The Google Operating System Cometh Quietly

There’s been plenty of chitchat about a “Google operating system”, since oh I don’t know when. The last time the rumour went up that Google was about to introduce it’s own general-purpose computing environment, it turned out to be phone software instead: Android. Hewlett Packard has now announced that they are ‘Studying’ Android for PC Use. The idea being that Android is designed to run on low-power CPU chips designed for mobile devices, but nowadays that’s exactly the kind of chip computer manufacturers are putting in mini laptops and calling them netbooks, so how about Android on a netbook?

“Google has been working with PC makers to put Android in netbooks….HP and other computer makers for the past year have been trying to make it simpler for users to perform many common tasks—such as viewing photos or watching video—on their machines, in some cases adding their own, more user-friendly features to Microsoft Windows.”

Sounds reasonable, and there you are, the Google OS for real. I don’t mind Android, like everything else Google does I think it’s a fantastic idea relative to other phone operating systems and I bet the implementation is great too. But I’m still wary of this move. Android is linux-based and open source-ish, but there already exists multiple active projects to remodulate ever-flexible linux into a distribution tiny and/or user-friendly enough for lightweight, application-oriented computing netbook-style. Most of those projects aren’t tied to a single company either by code or culture. We’re already toying with giving a single for-profit company something like an information infrastructure monopoly. Do I sound ridiculously paranoid if I wonder out loud if this is a slippery slope towards yielding our personal operating systems to Google as well?

My Standoff With the Google Earth Conference Ends Amiably

Annoyed that I apparently couldn’t attend the Scientific Applications with Google Earth Conference without registering with the “Google Checkout” financial system, I emailed to ask if there were any other payment methods available. Well, I waited for a couple of weeks for their “Contact Us” link to go live, then once I had an email address to email to, I emailed it. No response came, then a form request that I complete the sign-up by joining Google Checkout. I was worried I was going to have to show up thrusting a greasy $20 bill at whoever looked official, but I’ve now received assurance that if I just bring a check with me everything will be fine.

So that’s all good then. Not that the informational aspects of our public and private lives has ceased to be increasingly mediated and recorded by a single for-profit stockholder-beholden corporate entity. But at least you can pay for their scientific conferences by check.

Google Earthing Cow Directions

Here’s a fun bit of Google Earth-utilizing research:

Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer, Begall et al, PNAS

“We demonstrate by means of simple, noninvasive methods (analysis of satellite images, field observations, and measuring “deer beds” in snow) that domestic cattle (n = 8,510 in 308 pastures) across the globe, and grazing and resting red and roe deer (n = 2,974 at 241 localities), align their body axes in roughly a north–south direction.”

Apparently this work follows on from previous research the team has done on the sensing of magnetic fields by naked mole rats. In this case, they used Google Earth to scroll around looking for cows, then once they had documented 8510 of them, decided they tend to lie down facing north-south. And likewise for deer.

Here’s some more
from NPR.

“Holland says that other researchers should confirm the finding. One way of doing that would be to “start going out and putting magnets on the heads of cows and horses and deer, to see how that affects them,” he says. “That’s one of the more traditional ways of testing if they have a magnetic sense.”

If they really do have an internal compass, he says, the magnet would mess it up.”

Getting Google Out of Your Googling

By the time you read this, Google will probably have released the first public beta of their new web browser. (You can read about it in this comic. Nobody ever said Google wasn’t smart, and commissioning a comic book from Scott McCloud is a brilliant way of showing off their brilliance.) Looks like it will eventually be a great browser, a real competitor for Firefox. Kevin Newcomb makes the point that it will be the first browser built primarily for running web-based-applications (email, document editing, photo editing…) rather than just being a webpage displayer that can be cajoled into front-ending such applications. He makes the further point that by building such a browser, Google is setting itself up as author of the de facto standard for future web applications. And we are all told again and again that web applications are the future of personal computing.

Here’s another of Kevin’s points:

“As with the Google Toolbar before it, Chrome will also present an opportunity for Google to collect more user behavioral data. On the plus side, that could help Google develop better Web analytics applications. More cynically, Google can also take this mountain of user data and use it to better monetize its ad platforms.”

To which I would add that anybody vacuuming up that much information about people is just a bad thing for privacy.

This seems like a good time for a how-to turn off Google’s Search History “feature”. That’s the one that keeps track of everything you search for through Google and everywhere you go from Google. It lets them show a reminder in your search results of how many times you’ve been to a given page and when you last went there. It also lets them build a lasting profile of your online behaviour. It only happens if you have a Google account and have signed in to it recently. Personally, I use my account for Google Calendar, but lots of people have one for Gmail or Picasa or any of their many other services. I think they give you the option of turning Search History on or off when you first sign up for an account, but I don’t remember ever seeing that option, or at least not fully explained.

To turn off and wipe Google Search History:

  • Go to the search screen.
  • If you aren’t signed in already, Sign In at the top right corner of the screen.
  • Go to
  • . Hey, lookit all that stuff.

  • On the list on the left, click Remove Items.
  • On the right, click Clear entire Web History

That should have both cleared out Google’s history of your browsing, and “paused” the saving of future browsing. You can, of course, turn it all back on again if you want.

You Put Your Data in Their Cloud

Here’s a video of Danny O’Brien convincing you not to put your data in cloud computing services, like 3rd party email, web document editors, photo hosting sites, social networking sites, and the like. He argues a) why would you give your own data, including your most personal data, to an anonymous corporate mediator to store in any case and b) we can probably get the same always-on effortless sharing and still store our data on our own boxes through the magic of technology. The video is terrible. But the idea seems awfully good.

And here’s a guy who makes heavy use of Google’s online services, such as Picasa and Google Docs and Gmail, who has been suddenly, silently and inexplicably shut out of the Google cloud.

I’ve decided to start spelling Google with a capital G again, to remind myself that Google and Google services are not randomly beneficent forces of nature. Google is a company, and it lives a corporate life. Is that (or Yahoo, or Facebook or whomever) the cloud where you want to keep all your stuff?

Google Earth Index of AVIRIS Flightlines, 2000 to 2006

I’ve made a Google Earth-compatible .kmz file with all the AVIRIS flightline locations from 2000 to 2006, as listed on the AVIRIS website. Google Earth is a relatively painless and speedy way to get a sense of the landscape sensed in each imagery dataset.

More information and the file itself is available on this page.

(AVIRIS is NASA’s plane-mounted hyperspectral sensor. It is entirely a coincidence that I’m posting this on NASA’s 50th birthday but hey, happy birthday NASA.)

Attempting to Enlist Google Earthers for My Research

I’m trying to find some additional study sites for my research. I’ve recently realized how stupid I’ve been by not using Google Earth as my main exploratory site-search tool. Way way waaay faster than trying to download overview imagery raw from USGS or wherever. It also occurred to me that there are thousands of people who cruise around in Google Earth every day, looking for interesting things and talking about it in the forums. So I posted there, in case anybody might have seen the kinds of semi-arid plant patterns I’m looking for. I’m interested to see if there will be any response.

update: the post has been moved to the “Moderated” section of the Nature and Geography forum. The above link has been updated.

study site in Arizona
A study site in Arizona.

Peters’ “A Critique for Ecology” There for the Reading

If you’re interested in the tension between correlation and causation in ecology and don’t feel like standing up, it turns out that great chunks of R.H. Peters’ “A Critique For Ecology” is available online in Google Books. Apparently Cambridge press is experimenting with sticking big swaths of its books up on the internet. It makes a lot of sense to me: it doesn’t cost them anything, and there is no way I would actually sit and read through all of a book on a computer screen. Ouch. But on the other hand, I’m at least ten times as likely to buy or otherwise get a hold of a physical copy of the book if I read a bunch of it first. So there you go.

If it sounds like a boring topic to you (causation v. correlation etc) it may be, but if you’re interested in ecology it may not. Peters argues that ecology’s obsession with explaining the whys behind the way things are in nature has led to a vague and muddled science, given that it’s functionally impossible to prove why something happens. In his mind, ecology goes around identifying problems and never really solving them, so the longer it exists as a science the less we seem to know. He points out that if you want to contribute to solving problems you have to be able predict what will happen in the future given the current state or possible current states. And prediction is all about correlation, which is a separate issue from causation. He thinks we need to be worse natural historians and better statisticians.

It’s an interesting argument, but childish and silly of course. Which is obvious if you read the book. Which, hey presto, you sort of can!

A Critique for Ecology By Robert H. Peters

But If You Make the Internet a Crime, Only Criminals Will Have the Internet

Australia: Copyright ruling puts hyperlinking on notice.

“Mp3s4free was different in the sense that it actually catalogued MP3 files that were infringing copyright material – Google doesn’t do that,” she said.

“There is, however, action that is being taken against Google in other jurisdictions, and we’re awaiting that eagerly.”

Yeah, that’s going to be great.

Google Has A Music Search!

I can’t remember even seeing this one in the Google Labs selection. But there it is, Google has a music search.

For example.

I’m not sure how to explicity access it, except to search for an artist (or presumably an album or track) and click on the very special search result that will hopefully show up as the first option.

Holy crap.

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