The Origins of the 'Anonymous Animals' in Your Google Docs

Justin Sullivan/Getty Image
Justin Sullivan/Getty Image

Every time you open up a Google Doc with the setting “anyone with a link can view,” the contents of that document probably aren't the only thing you scan. Your eyes likely also check for the icon on the right hand corner to see whether you’re a wombat, an aurochs, a chupacabra, or any of the other 70 animal icons that are currently available to be assigned to each anonymous user.

All shared Google Docs feature a row of these animal icons. The images are assigned to every user currently viewing the file who wasn't directly invited to view it. That means if you share a document via a "sharable link" rather than specifically typing in someone's email address to invite them, the viewer will show up as an anonymous animal—even if you have their contact information.

Those animals go back further than you think, according to Google spokeswoman Kyree Harmon. In 2012, Google employees simply wanted to make the company's straightforward Docs feature—which was rebranded from "Google Documents" and included as part of the new Google Drive suite—more fun. “At the time, the proposal for anonymous viewers was to show them as a unique but lengthy number sequence, e.g. Anonymous35123512425,” Harmon tells Mental Floss. “[Then] the team wanted to see if they could come up with something more friendly and more human—and during a brainstorm, the alliteration Anonymous Animals came up. From there, the visual design team got involved to build out icons.”

According to Harmon, nobody remembers which creatures started it all, but “they were all fairly typical animals.” Eventually, the list expanded to critters that were a little more playful—not to mention mythical and even non-animal. (And in case you were wondering, no, you can’t choose your animal or check which icon you've been given without having another user in the Doc tell you. That’s part of the fun!) That explains why the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is on the list, along with the axolotl, a “smiling” baby-faced salamander; Nyan Cat, a viral meme from 2011 featuring a pixelated flying feline with a Pop-Tart for a body; and the kraken, a giant, squid-like sea monster from Scandinavian legends.

Gradually, Harmon says, the engineers got even more creative and began to include those on the endangered and extinct list, like the quagga, an animal related to the modern zebra that went extinct in 1883. (Since then, there have been attempts to “revive” the species by breeding zebras that shared the quagga’s distinctive pattern, in order to create herds that resembled the original quaggas.)

The list grew quickly, and by 2016, it had reportedly expanded to include 68 animals. Moose, tiger, and llama had yet to show up at that point, and neither had the jackalope, a half-rabbit half-deer creature whose taxidermied remains appear mounted on walls throughout the American west. Those animals were added later, and according to Harmon, there are no plans to expand the current catalog of 73 creatures.

So what happens if there are more anonymous users actively using a Google doc than available animals? It doesn't happen often enough to be a concern. "If Docs were consistently receiving more than 73 simultaneous anonymous viewers," she says, "we certainly wouldn’t want to double up on any animal and cause confusion.”

For now, here's the complete roll call:

Chart of all the animals available in Google Docs
iStock, except for Nyan Cat, which is courtesy of http://www.nyan.cat/, prguitarman (LOL-Comics by Christopher Torres)

Samsung Is Fixing Bug That Lets Anyone Unlock Fingerprint-Protected Galaxy S10s

stevanovicigor/iStock via Getty Images
stevanovicigor/iStock via Getty Images

Users of the Samsung Galaxy S10, fear not: A fix is on the way for your device’s faulty fingerprint reader. According to Engadget, Samsung Electronics told Reuters in a statement that it is “aware of the case of the S10’s malfunctioning fingerprint recognition and will soon issue a software patch.”

Soon after the device’s initial release, consumers discovered that a 3D-printed fingerprint could unlock the phones. Then, UK user Lisa Neilson reported to The Sun that any human fingerprint would work on her phone. Though we don’t know exactly why the technology is malfunctioning, it has happened through the use of third-party plastic or silicon screen protectors—Neilson had purchased hers on eBay.

“It’s a real concern,” Neilson told The Sun, in large part because people nowadays store much more than contacts and photos on their smartphones. “Anyone can access it and could get into the financial apps and transfer funds.”

Samsung users can protect their phone's security with an old-fashioned number code. Though not as hassle-free as the fingerprint mechanism, the code will work just fine.

The company hasn’t disclosed when we can expect a solution, though it confirmed to Engadget that an internal investigation is underway and customers should stick to using authorized Samsung products in the meantime, rather than third-party screen protectors.

[h/t Engadget]

11 Things We No Longer See In Schools

Popartic/iStock via Getty Images
Popartic/iStock via Getty Images

If you ask a fifth grader what a card catalog is, there’s a good chance your question will be met with a blank stare. And while this might make you feel positively ancient, there are definitely some academic traditions and technologies from your parents’ and grandparents’ generations that you’re too young to know about, too. For example, did you ever solve a multiplication problem with a slide rule, or carry your books with a book strap?

Here are eight things that you may or may not remember from your time in school, but today’s students probably won’t.

1. Card Catalogs

Before digital catalogs could deliver a list of books perfectly matched to even the vaguest search term, you had to manually hunt for relevant information in the drawers of a massive cabinet. However unwieldy and inefficient card catalogs may seem compared to current technology, there was a certain tactile satisfaction in thumbing through card after card to find a particular author, title, or subject. The Online Computer Library Center officially declared the death of the card catalog in 2015 after it sent its last shipment of cards to Concordia College’s library in Bronxville, New York. But plenty of old catalogs live on as storing units for sewing supplies, wine bottles, and more.

2. Food Pyramids

1995 USDA food pyramid
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The 1992 food pyramid that many Millennials likely remember from their early school days broke food groups into ambiguous serving sizes and advised you to eat the most servings of bread, rice, cereal, or pasta each day. It was replaced in 2005 with the more modern MyPyramid diagram, which identified serving sizes in cups or ounces and corresponded with a website you could visit for more information. In 2011, the USDA effectively killed the food pyramid altogether with the launch of MyPlate, a new plate-shaped diagram that recommends you eat mostly vegetables and grains. This, of course, has an extensive website of its own.

3. Rope Climbs

Though fitness tests in gym class have been stressing students out at least since the early 1960s, some of the tests themselves have changed. According to the parameters set by the Presidential Youth Fitness Program—which schools can use as a guide for evaluating grade school P.E. students—push-ups, pull-ups, and curl-ups have withstood the test of time, but there’s no mention of a rope climb. The new dreaded portion of the exam is the PACER, a series of sprints during which you have progressively less time to complete each one.

4. Slide Rules

slide rule
claudiodivizia/iStock via Getty Images

The slide rule, which dates back to the 1600s, did the job of a calculator before modern calculators existed in the classroom. It looks like a ruler crammed with extra lines and numbers, but the middle portion slides back and forth to give you the answers to multiplication and division problems, exponents, square roots, and more. It fell out of fashion with Hewlett-Packard’s introduction of the handheld electronic calculator in 1972, though some particularly fastidious math teachers still use them to keep their students from succumbing to the somewhat mindless nature of automatic calculators.

5., 6., 7., and 8. Chalkboards, Chalk, Chalk Erasers, and Chalk Holders

chalkboard, eraser, and chalk
diamondsky/iStock via Getty Images

Since just about every chalkboard has been replaced by either its cooler younger sibling, the dry-erase board, or its genius baby cousin, the smart board, it stands to reason that all chalkboard accessories have also gone out the window—no more chalk, chalk holders, or chalkboard erasers. The gradual disappearance of chalkboards also means that children will no longer understand the actual noise made by fingernails on a chalkboard. Much like we use the phrase chalk it up to mean “give credit” without having experienced it in its original context—where store owners would write a customer’s outstanding charges on a chalkboard—future generations might use “fingernails on a chalkboard” as an almost meaningless synonym for “really bad sound.”

9. Book Straps

book strap
Hemera Technologies/iStock via Getty Images

Before students carted heavy textbooks around in backpacks, tucked them into the crooks of their arms, or simply decided not to bring them to class, there was the book strap: a glorified leather belt which fastened around a pile of books and often included a handle. It didn’t protect your books from bad weather and it didn’t contain compartments for any other school supplies, but it might help keep your pants up if you forgot your actual belt.

10. Dodgeball

Dodgeball may not have completely disappeared from schools yet, but it’s only a matter of time before hearing the name never again evokes that strange mixture of excitement and fear. The soft-balled combat competition, also known as bombardment, killer ball, and murder ball, so obviously pits athletes against their less coordinated classmates and promotes the idea of a human target that it’s ceased to be the cornerstone of gym class. Many schools have outright banned it, while others have quietly replaced it with less polarizing activities. And, if Justin Long’s concussion on the set of 2004’s cult classic DodgeBall is any indication, those foam balls can cause some damage.

11. Dunce caps

student wearing a dunce cap in classroom
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The earliest known written mention of a dunce cap was in Charles Dickens’s 1840 novel, The Old Curiosity Shop, in which it’s made of old newspapers and sits on its own shelf in the classroom. The conical symbol of idiocy gained popularity during the Victorian era throughout both the U.S. and Europe, and continued to humiliate schoolchildren well into the 1950s. As if standing alone in the corner wearing flashy headgear didn’t draw enough attention to you, sometimes the dunce cap even featured bells.

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