To ridicule Google

Did I search for a guy playing a saxophone
or for a sexy woman who might like jazz?

Sometimes search results drive me crazy.

altSearchEngines is running a series asking “What is a Search Engine?’ and posted Part II “What is Not a Search Engine?” by Kaila Colbin, blogmeister at VortexDna. There’s food for thought.

Keeping up with advances in search is important, but I also think it’s healthy to discredit search and to pressure for improvements.

Lately everyone is too busy with Facebook or who’s being funded to notice weakness in search. For instance, when Google is loved, it’s for ethics or peripheral services. When it’s criticized, it’s for ethics or peripheral services, but not for the functionality of its search. Are pundits forgetting their necessary role to topple the top?

I’ve enjoyed Google’s good days while search was a novelty. Thanks Google, for the good years, but whatever Personalization is supposed to deliver, it fails to deliver the bargain discounts I’ve wanted and forgets that I hate plaid summer shorts. Page Rank fails to eliminate repetition, treachery and utter junk. Too many advertisements are errors or foolish. And Search seems to bury me in more tangential hits than I can filter in any lifetime.

I can’t wait for the promise of semantic relevance.

I’m longing for a new type of aggregation. I don’t want to search infinity nor just my zipcode, but I yearn for a new interface based on the wisdom we’ve gathered after a few years on the Internet – a combination of ideals such as my town’s librarian, my college professor, my small town paper and overhearing what’s being said over morning coffee before the doors open for business. Perhaps never the best or the latest, this kind of information is humanly manageable.

Blogs have been a salvation. My friends and blog lists filter information, astutely choosing what’s worthy, what’s fun and they help me enormously.

Maybe newspapers will stop losing their esteem and take responsibility by helping us with huge bins of information and not merely feeding newsroom copy and events coverage.

Googl-Off might be a new front page over Google’s engine. If it’s junk, Goggl-Off. If it’s redundant, Googl-Off. We’ll eliminate links to 50 government brochures posted in 50 Agencies plus re-posted 50 times in 50 States plus 500 results from non-profits making a buck distributing government brochures plus 5,000 links to snippets stolen to peddle bogus cures for cancer.

Anything that gets rid of excessive and redundant links is a step forward. Pruning search is still necessary.

While staying aware of the little problems of Washington graft and the record bounty of Afghani opium, our future nation doesn’t need 131,000 outlets duplicating Dow Jones averages over broadcast media. And it doesn’t need trite duplication in a search engine.

Oh, but perhaps an adequately filtered page that helps find a good cheap cup of coffee and knows I like it intravenously.

Toward empty airline seats

The management consultant’s image as an expert outsider bringing new knowledge or understanding to clients is firmly contradicted by findings from the three-year long project led by Professor Andrew Sturdy, of Warwick Business School. [Science blog]

How not to measure climate change

NOAA weather station in the wrong placeIs there no diligence left in basic measurement?

There are thousands of weather stations taking the temperature of hot vehicles on black parking lots, hot industrial or air conditioner exhaust, heated buildings or warm sewage treatment plants, some of the worst possible environments to measure air temperature.

Many thermometers are installed next to light bulbs! Others next to sprinklers!

Can these stations be classified as science?

Instead of accurate figures for calculating climate change, there’s a lot of junk.

Mistaken temperature plotAfter more than a century, this temperature plot shows when the nearby air became heated by an air conditioner installed next to the weather station in late 1990s.

By measuring the minimum and maximum temperature of the air, the Maximum Minimum Temperature System (MMTS) has been working in the US for two hundred years. In the US, NOAA is responsible for the operation, documentation and upkeep of the climate measuring network.

But it’s another government mess.

Shaking their heads in disbelief, volunteers at are posting incorrectly managed weather stations and helping to repair the data.

Given such a massive failure of bureaucracy to perform something so simple as taking some photographs and making some measurements and notes of a few to a few dozen weather stations in each area, it seemed that a grass roots network of volunteers could easily accomplish this task.

To help correct the errors, has created an image database website for the purpose of collecting and displaying site surveys of weather stations used in climate monitoring.

Incorrect temperature data is collected around the western world and in developing countries or countries with poor governments. Your help is needed to document the measuring environment and equipment condition of weather and climate monitoring stations worldwide.

says, “I’ve seen some poorly thought out places to measure temperature such as sensors placed above a sea of hot air conditioners and next to warm air exhausts on a black tar roof.

Anyone with a digital camera can contribute.

All we need is some attacks

In his first interview as the chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, Dennis Milligan told his fellow Republicans that it was “time for a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.”

And he told a reporter that America needs to be attacked by terrorists so that people will appreciate the work that President Bush has done to protect the country.

“At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001],” Milligan said to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country.” [story]

Straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans seem to enthusiastically alter reality in order to display their loyalty – a beautiful web of words, vindicating every position. Bruno Giussani calls it ‘endless depths of delusion’.

Republican Puppet SwashbucklersJohann Hari went on a cruise for the Independent with conservative Republicans.

Setting sail with America’s swashbuckling neocons, he learned that the Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth – and as for Guantanamo Bay, it’s practically a holiday camp.

The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you’re a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she’s visited. Her companion adds, “I went to Paris, and it was so lovely.” Her face darkens: “But then you think – it’s surrounded by Muslims.” The first lady nods: “They’re out there, and they’re coming.”

Mitt Romney is worried. He’ll install a filter on every computer sold in America to clean up the ‘cesspool of violence and sex and indolence and perversions’. Who will filter the pulpit?

‘The Authoritarians’ is a scientific look at the key characteristics of followers (Right Wing Authoritarians) and their leaders (Social Dominants).

Professor Bob Altemyer, who was the basis for research data in John Dean’s recent book “Conservatives without Conscience”, explains,

Briefly these people are unquestioning followers of strong leaders who believe in a hierarchical social structure.

We, or the Majority

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. – Winston Churchill

The Telegraph is asking, “What is democracy?

The New Yorker is asking, “Are the wrong people voting?”

The Telegraph: “Is democracy really the wellspring of liberty and freedom that we hold it to be?”

The New Yorker: “Why should anyone bother to vote?”

The chance that one vote will change the outcome of an election is virtually nil, and going to the polls involves a significant cost in time and opportunity.

Bryan Caplan, an economist who teaches at George Mason University, thinks that increasing voter participation is a bad thing.

He thinks, in fact, that the present level of voter participation—about fifty per cent of the electorate votes in Presidential elections, a much lower percentage than in most democracies, as Americans are frequently reminded—is a bad thing.

Bryan Caplan thinks that most voters are wrong about the issues…
“Democracy fails because it does what voters want.”

In polls taken since 1945, a majority of Americans have been unable to name a single branch of government, define the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” and explain what the Bill of Rights is.

More than two-thirds have reported that they do not know the substance of Roe v. Wade and what the Food and Drug Administration does.

Nearly half do not know that states have two senators and three-quarters do not know the length of a Senate term.

More than fifty per cent of Americans cannot name their congressman; forty per cent cannot name either of their senators.

Voters’ notions of government spending are wildly distorted: the public believes that foreign aid consumes twenty-four per cent of the federal budget, for example, though it actually consumes about one per cent.

People simply do not spend much time learning about political issues or thinking through their own positions. They may have opinions—if asked whether they are in favor of capital punishment or free-trade agreements, most people will give an answer—but the opinions are not based on information or derived from a coherent political philosophy.

The New Yorker reassuringly notes that “elections are decided by the ten per cent or so of the electorate who are informed and have coherent political views. In this theory, the votes of the uninformed cancel each other out, since their choices are effectively random: they are flipping a coin. So candidates pitch their appeals to the informed voters, who decide on the merits, and this makes the outcome of an election politically meaningful.”

From a professor of Greek History at the University of Cambridge, here’s Twelve Things you need to know about the roots of democracy in Athens, the worst system of government ever invented – except all the others.

Near the time America adopted her Constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier:

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government.”

“A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.”

“From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”

“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. from bondage to spiritual faith;
2. from spiritual faith to great courage;
3. from courage to liberty;
4. from lib erty to abundance;
5. from abundance to complacency;
6. from complacency to apathy;
7. from apathy to dependence;
8. From dependence back into bondage.”

What exactly is a Web Search Engine?

Alternative Search Engines .com asserts that users of the next decade will expect many more features.

  1. Personalization (but without storing personal info )
  2. Social Input / Wisdom-of-Crowds / Collaborative discovery
  3. Semantic Processing
  4. Parametric Input: including freshness, source and domain-specific
  5. Rich content types: audio, video, images, news, blogs, …
  6. UI enhancements
  7. Findability support
  8. Follow-up: results clustering and drill-down
  9. Repeat queries
  10. Trusted sources: e.g. a slider to select the level of trust, from high to low

Letters from Hillary

“Me” is the “world’s saddest word”, said Hillary Rodham.

The NY Times has read dozens of letters written by Hillary Clinton between the late summer of 1965 and the spring of 1969 — a rare unfiltered look into the head and heart of a future first lady and senator and would-be president.

Censoring for Bush

You didn’t know the Surgeon General published a link between poverty and poor health.

William R. Steiger censored the Surgeon GeneralThis man censored the report.

William R. Steiger has no background in medicine or public health.
But his family has ties to Bush and Cheney..

The Washington Post has the story and a copy of the original report. SFGate, the NYTimes and many others are reporting that the office of the Surgeon General has been compromised.

Muzzled at the time, Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of our foreign policy. He also called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate.

Future farmers and ‘medical pastures’

Sheep choose medical plantsThere is something called nutritional wisdom.

Sick sheep and other animals know what to eat to make themselves feel better. The knowledge of plant healing seems to be passed down through generations from mothers.

Australia research shows that as many as seventy shrubs, grasses and other perennials could be grown for sick sheep in medicinal paddocks where “we take them to self-medicate … or it could be that they need ongoing low-level intakes of certain plants to keep parasites at bay….”

Livestock with access to healing plants could lower the need for antibiotics.

Science Blog reports that plants are absorbing antibiotics from the soil. When fertilized with manure where antibiotics have been added to livestock feed, the ability of plants to absorb drugs raises the potential for contamination of human food supplies.

On another note, should we be spending more time playing in the dirt? A type of friendly bacteria found in soil may affect the brain in a similar way to antidepressants by activating brain cells to produce the brain chemical serotonin. [Medical News Today]

Simple security stuff

Most classrooms lock only by key and from the outside. There was no lock on the inside to protect classmates at Virginia Tech or Columbine. [Associated Press]

Millions are spent on security consultants and hi-tech systems, but locks are overlooked.

No one has the slightest clue

Think you have some tiny idea of how love works?

How love worksNo, when you’re single and you’ve finally made it past the age when you’ve felt both love’s deepest tongue probings and also its most random horror-flick slashings, past the age when getting moronically drunk every weekend and hooking up is the ultimate goal and you’ve had enough sex to fill a thousand porn movies and everyone around you is no longer on some sort of giddy, wide-eyed first-adult-relationship must-get-married must-have-babies track of impossibly optimistic utopian desire, what it means, at least for me, is that you get to become this odd sort of sounding board — a blank slate of love’s warped potential, a reason for others to extrapolate on the nature of love and life and sex and how goddamn difficult/wonderful/impossible it all really is.

Which is merely another way of saying, I am learning something. Or rather, re-learning. Or rather, having something everyone sort of knows but no one really talks all that much about because it’s so damn obvious and also painful and fraught and wonderful, pounded back into my thick skull in a delightfully unexpected way.

Here is the big lesson, the thing that keeps coming at me, again and again and again: No one has the slightest clue how to make love work.

Centenary of Scouting

Badge, 2007 Centenary of ScoutingThe Scout Movement is 100 years old.

Around 40,000 youngsters from 151 countries are taking part in the biggest jamboree in the history of scouting [wiki]. The first Scout Camp of twenty boys was opened in 1907 by the Movement’s founder Robert Baden-Powell.

Now there are millions of girls and boys, men and women from every race, religion and culture. Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell went on to become the 20th Century’s fourth highest-selling book

A Merit Badge for Squirrel Stew?
As well as knots, the Scouting movement helped me learn to make squirrel stew while out in the winter bush. It froze so fast I used my hatchet to slice extra helpings into a red-hot skillet. I learned to spin near the fire to keep both sides of my body warm, and to laugh with friends to heat the night air inside our lean-to of spruce branches.

My Scouting years were in northwest Canada about 45 years ago where learning handy skills was essential. What great fun! What serious effort! The catalog of education, the challenging tasks, with young and earnest allies! Scouting helped me grow. I am grateful.

Circles of compassion

Humans breakthrough time and spaceAlbert Einstein said:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space.

“He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

“This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.

“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” [larger picture here]


We are all better artists than we realize. – Nietszche

The aim of his work, he tells us several times, is to destroy the rationalization of the Revenge motive, to lay bare every hidden resentment in every philosophy that provides justifications for intolerance and hatred, says Robert Anton Wilson.


As we expand…

nautalis shellThe International Monetary Fund predicts global growth of 5.2% for this year and next year.

The US will stumble to 2%. China’s growth forecast is 11.2%. China, Russia and India will account for more than half of the world’s growth.

Using the Rule of Seventy [wiki], at this rate of growth the global economy will double in about 13 years.

No better than a cat

Of 1,804 hospital fatalities in Britain, 576 were the result of mistakes:

  • failure to measure vital signs,
  • diagnostic errors,
  • condition was not recognized,
  • condition was not acted upon,
  • problems with resuscitation,
  • problems with equipment,
  • did not make an attempt to resuscitate.

More than 31% of deaths were avoidable because staff did not act, help was late, equipment failed, did not have the depth of knowledge and skills, or did not recognize the patient’s worsening condition.

Oscar, the death-detecting hospice catBut Oscar the cat is never wrong!

Oscar, a hospice cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island, has an uncanny knack for predicting when patients are about to die.

Every day, Oscar makes his rounds among the patients, entering each room and giving each patient a sniff. When he senses that someone is near the end of his or life, he will hop onto their bed and curl up beside them. Within hours, without fail, the patient will die.

He’s considered so accurate that nursing home staff will immediately call family members once Oscar has chosen someone, since it usually means they have less than four hours to live.


Liam has the kind of physical attributes that bodybuilders and other athletes dream about:

  • 40 percent more muscle mass than normal,
  • jaw-dropping strength,
  • breathtaking quickness,
  • a speedy metabolism and
  • almost no body fat.

Liam can run like the wind, has the agility of a cat…

Myostatin-related muscle hypertrophyHe’s 19 months old.

Liam Hoekstra was hanging upside down by his feet when he performed an inverted sit-up, his shirt falling away to expose rippled abdominal muscles. Two days after he was born, Liam could stand up and support his weight if someone held his hands to provide balance. He has given his mother a black eye and once punched a hole in the plaster wall during a tantrum.

Liam’s condition is a medical rarity, allowing twice the normal amount of muscle induced by a genetic mutation that reduces his production of myostatin. [story]

He’s not some kind of freak and mustn’t be viewed or treated differently than other children. His mother and his doctor agree, “He’s a normal kid. It’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

Myostatin-related muscle hypertrophyMyostatin-related muscle hypertrophy was first documented in beef cattle and mice in the late 1990s. If the myostatin protein is knocked out, muscles grow and rejuvenate much more quickly.

From a 2004 post, “Belgian Blues are unlike any cows you’ve ever seen. They have a genetic mutation that means they do not have effective myostatin, a substance that curbs muscle growth. A result is that Belgian Blues are all bulging muscles without a spot of fat…”

A related post, Schwarzendogger, reports of an international DNA sampling program to study muscle-bound Whippet puppies in order to purge this often painful condition from the breed.

Gene therapy and marker-assisted selection [mas] goes to the heart of an issue that will turn our species upside down in the coming decades.

Nicholas Kristof explores the consequences of genetic alteration and whether it is really possible to “design” better humans in this editorial in the New York Times. [no sub required]

Future Pundit opines, “Future genetic engineers looking to enhance human function will search through animal genetic variations and choose ones that provide desired enhancements… …to serve as a grab bag of pre-tested genetic variations that can allow humans to endow themselves with a large variety of special abilities that humans now lack.”

The other biotech sector

What is marker-assisted selection (MAS)?

MAS is a biotechnology tool that could greatly accelerate conventional breeding of crops, livestock, farmed fish and trees. Scientists are using MAS to genetically improve certain characteristics or traits (productivity, disease resistance, quality etc.) that are important for farmers. MAS makes it possible to select traits with greater accuracy and to develop a new variety quicker than in the past.

What is the difference between marker-assisted selection (MAS) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

MAS and genetic modification are different biotechnologies. MAS allows desirable genes to be “marked” or tagged so they can be selected within the breeding population, while GMOs are the result of the transfer of a desirable gene or genes from one species to another.

New plant varieties or improved animal breeds resulting from MAS do not require a specific legislative framework. The complicated approval process required for GMOs does not apply for MAS – its costs of release are therefore lower.

In addition, the technology is not controversial so there is no problem with public acceptance.

[link to FAO]

China’s Biofuel Plan

China will grow nearly twenty-five percent of its 2010 energy consumption using non-grain sources of sweet sorghum, rape and sugarcane. [Agricultural Biofuel Plan, China Daily, July 4, 2007]

Liquid RFID

The ID industry is all wet about drips and drops becoming RFID tags.

CrossID uses tiny nanometric particles of chemicals with varying degrees of magnetism—that resonate when bombarded with electromagnetic waves from a reader. Each chemical emits its own distinct radio frequency, or “note,” that is picked up by the reader, and all the notes emitted by a specific mix of different chemicals are then interpreted as a binary number. Since the system uses up to 70 different chemicals, each chemical is assigned its own position in a 70-digit binary number.

Printed on paper, packaging or cash for less than a penny, readers up to ten feet away can be used by banks and stores, or to protect secrets by preventing documents leaving the building.

The forgotten effect of cancer

Partners of cancer patients experience as much if not more anxiety, distress, and depression than patients themselves – with less social support and more loneliness. [story]

Capture your car’s CO2

Greenbox, by Derek Palmer, Ian Houston and John JonesEliminate vehicle greenhouse gas.

Trap exhaust in a box.

Reuters reports, “The world’s richest corporations and finest minds spend billions trying to solve the problem of carbon emissions, but three fishing buddies in North Wales believe they have cracked it.”

Dubbed “Greenbox”, the technology developed by organic chemist Derek Palmer and engineers Ian Houston and John Jones could, they say, be used for cars, buses, lorries and eventually buildings and heavy industry, including power plants.

“We’ve managed to develop a way to successfully capture a majority of the emissions from the dirtiest motor we could find.”

Save or savor?

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.
If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.
But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. E.B. White