Monthly Archives: November 2011

Google’s Fall Spring Cleaning

With the advent of Google+, many of Google’s services have become redundant. In a bout of off -season spring cleaning, the Google team is shutting down many of these programs. Programs on the chopping block include:

  • Buzz – Buzz is the social sharing network I have written about in the past. It has been eclipsed by Google+ and other services that beat Google to the punch on this front.
  • Jaiku – Another social sharing network that allows users to post snippets and share short links. Unlike Buzz, Jaiku could be used to share photos and the like.
  • iGoogle sharing – iGoogle was a sort of personalized homepage for your internet experience. They added games and gadgets for more interactivity (like old Yahoo! homepages, remember those?) The social gadgets let you share your favorite things with other iGoogle users – from your to-do list, to games, to articles.
  • Bookmarks list – this feature let users share their bookmarks with friends.
  • Friend connect – this feature lets users add social features to their websites, including making registration easy and allowing you to add ratings and commenting to content.
  • Gears – this feature allowed users to create offline web apps. They are discontinuing this feature in an effort to move into HTML5, an updated language for web design that allows a lot of fancy new application programming and such. HTML5, in combination with CSS3 allows developers to do a lot of things that previously could only be done by the use of things like Flash.
  • Search Timeline – this feature let users look at historical search data. This can now be found by using the Google Trends or Insights features.
  • Wave – I wrote about the wave before. This was a really neat idea that just never caught on, which allowed users to interact, webchat, and share files throughout their development.
  • Knol – This service allowed experts to work together to create and publish web content.

 

Recent Study Finds Autistic Brains Develop More Slowly in Some ways – Performs Better in Others

Autistic children are usually (though by no means always) diagnosed in their early childhood.  New research from UCLA, however, indicates that brain development experiences delays into the teen years.  These findings could help account for some of the symptoms of autism experienced by many individuals in this age range.  The parts of the brain that are involved in learning, emotional processing, language, and social skills appear to develop more gradually in autistic preteens.  Often, autistic children experience difficulties with socializing, particularly in this already difficult period of their lives.

While these new findings help researchers understand (and in the future, possibly ease) some of the difficulties autistic individuals experience throughout their life cycles, one should not take slower brain development in some areas to mean defective or inferior.  Particularly, areas like reasoning tend to be better developed in individuals who have been diagnosed with autism.  This is not limited to so-called “savants.”  While autistic individuals often score poorly on standardized tests or have difficulty communicating, those who know them well would probably tell you that many people with autism are incredibly smart, just not in a way that easily translates into what is “normal,” which is why autism was considered a defect for many years.

14-yr Old Invents Email

I’ve written about the history of technology a number of times – from keyboards to the internet itself. One of the more interesting bits of information here is the invention of e-mail. It was invented by a 14-year old. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai was enrolled in a programming course as a young teenager. Shortly after he finished, a coworker of his mother’s – Les Michelson – asked if he would like a job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry. Of course he agreed. For the next several days, Michaelson had Shiva observe the mail system in place and then told him to go forth and recreate it in electronic form.

 

Another interesting thing is how little email has changed since the summer Shiva began working on it. He was replicating a system that used to, from, cc, bcc, subject, date, and body on a campus-wide scale. Today’s email still uses the same fields. What Shiva created was entirely adequate, and it’s stability since the late 70s is indicative of his great success.

Google’s Got Tricks Hidden Up Its Sleeve

I wrote earlier this week about how awesome I think search engines are. I wasn’t being sarcastic or even hyperbolic, in case you were wondering. I really do love search engines.

I prefer Google, though my parent’s use Bing! Either will perform a decent search. Google is known as a corporation that is kind of “fun.” This is reflected in some of their public products. Let’s go through some of my favorites.

These are all known as Easter eggs – “intentional hidden message or an in-joke” in something like a video game or computer program.

  1. When you search for the word “anagram,” Google asks you if you meant to search for “nag a ram.” Which, obviously, is an anagram of the word anagram.
  2. Searching for “askew” makes the results screen tilt slightly to the right. When I first experienced this, I didn’t notice at first. I thought there was something wrong with my eyes, then my screen.
  3. “Do a barrel roll” makes the results page rotate 360 degrees. This is a reference to an old Nintendo game.
  4. The calculator also does some fun things. For instance, when you ask it for “the answer to life, the universe, and everything,” it yields the result “42.” This is a reference to Douglas Adams’ book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  5. The calculator also accepts some funny measurements like “Once in a blue moon” and “donkeypower.”
  6. Google maps are also funny, sometimes. When you ask for directions from Japan to China, it tells you to jet ski.
  7. Likewise, when you ask for directions from North American to Europe or Africa, it tells you to swim. From North America to Australia, kayak.
  8. There is a certain area in Antarctica where the little dude turns into a penguin.
  9. At Legoland, he turns into a lego man.
  10. In street view, you can actually see some of the people at Google headquarters! I wonder if any of them programmed any of these Easter eggs.

Navigating the Net

The internet can be a magical place. There is just so much STUFF out here. From today’s football scores to the price of tea in China, there’s a good chance there is a website, blog, album, or video series dedicated to it on the internet. But the benefit of the internet is also its downfall. How does one find the price of tea in China on the internet?

Answer: search engines!

A search engine works by going out and indexing or spidering websites. It automatically follows link to link to link. Then it takes all of the content it finds on those pages, and it uses that content to decide what the page is supposed to be about and how valuable that content in. The engine uses very complex algorithms to determine relevance and value in relation to any search term a user might put into the search engine. While most search engines keep their algorithms secret, they do release some general information about how they return results.  These algorithms are updated regularly to be more and more accurate, as well as to keep website owners from cheating to get their pages higher on Google’s results page.

And using a search engine is so easy!

Facebook Celebrates National Cyber Security Month

 

October was national cyber security month.  In honor of that, Facebook has announced some upcoming security updates.

Trusted Friends
Trusted Friends is a feature that helps you get back into your account if you are ever locked out for any reason.  You just select three to five friends that you trust (this is where the name comes in), and they are your fall back.  If you are locked out, Facebook will send them codes. You then get at least three of the codes from your trusted friends, and use the codes to login to your account and reset your password.

App Passwords
Facebook is also introducing app-specific passwords.  These are automatically generated passwords that will be necessary for logging into certain apps, which could otherwise be security risks.

You can view an infographic about Facebook security on Scribd.  (Why they used a third party image service rather than posting it on Facebook, I have no idea.)

The scary part here is in the stats they released on this infographic.  Four percent of the content on Facebook is spam.  When compared to email, this is low.  That being said, that is still almost one item in twenty.  Additionally only 0.06% of accounts are compromised daily.  Unfortunately, that 0.06% is of over one billion, adding up to over 600,000 accounts compromised every day.

Other than Facebook’s latest attempts to make their site secure, there are some basic steps you can take to protect all of your accounts.

1.  Don’t reuse passwords.
2.  Don’t use a common password, like your birthday.  Try a secure password generator, instead.
3.  Never share your login information.
4.  Change your passwords regularly, and anytime you think an account might be compromised.

Common sense can often save you quite a bit of trouble when it comes to internet security.