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Archive for February, 2008

Advice for graduate students

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

The Guardian for 15th February 2008 carried an interesting feature about sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, which for whatever reason does not appear on the paper’s web site; (this Wikipedia entry brings together a number of links for further reading).

The Guardian’s article centred on Venkatesh’s new book, Gang Leader for a Day, whose title suggests the unusually hands-on nature of his research into the economics of the ghetto. It quotes him as saying “In grad school, you’re left alone for a few years to go out and find something to study. A lot had happened before I met my advisers to show them my notes, and that’s when they said, ‘OK, you shouldn’t be doing this.'”

What he needed was Tome Reader ©!

And, speaking of Google…

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

I received an e-mail from Alan Mann, asking:

My son Simon tells me that I am on the first page of Google and on the second page. I don’t know how this happens but I am dying to know. If you can enlighten me I will be delighted.

It’s a fair question, and although I have written on this topic before, I thought it was worth posting my reply here. So this is what I told Alan:

The simple answer is that Alan has many pages, and Google arranges these (and all the other pages belonging to all the other Alan Manns – er, Alans Mann) according to how likely it is that each page is the one you were looking for.

Google (that is, the software that drives Google) uses a variety of criteria to rank the pages: how likely is a page to be relevant (how often does the search term appear, how near the start of the page, is it in the headline or the page title) and do other sites regard it as helpful (do they link to it, and when they link to this page does the search term appear in the text of the link?). This much we know, and do our best to put the right words in the right places, to help people who are looking for you (or who are looking for information, and don’t know that you’re the person to ask) to find you.

Google are a bit secretive about what tests they use, because there are people who try to beat the system, and get their page to the top of the list whether it’s the most useful one or not. But you get the general idea.

So if Simon searches for you, he might well find that Google has ranked two pages differently, depending on how relevant they are to his search term (ie, what he has typed into the box). So if I go to and type [alan mann] (just those two words, no quotation marks) your front page comes up fourth on the list, and the front page of the aeroplanes section comes up second on page 2. Could be better, but alas, the Alan Manns are a very talented bunch.

On the other hand, if I don’t know I’m looking for you, but want paintings of planes and trains, I type [paintings planes trains] into the box, and you are top of the list: which is very gratifying. Likewise [cristimar], where you come out just ahead of a dwarfish cherry tree. And [famous lizzie west] and [british chimney art].

You can while away many a happy hour playing with Google; sometimes you find what you’re looking for, and sometimes something you never dreamed of. If you decide to try a little ego-googling, let me know how you get on: in particular, if there are any terms you think people might use when looking for you or your work which don’t perform as well as they should, let me know, because there may be something we should be saying on the site and aren’t!

That last point goes for all our sites: we try to make sure that they can be found by people using the obvious key words, but – especially for specialist sites – what is obvious to people in the field is not always obvious to us!

What’s Sergey reading?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

At 6:15pm local time on 28th July 1998, the 24-year-old Sergey Brin uploaded a list of his favourite books to his personal webspace on the Stamford University server. Quite how a man whose 25th birthday was about four weeks off had been able to accumulate 15,257 favourite books is a bit of a mystery. That’s an average of around two a day since the age of five, plus of course all the rubbish that didn’t make the cut into the list of favourite books.

Whether Sergey has managed to add to his list of favourites since 1998 is not revealed. Six weeks later, with Larry Page, he founded Google and the rest, as they say, is history.

But, as web designers for a range of authors, we have a soft spot for this list, because a number of our clients are listed there. The first one we became aware of was Chaz Brenchley‘s Shelter. Anne Fine has two books: Flour Babies and The Killjoy. The Murder Squad‘s John Baker makes it into the list with Poet in the Gutter; Martin Edwards with Perfectly Criminal, the anthology he edited for the Crime Writers Association. And finally, Dinah Lampitt (Deryn Lake) and As Shadows Haunting.

A list as varied as the tastes of the young Sergey Brin and, of course, our clients.

Bicycle racing

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

There is a variety of bicycle race where the contestants spend most of the race cycling as slowly as possible round the vélodrome before one of them makes a break and pedals like the clappers for the finishing line. Start sprinting too soon and you run out of steam and your opponent will overhaul you. Leave it too late and you lose.

What has this to do with web design? Well, one of our clients is the Crime Writers Association and at midnight last night the 2008 Debut Dagger Competition closed. In recent years we’ve added an online entry facility to the dead tree and snail mail alternative: contestants upload their entry and pay the entry fee via PayPal. The competition opened on 15 November and closed on 15 February. That’s 93 days in total. So what percentage entered on the last day?

Over 30%. And almost 5% left it to the last hour of the last day. That’s why it reminded me of a bicycle race.

Happy Birthday

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Cornwell Internet would like to wish Ted Rogers a very happy birthday. At 90 – today – he must surely be our oldest client, though (as Silver Surfers ourselves!) we know that the internet is wasted on the young!

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