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6. Letters to the Editor

From Nigel Birch – Origin of the name “google”

Hi Chris,

As editor, you let something slip through. At the start of the piece Mapuche is ours not yours [Ogmios 31, p.18] the author says of the lawsuit over the google and googol “…google and googol are not the same word.” No, they are not, but the trade name was derived from the other word, which is an invented word coined to represent a very large number (to reflect what the search engine was searching on). See the following from someone “who was there”:

Origin of the name “google”

From time to time I read or hear stories of the origin for the search engine and company name “Google” that are incorrect, which prompts me to write this brief account, based on my understanding of the genesis of the name. The source of my information is my friends and colleagues from Wing 38 of the Gates Computer Science Building at Stanford university, where Google was born.

In 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin called their initial search engine “Backrub”, named for its analysis of the web’s “back links”. Larry’s office was in Room 360 of the Gates CS Building, which he shared with several other graduate students, including Sean Anderson, Tamara Munzner and Lucas Pereira. In 1997 Larry and his office-mates discussed a number of possible new names for the rapidly im-proving search technology. Sean recalls the final brainstorming ses-sion as occurring one day during September of that year.

Sean and Larry were in their office, using the whiteboard, trying to think up a good name – something that related to the indexing of an immense amount of data. Sean verbally suggested the word “googol-plex”, and Larry responded verbally with the shortened form “googol” (both words refer to specific large numbers). Sean was seated at his computer terminal, so he executed a search of the Internet domain name registry database to see if this newly suggested name was still available for registration and use. Sean is not an infallible speller, and he made the mistake of searching for the name spelled as “”, which he found to be available. Larry liked the name, and within hours he took the step of registering the name “” for himself and Sergey (the domain name registration records date from September 15, 1997). David Koller, Stanford University

Despite what Mr.Pullham claims, there is a direct link here as googol is an invented word to represent a number that is equal to the figure 1 followed by 100 zeroes. It was coined by the American mathematician Edward Kasner (1878-1955) after his young nephew humorously suggested it to him. The difference in the words is simply that some-one couldn’t spell (sign of the times?) So there is a reason for suing Google (what did happen to the case, I wonder?) Best

Nigel Birch (who only really remembers this story because of coming across the word googol in an SF story from the sixties: Barrington Bayley’s “The Ship of Disaster”)

From Pavel Zheltov – Hosting Chuvash music on the Internet

Dear Chris,

We have gathered material of ethnic Chuvash music and want to open an Internet Radio. Do you know some people of a minority who al-ready have the experience of opening and streaming IRadio, and what is the cheapest good quality server for this? I have of course found several ones at yahoo, but they are a little bit expensive as they host mass music radio. And our radio will not be a mass one. What do you recommend?

With respect
Pavel Zheltov

(Anyone who would like to contact Pavel and offer him advice can reach him on: tchouvachie at

From Mikael Grut – Return to !Khwa ttu

Marina and I recently returned from a two-week holiday in Stellenbosch, the "excuse" for which was a symposium and reunion at my old faculty in the University. One day we went to !Khwa ttu, the San Culture and Education Centre north of Cape Town which we had visited in connection with the FEL conference in Stellenbosch in November 2005 ( The Manager, Michael Daiber, is very good at delegating responsibilities to his staff, so he asked the field guide Kondino to show us around. Since we were there 18 months ago a photo gallery has been added. We were also shown a new film with a duration of about half an hour, of a specialist on the San culture (Professor Jeanette Deacon) who is out in the field with the !Khwa ttu guides, who then tell their various legends etc. There is now also a restaurant -- with a Swiss chef, no less -- where we had lunch. The Centre gets many school classes from as far away as Cape Town, and there are half-day tours starting at respectively 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.. The children of the staff now go to school in Darling, which is about 20 minutes away by bus, but after school they have classes at !Khwa ttu dealing with their own language and culture, as well as with their school homework. In the shop Marina bought two beautiful golden silk cushion covers with geometric San motives, which now cheer up our sofa. I attach the two pages of the Khwa ttu brochure.

During our 2005 visit I was on the tractor with Kondino and David Nash when we went to the picnic spot. This time I finished the con-versation which I had started with Kondino then. He had told us that his father had been in the South African army during the "border wars" in Angola and Namibia. (The army had employed many San, mainly as interpreters and trackers.) Now I asked him if, after those wars, his father had had problems with the Bantu people. "Yes." "Is that why you came to the Kimberley area?" (Kondino is originally from the "Caprivi Strip" in the very north of Namibia, near the border with Angola.) "Yes." "Only your family?" "No, the whole community was moved there." Africa's "First People" is not well treated, whether it be the San in Southern Africa or the Pygmies in Central Africa, and in Southern Africa they have often sided with the white people. In the real-life story "Someone's war" in the book Shadow Bird by Wil-lemien le Roux (ISBN 0-7957-0108-X), a wounded San soldier says, "Our land has been taken from us, and the only way we can get it back is to fight with the Boers".

I used to think that the Khoi or Khoikhoin (Hottentot) people and languages were extinct, until I read in the Encyclopaedia Britannica that the Nama people in Namibia are of that ethnic group. Kondino told me that a close relation of his married a Nama, and that he (Kond-ino) can understand the Nama language. The entry "Khoikhoin lan-guages" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica does say that the Nama lan-guage is also spoken by a "small group of San".
Mikael Grut