Alternative search engines to Google

I am making a personal effort to avoid using Google lately. If you’ve talked to me lately, you know why–and to be polite I’m going to keep my psychotic ranting and hating off my weblog. So, other than Google, what is there?

If you can remember the 90s, Alta Vista was the search engine that was all the rage. In my opinion, Alta Vista’s peak was when they were owned by Digital Computer Corporation, but it all went downhill when they split off into their own company during the dot-com boom of the late 90s. Today, Alta Vista clearly shows signs of neglect, and is not a very good search engine…

If you pay attention to the news, you’d know that Google does not like MSN Search very much: so much so that Google is suing Microsoft over search engine placement in Internet Explorer 7. I’m not so sure what Google is worried about, because if you use MSN Search for a while, you realize it’s not very good and doesn’t hold a candle to Google’s search results.

However, Microsoft’s “beta” search engine, Windows Live, is a different story. If Microsoft replaces MSN Search with the technology powering Windows Live, Google better start getting worried. Search results are a little bit more broad than Google, but still remain concise and accurate. Windows Live, however, has a totally horrible UI. It’s awful! It’s the definition of when you go overkill with AJAX and DHTML. Besides being slow, it does not work too well with Mozilla Firefox, and my personal pet peeve: it uses low-contrast greys and blues in its design, so it can be a strain to read anything.

Fortunately, you’re not forced to use Windows Live’s interface, because there a few partners using their search results. Amazon’s A9 search engine now fetches results from Windows Live, and its UI is great. For some hard-to-quantify reason I like its UI more than Google’s.

Last but not least is Alltheweb. Bought by Yahoo a few years ago, Alltheweb has always delivered great search results, but was too little to be really compete with the big boys. Being small, they’ve had some interesting innovative features, such as custom CSS for those who want to customize how their search results look.

Yahoo is continuing the the tradition, especially with Alltheweb’s Livesearch. Unlike Windows Live, Alltheweb’s Livesearch uses AJAX in quite a slick way, providing a unique search UI that is focused on providing suggestions, similar to Google Suggest, but better.

So, what do I use for my Google-free web searching? Mostly, Amazon’s A9, as well as Alltheweb when I feel like it.

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Unreal Tournament 2007 screenshots from E3 2006

Beyond Unreal has some ridiculously high-resolution Unreal Tournament 2007 screenshots from E3 2006. Well, they’re not that high resolution–the images are just large.

The vehicles look cool. I was excited about Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 before, and right now it’s safe to say I’m excited by the Unreal Tournament 2007 title too. Yes, graphics is not everything… but if Unreal Tournament 1999 and Unreal Tournament 2003/2004 are any indication, Epic certainly understands how to deliver gameplay.

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Upgrading samat.org to Drupal 4.7

I’m in the process of upgrading this site to Drupal 4.7. Expect a lot to be broken, especially links. Please let me know if you find any problems!

Some changes:

Conversion of Topics taxonomy from a hierarchal taxonomy to a flat, free-tagging taxonomy.

I previously had the “Topics” taxonomy as a hierarchal tree, for example, CentOS would be under Linux. It looked like a good idea before I started to use it, but Drupal and hierarchies don’t work as well as I’d like… I converted it to a flat list, and then turned it into a Drupal 4.7 free-tagging taxonomy. Hopefully this will lead to better tagging of my posts.

Modiying page URLs to end in *.html.

I don’t need to do this, but I want to. It looks nicer, it makes pages easier to save, and it facilitates moving to another CMS if the need ever arises. For many URLs I’ve used permanent redirects to prevent old links from breaking.

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Best SSH options for X11 forwarding

Many versions of SSH, including the extremely common OpenSSH, provide support a feature known as “X11 forwarding.”

Say on you are on one computer running an X server. You want to be able to run a GUI program on another computer (to, say, access files on it), but display the program on the computer you’re sitting at. SSH’s X11 forwarding lets you do this easily in one command, without having to worry about firewalls and permissions.

But it’s a bit slow. There are several options to SSH that you can use to make things faster.

The “-c” option allows selection of cipher for a connection. The default AES cipher is extremely slow: you can get much better performance out of the arcfour and blowfish ciphers. I’ve noticed arcfour to perform the best, but there have been legitimate complaints in the cryptography community about whether or not it is “secure.” If your paramount concern is security, go with blowfish, as it can be just as fast.

The “-C” option enables compression for an SSH connection. On anything but LAN links, compression can make a big difference. SSH performs packet-based compression. That is, it can only compress the data immediately available to it, whatever may be contained in the packet it is currently processing. This immediately limits how much compression can be done, and results in bad compression ratios. But it is usually better than nothing.

All this can be incorporated into a simple bash alias:

alias ssh-x='ssh -c arcfour,blowfish-cbc -XC'

To run a program “xterm” on machine “baz.example.com” but display its GUI on the local machine, simply run:

ssh-x baz.example.com xterm

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