Friday, December 28, 2007

Fun Rant on Arguments

Enjoy this long fun rant on Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

I tend to get quite a few men writing to me saying, 'Think your girlfriend's a nightmare, well mine's worse.' Now, this always surprises me. First of all, I wasn't aware that I was giving the impression that Margret is something of a trial to live with. I'm here merely stating the facts, without bias or embellishment: a simple camera pointed at the scene, recording it with complete neutrality. I am, frankly, shocked and disturbed that anyone might think I'm here to make the case that my girlfriend is, say, as mad as an eel.
Margret is sitting at this computer (which is in the attic room, incidentally) typing something. I'm flopped in a chair close by with a paper and pad, scribbling away at a bit of work.
I pause and say to her, 'Tortoise and turtle is the same word in German, isn't it?'
She stops typing, reaches over, pulls off one of my Birkenstock shoes, throws it down through trapdoor (I hear it thud below, then flip-flop down the stairs) and returns to her typing. All in a single, silent movement.
Your guess is as good as mine, frankly.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

British Gal's Day in Pictures

Fun comic blog - UK gal draws posts about her day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Gmail Security Tip

The problem has supposedly been fixed but here is what happened. User logs into Gmail. User visits site with infection code. Site injects a filter into Gmail to have the users email matching the filter to be forwarded to any email they like.

Google’s GMail security failure leaves my business sabotaged

If you use GMail, it’s absolutely vital that you check your account settings now.

Here's what to do:

When logged into GMail, click on the 'settings' tab in the upper right of the screen. Then check both the 'Filters' and the 'Forwarding and POP' sections.

If you see any filters you don't want - delete them. You also might want to forward any evidence of illegal action to the authorities. Unfortunately I am not convinced they invest enough in policing internet crimes. But hopefully they can be encouraged to actually prosecute such crime.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Promises and more movies

I watched Promises yesterday. It was a very good documentary on Israeli and Palestinian children. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002.

Another good, little known movie is Whale Rider. I really liked this movie and just figured I would mention it too. And while I am at it here are some fun movies: 5th Element, Modern Times (Charlie Chaplan), What About Bob?, Blade Runner, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Monsters, Inc..

Friday, December 14, 2007

What is Wrong with Copyright Taking Public Good for Private Special Interests

Why Has Copyright Expanded? Analysis and Critique by Neil Netanal:

Numerous commentators have decried the growth of copyright holder rights in recent decades. Copyright's expansion is widely said to be inimical to copyright's core goals and economic rational. If so, why has that expansion occurred? Without question, there are multiple causes. This essay surveys and critiques a number of them, beginning with the copyright industries' raw political muscle and moving to the rhetorical and theoretical frameworks for expansion.
the public interest – as reflected in some 300 years of copyright precedent – is for a narrowly tailored incentive for authors to contribute to the store of knowledge and enrich the public domain. Copyright is meant to spur creativity and expressive diversity. When it has the opposite effect – when authors cannot freely build upon their predecessors’ works in creating new expression and when copyright serves as a tool for entrenching media conglomerates – something has gone awry.

This is another good look at the failure of public policy that is the current ever increasing special interest favors at the expense of society.

Related: Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation - The Differences Between Culture and Code - Lessig Video on Information Revolution - Innovation and Creative Commons - DMCA Debacle

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Virtual Personal Assistants

Get Friday

Does anyone have experience with virtual personal assistants? Any recommendations or warnings?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Amazing Japanese Nursery Train

ever been on a train this nice?

believe it or not, the photo above is of a train interior in japan.

with the results looking nicer than most nurseries, the japanese have taken the idea of ‘child-friendly public transport’ to the next level with these 2 beauties, both designed by eiji mitooka. he was the artistic force behind ‘omoden’ (toy train) and ‘ichigo ec’ (strawberry train), a couple of regional trains which travel on a daily basis on the 14.3km kishigawa line in japan. the japanase are intent on making train travel a more comfortable experience for everyone, women and children especially, and the results are incredible.

both trains contain hundreds of toys, tv screens showing cartoons, immaculately clean wooden flooring and cots for younger children.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Drew Carey Defends Poker

Drew Carey Defends Poker

Maybe Dallas wouldn't be ranked as the 34th most dangerous city in America if Dallas police weren't devoting precious resources to raiding friendly poker games played by veterans. In his latest video for, Drew Carey examines a paramilitary-style raid on a poker game at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1837 in Dallas, which has now been forced to close its doors.

"Poker is about as American as baseball and apple pie," Carey says in video. "It was born here in America. Mark Twain loved it. He's a great American. Until recently, Supreme Court justices had a monthly game. They're great Americans. You'd think playing poker in a VFW hall would be about as American as anything you could do."

How can they justify a SWAT style raid for a poker game at a VFW Hall? It is well known the excessive use of swat style raids has lead to many deaths of innocent people. Evidence of systemic failure of police with SWAT raids.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Are Paid Links 100% Untrustworthy?

In reply to Dave

> from reading your post you appear to be suggesting that Google
> allow pages to buy their way up the organic SERPs?

Not really. Unless you count as "buying their way up" something like hiring Scoble to write for you. Then people link to his stuff and the stuff he writes about and as part of that your content rises.

What I think is that it is not the most effective model to treat certain paid for content as completely untrustworthy. It seems to me the proper model to factor in the bias.

When Fox has news stories about their TV shows my personal view is that is a significant indication of bias their "news" (and of course, as I think any logical person would do it brings into question the merit of any other "news" presented). But I don't think they are 100% untrustworthy. When Some prestigious academic is funded by a drug company I believe they are biased but I do not believe the results are 100% untrustworthy.

If Matt writes about some neat new Google product I know there are biases - even if the only bias is he is much more likely to hear about a cool Google product than one from some other company because he works for them. But I figure if he says he likes some new Google that is worth factoring into my decision whether to look at it. And in fact I give him something like 97% credibility on doing so. If he thinks some new Google offering is junk I don't think he will say it is great. I just don't, I could be wrong but I am confident of that. Would the Fox site links to some new TV show that is horrible? Yes I do believe it would.

If some other blogger I trust highly writes on say Ruby on Rails and then says they are sponsored by the annual Ruby on Rails conference which they attended the last 2 years and it is great and they highly recommend it I find that valuable. And yes I do believe the best search result would be enhanced by giving value to this recommendation of this blogger even though it is likely they will provide more links to the conference due to the conference than they would have if they did not receive pay to do so. This certainly could be seen as buying your way up the search results.

I don't automatically ignore all advice where the author has some personal financial incentive or stake. That is one factor, but it is not a binary operation (0% trustworthy or 100% trustworthy). It seems to me to select the best search results you would need to apply the same logic. Granted I have no real idea how to do that. But I do have the opinion Google can figure out good ways to do that. And I think that would be the correct strategy.

I also think this is an interesting area to think about. How to find the best results for a search. How to reward behavior Google would like (say good title text) and how to punish behavior Google doesn't. But really those are just methods to the true aim which is the best search results. Google does it pretty well I think but I think they can do much much better. Which I think is pretty much what the people working at Google think. Users of the search engine don't care what the title text is (basically) they want the best pages for them. They don't care if they comply to Google's recommendations. It does make it easier for Google to find the best results if the title text is relevant but that is an issue for Google. So Google tries to help sites make it easier for Google to return results by providing guidelines - that is very sensible. And in the same way I have no problem with Google having guidelines on certain types of paid links.

I happen to think on this matter - that certain paid links are to be 100% ignored is not the correct strategy (to create the best search results). But I may certainly be wrong, maybe it is. I think the best strategy would be to rank the content and links on other factors. The pay is not the problem. Some bad practice that are encouraged by pay are the problem. So weigh those. If it is links to low quality sites then factor in any link to "low quality" sites. If it is unrelated links in a footer across a whole site, factor that in. If link keywords are the problem then attach that - whether they are paid for and how they are paid for does not invalidate them (as a source of useful data to rank search results), in my opinion.

Certain authors are much more swayed by payment. That again is a factor as a human we consider. If a great Ruby on Rails blog promotes certain gambling, mesothelioma and mortgage loans with no insight I lose respect for their opinions. Wether they were paid or not (but obviously pay is a likely reason for such writing. On the other hand, if they include a few off topic posts that are sensible I have not problem accepting that as more input to consider (probably I give a bit less weight than I would to posts on Ruby on Rails) but I still value it.

I don't have any problem with Google campaigning against certain paid links (I believe Matt has said several times the current campaign is against specific types of paid links other links that are more indirect [and which as a matter of course most often involve much more money] are not being campaigned against. I just find it interesting to examine the assumptions behind the current strategy.

Related: Google's Search Results - Should Factors Other Than User Value be Used - Google's Displayed PageRank - Improvement Ideas for Google (2006) - Web Search Improvements (2005) - posts on Google management practices

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Google's Search Results - Should Factors Other Than User Value be Used

Comment on: Selling links that pass PageRank:

I agree I wouldn't give that post much weight. What if it were a pre-eminent brain tumor researcher that was posting while being paid by the Mayo Clinic (because they decided that was a good way to encourage publicizing content that would reach the public) and he suggested further reading at the Mayo Clinic. Then I would have no problem reading it and giving that content a high value and following his advice and reading more at the Mayo Clinic. The issue is the value of the content. Knowing the ways the author might be biased (who is paying them) is one valid thing to consider.

The idea for Pagerank came from the citation of academic papers. Google's current position would be that citations from those papers that are funded by other than the author should be ignored. That is not how citation value is calculated in the academic world. An I do not believe it would be an improvement to do so, though I can believe there is a minority that believes exactly that.

Google should be allowed to decide to calculate pagerank however it likes. It could be that ignoring all sponsored, paid and otherwise influenced links (wherever exactly the current guidelines draw that line today), on balance, is the best method. I doubt it. But it might be that until organizations (Google, Yahoo...) better figure out how to improve determining value in such cases this is the best strategy. Google certainly knows better than me the limitations of their ability to judge such potentially biased content.

Your example, in this post, though doesn't make a good case though - I don't think. The value of posts by a knowledgeable, well meaning doctor would be good regardless if they were paid or not. Disclosing that they have financial interests is valuable. Then people can weigh that, as one factor. If I were making decisions for Google I would want to mimic that human ability to weigh that factor as one measure in determining how much weight to give to the doctors links on the page. I can't believe that this isn't exactly what Google would like to be able to do.

Perhaps that ability to manage the "grey area" is beyond the ability of Google's models today. I can't believe it is, but the current explanations seem to indicate a desire by Google to eliminate this "grey area" (there are plenty of other "grey areas" being left "grey"). So it appears that either Google decided it was unable to effectively produce results managing this "grey area." Or decided that it could, and doing so was a bad idea. If Google can do so and choose not to I would say that is a bad idea. But one Google can make and frankly I don't know why Google would care what I think - they have plenty of smart people that I am sure have thought of whatever I can on this topic.

It would seem to me rather than the explanation in your post, the real issue is whether Google can try to balance what a smart human would try to do when evaluating content or not. Saying that bad content that is paid for should not be given a high value by readers is true, but does nothing to explain why paid content is automatically untrustworthy. I would think most people would say it is not automatically untrustworthy, it might be, it might not - I will use the fact it was paid as one factor in valuing that content.

I think it is great that Google is at least somewhat open about discussing these issues even as Google is criticized.

To me the bottom line is that Google needs to provide users the best results. My guess is if Google were to say that because the Mayo Clinic (just as an example) engaged in some practice that Google did not like that Google heavily penalized there search results users of Google would be dissatisfied. Google has done a good job of making the decisions of what shows up in search results in the past. I can understand a desire to take action against those Google thinks are not doing thing the way it likes. However, I don't think Google can put too much weight on site owners following exactly the practices we want versus the shall we say un-penalized pagerank of a page. As long as it works and high value sites searches want to see were to modify their sites to comply with what Google wants there is no problem (because then Google can provide users what they want and get sites to do what Google wants).

But if sites did not and Google chose to not display those sites to users obviously that just makes Google's results less valuable. Here, for the sake of argument (and clarity), I am seperating out the issues of value of the content to searcher and complying with Google's desires. Those 2 factors obviously can be separate (they could also be interrelated but for the sake of clarity lets say in this example, that they are not. Then Google's option is to 1) return the best results it can to users or 2) punish a site for some factor users don't care about but Google does. Google has a lead is providing good results. So Google can afford to degrade the results provided to users in order to penalize sites not adopting practices Google wishes them to. That is real bottom line.

The anger of people that their site rises and falls based on certain things matters to them - but the real issue for Google is how good are the results to users. If any factor other than providing the best results to users is used in producing the search results then the value to users is degraded. I am not ignoring that factors which may not seem to be relevant may in fact be. So, if in fact it were true that a site that was sponsored and didn't use no follow when it linked to that sponsor web site were worse results than sites that did not adopt that practice then the factor is being used in order to provide the best results to users. But any factor that is merely to make it easier for Google and results in degraded search results. I just can't see Google adopting over the long term. It provides competitors a weakness to exploit.

And the same with ignoring the links recommended by lets say high authority sites that don't exactly follow Google's desires. Google could just choose to ignore the "votes" of those sites but if those "votes" are not of 0 value (lets say 100% corrupt) then Google would be throwing away valuable insight (by ignoring the votes of that site). Obviously that is Google's choice but it seems to be pretty obvious that doing so is far from an ideal engineering solution. There is value (votes of an authority) being ignored. Too much ignoring of worthwhile information (even if that information is tainted by payment) and it provides an opening for competitors to make better use of that information to provide results. I just can't see that as in Google's interest.

Anyway those are my rather long thoughts on this topic.

Related: Google's Displayed PageRank

One more point that Google likes to avoid. They say they wish to limit the penalties to sites that buy or sell links to manipulate page rank. They have, by not disclosing that they oppose, paid for links when the payments are the style that large companies make. Say when Google partners with CNN. Exposure and links are part of the bargin they strike with one another. Links from those partnerships are paid as any human would see the issue. But Google's statement make it clear they do not see such links as untrustworthy. I would agree those links are trustworthy. Large corporations that agree to cooperate invest a great deal of money in that venture and the "vote" that this organization we agreed to partner with is worth valuing. It is however non-the-less paid.

So, just remember it is the links bought by small organizations Google is basically targeting. That is obviously their right. But it doesn't seem to follow that certain paid links are 100% trustworthy and certain paid links are 100% untrustworthy. This is not to say that Google doesn't have the right to decide to act as though this is the case. They do.

This is mainly just me thinking out loud about a further the understanding of the scope of the issue. Which I think is an interesting engineering challenge: how to pick the best results to display. And how to do so when actors are consciously trying to manipulate the results and actions of other actors. And how Google is acting in the process not just as a evaluator but to persuade content owners to behave in ways Google would prefer.

It makes perfect sense for Google to do this. They can make there results better if they can get content owners to follow practices that help them better evaluate pages. In this I just think the implications of Google's words are not the best practice.

Since I think Google has proven to be very smart, my guess is that you can't assume the implications will be followed through (another alternative is that my understanding is faulty in some way which is certainly very possible). It is in Google's interest to get as many sites to comply as it can - it should be easier to evaluate if everyone follows your guidelines).

But it is not in Google's interest (I don't believe) to punish otherwise good sites that do not comply (by lowering their rankings in search results). This is not in Google's interest because then worse results are shown to users. In addition it is not in Google's interest to ignore valuable information ("votes by authoritative site") even if those sites don't play exactly by all Google's rules. However, in order to convince people that they have to follow Google's guidelines I can certainly see people making a judgment that, while some people might get mad at us, it is worth it if we can get more compliance to make our job of picking the best results easier. As long as though degraded results were still the best results (and useful) it actually wouldn't have a negative impact. But I don't believe their lead is so great they can degrade the results much without losing market share.

Anyway this is an interesting topic to think about.