The “right to be forgotten” bites thief in ass

July 16, 2014

So people who have done dodgy crap in the past have a “right to be forgotten”… meaning Google, Bing, etc have to delete links to stories about what crooks and conmen have got up to in the past. Basically, Google etc have to delete links to online stories that might “damage the reputation” of people who have done stupid and even criminal things they’ve done in the past.

But as Dan Gillmor has pointed out in the Guardian, it’s basically a charter for crooks and idiots to hide their stupidity and criminal actions, censoring their past so it looks like they’re not idiots or crooks… info that potential employers, new acquaintances and the like could well need to know. Are you going to enter into business with someone whose ineptness or criminal behaviour is public knowledge? Probably not. But now people will be employing unsuitable people.

But what’s funny about this charade is the fact that the “right to be forgotten” by Google will mean other news outlets will report on these secretive idiots. Check out the story on Robert Daniels-Dwyer. He wanted Google to remove links to reports that he was was convicted of trying to steal £200 worth of Christmas presents from Boots in Oxford in 2006. Google removed the links… but the Oxford Mail’s editor, Simon O’Neill, argued that it is “an assault on the public’s right to know perfectly legitimate information,” and Dwyers’ naughty past has been re-publicised far more than it would have been before the ruling! The Oxford Mail’s editor, Simon O’Neill, argued that it is “an assault on the public’s right to know perfectly legitimate information.”

Check out the original Oxford Mail story here. If the idiot had kept his gob shut, no one would have known about it… it was in 2006 for goodness’ sake!

Calling it a “right to censorship”, editor O’Neill continued: “It is an attempt to re-write history… We often get complaints from convicted criminals that publishing stories about them invades their privacy or is unfair but the simple fact is if they didn’t go out committing crime and appearing in court then there would not be a story.”

The Guardian reported:

The paper reported that Daniels-Dwyer had previously attempted to have the story removed from the Mail’s websites via a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

He demanded that Newsquest “should purge the article from all databases, internally and externally available, and from any news databases to which it provides content.”

Two factual amendments were made to the article, but the PCC dismissed his case.

If Daniels-Dwyer was the complainant to Google then it has rebounded on him because the 2006 story has got renewed, and extra, publicity – a direct consequence of all such complaints about online coverage (see the Streisand effect).

The right to be forgotten could well turn out to be the right to be remembered.

So it looks like Daniels-Dwyer has well and truly screwed himself! Ha ha ha!!

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‘We can intercept your Google and Facebook activity all we want, so screw you!’ says UK government

June 17, 2014

The British government has for the first time spelt out why it thinks it has the right to snoop on our Google, Facebook and other internet traffic all it wants.

Charles Farr, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, has made a statement (available here) that claims according to UK law the security services only need to get warrants to snoop on communications from one UK party to another. Traffic to and from services like Google (which includes Gmail) and Facebook are classed as “external communications”, for which no warrants are required.

This is horrendous. The internet is a network of networks, many of which are in other countries. So a large amount of our online activity will be transferred via networks in the USA and other countries even if the activity is practically domestic. If you send an email via Gmail to another UK citizen, the government classes it as an “external communication”. The same will be true of activity on Facebook, Twitter, and a great many other services, even though your intention is to communicate or share with other UK residents. Tempora, the program run by the British snooping agency GCHQ, gathers data and metadata, then shares it with the NSA. This means that practically all our online activities are stored, and can be used in fishing expeditions, even though GCHQ or NSA do not suspect you of any potentially criminal activity. Tempora is a “buffer” which stores internet data for 3 days and metadata for 30 days. GCHQ’s computers sift through all this data, storing anything that is “of interest”, which means that online privacy really is nonexistent. Which is what many of us have assumed for ages (especially after Edward Snowden’s revelations), but now it’s official.

What really exasperates me is that major criminals and terrorists will be taking steps to avoid this already, for example by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The real victims of GCHQ’s activities are us ordinary joes who are not engaged in criminal conspiracies but who want privacy (like people who send letters in sealed envelopes rather than postcards). We could encrypt our communications; but how many of us want to do this? and I’ll bet Tempora looks out for encrypted traffic and logs it as suspect.

The law needs changing. But that’s not going to happen. Why would the government give up these powers? So, I’m going to use my VPN account when I go online, and I advise everyone else to do the same. Tempora’s alarms will be set off by my suspicious activity; but if everyone is doing it GCHQ’s systems will overload. I hope. Remember, GCHQ has supercomputers and massive storage facilities. Big Brother, man! 1984 man!

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“Historic” or “Historical”… which is it, Mr Guardian?

April 11, 2014
Tory MP Nigel Evans.  Not a rapist, historic or historical...

Tory MP Nigel Evans. Not a rapist, historic or historical…

I’m a tad confused by the way the media is using the terms “historic” and “historical”. If we turn to wise Google and ask it to define:historic, it tells us:

famous or important in history, or potentially so.
“the area’s numerous historic sites”
synonyms: famous, famed, important, significant, notable, celebrated, renowned, momentous, consequential, outstanding, extraordinary, memorable, unforgettable, remarkable, landmark, groundbreaking, epoch-making, red-letter, of importance, of significance, of consequence, earth-shaking, earth-shattering

whereas define:historical produces:

a. Of or relating to the character of history. b. Based on or concerned with events in history. c. Used in the past: historical costumes

So something like the Potsdam conference, for instance, would be called historic, whereas the false rape allegations against Tory MP Nigel Evans would be historical. Right?

Well, I thought it was pretty simple. But then we see in the Guardian that the Evans rape allegations are called “historic allegations”. WTF? Google just told me…

So, what is it? Historic or historical? Some folk might think me mad using the Grauniad to argue such a point. But it ain’t just them: historic and historical seem to have become interchangeable terms so far as the papers are concerned. At least, that’s how it appoears to me…

Please, if anyone can explain wtf is going on, tell us in Comments. Serious and ridiculous explanations are equally welcome. Someone must know what’s going on in the editors’ heads, right? Right?

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How to search the internet 5: advanced operators

May 13, 2010

This is part 5 of my guide to searching the internet. Here are links to:

Part 1: History of internet search;
Part 2: How a modern web search site works;
Part 3: How to actually use a modern search engine
Part 4: How to understand the results you get from using a modern web search

I covered basic use of operators in part 3. But the proper use of operators is very important if you want to get the most from a search engine, especially if the search is at all complicated. So I’m going to go into more detail on the subject here. I got much of the info from other sites, especially www.GoogleGuide.com. But I (rather modestly) think that i present the info in a much more readable and usable form.

Okay, here we go. Operators are special uses of certain words or combination of words that mean more to the search engine than the plain use of words as simple search terms. Here’s a quick example, which you may find familiar if you’ve ever learned how to use Google to find mp3 files: Let’s imagine we want to find mp3 files of tracks by the excellent early British punk band The Clash. What we actually find are listings of the contents of directories that contain the mp3 music files. So, we could use Google search terms like this:

intitle:index.of mp3 “the clash” -.html -.htm

Let’s examine that bit by bit. It starts with intitle:index.of. The intitle part tells Google to look in the title of a page for a particular word or phrase. In this instance, the phrase to look for is index.of (which would, incidentally, look for titles that include the string “index.of” and “index of” (ie with a space rather than a period). That’s how Google and most (all?) other modern search engines work. The reason for looking for a page whose title includes the phrase “index of” is that a web page listing the contents of a directory will very likely have a title containing those words. It’s also looking for the word mp3 and the phrase “the clash”. You’ll notice we used quotation marks around “the clash”. This is my personal preference: the band was called The Clash, so I want results that contain that band name. Some people disagree, thinking that cuts out a lot of relevant results. And it’s true that some webmasters may have used the word “clash” in the page title. But I think using the word “clash” would pull up lots of irrelevant results like “Clash of the Titans” and “clash of two cultures”. So I stick with the phrase “the clash”. Whether you go with my suggestion or not is up to you.

The last 2 operators in this search are -html and -htm. You see, we’re looking for a page that lists the contents of a directory. This is not a page that is destined to be viewed by site users – it has more of a “housekeeping” function. And as it isn’t meant to be viewed by general users, it is very unlikely to contain mark-up. We’re not looking for marked-up pages; so we don’t want pages whose titles are suffixed .htm or .html. That operator means the same as the NOT operator.

So, that was just a quick example of how operators are used to help construct a search term. Now let’s have a look at what operators are available to a search engine user:

city1 city2: this will look for info on flights from city 1 to city 2. We don’t use the actual names of the city though, we use the 3-letter airport codes. For instance, the search sfo bos will pull up times and info on flights from San Fransisco; whereas the search san fransisco boston pulls up some flight info but also a lot of unrelated results. You can find the 3-letter codes for airports worldwide here.

Here’s some more stuff about advanced Google search operators (with thanks to GoogleGuide.com):

allinanchor:
If you begin your query with allinanchor: Google restricts results to pages containing all query terms you specify in the anchor text on links to the page. Example: the query allinanchor: best museums birmingham will return only pages in which the anchor text on links to the pages contain the words best, museums and birmingham.

Anchor text is the text on a page that is linked to another web page or a different place on the current page. When you click on anchor text, you will be taken to the page or place on the page to which it is linked. When using allinanchor: in your query, do not include any other search operators. The functionality of allinanchor: is also available through the Advanced Web Search page, under Occurrences.

allintext:
If you start your query with allintext:
Google restricts results to those containing all the query terms you specify in the text of the page. For example, allintext: travel packing list will return only pages in which the words “travel”, “packing” and “list” appear in the test of the page. This functionality can also be obtained through the Advanced Web Search Page, under Occurrences.


How to search the internet 4: Understanding search engine results

May 12, 2010

This is the fourth part of my guide on how to search the internet. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here. Part 5, about using “advanced operators” is here.

So you’ve used Google or some other web search engine, following the tips I’ve given you in this little series, and you’ve been confronted with “results” that don’t actually seem to be any help whatsoever. And it’s true, often Google comes across as an incomprehensible joke designed to make you feel bad. But don’t fret: Google (and its kind) really don’t want you to run screaming; they want you to use the results to find what it is you’re looking for. Unfortunately, this may involve having to learn a thing or two about how Google works. It may be scary-looking at first glance, but really Google want you to find their results pages easily to comprehend. They want you to return to Google.com every time you want help in finding what you want. It can be a rather intimidating interface the first time you look at a results page: but it is all pretty simple really. You just need to know how to understanding the reams of info Google throws at you. Hopefully, this 4th part of my guide will make it all seem far easier.

First thing first: very often Google will offer you a list of sponsored results that may give you what you’re looking for; but if you click on a sponsored link you will be putting money in Mr Google’s pocket and chances are that link will be useless. Forget the sponsored links: go for the meat and potatoes in the list of real links.

Look at the search results; very often you will find other kinds of info alongside those results. Stuff like:

Suggested spelling corrections: Google may think you typed in your query incorrectly. If you’re no good at spelling, this can be a life-saver. But if you know damn well you typed your query correctly, forget this option;

Dictionary definitions: Are you actually searching for the word/s you mean to search for? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Think about it. Spelling can be a right tricky operation;

Cached pages: Google carries a huge number of pages that are not currently up to date. Maybe one of those cached pages may contain the info you need. Worth checking if regular searches are turning up sweet F-all;

Similar pages: Often Google won’t find a page that contains the precise info you want, but it has algorithms to turn up similar results. Have a look at them, you’ve nothing to lose really…;

News headlines: A webpage dealing with your query might be hard to find, but it’s often easier for Google to find news stories on related material. And these news stories may well include links to more relevant info. This can save you a bunch of time searching for that little nugget of info that will give you what you want. Remember: news stories are updated frequently, whereas a static page may never be more relevant. Use those options;

Product search: You want to know something about a particular project name. So search for that project name, add a bit of info on what the product can/is meant to do, and see what turns up. This approach works a lot more than you might think;

Translation: So what you want isn’t available in your mother tongue. But it may well be out there for speakers of other languages. Just think: if you are looking for info on a product released by a Portugese company, what makes you think that info will be in English? Search Portugese sites, using Google’s Translation feature or the other translators offered by search services. These translators are often pretty crap; but at least it’ll give you a good idea of what’s what;

Do book searches: Useful info may not yet be available in articles, but books often contain useful stuff. So it can often be a good idea to do a book search;

Cached pages: When a web page is undergoing a lot of changes, clicking on a Google link to a page might take you to the latest version of that page, which may be missing information that was presented some time before. Sometimes, these changes can happen frequently, so a Google link will not take you to the info that the search results first suggested.

Fortunately, Google will often cache an earlier version of the page. So, let’s say a particular page yesterday contained the info you want; but you go to today’s version of the page no longer holds that info. A problem? Not necessarily. Next to the Google link to the updated page will be a link to a [i]cached[/i] version of the page; basically, a version of the page that Google downloaded and cached before the important info was removed. So you click to navigate to the cached page, and you will find the info as it was before it got removed. Google’s system of caching certain pages helps ensure that the history of the web is respected to a certain extent.

If you want to download a version of a page that existed longer ago (several weeks, or months, maybe even years) you can go to [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] at archive.org. This is a project to archive internet sites the way they were in the past, so the current generation’s “now now now” attitude doesn’t drive the history of internet sites into oblivion. [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] doesn’t promise to archive the internet of the past forever; but it is a very useful project that has a multitude of potential uses. Archive.org, like most such projects, is run by volunteers and is always in need of financial support, as well as more practical support such as providing servers. I’d advise anyone who finds such projects very useful to contribute even just a few dollars.

There’s a lot of info on how to understand Google results, and how to configure the way Google works to it gives you the info you want and hopefully protects your privacy, here: http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/. I really advise anyone who’s seriously into using Google as best they can to check out this info. Google really is one of the best resources available online… and it’s free! Let’s make the most of it while we can! Before the goddamn Man tries to take it away from us!

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How to search the internet 3: how to actually *use* a search engine

April 8, 2010

Okay, this is the 3rd part of my series on how to search the internet. Part 1 briefly covered the history of internet search; part 2 looked (again, very briefly) at how modern search engines like Google work; and now we come to the nitty-gritty: how we actually use a search engine to find the stuff we want. Part 4 will look at how to understand the results brought by the search engine.

The first method we’ll look at is the method most people think of using – the keyword search. This involves thinking about what it is you want to find, then choosing words that concisely describe the object of your search.

Imagine we want to find out about giraffes. We could type the word giraffe into Google (or whatever search site we’re using – I’m going to use Google as an example, but this should be relevant for other search engines too). So, we tell Google to search for giraffe: and Google turns up 8,550,000 possible results.

Now, that is an awful lot of web pages to trawl through to find whatever it is we want to know about giraffes. And a lot of them won’t be relevant at all. If you look at the result page for the search on giraffe you’ll see that the very first result is for Giraffe Restaurants – probably not what we want.

So we need to think about what we’re looking for. Let’s imagine we want to know about what giraffes eat. We could search for giraffe food – but then we run into that problem of sites for restaurants and other human food companies with the word “giraffe” in their names.

Giraffe feeding habits would be better – it garners us some 274,000 results – but also excludes pages where the word “habits” isn’t used, for instance where the phrase “feeding behaviour” is used instead. So what about using giraffe feeding? Google gives us 618,000 results for that, but maybe will include useful pages that we might otherwise miss.

And what about giraffe feed? That gives us a massive 1,300,000 results; but this more comprehensive search will give us “feeds” and “feeding”, and sentences like “how a mother giraffe feeds its young” and “what kind of feed for a giraffe in captivity”; and Google will also pick up on the word “fed”, which might be important. It all depends on what exactly we want to find.

But anyway, both 274,000 and 1,300,000 are a lot of results to trawl through. So some further refining of search terms may be order. What precisely do we want to know? Are we after info relating to giraffe feeding habits in captivity rather than in the wild? If so, we can search for giraffe feed captivity which gets us just 21,500 results! Yes, 21,500 links is still a lot to check, but it’s an awful lot better than the 2,160,000 pages we started with!

Sometimes users might want to use search terms in the form of a question – for example what should you feed a giraffe in captivity. This is generally considered to be a bad idea, because a question might contain words that wouldn’t actually appear in a web page you want to find. Google has a feature called stop words: this tells Google to not search specifically for certain commonly used words (like you, what, in… I’m sure you get the idea. But sometimes we might want Google to include stop words in its search. For instance, we might be searching for references to the movie “How The West Was Won”. To do this, we use quotation marks in the search terms; ie we tell Google to look for “how the west was won”. Then Google will look for pages that include the complete phrase.

Another poor use of search terms would be to tell the search engine to look for articles on feeding giraffes or documents about the care of giraffes in captivity. While those would be reasonable instructions to give to a human, they are not appropriate terms for a search engine. Remember, a search engine is a computer program, and computer programs are stupid. They’re good at doing exactly what we tell them to do; but the pages we’re looking for probably wouldn’t contain the words “articles on…” or “documents about…” so using those phrases will exclude many pages that we would actually want.

Another way to craft useful search terms is through the use of operators. Operators are query words that have a special meaning to search engines. You can find some excellent examples of operators and how to use them at Googleguide.com; but I’ve provided a few examples here so you can quickly get an idea of what this operator thing is all about:

If we wanted to find info about recycling steel or recycling iron, we would use the operator OR, like this: recycle steel OR iron. If we used the search terms recycle steel iron without that OR, the search engine would look for pages that included the words “steel” and “iron”; it wouldn’t bother showing us pages that included just one of the words without the other and we might miss very useful pages. Using the capitalization with OR helps the search engine to understand that it’s meant as an operator.

If we wanted to find pages that contained information about Steve Davies but which explicitly did not mention snooker, we could use the operator NOT or the symbol, like this: “steve davies” NOT snooker or “steve davies” -snooker. (Notice too that we’ve put the name Steve Davies in quotes, so the search engine knows we are specifically looking for the name Steve Davies and not looking for pages that mention, for example, Steve Jones and David Davies.)

We can use the + symbol to help focus on a particular search term and possibly weed out others. For example, if we are looking for references to King Louis I of France in particular and not any other French kings, we can search for Louis +I France.

We can use the define: operator to learn the definition of a particular word. For example, to find out what the word “cantata” means, we can search for define:cantata. This will give us a selection of definitions of “cantata” from various online dictionaries.

If you aren’t too confident about the correct usage of operators, you can use the advanced search option with some/many/most search engines. For example, with Google you can click on Advanced search and you will be presented with a form that has a number of search term entry fields. This gives you a simple way of setting a number of parameters to your search. But if you’re confident with using operators, you can construct pretty complex search parameters using just the standard entry field.

When you are crafting terms for a particular search, it comes down to common sense at the end of the day. Just plugging in in one or two search terms might be enough for a simple search; but if things aren’t really simple, you need to give some thought to what exactly it is that you’re looking for. If you want to know about how to use the knight in chess, a search for knight +chess will be much more useful than just typing in the word knight or the question how does the knight move in chess. A little forethought can save you a lot of time, by giving you a much shorter list of results to trawl through.

Well, I think that’ll do for this part of my guide to using search engines. I realize I haven’t provided a comprehensive list of all the operators available, or all the search strategies you can use – but it would have been pretty futile for me to even attempt that. There are a number of search engines, and they’re not all the same. I advise you have a look at www.googleguide.com to pick up some tips on using Google (the most popular search engine on the web), and The Spider’s Apprentice for some more general advice. But believe me: while both of those sites are very interesting, they’re certainly not essential. This blog post, with a dollop of common sense on the side, should get you plenty of useful results to any search queries you might make.

This isn’t the end though – oh no, not by a long chalk. I’ve told you how to get results – now you need to know how to use them. Which is what I’ll cover in Part 4 of my guide to internet search.

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How to search the internet 2: how a modern web search works

March 29, 2010

In the first instalment of this guide on how to search the internet, I gave a little history of the search engine: I covered Archie, Gopher, and site directories like the Open Directory Project. Those are the old technologies, all pretty much obsolete now. That brings us to the present day and the modern search engine.

When I write “modern search engine”, I mean web search sites like Google and Bing. Because they all work in pretty much the same way – the only difference seems to be in the algorithms each service uses.

Now I could tell you all about spiders crawling the web and stuff, but I think most of you would just tune out after a couple of lines. So I will give you 2 lovely Youtube videos to watch instead:

The 3 Minute Guide to How Search Works:

A slightly longer video that looks at the subject from the perspective of a webmaster who wants to increase traffic to his site:

Watched them? Good. So now you have the basic idea: little programs called “bots”, “crawlers” or “spiders” are sent out to crawl over the world wide web, following links, and compiling lists of URLs that they consider to contain good information. And how do these mindless software automatons decide that the info is “good”? It all comes down to the algorithms.

It’s Google’s algorithms – the “secret ingredient” – that has made Google the world’s favourite search engine and kept them at the top for so many years. Any coder of sufficient proficiency can create bots to crawl the web; but it’s the secret algorithms that turn a regular bot into a googlebot. And there just hasn’t been another bot that can compete.

At least that’s how it has seemed for some time. Yahoo has a hard core of admirers; Altavista.com has had success mostly due to its “Babel Fish” translation service blowing its rivals out of the water; but it’s only recently that a true contender for the title of Number One Search Engine to step up and challenge Google. That challenger’s name: Bing.

Microsoft has been trying for years to break into the search engine market, with a plethora of products: Live Search, Windows Live Search, MSN Search – they even tried to buy, then made a deal with Yahoo to get that Microsoft name up there with the giants – but nothing was able to make much impact on Google. Then in 2008 Microsoft (following the tried and tested strategy of “embrace, extend, extinguish”) bought a tech company called Powerset and, importantly, its “semantic technology”. Microsoft claim that their improved technology cuts down on the risk of “search overload”, when a user is inundated with millions of barely relevant results – something that can happen when using Google. And Microsoft has used the near-ubiquity of its web browser, by incorporating Bing into Internet Explorer 8. Google is still number one search engine, but Microsoft has certainly made its mark on the territory.

So who’s going to win this battle of the search engines? I think it could still go either way. Google has years of good form and a hell of an online presence; but Microsoft still owns the desktop and the browser. And anyway, someone else might come from the left field and clinch it in the final seconds – Ixquick is a potential outside bet with their whole “ethical privacy” trip; Google’s got the “Don’t be evil” motto but it’s Ixquick who are out there actually being “not evil” (and if privacy is a major concern, don’t forget Scroogle). One thing we should have learnt from IT history is that nothing is set in stone.

I’ll bet you’re thinking “Oh well done Google and Microsoft, give yourselves a pat on the back… but what in hell has any of this got to do with how to use a goddamn search engine?!! I figured it would be useful to cover all this history and present situation stuff. Well, maybe interesting rather than useful… I certainly find this kinda crap fascinating. But you’re right, it doesn’t tell us a great deal about how to use a search engine. So I promise: the next instalment of this howto will actually cover some proper howto material. So keep ’em peeled… you definitely don’t want to miss this!!

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