Gas station without pumps

2015 March 14

History of electronics via Google ngrams

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:16
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I was playing with Google ngrams today (checking to see the whether some variant spellings were ever mainstream) and came up with a history of electronics in one graph:

A short history of electronics in a few key words. At first, power is what mattered, and voltmeters and ammeters ruled. In the 40s, time-varying signals mattered, and oscilloscopes started getting attention. Time-varying signals ruled until digital electronics took over with the introduction of the microprocessor. Now all these low-level views are losing space to consumer-level gadgets like mobile phones.

I could have picked different words, but because Google ngrams provides no way to switch to a log scale for the y-axis (the only sensible way to show growth or decay of word usage), it is not feasible to put a common word like “computer” on the same graph as a rare word like “multimeter”. Google, as always, provides an almost-reasonable product, then never takes the trouble to finish it to allow the user to do things right. Oh, well, it’s free, and that’s the business model Google is relying on: ads on free (almost usable) stuff. The two things they do well are search and selling ads.

2012 September 11

Power Searching with Google

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:58
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A few months ago, I posted about Google running a search class, but I was too busy to actually do the search class when they ran it.  They think that it was successful enough that they are running it again 2012 Sep 24–Oct 10: Power Searching with Google – Inside Search.  I probably won’t have time this time around either, but I’ll sign up again, just on the off chance that I do have some spare time.

They’re also impressed enough with the platform they built for the course that they are offering it for others to use as an open-source tool called Course Builder.  Of course, they are not offering the computer resources needed to run Course builder, which is not intended to be run on your laptop—you need a data center (at least a web server) to run a MOOC.

They will probably sell you cloud computing capability to run Course Builder at some future date (if they can convince enough colleges and other MOOC wannabes to use it), but for now this is a subtle advertising venue for them: “It also contains instructions for using other Google products”.

2012 July 1

Google search class

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:23
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Google has announced their own effort at a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): Become a Google power searcher —Inside Search.

The idea is to become a highly competent Google searcher by taking a six 50-minute classes.  Somehow, I doubt that anyone will go from incompetent to competent in that short a time, but fairly good searchers should pick up a trick or two.

Being a good searcher is like being a good programmer—it requires somewhat non-standard ways of thinking.  Searching, however, is greatly aided by having a large vocabulary and a store of odd factoids and associations in one’s head, since so much of search skill is tied up in finding good keywords to get to relevant documents.

Unfortunately, the description of the course is a little off-putting.  They make it sound like it is an ad for Google products, rather than developing real search skills:

The lessons include interactive activities to practice new skills, and many opportunities to connect with others using Google tools such as Google Groups, Moderator and Google+, including Hangouts on Air, where world-renowned search experts will answer your questions on how search works.

I hope that the course is better designed than that, and that it isn’t just an attempt to get people to use Google’s attempt at social media.

According to the home page for the course,

  • Registration is open from June 26, 2012 to July 16, 2012. We recommend that you register before the first class is released on July 10, 2012!
  • New classes will become available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday starting on July 10, 2012 and ending on July 19, 2012.
  • Course-related activities will end on July 23, 2012.

I’ve registered for the course, and I’ll do the first lesson.  If it is too much of an advertisement or requires me to use Google’s social media “tools”, I’ll drop it right there.  If it is just a low-level intro to Google searching, I’ll stick with it for a couple of lessons to see if it gets better.

Personally, I suspect that the amount of information they’ll get into 6 50-minute lessons would fit in about 15 pages of text that would take me about 15–20 minutes to read. All the real learning will happen in doing their exercises (just as in math and programming classes—it is the problem solving, not the lectures or textbooks, where the learning happens). I wish that they would provide this “textbook” option, for people like me who hate the slow pace of video lectures.  But publishing documentation doesn’t get the free advertisement of blog posts like this one, so I suppose that they know what they are doing from a marketing standpoint, even if it irritates me.

2012 May 14

Google a Day now on Google+

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:32
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I recently posted about Google’s attempt to teach searching skills. Now Google is gamifying their “Google a Day” search challenges, in an attempt to create more competent searchers (and get a bigger share of the search market, of course): Test your search skills with A Google a Day now on Google+.

I have little interest in Google+, but I understand that others are motivated by social media, so this may increase the usage of Google a Day.  The idea of a daily challenge as a way to improve skills is an old one (College Board uses it to help students prepare for SAT tests), and making it into more of a game may help people stick with it long enough to develop some skill.

I’ve not done searches for many of the Google a Day questions—the few I saw were either easy searches or boring trivia questions that I would have no interest in knowing how to answer. The game never sucked me in.

One big question is whether the Google a Day questions are well-designed and sequenced to develop skills,  all at the beginner level to entice novices in, randomly mixed, all hard, spread out over different search features, or organized in some other way.

2012 May 9

Google search education

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:31
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I am frequently amazed at teachers and researchers asking on mailing lists or forums for information that can be found in a minute or two using a search engine like Google.  (When the examples are really egregious, I sometimes use the Let Me Google That For You web site to provide a link to the answer.)

Google has also noticed that many of their users are clueless about search, and are trying to educate people to be better searchers. (My cynical side suggests that their motive is to make it easier to provide high-paying ads, rather than actually making searching more effective.)

In any case, they have created a web site for teachers: Search Education.  There are 15 lesson plans in a 3 × 5 grid: beginning, intermediate, advanced levels of 5 topics:

  • Picking the right search terms
  • Understanding search results
  • Narrowing a search to get the best results
  • Searching for evidence for research tasks
  • Evaluating credibility of sources

I’ve only looked at one or two of the lesson plans, and they seem overly scripted to me, but I suppose that some teachers would find them useful for improving their own search skills and for improving the search skills of the students.  The “advanced” lessons look to me to be about 10th-grade level, and the “beginner” ones about 7th grade, but I’m not a very good judge of grade levels—the lessons could probably be adapted to anywhere from 5th grade to college freshmen.

The advanced lessons are not nearly as sophisticated and subject-specific as the library information sessions I get for my seniors and grad students each year.  If you are looking for more advanced lessons than these, I suggest talking with a university librarian.

The search education page also has links to a number of recordings of webinars (currently 14).  I don’t have the patience to listen to them to see if they are any good.  Webinars, podcasts, and videos of lectures are such a slow mode of information transmission that it is rare that I sit through one—I wish they had transcripts or written tutorials that I could skim through.  If anyone does have the patience for recorded webinars, leave a comment here about the quality and usefulness of these Google search webinars.

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