From A to B

30percent How does one get from A to B these days?

Like almost everything else, you’d start by going online, and seek Google‘s advise.

Google’s maps are superb after all, and their driving instructions excellent. Our collective blind reliance on Google as the world’s single source of information on almost anything is increasingly worrying. Not that I have reason to believe they do anything wrong, or filter or rate or present information in a way that I disagree with, but I grow increasingly uneasy about this whole thing.

Supersized media barons such as Axel Springer or Rupert Murdoch are tiny players in the information monopoly game, when you compare it to Google.

So, when it comes to journey planning within the UK, it turns out that there is an excellent, government-funded alternative: Transport Direct.

Unlike Google, Transport Direct only covers the UK.

Unlike Google, Transport Direct considers the use of sustainable transport (i.e. bicycles) and use of public transport in addition to regular use of roads and cars. They factor live travel news into the equation, compute the CO2 cost of a trip, know locations of car parks.

And, they aren’t run by Google.


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The Search Engine Mystery

Inside the London Assembly I’ve been looking at this web site’s statistics for a while now. Between almost 840 posts, the site covers almost anything under the sun – little of relevance, but a diverse spread of subjects, so that I get a good number of visitors from search engines such as Google, Windows Live (Bing), or, increasingly, Exalead.

It always amazes me to see through which search terms people find my site. Google users would, for example, search for Urban Karahi Hanwell or Pommes Dauphinoise and find my post that mentions the Urban Karahi restaurant in Hanwell (or the one about Pommes Dauphinoise).

On the other hand, Windows Live users seem to be searching for simple generic terms such as summer or geese – a broad search unlikely leading to success.

Would anyone know what is going on?

Are Google users way smarter than Windows Live users? Is someone building a meta-index through Windows Live? Will Windows Live not reveal the full original search term?

I am inclined to think it must be the latter, in which case Microsoft would be one small step ahead in the game of protecting surfers’ privacy. Can anyone shed some light on this?

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Google? Who’s Google?

Scuba Divers You’ll all know Google, of course. Even the Oxford Dictionary knows about “to google,” a remarkable accomplishment and clever marketing. Few other companies have impacted daily life of so many people so severely, and so quickly.

However, one should never forget that others are really, really, keen to get a slice of Google’s market share, and thus breed pretty daughters, too.

Through some strange coincidence, I discovered Exalead recently. A strange name that won’t ever enter the English language and the Oxford Dictionary, but what the heck?

Hmm, pretty much like Google, I thought. Since Wolfram caused nothing but hype and disappointment so far, and because it was lunch time, I took a closer look.

Oh. Nice! Fast returns, and a nice clickable tool on the far right to narrow down the search. (Others have also found Exalead noteworthy.) The speed will probably reduce as their index and user base builds up, but for now, it’s really nice.

Next, I looked into the free Exalead desktop search tool (EDS) – Google Desktop Search (GSD)struggled with Outlook integration for some while now, and not having shares in Google, I felt free to try Exalead.

Oh. Nice, again! Super-fast indexing, and much better local search results than any other desktop search engine that I tried before. Although slower than GDS, EDS offers a superb tool to narrow down the local search results, much better than all the others.

I was just about to become an Exalead convert when I found out that the Internet search results simply weren’t as good as Google’s (although they were the second best that I have seen so far). Desktop search was brilliant, but incompatible with an essential software tool needed in my work (the Perforce source control client), so I had to give up on Exalead all together.

They never bothered to say Thank you when I told them about the incompatibility, so I guess it serves them right. T’is French anyway.


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animal There’s quite a hype around Wolfram, a web 2 search engine that could change it all. You know what?

Change is needed, but Wolfram –as it stands today- is nowhere near it. The best thing is that Wolfram is polite about its failures: Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input it says to most of my queries. Queries that I know and trust and rely to succeed on Google.

There was a time when this site here came up top for Leberwurst West London and similar important queries. Although this site appears to have dropped somewhat in Google’s esteem, they’re still better than Wolfram’s pathetic Sorry.

What is needed is semantic analysis. Everyone knows that. Oh, yes. I should better stop rambling here and finish that Zemanta-based research tool which I drafted months ago, and put to sleep over the past few months.

It’s high time to show Wolfram its Eureka! moment.


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Yoghurt Odyssey

jerseyCow Many moons ago, when I was a child, we used to have an electric yoghurt maker for a while. This was a simple affair, if I recall correctly: mix milk with culture (comes in a sachet), put in jars, seal jars. Put in maker, which would keep it at the right temperature for a couple of hours, done.

I like yoghurt, so I am thinking maybe I should… Google returns this one. Nice! Looks good, makes an unknown amount, estimated between one and two pints, not too big and not expensive. Hold on, where do I get cultures from? All they do is flavoured mixes. Not for me, so I keep looking.

Next one found is this fantastic part. No electrical power needed! Brilliant! Hold on, how exactly do these three easy steps…? What the f* is this? “Pour boiling water into…”  No milk involved in a dairy product. Not with me, so I keep looking.

The I come across this device. Apart from claiming to require 220V (while the whole of Europe has been on 240V for the last ten years and more), it seems to meet the requirements. People who bought this item also bought, they say, ear tags for cattle, sheep and pigs, 8 litre plastic drinkers, and 7 kg plastic yellow tube feeders. Funny! Apparently, they cater for professionals. But, they also sell the culture sachets.

Back in my German home town last weekend, I bought cultures for a more reliable start, compared to using alleged live yoghurt off the supermarket shelf. Maybe I should go and get the nice-looking maker there. Or maybe look around a little more. Aargh! Why are the simple things so difficult?!


Steep Approach Plans?

cockpit Six new flight paths have been suggested and are now subject to consultation, affecting Heathrow, Stansted and Luton airports and, more to the point, folk living around those airports. You can read all about it, and see how you might be affected, on the very detailed Terminal Control North Airspace Change Proposal site.

We here in W7 might actually be slightly better off, as we will be moving slightly away from the centre of the Easterly Departures to the North route, which often plagues us on a nice summer day. Or at least I think this is the one, as I haven’t found a map visualizing all presently implemented paths. Well, these things are going to change with the new runway.

Comparing that particular route’s existing and proposed altitude profiles shows clearly that they give more room for Stansted and Luton and prepare for a steeper climb, but I see no change in the profile.

Google reveals some debate on aviation forums about moving from 3 to 6 degree approaches, but I found no left overs from a debate held two or three years ago, suggesting a much steeper approach: instead of dropping to low altitude many miles away and approaching the airport on low altitude, the idea was to approach on several thousand feet altitude, and drop rapidly more or less straight into the airport.

The idea was to reduce noise and air pollution, disperse disposed kerosene over a much larger area, and lower the general risk of low-altitude flying over densely populated areas.

According to the diagram that I seem to recall, this would be a 30(-ish) degree approach, something seemingly knowledgeable folk dismissed online, as they claim 7 degrees to be the maximum safe glide angle (19 for the space shuttle).

Does anyone know what became of these plans?

Were they insane to begin with, or do they require newer generation plans and guidance systems?


Sonorant Mob?

I love those wacky London tube maps. For example, have a look at the geographical tube map, the Tate Modern Tube Map, or just browse the history over at the London Tube Map Archives. The Anagram Map is pretty nice, or the Sponsored Tube Map, and so is Time Travel. Mappers’ Delight seems to hold the largest collection of links to serious and silly maps, but has by far the best comment on the copyright dispute with London Transport…

Myrtle‘s What if Germany Had Won The War map has recently been mentioned on Annie Mole’s site, so I took my red pen and had a look.

I’d be the last one to wish that Germany had indeed won the war, but if it had, Myrtle’s German would probably be better. Too bad this nice idea looks like an automated Google Translate job. Turns out that Horst Prillinger had the same clever idea, and made a much nicer job of it.

Which is your favourite?

The Web Revolution

A Keyboard Have you noticed how the world wide web has revolutionised us?

Of course, there are the well-known and much acclaimed revolutionary aspects of the web. Google and blogs and the multi-medial information overload come to mind, the motivation for "broadband in every home" government programs, and advise how to cope.

I am fascinated by the way the web made us change the ways we write and read text. Did you notice that the text above is full of hyperlinks? Did you notice that you were expected to read two words at most, then to find a "hmmm…. I really should click here to get all this important extra information" hyperlink, follow, get side-tracked and unable to complete reading the initial statement?

It’s all very fascinating and, without doubt, delivers a lot of useful information, and fun, among all the rubbish, but I find it interesting to note just how far reaching the impact really is.

Maybe this is the single truly essential hyperlink in the online world today. Old but still good.

Gadget Step-down

Cessna Cockpit
I have been using a Palm Pilot PDA and a Sony Clie PDA over the years. I have used Outlook’s built-in calendar as well as Google Calendar, and I find every one of them makes a really cool and nifty gadget.

In 2007, however, I shall return to a good old paper diary for appointments and notes. I suspect that this might be old-fashioned, but actually be the best tool for the job. Anybody else going through the same process?

City Love

Modern Art

When we moved from a little country town to London over 9 years ago, we weren’t sure at all whether we’d like it. Today, I only needd a few minutes on Google to reconfirm that I do like it very much indeed. Here’s a snapshot with some of the current arts eshibitions in town:

The BP Portait Awards 2006 are coming up at the National Portrait Gallery. The first three nominees can be seen here.

Over at the Tate Modern, From the Bauhaus to the New World shows work by Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy.

The Haywards Gallery shows Undercover Surrealism including works by Picasso and Miro.

These are just a few examples, plus all the music and performing arts, and all the many shops and restaurants from around the world on my doorsteps. You just gotta love it.

In My Own Affairs

W7 (Self portrait)
I was fascinated, and strangely pleased, to see from the site statistics that people seemed to have employed Google to find out What is W7?

So, to every site visitor who shares a genuine interest in the non-consequential details of life and who is neither related, befriended, or otherwise bullied into visiting this Blog: Welcome!  As soon as there are two of you, I will provide free-of-charge liaison services.

Oh, by the way, W7 is a postcode area in West London, short for West 7, where I live. Part of  a ZIP code if that makes more sense to you. So, now you know What is W7.

Google’s My Friend

TopatgoogleOne of the fascinating aspects of running a Blog is to look at the statistics and see where hits come from. Articles like the Chilling Blowjob obviously attract a certain kind of hits through search engines. My site also gets frequent hits from, mostly in combinations like THE+WORLD+FAMOUS+PANTINGS and so forth.  Almost seems like their search engine probes for keyword combinations.

However, I am pleased to report that w7 comes out top, yes: top!, (yesterday, anyway) with this genuine query:

So, I had my moment of (undeserved) fame. Moving on…