Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Are the smart users on Yahoo?

December 19, 2006

Google and Yahoo have both released their end of the year Zeitgeists for the most popular search terms of 2006. I find it curious the difference between the most popular news searches between them.

The most popular news searches on Google:

  1. paris hilton
  2. orlando bloom
  3. cancer
  4. podcasting
  5. hurricane katrina
  6. bankruptcy
  7. martina hingis
  8. autism
  9. 2006 nfl draft
  10. celebrity big brother 2006

And the most popular news searches on Yahoo:

  1. Steve Irwin death
  2. Anna Nicole’s son dies
  3. Iraq
  4. Israel and Lebanon
  5. U.S. elections
  6. Fidel Castro stroke
  7. North Korea nuke
  8. JonBenet confession
  9. Saddam Hussein trial
  10. Danish cartoon

In summary:

People searched on Google News for celebrities, the NFL, a TV show, Hurricane Katrina (which happened in 2005) and some generic terms I can’t quite imagine the newsworthiness of (cancer, autism, bankruptcy, and podcasting).

People searched on Yahoo News for… actual news (and at least the celebrity searches reference actual events).

So what’s that say about the difference between the two news portals, and the users thereof? Does Yahoo simply attract a smarter audience, or just smarter searches? Does Google do something to encourage junk searches that Yahoo doesn’t? Honestly I don’t have any good theories, but I’d love to hear some ideas.

A little spam-love

October 25, 2006

This got passed Gmail’s spam filters today. I’m not sure what they’re trying to sell, exactly, but it’s damn funny:

Now and then, a power drill pees on another spider. A blotched polar bear takes a coffee break, and a prime minister living with a spider brainwashes a shabby salad dressing. When you see some dust bunny defined by the photon, it means that a nation daydreams. Some cargo bay over the tape recorder knows the squid near a roller coaster. Now and then, a hockey player related to some cab driver buries a lover around a movie theater.

Now and then, a power drill pees on another spider. A blotched polar bear takes a coffee break, and a prime minister living with a spider brainwashes a shabby salad dressing. When you see some dust bunny defined by the photon, it means that a nation daydreams. Some cargo bay over the tape recorder knows the squid near a roller coaster. Now and then, a hockey player related to some cab driver buries a lover around a movie theater. Most people believe that a satellite falls in love with a loyal tape recorder, but they need to remember how ostensibly a load bearing burglar wakes up. The inferiority complex thoroughly secretly admires the power drill. A frustrating briar patch satiates a boiled recliner. An overripe blithe spirit is muddy.

A non-chalantly fat turkey

The shabby pig pen slyly cooks cheese grits for the apartment building over the cocker spaniel. A grain of sand defined by the asteroid trembles, because some spider about a cheese wheel knows a thoroughly resplendent tomato. Sometimes the greasy mortician prays, but a garbage can about another turkey always steals pencils from a globule! Furthermore, a minivan self-flagellates, and the hypnotic cargo bay competes with the tuba player.

Tagged: ,

In celebration of another arbitrary round number

October 17, 2006

Today’s post was brought to you by the number 300,000,000 and the letter R.

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

October 16, 2006

Alright, so I know Columbus day was last week, but I thought I’d throw this out there anyway, as it’s been a perennial mystery for me.

One of the myths we tell schoolchildren is that “Columbus discovered the Earth was round”. Now, anyone with half a brain today knows that anyone with half a brain back then knew the Earth was round already. Columbus knew it, and so did the Spanish royalty he pitched his idea to.

The amazing thing though has nothing to do with the Earth being round vs flat, but rather, just how big the Earth is. You see, as early as the ancient Greeks, people knew the Earth was round. They even had a pretty good idea of just how big it was – Eratosthenes nailed it to within about 2% in 240 BC and Ptolemy was another one who got pretty close a little later in history. There was a steady stream of scholars after that who estimated the modern number pretty closely using various methods.

So, here’s the problem: Europeans didn’t know that the Americas were there. So using the most accurate numbers available to them, that put 12,000 miles of ocean between the west coast of Europe and the east coast of Asia. Basically, an impossibly long voyage in 1492.

Columbus however, he got the idea in his head that the distance wasn’t 12,000 miles, but rather 3,000 miles (coincidentally, roughly the distance to the east coast of America). Wikipedia explains it:

Following Washington Irving’s myth-filled 1828 biography of Columbus, it became common supposed knowledge that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because Europeans believed that the earth was flat. In fact, few people at the time of Columbus’s voyage, and virtually no sailors or navigators, believed this. Most agreed that the earth was a sphere. Indeed, knowledge of the Earth’s spherical nature was not limited to scientists: for instance, Dante’s Divine Comedy is based on a spherical Earth. Columbus put forth arguments that were based on the circumference of the sphere. Most scholars accepted Ptolemy’s claim that the terrestrial landmass (for Europeans of the time, comprising Eurasia and Africa) occupied 180 degrees of the terrestrial sphere, leaving 180 degrees of water.

Columbus, however, believed the calculations of Marinus of Tyre that the landmass occupied 225 degrees, leaving only 135 degrees of water. Moreover, Columbus believed that 1 degree represented a shorter distance on the earth’s surface than was commonly held. Finally, he read maps as if the distances were calculated in Italian miles (1,238 meters). Accepting the length of a degree to be 56? miles, from the writings of Al-Farghani, he therefore calculated the circumference of the Earth as 25,255 kilometers at most, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan as 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km). Columbus did not realize that Al-Farghani used the much longer Arabic mile of about 1,830 meters.

The problem facing Columbus was that experts did not accept his estimate of the distance to the Indies. The true circumference of the Earth is about 40,000 kilometers, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan is 19,600 kilometers. No ship in the 15th century could carry enough food to sail from the Canary Islands to Japan. Most European sailors and navigators concluded, correctly, that sailors undertaking a westward voyage from Europe to Asia non-stop would die of starvation or thirst long before reaching their destination. Spain however, only recently unified through the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, was desperate for a competitive edge over other European countries in trade with the East Indies. Columbus promised them that edge.

So Columbus thought the distance was 3,000 miles. The rest of the world thought it was 12,000. Columbus was really, really wrong – and had to have been really, really sure of himself to ignore the wisdom of all the scholars in his time; he’d have been committing suicide if he was wrong.

I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as just downright odd. Columbus had almost no support for his belief about the size of the Earth, yet he was willing to put his life on the line to prove it. I’d love to know why.

The best theory that I have is that Columbus, somehow, knew that the Americas were there before selling out – or at least that there was land 3,000 miles to the west. That would at least explain why he believed the Earth was so small, and he was not, after all, the first European to get actually get there by a long shot. But even if that’s the case, it begs the question of how exactly he knew this and what made him so sure of what he was told.

It’s a bit of a mystery that I think has been overlooked. I’d love if anyone had any additional insight into it. Any thoughts?

Quick Note

September 21, 2006

I’ve killed the daily posting from Del.icio.us to this blog; it just didn’t seem that popular based on traffic analysis (and I never liked the way Del.icio.us formatted those posts anyway). I’ve relegated Del.icio.us to the sidebar, and you can look forward to only substantive posts from now on.

Anyone who is interested in those links can either add me to their own Del.icio.us network or else subscribe to those links using this feed.

Well, the Jonbenet story fizzled so it’s time to poke the long dead corpse of…

September 7, 2006

Preliminary inquest hearings into the deaths of Princess Diana and her lover Dodi al Fayed are expected to take place early next year, judicial authorities said on Thursday.

God damn, why can’t the dead rest in peace anymore?