August 25, 2006

Deus Ex Google

It brightened my evening to write this email reply:


On Fri, 2006-08-25 at 00:18 -0400, RXXXXXX4@aol.com wrote:
> A colleague from Fresno State sent me this unbelievable fluke:
>
> 1. - Go to http://www.google.com
>
> 2- Type in the word "Failure."
>
> 3- Look at it the first listing and laugh at what comes up first
>
> JR

Just to add insult to injury, I'd like to elaborate a bit to investigate
this "fluke". A fluke is something has an element of accident or chance
happening. Yet I don't think this is a fluke at all. I think Google's
trying to tell us something... something important and illuminating.

Let's investigate, shall we? Enter "miserable failure", doubling the
words and multiplying the number of pages that will form our data set.
Google is lightning quick to return the same answer as before. This
isn't another page about the same person, this is the exact same link to
the exact same page. This provides us with new and important
information. Google is telling us that he's not only a failure, he's in
fact a special type of failure, a miserable one.

But wait! Isn't it logical that exact link would be the first result for
both queries, given that "miserable failure" is just a subset of
"failure"? Doesn't the method of aggregating data sets explain how we
get the same results?

Not having the source code to Google PageRank personally, I can't prove
to you that it doesn't work that way. But I can provide the same proof
by changing that variable from miserable to something else. Does he come
up first under "sexy failure"? What about "forgivable failure"? No sir,
he's not a part of the result in any form with these queries.

So there's some evidence to support the argument that Google is being
clear, specific, and consistent in what it's saying.

Now I'm going back to play with my Ouija board some more. :)

-- Craig

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October 01, 2005

What's been going on?

To answer the question, I'll provide a list:

(1) My sabbatical has finally begun. I'm not due to return to work until Monday, November 28th. The time leading up to this was abnormally stressful, and not ONLY because I had tons to do before leaving. I've never been absent from work this length of time and it was difficult to convince myself that everything would be alright while I'm gone. Of course, everything WILL be okay, I have a fabulous lead who is more than capable to take the reigns, and I'm only gone for two months, for crying out loud. You'd think I'd be doing cartwheels out the door on my last day like any normal human being. That was a sign that I needed the time off, but it's hard to recognize that while you're still in the thick of things.

(2) On the Saturday my sabbatical began I started reading as if daylight never existed. My skin is now turning pale, my friends expect I'm out of town, but I can't help myself. It reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where our hero is a compulsive reader who survived a nuclear apocalypse, found a library intact, but then broke his glasses and couldn't read a single book. I may not have survived a nuclear apocalypse, but I'm damn well not going to let this time go to waste. So far, I've read eaten the following books:
    Shakespeare, by Anthony Burgess
    Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport, by Jennifer Shahade
    Dreams of Iron and Steel, by Deborah Cadbury
    The President of Good and Evil, by Peter Singer
    The Unconscious Civilization, by John Ralston Saul
    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain (duh, really?)
...and I'm currently plowing through The Reckoning, The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, by Charles Nicholl.

You might notice that Chess Bitch isn't out yet, it's only available for pre-order from Amazon. Indeed, I'm lucky enough to have received a copy of the pre-published galley from Jennifer (thanks again!) and though I began devouring it like a starved man at a delicious meal, I forced myself to slow down so I could savor the writing. I'll have more to say on that book in a short while.

(3) I redesigned this site. Don't tell me you haven't noticed. Dreamweaver 8 released and I miss being a leader on that team since I switched groups at Macromedia over a year ago. I wanted to find out what's new with the product, and since the previous site was a mild embarrassment, I decided to bring this site's look (at least) into the late 90s. Thanks to Dreamweaver's enhanced CSS features it was easy to go web standards all the way. As of today, the site's still not complete and if you stray from the main page, you're likely to find some pages that simply don't look right. They'll be fixed in a matter of days now while I explore what's new and what's been fixed with this latest release of Dreamweaver.

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July 29, 2005

Personal and Political Freedom

I needed a new "thought for the moment", and I found one this evening while re-shelving a book I've been intending to read for the last few months. The Forward to Freedom and Destiny caught my eye. This should give you a picture of why this one is on my "must read soon" list.

Freedom and DestinyForeword

This morning a friend and I canoed out on a perfectly still and silent New Hampshire lake. The only ripple on the water's surface came from a great blue heron as it languidly took off from a patch of water lilies and headed for some secret spot farther into the swamp, undisturbed even by canoes. Amid this serenity, which seemed to cloak the lake and forests and mountains with a preternatural harmony and peace, my friend surprised me with the remark that today was Independence Day.

Whatever noisy celebrations were going on seemed far, far away from this quiet world. But being in New England, one could not keep from one's mind the images of lanterns being hung in the belfry of Old North Church, Bunker Hill, and the shots, fired by New England farmers, destined to be heard round the world.

Political freedom is to be cherished indeed. But there is no political freedom that is not indissolubly bound to the inner personal freedom of the individuals who make up that nation, no liberty of a nation of conformists, no free nation made up of robots. This book seeks to illuminate this inner personal freedom underlying political liberty. When I mention political liberty in the following pages, it will be generally as illustration.

This personal freedom to think and feel and speak authentically and to be conscious of so doing is the quality that distinguishes us as human. Always in paradox with one's destiny, this freedom is the foundation of human values such as love, courage, honesty. Freedom is how we relate to our destiny, and destiny is significant only because we have freedom. In the struggle of our freedom against and with destiny, our creativity and our civilization themselves are born.

Rollo May

July 1981
Holderness, New Hampshire

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July 13, 2005

A Warning

As I prepare to move to another book, let me give you the thought for the moment (however long you wish to define it).

If we, citizens, do not support our artists,
then we sacrifice our imagination
on the altar of crude reality
and we end up believing in nothing
and having worthless dreams.

- Yann Martel

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July 10, 2005

The U.K., Terrorism, and their experience with it

After waking up to the news on Wednesday, I had to send a message to the only person I know in London just to make sure things were okay. Daniel was fine, if perhaps a bit stunned at the frightening ordeal. Here's the meat of his description:

Police cars and ambulances flying around. Everybody using their mobile phones - but too many as the networks went down after a while. A little bit frightening, but people were actually incredibly calm. The emergency services reacted with unbelievable speed: they were clearly following a well-rehearsed script. Where I was heading was near to one of the bomb blasts, and they had already cordoned off the area and closed streets within a sizeable radius.

I was able to speak with him the next day and we got into a discussion of why and how Londoners are somewhat more accustomed to terrorism than New Yorkers or Americans in general. Of course, the IRA is the reason -- people have lived in that city for decades with the feeling that something dreadful could happen at any time. I can't imagine what that's like, though I'm sure some of my friends still living in New York felt like that for months after the Twin Towers fell. Continuing our discussion in a later email, Daniel elaborated on that a little.

Regarding the IRA: now that the threat from that quarter has lessened, it is easily forgotten that for periods things were quite worrying, though the chances of being directly caught were still extremely slim. It is the fear that is the worst part (though that is small comfort for those actually hit). There is one very bizarre legacy from those times: try looking for a litter bin at a mainline station! This was a common place to drop a bomb - hidden but public. Result: all the litter bins were removed!

If nothing else, my discussion brought one thing into crystal clear focus: We're the new kid on the block when it comes to terrorism, not only fighting it, but in knowing how to recover from terrorist attacks. That, in turn, made me ask if the English would have adopted the same kind of "pre-emptive attack" war policy in their fight against the IRA.

Terry Jones answers this directly in his editorial: OK, George, Make with the Friendly Bombs. It's well worth a read to expose some of the poor reasons we've given in going to war with Iraq. I'm also taking this as a reminder to look for similar faulty reasoning to continue this "War on Terror" in the way we have under "President" Bush.

As a side-note, I've found Terry Jones to be a master of the absurd in the exact same vein as Swift's "A Modest Proposal". He handles reductio ad absurdum like the sharp weapon it is. If you're at all interested in what else this former member of Monty Python has said, I'll encourage you to read more with this list of Terry Jones articles. As Daniel himself says: "Trust a Python to tell you the truth."

Let Them Eat Bombs, April 14, 2005.
George, God here ..., October 22, 2004
In Iraq, it's already July 9th, July 7, 2004
The War of the Words, June 16, 2004
This Week, May 22, 2004
* This Won't Hurt Much, April 30, 2004
Tony Really Must Try Harder, April 14, 2004
Why Tony Went to War, October 5, 2003
Alastair, God and the Devil, July 6, 2003
If Fish Can Feel Pain, Then Maybe Iraqi Children Can, Too, May 4, 2003
Mr Blair's Dark Days, April 27, 2003
Poor Tony Blair Wakes Up, March 16, 2003
Mr Bush Goes for the Kill, March 9, 2003
Could Tony Blair Look at the Internet Now, Please?, March 2, 2003
* Powell Speaks with Forked Tongue, February 23, 2003
* I'm Losing Patience with My Neighbours, Mr Bush, January 26, 2003
The Audacious Courage of Mr Blair, September 22 2002
Spare Our Blushes and Put a Sack On It , January 6, 2002
I Remain, Sir, Haggard of the Hindu Kush, December 30, 2001

* Personal favorites. If you have time to read a only a few, read these.

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