Tag Archives: Science

What Previous Google Projects Can Tell Us About Calico

6 Oct

On September 18th, Google announced the launch of its most ambitious venture yet; tackling the aging process of the human body. California Life Company, or Calico, will be led by Arthur Levinson, current Chairman of Genentech and Apple, and promises to try and “improve millions of lives.”

The project is ambitious, and certainly a far cry from what the technology giant is known for. However, Larry Page and Google have regularly tried to push forward into new frontiers – funding electric cars, augmented reality glasses, and even asteroid mining. But what, exactly, can we learn from Google and Page’s previous undertakings?


The most obvious comparison to make is with Google Health. A service for storing personal health information, similar to Microsoft’s HealthVault, it was supposed to merge medical records with a variety of partners to allow for a centralised, integrated profile. Google Health launched in 2008, yet was discontinued as of January 2012, Google’s cited reason being that it did not “create the impact we wanted.”

Although the project was a failure, proponents of Calico can still be upbeat. The new enterprise is focused on long-term goals, whereas Google Health was clearly aimed at the more immediately reachable target of creating an empowered user base in control of their own medical history. Expecting short-term definitive results from a project whose goal is to combat death would be a bit inflexible, to say the least.

There have also been other recent closures. Google Reader, a RSS interface that was still popular with a large base of power users, was discontinued in July of this year. Although the main reason given for the closure was the steady decline of membership, there have been reports that Page personally had no interest in continuing Reader – and because of this, no manager wanted to take on the project and move into an area that their own CEO saw as unessential.


Google Labs, too, was abandoned. A system to help promote, distribute and test prototype Google features to interested parties, it was eventually ceased in 2011 – soon after the announcement of Google Health’s closure – with Page citing a need for greater “focus” on areas of advancement.

Both Labs and Health closed soon after Page officially became CEO of Google, and tied in with a new Google strategy: “more wood behind fewer arrows.” This was, essentially, to put more support behind the projects that truly mattered. Will this include Calico? Is it a venture that Google will want to put time, effort, and money behind indefinitely? Or could it eventually become a project dropped in favour or something deemed more worthwhile in the future?

Perhaps hints can be found in Page’s other recent investments, all of which fall into the areas of future technology and humanitarian enterprise. There was, for instance, the high-profile investment in Makani Power, the research and development company aiming at creating airborne wind turbines to produce renewable energy. In 2013 it was taken into the fold of Google X, a division that has given us Google Glasses and is working towards the creation of self-driving cars and neural networks.


As an individual, Page has also made a series of private investments in future technology, including Tesla Motors, an electric car manufacturer. Then there is Planetary Resources Inc, a company with the aim of mining precious materials from asteroids. It sounds far-fetched, but so far the celebrity venture – other investors include Ross Perot Jr. and director James Cameron – has had great success, raising their target of $1 million from a Kickstarter campaign, and Planetary Resources Inc is currently planning for a launch in 2014, to test out technologies for their asteroid-locating satellite.

Given this continual, philanthropic strategy, can we be positive regarding Calico? Time will tell. Progress is unlikely to be apparent for decades, even with such a respected expert as Arthur Levinson on board as CEO. Google and Calico are exploring a revolutionary territory: precisely the sort of area that excites Page, but with many pitfalls and dangers of becoming a time – and money – sink. But given how different these recent projects are from those abandoned since Page took over Google’s reins, perhaps there is a long-term cause to celebrate. The Calico project is, after all, a noble one, and one with the potential to change the face of medical science.

Bahstun! Attractions: The Museum of Science

19 Mar

In case you can’t tell yet, I am a big fan of family attractions: places where kids are able to run around, shout, and possibly injure themselves whilst the parents sigh and have a brief break from their permanent headache by going to the planetarium. The Boston Museum of Science fits this to a T.

Immediately on entrance, I was hit with the sound of a thousand children’s stomping feet. The first sections of the museum are full of buzzing buttons, flashing lights and things to poke and hit. I relished every minute of it, as seen below.

"I'm learnding!"

The best bits of the SCIENCE section were the electricity and robotics collections. There was a brilliant lightning show, for instance, where one of the museum workers used Tesla Coils to make an ear-splitting amount of noise and terrify everyone in the audience with the threat of electrocution.

Meanwhile, the exhibit on robotics had some of my personal favourites. Along with some genuinely neat educational tools about systems programming, there were two interactive robot/AI things. One of them was an incredibly needy little bastard that desperately wanted to be my friend (I’m not sure why; maybe it was trying to get some pity money). The other one was a pair of CGI women who wanted questions to be asked – basically testing out and showing that computers can understand speech. I gotta say, those bitches loved my English accent.

It wasn’t only THE FUTURE on hand though. There were also, again, a load of dead things to look at. Not mummified humans this time, but creepy stuffed animals!


Seriously, there was a huge collection of dead animals in this place. There were also a suspiciously low number of kids in this part; I suspect the two are related somehow. I loved it though. Even though taxidermy in extremely creepy at times, the expressions most of the animals are making are friggin’ hilarious.

On top of that, I actually learnt things about animals. There were plenty of dioramas about New England and Massachusetts-based critters. Each of the ‘enclosures’ had the same thing written about it: ‘[this particular animal] is built for survival’. For some reason, this was hilarious, and I enthusiastically shouted out “BEARS ARE BUILT FOR SURVIVAL” and “DEER ARE BUILT FOR SURVIVAL”. It made me look like I was on an away-day from a mental institution, but it was worth it.

Finally, it has an excellent gift shop, if only for this:

Why yes, that is in fact a GODDAMN ROBOT HAT!

Loads of things to do with robots, brew-your-own-root-beer sets, giant bastard dinosaur toys, horrible science pun t-shirts, loads of stuff about planets, Boston cookbooks, yada yada. If I had more disposable income I would have spent it all in there.

Fantastically dapper T-Rex says bye-bye!


Bahstun! Food: Part Three

12 Mar

Time for the next instalment of my Boston food adventure! The third day’s breakfast was again made up of Dunkin’ Donuts – this time a Boston Creme and a glazed. After that, we set off to the Boston Museum of Science. Somehow along the way we managed to pick up more Angus Steak Sandwiches and a Bacon & Egg Bagel for good measure.

The museum was probably the most awesome attraction of the week. Full of scientific wonders, stuffed animals, spinning thingamajigs, robots, and more; it was a dreamland. Unfortunately the food there wasn’t up to scratch. A small-ish, dry hot dog, and mediocre fries, for a relatively large amount of money all things considered.

Costumes on dogs should be made illegal

Photo unrelated, but it came up when I looked for a 'small hot dog'

Even so, it didn’t diminish our enjoyment of the epic science stuff. By the time to depart, though, I was parched. So, I made a quick stop at a vending machine. Unfortunately, it had already sold out of the greatest drink in the universe, Mountain Dew. I was shocked. Appalled. I would have needed years of therapy to get over the fact, were it not for my choice of a wildcard drink. I got my hands on this:

The Root of All Deliciousness

Always trust products with cartoon animals on them.

This is Mug Root Beer, otherwise known as the SWEET NECTAR OF THE GODS. It’s the first drink I have had where the aftertaste has improved the overall experience. It was exceptional. Now that I am back in the UK, I am having horrific withdrawal symptoms. If anyone wants to get me some Mug over here, I will quite happily pay you back in sexual favours.

We walked back through Boston itself, enjoying the sights and stopping off at some nice shops along the way. By the time we were back at the hotel, we were knackered. Surveying the empty boxes, bags, and cartons around us, we decided that we would not add to the landfill site that was slowly being created. Instead, we ate out for the first time.

Our choice? The Cheesecake Factory. I’ll disappoint you now: we didn’t eat any cheesecake. This is because the main meals were so massive that we couldn’t handle any dessert. Let’s do a rundown – my girlfriend chose enchiladas, whilst I went for a pepperoni pizza. Here was our mistake, though: two sides. I was determined to have mac’n’cheese whilst I was over here, and the lass chose some sweet potato fries. She finished neither the main nor the side.

Meal for one

A 'medium' anything at The Cheesecake Factory.

So, I was left with the best part of three dishes to myself. I succeeded in finishing the mac’n’cheese (it was delicious, thank you very much), and then struggled my way through the other two. I ate two-thirds of the pizza and between us we ate three-quarters of the fries. Then, the restaurant made clear to us why America is the greatest nation in the world.

Doggy bags.

After paying, I waddled back home with some fries and four slices of pizza under my arm. Breakfast for the next day sorted.