February 3rd, 2011

of maps and search engines

I remember years, ok, decades ago, puzzling over a street in a Thomas Bros. guide (these were spiral bound, highly detailed and accurate maps that I believe were eventually bought out by Rand McNally or something like that -- into the 1990s at least they were the definitive map source for the Northwest corner of the US). I did this a lot, for a variety of reasons when I was younger. I was a JW and we went door to door. I did office temp work, so I'd often plan my route the night before to an unfamiliar place to make sure I allowed enough time to get there. Occasionally I'd need to find an unfamiliar address to go to a social event.

Also, in the same spirit that led me to the dictionary or the encyclopedia to "surf" when I was bored, I would sometimes surf the Thomas Bros. guide.

In any event, I was puzzled because I was looking at an area which I knew really well and I knew perfectly well there was no street there, certainly not one with that name. I eventually went and asked my dad (this really was a long time ago), who explained to me that map makers put fake streets and other features into maps to identify people who are copying the maps illegally. Ah. That's quite clever.


Am I surprised that Microsoft might be using data from google to improve its search results? No. Microsoft has been accused of IP theft on many, many occasions in the past and sometimes, someone had enough lawyers to get a judgment.

Yes, I am referring to the stacker case.


Obviously, Microsoft isn't the only person -- corporate or otherwise -- that has engaged in this kind of thing. (Yes, I am thinking of a former supervisor, who while on staff at UW stole code from a buddy of mine, also on staff.)

I'm especially not surprised to learn that Bing needs some help to get the results it gets. Google gets the results it gets partly because it has algorithms that are Teh Awesome, but partly because it has scale advantages that are probably not possible to replicate. After I retired, but before I moved east the first time, an acquaintance of mine joined the search team at Microsoft. When I found out, I (rudely) sort of (ok, totally) laughed at him, because going to work at Microsoft to do search was not a, let's see if I can say this somewhat less rudely, prestige position. Obviously, he took offense and rattled off all the reasons why they were going to smoke google's butt. Since he's now working at my former employer (bizarrely, according to wikipedia anyway, heading up a team to continue development on something that I wrote the initial version of back in 1998), I can only conclude that things did not go quite the way he had hoped.

I am happy, incidentally, to see the authority code getting attention. What I put in place was very, very skeletal.

I am particularly charmed by google's choice of fake "street name": Hiybbprqag.

recent long posts about genealogy

I recently posted some very long stuff about genealogy. The "Another" story is not recent; the work in that story is from a few years back. The "A Story" in 2 parts plus a Moral is what I've been working on this year that resulted in re-establishing contact with a branch of the family that last had contact with my branch sometime in the early 1980s when my grandfather died (they were sent a notice of the funeral). My aunt probably had out of date addresses for them; they actually had valid contact information, since a family member still lives in the house where my grandfather lived, but no one on that side was actively pursuing it. They were interested in contact, however.

Most exciting on that side is that I now know a little more about my great-uncle: the name of the woman he married, and I'm now tracing her line.

I've really wanted to share this as a story in a way that would be publicly visible, because I think the story is an interesting one, potentially useful to someone who is thinking about doing some genealogy but has no idea what the process might feel like. I'm not giving enough information to help someone _do_ the work, obviously -- just enough of a story to suggest that anyone with a little information and some determination really can make meaningful progress, particularly the online datasets that are increasingly available.

I've also had to balance this against my own privacy concerns, and the privacy concerns of other people I mention in the stories. As a result, the only names I've supplied are both distant from me, and the name of one person in particular who made a really concerted public effort in genealogy already.

I'm happy to share more information in a less public way. Anyone interested in looking at my tree on ancestry.com is welcome to contact me. My husband and my newfound relative are both editors on the tree and now that I'm over the anxiety bump of omg what if they mess it all up, I'm more than happy to give more people access if they'd like to contribute to the tree (more people, photos, etc.).

My Uncle Harry's Mystery Marriage

I grew up in a family with rigid beliefs about a lot of things and, as an inevitable consequence, a lot of people doing things at odds with those beliefs. As children, we were mostly just unaware of a lot of this stuff. As we got older, we inevitably both noticed more things and got more persistent with our questions. And once we could drive and socialize independently, other Jehovah's Witnesses would volunteer information about our dirty secrets if we didn't know about them already. At the time, this was all very disturbing. Now, of course, it seems so predictable it is almost boring.

However when I was all excited about tracking down Long Lost Relatives, one of my cousins-by-marriage (on my mother's side), who is also an fb friend, brought up My Uncle Harry's Mystery Marriage. He had heard the story from (and I'm not making this up) one of my cousin's on my father's side. Small world, etc. I relayed to him the marriage record for that marriage that I had stumbled across, pointing out along the way the notable fact that the officiant for that marriage in 1967 was my sister C.'s father-in-law.

I did mention the small world, right?

Anyway. My Uncle Harry married a woman named Audrey M. in 1967, Harold H. officiating. I found this when I was searching for my great-uncle Harry's marriage certificate (which I eventually found after my newly-reconnected distant cousin told me the bride's name), and noted the information down. I know that Audrey and Harry were still married in 1969, because I distinctly remember seeing a card from Audrey in my baby book. My cousin had it in his head that the child might be my Uncle Harry's, but I had been told years ago when I first heard the story that it was not and knowing now that she was born in 1922 makes it really, really unlikely that anyone was lying about that. (<-- Notice I did not say impossible.)

Today, I thought, gee, I wonder if I can find her first marriage? Sure enough, there it is, to Roy. And while Audrey died in 1989, Roy hung on until 2000 (my Uncle Harry is still alive). This is a little less improbable than it might seem; Audrey married younger men both times.

When my cousin brought the whole story up, he mentioned that he'd heard she was a little nutty. I pointed out that anyone who married my Uncle Harry would _have_ to be more than a little nuts (even in 1967 as a single mother). But a woman who marries younger men [edited to correct where I initially typed women!] twice and gets divorced twice? Back then? Now I sorta wish I'd known her. She sounds like a Character. Audrey and Audrey's first husband Roy are easily findable in my online tree. Audrey's also connected to a Living ---, which would be my Uncle Harry. I really don't mind violating his privacy. Not one little tiny bit.