Geography as a matter of opinion

June 24th, 2014

I was vaguely aware that occasionally Google Maps deals with disputes over sovereignty between nations by showing different search results according to the searcher's location, but I hadn't realised just how frequently, and how rapidly this sort of action is required:

Abroad, Google Maps has waded into raw, tender issues of national identity. For example, take its depiction of Crimea on, where a dashed line reflects the U.S. view that the area is an occupied territory. But in Russia, on, the boundary line is solid – Russia has officially annexed Crimea.

[Via Quartz, via Memex 1.1]

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'Either put on these glasses or start eatin' that trash can.'

December 21st, 2013


[Via fuck yeah, science fiction!]

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'… if you had said something like that to Steve Jobs, he would have taken your head off with a dull knife.'

July 11th, 2013

Former Palm and Apple executive Michael Mace has written a perceptive exploration of the question of Why Google Does the Things it Does:

"What does Google want?"

A favorite pastime among people who watch the tech industry is trying to figure out why Google does things. The […] topic also comes up regularly in conversations with my Silicon Valley friends.

It's a puzzle because Google doesn't seem to respond to the rules and logic used by the rest of the business world. It passes up what look like obvious opportunities, invests heavily in things that look like black holes, and proudly announces product cancellations that the rest of us would view as an embarrassment. […]

But in Google's case, I think its actions do make sense – even the deeply weird stuff like the purchase of Motorola. The issue, I believe, is that Google follows a different set of rules than most other companies. Apple uses "Think Different" as its slogan, but in many ways Google is the company that truly thinks differently. It's not just marching to a different drummer; sometimes I think it hears an entirely different orchestra. […]

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'I put the glasses back on, and took off my pants.'

May 17th, 2013

Google's Larry Page bids us Welcome to Google Island (as related by Wired's Mat Honan):

"I hope my nudity doesn't bother you. We're completely committed to openness here. Search history. Health data. Your genetic blueprint. One way to express this is by removing clothes to foster experimentation. It's something I learned at Burning Man," he said. "Here, drink this. You're slightly dehydrated, and your blood sugar is low. This is a blend of water, electrolytes, and glucose."

I was taken aback. "How did you…" I began, but he was already answering me before I could finish my question.

"As soon as you hit Google's territorial waters, you came under our jurisdiction, our terms of service. Our laws – or lack thereof – apply here. By boarding our self-driving boat you granted us the right to all feedback you provide during your journey. This includes the chemical composition of your sweat. Remember when I said at I/O that maybe we should set aside some small part of the world where people could experiment freely and examine the effects? I wasn't speaking theoretically. This place exists. We built it." […]


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'Our moral character dwindles as our instruments get smaller.'

April 14th, 2013

Jan Chipchase's You Lookin' At Me? Reflections on Google Glass. urges us to take advantage of the opportunity we have now that Google Glass is on the verge of escaping into the wild to think about how Glass (or something like it) is going to transform privacy expectations over the next decade or two:

One could argue that the form taken by Glass offers up a lazy futurist's vision of what might be – take the trajectory of one product (displays becoming smaller/cheaper/more efficient over time) and integrate it with another (eyeglasses), sprinkle in connectivity and real-time access to content and big-data-analytics. Our expectations of what it could be are raised in part because this join-the-dots vision of the future fits neatly into Western un/popular young-male culture, from "The Terminator" through to Halo. Glass has a certain inevitability about it, like the weight of expectation on of child born to a great composer or, if you will, to a middle-aged suicide. As any visitor to Yodobashi camera over the past decade will tell you, the hardware technologies that make Glass hardly feel novel (and for recent competitors, see Sony, Golden-i, or this Telepathy device prototype) but neither do they need to be, because this is all about how they are brought together into a holistic experience.

I have a feeling that the prospect of walking round wearing a device that requires an eyeglass-mounted interface is going to be a lot less popular among the ordinary, smartphone-carrying public than Google hope. I can't help but think that if Google/Apple/whoever just pushes speech-driven interfaces a bit further along1 then a fair number of ordinary people will find that the ability to tell their phone to show them maps and directions, pull up details of the person they're speaking to and so on will suffice for now.

Still, even in that scenario we'll have people walking round our towns and cities and homes and workplaces carrying permanently-on devices that default to capturing and storing sound and video2, so almost all the issues Chipchase raises will still apply.

[Via The Browser]

  1. Both in terms of reliability and the ease with which third party applications can use the speech recognition system.
  2. Via a camera mounted on your Bluetooth earpiece?

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LET Eggs=N+1. LET Baskets = 1.

August 7th, 2012

Getting beyond the particulars of how Mat Honan had hackers use social engineering to get his passwords reset and his iOS and MacOS devices remote wiped, for my money here's the key lesson of the whole sorry saga:

I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can't put a price on.

This isn't just about Apple – it's about all the corporations expanding from their original niches into as many corners of our online life as possible.1 Having a single sign-on is scary, and only gets more so as the uses of that ID expand over time.2

I'd like to think that scares like this would motivate Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the rest to get this stuff right lest the public be discouraged from signing up for all the different services they offer, but I fear that convenience wins out all too often.

  1. For what it's worth, I haven't enabled iCloud on my Mac Mini or my iPod Touch. Not because I foresaw this sort of problem; it's just that I don't see the benefit of iCloud. I bought my iPod Touch as a replacement PDA, not a device for accessing the internet on the move. In any case, given that when I'm at work I'm not in range of an accessible WiFi service, so my iPod Touch isn't going to be accessing iCloud anyway.
  2. I dread the day when Apple finally make some feature I really want/need insist upon having access to iCloud. That might be my cue to take a close look at whatever the successor to the Nexus 7 turns out to be.

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Address Is Approximate

November 27th, 2011

Address Is Approximate:

A lonely desk toy longs for escape from the dark confines of the office, so he takes a cross country road trip to the Pacific Coast in the only way he can – using a toy car and Google Maps Street View.


[Via Flowing Data]

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Google Takeout

June 28th, 2011

Is it just me, or is Google Takeout a nice idea with a funny promotional video but not much substance?

In fairness, as I don't use Gmail or Picasa Web Albums and have a pretty minimalist Profile they just don't have all that much data to include in my takeout right now.1 I'll get interested when they expand the service to include my Google Documents, an OPML file containing my Google Reader subscriptions, and a KML file containing details of my various Google Maps overlays.

[Via Smarterware]

  1. Not unless you include all the 'anonymised' data they've no doubt amassed over the years by tracking cookies and logging my search requests – you know, the data they use to target ads.

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Alternatively, steampunk really happened

June 7th, 2011

A Google Oddity:

A comment to the last post mentioned that if you search the word "biotechnology" in Google's Ngram search engine, something odd happens. There's the expected rise in the 1970s and 80s, but there's also a bump in the early 1900s, for no apparent reason. Curious about this, I ran several other high-tech phrases through and found the exact same effect.Here's a good example, with some modern physics phrases. And you get the same thing if you search "nanotechnology", "ribosome", "atomic force microscope", "RNA interference", "laser", "gene transfer", "mass spectrometer" or "nuclear magnetic resonance". There's always a jump back in exactly the same period on the early 1900s. […]

There's no doubt a really boring explanation for this1 but there are other possibilities. I like Joe Loughry's theory:

The brief fashion amongst Victorians for writing articles about string theory and dark matter could be the result of '1999+1=1900'. Perhaps. But how likely is that really, a decade past Y2K? Is it not more plausible that today's students remain unaware of results in dusty journals on library stacks that are not easily available on-line yet?

The Higgs boson was found was in Prague in 1925. It just hasn't got through peer review yet.

[Via The RISKS Digest]

  1. The best bet seems to be that some dates occurring in the early 2000s are being attributed to the early 1900s due to Y2K errors or simply bad data.

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Paying for searching

April 27th, 2011

Kevin Kelly wonders:

How much would you pay for search if it were not free? Let's pretend it's an alternate world, or maybe sometime in the future, and there is no free search. You have to pay for your Google, or Bing, or whatever. How much would you be willing to pay?

I would pay up to $500 per year. It's that valuable to me. What about you? […]

I couldn't ever imagine myself paying a three-figure sum for search. A nominal fee of something like £20 a year would be about my limit – anything beyond that and I'd just end up finding other ways to locate the information I needed.

I remember using the web years before Google came along. There's no doubt that Google's arrival made life easier – especially early on, when Google was so much faster and more up to date than the existing search engines and directory sites – but we did, somehow, still manage to find things on the internet BG. AG, I'd end up bookmarking more sites that I knew to be reliable reference points for areas I was interested in, and would probably find myself looking to interest groups for pointers to content quite a lot of the time. Usenet and mailing lists used to be really good for this sort of thing, provided that you were willing to wait for a reply. I'd imagine that if Google and their competitors ever went down the paid search-only road it would make Mark Zuckerberg's and Jimmy Wales's and Jack Dorsey's day/week/year/decade.

Of course, the real point here isn't to identify a price point for search: it's to underline just how rapidly and completely access to reliable online search engines has become an essential part of the online experience for many of us.

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April 1st, 2011

Help Wanted:

Every day people start typing more than a billion searches on Google and expect Google to predict what they are looking for. In order to do this at scale, we need your help.

Google's quality team is looking for talented, motivated, opinionated technologists to help us predict what users are looking for. If you're eager to improve the search experience for millions of people and have a proven track record of excellence, this is a project for you!

As a Google Autocompleter, you'll be expected to successfully guess a user's intention as he or she starts typing instantly. In a fraction of a second, you'll need to type in your prediction that will be added to the list of suggestions given by Google. Don't worry, after a few million predictions you'll grow the required reflexes.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

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United States of Autocomplete

December 4th, 2010

Lessons learned from this map of the United States of Autocomplete:

  1. Universities and sports franchises are the most interesting thing about slightly more than half of the states.1
  2. Montana is probably wishing Laurence Fishburne had managed to steer his daughter's acting career in a more conventional, less sensationalist direction.
  3. Washington state is just plain out of luck.
  1. In fairness, it's probably more accurate to say that universities and sporting franchises are the most visible entities that tend to name themselves after their home state.

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The Internet Operating System defined

March 31st, 2010

Tim O'Reilly's The State of the Internet Operating System is being linked to all over the place, with good reason. It's a wide-ranging survey of the state of the internet, and the fork in the road that's fast approaching:

I've been talking for years about "the internet operating system", but I realized I've never written an extended post to define what I think it is, where it is going, and the choices we face. This is that missing post. Here you will see the underlying beliefs about the future that are guiding my publishing program […]

We are once again approaching the point at which the Faustian bargain will be made: simply use our facilities, and the complexity will go away. And much as happened during the 1980s, there is more than one company making that promise. We're entering a modern version of "the Great Game", the rivalry to control the narrow passes to the promised future of computing. (John Battelle calls them "points of control".) This rivalry is seen most acutely in mobile applications that rely on internet services as back-ends.

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Google imitates Karl Stromberg

January 23rd, 2010

Who Stole My Volcano? Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dematerialisation of Supervillain Architecture.1

  1. Best. Blogpost. Title. Ever?

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All aboot owning a Canadian

January 8th, 2010

Until I read the internet today, I didn't even know that I wanted to know the answer to the question "Why can't I own a Canadian?"

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Google Wave overview

October 24th, 2009

Two of the Guardian's techies have produced the best short, non-technical overview of Google Wave I've read.

[Via currybetdotnet]

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The Personification of Google

August 17th, 2009

I'm sure I remember seeing at least one episode of Roommates (episodes 1, 2, 3) back when it was first posted, but I don't seem to have linked to it here at the time.

A 2009 remake/sequel would presumably feature the addition of a next door neighbour called Bing with a flashy car, a plush apartment and an urge to make new friends. Whether this would make 'Google' seem a more or less sympathetic character is left as an exercise for the reader…

[Via swissmiss]

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New Modes of Interaction

July 12th, 2009

Dan Bricklin1 has been thinking about some implications of Microsoft Natal and Google Wave:

Every decade or so there has been a change in interaction styles between computers and their users. This change impacts both what the user sees and what the programmer needs to do when architecting an application. This change is brought about by innovations in both hardware and software. At first, mainly new applications are created using this new style, but as time goes on and the style becomes dominant, even older applications need to be re-implemented in the new style.

I believe that we are now at the start of such a change. The recent unveilings, within days of each other, of Google Wave (May 28, 2009) and Microsoft Natal (June 1, 2009), brought this home to me. This essay will explore what this new style of interaction will be like in light of the history of such steps in style, why I feel it is occurring, and when it will have an impact on various constituencies. […]

For the record, I could care less about Project Natal until Microsoft show us how they propose to apply it to non-gaming systems. Google Wave, on the other hand, looks quite fascinating.

  1. a.k.a. the co-inventor of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet for personal computers.

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