PageRank, Google’s Claim to Fame

The secret to Google’s uncanny ability to return the most relevant results to any search query is an algorithm called PageRank. Developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (the founders of Google, duh), PageRank is supposedly a pun base upon the last name of one of its founding fathers. Regardless, the algorithm does what its name implies, ranks pages by relevancy.

PageRank is essentially an evolved form of a few lesser “tricks” that combine to achieve one desired function.

The Hyperlink Trick

Hyperlink Trick

“The basis of the hyperlink trick. Six web pages are shown, each represented by a box. Two of the pages are scrambled egg recipes, and the other four are pages that have hyperlinks to these recipes. The hyperlink trick ranks Bert’s page above Ernie’s, because Bert has three incoming links and Ernie only has one.”

The Authority Trick:

Authority Trick

“The basis for the authority trick. Four web pages are shown: two scrambled egg recipes and two pages that link to the recipes. One of the links is from the author of this book (who is not a famous chef) and one is from the home page of the famous chef Alice Waters. The authority trick ranks Bert’s page above Ernie’s, because Bert’s incoming link has greater “authority” than Ernie’s.”

Well that’s all fine and dandy, but how does my computer know that Bert is any greater an authority than Ernie? They are, after all, both puppets…

The Hyperlink Authority “Trick”:

This particular “Trick” isn’t technically a trick at all, but rather an improved version of both. In order to determine the result of highest authority, each web page is assigned an initial score of 1. If a page has hyperlinks pointing to it, their respective scores are combined to produce an overall authority value for that page.

Authority + Hyperlink

“A simple calculation of ‘authority scores’  for the two scrambled egg recipes. The authority scores are shown in circles.”

The Hyperlink + Authority Problem:

Guess what? Another problem. You see, the previous algorithm appears to work without any need for the computer to know the contents of a web page, but there exists a particular phenomenon called a “cycle”, in which one returns to their starting point after consecutively clicking a series of links.

Cycle

“An example of a cycle of hyperlinks. Pages A, B, and E form a cycle because you can start at A, click through to B, then E, and then return to your starting point at A.”

How do we fix it?

The Random Surfer Trick

In this instance, a “random surfer” visits an entirely random web page anywhere on the internet. He scans the page for hyperlinks and selects one at random. He repeats the process on the resulting page, and so on, and so forth.

Random Surfer

“The random surfer model. Pages visited by the surfer are darkly shaded, and the dashed arrows represent random restarts. The trail starts at page A and follows randomly selected hyperlinks interrupted by two random restarts [dashed lines].”

In the random surfer model their exists one opportunity for failure. There is a small percent chance (ex: 15%) that the user becomes bored of a particular page, and restarts on another completely random webpage. Illustrated below, the computer counts each time a particular website is visited in a group of 16. In both cases, page D accrues the highest number/percent of hits.

PageRank

“Random surfer simulations. Top: Number of visits to each page in a 1000-visit simulation. Bottom: Percentage of visits to each page in a simulation of one million visits.”

BTWPRchecker allows you to check your site’s PageRank.

How do all of these seemingly different algorithms come together to produce Google’s PageRank? 

The values produced by the random surfer trick are exactly what the hyperlink and authority tricks require. Page had the most hits in both cases. Why? Page D had the highest number of incoming links (hyperlink trick) and the highest number of incoming popular links (authority trick), thus the surfer found himself returning to D more than any other page (because there are fewer links leading to them).

Random Surfer

“Surfer authority scores for the scrambled egg example. Bert and Ernie each have exactly one incoming link conferring authority on their pages, but Bert’s page will be ranked higher in a web search query for “scrambled eggs.”

Summary:

“…the random surfer model simultaneously incorporates both the hyperlink trick and authority trick. In other words, the quality and quantity of incoming links at each page are all taken into account. Page B [above] demonstrates this: it receives its relatively high score (10%) due to three incoming links from pages with moderate scores, ranging from 4% to 7%.”

There you have it. The Random Surfer Trick returns the most popular page whether a cycle exists or not.

If you’re still confused, or simply want to read more about Google’sPageRank, check out Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today’s Computers, by John MacCormick. It provides a more in-depth look at this, and eight other extraordinary algorithms behind every piece of technology we use today. The paperback is going for about $8 used on Amazon.

9 Algorithms

Excerpts from: MacCormick, John. “PageRank: The Technology That Launched Google.” Nine Algorithms That Changed The Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today’s Computers. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012. 39+. Print.

Needle in the Haystack

After posting the Forbes article “Rethinking Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’: Was It Really the Greatest?”, by John Tamny, I realized that some of the inspiration for why I intend to tailor this blog to my generation in specific came from my reaction to it.

Tamny references an article by John Silber, a former President of Boston University, stating:

“In it Silber lamented society’s declining ability to memorize anything; his point being that technology of the cellphone and computer variety has made it so that everything we need is there for us at the push of a button. Silber noted that back before those technological advances, human memory was prodigious.”

Tamny drives home the point that technology has enabled humans to evolve in the respect that we are able to devote more brain function to higher thinking  rather than wasting it on lesser tasks now accomplishable by machines.

Essentially, human evolution occurs when one generation becomes so skilled at the practices of previous generations that they can move on to new things. Technology has enabled our generation to shed so many previously necessary skills, that we find ourselves spending massive amounts of time on extracurricular activities like social media and video games.

Coffee-Connoisseur-Just-Coffee-ArtJust this evening my father asked: “Are you a connoisseur of coffee just because you looked it up on Google?”, a light-hearted, smart-ass, comment by a 50-year-old who won’t believe a thing I tell him I’ve read on the internet. I’m not surprised, this is the last generation to really grow up without it. The last of us to have a practical need for a library other than for an outlet or  an ethernet cable. And certainly the last to ever touch an encyclopedia.

The problem is this: they are unable to understand how easy it is for our generation to learn from the internet. They don’t trust it because they don’t trust themselves to reliably find it. We were proficient with the internet before Google was Google. I can reliably find information on any subject I could dream of 99.99% of the time. Why?

Growing up with the internet during the years when my brain was at it’s peak plasticity, I learned computers the way my dad learned cars and my granddad learned factory work. We all come of age during different periods of history. The events of the period in which you are born have a significant effect on not only your life, but the lives of your entire generation.

Our generation, the millennials, we know technology like the back of our hand. We don’t all share the same depth of knowledge, but the core fundamentals are present in every one of us. Early in life we learned to find information just like our parents did, but through a different medium.  Thus, with the tap of our finger we have the ability to learn anything we could ever want.

The best part? We never have to stop learning. Where my parents can’t keep a set of encyclopedias around to stay sharp (for endless reasons), I have the world in my pocket, literally.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Whether I use the internet to teach myself single variable calculus or how to brew the best cup of joe, I learn something every day just by clicking Google Search.

“Indeed, the sacrifices and knowledge needed in the past don’t elevate the people of the past, rather what we don’t know and know how to do compared to them speaks to human evolution that makes each generation greater than the previous one.”

Will We Face the Same Fate?

The other week I was on the phone with my grandfather who explained to me that he had finally upgraded his ancient flip-phone to a new Samsung Galaxy S “something”. My first thought:

Well that was stupid, seeing as you won’t even be able to call me to ask how to call me.

We’ve all been there. A grandparent, parent, aunt, or uncle, that ‘s completely clueless when it comes to working anything that doesn’t rely on gears and sprockets. Fortunately, we are skilled in mastering every device we lay hands on without as much as blinking at the instruction manual.

It’s obvious that our elders have had no easy time transitioning to the digital era. They are arguably one of the few generations to wind up so completely out of their realm in such a short amount of time. So,

“Will we face the same fate as the generations before us?”  

Simply put, of course not.

oldcell

If, in fifty years, you see yourself just as lost as your grandma when she attempts to send a text message, chances are you were left in the dust long, long ago.

Luckily, upwards of 97% of our generation own a computer, 94% own a cell phone, and 56% an MP3 player. That means we know just a little about technology. Haven’t you noticed kindergartners with iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch’s? We were born on the brink of, and grew up in, the digital age. The ability to adapt to changing technology is a trait so deeply engrained in our psyche that it would require surgery to remove it (not possible).

So no, unless we live to see the dawn of another revolution (i.e. industrial, technological, etc…) we should theoretically be able to keep our heads above water just long enough. The fact that we certainly may lose the mental capacity to do so is another realm entirely. If we aren’t still plagued by dementia and Alzheimer’s we just might be able to teach our grandkids a thing or two.

Got a Mac? Get OneNote

If you’ve never heard of Microsoft’s OneNote, chances are you’re too old (or irrelevant) to care about the upcoming fact.

OneNote for Mac is now available in the Mac App Store for FREE.

OneNote Screen

Microsoft’s award-winning note taking application has been around for Windows since it’s conception, but the other half of us just gained access today.

OneNote Screen

The app is incredibly useful for students. The ability to keep digital notebooks accessible from anywhere is nothing short of necessity in the technology driven world we live in. If you’ve never had the luxury of keeping digital notes, there’s no better time than now to convert your collection.

OneNote-for-Mac

Do yourself a favor and click on over to the Mac App Store for a little taste of the 21st century. (Oh, those of you still on a PC, Redmond could never forget their own, the Windows edition is available for free as well. Check it out here)

unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation

One of the few selections I found of any value during my high school career. I may not remember specific details, but my outlook on advertising has never been the same. For only $0.01 you can grab this from Amazon and never be fooled by the advertisement gods again.

unSpun

Americans are bombarded daily with mixed messages, half-truths, misleading statements, and out-and-out fabrications masquerading as facts. The news media–once the vaunted watchdogs of our republic–are often too timid or distracted to identify these deceptions.

unSpun is the secret decoder ring for the twenty-first-century world of disinformation. Written by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the founders of the acclaimed website FactCheck.org, unSpun reveals the secrets of separating facts from disinformation, such as:

• the warning signs of spin, hype, and bogus news
• common tricks used to deceive us
• how to find trustworthy and objective sources of information

Telling fact from fiction shouldn’t be a difficult task. With this book and a healthy dose of skepticism, anyone can cut through the haze of biased media reportage to be a savvier consumer and a better-informed citizen.

 Do yourself a favor and buy it.

“Organic” Can’t Save Us

In twenty years your beloved organic foods, beverages, cookware, and cleaning products could be no more organic than today’s Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are real food.

hotdog

For decades we’ve been aware that the delicious, 100% Angus Beef Ball Park Franks your dad grilled up over the weekend contain no more beef than the weiners you can buy from a cart down the street. Regardless, your mother opts for the pricier, “healthy” option every time she runs to the store. Why?

Because the last few years have seen an enormous spike in health awareness of younger generations. As a people we are increasingly more concerned about what we put into our bodies. The mistakes of our parents and grandparents taught that ill health in young adulthood will have an adverse effect on quality of life.

Enter the modern food processing giants of our day: Tyson, Nestle, Kraft, General Mills, etc… Seeking to capitalize on the demand for healthy food options, these corporations pump out products labeled “All Natural”, “Sugar Free”, “Fat Free”, “Whole/Multi-Grain”.

Snap back to 2014 and the news can’t write food exposé articles fast enough. Everywhere you turn there’s another “What’s really in the (Insert food) you eat everyday?” article. Or the countless number of television series and movies that seek to expose the truth about nearly every food consumed in the United States. There’s no doubt you’ve heard the term “Pink-Slime” upon several occasions in previous months.

BTW, Food Inc. is an incredible documentary providing an unflattering look inside America’s corporate controlled food industry.

The truth is, the food giants we’ve come to know and love have lied about nutrition since the beginning. Only in recent years has the public had both the knowledge and resources to combat our nations food crisis. Unfortunately, the products meant to shut us up are hardly an improvement over their “lesser” counterparts. This raises the question “Will we ever truly be have access to the same quality food that our grandparents had eighty some-odd years ago?”

The answer is No.

As the demand for organic food rises,  so will the pressure on the aforementioned companies to provide us what we desire. With the aid of advertising, most will fall victim to and accept these false products as the healthy alternative.

But, for as long as we struggle  to produce enough food to feed the growing population of developed nations, these companies will never have the resources to truly deliver what the people want and need. For decades corporations have meticulously cut costs of production to increase profit, resulting in the continued lowering of quality over time.

Unable to profit from true organics, most will falsely label their products and the standard for Certified Organic foods will likely decrease as a result. Unfortunately, the demand for food is only going to increase, and with it our ability to produce “real” food will diminish.

The food giants mentioned above are only a handful of the companies we rely on to stay alive. With nearly all of them having a hand in every stage of production, from planting to harvesting, and birth to slaughter, the outlook is bleak.

Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”?

Rethinking Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”: Was It Really the Greatest?

 

"The Greatest Generation"

 

 

Forbes writer John Tamny discredits Tom Brokaw’s excessively used term for the Grandparents and Great-Grandparents of our generation. Click the link to check it out.