Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cuil: The small fish spawns

Cuil is a word that comes from the Irish Gaelic language. I couldn't find the exact meaning of such word in online Irish Gaelic-English translators (help from Irish Gaelic speakers would be appreciated), but it is supposed to mean knowledge in such language. And that's the name that Tom Costello and Russell Powell, both of whom formerly worked for Google, chose for their brand new search engine (www.cuil.com), which looks more or less like this:

It should not be impressive the resemblance between Cuil's and Google's interface. It is essentially the same design: The engine's name, the text box to input keywords to search, and links to their corporate info. The only notorious difference between Cuil's homepage and Google's is that the latter also offers links to access some of their numerous services (email, maps, videos, etc), which Cuil doesn't offer... at least at this time.

According to Cuil, their new search engine is better than Google in that it searches for websites by sorting them by relevance, and not only popularity. In other words, it does not look up things in the web by the amount of links and visits to a certain website containing specific key words, but it analyzes the whole content of a website and assesses the relevance that it has compared to the search criteria specified by the user. After it finds relevant results, Cuil sorts them in a different way than other engines, as it organizes results in columns and posts also images relevant to the search.

Another interesting thing about Cuil is regarding its privacy policy. A hot topic recently has been Google acting as a cyber Big Brother, as it collects information about people's searches, IP addresses, pages visited, etc. Given this issue, Cuil boasts about not keeping any logs of users' searches, or any information related to users' online activity (not even in cookies!).

The overall idea of Cuil sounds interesting to me. As they also say they have the largest index on the internet, I decided to take a look at the website myself and try to look up something there, so I used the query "Maglev". The results satisfied me: It not only provided me with relevant results of what is the maglev, history, projects, images, and so on, but the interface was very user friendly and it also suggested some other possibly related categories to explore (in this case, all about the city of Shanghai, which hosts one of the few Maglev systems currently operating in the world). The search was very quick, and it returned a very reasonable amount of results (129,577).

But not everything about Cuil is currently that pleasant. I gave myself another opportunity to test their search engine, this time I typed the name of this blog, "Everythings Corner". The results were less than satisfying, as it couldn't find it on its index. When searching for the same keywords but without the brackets, the results were unrelated to what I was looking for.

Generally speaking, I can say that I am pleased with this new concept of online search engine proposed by Cuil's business model. At the end of the day, it is unclear whether in the long run, Cuil will become the small fish to beat the big fish, Google. But at least for now, it provides users with a fresh idea of an online search tool, improving some of the flaws that its founders (and some users) have found in Google and other popular engines. Hopefully the creators of Cuil can perfect their engine so it can also find very specific concepts, keywords and websites.

The concept pleases me. I will certainly be testing Cuil further in the future. In the meantime, I wish good luck to Cuil and their innovative idea.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another war criminal bites the dust

It is always a pleasure to hear that war criminals are brought to justice to get what they deserve. No matter how old or how healthy they are, it would just not be fair to let this people live a peaceful life while we know that they were responsible for the torture and assassination of hundreds, or maybe thousands, of people. The time for them comes: just as happened to criminals like Slobodan Milosevic, who was brought to justice in 2001; or Nuon Chea in Cambodia, who was arrested at age 82; the time to face the law has come to Radovan Karadzic.

Well, this guy was nicknamed "the butcher of Sarajevo" for good reasons. During the Bosnian war, the Serb-Bosnian army under Ratko Mladic's command (who received orders directly from Karadzic) carried out operations like the infamous massacre of Srebrenica, where about 8,000 people (mostly Muslim Bosnians, or Bosniaks) were systematically killed, in a genocide that is thought to be the worst in Europe since the end of World War II. Another incident directly linked to Karadzic is the siege of Sarajevo during 1992-1996, during which an estimated of 12,000 people (mostly civilians) were killed and many others wounded.

There are many other charges against Karadzic, such as taking hostages and crimes against humanity. Since 1995, he had been a fugitive of the International Court of The Hague, and just yesterday he was finally arrested in Belgrade. Unsurprisingly, the current look of Mr. Karadzic is radically different from how he used to look: A long, white beard, a hat, thick glasses and a ponytail substituted the messy hairstyle and expensive suits that he used to wear during the Bosnian war.

It is now a matter of time until we know what sentences will be laid upon him. No matter how severe they will be, it won't repair the lives of those who were killed or lost loved ones under Karadzic's orders. But at least it will be better than not having done anything about the case at all.

Photo by AP

Sunday, July 13, 2008

OneVoice: Good intention, bad approach

A couple of days ago, a video titled "Israel & Palestine to co-host World Cup in 2018?", posted by an organization called OneVoice, was featured on Youtube's main page. The organization advocates for the creation of an independent Palestinian State, mutual recognition for both Israel and Palestine, and peace. I am convinced that their cause is very noble and their intentions are good, but the way in which they are trying to reach people with their message is just lousy.Click on the video to watch (or click here if the video below doesn't work).

As you can see, the video claims that Israel and Palestine are joint official candidates to host the 2018 World Cup. I don't know whether this claim is true, but I would have serious doubts about it, considering the following points:

  1. The ad looks more like a joke: Players are playing the match over a clay field instead of a grass pitch, the wall lies just inside the field (is the point that Israel and Palestine will co-host a World Cup, or rather to emphasize their differences?), and the overall lack of any professional equipment and features in place (a stadium, goals and nets, etc) makes the spot lose all seriousness.
  2. Security issues: As long as there are armed terrorist organizations like Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs and Hezbolla present in the region, the threat of terrorism is latent. Once said that, would Israel open its borders with Palestine to co-host a World Cup, and to allow the free transit of people (which may include Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyrs) through its territory? Unlikely.
  3. Infrastructure: Let's face it. An event of the nature of a soccer world cup requires high investments in infrastructure, which lacks especially on the Palestinian side. It is indeed possible to build nice stadiums, hotels, transportation systems, etc, when peace is reached (i.e. when terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas are disbanded). But would these investments be priorities to the Palestinian authorities in the near future? Why not building hospitals, schools, and homes first?
  4. Time constraints: Organizing world sports events, such as Olympic games and soccer world cups, is not an overnight task. Normally, the organization of these type of events take about 7 years, which would mean that, by 2011, the preparation for this event should get started. That is only 3 years from now; is it that both sides can take the fast track to peace and start working on the world cup preparation on time?
Unfortunately, this video is not much better than other materials that they've posted in Youtube. Here's another example; in this spot a supposed Saudi prince visits Tel Aviv. But the whole thing looks extremely fake, and at some points it turns hilarious (Click here if the video below doesn't work).

I believe that OneVoice's ideal is essentially good. Their will to achieve peace in the region is a noble cause and they are looking for ways to promote such cause, to reach people with their message. What I find absurd is the choice of marketing tools they are using: Rather than making them look as a NGO (non-governmental organization) committed to seeking peace in the region (which is what they are), their ads makes them appear as a NGO that is looking to promote peace through the side of humor. That's an error. I applaud their idea and their core message, but if I were them, I would be seeking for a new marketing communications person to produce these promotion materials.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lawn sprinklers... water saving tools?

After getting showered by a lawn sprinkler while innocently walking on a sidewalk today, an interesting thought came to my mind: Do sprinklers really help to keep more sustainable irrigation practices? My reflection, of course, would not be oriented towards the industrial use of sprinklers (e.g. for agriculture), but merely to residential utilization.

The idea of using sprinklers is essentially good. These systems probably reduced significantly the amount of water used to irrigate residential gardens, since they distribute water more efficiently to larger portions of land than regular hoses do. And, although there are more efficient sprinkler systems available in the market, which reduce significantly the amount of water used to irrigate land (such as the underground dripping systems), the conventional sprinklers commonly used for residential purposes offer an inexpensive method to rationalize water used for irrigation.

Up until this point, it would seem that the use of sprinklers is all positive. But what happens when people who use these sprinklers do not see social responsibility as one of their major virtues? Well, the result of such lack of social responsibility is normally reflected in one or both of the following unfortunate (yet common) urban scenarios:

  • The sprinkler is positioned incorrectly. This normally results in having well-irrigated sidewalks instead of well-irrigated lawns.
  • The sprinkler is left working for too long. I have seen cases in which plants would be yelling for help if they could speak, as they are about to drown in pools created by sprinklers left to operate for hours without supervision.
From all this reflection, I would conclude that sprinklers are great tools to manage better the irrigation of gardens, as long as it is done responsibly. Otherwise, the waste of water becomes enormous, maybe even comparable to the waste produced by hoses. So, for people who normally handle sprinklers, please remember to use them in a responsible way... else, please consider purchasing underground dripping systems instead!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

New Orleans, like no other place on Earth!

I always suspected that New Orleans was like no other place on Earth. The mix of French, Spanish, and American cultures there would definitely guarantee a way of life that cannot be seen elsewhere. But I always wanted to prove myself that my theory was true... and after making a short trip to that city recently, I not only confirmed that culture is unique there, but I also learned that the city offers a travel experience that fits pretty much any kind of interests and tastes.

So what makes New Orleans special? It is not only the delicious food that can be purchased in the numerous restaurants in the legendary French Quarter and the central business district; in virtually any corner, it is possible to find a place where they sell typical Louisiana dishes, such as Jambalaya, Gumbo or Po'boys. It is not only the fantastic music that can be enjoyed in bars and music halls in the French Quarter and in the Faubourg Marigny neighbourhood, where jazz, blues and zydeco flow in the atmosphere to delight music lovers. It is not only the wild nightlife that can be enjoyed in the worldwide famous Bourbon street, where people are allowed to drink in the outdoors and where the mix of lights, colors, sounds and flavours seem to be ubiquitous from dusk to dawn.

New Orleans is much more than any those features alone. New Orleans is a mix of all of them. The warmth of its inhabitants, the feeling of meeting a part of the past and the present by walking on the French Quarter and seeing the central business district a few blocks away, the experience of riding a streetcar dating back to the early 20th century while admiring the beauty of the Mississippi river... all those make New Orleans a unique place. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend people to visit New Orleans at least once in their lifetime, in fact I think that I should visit it again sometime in the future to live again all those things that can only be lived in New Orleans. I must say, the city itself is a whole experience, and of course I confirmed that New Orleans is like no other place on Earth!