Sabbatical, Day 38: Music And Search Engine News

Today has involved a fair bit more reading of Clay Shirky, including the chapter where he describes how the revolution in technology and social tools completely changed the ability of Catholic laity to protest against sexual abuse by priests in Boston. When I’ve finished reading Here Comes Everybody, I’ll blog it in a series.

Family-wise, we’ve been giving Rebekah a severe lecture for knots in her hair that we had to cut out. She seems more obsessed with twiddling her hair (or that of school friends) than concentrating on her work. Being the mean parents we are, we are sending the hair we cut to her teacher.

I’ve also done some more Cross Rhythms reviewing today. A special word for Welsh singer-songwriter Phil Lewis (Facebook page here). Highly recommended for lovers of 80s-influenced pop-rock. He doesn’t have the big budget some artists have, but if he did I think he’d make a big impact. And for something different, Native North American worship music from Waking The Sound. There’s no way I would have heard that without being a CR reviewer. Quite extraordinary.

In other music news, I was delighted to receive an email from Vineyard Music UK announcing the release of a new CD by bluesy American worship guy Chris Lizotte. Nothing sugary about his stuff, even when the lyrical content is conventional. Here he is, singing Brighter Day with Crystal Lewis:

In technology news, The Guardian has a piece on the latest potential Google-killer. Wolfram Alpha claims to have found the holy grail of computing with the intelligence to understand human questions. It launches in May. It’s confusing that it’s caused Alpha: it sounds like it hasn’t even reached beta status. However, you can apply to participate in the beta testing on the site. It only seems months since the last Google-killer was announced and hyped, only to be ruined by bloggers (including obscure ones like me) pointing out that it didn’t deliver good results. I wonder whether this will be any different.


  1. Dave,

    Since Wolfram is designed to work with providing definitive answers to natural language questions, rather than just returning links to webpages as such, IT Pro newsletter was asking readers what questions they’d like to ask it and why.

    My question would be:

    “Which is the best search engine?”

    I’m presuming if Wolfram is as good as they say, then it would currently answer Google! If it answered Wolfram, I’d expect it was cheating, and it’d go down in my estimation.

    However if Wolfram really is that good (and hypothetically does manage to unseat Google in due course), how long would it take for Wolfram’s statistical analysis of websites to shift opinion before it started answering Wolfram to that question. Or, in other words, how quick is statistical analysis at updating answers in a fast changing world. If it is too biased towards the latest views, then it is easily duped by a few rogue opinions. If it is too “steady”, then the answers are potentially out of date by the time a consensus is reached.

    Of course this doesn’t matter for questions like “Who is the Queen of England?”, which is a relatively steady answer, or “What year was the fire of London?” which is probably totally fixed answer, (unless there is another one!). But will it cope with “Which single is number 1?”, or will it always be a week or two late on that one?

    I look forward to trying it out, and seeing how adaptable it is, and how accurate.



    1. Thanks, Mike, great to get the perspective of a computer pro on the matter. I suppose this is what a lot of ordinary punters hoped they would get from Ask Jeeves, but when you looked at the way it dealt with a query, even a non-specialist like me knew there was something awry : every question was just translated into the exact words with ‘+’ signs linking them.

      I’ve had an acknowledgment from Wolfram Alpha to my request to join the beta, but no sign I might get on it. I’m probably not quite the techie they want, although I would have thought the beta could have benefited from the involvement of non-specialists.


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