Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Do Good Grades Predict Success? (Freakonomics blog entry)

I recently read the post in the title of this blog entry at the Freakonomics blog, which I frequent. I love the question and have wondered myself some of the of the following related questions:
  • Do grades measure our understanding or ability to learn?
  • How fair is it to compare grades of different students from different schools, classes, teachers? (Some teachers are "easy" and some "hard".)
My biggest question though is: how much does school prepare us for what is to come? High school to college can be a difficult jump, but I found that being one of the top students by grade, timely completion of assignments, and understanding (in my estimation of course) did not prepare me for:
  • Looking for a job.
  • Interviewing well.
  • Being a programmer in the real-world.
I should not expect class work to prepare me for looking for jobs and interviewing, but I would have hoped that my view of life after school would have been clearer than it was. Perhaps the onus is on the student, but I think teachers can do a better a job of preparing students for careers rather than being good test takers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Google Bias

In response to my post Google Wishlist, one reader wrote:
"I would love the Google search results to include more web addresses with a differing suffix than .com (i.e. .net, .org). There are a ton of sites that get overlooked because of the seemed bias that Google has for the .com sites.

"I will admit that they have done a little better on including some of these sites on more popular searches, but as a whole the .com sites seem to get the preference."

I would agree with this reader that certainly Google results are biased, as they have to give preference in some reasonable way. Now I do not believe that the suffix of a given website is used to rank the website (try a search for "Plutonium" for example and the top result as I see it is from Wikipedia.org). I do believe that the results are biased by "link popularity" or by PageRank (as explained by the founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page). Basically, as I understand it the basis for ranking in many search engines is based on how many links (and the "quality" of these links) that link to a domain or webpage.

The decision to go with PageRank was a good choice. It put Google on the map originally. However, there are some drawbacks for people like me. The bias towards more popular pages, means that it is more difficult to climb to the top. It is a rich get richer web world. Those that have links, are more easily found, meaning they more easily are linked to. This would explain why one would more likely see links ranked first from big name .com sites. Now if I wrote the most informative page on Plutonium around, it would likely never beat out the Wikipedia page (everyone is linking to Wikipedia these days). For more on this topic check out the article Impact Of Search Engines On Page Popularity.

In conclusion, Google is biased necessarily which is fine for them but bad for the little guys.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cool Search Engine Interfaces

For those who enjoy trying something new check out the following search engines:

Kartoo: clusters pages within a search displaying visually.

Searchme: shows page with highlighted keywords.

If you really get an itching to check out other search engines see the article Top 100 Alternative Search Engines, March 2007.