US Patent 6,285,999

There are several fundamental inventions that have shaped the formation of the Internet business models as we know them today. There was the selling of banner ads (credited to HotWired back in 1994), the keyword auction for displaying ads (invented by in 1999), and there is Google’s algorithm for ranking search results, also known as PageRank (described in US Patent 6,285,999).

This patent was the foundation for Google, and enabled them to differentiate themselves from other well-established search engines at that time. So, given its significance, I thought it was time that I got around to reading it, which I did this weekend.

Search engines, such as Google’s, “crawl” the web, grabbing copies of all the web pages that they can find, and following the links within them to find more web pages. Then they create an enormous index of all the information within the web pages. So, when you type in some keywords to search for, they look them up in the index, to find all possible matches, and then rank and order those matches such that the most likely ones appear in the first page of results. The PageRank algorithm supplies this ranking.

Essentially their algorithm produces a scaled version of the estimated probability of a web surfer ending up on a given page. If one page is better linked-to than another page (based on the number of links from other well-linked-to pages), it will gain a higher ranking.  They describe how this can be estimated through iteratively multiplying a probability matrix with itself.

As I was reading this, I recalled a discussion that I had back in the late 90s with my then-housemate Brendan. We were discussing a reputation database, where people would recommend others who they respected, based I think on a concept in David Brin’s book Earth. The solution to calculating these reputations was pretty much the same as Google’s method for PageRank. I’m not saying this to big-note myself, just to point out that as neither Brendan nor I had a PhD in database algorithms and since it took us 5 minutes to think up the solution, the algorithm is hardly rocket science.

Since then, Google’s gone on to greatness, and to produce many other patents. Today, PageRank is considered to be just one of hundreds of factors that go into ranking their results. However, it’s interesting to see how a simple invention (and a lot of hard work from talented people!) has been the basis for one of the most respected global companies.

Not much like my schooldays

It’s a bit dull waiting for the baby to arrive now. We’ve watched a lot of DVDs. On the weekend we took a break from the TV to go watch a film.

Son of Rambow

A bit like The Wonder Years crossed with Jackass

Set in Britain in the early 80s, this is a film about kids, and the power of their over-active imaginations. Don’t expect much in the way of special effects, or cloying nostalgia. Just wacky kids. I laughed a lot, but I think I was laughing more than most others in the cinema.

Will is a boy growing up in a fundamentalist religion. Lee is a ne’er-do-well kid of the same age. Both turn out to have a few things in common. Both are well acted. In fact, all the acting is pretty good.

This film might be considered anti-religious. Well, anti-fundamentalist-religion, more precisely. But although that’s there, it isn’t what the film is about.

This film might also be considered anti-French. It was made with the assistance of the French, so perhaps they didn’t know what the film was about ahead of time.

But this film should not be considered a kids film. Sure, they could go see it, with it’s kid-friendly classification, but adults will get much more out of it.

It was the best thing I’ve seen for weeks.

My rating: 3.5 stars

Unexpected, black comedy

I guess it’s our own fault that we weren’t expecting this film to turn out like it did. We saw 10 seconds of a preview for it on TV while channel flicking, and remembered enough of the name to pick it out when buying tickets. It wasn’t a light-hearted comedy about dwarves.

In Bruges

A rather black comedy-drama set in Bruges

If Quentin Tarantino had instead been raised on a diet of European art-house film, then this would have been a film he made. It’s about an odd couple, both hit-men, who have escaped to Belgium after completing a job in London. However, Bruges turns out to be a lot more interesting than either expect.

Outside of the violence that you’d expect from a film involving hit-men, and some laugh-out-loud moments, there are also points where the film ponders philosophies of ethics and honour. And all of the main characters develop in interesting ways as the film progesses.

An amusing game to play during this film is to spot all of the actors who were also in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It seems that casting was done as a job lot.

My rating: 3.0 stars

Another UK Cult Classic?

I’m a bit of a fan of Simon Pegg. The star of Shaun of the Dead is one of the legends of UK cult classics. This was an easy selection from the video store…

Run Fatboy Run

More charming UK rom-com and less cult classic

This is the story of boy meets girl, boy leaves girl knocked-up at the altar, girl hates boy. Actually, that’s just the set-up. But don’t think it’s a gritty, black comedy. Although it’s About A Boy crossed with Rocky, it’s more the former than the latter.

Simon Pegg is both a writer for and the lead actor in this film. However, his co-writer from Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, is not a co-writer this time. And it is David Schwimmer’s film directing debut. All of which might explain the lack of edginess.

However, it’s still a lot of fun. Pegg’s character Dennis is a hopeless buffoon and an endearing athlete. The rest of the cast is excellent also. I laughed a lot. And you can’t ask for more than that, really.

My rating: 3.5 stars