If you have a Google+ account you should have received an email from Google with the innocuous subject line “An Update for Google+ Page Owners and Managers”. Don’t ignore it because it contains important information about changes to Google’s terms and conditions that take effect on November 11th, 2013. From that date Google may start using your profile name and photo to endorse ads. Several people have already posted extensively about this so I will not go into much detail here. Tony Hirst has already written an excellent article on this at http://blog.ouseful.info/2013/10/12/googles-new-terms-mean-you-could-soon-been-acting-as-a-product-endorser/, which also addresses other privacy issues and account settings that you may wish to review and change.
If you do not want your photo and name used in advertisements you have to opt out because Google seems to have automatically added everyone to the scheme. Sign in to your Google+ account and go to the settings page. You should see a new option for “Shared endorsements” that is switched on. Click on the Edit link to change it to “Off”. Of course, Google tries to discourage you from doing this by saying that “your friends will be less likely to benefit from your recommendations”.
Click continue to carry on and switch endorsements off.
The September issue of Tales from the Terminal Room is now available at http://www.rba.co.uk/tfttr/archives/2013/sep2013.html
This month’s issue includes:
- Recent presentations
- Search tools – Google announces Hummingbird…..hmmmm
- Top tips from the latest business information workshop
- Interactive maps of UK renewable energy generation
- Twitter notes
- Forthcoming workshops and meetings How to Make Google behave: techniques for better results, Wednesday, 30th October 2013
- Free resources and search techniques for EU and UK legislation, Wednesday, 13th November 2013, London
- Anything but Google, Tuesday, 19th November 2013, London
The newsletter is a compilation of recent articles from this blog plus some extra goodies such as Twitter Notes.
I recently mentioned Gridwatch (How the UK’s electricity is generated http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2013/08/21/how-the-uks-electricity-is-generated/) as a way of tracking how much energy is passing through the National Grid and the technology used to generate that electricity. Although Gridwatch is a great way of observing the total amount of electricity that is generated by each technology – gas, coal, wind etc – it does not go into any detail with respect to individual installations. The Digest of UK energy statistics (DUKES) produced by the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (http://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-energy-climate-change/series/digest-of-uk-energy-statistics-dukes) includes a spreadsheet listing all of the operational power stations, fuel that they use, installed capacity, location, and the year that generation began. The direct link to the spreadsheet is http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226895/dukes5_11.xls. This is historical data and the current list refers to plants in operation at the end of May 2013.
UK Energy Watch has a map (http://www.ukenergywatch.org/Electricity/PowerStations) showing the location of UK power stations of 400 MW or larger, so it is by no means comprehensive. It does allow you, though, to click on a plant and display current generation except for CCGT stations (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine).
There are more options available when it comes to what are called renewables (for example wind, solar, biomass, hydro). The DECC’s RESTATS interactive map at http://restats.decc.gov.uk/app/pub/map/map/ enables you to search by technology, region, county, planning authority and application status. It also has a separate map for wind farm capacities.
The site information includes installed capacity, details of the planning application but not how much energy is actually being produced. RESTATS says that “Information is held on the performance of operational projects but owing to the need to maintain the commercially sensitive nature of these data, specific site details and performance figures are not disclosed“.
The UK Data explorer has produced a renewables map at http://ukdataexplorer.com/renewables/ that uses the RESTATS data and shows operational renewable electricity sites over 0.01 MW. The different colours represent the type of plant and the area of the circles indicate installed capacity (maximum power output).
To see details of a specific installation you should be able to hover over a point on the map. This did not work for me with some of the smaller plants and when I tried to zoom in on an area I often lost the background map.
The Interactive Map of Renewable and Alternative Energy Projects in the UK at http://www.renewables-map.co.uk is another interactive map and can be filtered by technology type and planning status.
According to the website the information is gathered from “a wide range of web resources, in all cases these will be referenced, usually by a link to that information. Locations are either taken from existing data, usually from planning applications, or by painstakingly identifying the location on the ground using online maps.” I am not sure how up to date the map is and I noticed that the smaller hydro installations along the Thames are missing. Another problem that I have experienced with this site is that when I click on “More details” for an installation I get far too many “internal sever errors”. However, when the information does appear it includes useful comments on the technology, links to relevant websites and the latest news.
The final one in my list is from the energy generating company RWE Innogy (http://www.rwe.com/web/cms/en/194914/rwe-innogy/sites/production-data-live/). Its interactive map provides information on most of its European plants and includes wind farms, hydro power plants and biomass CHP (Combined Heat and Power). The production data is updated every minute. To see information on an installation, click on its icon on the map. The information includes live production, location, type of installation and when production started.
These are by no means the only websites offering interactive maps and information on UK energy production, and none of them give the full picture. They are good starting points, though, if you are interested in researching individual technologies or individual power stations.
Google announced a major new search algorithm to celebrate its 15th anniversary called Hummingbird, because it is “precise and fast”. Interestingly, the change was implemented about a month before the announcement was made and most of us did not notice any difference! That is probably because Google is continually making minor changes to the way it presents results, and then there are the live experiments that we are all subjected to (Just Testing: Google Users May See Up To A Dozen Experiments http://searchengineland.com/just-testing-google-searchers-may-see-up-to-a-dozen-experiments-141570). So, even if we do suspect that our results have changed, it’s difficult to know whether it’s the usual combination of personalisation and experiments or the new algorithm.
Phil Bradley has written a neat summary of what Hummingbird is (http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/09/what-is-google-hummingbird.html) and Danny Sullivan has compiled an FAQ at http://searchengineland.com/google-hummingbird-172816. There is also a short video on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24292897 in which Amit Singhal, VP, Google Search talks about the launch and the future direction of Google search.
I have not noticed any significant differences in either desktop or mobile search but that is probably a good thing. We tend to spot changes only when Google completely messes up. I suspect that we’ll see little difference when using advanced commands such as filetype or site; Hummingbird seems to be geared more towards handling natural language queries. It is far too early to say how this is going to affect in depth research, but if you suddenly find strange things happening to your search it could be Hummingbird and not you.
If you are keen to find out more about how Google works and how to get better results I am presenting a workshop later this month in London that has been organised by UKeiG. Further details are on the UKeiG website. Alternatively, if you have had enough of Google and want to explore alternatives there is the Anything but Google workshop, again organised by UKeiG.
Delegates at yesterday’s business information workshop in London came up with an interesting combination of websites and search commands for their end of day top tips.
- OFFSTATS – Official Statistics on the Web http://www.offstats.auckland.ac.nz Excellent starting point for official statistical sources by country, region subject or a combination of categories. All of the content in the database is in the public domain and available through the Internet.
- GMacker http://gmacker.com/web/content/gDateRange/gdr.htm Google’s Verbatim in the search options menu on the results page is great. Google’s date option from the same menu is great. But you cannot use both together. You can use the daterange: command, though, with Verbatim but it’s complicated. GMacker is a much easier way to do it. Type in your search on the GMacker page, select your dates from the calendars and click on ‘Google Search’. When the results appear on Google simply apply Verbatim in the usual way.
- Domain Tools http://www.domaintools.com/ A useful tool for identifying who owns the domain name of a website.
- 7 side http://www.7side.co.uk/ was recommended for its International company information services.
- Zanran http://zanran.com/This is a search tool for searching information contained in charts, graphs and tables of data and within formatted documents such as PDFs, Excel spreadsheets and images. Enter your search terms and optionally limit your search by date and/or format type.
- News alerts, news curation services and automated newsletter generation. Use Google alerts, RSS feeds and newsletter generation sites such as Paper.li (http://paper.li/) and Scoop.it (http://www.scoop.it/) to keep up to date and share news with colleagues.
- site: command Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk, or to search inside a large rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
- Numeric range This command is unique to Google. Use it for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Simply type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. A good way of limiting your search to pages or news covering a company’s activities over two or three years in the past.
- OpenCorporates ”The Open Database Of The Corporate World” http://opencorporates.com/ Provides access to open corporate data on 55 million companies in 75 jurisdictions. You can search all jurisdictions at the same time or select just one. Results can be filtered by type of data held, current status, company type, SIC. A link to the original registry page for a company is always included with the displayed information.
- DataMarket http://datamarket.com/ A portal to thousands of free and priced datasets. Free to search, and create charts and visualisations of the free data.
Google has added extra information to its web definitions. When using the ‘define’ command, an expandable box now appears containing additional synonyms, how the word is used in a sentence, the origins of the word, the use of the word over time and translations. At the moment it is only available in Google.com and you no longer need the colon immediately after define. So, for definitions of dialectic simply type in
The box gives definitions and synonyms of the word and the ‘More’ link gives you an example of its use in a sentence.
Click on the grey, downward pointing chevron to open the box and see information on the origin of the word, translations (beware – some are rather bizarre!), and use of the word over time. The last is powered by the Google Books Ngram Viewer, which shows the frequency of words in Google Books. Click on the graph, and you are taken to the Ngram Viewer where you can drill deeper into the data and see the use of the word in context.
Compare this with the old version of define results that are still displayed in Google.co.uk:
The new ‘define’ box in Google.com certainly gives you much more varied information, but the Dictionary search option that provided extra definitions has been dropped. It used to be under ‘Search tools’, ‘All results’. It can still be seen in Google.co.uk.
The new define only works on English words or words that have been absorbed into the English language. It can cope with schadenfreude and correctly defines tikka as “an Indian dish of small pieces of meat or vegetables marinated in a spice mixture”. When I asked it to define balti, though, it came up with a simple web definition of it being a city in Moldova. The standard Google web search results came up with the common UK usage of it as a type of curry served in a steel balti bowl. Our (UK) use of the word is probably too local for it to be have been picked up by Google. Similarly, phrases such as “chicken tikka” generally pull up a single web definition although some do trigger the translation options, for example “climate change”, “global warming”.
Overall, I like the new ‘define’ but I regret the loss of the extra definitions that the Dictionary search option offered. Sometimes, the definitions that ‘define’ offers are somewhat impenetrable. The Dictionary option provided a list of alternatives that were more understandable.
I recently co-presented a webinar on researching legal information. The event was organised by TFPL, and Alan Blanchard and myself reviewed free and paid for resources together with key search techniques.
Throughout the session we polled the audience on a number of issues, the first question being “Does price guarantee quality when you are purchasing information?”. Surprisingly, given the topic of the webinar, 70% voted ‘No’ with the remaining 30% opting for ‘I don’t know’ rather than ‘Yes’. When we asked about their opinions on free information, though, 79% said they would need a result from a free source to be validated with a paid resource.
The audience could not qualify their answers – it was a simple yes/no/don’t know – but there were some interesting discussions on the issues after the event. The priced services certainly have to work hard to prove value for money and they cannot assume that their users will automatically renew each year. Free information has a big part to play in legal and business research but it is vital that one is aware of the limitations of free. For example, do you know how up to date legislation.gov.uk is and if it carries revised legislation? (See http://www.legislation.gov.uk/help#aboutRevDate for the answer). And then there is the issue of making Google run your search the way you want it run, without personalisation or deviation.
I am running two public access workshops this autumn for TFPL that look at free versus fee resources for business and legal information. The first, on 19th September 2013, is Business information: key web resources and covers:
- Portals and key starting points
- Company information
- Industry information
- Official statistics, market research
- News sources, RSS and alerting services
- Social media and professional networks
The second is Free resources and search techniques for EU and UK legislation and is on 13th November 2013. It will be looking at:
- How to use advanced search commands to find news and information on legislation
- How to use reading level and date ranges to focus the search
- Searching foreign language pages
- Options for searching journals, research information, grey literature
- Alternatives to Google, specialist tools and sites
- Assessing quality and relevance
Both days include practical sessions and places on the workshops are limited. Contact TFPL for further information and bookings.
It is August bank holiday weekend and in Reading that means Reading Festival (http://www.readingfestival.com/). Festival goers started arriving in dribs and drabs on Wednesday but yesterday (Thursday) the main invasion started. The stages and campsites are upstream from Reading town centre and most of the fans arrive by train. A few walk to the campsite, many pile onto the extra buses laid on by Reading Buses, but it appears that the majority use what has become, over the last few years, the traditional means of transport – boats.
Every year boats ferry people to and from the festival site and among them are usually a couple of Dunkirk little ships. The emergency evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in France took place between 27 May and 4 June 1940. What were needed for the evacuation were boats with shallow draught, and hundreds of pleasure boats, private yachts and launches on the Thames and estuaries along the South and East coasts were involved in the evacuation.
Some of the “little ships”, as they came to be called, are still around and last year I saw the Princess Freda and Devon Belle at work over the festival weekend. I’ve already seen Devon Belle (pictured left) this year.
The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) was founded in 1966 following the 1965 25th anniversary commemoration of the Dunkirk evacuation. The ADLS web site (http://www.adls.org.uk) has a section that lists the specifications and history of the surviving little ships. The entry for Devon Belle, previously Seymour Castle, can be found at http://www.adls.org.uk/t1/content/devon-belle-previously-seymour-castle. It does not yet record the purchase of the boat by Thames Rivercruise (http://www.readingchronicle.co.uk/news/reading/articles/2010/05/20/46728-little-ship-sails-again/).
Check the ADLS database next time you go on a river trip. You may be cruising on a piece of history.
Gas and electricity supply, and energy in general, are constantly in the headlines in the UK. Reports on the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe recently dominated discussions on the topic but the central issue remains. How do we meet our energy needs in the future: gas, coal, nuclear, renewables? Looking at the level of current consumption and how it is generated is key to understanding the nature of the problem. For electricity, there is detailed data available on the status of the UK National Grid and can now be viewed via a service called Gridwatch.
Gridwatch (http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/index.php) shows the demand for electricity in the UK at any one time, the source and how it is being generated. The site is maintained by Templar Consultancy and uses near real-time data from BM Reports on what the UK’s electricity grid is doing. The data is updated every 5 minutes.
The data is presented as a series of dials so that you can easily see how much energy is generated and how that changes throughout the day. Most of the screen is taken up with dials for demand, coal, nuclear, CCGT (gas) and wind.
The right hand area of the screen shows how much electricity is generated through pumped hydro, hydro, biomass and oil, and the level of imported electricity.
Move your cursor over a dial for further information on the different technologies and sources of generation. Coal and nuclear power stations are always switched on and provide most of what is called the base load of electricity required throughout the day. Gas makes up the difference and covers peak demand and balances the variable output from renewables such as wind.
Not much changes during the summer months but the demand can increase dramatically during very cold weather in the winter. It is interesting to see how the dials shift as soon as people get up in the morning. Also, the amount of electricity produced via wind turbines drops to almost zero during stormy weather. The turbines are switched off in high winds to protect them from damage.
Warning: this site can be addictive, especially if you start monitoring it during late autumn and winter!
For more data and statistics on UK energy go to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-energy-climate-change/about/statistics