Gas station without pumps

2018 October 27

Google News fix

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:38
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I’ve been moaning about Google News having broken their website for months now—their “new” News site eliminated all user customization, made it impossible to remove useless sections (like Sports and Entertainment), paid no attention to “show me less like this”, showed lots of “news” articles that were just infomercials, and generally was piss-poor imitation of a news aggregator.

I’ve started looking at other sites, but not found any that are as good as the site that Google threw away.  I read my news on my laptop, not a phone, and I want a content-dense, laptop-friendly web interface—eliminating most of the competitors in one stroke.

Today, in browsing once again for workaround to Google’s decision to kill News as usable interface, I found someone point to a way to get the old interface back, though only a frozen version of the customization—further personalization seems to be disabled.

seems to get back the interface I used to use and like, but populated with current news. It is annoying that I can’t tweak the personalization any more, but I can live with that.

I’ve also been able to include Google news searches in Inoreader (the RSS reader that I use), with URLs like

though I get a warning that the URL is deprecated, directing me to one of Google’s new useless feeds.  It still works for now, and I’m hoping that enough of Google engineers use this old backdoor that they won’t close it and force everyone into their ad-driven propaganda site.

Google has a long history of making decent tools, only to break them or throw them away when they did not draw in enough ad revenue (I’ve been burned by both Google Reader and Google News).  I am worried about UC having made such a huge commitment to Google products (Google Drive, Google Docs, Google mail) for so much of its day-to-day work.  I suspect that Google will pull the plug without warning some year soon, and UC will be left without any alternative systems and without the personnel to maintain them even if it had the computers and software.


Update 28 Oct 2018: the Google News fix isn’t quite as useful as I thought.  Not only is personalization not modifiable, but all the links to sections (including the side navigation panels) just go back to the useless new main Google News page. Sigh, I guess I will have to keep looking for news aggregator that does a decent job.

Update 14 Nov 2018: It has gotten worse.  Now produces the same junky sections as the main Google News site, so it is goodby Google, it was nice while it lasted.  Anyone know a decent news aggregator?

2016 October 6

Using Google ngrams

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:08
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I’ve found to be a very handy tool while writing my book. It has helped me answer such questions as which is the preferred term, “bypass capacitor” or “decoupling capacitor”? “bandpass” or “band-pass”? “passband” or “pass band”?

I’m a little old-fashioned and will stick with “bypass capacitor”, but prefer “bandpass” and “passband”.

The tool is not always useful—I can follow the rise and decline of “mho”, but “siemens” has too many other uses to be able to determine when the standard name for the unit of conductivity overtook “mho”. It is rather a shame that “mho” did not become the standard, as it is “ohm” backwards and ℧ is such a cute symbol (being Ω upside down).  I am sticking with the standard in my book, though.

(Sigh, the iframes that had the interactive graphics worked fine in the editor, but when the post was published, WordPress stripped them out, leaving only the links.  You’ll have to click through to see the graphics—sorry about that.)

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.

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