Archive for February, 2011

Google Instant Previews Ironically Leaves Out Google Maps, Flash & YouTube

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Google’s Instant Preview feature, which allows one to click on a little magnifying-glass icon in search results in order to see how webpages appear, doesn’t support Google Maps, YouTube, nor Flash interfaces.

For instance, here’s the Map page from Elvis Presley’s Graceland website:

Graceland's Map Page

Yet, in Google Instant Preview, the main graphic element of the map is missing entirely:

Graceland's Map Page in Instant Preview

Google rolled out Instant Previews with some fanfare a few months ago. According to their statements at the time, people making use of the previews were “more satisfied” with search results they ultimately clicked-upon, thus providing an excuse for its addition on the search results page (this is no minor thing — Google’s search engine result page or “SERP” is prime real estate, and they’re very conservative about anything introduced upon it).

The Instant Previews are a sort of generated screengrab image of webpages. Their systems likely leverage HTML interpretation software to compose how a webpage will look, perhaps based upon the Document Object Model, sized to the maximum width of the image size, along with some pagebreaks they’ve built in to abbreviate lengths of pages and highlight text from certain sections of it.

This isn’t actually anything new — search engines, directories, and internet yellow pages have incorporated preview images of webpages in their results for quite a number of years at this point going back to perhaps around the year 2000, but it was earlier done at a slightly smaller size. One of the best-known services to produce these preview thumbnail images is Girafa. Even more relevant to Google, perhaps, the underlying technology likely dates back to work by Jakob Nielsen and others at Sun Microsystems in 1999 (see Method, apparatus and program product for updating visual bookmarks). As you may recall, Nielsen is the usability expert whose philosophies were apparently very influential in the earlier days of Google when he was on their Technical Advisory Board. This may explain why Google has trotted out a fairly common feature that’s been around for at least a decade, and presented it as though it’s some completely new innovation.

Google engineers were quoted mentioning how Instant Previews was also intended to help speed up the internet, and Google’s been making strides in pushing their philosophy that the internet should speed up. (Recall that they formally introduced Page Speed as a ranking factor last year.) This unfortunately reminds me of how AOL used to cache webpages across the internet and compress everyone’s images so that their users would have faster browsing speeds — and, AOL also inflicted bad user experiences onto webmasters’ creations, since their image compression algorithm had a bug which caused certain types of JPEGs to have chunks of image screwed-up!

The main innovations involved with the Instant Previews seem to be the slightly larger size than what was often used in the past, the “call-outs” of text snippets which highlight portions of text matching the user’s search, and the jagged pagebreaks to visually abbreviate the length of pages.

So, considering that this is really something of a rehashed idea from nearly ten years ago, it’s surprising that Google appears to’ve rolled it out prematurely. Read on for some observations and solutions… (more…)

Voynich Manuscript News

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

In the last week, BoingBoing caught my eye by reporting how University of Arizona researchers have announced a new piece of information discovered about the Voynich Manuscript. For those who don’t know, the Voynich Manuscript is one of the world’s biggest mysteries and most-interesting books of all time. Trick is, no one can read it.

The book was discovered in modern times (1912) by a rare books dealier, Wilfrid Voynich, and later after his death it was donated to Yale University (1969).

The book consists of a number of pages with writing and some illustrations divided into sections covering subjects which appear to include Astrology, Herbology, Pharmaceutical, Cosmology, and Medicine. The writing resembles Latinate scripts at first glance, but one quickly realizes that the letters don’t conform to known languages, and even the sequences of words formed by the letters are very odd and do not seem to conform to familiar language patterns. The weird illustrations, with sort of psychedelic combinations of people, plants and tubes, tubs and pipes are puzzling. Are they illustrating biological processes of movements of biles and humors? Are they explaining some weird machinery or alchemical process? The other diagrams of stars and cosmologies in combination make it even stranger:

Voynich Manuscript, Cosmology Page

Over the course of years, the manuscript has been analyzed by many linguists, cryptographers, experts and other hobbyists with no one satisfactorily breaking the code or language that may be involved.

I’ve written before about the Voynich Manuscript, and it continues (more…)

AT&T Opens Mobile App Incubator In Texas

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

AT&T Mobile Phone App DevelopmentThe Dallas News reports that AT&T has officially opened a new center in Plano, Texas, to help mobile app developers create and launch their work.

“The AT&T Foundry in Plano is a slick, high-tech workspace designed to connect developers with experts already employed at the telecommunications giant.”

Plano is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

If you’re unaware, AT&T’s yellow pages division moved a couple of years back from San Antonio to Dallas, and their global headquarters is located here as well. They also have interactive offices in California which work on some of their social media initiatives along with the site.

I’m supposing that this is to put AT&T in an advantageous position for (more…)


Friday, February 4th, 2011

Oskar van Deventer's hypercubeOkay, I really want one of these — it’s a 17 x 17 x 17 Rubic’s Cube style puzzle:

The puzzle is by Oskar van Deventer, and it can be found here.

I’ll risk exposing how geeky I am by explaining that the original Rubic’s Cube became a super-popular pop culture icon back when I was in middle school and high school. And, in high school, a small handful of us used to compete to see who was the fastest at solving messed-up Rubik’s Cubes. I think I came in (more…)