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Googlebombs Away

A few years ago, if you happened to type the phrase miserable failure into Google, at the top of your search results would be a link to President George W. Bush’s Web site. On the other side of the political spectrum, if you searched for waffle during the 2004 Presidential race, you would see Senator John Kerry’s site topping the list. Using a technique called Googlebombing, savvy Webmasters were able to skew search results by banding together and linking those keywords to the Bush and Kerry sites. When enough popular sites made the simple association, Google’s search algorithms made the Bush and Kerry sites rise through the page rankings for those search terms.

The practice might seem like harmless tomfoolery, but Google has had enough of it. According to a company blog, “Over time, we’ve seen more people assume that they are Google’s opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Googlebombed queries. That’s not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception.” And correct it they did. True to form, Google recently developed an algorithm to reduce the impact of Googlebombs. Although the algorithm might work to prevent new Googlebombs, the smoke from past Googlebombs remains: Now if you type in miserable failure the top-ranked site is not Bush’s, but rather a BBC story about the Bush Googlebomb.


DST: This Year’s Y2K?

It’s March, and thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, people in the U.S. and Canada will soon enjoy an extra hour of daylight—a full three weeks earlier than years past. While some might get a psychological boost from the early onset of DST (Daylight Saving Time), others might get nothing but headaches. This is because of the widespread, but underpublicized, problems that unpatched operating systems and applications will have with the early arrival of DST.

Although not nearly as large in scale and severity as the Y2K problem, the new DST might still cause grief. Any application that relies on timestamps could be affected. Many of these applications have the current DST time change hard-coded and therefore know to move the clock ahead one hour on the first Sunday in April and back one hour on the last Sunday in October. When the shift occurs, unmodified applications and operating systems will be one hour behind.

This could wreak havoc on time-sensitive scheduling applications such as airline reservation systems; it could also cause problems with system logs, which are sometimes used to re-create a sequence of events after a system crash or a security breach. Systems that use time servers will be easier to update as they can be patched in one place and then propagate the time change across the network. Writing software to account for DST has always been a gotcha for developers. This latest twist is no different: easily fixed, but harmful if ignored.


Linux through Windows

From CNET to CNN, Microsoft’s long-delayed Vista release made headlines around the world. For users, the jury is still out on whether it was worth the wait, and for Microsoft, the much-ballyhooed release is just the beginning. The transition from XP to Vista will take a long time as companies and consumers skeptical of the new operating system wait for any kinks to be worked out.

In the meantime, Linux distributors are trying to steal Vista’s thunder by presenting Linux as the better alternative. The latest salvo? A programmer for the Debian version of Linux has created a program that allows users to install Debian through Windows. That’s right, no clean boot necessary, so Windows can be up and running during the install process. New users apparently can install Linux as if it were just another Windows application. The program’s author is even promoting it with a Web site——that contains a link to the Linux installation program front page and center.



Originally published in Queue vol. 5, no. 2
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