GioCities

blogs by Gio

Atom feed tech tech

tech You can Google it

  • Posted in tech

The other day I had a quick medical question (“if I don’t rinse my mouth out enough at night will I die”), so I googled the topic as I was going to bed. Google showed a couple search results, but it also showed Answers in a little dedicated capsule. This was right on the heels of the Yahoo Answers shutdown, so I poked around to see what Google’s answers were like. And those… went in an unexpected direction.

Should I rince my mouth after using mouthwash? Why is it bad to swallow blood? Can a fly live in your body? What do vampires hate? Can you become a vampire? How do you kill a vampire?

So, Google went down a little rabbit trail. Obviously these answers were scraped from the web, and included sources like exemplore.com/paranormal/, which is, apparently, a Wiccan resource for information that is “astrological, metaphysical, or paranormal in nature.” So possibly not the best place to go for medical advice. (If you missed it, the context clue for that one was the guide on vampire killing.)

There are lots of funny little stories like this, where some AI misunderstood a question. Like this case where a porn parody got mixed in the bio for a fictional character, or that time novelist John Boyne used Google and accidently wrote a video recipe into his book. (And yes, it was a Google snippet.) These are always good for a laugh.

Wait, what’s that? That last one wasn’t funny, you say? Did we just run face-first toward the cold brick wall of reality, where bad information means people die?

Well, sorry. Because it’s not the first time Google gave out fatal advice, nor the last. Nor is there any end in sight. Whoops!

tech The joy of RSS

  • Posted in tech

During the years when Homestuck updated regularly, I usually had some sort of update notifier that pinged me when a new page was posted. But since Homestuck usually updated daily, I ended up just keeping a tab open and refreshing it. And that’s pretty much how I kept up with other serial media on the internet, for years. A writing blog that posts regular updates? Keep a dedicated tab open and refresh it occasionally. Comic? Tab. To this day, I have a “serial” browser window that’s just tabs of sites I check regularly. (Or imagine I might want to check regularly, at least.)

a lot of tabs please don’t tell anyone how I live

Of course, this is terrible. The biggest problem is browser tabs are expensive. If you have a tab open, that takes up a dedicated chunk of memory, even when you’re not reading anything. CPU too, probably, if the site has JavaScript running on it (which is to say, is either decades out of date, or this one). Not to mention the clutter.

Unfortunately, dedicated browser tabs fit specific use case of keeping up with serial media well. Social media feeds – all of them, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, YouTube – are explicitly “media aggregators”, services that combine multiple media sources into one feed. This is no good for serial media. If you’re following multiple sources, they likely update on different schedules, and updates from the more active ones will bury updates from those slower. Even email updates have this problem. No, you need a dedicated space for each source (but not each update), which a dedicated browser tab will get you.

There is a good system for this, though: RSS.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a fantastic technology that has fallen out of favour in the mainstream lately. It works like this: the media source puts up a small file somewhere that notes the dates, titles, and (optionally) content of posts. And that’s it. There’s no API, it’s just a file people can read if they want. It’s like traditional syndication, but instead of selling articles to multiple distributors (as with syndicated cartoons), you’re distributing articles to many consumers directly.