Monthly Archives: February 2009

Interesting search

Since I am doing research on search, I thought I would create a list of interesting search-based web sites here, with individual blog entries describing each site and why they are interesting. Here is a starting list, which, of course, will be added to as I discover more interesting sites.

Interfaces:

  • Searchme.com – visual search interface reminiscent of iPod Touch album covers (or, rather, the other way around)
  • New York Times – search-based editorial pages (topic pages) (conversational interface)
  • Times of London – search-based editorial pages (topic pages) defined by user (conversational interface)
  • Yahoo Mindset – intent-driven (or rather, intent-revealing) interface for product search. This is no longer available, but this blogpost has an explanation and a graphic of the "intent slider".

Federated search

  • Oodle – federated search for classified ads
  • Globrix – federated search for real estate in UK

Rich media search

  • SnapTell – instant product identification from mobile photo
  • TinEye – image-matching search (great service, but unfortunately the index is rather small)
  • Shazam – music-matching search for mobile phones (not quite query by humming, but close…) See article in CACM.

Regionals

  • Indian search engines: asklaila.com (local search)
  • Chinese search engines: Baidu (a serious competitor to Google)
  • Sesam.no search engine: Specializing in Norwegian content not easily available on Google, such as relationships between people.

Specialists

  • OpenCalais – metadata generator, useful for understanding how machines read your text

… more to come …

By all means – feel free to make suggestions!

Morning plane reflections

I am on the morning plane (06:10, no less) from Boston to San Francisco (where I will continue to Shanghai.) One of the nice things about this trip is that the sun comes in from the back of the plane gradually catching up, since the plane is slower than the earth’s rotation. This means that all landscape features are lit so they come out in bas-relief, making every wrinkle and crevice stand out, when not obscured by clouds. The angle of the sun actually interplays with the landscape – on the east coast and past the great lakes, the sun is low and serves to illuminate the modest undulations of the plains, but as we come over towards the more mountainous areas the light reaches a little further down in the valleys.

And what a spectacle it is.

I have never understood those who take aisle seats on flights across the US – the landscape is infinitely more interesting than any neutered in-flight movie or vapid magazine the inside of the airplane can offer. The roads and cities of the east, factories and irrigation circles of the mid-west and increasingly dramatic mountains of the west rolls out like a long and harmoniously unfolding symphony, complete with the dramatic crescendo of the Rockies (and, if luck may be, the Yosemite) and the restful and glittering finale of the Pacific. Along the way id an endless array of meandering rivers, towns next to dams (suitable for morbid speculation on the nature of American infrastructure investments,) intricate patchworks of agriculture and suburban sprawl, ruler-straight roads over desert plains, and strip mine pockmarks. Occasionally, a meeting airplanes will streak across the window, trailing condensation smoke and making you realize just how fast you are going.

I keep thinking that some day it would be fun to drive across all this, to have time to take it in and fully understand the vastness of the distances and the variety of  landscapes (and relative sameness of the signs of human habitation) along the way. As it is, I will have to settle for high-speed version, but it is not a bad substitute. Or perhaps not a substitute at all: Like watching the Sopranos in burst mode, the faster speed and broader views will let you see the long storylines of the landscape in a way you can’t from a car window.

I certainly makes the hours flow along, for one thing.

And did make the 12-hour flight from San Francisco to Shanghai across a clouded Pacific seem rather long in comparison…

Shannon, explained…

Peter Cochrane has a simple and very useful explanation of Claude Shannon’s mathematical law of communication, complete with diagrams. And a warning that, when it comes to technology, magic won’t work there, either.

We might thus imagine the energy of a signal dispersed inside such a solid form in the same way that water is retained by the skin of a balloon. We can change the shape of the balloon but the amount of water stays the same. Similarly, different coding and modulation schemes can alter the ratios of the sides presented by Shannon’s equation.

We can certainly trade off signal power against noise and/or bandwidth and time, but we can never exceed the bounds set by nature.

Basketball math

Michael Lewis has a great article about Shane Battier and the use of basketball statistics, showing that your choice of measure (and ability to find new measures) defines what you see. It is a great piece of writing and transcends much of the cliched crap you usually read on the sports pages. Reminiscent of the late David Foster Wallace’s articles on tennis.

Interface with legs

Interface Interface by Neal Stephenson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an early Stephenson, written in the mid-90s. A fable about a conspiracy to implant a chip in the brain of a presidential candidate and remotely guide his utterances by automated polling – a candidate guaranteed to say what people will like.

There is much to like here – a deeply ironic humor and some interesting characters and characterizations that remain as fresh 12 years after (it helps that there was a Bush presidency for each decade). With some small exceptions, the technology is rather fresh as well, which is rare for a tech thriller/sci-fi fantasy.

I rather liked it – it got me through a trip back and forth to Las Vegas in economy, which was the reason I got it. So, yes, recommended. Though I won’t read it as many times as I have Cryptonomicon…

View all my reviews.

Keyboards, yet again

image As can be established with a quick search, I am somewhat obsessed with keyboards. Now I think I might just have found the ultimate one – a Unicomp Buckling Spring keyboard from PCKeyboard.com. With an integrate mouse, no less. The latter is somewhat clumsy and will take some adjustment, but the keyboard feels like the old IBM keyboards of the 80s and early 90s and sounds like a machine gun. Definitely not the keyboard to use when you are interviewing someone over the phone, but the precise touch and distinct sound has a good effect on reducing mistypes. It also will necessitate some exercise – I had forgotten just how long the key travel was on these babies.

Best of all – they built a Norwegian version for me at no extra charge. Highly recommended – though since the keyboard is not CE-registered, they cannot send it to Europe. Any excuse for a trip to the States…

When nerds congregate

I am writing this (using my little Asus, which actually fits in a large coat pocket) from Ignite Boston 5, a meetup of techies of various stripes in the Boston area at a bar on Union Street close to Faneuil Hall, arranged by O’Reilly. The format is pretty simple: Get 250 geeks together (with another 250 waiting to get in) in a large bar, have Google buy everyone a free beer, and subject them to presentations on various subjects by volunteers that have been more or less carefully vetted. The result is a sort of geek stand-up-and-shout, with Powerpoint presentations. Right now a guy writing a book about open government and sharing of data – “democratizing data” – is giving the (rather good) keynote presentation, with 12 more, shorter presentations to follow. I suppose this is what Second Tuesday should have been if it hadn’t become all corporatish..

All in all, it is quite interesting to find an environment where being a geek is not only accepted, but kind of cool. Nevertheless, I am the only person with an open computer in this crowd, which is either an indication that I am an über-nerd or that everyone else is Twittering or blogging by iPhone. Oh well.

At least it gets me out of the office for a few hours. Much to be said for that.

I have been here for almost two hours, have seen the list of presenters – and though they are sincere, I think that’s it. For this time. Not that I didn’t like this thing, but there is something to be said for consuming new things in measured doses….