How Google works

A few times in the last month, I’ve had conversations with people that went something like, “Oh, I wonder how Google’s editorial staff keeps up to construct relevant search results for all those terms.” Apologies to the speakers, but that’s a little like wondering how those elves make the cookies taste so good.

My former coworker Craig Pfeifer points to the original journal papers that underlie the theory of how Google ranks content on the web, including PageRank, some data mining algorithms, and Google itself. If looking at these papers tells the reader anything about Google, it’s that the relevance isn’t built editorially. The rules of the underlying algorithms might be tweaked a little bit from time to time, but the heavy editorializing of results isn’t really necessary.

Interesting point: a lot of the exploits that have been done on Google in the last few years, such as propping up a page by using lots of pointers from the home page of low-ranked sites and Google-bombing through the use of link text, are either implicitly or explicitly called out in these papers. In the case of the former, Brin and Page admit that it might be possible to outsmart the relevance algorithms with a lot of low-ranked sites, and say “At worst, you can have manipulation in the form of buying advertisements (links) on important sites. But, this seems well under control since it costs money.” Apparently they didn’t predict link farms or blog memes too well, but that isn’t to say that their work is a miserable failure

More house stuff

Lisa and I spent Saturday and Sunday on our front porch. Alas, not in rockers. More like off our rockers.

Saturday began with the ceremonial Removal of the Cruddy Outdoor Carpet, that green plastic thing that used to cover our porch. No more! Now the two-inch gap in the flooring in front of the old front door and the six inch wide strip of dry rot along the far end of the porch are out in the open! Oy.

We chose to go ahead and paint the walls and old front door first, rather than continue to look at primer spots. We began by painting the porch walls and door, and amazingly, the paint that Lisa and her mom got from Lowe’s actually matched the old paint on the walls. When we were done, I couldn’t tell the patched and repainted parts from the untouched parts around them.

We also cleaned a ton of trim and upper wall that had been allowed, in the shade of the overgrown front trees, to mildew. And I nailed in a patch to replace the missing wood in front of the doorjamb. We also bought a replacement carpet (much as I would love to just paint the exposed flooring, I don’t think sheet plywood is anyone’s idea of House Beautiful), though we didn’t get to install it.

In fact, besides some lawnwork and weeding, we didn’t get to do anything else at all. As we collapsed exhausted on our sofas late Sunday afternoon, accompanied by dogs who were ecstatic that we were finally paying them some attention, I think I muttered something about taking a two day vacation to make up for the lost weekend. But I can’t be sure, as I was already asleep.