Locksmith Spam Listing Issue

May 23rd, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

I recently wrote a piece about how to bite back at local scam businesses over at Natural Search Blog, but one of the more difficult variety of scams are the faux local business listings that Google Places fights. And, ever since people first began scamming listing rankings in print yellow pages, the worst sector affected is that of Locksmiths.

Quite a number of locksmith listings are for business locations which do not exist or do not have locksmiths’ offices there. Some listings are blatent — they are locations where there are no businesses at all — while others are more subtle, being shopping centers or office buildings which have no locksmith shops in them.

Why do the scammers do this? Well, they figured out that in order to have placement in local search results, Read the rest of this entry »

White House Situation Room Photo Accidentally Reveals Government Secret

May 5th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

The photo released by the White House depicting President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden along with members of the national security team during a briefing on the mission to capture or kill terrorist Osama Bin Laden is rapidly rocketing up to becoming the most-viewed photo on Flickr of all time:

White House Situation Room During Osama Bin Laden Capture Mission

The photo is fascinating for capturing what must’ve been breathless moments when the President, the military and our covert operations organizations wondered if the long search for Osama would at last prove successful.

But, what immediately caught my eye were the documents cast casually before Clinton in the photo — what were they of, and could they be revealing more than the government intended in a picture released to the public? At a glance, I expected they were satellite and/or aerial photos of the compound that Osama had built for himself to hide in. The caption paragraph of the photo page on Flickr apparently even refers directly to it, saying, “Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured.” That really draws attention to it! It must be something interesting/cool, if it must be hidden!

I clicked on the magnifying-glass button in Flickr, to view that section of the photo with larger resolution. When viewing the original size, you can see that, indeed, the top document has been pixelated out:

Obscured Document, Situation Room - Mission To Capture Osama bin Laden

As a side note, isn’t it interesting that there are special White House coffee cups, apparently, with the presidential seal on them? Apparently they don’t do Starbucks at the White House.

I still wonder, though, did they obscure it enough? It’s not unusual for the government to redact sensitive words or other information out of documents, but in this high-tech world it’s moderately risky to allow out photos, even when you try to blur out sensitive information. As I’ve proved before, blurring and pixelation can sometimes be reversed. The type of blurring or bitmapping done to the White House Situation Room photo is pretty lossy — the person who did it would no doubt believe it could not be reversed, since so much information from that area of the photo has been discarded in the process.

Yet, in that part of the picture alone, one could apply image algorithms which would attempt to reverse out the blurring by trying to enhance the elements of the picture that are left. This requires a form of interpolation to rebuild/replace the many pixels in between the blocks of color which resulted from an averaging of the original pixels. For each large block of continuous color, there were originally many pixels in their place which got combined/averaged into a median color. From the lighting in the photo, the color of each pixel, and the context of colors around each, an algorithm could attempt to interpolate and rebuild the picture. Interpolation is a form of mathematical guesswork, so there’s a high degree of inaccuracy involved — even so, the results can be surprising at times.

There are even more advanced algorithms which can reduce noise out of images (such as for medical imaging) or which can build out missing parts of photographic images based upon photographic commonalities. Read the rest of this entry »

How To Get A Screen Grab From An Android Phone

April 20th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith
Android Phone Screen Grab of Google Search Results

Screen Grab from an Android Phone

I was writing an article this week for my upcoming Locals Only column at Search Engine Land (“Google Instant Provides A Hint For Local & Mobile Optimization“), and I experienced the mildly flummoxing issue of being unable to take screen grabs from my Android phone (I use an HTC Thunderbolt ‘droid) to use as examples in the article. I followed the instructions found on a few webpages and forums which described how to go about it in a seemingly-straightforward manner, but after following their instructions, I seemed to keep getting an error where the software (called “DDMS”) just kept closing right after launch. It would start opening a window which would just blink closed immediately. Galling.

I discovered what the solution to the problem was, so I thought I’d share it here. I saw a number of people on other forums and sites which described the same exact issue where the Android software would seem to crash on launch, mystifying them. No one seemed to post any solutions.

Getting screencaps from your Android cellphone would seem to be something very easy to accomplish, but it’s an ellusive function. There are Android apps which provide this functionality, but they require you to have root admin access on your phone. Rooting your phone shouldn’t be necessary, just to get a screengrab! While I’m confident I could do this without breaking my phone’s core functionality, it apparently negates warranty and goes against the phone’s terms and conditions.

The solution most sites list requires that you load the Android developer toolkit, or “SDK”, which is used by those who want to program apps for Droid phones. As part of the development kit, there are a couple of ways to obtain screengrabs (App pages in the Marketplace often show a few representative screen grabs of the app interfaces, so developers would naturally need to be able to obtain the screen caps without having to photograph their phones separately.) Read the rest of this entry »

Lock & Door Contractor Blames SuperMedia Yellow Pages For Their Own Bad Service

March 30th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Yellow Pages & LocksThe Morning Call in Pennsylvania reports about how “Always In Service”, a lock and door company, have run afoul of customers and the state’s attorney general office. In fact the attorney general’s office is suing them alleging the company misled customers into believing it was near their homes; charged more than estimated prices; failed to provide itemized bills; did poor work; and didn’t do work that was paid for.

Now Always In Service is suing SuperMedia, claiming the yellow pages company’s sales reps were trained to be deceptive to Always In Service and that they had advised them to buy local phone numbers with and advertise those numbers so customers would think the company was local.

As I’ve touched upon before and as others have covered, the locksmiths industry (among other types of businesses) have had a lot of trouble with the creation of bogus online business listings or listings which are engineered to deceive consumers into thinking a company is local to them. While it sounds like Always In Service isn’t exactly a locksmith service, they would appear to be operating in a closely-related field. Read the rest of this entry »

NY Artist Molly Dilworth Seeks Fame Through Painting In Google Earth/Maps

March 29th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

The Atlantic reported this past week on how one artist in New York, Molly Dilworth has been working to get her rooftop mural paintings picked up by the satellite imagery so that they may appear in Google Earth and Google Maps.

Rooftop Mural at 547 W 27th St, New York, NY, by Molly Dilworth

Rooftop Mural at 547 W 27th St, New York, NY, by Molly Dilworth. © Gil Blank 2009

The article reports how long the lagtime is between when the satellite and aerial photos in Google Earth are updated, and how she’s found it challenging to make the paintings visible enough to be seen in them. It appears to me that she’s progressively made the images with higher resolutions as she experiments with the medium.

As you may recall, I’ve reported on Earth Art that may appear in Google Maps as well as various attempts people have made to get messages and ads into the satellite pictures. Rooftop ads seem to come and go periodically Read the rest of this entry »

Google Site Blocking Feature – An Assault On SEO?

March 11th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

During this week’s SMX West conference, Google announced a new feature whereby searchers may block domains from appearing in their search results:

Google Block Domains from Results - Rush Limbaugh

The part of Google’s announcement which grabbed more attention from search engine optimization experts is this statement from the end of the post:

“…while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future…”

I think it entirely likely that Google will Read the rest of this entry »

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

February 16th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

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… Read the rest of this entry »

Voynich Manuscript News

February 15th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

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 Read the rest of this entry »

AT&T Opens Mobile App Incubator In Texas

February 8th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

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 YP.com site.

I’m supposing that this is to put AT&T in an advantageous position for Read the rest of this entry »