Archive for July, 2009

Why do Google Search Results Change?

I was recently asked by my wife why Google search results change. I had noticed it before but didn't spend much time dwelling on it because my first thought was that Google uses many locations and many datacenters to hand out search results. The varying results are differences in the data stored at each location. Depending on which datacenter you are getting results from at any given time, you can see a huge change in results. As an example to this I made a quick video to show how going through a proxy server can change search results.  In this video I'm going through a Linux server in Texas at first. Note the total results for the keyword while going through the proxy are 282. By removing the proxy and refreshing the search the number changed dramatically to 635,000 results.

I saw a video explanation of this behavior that stated that Google was a beach, and while I enjoyed the analogy, it isn't entirely correct. There is a lot happening on the internet, but there's no way Google can index it all at once, or even catch it all. That's why they have many data centers, each pulling their own part of the weight. I'd imagine that the synchronization of the data takes time, that is if they actually synchronize the data at all. It may be that Google does this to randomize search results a bit in order to gauge relevancy of each result. At any rate, the keyword results can vary.

Also, after making this video, I captured the packets using wireshark and found that the request from my home internet connection was querying IP 208.67.217.231 and my proxy server is pulling the query from 74.125.159.103. Also neither of the search results were correct. After digging into the other pages of results there is a total of 64 results omitting the repeats. ICHY reports that the keyword has 3,640 competition. So, from what I can see of the data on both sides, ICHY doesn't report very accurate competition numbers according to their own explanation of the relevant results. Other keywords in their list yielded similar results discrepancies.

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Adventures in analog video recording on Linux

Linux does many things well, but the multimedia experience can be lacking without the correct bit of hackery. I mean, some cool things can be done with Linux on the multimedia side, but typically it'll take a lot of work to learn how it's done. Mac and Windows make complex things simple, while Linux makes simple things complex.

Back when I purchased my TV tuner card for my PC, I was using Linux as my main OS. I still use it daily but not on my main PC. Only occasionally do I boot to Linux on it. I typically run Windows Server 2008 as I've talked about on previous posts. When I bought the tuner I wanted to make sure that it worked under Linux. So, I purchased one that was made specifically for Linux, a PCHDTV 5500.

It has served its purpose as a TV tuner, since I watched a year or so of cable TV in analog on it prior to the digital switch. I have never been able to get the HD side of things to work on it. Either it's beyond me or my cable company just had all of the channels encrypted. I didn't spend enough time on it to find out.

Recording analog video in Linux can be FUN. By "fun" I mean the type of fun one has pulling their own toe hairs. Be forewarned, getting a good recording is best done from the command line. I tried many ways. I ended up going with mencoder.

That being said, there's not much you can't do with mencoder and ffmpeg from the command line.

I have some VHS recordings I'm converting to AVI and then later on to DVD. I first had to purchase a VCR because, wouldn't you know it, I didn't have one that worked.

After that I had to come up with a good way to connect it to my capture card. The card has coax and component inputs. The new VCR didn't come with any coaxial connections. The capture card had a yellow RCA connection for video. I could use that but then there was the problem with audio. The capture card had a 1/8" jack for audio. Luckily I had an RCA-to-1/8" adapter for one of my gadgets (not sure which). I ended up using two sets of RCA's.

I was amazed I actually got audio and video from it. Here's where more fun came in. I was running virtualbox in the background. Everything I tried to use to record the video told me that /dev/dsp could not be opened. I went through many hoops trying to troubleshoot that issue. I should have realized it sooner but it was all virtualbox's fault. Next time I'll make sure it's not running when I'm dealing with audio.

After all of those problems were worked out, I was able to use:

mencoder tv:///1 -tv driver=v4l2:width=640:height=480:forceaudio:adevice=/dev/dsp -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-750:threads=2 -oac mp3lame -lameopts cbr:br=64:mode=3 -o /home/five/homevid.avi

I'll try to explain some of what is going on in that command. Mencoder is the program itself. There's little to be said there. The next part is interesting: tv:///1  That tells mencoder we are using the tv card and that we want to use the composite1 input. Typically it defaults to input=0 or tv:///0, which is the coax TV input. There are three inputs on the card: tv, composite, and s-video. The next part (driver=v4l2) tells mencoder that we want to use Video4Linux2. Then we specify the width and height of the capture. The forceaudio bit was placed there during my troubleshooting. It just forces the use of audio device /dev/dsp. I had tried a couple other devices during my troubleshooting, thus the addition of that option. Then we have the option for output video codec (xvid). I set the bitrate and the number of threads. I actually upped that bitrate considerably later to around 2048. I believe I'll end up upping it even more for the next vid. I did the same with the audio output bitrate. I set it up to 256.

That should help anyone experiencing some of the pain I went through.

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Slow wifi on iPhone 3GS

I bought a new iPhone 3G S yesterday. These things are very nice, and I'm not an Apple fan boy by any stretch. One thing that was bugging me, however, was the slow speed I was getting from the wifi. I was getting faster speeds from the 3G network than my home wireless, and this is while I was sitting right next to the router, so it wasn't a signal problem.

I found the solution to this after reading through many, many forum posts. I saw others were having the same problem as me and were getting responses from people like "reboot the router" or "reset your network settings on the iPhone." This is all well and good and I'm sure those people meant well but there was a big problem with their responses.

First of all, everyone having this trouble said that the wireless worked fine on their computers but not on the iPhone. Secondly, there aren't many settings to "reset" inside the iPhone's network settings. There's just not anything in there that would cause this type of issue.

The solution to the problem ended up being an advanced setting on the router itself. From what I can tell of the issue and it's solution, the iPhone's wifi is just a bit more picky than a standard PC wifi device. Here are the settings I eventually had to change on my Netgear router.iphonewifisettings

The important items here are the fragmentation threshold and the CTS/RTS threshold. Each of these were set to their max value previously. After changing these two settings, my iPhone started working like a champ.

If you are experiencing the same problems with your iPhone or iPod Touch's wifi, change these settings on your router. Also note, these settings have slightly different names on some routers. Refer to your router's manual for more info.

Edit: I've gone much lower with these number with much success for my less powerful mobile devices. Going too low does seem to cause issues with more powerful computers on the wireless network. Test this out with lower settings and post your success or failures in the comments.

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British Comedy at its best: The IT Crowd

I love British comedy. Let me get that out of the way. I especially like a certain brand of humor that is reflected in the actual British accent and a "matter-of-fact" attitude. In American terms, I equate it to Bill Murray's character in Ghost Busters. He's very nonchalant about everything. His girlfriend is hovering above her bed in one scene and he's just calm as can be.

Those type of situations tend to gather the most laughs from me, and British humor normally carries a lot of those situations. So that's my explanation as to why I love British Humor. Now, in many cases, when a TV show is popular in the UK, we Americans think we can adapt it. The Office, for example was originally a show from the UK. It was probably brilliant there, but I've never been a big fan of our version of it.

Our version is good, don't get me wrong. It's just that I'm sure their version was much better, and we butchered it. That's why it's no surprise to me that the American version of The IT Crowd never took off.

I LOVE The IT Crowd, by the way. It's one of my all-time favorite TV shows. If not for Youtube.com. I would never have seen it. It's a shame that we can't watch it here in the states, with its original cast. I'm sure it wouldn't be very popular, but the people who like it would LOVE it. Most Americans probably wouldn't like the show, but there are some of us that would give up 50 channels of our cable access just to be able to watch shows like that.

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The Best Dock for Linux

I've been looking for an OS X-like dock bar for Linux for many years. For a while, I used the launcher applet in gdesklets. It works without x-composite and pretty nice, but gdesklets can be a resource hog at times. Most of the gdesklets are written in Python if I'm not mistaking and Python, being an interpreted language, uses much more system resources than a native compiled application.

My next dock was AWN, or Avant Window Navigator. At one point, possibly the present, Google was involved with this project. Again, this is if I recall correctly. AWN is very nice, however, it only works if you are using the composite extension in X, as in Compiz/Beryl/Compiz Fusion. It's very customizable and behaves much like the OS X dock.

There's one part of the OS X dock that I really like that isn't quite the same in these docks however. The fish-eye zoom of icons on the dock is a trademark of OS X. AWN and the launcher in gdesklets both have a zoom function but it's just not the same.

I recently discovered that there is a great dock pretty much hidden away in a program called Gnome-Do. Gnome-Do itself is a cool search app for gnome. It's somewhat like a KDE app I remember that lets you launch programs by hitting a keyboard shortcut and then typing the name of the app. I can't remember the name of that app at the moment though. Gnome-Do does exactly that. One can type super(windows key) and the space bar to bring up Gnome-Do.

Of course, you will have to install it first though. After it is installed, simply run the application and go to the preferences for it. Change the appearance to "Docky". Voila, the best dock you've ever had in Linux will appear. Play with it and you'll soon see that this is very close to the OS X dock experience.

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