Wednesday, November 29, 2006

As the moon goes, so go we...

If you're interested in speculating about evolution and things like that, I came across several interesting shows on The Science Channel over the past week. I don't normally watch much television, but I needed to take a break from working on Web sites (the Compuserve IMPs site, btw, is coming along).

The first show was "Before the Dinosaurs". I didn't see all of it, but what I did see explained at least one of the mass extinctions that occurred long before there were dinosaurs. The creatures believed to have populated the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago looked pretty fantastic. They seem to have died out because all the continents merged into one super-continent called Gwondanaland that gradually transformed into a huge desert. The worldwide drought forced animals to migrate toward the coastlands, and non-migratory creatures simply died of dehydration and/or starvation.

The next show was "Walking With Cavemen". I have no idea of how old it is, I guess maybe 2-3 years. The CGI effects were impressive and the cavemen looked good (actors in makeup and prosthetics, from what I understand). One of the neat things is that the show summarized human migration out of Africa in a way I've never really stopped and thought about.

Homo Erectus evolved in Africa, evolved into Homo Ergaster, some of the Ergasters moved out of Africa and into Asia, and became Java Man. They lasted about 1 million years.

The Homo Ergasters who remained in Africa eventually evolved into Homo Heidelbergensis, some of whom migrated to Europe and eventually evolved into Homo Neanderthalensis. The Homo Heidelbergensis who remained in Africa evolved into Homo Sapiens, some of whom migrated into Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

The show recaps speculation that long-term changes in climate gradually produced the changes in hominid groups that led to separate evolutionary paths. Severe drought conditions in Africa and severe cold in Europe caused the division of the Homo Heidelbergensis groups into two new species. Homo Neanderthalensis tended to be shorter and heavier than Homo Sapiens because those body types were better suited for the cold (meaning, a lot of Homo Heidelbergensis babies must have died from exposure while the Earth was covering itself in ice). Homo Sapiens grew taller and thinner because, as the ice formed in Europe, Africa dried up and became arid. Tall, thin body types survive better in arid conditions (meaning, a lot of Homo Heidelbergensis babies must have died from dehydration as Africa shriveled up).

Climate was also central to that portion of the second show I saw. I only watched a few minutes of it because I was tired but I sensed immediately that speculations about the origins of the moon have become very sophisticated. In "Living Without The Moon" (I think that was the title), narrated by Patrick Stewart, we are told that the moon was probably formed with a hypothetical tenth planet (Orpheus, moving in an odd orbit that took it from between Mars and Jupiter to the Earth's proximity) collided with the Earth about 4.5 billion years ago.

Computer modelling indicates that no matter how you try to form moons around the Earth, there is only one way that our moon could have been formed. The collision theory may or may not be generally accepted, but within the parameters of this theory only one stable moon could have formed. Furthermore, the formation of the moon would have been rapid (the collision would have occurred over a period of about 48 hours, it would have spread debris around the Earth that would form a ring, and the ring would coalesce into a moon in 1 to 100 years).

The debris from the collision had to settle into orbit beyond a certain distance (the name for which I didn't catch). So it is possible that several early collisions produced more debris and possibly earlier moons. However, Luna would have been formed from the last major collision between young planetary bodies involving the Earth.

The moon would have formed about 14,000 miles above the Earth. Its tidal forces would have ripped the Earth's mantle and caused huge tsunami waves to constantly roll across the oceans (and I was surprised to learn that scientists think the Earth had oceans about 4.5 billion years ago). Luna is gradually moving away from the Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year. The rate must have slowed as that would mean that Luna has only moved about 106,000 miles away from the Earth in that time (unless my calculations are off).

Having a single moon in close proximity stabilizes the Earth's rotation and tilt. The Earth's rotation slowed down from about 4 hours per day to about 24 hours per day. Since the Earth doesn't wobble and since the rotation is slow, fairly stable environmental conditions for life were able to form (whereas Mars wobbles and therefore its poles melt and refreeze).

What I inferred from all this is that if we want to seek out planets not only that might support native life, but which might support us, we'll probably need to look for planets that have single Lunar bodies in orbit around them, or whose moons (in whatever combination) produce the same stabilizing effect on them that Luna produces for the Earth.

While it's true that if we can launch ships that take us to the stars we'll probably have the technology to dwell in many otherwise dangerous environments, one very real consequence of colonizing other worlds is that the colonists may lose contact with Earth for any number of reasons. If they have to sustain themselves before they can develop an industrial base to compensate for a harsh environment, they need to settle on planets that as much like Earth as possible.

That means more than just having an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and water. It means the planetary rotations and tilts have to be similar to Earth's.

We don't yet know what the likelihood of other star systems forming Earth-like planets in a hospitable zone, with moons that stabilize them, and which contain water, oxygen, and nitrogen really is. We're only just now beginning to identify and catalogue Earth-sized bodies in other star systems.

We might very well find planets with primitive life forms that cannot evolve into larger complex creatures simply because their planets are too unstable to support environments that nourish diversity. Despite the fact that we find microscopic life in extreme environments around the globe, complex, larger life forms need a very stable, narrow band of temperatures so that they can flourish and take advantage of abundance.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Freezing in a white Christmas mode...

I've now experienced my first Seattle snow fall and, thankfully, it hasn't been nearly as bad for me as for many of my co-workers. The office this morning looks like a ghost-town. So many people are unable to reach downtown Seattle that the building maintenance people didn't bother to turn the heat on.

That wouldn't be so bad except they turned it off last Wednesday to save some money and it was late yesterday afternoon before we started to notice any warmth. So, sitting here in my wool coat two days in a row is kind of unsettling. All those people who could not make it in to work at least get to work from home in a warm environment.

Nonetheless, my commute is about 10 minutes and I cannot complain about that. I hate long commutes. When I was younger I would spend anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes driving to work and sometimes as long or longer driving home. So saving a couple of hours of my day by living close to the office in downtown Seattle has also kept my feet dry.

I just wish it weren't so cold. The funny thing is, we rearranged the office recently and I offered to let my boss move my team upstairs. I'm sitting beside a window right now, which I think is considered a premium seat around here, but even with the blinds pulled down I'm being constantly blasted by the cold draw of the window. It's sucking all the heat out of the office.

Oh, wait. We don't have any heat. So I guess I have no reason to complain....

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Menawhile, back in Seattle...

I need a chair. A nice, highback office chair. I had one in New Mexico that was perfect. But when I moved to Texas a few years ago I gave away all my furniture. I was tired of lugging it around and really didn't have any place to put it in Texas.

I eventually bought another chair in Texas that was okay, not great, but it served its purpose. Most people don't know what makes a chair good. I should say none of us do. You just know a chair is right for you after you've spent about six hours in it and you realize neither your back nor your neck are killing you.

I haven't had a chair like that in more than two years. It's time, I think, to go chair shopping.

I don't lack for furniture right now. I rented a whole suite load of furniture out of pure laziness. But I didn't get a desk and chair (hate leaving the choice up to someone else) so I'm presently sitting at the dining room table, propping a pillow behind my back in the hope my neck won't kill me.

It's not working very well.

I know what I want. I just don't know if I'll find it. But I suppose that not having the right chair makes me a bit ornery. My mood is not the best it has ever been, but I'm just getting over a nasty sinus infection and 11 days of taking Amoxycillin (I missed 3 doses at various times).

And then how will I get it home? My car isn't exactly built for carrying furniture around. I may have to befriend someone with a truck for just long enough to get them to go down to an Office Depot with me.

You know, when I sat down to write this post, I thought I would write something completely different. But my back hurts.

I think I'm done for the night.

Bless the beasts, the children, and the SEOs

I was reading one of the more popular SEO "journal" Web sites this evening when I realized, for the umpteenth time, that most of the people involved in optimizing your Web pages so they'll rank highly in search engines are functionally illiterate.

It goes well beyond their collective inability to use basic English pronouns correctly (if I have to read "Myself, Dudley, and Studnot got together at the bar" one more time ...).

Okay, everyone makes typos while typing. I do it every time I create a message, blog post, Web page, or essay. And sometimes I even catch my typos before you see them. But I'm not talking about basic typos. I mean, these people don't know how to compose a sensible sentence in English.

What has happened to our education system? Are all the schools now hooked on phonics? I hope not.

Reading SEO blogs and feature articles is a real challenge. The experts all write like English is their second language. I can understand if you're sitting in a conference, blogging on your wireless laptop for the cheap-minded SEOs who don't want to waste -- er, spend a couple thousand dollars on a mutual back-patting weekend. I'll accept the typos, grammatical errors, and incomplete sentences because, frankly, if someone is willing to condense all the meaningless tripe and drivel you usually get from a panel to the relatively few points of worthwhile information, hey, that's worth a beer and even a "thank you" or two.

Thank you.

Pretty much, the rest of the SEO community's commentaries have lately been rather pointless. And repetitive. And boring. People are fumbling over the basics once again. Big name people who should know better by now.

How do you tell someone is a bad SEO? Let me count the ways:

They hint that Matt Cutts is a liar. What is up with all the Matt-bashing?

Is Matt always right? I have no idea. I don't work for Google, so I have no way to confirm or contest what he says. But he speaks with more authority on how Google does things than anyone who does NOT work for Google. So, whom should I believe has a clue: A Googler who has never been caught in a lie, or someone who keeps suggesting that the Googler is lying? Gee, that's a real tough choice, folks....

They talk about "quality links". What is a "quality link"? Even Adam Lasnik (a former SEO who now works with Matt Cutts at Google) has been caught saying, "More quality links". Hm. Frankly, when I want more links, I make them. I've been saying that for years. Only a handful of people have figured out what I mean, but they seem to be doing okay. Maybe there's something in my secret sauce after all.

But I don't spam blogs, I don't spam forums, and I don't run linkbots. Nor do I send out emails to people asking them to link to me. And if I did send out emails asking for links, I wouldn't write anything like:
"DO NOT ASK US TO LINK TO YOUR SITES!" why? If you are in this business you have to tolerate such requests. You too must be knowing that incoming links are best way to boost sites ranking and traffic and you too would prefer to get backlinks to your site then why reluctance with other's.

This seems to me little arrogant statement.

You see, my definition of "arrogance" is more like: the act of coming unexpectedly out of nowhere without invitation or provocation to call someone else arrogant because you don't agree with what they say.

That's arrogance.

Yes, I'm in this business and, no, I don't have to tolerate link requests. I have zero-tolerance for link requests. I don't want them. I don't need them. You don't need them. That's right. Whoever wrote "incoming links are best way to boost sites ranking and traffic" only sees half the picture. Incoming links are useful. They are necessary. But you don't need an endless supply of incoming links.

If you've got dozens or hunderds of links and you're still not where you want to be, you need to stop link-building.

You ain't doing it right.

It's that simple. Anyone who says you need hundreds of links to promote a Web site, for most business categories, just absolutely has no idea of what they are talking about. I have moved into multiple highly competitive search expressions with fewer than 50 inbound links. If I can do it anyone can do it.

Well, this is getting long, and I've deleted more paragraphs than I have allowed to stand. I hope all the poor SEOs out there who are needlessly burning electrons took time out (if they are Americans) to celebrate Thanksgiving. We do all have a few things to be thankful for.

One of them is the next sentence. Bless your hearts, each and every one of them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

November 2006 Google Update

Oh yes. One more thing.

It appears that Google has unleashed another major update. People are already complaining loudly in all the usual corners.

It appears to me that Google is rebuilding its index (which is normal), but in the meantime a large number of Web sites are showing up as URLs without titles or descriptive text in various search results.

This process should go on for 3 weeks to 2 months. Most major sites should be reindexed quickly, and I believe new content will probably show up too. But a lot of mediocre Web sites will probably feel the pain.

There was a major SEO conference in Las Vegas, NV last weekend and based on what I've read on the Web I'm glad I wasn't there. I don't really enjoy conferences that offer nothing substantively new. The SEO conferences are stuck in the rehash zone.

And naturally I'm under a small but growing pressure at work to start taking my team (or some members of it) to SEO conferences next year. The problem is that I would have to debunk a lot of nonsense my staff would pick up from the shows. They don't realize just how outdated most of the advice given out in the SEO community tends to be.

Anyway, there's a Google update underway. Have fun with it.

And here we are again...

I still haven't installed my computer in my new Seattle apartment. People at work have been passing some infectious gunk around the office and I not only came down with it last week, I insisted on going out into the cold Seattle rain and making it worse.

I've been chewing on antibiotics ever since.

So I don't much feel like messing with computers and cables when I get home at the end of the day, besides which I only got the cable service installed a few days ago.

In the meantime, here I am, trying to stay on top of things at work, and getting a little grumpy in the process. Sorry, folks.

I did find a grocery store near downtown Seattle that has its own parking lot. You have no idea how important free parking is until you move to a downtown metropolitan neighborhood and refuse to give up your car. My social life sometimes consists of negotiating for an available parking space and then guarding my car ferociously to prevent anyone from towing it.

You see parking enforcement officers doing their jobs every day here. I've watched mre than one vehicle be towed away at the owner's expense.

So finding a store that doesn't charge you for parking is a Godsend. They must be making a humongous profit on the groceries I'll be buying there, but the mere convenience of not having to cruise around looking for a paid parking space on the street is worth the price alone.

It's one thing to think, "Well, I may take the bus to work", but quite another when you are carrying a couple bags of groceries through the rain and one of them drops. I've watched a lot of people struggle with groceries on the street. They either don't have cars or hunger has not yet forced them to give up their parking spaces.

I did the four-block walk with groceries in the rain once. God willing and the river don't rise, I won't have to do it again.

So, I'll be back to blog a little more this week. I do have Thanksgiving day off (and the day after) so I may actually set up my own computer for a change. The email is piling up and I should really do something about answering it.

I say I "should", but we all know by now that (sadly) most of those emails will languish.

Sorry. I'm just not feeling up to it.

On a happier note, I went to see "Happy Feet" this past weekend. That is such a cool movie. I may go see it again.

You should go see it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I stumped Ms. Dewey

Or, how Ms. Dewey and Mickey Mouse crashed my computer.

Yesterday I caught the buzz about Microsoft's interactive Flash search engine Ms. Dewey. I went over to the site and started asking questions. While the SEO industry is flabbergasted by the answers you can get to silly questions (actually, she couldn't say anything when I asked "Who is Mickey Mouse?" -- my computer eventually hung and crashed before I got an answer), if you enter real queries, she'll make any number of relevant comments.

What the SEOs haven't noticed about Ms. Dewey is that Ms. Dewey is a semantic search engine. Let me say that again. Ms. Dewey is a semantic search engine. Microsoft's AI is demonstrating an incredible capability for looking at your query and offering relative commentary through the interactive interface.

The AI also analyzes your query patterns and adjusts the commentary accordingly. This is significant, even though the scrolling search results don't necessarily have any relevance (you can ask some things that don't have answers).

The actress who plays Ms. Dewey is Janina Gavankar, who has her own official Web site If you want to really frustrate the search engine, ask Ms. Dewey about Ms. Javankar.

Parents should keep in mind that some of the queries and responses can entail sexual innuendo and explicit commentary. The search engine does not hold back much. I showed my boss how it works and he asked a question that elicited a bit of profanity from Ms. Dewey. Fortunately, he was so schocked he laughed out loud. But that's not the type of response I'd want from the interface if kids were in the room (NOTE: The site censored the character).

My gut feeling is that this may be the new face of search. It makes the experience more entertaining, but it can also be more informative. They must have spent a lot of time working on the interface's responses. Maybe the response database will be updated. I don't know. I hope so. It could become an evolving, almost living personality if they put the effort into it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wherever you go, there you are

I think Yogi Berra is credited with saying something like "Wherever you go, there you are". If not, he should have been. It sounds like something he would have said. Of course, some people say that Buckaroo Bonzai said it. Doesn't matter who said it, really, as I don't have time to write a short post, so this will be a long one (don't even get me started on who was supposed to have said that).

The Democratic Party apparently won control of the House of Representatives this election. Now Americans can sit back and enjoy two years of multi-million dollar investigations, pork-barrel spending, and more deadlock and gridlock than this country has seen in a decade. It's a shame the electorate won't get the message and just stop voting for all Democrats and Republicans. They're all crooked, they're all liars. Almost every person I have discussed politics with over the past year (all three of them -- no one else can stand the topic) agrees with me that people with real integrity simply don't run for office.

There's something seriously wrong with a system where the only viable candidates for office are guaranteed to be as smarmy as Ted Kennedy and Newt Gingrich. 'Nuff said about politics, I feel sick enough as it is.

In fact, the people at work are passing around some sort of bug or flu. I probably should have gotten a flu shot, but instead I'm wolfing down over-the-counter meds like there is no tomorrow. And tomorrow (as I write this) I have to move into my new apartment. I was going to take stuff over there tonight, but I just don't feel up to the task. So now I have to move everything in the morning. Oboy.

On the search engine optimization front, it appears that Google has broken just about every useful command in their query interface. For the past several weeks, I have been unable to get consistent results between their info: command and queries that look for unique text on indexed pages. It seems like one third of the time I can get pages to come up for info: but not the unique text query, or I can get them to come up for the unique text query but not info:.

What's up with that, Google?

Ask has now officially, formally been inducted into the Top Four Search Engines ahead of America Online (whose results are pulled from Google, so I have been ignoring them for years) by at least two independent ranking sources. I believe that if Ask continues its current trend, they'll capture about twice their present market share by the end of 2007. We'll see.

A few people have wondered where I went to, why I dropped off the search engine forum circuit. Well, I took a position as a director of search strategies for a company that is heavily involved in search engine placement activities. I'm no longer at liberty to share theories and experimental ideas with everyone else. I have to leave it at that.

The mainstream media continues to express more interest in search engine placement, and of course they are drawing upon the usual wrong sources of information. Nonetheless, Advertising Age surprised the heck out of me by compiling a fairly accurate and useful 27-page document about search engines. They even took a stab at listing the top 20 SEO firms (ranked by reported revenues). Well don, Ad Age. Well done.

On the Seattle front, I have not been flooded out, as downtown Seattle seems to be in no danger of receiving flood waters. At the very least, I think there are hills, mountains, and valleys between me and the floods washing away the rest of the state. I feel for the people who have had to contend with the rising waters. I wish them the best. I actually drove through some of those areas not so long ago.

And I cannot think of anything else to say. Which is not to say there isn't anything else to say. Rather, I'm just not feeling good. It has nothing to do with being in Seattle or all the rain. It's just "cold and flu" season.

Oh, yes. Since I'm moving into my new apartment, I'll be without personal Internet access until the middle of next week, give or take. I'll try to post something from work, but the long transition between Houston and Seattle is not yet finished.

Like our favorite California governor is so fond of saying, "I'll be back."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

When the truth is known, won't you want somebody to love...

It says something about a person that they'll think of an old Jefferson Airplane song when starting to write a new blog entry. I never really did like the Airplane much. They were a bit before my time, in terms of the kind of music I grew up enjoying. I wasn't into the drug scene. I much more enjoyed the ballads of the 1970s that told stories. Some of the late 1960s songs set the pace for those ballads, like "Honey" ("see the tree, how big it's grown, but friend it hasn't been so long, it wasn't big"). My mother loved that song and she turned the radio up every time it came on.

So why did I think of Jefferson Airplane? Maybe in part because Tim Berners-Lee fears for the Web's future. Berners-Lee invented the technology that runs today's Web. He is now, in 2006 (17 years after he created the monster), just voicing concern that the Web may be used to spread misinformation. Um, yeah, Dude. Have you looked at Wikipedia lately? There's plenty of misinformation on the Web.

It's always good to hear a voice of reason coming from Berners-Lee's corner of the Internet. Unfortunately, he just seems to be so behind the times in recognizing that propagandists, frauds, and liars have taken control over the information medium. And what is sad about the whole thing is that many people honestly trust these sources of information without demanding any sort of credible explanation of where the information came from.

But maybe my latest Web creation also got me to thinking about the 1960s. I have just set up a Web page about the Schick Quattro Treadmill Girl. If you don't know who I am talking about, there is a link on the page that takes you to Shick Labs' Web site, where you can watch one variation on the commercial. The girl is doing her thing and some guy with a really close shave steps up beside her and she loses all focus and concentration, falling down on the treadmill.

It's a cute gag but it doesn't compell me to go out and buy a Shick Quattro. In fact, according to one negative review of the product that I found, it doesn't give as close a shave as 2-blade and 3-blade razors do. I don't know. I just occasionally see a television (or theater) commercial that makes me laugh. And I laugh when the girl goes down.

But there is something troubling about that commercial, at least to me. For years, men have been taking the falls. Many television commercials have been portraying men as inept, stupid, incompetent, and not nearly good enough to be with the women in their lives. More than a few men's groups in the U.S. have spoken out against such advertising propaganda. It's starting to look to me like the advertising industry is getting the message: no more man-bashing.

But does this mean we'll be going back to sex-based stereotypes where women mindlessly chase men? We've already seen that kind of advertising with Axe Body Spray (which I have not tried, but I've looked at the package and see nothing in the ingredients which would lead me to believe it's any different from any other cheap toiletry product). We also saw something like it in a jeans commercial where Orlando Bloom was chased down the street by a horde of girls.

Okay, the Orli commercial is actually probably more faithful to reality than either the Schick or the Axe commercials.

Now, I'm not particularly concerned about how the bad stereotypes will impact our children as they grow up. I am sure that many media watchers will howl and snarl over this kind of advertising, as they have been for years. Rather, I'm just concerned that shifting the pendulum back the other way will give the media watchers yet more reason to howl and snarl.

Good comedy pokes gentle fun at who we are and what we do. Parody in advertising should be not only permissable but also encouraged. For example, I've also seen a few commercials for a new Jeep campaign in which obviously computer-generated animals mistake Jeeps for other animals. The Jeeps are being dive-bombed by birds, challenged by a lizard, and swatted by a flyswatter. There may be more spots I haven't seen. I think they're funny.

Do I want to go buy a Jeep? Not on your life. But I enjoy the commercials.

If I have to put up with commercials when I watch television, at least make me laugh. Take a cue from GEICO's Tiny House commercial and pique my curiosity. You never know. Some day, I may have to buy a razor blade, and if my choice is between carving up my face with Gillette or carving up my face with Schick, I may just choose Schick because they made me laugh.

Disclaimer: No Balrogs were criticuzed in the production of this blog. Grace Park may be married, but she still has a lot of very interested fans. Your mileage may vary. Tax, tags, and title not included. Do not attempt this at home. Professional blogger on a closed venue.