Top 100 Alternative Search Engines

Charles S. Knight has a compiled his list of the Top 100 Alternative Search Engines. The article makes for an interesting read as he describes his method of analysis by comparing them to Google under a set of categories he defines.

What made me grin the most was the reference at the end of the article to Asimov’s The Last Question, an excellent short story that wonderfully suggests an answer to the question “is Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, a fait accompli“. In fact for making that observation/link alone Charles gets a thumbs up from me.

Movie: Rocky Balboa

After work tonight Amanda and I decided to go watch Rocky Balboa:

Image Source: Wikipedia

I have to confess I wasnt sure I would like the movie, still have horrible memories of Rocky V. However this was a really enjoyable film. It was a suprisingly good script very much in the tradition of the first two films, although not as good as either of those. It’s definitly fun, and another one of those feel good movies.

Prosecution based on thought crimes

Found this by Amy Waldman on Bruce Schneier’s latest blog posting. The article center’s around how the Unites States is now prosecuting suspected Islamic terrorists on the basis of intentions and not just their actions. It makes for a fascinating read, because it reveals how the prosecution builds its cases on different interpretations of Islam, Islamic scripture and Islamic belief – in effect, as Bruce rightly points out, they are placing the religion on trial. What’s worse, prosecuting people based on a belief or an interpretation of a belief, or because they have expressed a belief then they are a threat ( a throught-crime ) sets a dangerous precedent – one that the current administration has sidestepped:

The Bush administration did not seek legislation to authorize its new pre-emptive approach, instead relying on existing, if previously little used, laws. Key among these were two statutes—passed in 1994 and 1996 respectively—barring “material support” of terrorism, which can mean anything from personnel to funds. The laws, which were expanded under post-9/11 legislation, allow the government to bring terrorism- related charges even when no terrorism has occurred.

The article does raise some excellent points around the whole issue of the rhetoric found in Islamic Extremism:

The rhetoric of Islamic extremism may present the toughest challenge for that standard since its establishment. The question lapping at the trials’ edges—and sometimes at their core—is how the law should deal with language that does not incite but, through a long slow process, indoctrinates. On the continuum between word and deed, belief and action, where do we draw the legal lines?

I’ll concede that this is an incredibly divisive topic and I can understand why its so difficult for the judiciary to deal with this. Equally though it alarms me that a Muslim who, perhaps professes sympathy to the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, might under this interpretation of the law find him/herself branded a terrorist.

The interpretation of Islamic texts is fraught with difficulties and extremists have been very good at using this to their advantage but that isn’t something that is at all unique to Islam. At the moment though it’s only Islam that seems to be linked so inextricably with terrorism. As Amy points out:

The question of how to interpret a text may be as old as writing, and it applies equally to determining where the power of religious speech inheres. In authorial intent? A reader’s interpretation? Historical or modern context? Over the centuries, and even today, the Bible and Christian theology have helped justify the Crusades, slavery, violence against gays, and the murder of doctors who perform abortions. The words themselves are latent, inert, harmless—until they aren’t.

What worries me the most though are the comments made one of the Jurors at a trial that Amy describes in her article:

We’re not being asked, “Did the defendant commit the crime?”—whether it’s larceny, murder, whatever. Now you’re being asked, “Is the defendant capable of doing a crime?” And I don’t think that that is in the … level of understanding of the juror.

He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

by William Butler Yeats

Google Booksearch … now visualise places mentioned in books on maps!

I think this is really cool:

So why not visualize places mentioned in books on a map? Now you can. Our team has begun to animate the static information found in books by organizing a sample of locations from them on an interactive Google Map, with snippets of text from the book, and links to the actual pages where the locations are mentioned. When our automatic techniques determine that there are a good number of quality locations from a book to show you, you’ll find a map on the “About this book” page.

To see this in action just search for any book on for example this Book on New York, when you click on the About this book page you get the places referenced in the book displayed on a map, along with the page references from the book.

Maybe i’m just a big geek … but I think its really cool!

Welcome to Google Planet? is Google building a virtual world?

Came across this article in New Scientist. Rumours are circulating that Google is developing an online Virtual world, much like Second Life. I suspected this might be the case when they acquired SketchUp last year which allows users to contribute 3D buildings for others to see which can be overlayed on Google Earth.

Read the New Scientist article for more information … but I’ll definitly be keeping an eye on this. Google has made a habit out of taking on very established markets and re-defining them. I do hope though that Google, if they go down this road, improve on the metaphor, I really hope they dont end up cheesing people off like SL has 🙂

Google Tech Talk: Are there search-engine distruptive ideas?

An excellent tech talk about what kinds of technology could be potentially disruptive to Google, and how it to understand it and how to turn these into positives.

The talk focuses around the democratization of  information and the cultural implications of this. What I found really interesting is that this talk touched on several points that Alan made during his talks to our group yesterday about providing better semantic support for users trying to find information.

It’s a truly fascinating talk and if your working with search engines do watch this talk!

SAS troops are stationed in london

I was alarmed to learn that an SAS unit is now stationed in London1 in the hopes that with their military training the SAS can help combat the threat of terrorists, perhaps better than specially equipped Police units.

It’s no secret that the Met completely got it wrong with reference to the tragic shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes2. They killed the wrong man and then attempted to cover it up with series of lies. However as badly as the situation was handled and as disturbing as the subsequent cover up was, I’m not at all convinced that turning to a military unit is the right answer. Military units are trained for combat not law enforcement, so I find myself questioning whether, in the case of the Menezes shooting, they would have been more or less restrained.

Interestingly, as far as I know here in the UK we do not have the equivalent of the Posse Comitatus Act3, which in the United States is a law that forbids the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the US (unless expressly authorised by Congress). It’s debatable as to whether we need it, however in the US it serves as a deterrent to prevent the deployment of military troops at the local level to deal with what should be purely a law enforcement matter – it should be noted that since 9/11 this law has been somewhat eroded4.

  1. The Times – SAS Unit moves to London in terror fight,,,2-2559186,00.html[back]
  2. Jean Charles de Menezes, [back]
  3. Posse Comitatus Act,[back]
  4. The Myth of Posse Comitatus, Major Craig Trebilcock –[back]