Friday, December 30, 2005

Staccato signals of constant information

I had to park my car at O'hare airport for a few days. I googled "ohare parking" and saw this ad ("sponsored link") among many:
Pride O'hare Park $7.50 Family Owned - 24 Hr - Free Shuttle Free Online Reservations!
I clicked on the link and made my reservation.

So internet advertising does work after all and can save you a little money ($13-$7.50=$5.50/day). Ok, that might not be news to most people but I think what's so cool/elegant is how effective plain text can be; and that's what people seem to like about the Google aesthetic. There isn't a need for fancy images, just compose a short line of text with important details such as the price and the effectiveness-per-bit of your ad goes through the roof.

Now that I've used Pride Parking; I'm also happy to report that I don't have any complaints --- they're friendly and prompt and my car was in the state I left it (I could quibble that the actual rate is $8.25/day if you include taxes, but a little misrepresentation in advertising is to be expected). It's nice to see tiny businesses benefit from the internet.

In other news about Google is this anecdote from the British Medical Journal [via 3quarksdaily]:

For all the benefits technology provides, it does provoke anxiety. In a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, a New York rheumatologist describes a scene at rounds where a professor asked the presenting fellow to explain how he arrived at his diagnosis. Matter of factly, the reply came: "I entered the salient features into Google, and [the diagnosis] popped right up." The attending doctor was taken aback by the Google diagnosis. "Are we physicians no longer needed? Is an observer who can accurately select the findings to be entered in a Google search all we need for a diagnosis to appear—as if by magic?"...
Google has won the battle of the search engines, at least for the time being (see example in table), and its more serious minded offspring, Google Scholar, is rapidly gaining ground. Within a year of its release Google Scholar has led more visitors to many biomedical journal websites than has PubMed (J Sack, personal communication, 2005). Once they discover it, many medical students and doctors prefer Google Scholar...
I have found the same about Google Scholar. It's hard to imagine what research was like before search engines. And Google Scholar often brings up more relevant results than the search engines of the journal's own website.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Marco says

I sometimes catch the show "The World" on the radio (yes, I'm a public radio nerd listener). I'd say the part of the show that I've learned the most from is the "Global Hit" segment where Marco Werman, their music guy, talks about music from around the world. Things I've learned ? :

  • Today Marco talked about his pick of albums of the year. And on the list is the first-ever album from the all-star duo of Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate. The excerpt that he played on the show sounds really great. You might remember Ali Farka Toure from his album with Ry Cooder, or from the song on that album that was used in a memorable scene from the movie Unfaithful (which I guess I've just admitted to having watched). I know Toumani Diabate from his interesting album with Taj Mahal where they explore the common roots of the (Southern American) Blues and Malian music. (incidentally also introduced to me on a public radio show from many years ago). I recommend that album (and the liner notes, btw).

  • On a show of a few months ago, was a surprising revelation about a very familiar hymn. The hymn "How Great Thou Art"/"O Store Gud" is well-known to protestant congregations from around the world, including India. I've always found it inexplicably moving --- inexplicable because I can't say the words are particularly meaningful (or even agreeable). The tune always struck me as being unusual and I wondered if it had a non-European origin. It turns out, atleast according to Marco Werman, that it does. It's from Madagascar, by way of Norwegian missionaries from the 1860s ! I've not found other sites that repeat that claim and I've seen the tune listed as being everything from Russian to Swedish. The Madagascar story sounds very plausible though and most interesting. One legacy of the Norwegian missionaries is their careful cataloging of old folk tunes from Madagascar. The show also has an example of a Malagasy folk song about a snake that morphed into a Norwegian Lutheran hymn. Here is audio of the show.