27 August 2018

To Google Or Not To Google

After fourteen years on the Segway as i grew increasingly lame, i realized that, for me, it’s become a motorized walker.


Google has been much in the news recently over its development of a search engine for China that will censor results not approved by the government, and much of the reaction has been from flaming liberals like me who excoriated Google for cooperating with that egregious dictatorship in denying its citizens access to western ideas on freedom of the press and all that.

I was a bit down on Google about this myself until i read an article by Thomas Jungbauer that made a good case for applauding Google.  I suggest that you click on the above link and read the whole article, but i’ll extract three of his paragraphs that convey the thrust of his argument.

According to the Intercept, Google’s censored Mandarin search engine — developed under the internal project name Dragonfly — would automatically filter sites blocked by the government, removing them from the first page of search results and replacing them with a disclaimer disclosing government censorship. The Intercept also reports that no results would appear for “blacklist sensitive queries.”

It’s unclear whether banned content would be available beyond the first page of search results. It’s possible that links would be available — at least initially — beyond the first page, offering valuable details to users about what authorities are censoring. But Google could still do some good even if China required the company to remove banned content from all pages in its search engine.

Disclaimers on blocked sites would serve as a constant reminder of the state’s ubiquitous censorship. They could also indicate to users which topics the Chinese authorities don’t want openly discussed. The bigger Google’s market share in China, the more effective this reminder would be.

To that i’ll add that the Chinese are constantly trying to poke holes in the censorship to access forbidden information.  Giving them a search engine as powerful as Google will help them find more while the notifications of blocked sites can only serve to sow dissent.

So well, perhaps we should get off Google’s case on that one.

Not, of course, that Google is gonna get off scot free as we gradually realize just how much information about ourselves we are funneling to Google daily when we do our searches and wonder whether the twinge of annoyance at this might spur us to withhold some of that information from Google by using DuckDuckGo as our search engine. I’ve found it just as good as Google’s.

And let’s not stop there, we can break away from Google Chrome by downloading Firefox and using it as our browser.  I have for many years.  Works great.

And then, many of us wonder whether we should stop using Gmail, but in my case not because i use Gmail as an external brain and do searches in it to dredge up things i need to remember but don’t.  Like what i told somebody i’d do and now wonder whether i did.  And all kinds of business emails.  Just as crucial for me is that i no longer have to fret over constant backups to my email because Google has it all on their servers, in which i have complete confidence i will not predecease.

Meanwhile, on my street there are two small parks, a children’s park in front of my building and a mini park with a great view of Twin Peaks at the top of the hill, where i found this striking inflorescence which surely a reader will identify for me.

My reader Tom got back to me with a comment, which i’ll quote below for the readers who don’t click on the title of a post to evoke the otherwise invisible comments at the bottom of the page.  He wrote:

“Inspired by meditations on Google, I set out to try out a feature I knew the search engine had, but that I had never used. I copied the image of your “inflorescence” and uploaded it to Google Image Search.

Immediately (if under a second is immediately in this case), Google said that the plant was probably liatris…specifically suggesting one variety colloquially called “florist gayfeather”.”

To confirm this, i googled “liatris gayfeather”, but the images i saw didn’t look like the plant i’d photographed. For further confirmation, i did my own Google Image Search, and when i uploaded my photo, GIS declared to me that the best guess was Puya alpestris, but when i googled that, what i saw again did not look like the plant i’d photographed.

Worse yet, GIS provides a dozen or so of “Visually Similar Images”, but none of these looks to me like my plant.

The good news is that my reader Al has come through with a positive identification of the genus.  It’s Acanthus, and he adds, “The capitals of Corinthian columns are decorated with acanthus leaves”.  My research suggests that the species is mollis.

Ta da.  Case closed.

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