were to write on the whiteboard, "What is the answer to life?" Within 5 minutes, someone would walk by and write below it, "42." That's just how whiteboards work.

A few months ago, on my way to get a cup of coffee, I stopped to write this:
Q: What's purple and commutes?
In the time it took me to fill my cup and return, someone had already written below it:
A: An Abelian grape.
Q: What's yellow and equivalent to the Axiom of Choice?
Cute. But no time to respond; time for meetings. The next time I walked past the whiteboard, a third person had written below that:
A: Zorn's Lemon.
Q: What's an anagram for Banach-Tarski?
Now I had never heard of that last joke. Fortunately, I learned the answer an hour later, from a fourth person's handwriting:
A: Banach-Tarski Banach-Tarski
Then, below that, in a fifth style of handwriting:
I don't get it. What's Banach-Tarski?
And you can probably guess what was below that:
A: Google it
And that's how Googlers ask questions. Credit goes to Michael in the comments for reminding me of that exchange.

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