Seeking the Google reputation // Even in the cannon’s mouth

June 16th, 2005

My good friend Dale made what I think is an exceedingly interesting discovery. Let me quote a bit of his email:

For reasons related to a joke, I did a search on Halliburton in Google. Got the following response:

Halliburton
Home page of Halliburton with links to many newspaper articles rebutting critics’ allegations of improper conduct.
www.halliburton.com/ – 17k – Cached – Similar pages

Okay. But, I don’t see that text in the page. Nor in the page source. This description, with a prominent mention of rebuttal of improper conduct, doesn’t seem to be in either the current page or the cached page. So who came up with this description? Google?

No, DMOZ.
See
http://dmoz.org/Society/Issues/Business/Allegedly_Unethical_Firms/ Halliburton/Opposing_Views/.

So the description comes from the open directory project. An entry quite deep, and in an dissenting view. Could just anyone become a volunteer editor for certain categories and modify the entries of major websites to be whatever they wanted? Why should Google or I trust this?

Or am I missing something?

A very good question – thoughts anyone? Is this just somebody at Google being mischievous? Dale later pointed out that the same is true of IBM. Google’s description of their home page is taken from here, and while that description’s uncontraversial, it does raise the same question…

Update: What’s more, it happens even on important sites! Google’s description of Status-Q also comes from DMoz. I think I submitted this entry, back in the days when the weblogs section had a couple of dozen entries!

The general problem here, I guess, is to decide whether the owner of a site gives a more balanced description of it than the editors of some moderated third-party site. Perhaps it’s not such a bad practice after all. Unless you’re Halliburton.

Paper Rulers

June 16th, 2005

Paper Rulers

Ever find yourself without a ruler? Thanks to Mitchell Charity, you can print your own!

Now, here’s a thought: Would a small ruler be called a roulette?

FixIt Guides

June 13th, 2005

If you need to dismantle your Powerbook, as I have recently for a hard disk replacement, you need the excellent PB FixIt Guide Series.

Ruby

June 13th, 2005

Ruby is a language that’s getting a lot of attention as a slightly cleaner and nicer alternative to Python and Perl. If you have some basic programming experience and want to learn Ruby, there’s a very good tutorial here.

It’s mostly used, it seems, in the Ruby on Rails framework for writing web apps.

Orville the Blackbird

June 8th, 2005

This little chap fluttered down for the first time today from his nest above our kitchen window. He landed on the garden table.

Orville the Blackbird

He sat there squeaking for a little while, then stretched his legs.

And then he hopped up onto the chair:

before flying away down the garden to a rather inaccurate landing in a bush at the far end.

Given how much energy his parents have been devoting to feeding him over the last couple of weeks, I think he’ll be off to a good start in life.

Disposable Camcorders?

June 6th, 2005

Well, not quite, but the American CVS pharmacy is apparently introducing a Digital One-Time-Use Video Camcorder.

MacIntel

June 6th, 2005

So the rumours were right, and Apple are going to start producing machines based on Intel chips. Steve Jobs demonstrated Mac OS X running on a 3.6GHz Pentium 4; developer kits are available and consumer machines will be out next year. A translation system lets PowerPC binaries run on the new system until native versions are available. There’s an Intel press release here and an Apple one here.

This really makes the Intel architecture pretty dominant. But at least there are other suppliers, so in future Apple can shift to AMD, for example, if needed.

But it makes you wonder what the existing Apple hardware sales will be like for the next year…

BluePhoneElite

June 5th, 2005

My Motorola RAZR V3

I love my new Motorola RAZR V3. It’s the first phone I’ve really been able to slip in my jeans pocket and not notice. It doesn’t spoil the outline of my otherwise svelte figure(!) and it also has noticeably better sound quality than any mobile I’ve used recently.

Of course, when moving away from Nokia, you sacrifice ease of use, and Motorola’s user interface is even worse than most. This has bothered me less in recent years because much of what I used to do on phone keypads I now do on my Powerbook, which integrates with most of them very nicely. Sadly, however, the RAZR doesn’t integrate with the Mac Address Book as well as my previous phones. In particular, unlike the Nokia, it doesn’t let me send SMS messages directly from the Address Book.

This is why I was particularly pleased to discover BluePhoneElite, a $20 utility which not only gives you lots of control over SMSes, incoming and outgoing calls etc, but also does some cute things with Bluetooth, like pausing your music and changing your IM status when you (& your phone) go out of range of the computer. It also does genuinely useful things like pausing iTunes when you make or receive a call.

Very nice. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Look at the stars!

More from Paul Graham

June 5th, 2005

I wrote yesterday about Paul Graham’s talk on ‘Great Hackers’. There’s an essay based on the talk on Paul’s site.

But one phrase in particular caught my attention, to the extent that I’m going to add it to my Favourite Quotes page. I’m not sure if it’s his originally, but it’s rather good:

“I’d always supposed … that curiosity was simply the first derivative of knowledge.”

A Wi-Fi warning

June 4th, 2005

Linksys WRT54G About two weeks ago, I was staying with Rose’s aunt in Los Angeles, and she was having some problems with her wireless network, so I offered to take a look. Well, I’ll spare you the details of the problem, but I fooled around with her Linksys router basestation and the range-extender box she’d bought, but without much success. I’m too embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realise what was up.

Her network was using the network name ‘linksys’, which is the default configuration for their boxes. It was only when I started running proper snooping tools on my laptop that I realised that there were three routers using that name which were visible from the study where her PC was located. Two of her neighbours had the same boxes and had also not reconfigured them. I come from a land of brick buildings where the problem is usually one of not even getting a strong signal from your own network, rather than seeing too many. Anyway, for some months she had unwittingly been using her neighbours’ broadband connection while her own lay idle. And for some hours I had been reconfiguring their routers by accident, because they still had the default login and password as well.

I switched the wireless off on my laptop and plugged in directly to her router using ethernet to make sure I knew which one I was talking to, gave the wireless network a new name and suddenly things started to make sense. My normal practice, by the way, is to name the network with something which makes its location obvious (mine’s “20MarloweRd”) so that if anybody else has problems with my signal, they know where it’s coming from.

Great Hackers

June 4th, 2005

Another goody from IT Conversations: Paul Graham on “Great Hackers”. Here’s a quote:

When you decide what infrastructure to use for a project, you’re not just making a technical decision. You’re also making a social decision, and this could be the more important of the two.

For example, if your company wants to write some software, it might seem a prudent decision to write it in Java. But if you write your program in Java, you won’t be able to hire such smart people to work on it as if you wrote it in Python. And the quality of your hackers probably matters more to the success of your project than the language you choose. Though, frankly, the fact that good hackers prefer Python to Java should tell you something about the relative merits of those languages….

Business types prefer the most popular languages because they view languages as standards; they don’t want to bet the company on Betamax. The thing about languages, though, is that they’re not just standards. If you want to move bits over a network, by all means use TCP/IP.
But a language isn’t just a format; programming languages are mediums of expression

Now, I’ll take issue with him here a little bit. The assumption behind his argument is that the programming task is best compared to painting or creating a piece of music.

Increasingly, however, it’s more like engineering & can even be rather mechanical. Good engineers don’t get to choose whether they work in metric or imperial units and often don’t have much choice about the materials and many of the dimensions. Their skill is in creating something robust and reliable given the constraints. Ideally something that will be maintainable after they have gone. The world is certainly in a better place with Java as the dominant language for such tasks than it was when COBOL or Visual Basic had that honour, and, much as I love Python, it’s probably not as good as Java for this role.

Artists, on the other hand, are usually loners who can throw off the constraints because they need to accomplish a particular single task. It makes sense for them to use whatever medium they like best, even if, God forbid, that should be Perl. Paul’s book is called ‘Hackers and Painters, so it’s natural that he should concentrate on this aspect. Python is a better language for exploration and invention.

I’ve programmed in dozens of different languages, BTW, and in general Python is my language of choice, because it comes somewhere between the two extremes. But the best artist is one who can choose the optimal medium for his expression. And the best engineer is often one who can create the optimal expression for his medium.

The real danger is that we will only train people to create nice Java boxes that fit together very neatly. This is great for building things that don’t fall down. But we also need people who can think outside the boxes.