Category: Usability

Google and "Privacy"

There’s a critique of Google’s new Desktop Search that it…wait for it…searches your computer! No, really, it does. And so it finds things that are … on your computer! Some of these things, like your email, your spouse’s email, your IM logs, are things that Microsoft hides intra-user are exposed. This is probably a bad thing, but they were exposed before, but not placed on your desktop for easy access.

There’s a related complaint, which is that Google picks up confidential documents that webmasters expose to the internet, and lets you search for them.

There are other concerns that are more legitimate. Google should segment Gmail and Orkut from the main searches. Google could sell you an ad-free Gmail account. That would be cool. But I can’t see why anyone would be upset that their email is being indexed, unless data from that index is sent to the mothership.


I listen to a lot of music. When I visit friends, I often invite them to drop random discs they think I’d like into iTunes for a rip. Combine that with my cd habit (“I can quit anytime!”), and I have a fair bit of music that I don’t recognize quickly. So I just found Quicktunes, a menu-bar controller for iTunes. It’s not as elegant looking as X-Tunes, which I’m keeping around because I like it. But it puts the current song in the menu bar, where I can glance at it effort-free.

Apple Security UI

I just got a fascinating email. No, not really. It was a simple little email, from someone who’s being very helpful on a project that I’ll speak of in excrutiating detail later. What was fascinating about it was that it was PKCS 7 signed, and Apple’s told me so. It told me so with a little “signed” line in the header. Pretty cool. But I was wondering what it meant?

Signed by whom? How? With what key? Why am I “trusting” it? And I’m unable to find the answers. Anyone know?

I’m also experimenting a bit with MarsEdit, which I like a lot, except I’m having trouble with trackbacks. We’ll see how it inserts the image.

Ranum on the root of the problem

Marcus Ranum writes a good article for ACM Queue, in which he points out that better tools to improve languages can help. I take issue with his claim that better languages can’t help. Java, because of its string representation, is harder to mess up with than C. Its not perfect, and no useful language can solve the entire problem.

Richard at Taosecurity propagates the myth of -Wall. Things are about to get (deeply) technical, follow the jump if you know what -Wall means.

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What's In A Name?

“BRANSON, Mo. – A Branson man has put a face to the anonymous references people often make to “they” by changing his name to just that: “They.”

Not only is he making a statement about his name, but he’s messing with the entire English language,” friend Craig Erickson said.

How can you argue with messing with the entire English language?

(From AP via Languagehat.)

So when Google Mail started up, I managed to register “” I didn’t have any particular plan for this, I just figured that it was entertaining, and a good, harmless prank could be made of it. (I specifically emailed a friend who works for Google security about it, and mentioned it in person next time we saw each other.) Google has just closed the account.

The termination clause of their terms of use clearly allow this: “Google may at any time and for any reason terminate the Services, terminate this Agreement, or suspend or terminate your account.”

So, I’m not really complaining. I do wish I’d gotten a good prank from it.

I do hope they don’t terminate the accounts that were associated with it, because a bunch of family members are using their accounts more in line with the way Google wants you to. But this raises a real worry. The lack of consideration for your account, along with that clause, may allow them to shut you out of your email. I’m glad I’m not seriously using the service.

There’s a great business in selling gmail appliances for corporate email, I think. Google’s reconsideration of the use of email was well overdue, and I’d like to be able to use their work without such worries.

Shih shih…

The great linguist Chao Yuen-Ren once wrote an essay in Chinese using only words which (in Mandarin) would be transliterated as shih (using Wade-Giles; shi in pinyin). You can see the text in characters and two transliterations, read the translation (“A poet by the name of Shih Shih living in a stone den was fond of lions…”), and hear both Mandarin and Cantonese readings here

Via LanguageHat, where you can see the reference chain.


Over at Freedom To Tinker, Ed Felten writes about the Wikipedia quality debate.
He takes a sampling of six entries where he’s competent to judge their quality, and assesses them. Two were excellent, one was slightly inaccurate, two were more in depth, but perhaps less accessible than a standard encyclopedia, and one (on the US Microsoft anti-trust case) was error-prone.
Ed writes: “Until I read the Microsoft-case page, I was ready to declare Wikipedia a clear success.” However, I think his experiment is only one-third to one-half done. I think that Ed ought to look up the same 6 entries in another encyclopedia or two, and report back. I’d suggest the Britannica, which is usually considered the gold standard, and perhaps Microsoft’s Encarta, which may be the most widely used.
I can’t do this experiment the way Ed can, because firstly, I don’t have an EB account, and second, because I don’t know all the topics to the depth he does. I could pretend, and perhaps miss errors that he’d catch, or sample six other articles, and perhaps I will over the weekend.