Google isn’t invincible

There were once a couple of guys (lawyers, I think) who had a clever idea on how to beat the big web near-monopoly: Offer prizes to site users. After all, if you’re going to search for something, you might as well use the site that effectively gives you a free lottery ticket. They took their clever idea to Viacom, and thus began a short-lived partnership.

The site was called iWon. It’s gone now. You might think that means the king of the web can’t be beat. But the king of the web at the time was Google was still just a clever search algorithm. Google is on top now, but that can change.

I use Microsoft’s as my default search-engine. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever use Google, but I’ll always prefer an alternative.

Never trust Google

You may have seen this: One Statistics Professor Was Just Banned By Google: Here Is His Story.

I’ll pause here to say that, although I happen to like ZeroHedge, and often find it fascinating, I very much agree with Tam’s basic point on whackadoodle beliefs.

That being said, their article is an important one. Math professor Salil Mehta had come to rely on Google for its services, including email and data storage, and was then banned. The icing on the cake is that he was running a math site. He doesn’t appear to hold extreme views.

I’m tempted to say what everyone else is saying, but I’ve got a slightly different take. First, businesses shouldn’t be in the habit of policing political views. Twitter went off the rails on this one, and now YouTube (a Google company) is doing the same. They built these businesses by attracting users of all types, basically pretending to be open to almost everyone, and then began tightening the rules when nearing monopoly status. If they wanted to cater to narrower viewpoints then they should have said so earlier.

It would be different if the government had demanded they shut the site down, which is always possible. We don’t really know everything.

But my real point is this:  Don’t put your critical data in Google’s hands.

You don’t know when a policy-change might lock you out. That can happen even when you’re apolitical, but it’s a client who’s attracted the wrong kind of attention. It might not even be a company decision. A company like that must be chock-full of nutcases who think a greater justice could be served by altering your data, if not ruining your day.

Yes, I’m sure they have safeguards. I’m less sure that they don’t have backdoors.


Indian business-site OfficeChai does a piece on this, basically telling the same story, although they do find some political posts giving points to Trump on immigration and the ban on foreign-nationals from seven Muslim countries. Not entirely apolitical, but it’s hard to believe that’s the reason Dr. Mehta was kicked off the site.

Now ZeroHedge reports that Google changed their minds.

But the lesson remains the same:  Don’t trust Google with your data.

Another telemarketer’s foot in the door

This is clever: Telemarketers know we don’t want to talk to them. Their latest trick is to spoof the caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from a phone number with the same prefix/exchange and area code as yours. They could be calling from anywhere, but you’re more likely to answer if you think it might be a neighbor. And once they have you, you’re more likely to buy. As with spammers, this is a never-ending fight.

I once had an idea for a device that would pick up the telephone on the first ring. It would put the caller on the speaker, but not connect the microphone until you actually pick it up. You’d get to listen to sounds and voices on the other end, but the caller would continue to hear fake ringing as though you hadn’t answered yet. It’s a safe bet that somebody’s already done this.

Yes, this is a mean trick. I never bothered with the idea, although I’ve had modems in the past that could have done it if I’d written the right software. It’s a privacy violation of sorts that I wouldn’t do to a friend. Of course, telemarketers are fair game, but not everyone is.

James Holland reviews Dunkirk

History writer (fiction and non-fiction) James Holland reviews Dunkirk, and asks, does historical accuracy matter? This is a great piece, although long. In reality, the “Little Ships” that were the heroes of Dunkirk were a big part of the legend, but only a small part of the actual rescue effort. But still, at least it happened. Hollywood has done a lot worse with history.

I haven’t seen the movie yet. From this review, I am both intrigued and disappointed to learn that the size of the spectacle was limited because director Christopher Nolan has an aversion to CGI. It’s funny when you realize that the movie was still converted to digital for distribution.

A minor nit:

Tom Hardy’s pilot also seems to have an inexhaustible supply of ammunition – I counted around 70 seconds’ worth in all – when in reality Spitfires and Hurricanes both had 14.7 seconds in which to shoot down enemy aircraft.

This is very common in nearly all action movies. The typical machine gun doesn’t have nearly as much ammunition as you’d think. This should be less forgivable in historical movies, in that much of the audience expects to learn what it was actually like.

Another smoking font

Some readers may recall the 2004 “Rathergate” scandal when CBS News ran a story about President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the late ’60s/early ’70s. Dan Rather was given a letter supposedly from Bush’s commanding officer with various gripes about his service. It went on the air with insufficient scrutiny.

As I remember the story, somebody commented on a message board that the letter looked like it was written with a modern-day word processor instead of an old typewriter. Someone else then went through the trouble of printing one out and it turned out to be an exact match for the default settings of Microsoft Word. The story went viral, and that was that. Dan Rather fought on, but the truth was too funny to ignore.

A similar problem is now getting the Prime Minister of Pakistan in hot water. His three kids had been named in last year’s Panama Papers leak. As a way of explanation, they denied it, showing paperwork dated 2006.

The trouble is, the documents were printed in a Calibri font, which was not sold until 2007.

This isn’t as obvious a slip-up as the one that got Dan Rather. It depends on how hard they can press this. The truth doesn’t always matter in politics or the media. We’ll have to see.

It’s interesting to think that Dan Rather and his forger may have pulled it off if only the perp had thought of switching to a Courier font with left-justified text. Someone might still have figured out the deception, just as now in Pakistan, but the truth might not have gotten as far.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation coming to TV (maybe)

That is, if we’re lucky. Contracts have not yet been signed.

Via David Brin, linking to an article on SyFy (which is not necessarly where the show would appear):

Screenwriter/showrunner David S. Goyer (the Dark Knight films and the upcoming Krypton TV series) will work with Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) to attempt to wrangle Foundation into something filmable — a task at which a number of others have failed.

Let’s hope this one works.

BBC Radio did a radio version of Foundation in 1973, now available here. I don’t remember ever having listened to it, but it’s now on my list. It should go without saying that I’ve read the books.

Field Marshal von Rundstedt on the Invasion of Normandy

Another anniversary: This time it’s the 73rd anniversary of D-Day — the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

It’s no surprise that the German army would have produced a report on the invasion. And it’s no surprise that the Allies would get their hands on a copy, and translate it into English. What’s neat is that the Navy has one on their website. It is dated June 20, 1944, and from the office of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, then Commander-in-Chief in the west.

I—Four facts which must be emphasized:
(1) The enemy’s complete mastery in the air.
(2) The skillful and large-scale employment of enemy parachute and airborne troops,
(3) The flexible and well-directed support of the land troops by ships’ artillery of strong English naval units ranging from battleship to gunboat.
(4) The rehearsal of the enemy invasion units for their task; most precise knowledge of the coast, of its obstacles and defense establishments, swift building up of superiority in numbers and material on the bridgehead after just a few days.

Opposed to this stands the quality of the German soldier, his steadfastness and his unqualified will to fight to the fast with army, navy and air force.

All three branches of the service have given their best and will continue to give it.

There is, of course, a lot more at the link. No major surprises in the report, but it’s always interesting to see source documents.

As for von Rundstedt, he was dismissed in July but recalled a few months later.