Thursday, September 30, 2004

Skype: WKAR radio interview demonstrates quality of a VOIP call from Northern Michigan to East Lansing

Scott Pohl of WKAR-FM (NPR in East Lansing) and I discussed Skype, the VOIP (Voice over IP) startup from the folks who brought you Kazaa. Skype users can talk to each other for free over the Internet, or a Skype user can use Skypeout to dial out on the global switched telephone network to reach virtually any telephone on Earth. Skype-to-Skype is free; Skypeout is cheap -- for instance, 1.7 Euro cents a minute to call the U.S.

This was a fun interview, becuase our topic was VOIP long distance, and our means of communication was VOIP long distance.

The recorded interview gives you a pretty good idea of the quality of voice over IP a la Skypeout.

Now that AT&T is pronouncing the acronym as "voyp" in national ads, I guess that means it's now in the lexicon.

Saturday, September 25, 2004's anti Whois robot recognition device is now anti-human has adopted a mechanism to prevent robots from harvesting Whois (domain name system) information. It requires you to type in a random string of text that's obscured so that software robots can't interpret it.

I defy anyone to read this obscured text.

Washington Post: great editorial on Cat Stevens episode

The Washington Post offers very sensible words on the lack of common sense in how Homeland Security handled the Cat Stevens incident:

Some of the intelligence reform legislation pending in Congress does call on the DHS to make the procedures surrounding the lists more transparent. But it is doubtful that any system that runs by automatic procedures, as this country's does, will ever be able to deal sensibly with individual cases. Whatever money the former Cat Stevens may or may not have given to terrorist organizations, was it really necessary to stop his plane in Maine? It's unlikely that he is so dangerous that his plane could not land at Dulles, and very likely that the grounding was ordered solely because security bureaucrats were following inflexible rules, without thinking through the consequences. What was missing was common sense.

When I flew to Amsterdam and back in November 2001 -- just after 9/11, I saw how Europeans do passenger screening: with intelligence. The screener looks you in the eye and asks you questions as an experienced police interregator (or defense attorney) would do -- out of order in time sequence, trying to catch you in an inconsistency. Every time I've flown in the US since then, I sense rote following of rules, not an intelligent agent.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sometimes Gmail offers the strangest ads

Today I glanced at the Sponsored Links served up for a very short message I'd sent, and I was surprised to see that they all related to physics. Odd; my message had nothing to do with physics, and didn't have any terms related to physics.

I tried Googling the recipients' names, and discovered that apparently one of my correspondents shares a surname, Thorsen, with a number of prominent physicists. (Is there some Thorsen physics dynasty out there?)

It's hard to imagine how the name of a recipient is ever a good clue as to what products I might buy.

Related curiosity: I clicked on that New York Times ad, promoting the paper as a great resource for physics students and faculty at universities. But if you follow the link, you're just dumped on a page touting The Times generally. Clue: a pitch promising things to a specific audience needs to follow through with a targeted ad.

Time to tweak the algorithm, Googleguys...

Cat Stevens confuses Google News, too

Cat Stevens was denied entry into the United States because the government's "watch list" indicates he's given money to terrorist-connected organizations. While neither confirming nor denying that I listened to his music in the 70s, and while certainly not admitting that I attended a concert by Cat (at Cobo Hall, a most intimate venue for a folk/rock singer) ... I doubt he's the kind of person who'd knowingly fund terrorists.

The global news media leapt on the story, and Google News didn't know what to make of it. Its algorithm chose Cat's rebuff as the lead story this morning -- more important than bombings and beheadings.

Google News was also confused by the fact that most reports listed the former pop star as both Cat Stevens and the Muslim name he adopted, Yusuf Islam. Google's "In the News" segment, which tries to call out the names of people in the news, lists both names -- and offers a different hit list depending on which one you pick.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Lou Rosenfeld weighs in on site search

Lou Rosenfeld has done some thinking about site search and what it should deliver. Useful thoughts. Capsule summary:

Locating search: Where is it?
Scoping search: What will be searched?
Query entry: How can I search it?
Retrieval results: What did I find?
Query refinement: How can I search some more?
Interaction with other IA components: Can I switch to browsing when search isn't doing the trick?
Finishing search: What can I do now that I've done searching?

Great quote about English and other languages

From Bookcrossing site:

"English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Weather Channel loses track of Hurricane Frances

Worried about whether Hurricane Frances is stalking some favorite haunts in Florida, I went to Alas, the site offers up a graphic that claims there are no storms to track. It's in the wee hours at the headquarters, and someone has pushed the wrong button.