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Schroedinger's Google
Jeff Pasternack
Back in 1935, a physicist named Edwin Schroedinger put forth a theory that calls for placing a cat inside a box with a radioactive atom. If the atom decays, and the geiger-counter detects an alpha particle, a hammer hits a flask of prussic acid that releases a gas and kills the cat. The paradox lies in the clever coupling of quantum and classical domains. Before the observer opens the box, the cat's fate is tied to the wave function of the atom, which is itself in a superposition of decayed and undecayed states. Thus, said Schroedinger, the cat must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive states before the observer opens the box, ``observes'' the cat, and ``collapses'' it's wave function.

I thought it might be fun to replicate this trick in the name of animal cruelty…I mean…err…science. There’s a cat in my neighborhood, a rather big, black one. It’s the type of cat that chases big dogs up trees and can single-paw-edly keep the mailman from delivering to our group of houses for days on end. I figured that if I could get the cat in the box (this would please the mailman, dogs and neighbors), finding a spare vial of prussic acid and an atom (the world’s full of them, you know) would be a cinch.

During the course of performing this experiment, I learned some new things. Did you know that cats that live outside tend to not be declawed? Did you know that duct tape is not a sufficiently strong enough material for holding a cardboard box closed when an un-declawed cat is inside the box? I didn’t either. But both my physician and I do now. I am in agreement with the British author Terry Pratchett, who, in his book Lords and Ladies, reached the following conclusion. He feels, and I agree, that there should be an amendment to the paradox known as Schroedinger’s Cat. There is a third state of existence aside from alive and dead when it comes to cats being contained in boxes: it is known as Bloody Furious.

There is a relationship between the new and improved Schroedinger’s Cat Paradox and using Google to find answers for problems, computer or otherwise. For example, my friend Stefanie uses Word 97. One day she noticed that it stopped displaying pictures inside the document and instead showed the placeholder frame for where a picture ought to be, but wasn’t. The Help files were worthless (surprised?) and thus, the TechnoPeasant sprang into action. I searched Google on “Word 97 pictures not visible.” Here are the results:

Click for Large View

As you can see from the results, the first link might be promising, except that it refers to emailing a Word document. The rest of the links, except for the next-to-last one, don’t appear to address Stefanie’s issue. However, when I clicked the link, the page failed to load.

In old Schroedinger’s world, the linked page either exists, or it does not. Just as Prachett and I concluded, the smart people at Google realized that there is a third option: cache. Simple put, Google stores many Web pages on its servers that might no longer exist on the Web. By viewing a cached page, one can access a much larger repository of information and find results to searches that might otherwise not exist in an uncached world.

Finding what you seek often boils down to trying different combinations of words. Prior to the successful search, which used “Word 97 pictures not visible,” I had failed in two other searches using “Word 97 problems pictures” and “Word 97 image problems.” I must confess that I am also impatient, so if I don’t find a link that is likely to resolve the problem on the first or second page of results, I am probably going to retry my search. The only time I’ll venture further into the results is when I am dealing with an arcane search that I know will be challenging.

For example, my co-worker November asked me to find a black and white picture of family sitting around an old transistor radio from the 1940’s. Using Google, I searched for “1940 Radio Picture” and performed my search in the Google Images area. On the 7th page of results I found the picture. When I tried the search using “1940 family radio picture,” I only came back with four images, none fitting the bill. The reason for this is that the text describing the images on the various Web pages failed to use the words on which I was searching.

It is important to note that when you search on Google, the engine assumes that you are searching with the word “AND.” So the search for the radio image was really “1940 AND radio AND picture.” Other engines perform the search using the word OR. Which is why I just use Google because if I can’t find what I seek there, I probably have no business searching for it in the first place.

Another great resource that Google offers is the ability to search Usenet newsgroups and you can do so by clicking on the Groups tab. Ahhh…remember back in 1984, prior to Rick Adams sparking the Great Renaming Debate, how cool it was to talk with people all over the world? No? Well, that’s ok. You don’t have to. The important thing is to know that Usenet is an enormous collection of posts on systems that are similar to discussion forums. Usenet also serves as a conduit to the more technical, and sometimes seedier, side of the Internet where true Netizens reside: just look for and you’ll learn more than you ever wanted about the fetishes of the world. Regardless, if normal Google searches fail to provide you with answers, checking the Usenet Groups may be your best recourse.

Searching the Internet and the Web is something of an art form, but odds are that someone, somewhere, has stumbled on the problem or question that you’re facing. With a little bit of patience and experimentation, you should be able to hunt down the answers. For example, right now I’m going to stop writing this column and search for an adhesive stronger than duct tape to hold a particular cat in a box. Come to think of it, I think I’ll do my first search on “Healing Flesh Shredded by Cats.”

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at