Newsweek or Google Republish Old Article (formerly Cliff Stoll Can’t Use Google)

ETA: This article was originally published in 1995, as Alter points out, which makes it much more reasonable. It popped up in my Google toolbar, so I can’t tell if the toolbar dredged it out of the archive, or if Newsweek republished it more recently.  Not sure what search engine I was using in 1995, or what all content was out there. I should have been suspicious at the lack of abuse of Wikipedia, I suppose.

Cliff Stoll, in a column in Newsweek, says “Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them–one’s a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn’t work and the third is an image of a London monument. None answers my question, and my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, “Too many connectios, try again later.””

He’s always been a bit of an Internet-skeptic, and a good portion of the points he makes are clearly true.  But this one was so far over the top I couldn’t stand it.

See, I tried a quick web search.  The most obvious one.  I entered “battle of Trafalgar date” (no quotes) into the Google search box.  And in less than one second got a clear-cut answer, without even following through any of the links.  With enough information to validate the information for most purposes (remembering that encyclopedias contain nonsense sometimes too).

Google results for Battle of Trafalgar date
Google results for Battle of Trafalgar date

So, the first line gives the desired answer.  A couple of other lines give visible confirmation. And if you want to go to extra trouble to check an authoritative source, #5 there is the UK National Archives, which ought to be sufficiently authoritative for most purposes.

So, what’s his problem?  Does he actually believe everything he reads in a newspaper, or even in a peer-reviewed astronomical journal? Has something made him completely incapable of performing basic sanity-checks on data when it comes out of his computer?

I’m thinking that teaching people to distrust single-sourced data is going to make people better researchers, and get rid of some of the stupid misinformation that circulates so widely, when it gets deeply enough into the population.

I believe Cliff is younger than I am, but he sounds like somebody who came to the Internet late and just doesn’t relate to the paradigm.  I got to it early and was instantly at home.  So his writing on the topic grates on me sometimes.  To the extent that he’s pointing out real problems that I’m prone to gloss over, that’s a good thing, but it would be better if he avoided exaggerations of this magnitude.

Google’s Banned Words

A new blog article makes an interesting claim: “there some are words that Google thinks are never safe, regardless of what site is using them, what site links to them, or what the context is.”

Phrases that immediately spring to mind that would violate this Google taboo include “greedy bastards”, “naked greed”, and “This site contains no nude or erotic content”.

Flavors of Christianity

On the national stage we have seen pundits saying that atheists shouldn’t be able to hold public office.  What would their reaction be if I suggested that those who believed in gods shouldn’t be able to hold public office?

People get thrown out of their apartments, lose their jobs, get assaulted on the street, and occasionally are dragged to death behind pickup trucks for being gay.  That doesn’t happen to people for being Christian.

Doctors get murdered for performing abortions.  That doesn’t happen to people for being Christian.

Never mind lesser impositions, like being unable to marry, or even having ballot initiatives to invalidate marriages already performed.

But the people spreading this torrent of hate and violence claim they are Christians, and that it is Christian principles that cause them to perform their despicable actions, and that anybody who isn’t with them is going to hell; I guess as soon as they can get around to sending us.  This is what “Christian” means today in US politics, and to a large extent in general discourse, because these are the Christians that we hear from.

And I’m finding myself less and less interested in spending effort to make fine distinctions among sects of a belief system that I’ve never believed. Anybody out there who doesn’t waht this to be the legacy of Christianity, get out there and change it yourself!

Usage Annoyances

“take another tact” — it’s tack, from sailing ships

“baited breath” — nope, it’s bated, meaning roughly “held back”

“must of” — it’s “must have“. And a huge collection of related phonetic spellings of mumbling passed through a spellchecker.

I, of course, find myself making some of these now and then myself; that’s the most annoying thing.  I say they’re just typos when I make them, and you can’t prove I’m wrong.  Nyaaah.