Searching Wikipedia Sucks!

Post Image Have you tried searching Wikipedia lately? Don’t bother, because you probably won’t find what you’re looking for! I am continually amazed at how terrible the Wikipedia search results are. Here’s an example of what I mean. Go to Wikipedia, type “al gor” in the search box, and click the search button. You should see something like this. That’s right, the top results are Al-Merrikh, Cy-Gor, Firouzabad, and Kagame Inter-Club Cup.

Absolutely terrible! If you type the same thing in the search box at Google, not only do you get accurate results, but Google prompts you with “Did you mean: al gore”. Why yes, I did! So why is searching Wikipedia so bad?

Part of the problem is that Wikipedia actually has two search modes: “Go” and “Search”. If you type “Al Gore” (spelled correctly) in the box and click Go, you’re taken right to the entry about Al Gore. If you instead click Search, you’re taken to a list of articles that contain or reference “Al Gore”. You can read more about searching Wikipedia here. So they’ve sort of complicated things by including two buttons instead of just one. The Go button is useful when you know the name of the article you want, but useless otherwise.

The other part of the problem is that the search algorithm just plain sucks. I know they don’t have a lot of resources, but you’d think that one of the most popular websites on the web could have a decent search feature. Matching “al gor” with “al gore” is a problem that has been solved for years, yet Wikipedia doesn’t even come close to accomplishing it!

Wikipedia itself mentions external search engines as a way to find what you’re looking for, but they aren’t really much better. For instance, if you type “al gor” at the special Google search for Wikipedia page, you do get the correct Al Gore entry as the first result, but the rest are not relevant at all.

So here’s where we’re at. Google knows that if you type “al gor” you probably mean “Al Gore”. Wikipedia knows about all of the entries that reference “Al Gore”. What we need is a way to combine the two! Is that really so much to ask?

If you know of a better way to search Wikipedia, please let me know!

Al Gore is the new Bono

Post ImageWhat do you call people such as Bono (Paul Hewson) and Al Gore? They are stars, activists, and political figures, that’s for sure. It almost seems as though we need a new word to describe them though, because they transcend so many labels. There are many others who might fall into this category of people I have in my head (such as Bill Gates perhaps), but Bono and Gore are the two that come to mind first. You might say “activist” is a good enough word, but I don’t think so. More on that in a moment.

When I say Gore is the new Bono, I mean that in a good way. Al Gore seems to have taken the template used by Bono and adapted it for his own purposes. It goes something like this:

  1. Become famous.
  2. Find something you’re passionate about.
  3. Use your fame (and perhaps wealth) to support your passion.

Obviously Bono wasn’t the first person to do this, and Gore won’t be the last. I just point them out because of timing – I’m too young to really recognize the pattern in anyone before Bono, and thanks to the Internet and other present-day methods of global communication, the efforts of Bono and Gore are more visible than ever before.

I should also point out that Bono and Gore are different from people like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and others. All are activists, sure, but the latter group are famous because of their activism, whereas Gore and Bono became famous first for something else and then turned to becoming activists.

Bono has been a special guest at all sorts of events that you wouldn’t expect a rockstar to be at. Gore is doing the same at events you wouldn’t expect a former Vice-President to attend. Bono helped organize Live8 back in 2005, and Gore is doing the same for Live Earth this year.

Bono was named by Time as a Person of the Year back in 2005, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. Gore has been nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and who knows, maybe he’ll grace the cover of Time come December.

Bono’s passion is for humanitarian issues, Gore’s passion is for environmental issues. Makes me wonder who will come next and what it is that person will have a passion for.

Celebrate Earth Day at Starbucks

Post ImageEarth Day is coming up this weekend, and that means it’s about time for companies to capitalize on the environment being so prevalent in our social conscience. Sharon told me about this last week (not sure how she knew), but I just found the press release from Starbucks:

On Sunday, April 22, customers who bring in their own reusable tumbler will receive a complimentary cup of Café Estima Fair Trade coffee.

And as always, if you bring a reusable mug in to get your coffee, you’ll save ten cents. The press release highlights other “green” efforts from Starbucks, including their Post-Consumer Fibre Cup, Ethos Water, Grounds for Your Garden program, and more.

I think they should have launched new sleeves with Earth trivia on them! You know, like the “Akeelah and the Bee” sleeves they came out with last April. Speaking of trivia, my Dad is posting Earth trivia on Tuesdays, so feel free to go show him how smart you are.

Here’s a random thought for the day: maybe we should rename “Earth Day” to “Gore Day”! After all, when you think Al Gore doesn’t the word environment come to mind? Maybe it’s just me.


Barack Obama on Monday Night Football

Post ImageI love American politics. With less than two years to go until the next President is elected, things are starting to get very interesting indeed. Last night democratic Senator Barack Obama, a potential candidate for the presidency, had some fun with a little announcement on ESPN’s Monday Night Football:

In a teasing news release, his office said Monday afternoon that Obama would make an “announcement” before the game “about an upcoming contest of great importance to the American people.”

You can see the video clip from last night’s broadcast at YouTube. Pretty darn funny!

Don’t be surprised if you hear more about America’s “revolutionary choice” for President – the black Senator or the female Senator (Hillary Clinton) – over the next few months. Both are expected to announce whether or not they are running early next year. Hillary is widely seen as the early front-runner, though the Daily Kos says If Obama runs, he wins.

Also from Kos – Obama can afford to wait on Hillary, and Gore can afford to wait on everyone. Wouldn’t that be something! If Al Gore eventually decides to run (he has usually left the door open for this) he’ll win hands down.

Assuming Gore doesn’t run, I’d like to see Hillary Clinton win.

REVIEW: An Inconvenient Truth

Post ImageSharon and I went to see Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth a few days ago at the Garneau. I thought the film was very well done, and unlike Sharon, I didn’t think it was too long. Gore is an incredibly engaging speaker, and he does a super job of getting his point across. I do have a few issues with the film though:

  • This is a very one-sided story. Which is okay, as long as you make the effort to find out about the other side.
  • Gore uses lots of numbered lists in the movie, which gets confusing after a while. Lists such as, “three reasons for this” and “four causes for this” and on and on.
  • A picture really is worth a thousand words, but I found myself wanting to know more about the flashy graphs Gore kept showing. I mean you could take them at face value, but how responsible would that be?
  • His self-introduction as “the former next president of the United States” is funny, but I have heard it a few times now, so it has lost that special ring.

If you want a good argument for “the other side”, I would suggest reading some of Michael Crichton’s work. He’s written some great stuff, such as:

Kill the wolves, and save the elk. Move the grizzlies, and avoid the lawyers. And on, and on. Its this simplistic, cause-and-effect thinking that must go.

And for that matter, who believes that the complex system of our atmosphere behaves in such a simple and predictable way that if we reduce one component, carbon dioxide, we will therefore reliably reduce temperature? CO2 is not like an accelerator on a car. Its not linear (and by the way, neither is a car accelerator.) And furthermore, who believes that the climate can be stabilized when it has never been stable throughout the earths history? We can only entertain such an idea if we dont really understand what a complex system is. Were like the blonde who returned the scarf because it was too tight. We dont get it.

I like that excerpt, because most of An Inconvenient Truth is focused on explaining how CO2 causes temperatures to rise.

There are some great non-climate-crisis gems in the movie. At the beginning, Gore shows some images of the earth, and explains how they were taken from space, and that one of them is the most commonly published photo in history. Fascinating stuff.

As a skeptic not of the earth’s temperature rising at the moment but of global warming, I didn’t leave the theatre preaching Gore’s gospel. I do think his movie is the best argument for global warming that I have seen though.

Interestingly, Sharon and I both had the same reaction when leaving the theatre – “I wish he had been president.”