Tuesday, July 29, 2008

3 Reasons Hot-Shot New Search Engine "Cuil" Will Have Trouble Toppling the KinG

Counting on my obsession with Search, my beautiful bride my wife asked me about the new search engine that came out today. I was audibly and surprisingly pleased at this new twist in the Search saga as she told me all about it. I navigated to the site and "Cuiled" (instead of "Googled") for news about Cuil. But alas, "[due] to excessive load, [their] servers didn't return results". So I Googled "Cuil" only to find this Yahoo! News story on it:
SAN FRANCISCO - Anna Patterson's last Internet search engine was so impressive that industry leader Google Inc. bought the technology in 2004 to upgrade its own system.

She believes her latest invention is even more valuable — only this time it's not for sale.

-Yahoo! News
I played around with Cuil only to find its index a bit stale, its relevancy algo's a bit 'eh', and its infrastructure unable to handle the "load" I placed by querying a couple keyphrases.

But it looks pretty damn hot. At least it's got that.

The reality is that Google will prove very difficult to topple for some key reasons. Here are three:

While Patterson and her Cuil have some $33 million in venture capital behind them and the squirrelly Page and Brin were given a check for a meager $100,000 (twice what they had very boldly asked for, by the way) in the summer of 1997 shortly before they incorporated, Search has changed. That was then. And this is, a quite very different, Now. It wasn't just Google's initial technology that was ground-breaking, it was Page's and Brin's ambition, and their innovative, futuristic vision. They were later given $25 million by Sequoia Capital (*ahem* Yahoo!) and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers (remember AOL? Excite? Oh yeah, and KPCB partner John Doerr had also previously funded another little internet thingy - you may have heard of it... "Amazon"?). But even all that was then, and the reality of the Now is that Google reported revenues in excess of $5 billion for the quarter that ended June 30, 2008 (representing a 39% increase over the second quarter of 2007). With such deep pockets I think it's accurate to say that whatever Google wants, Google gets. Google's dovetailing of this type of clout with the ambition and innovation that led to it in the first place makes Cuil's grandiose visions of usurpation quite daunting.

Google's supersecret, flexible, scalable network of datacenters is the subject of endless and often Area 51-like speculation. Though Google has been historically very cryptic about its datacenters, hired CEO Eric Schmidt leaked the following curious fact: Google uses 10 MEGAwatts of electrical power. An infrastructure of this magnitude might be thought of as a behemoth, an electronic bureaucracy - a one million watt gorilla - with all the torpidity of a sluggardly hulk. I mean, they own the whole company that owns all the satellites informing Google Earth (speaking of Area 51...). And Google's infamous, egocentric pride may cause some to suspect that a new hot-shot search engine like Cuil might be able to take advantage of the Big G's potential, psychologically stymieing, Hare-like hubris. But think about it this way: does having more power make the Enzo Ferrari slower? Only if you consider cranking out 660 horsepower at 7,800 RPM, and going from zero to 100 mph (161 kph) in any faster than 6.6 seconds to be "slow". Google's algorithm updates ("Dances") occur so frequently now that Google's commemorative dances don't even roughly correspond to them (speaking of which, wanna sneak into this year's with me?). My point? Google may be powerful, but don't underestimate their agility out of hand. And since the knees of Cuil's servers are buckling on day one, who knows if it can scale rapidly enough to accommodate the growth afforded by all the hype generated by its claim that it "has indexed 120 billion Web pages, 3x more than any other search engine" (not that Google has publicly confirmed the size of its index anytime recently...)? And if Cuil doesn't scale rapidly enough to accommodate the immediate influx of trial users, how can it think it will be able to generate more traffic in the future, and accommodate it then?

Ever heard of Google Trends? Well take a moment to investigate Google's Zeitgeist archives and then reflect on all the data Google doesn't share. Now if you think that services like Trends and Zeitgeist are gracious and forthcoming, consider the various entanglements Google's been in because it refused to disseminate data (here's that one from 2006, if you're interested). From a certain perspective Big Brother G arguably knows more about us as a society than we know about ourselves. John Battelle, author of one of my favorite books called "The Search" (and cofounding editor of Wired and founder of The Industry Standard), discusses Google's "database of intentions" at length in his fascinating book (liked "Freakonomics"? Try "The Search"). He refers to Google as having hijacked into the central nervous system of wired culture.

Google has a head start on Cuil in terms of age sure, but it also already has 78.35% of the Search marketshare! I can't imagine how Cuil could even get close to procuring data rivaling Google's. And in the information age, information = power.

In the end, I think another Search player could be very healthy in a market where the overwhelmingly dominant engine (whose well-known unofficial motto is "don't be evil") exhibits questionable privacy practices and cooperates with an oppressive communist power. But will Cuil ever generate enough momentum (and eschew getting bought out by Yahoo! or Microsoft in the process) to be any kind of force in the Search industry?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure Blog Chapter One

Jon posted chapter one of "The Runes of Chaos". Go read it and place your vote!

Point of Fact

"Biannual" means "occurring twice per year", while "biennial" means "occurring every two years".

How To Create and Send HTML Emails With Apple Mail and the Reasons Why You Wouldn't Want To

While there are plenty of reason not to send HTML email, there is a decently elegant work-around for the fact that Apple Mail doesn't give you any straightforward method for sending HTML emails.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Surprising Interpretation of Jesus' Teaching on Marriage and Divorce

A youth leader I know once asked me whether I though sexual purity is easier or more difficult than most youths think. I wasn't sure.

He said that in one way it is in fact easier because a lot of kids think that if they've blown it and had sex already before marriage, then it is impossible to be sexually pure ever again. He said that repenting of your sin and trusting in the death of Jesus to satisfy God's wrath against it enables God to purify you, and so it is in fact possible to become sexually pure even after sinning.

Then he said that it is also much more difficult to be sexually pure. When I asked why, he said that kids think that as long as they don't have sexual intercourse, then they are pure. But Jesus said that anyone who even looks lustfully at another sins sexually. God calls us to a much, much higher standard of purity than merely refraining from physical, sexual intercourse.

Christianity is unique this way. It sharply divides the sinner from the sin, and is extremely intolerant of sin, but extremely merciful and even gracious toward sinners who repent.

A man I know abuses his wife and children, so I have been thinking about divorce and what Jesus has to say about it.

Jesus says divorce is not supposed to happen. When pressed, he frustratingly grants exceptions but insists that they are beside the point. The point is that divorce is not supposed to happen. Period.

Do you think it's easier or more difficult to follow a truly Christian policy for marriage than most people think?

I say both.

It is easier in certain respects, because some Christians think that they can't ever get legally divorced, even because of things like physical abuse, since Jesus didn't mention it as an exception. He only mentions infidelity. But Jesus' sermon as recorded in Matthew 5 isn't about legality.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus was talking about matters of the heart. This is where I think a truly Christian policy on marriage is much more difficult than most people think. If you divorce your spouse in your heart, you have already sinned maritally. So many Christians are walking around divorced without knowing it, just because the government still has it on paper that they are married. Now, to be fair, many of these Christians are still living together and parenting their children together, and that is to be praised. I am not advocating that couples widen their divorce. I am saying that it is not enough to be legally married. You must be married in your hearts as well.

So what about cases like physical abuse? Certainly it would be foolish to allow yourself and your children to be within physical or relational reach of a chronic, unrelenting abuser. In the case of the man I know who is committing abuse, Jesus would say that he has already divorced his family in his heart, and with his actions.  Jesus doesn't care about his paper marriage.

So should the couple stay legally married?

I don't think it matters much to Jesus. Jesus seems pretty unconcerned with matters like political laws and taxes. When asked, he says things like "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.".

Did you know that it is only within the last 100 years that the state of California even begun recording marital unions and treating them differently for taxation and legal purposes?

Who cares what the state has on its books?

Like sinners from their sins, Jesus' teaching seems to also sharply divide matters of the heart and matters of legalism. It nearly disregards legalistic matters, and very sternly addresses matters of the heart, raising the standards high.

If you're married and there are facets of your marriage in which there exists a divorce between you and your spouse, admit that area of relational divorce to God, a close friend, yourself and to your spouse. Then repent and pursue change. Close the gap and pursue oneness with your spouse. Don't be fooled into thinking that legal marriage is all you need to follow Jesus' teaching.

But if you are married and your spouse is abusive and unwilling to change, feel free to be shrewd with your legal status and place of dwelling so that your former spouse can't harm you and your children physically, financially, or legally.

Don't mistake this for an endorsement of divorce. God's greatest desire is that you do absolutely everything in your power to be married and stay married for life. I am absolutely not saying that any type of relational struggle counts as a relational divorce and therefore warrants legal divorce. Exactly the opposite. Every relational struggle counts as a type of relational divorce and therefore you bear responsibility to mend it as soon as possible.

You are responsible for your decisions. And if it is your decisions that are causing any relational chasms, then you bear the responsibility of changing. Seek help. Repent.

But you pastors out there, let's not tell women in our churches who are being chronically abused by men refusing to be disciplined that they should not get legally divorced.  They should prevent their unrepentant spouses from harming them and their children physically - and legally and financially.

God hates divorce. And He hates destruction. Discourage both, but don't permit abuse just to avoid "divorce".

All you're doing is permitting real divorce in order to preserve legal marriage.

So when you tell these women to stay in their homes and refrain from legal divorce as well, you are standing the teaching of Jesus on its head, and encouraging destructive situations.

This makes God very angry, and it makes me furious.

Shame on you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

-Matthew 5:27-31

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? how me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar’s." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

-Matthew 22:15-22

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Highly Recommended Place to Spend Your Time

A write-up would undermine the independent radiance of this project.

During Normal Business Hours

[Suspiciously realistic sounds of futuristic battle come through the floorboards of my kitchen.]
[Two messy-headed boys in clothes and socks clumsily ascend from my basement, semi-exhausted and smiling reservedly.]
Jon [seeing humor in the situation; commenting in a way so as to officially dissociate himself from what he had just previously been engaged in]: Daniel has taken up editing Halo 3 maps and inserting all kinds of wacky weapons into them.
Daniel [contentiously]: Oh please - you enjoy playing Halo too!
Jon: Daniel, if you weren't here I wouldn't be playing any Halo at all in Idaho.
Daniel [miffed, turns, transforms his countenance and, addressing me seriously and softly]: Can I borrow some mayonnaise?
[laughter erupts]

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sprint Triathlon Results

Race the River Triathlon at Riverstone
Coeur d'Alene, ID
July 6th, 2008

.5 mi. Swim (with the current)
11 mi. Bike
3.1 mi. Run

Overall Place: 50 (341 individuals clocked in)
Division Place 7 (17 total 19-24 year-old individual males)

Swim, T1, and Bike: 00:45:12.900 (Milliseconds didn't get accurate times for these splits)
T2: 00:01:18.300
Run: 00:26:19.600
TOTAL TIME: 01:12:50.800

Time Behind Division 1st Place +00:12:47.9
Time Behind Overall 1st Place: +00:19:25.0

Saturday, July 5, 2008

How the Germans Do Healthcare

Let me be clear - by quoting this article I am making no claims. Rather, I am simply passing along a webpage. That is all.

Coverage For All

The health care system that took such good care of Sabina is not funded by government taxes. But it is compulsory. All German workers pay about 8 percent of their gross income to a nonprofit insurance company called a sickness fund. Their employers pay about the same amount. Workers can choose among 240 sickness funds.

Basing premiums on a percentage-of-salary means that the less people make, the less they have to pay. The more money they make, the more they pay. This principle is at the heart of the system. Germans call it "solidarity." The idea is that everybody's in it together, and nobody should be without health insurance.

"If I don't make a lot of money, I don't have to pay a lot of money for health insurance," Sabina says. "But I have the same access to health care that someone who makes more money has."

But she acknowledges that nearly 8 percent of her salary is a sizable bite.

"Yes, it's expensive. You know, it's a big chunk of your monthly income," Sabina says. "But considering what you can get for it, it's worth it."

Actually, it's about the same proportion of income that American workers pay, on average, if they get their health insurance through their job. The big difference is that U.S. employers pay far more, on average, than German employers do — 18 percent of each employee's gross income versus around 8 percent in Germany.

More Added Benefits In Germany

Moreover, German health insurance has more generous benefits than U.S. policies cover. There are never any deductibles, for instance, before coverage kicks in. And all Germans get the same coverage.

For instance, the Casagrandes' insurance covers an expensive medicine Jan needs for a chronic intestinal problem. He says if they moved to America, they might not be able to buy insurance at all because of their pre-existing conditions — a nonproblem in Germany.

"He says for himself — or for us — the health care system in the United States is the major reason why we have never moved there, and never will move there. Because...


A Second Attitude-Nature Analysis of Reformation Christianity

I've really enjoyed the A-Team blog. The writers there seem so grounded, so well-rounded, and so reasonable. Their edges seem sharp and properly located, and their allowances seem earnest and also properly located. There efforts seem diligent and aimed in the correct direction. Their voices are distinct and likable.

Recently, "David N." wrote a post about an attitudinal shortcoming he's spotted in some of his Calvinist brothers. I think he's correct and I'm glad he wrote the post. Here's the gist:
The Augustine-Pelagius debate may have meant eternal life or death, but the Augustine-semi-Pelagian debate was an intramural one.

-The A-Team Blog
Devoid of context it seems simple and obviously true. But the fact does remain that many Calvinists don't behave accordingly. Arminians, sometimes almost slanderously called "semi-Pelagians", are sometimes not regarded and treated as brothers, about whom Jesus said that we will be known by our love for.

There are benefits unique to the practice of debating about theology with other Christians, but our motives for debating ought to be righteous, and those benefits that I mentioned ought not be pursued to the detriment of other virtues, such as love and level-headedness.

Let's leave fanaticism to the Liberals ;).