Tag: Google

Of Algebra, Google and the Bible

Futzing around.

I know Google can solve math problems. But I was tinkering with Wolfram Alpha and comparing it with Google Search and I ran across the fact that WA can solve algebraic equations.

So I thought I’d see if Google could as well.

Spoiler alert: as far as I can tell, it can’t.

I typed in a completely arbitrary algebraic equation and Google brought up search results for sites and documents that contained that sequence of characters and similar ones. Not much help there.

So just to refresh my mind on what Google does with calculations, I entered this arbitrary expression:

43+12/9-14

The usual calculator image with the result (30.333333…) appeared as the first result. But I allowed my eye to scan below that expected result and was startled to find as the very next result, a reference to the Bible: “Matthew, chapter 12” from the site of the United States Conference of Bishops.

WTF?

I wondered what portion of the search term generated that result.

So I trimmed the search term to 43+12/9. Now the posts following the calculator result were engineering-like entries dealing with connectivity and other esoterica.

43+12/ led to…ready? No math result, of course, but the first entry was to Isaiah 43:12!

WTF, again?

Same result if I omit the slash, but in that case, I get the calculator result, too.

It turned out that the only way to get the original citation to Matthew without the full original search term was to trim it to 43+12/9-1.

I spent way too much time on this but it was really fascinating. I cannot easily decode the reasons that some of those mathematical formulas produce Biblical citations when entered in the Google Search bar. I’d love to understand it, though.

My First Taste of Cardboard: Delicious!

For Christmas my youngest and her hubby bought me a ViewMaster VR Viewer Starter Kit. It wasn’t a huge shock; I’d had it on my Christmas list for some time. But I wasn’t really expecting such an extravagant gift in this fraught economic year.

I’ve now spent about six hours with my new toy. I must say I haven’t been this excited about a new technology in some time, and perhaps a decade or more since I was excited about a technology that was this affordable.

vr_dual_imagesCardboard is an amazing technology invented and released by Google that brings low-end virtual reality into reach of every consumer and even developer out there who’s interested in the technology. I’ve been interested in VR since the spring of 1986 when I wrote Silicon Visions: The Future of Microcomputer Technology in which I interviewed a young up-and-coming tech rock star named Jaron Z. Lanier. I was fascinated by what this early inventor of the VR world had to say; much of it, as I recall it now almost 30 years later, has proven to be prescient.

My first thoughts about the VM Viewer and some of the content available for it range from positive to astonishing. My few criticisms are, in the grand scheme of things, minor and more related to the inexpensive implementation of the technology as proffered by ViewMaster than anything else.

OOBE

The out-of-box experience, or OOBE, with the VM Viewer Starter Kit is pretty good. The packaging is clear, there are no barriers to getting the device out of the box and ready to go. But instructions are a bit sparse and in at least one important case unclear. The latch that opens the hinged unit to allow for the placement of the smartphone that is the source of all of the app and content pieces proved particularly stubborn. It turned out that the diagram in the tiny instruction booklet was inadequate (at least for me) and I was struggling to get at the darned thing while at the same time fearful of breaking it.

The VM model comes with three sample “experiences” which make it quick and easy to engage with the technology. Before you can enjoy these experiences, you must download the appropriate apps to your smartphone. Then you have to link a plastic reel (think a shrunken version of the old cardboard wheels of the antique ViewMaster) to the viewer by pointing the viewer at the reel lying flat on a surface.

This turned out to be — apparently, at least — a part of my biggest complaint about the techie toy so far. The process of launching an app on the smartphone, inserting the phone into the viewer and beginning the actual experience is inconsistent and fairly non-obvious. I battled the procedure numerous times throughout the first hours of familiarizing myself with the viewer. In fact, I still have trouble about a third of the time making it all go smoothly without closing the app inadvertently. Not infrequently, just when I had it figured out, I’d close the latch on the viewer only to see through the binocular lenses a prompt asking me to authorize the app to do something or an instruction screen that wasn’t visible before I set the phone in place. I’m sure there’s a method here, but it’s at best translucent.

The Viewer

After just a few hours with the viewer, I find myself generally satisfied with the quality and usability of the device. But it’s clear this is a Version 1.0 release of a product that will benefit from future enhancements and upgrades.

I’ve already mentioned the sticky latch problem that I encountered during the initial experience with the viewer. That seems to be part of the larger issue of the relative fragility of the overall construction of the unit. The hinges that join the two portions of the clam shell are a little loose and sometimes stubborn. The powerful springs inside the viewer that contain the phone work reasonably well but seem to have very tight tolerances. As a result, inserting and removing the phone from its required position often results in accidental tapping of the screen or the Home button, necessitating a restart of the program or the process.

The other problem that causes me a bit of concern is the loose reel that you have to use to access any of the ViewMaster content. As I experimented, I concluded this was not a major glitch since I probably won’t be using a lot of that proprietary content. Still, it feels weird—kind of like the old days of the hardware dongle—to rely on something outside the device to make the content accessible.

The other point is perhaps not related directly to the viewer. Until I’ve had more experience with Cardboard, I won’t know for sure. But navigation within various pieces of VR content is awfully inconsistent and somewhat unpredictable. I was frequently unsure what, if anything, I could do in a given situation, let alone how to do it. Even the simple act of quitting an app was sometimes puzzling. Perhaps this is a broader user experience issue that designers will somehow sort out as this technology grows in popularity.

Sample Content

Included with the VM VR Viewer Starter Kit are three bits of sample content:

  • Space
  • Destinations
  • National Geographic Wildlife

I should point out that each of these is a very small taste of the much larger experiences for which you must pay $15 to download or unlock on your phone. They serve the purpose well; I wish ViewMaster had included a tutorial experience as well through which the consumer could learn the navigational techniques of this implementation of VR.

VM_VR_SpaceSpace was my first choice and I must say I was underwhelmed. I expected to get a glimpse of some Hubble stuff in 3D or perhaps a bit of solar system exploration. Instead, the focus is on the Space Shuttle, which has a few information spots which are like hyperlink popups that give you more information about the payload bay, cockpit, engine, etc. The sample also includes a small game in which you are supposed to watch and learn the sequence of actions it takes to launch the spacecraft and then attempt to reproduce. But that part of the demo was too cartoony so that it was more 3D than VR in my view.

Destinations was much better. It was essentially a 3D world without a lot of VR interactivity but it was quite well done. I spent quite some time exploring the Acropolis and other features of ancient Athens. The full experience includes London, New York and the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza.

The NatGeo piece was quite well done graphically, gave more variety, and was a smoother VR experience but there were mostly just 3D scenery shots with sound effects showing off parts of the Amazon, the Australian Outback and the Saharan Savannah.

I would have assumed I’d ultimately be willing to part with the relatively exorbitant prices for the space and destinations pieces, in that order, based on personal interest but having explored the large-ish amounts of free content available outside the VM ecosphere, I’ll probably pass. They need to beef up those initial experiences if they’re going to sell much content to folks who choose to explore Cardboard VR stuff offered by other publishers.

Next Up: Other Content, Part One

Google and Algebra and…the Bible?

 

I know Google can solve math problems. But I was tinkering with Wolfram Alpha the other day, with an eye to comparing it with Google Search and I ran across something very interesting…and a bit troubling. Wolfram Alpha (WA) is very good at data-retrieval, which is different from search in some important ways. But it is also capable of solving not just arithmetical problems but algebraic equations as well. In fact, WA bills itself as a Computational Knowledge Engine.

So I thought I’d see if Google could also deal with simple algebraic equations..

Spoiler alert: as far as I can tell, it can’t.

I typed in a completely arbitrary algebraic expression and Google brought up search results for sites and documents that contained that sequence and similar ones. Not much help there.

So just to refresh my mind on what Google does with calculations, I entered this arbitrary expression:

43+12/9-14

The usual calculator image with the answer (30.333333…) appeared as the first result. But I allowed my eye to scan below that expected outcome and was startled to find as the very next result, a reference to the Bible: “Matthew, chapter 12” from the site of the  United States Conference of Bishops.

WTF?

I wondered what portion of the search term generated that result.

So I trimmed the search term to 43+12/9. Now the posts following the calculator result were engineering-like entries dealing with connectivity and other esoterica.

43+12/ led to…ready?  No math result, of course, but the first entry was to Isaiah 43:12!

WTF, again?

Same result if I omit the slash, but in that case, I get the calculator result, too.

It turned out that the only way to get the original citation to Matthew without the full original search term was to trim it to 43+12/9-1.

I spent way too much time on this but it was really fascinating. I cannot easily decode the reasons that some of those mathematical formulas produce Biblical citations when entered in the Google Search bar. I’d love to understand it, though.

Any ideas?

Google Using Dominance of Search to Impose Its Tech Biases

I was a bit disconcerted this week to learn that Google is apparently using its position as the only indispensable source of search engine results to cram Web design techniques down the throats of developers. Even though the techniques they want to push are good ideas and even though designers who don’t follow them could be argued to be causing the Web to be less homogeneous than we might like, Google has no right to use adherence to these “standards” as criteria for search engine rankings.

IN the past couple of weeks, it has become clear that Google is beginning to force two ideas on Web designers by penalizing their otherwise-valid search rankings if they fail to adhere to them. These ideas are:

  • inclusion of a mobile-only design
  • use of the https secure Web protocol

According to reports, Google has decided that any site which doesn’t provide a mobile-specific version or refuses to use https for the secure transfer of data should be denied the search ranking its content would otherwise entitle it to. This puts Google’s prejudices about technology preferences ahead of user satisfaction with search results, which used to be the search engine company’s primary — perhaps sole — criterion.

The Google experts have announced that they’ve been running tests to determine whether the use of https protocol is helpful in search results. They’ve decided that it does, so they’ve begun imposing the presence of the https: protocol as a “ranking signal.” Right now, they say, their use of the signal is lightweight and quite small in terms of impact, but they warn, “we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”

In April, Google announced it was instituting a “mobile-friendly” search signal as well. Google said this is expanding on its mobile ranking demotion algorithm, which it started using in 2013. This new approach will apparently only be used in mobile searches (though there are no guarantees it will stay that way, of course). There is some slight justification for this weighting of search results. If I’m searching on a mobile device, I’ll probably find results that are designed for that device format more usable and returning usable results is within Google’s charter.

Call me old-fashioned but I think Google has the right to write algorithms and impose rules that will return search results that are relevant and useful to their search engine users and nothing more.

The European Union recently filed a suit against Google for using its search-engine dominance to give primary search result ranking to their own products at the expense of competing companies’ offerings. That’s just dishonest. But I maintain that attempting to impose their idea about how the Web should work on any Web designer interested in driving traffic to his or her site — and that includes a substantial number of us — is only slightly less egregious. If they continue to outgrow their britches, they may find Web developers rebelling against their attempt to be the final arbiter of all Web design strategies and techniques.

FWIW, there are apparently at least 200 criteria Google applies to search results to determine which should alter basic rankings. Brian Dean has compiled what he says is a complete list of them here. Be prepared to be quite surprised by some of them.

 

More Proof — As if it Was Needed — That “Analysts” Are Morons

Picking on analysts has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I honestly don’t know how these so-called “experts” who take apart a company’s financial and operation processes and both predict how their stock will do and presume to tell their C-level teams how to run the businesses.

The latest example is Google. In this New York Times piece, “analysts” are quoted as, at one and the same time:

  • worrying about what Google is going to do next to counter Apple’s new payment technology, improve YouTube’s competitive stance, and cash in on mobile advertising; and…
  • complaining that R&D costs are on the verge of getting out of control as core businesses begin to shrink (which they haven’t yet).

So let me get this straight. Google needs to spend more on R&D to stay ahead of the competition but they shouldn’t spend more on R&D because, you know, analysis.

These folks have clout in the marketplace completely out of proportion to their repeatedly demonstrated ignorance and conflicting advice. Over one period of four years when I watched Apple analysts closely, these so-called experts offered completely contradictory advice on no fewer than 11 occasions.

If you ask me (and, nope, nobody has…yet), these people are more interested in covering their own asses than they are in making useful comments and predictions about business performance.

They are, in short, narcissistic parasites on the economy. We’d all be better off if they went away and became, oh, I don’t know, hedge fund managers?

 

New Firefox Browser to Include Pretty Unobtrusive Ads

firefox_logoWord appeared today that the Mozilla Firefox Web browser would begin hosting ads in an upcoming release. The ads will appear as tiles on the page when users open a new page or tab. That real estate is presently home to most frequently accessed Web sites.

Technically the ads are referred to as sponsored tiles. The non-sponsored tiles are called directory tiles. Mozilla allows the user to set a preference to turn off tiles completely so that each time he starts with a new tab or page, it is completely blank.

The Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit that controls the Firefox browser and a number of other Web sites and technologies, first announced its intent to find non-obtrusive (or, perhaps more accurately, less obtrusive) ways of placing advertising in the browser in February.

I’d call this a pretty unobtrusive way to put advertising in front of me. As a non-profit foundation, Mozilla has to figure out some ways to generate revenue if it’s going to stay afloat. I don’t use Firefox much myself (I’m a Chrome guy) but I do test all of my and my clients’ sites on FF.

Most of the early comments on this development, which occurred in the new version Firefox nightlies and is therefore not yet in wide circulation, have been neutral or supportive but there’s a strain of folks who begin bitching about any new aspect of free software that they don’t happen to like. Interestingly, some of the most caustic comments came from people using the largely unknown and insignificant Palemoon browser (Window and Linux only). Of course, Firefox has the second-highest market penetration of any cross-platform browser, having only recently fallen from the #1 spot and been replaced there by Chrome, which now has 20% of the total market vs. 15% for Firefox. Chrome has been in steady growth; Firefox has been in steady decline. (Internet Explorer retains a 60% usage rate but only because it ships with Windows and runs only on that platform.)

In any case, I’m not bothered much by the Firefox plans. There are numerous ways around even seeing the sponsored tiles. I hope they generate significant revenue to the Mozilla Foundation, which deserves to stay viable.

 

Google to Offer WiFi in the Cloud Globally?

Google G LogoI hope this story on GigaOm.com is true. It reports that Google is working with wireless router maker Ruckus to create a cloud-based WiFi system. This would enable any business with an Internet connection to offer wireless to its employees and customers without the overhead of managing the process.

It seems like a logical idea. And it seems that few companies other than Google could pull it off.

The new infrastructure would be aimed at small to medium-sized businesses. It’s being made possible by the creation by companies like Ruckus, Aerohive and Cloud4Wi — along with the giants Cisco and Ericsson — of software-based wireless controllers.

What’s the impact on consumers? GigaOm speculates, “The whole thing looks like one big home network: once you’re logged in securely at your dentist’s office, you’re logged in when you step into the bakery down the street or a restaurant two states over.” Sounds pretty cool to me!

 

EU Ruling on “Right to Be Forgotten” is Insane and Naive

European Union Logo

European Union Logo

The whole Internet is on fire today over a European Union court ruling that search engines must respond to individual complaints about inaccurate and irrelevant data that can be found when searching for a particular individual online. I’m not sure why I think adding my tiny voice to the din will do any good. But even if it’s just cathartic, here goes.

This ruling is even dumber than most of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings about voting rights and free speech in the past few years. It is naive and insane.

First, it’s absolutely impractical and unenforceable. It will lead to a glut of tiny civil suits where people bitch about Google search results finding and displaying an old or embarrassing photograph of someone.

Second, the ruling goes after the wrong outlet. It’s the publisher of the source material, not the search engine that in the normal course of operations happens to find it, that is the offending party here. (And all too often that’s going to turn out to be the individual who’s bitching. Can you say Facebook?)

Third — and this s perhaps the most important here — the whole idea of a “right to be forgotten” is so stupid as to not bear up any real scrutiny. As many have pointed out, the mere fact that some bit of data isn’t found by Google doesn’t mean it’s “forgotten”. People who have stuff they want forgotten need to pursue the sites where the data is hosted, not the innocent search engine.

This whole thing is akin to a reporter being sued for reporting a true fact about the subject of a story that the subject finds irrelevant or embarrassing.

Intelligent, aware, educated Europeans must be cringing this morning at the idiocy of these judges.

Surely Google will appeal, fight, and hold this action up in court for as long as its reserves hold out.

Google Docs & Sheets Get Add-Ons

Google G LogoI’m a heavy user of Google Docs and Sheets. Well, actually, let’s face it. I’m a Google Addict (or maybe Googleholic?).

Anyway, I was pretty excited to see that Google has now added Add-Ons to Docs & Sheets. There are only a few so far but I can envision an explosion into a plethora of neat new features coming from all over the place.

There are some cool writing aids. One I’m intrigued by is ProWritingAid that allows you to check a document for plagiarism, cliches, redundancies, grammar mistakes and other problems. I note that it has only garnered two stars so it may not be very good, but the idea certainly is.

Others that caught my eye: a MailChimp-authored merge, highlighting tools, charts and diagrams, and workflow including electronic signature.

As far as I can tell, all the add-ons so far are free but I can envision a marketplace emerging here.

Google Docs is my first-choice word processor these days despite its lack of some useful features but this seems to be an excellent way for Google to move to a place where I won’t need any other word processor in my arsenal. And since I’m using my Chromebook more and more (I told you I’m addicted!), this is welcome news for the way I work.