Google Caffeine Update

Google is rolling out a new update that involves injecting some caffeine into its system. The “Caffeine Update” is rumored to contain a few interesting items.

Speed is now a factor in your rankings. Google will measure how long it takes for your website to load and compare it against the average loading time of other websites. If your site loads faster than the average, you get a tiny boost in your rankings, if it loads slower, then you get a tiny penalty. So this if course raises the immediate question – how do I know if my site is loading at the right speed?

Fortunately, Google Webmaster Tools can answer that question. If you login to Google Webmaster tools, under the “Labs” section they’ve added a new “Site Performance” tool that tells you how fast your website loads compared to everybody else:

Website Speed by Google

As you can see – the site in the above image loads faster than 83% of other websites. I think that’s safe to say this particular website will get a nice boost once Caffeine hits the live results pages. The other nice feature of this new tool is that it identifies ways to speed up your page, a really common suggestion it made to my own websites was to enable GZIP compression, which I am in the process of doing right now.

Another factor that is being speculated about is whether social bookmarking will be used in the ranking of your website. It’s possible that Google will rank your website higher for ranking on sites like Digg.com. Now this does raise the question of social bookmark spamming, and in fact there are services out there that will guarantee your story to appear on the front page of Digg.com for a price (expect these types of services to gain massive popularity when this update goes live).

While we are on the topic of ways to enhance your website, here’s a few optimization tips you can use to give you a small edge in organic rankings with Google:

  • Check for any crawl errors in Google Webmaster Tools. If Googlebot is having issues with your site, it will tell you so you can fix them and stop being penalized.
  • Check for any HTML suggestions from Google Webmaster tools. This is another great feature that gives you some basic tips for optimizing your website in various ways. It will alert you if there are any meta tag problems, duplicate content issues, and such. It can be a real life saver if checked frequently.
  • Another great tool is Web Page Analyzer (by WebsiteOptimization.com). It will crawl a single page on your website and run various tests to measure how fast it responds and how long it will take an average user on various connection speeds to load your page. It also identifies other great features such as really large images or external files that are slowing your site down, and makes recommendations on what to fix so you can enhance your site to it’s fullest.

If you would like more information on the Google Caffeine update, here’s a few useful places to check:

Initial Announcement of Caffeine by Google
Google Caffeine Hits After the Holidays
Interview with Matt Cutts re: Caffeine Update

Global Warming a Hoax?

What would you say if all the global warming statements issued by major organizations around the world turned out to be a hoax? Think about it for a minute before answering, and look at the big picture:

  • Companies and governments have spent billions each year trying to reduce greenhouse emissions (see the Kyoto Accord, and its replacement that was planned to be finalized at the upcoming Copenhagen Summit).
  • How much extra tax have you had to pay over the past several years because of global warming? (i.e. greenhouse taxes, environment fees, and even the clean air taxes you pay in major airports now)
  • How about the multi-million dollar projects based around alternative energy? (i.e. tidal power farms that have been created in key locations around the world that came out of your pocket).
Credit: Jonathan DuHamel, TusconCitizen.comCredit: Jonathan DuHamel, TucsonCitizen.com

What if it was all for nothing? Or at least, the data was fudged to make it look like a serious problem that everybody had to take care of?

Thanks to an unknown hacker, several key documents from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (the largest, most funded, and most reputed climate research center in the world) were leaked to the public that implies that global warming might not be as bad as it was made out to be (if it even was a problem). Several emails and documents were leaked which showed several exchanges between high ranking officials in the CRU stating that a lot of the numbers used in their research were faked.

Additionally, large portions of the programming used to monitor and record temperature data from around the world was posted, and numerous programming experts have identified major flaws in the coding (such as it seems to pick a random temperature instead of the actual temperature in some certain situations).

Here’s the kicker – the United Nations (and just about every other major organization that looks at climate change) use the CRU data exclusively in making their decisions about global warming and environmental impacts.

In a nutshell, we have a massive research center that receives grants and investments from all over the world to produce “unbiased” research on climate change. They take the money, make up some numbers to make it look like the world is getting hotter, and then send the data out. This prompts for more funding and research, which results in more money being sent their way. It’s a great racket they’ve setup.

The story was originally posted by CBS, but since then has circulated the globe and has sparked a lot of discussion on blogs and forums around the world, and now a criminal investigation is being initiated. If you would like to read the original CBS story and see their evidence (as well as several of the documents posted by the unknown hacker), head over to CBS News.

Large Hadron Collider Not a Doomsday Device Afterall

It turns out the Large Hadron Collider (LHC for short) isn’t going to kill us all, which is probably a great relief to those of you reading this. You can be rest assured that the experimental device near Geneva, Switzerland, has successfully smashed it’s first protons since the project was launched over a year ago and didn’t kill anybody in the process…never mind destroying the planet like some people were claiming.

The LHC is a gigantic particle accelerator, but its sole purpose is to smash particles against each other at high speeds, rather than just speed them up for less-risky types of physics experiments. It’s the largest (and most expensive…and most controversial…and most reputed…and…do you get the picture that it’s a big deal?) particle accelerator in the world, running a circumference of 27 kilometers (17 miles for those of you on the metric system) and has such a massive radius that it actually dips partially into France along the Swiss border.

This massive physics toy cost approximately 4.6 BILLION Swiss Francs (that’s about 3 billion Euros, which is about 4.5 billion US dollars).

By smashing particles at various speeds, the project was designed to simulate the Big Bang which supposedly created the universe. As cool as that is, there’s several problems with this idea – most notably being that the Big Bang was supposed to be a massive explosion…now I’m not sure about you but I don’t like the idea of somebody in Switzerland playing with a device that could create an entire solar system by flipping a switch – let’s just park it over by Greenland! There’s plenty of space to park a few planets and hundreds of stars!

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)
European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

And that’s what prompted Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho to file a lawsuit against the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN for short) – the creators and operators of this doomsday device. According to Fox News, the device has the potential to cause massive devastation and is extremely unstable. You can read about the details of the lawsuit on the Fox News website when they first covered the story back in 2008: Fox News – Lawsuit: Huge Atom Smasher Could Destroy World.

However, regardless of the risks, the scientists at CERN have spent the past year fixing some last minute problems with their new toy (if you could call a few hundred million Euro’s a last minute problem), and they activated the powerful machine just a few weeks ago.

On November 20, 2009 they proudly announced that their device hadn’t in fact destroyed the planet (that’s great news!), and they had successfully smashed (you’d figure physicists would come up with a more technical term than “smashed”) two protons and had learned a great deal about the nature of the universe. More experiments involving the smashing of protons are planned for the immediate future (which is good…otherwise they just spent close to 5 billion US dollars for something that took a week to actually do).

If you’d like to learn about the LHC and how it could blow up the planet with their next experiment, head over to the official website found here: LHC Official Website.

Insurance Company Cancels Benefits Thanks to Facebook Pictures

Imagine being in disability leave due to a medical condition and having your benefits taken away because of a single picture that appeared of you on Facebook. Suppose you are somebody who is indeed ill in one form or another, and you’ve been on long term disability for eighteen months thanks to that illness, and then suddenly your only source of income is ripped away from you.

FacebookThat’s what happened to Nathalie Blanchard, an IBM employee that was on long-term disability leave due to heavy depression. Nathalie was put onto disability leave when she became unable to work over a year and half ago, since then her insurance carrier had been paying her salary – until now.

Manulife Insurance, the carrier in question, recently discovered Nathalie’s profile on facebook and discovered pictures that were posted of her having fun with friends in social situations (“girls night out”), and also on a vacation she took to a tropical paradise.

“Her Facebook pictures were enough to prove that she is ready to return to work,” was the statement issued by Manulife when this hit the fan.

Going out and having fun was suggested to her by her doctor, as research has shown over the years that those diagnosed with severe depression will often seclude themselves to an extreme measure. By going out and socializing, it helps them cope with their situation while maintaining a social life.

In a statement issued to the CBC, Manulife stated “We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook.” However actions speak louder than words and it appears that it just takes a few pictures to make things more stressful than they already are.

Simply having pictures of you on a social network should not be enough to strip you of your insurance benefits. Not only can they be easily taken out of context (i.e. just because you see somebody happy and enjoying themselves for the 1 second that it takes to shoot a picture, it doesn’t mean they are like that for the other 3,599 seconds in the day), but it also invokes paranoia about using social networks because of cases like this.

Imagine if this was a life-or-death type situation where your insurance benefits covered special treatment or medications that are keeping you alive, and then suddenly that is taken away from you because of a few innocent pictures. What if you were on blood thinners to prevent clots, or you were about to go in for brain surgery to remove a cancer lump that was pressing dangerously on your brain stem.

The truth of the matter is that insurance companies look for any excuse to drop beneficiaries when they start to cost a significant amount of money. And unfortunately there is not much that anybody can do about it, as burried deep within your insurance contract there is almost always a tiny little clause that says something like “The insurer reserves the right to cancel benefits at any time with due cause.” Due cause has apparently shifted from medical doctor testimony and patient records to pictures posted on the web.