The Google Dance Viewer

March 8, 2008 – 2:17 PM

Author: Mark Horrell @ www.markhorrell.com

The Google Dance is the name given to the behaviour observed by the Google search engine during the monthly period when it updates its index.

Because the traffic to Google is vast, numbering hundreds of millions of queries a day to some 3 billion documents, it spreads its database across several data centres, each comprising thousands of individual servers. Since it aims to assemble a complete map of the web once a month, updating all its data centres with the new index can take several days.

Each time you query the main Google domain at www.google.com, the domain name itself could direct you to the IP number for any one of its data centres, depending on your location in the world and the relative loads in terms of internet traffic using the data centres’ servers.

Google runs two additional domains, www2.google.com, and www3.google.com, which are used as testing grounds for the new index after re-indexing has occurred and while the search engine’s relevance ranking algorithms and PageRank iterations are being re-calculated. Once the new index has been tested and its results deemed satisfactory, it is then transferred in turn to each of Google’s individual data centres.

Most of the time when you query Google, you will not observe this behaviour taking place. During the period of the transfer however, you may notice the results on Google ‘dancing’ up and down depending on which data centre the domain www.google.com is directing you to and whether or not that data centre has been updated with the new index. It is for this reason that the updating period is known as The Google Dance.

The Google Dance Viewer is simply a tool which allows you to query each of Google’s data centres from one convenient interface, and compare the results against those of the main Google site. If you are a webmaster, you can thus see whether the Dance is taking place and how the latest update may be affecting the ranking of your web sites.

Click here to try the Google Dance Viewer.

How to spot and stop spam

March 8, 2008 – 2:15 PM

Unsolicited e-mails now infuriatingly clutter many inboxes, just as paper junk mail buried many a front door map. But is smart technology set to save us from spam? To us humans, spam is very easy to spot.

Unfortunately to your computer one e-mail message looks very like another.

Without help it will see nothing special about the formatting in junk mail to distinguish it from the stuff you want to read.

Many anti-spam programs work by scanning e-mail messages for the keywords that spammers use, but your genuine friends tend to avoid.

Full story…

The New NAT-Friendly Microsoft

March 8, 2008 – 2:14 PM

VPN just got easier. Windows 2000 and XP clients can do IPSec out of the box, but when you attempt to VPN to an external resource from behind a NAT router/firewall, challenges ensue. To date, Microsoft has not gotten along well with NAT, but in a brand new update made available for Win2K and XP clients via Windows Update, Microsoft has added NAT-T functionality, which allows the creation of IPSec tunnels when banished to a NAT environment. The description bothers me a bit, as it only notes that the tunnels can be created between Win2K/XP clients and Windows Server 2003 servers. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to setup a test of the new toy, but you can count on hearing more about how it works once I hook up with my buddy Warren for some play time.

There are IPSec management features packed into the update as well, bringing much needed administrative ability down to the client level, and now Windows XP clients are able to take advantage of all of the new IPSec functionality built into Windows Server 2003. Windows 2000 is left out in the cold in many respects, but at least the main NAT-T stuff is available at the very least. One additional note here regarding compatibility. ISA Server environments are warned not to expect compatibility with the latest client updates at this point. My guess is that a patch or service pack will address those issues in time.

MS Article

Code diagrams enable ‘point-and-click’ programming

March 8, 2008 – 2:13 PM

Non-programmers could play a major part in developing complex computer programs, thanks to a new language developed by Sun Microsystems.Ace is based on Sun’s successful Java language and provides software development tools that give a graphical representation of computer code.

Manipulating the diagram on-screen automatically alters the underlying code. For example, moving a line connecting two boxes could change the point at which a piece of input data is entered into a program.

“Non-programmers can use Ace to build a skeleton of their application,” says Ali Sayed, a member of the Ace project team. “But to make it completely working they [or a colleague] will have to write some minimal amount of code.” Ace should also let non-experts modify a program after its core components have been written.

Minimal code
Andy Rutter, a Java programming consultant with UK company GBDirect, says there have been attempts to provide user-friendly graphical programming aids for other languages.

He says these often make development easier, but reduce the flexibility of the programs that can be written. “If non-technical people are putting together a system, then they have to have a small number of technical choices,” Rutter told New Scientist.

However, Rutter believes Ace could be useful for Java developers: “A common criticism has been that Java is very hard to use. Ace will bring the tools and facilities of Java to more people.”

Sun hopes that Ace’s ease of use could cut the cost and complexity of developing internet and wireless programs. It also aims to reduce the work needed to make individual programs work on different platforms, by automatically adapting the code for different components such as databases or web servers.

Sayed told New Scientist that some of the source code behind the Ace language may be freely released at the JavaONE conference in June 2003. This would let other programmers expand the range of applications the language can be used to write.

New computer worm disguises itself as an e-mail from Microsoft

March 8, 2008 – 2:13 PM

Antivirus vendors have warned about new computer worm which pretends to have been sent by Microsoft technical support.

The e-mail containing the worm, dubbed Palyh (pronounced Pale-H) or Mankx, appears to come from [email protected], but is not from the software company. It contains a file which, upon execution, copies itself to the Windows folder, scoops up e-mail addresses from the hard disk and starts sending itself out. Palyh also spreads to other Windows machines on a local area network (LAN).

Though the file appears to have a .pi or .pif extension, it is an .exe file which is automatically run by Windows as soon as the recipient double-clicks on it.

The malicious program has the ability automatically to update itself from a remote web server, and install spyware on infected machines.

Spyware is any software used to obtain personal information about a user or his or her computer without informing the user or asking permission. Spyware uses an Internet connection to receive the data about Web browsing habits or even passwords and credits card details.

Palyh is also time locked to expire automatically after 31 May. Most likely this trigger was built into the program because the server from which it downloads its updates will be closed in the near future.

The worm appears to originate from the Netherlands, but more than 60 percent of e-mails containing it were originating from the United Kingdom. It began spreading on Saturday and has apparently infected computers in 75 countries.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company never sends out unsolicited mass e-mails with attachments.

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