Gizmo Watch November 2006

Searches, Backups, Soul of a New Program

Last month I mentioned several search engines that “cluster” or classify the pages they have found, rather than presenting a plain Google- or Yahoo-style list of results. Another worth considering is Kartoo, which was created by two young developers in France. Like Grokker and some other clustering sites, Kartoo presents a visual map of pages related to your query, with conceptually similar sites bunched together and with links showing which bunch of results is related to which other bunch. Ujiko, another clustering engine from the same company, displays results with a different, dial-like map, and claims to be able to improve its search sophistication over time, as it observes which results you end up clicking on. Each is worth a look.

Mooter, from a company in Australia, produces sparer-looking but otherwise similar conceptual maps of search results. Indeed, its interface is so plain that it closely resembles Google’s original site, before home-page links were added for News, Video, Images, Maps, and Google’s other new features.

The month before that, I discussed the tedious but important obligation to make regular file backups, not simply to avoid being flummoxed by a hard-drive crash but also to preserve information that might be trapped in an outdated operating system. A new service called Carbonite automates this process by copying every file on your computer, or some subset of files that you select, into an encrypted online storage site. You specify what you’d like backed up, and the rest happens automatically. The service costs $50 a year for an unlimited amount of data. It can take a week or more to do the full initial backup, but neither during that process nor afterward does Carbonite slow the computer’s other operations.

And one month before that, I described the effort to create a new program called Chandler. This month’s tech-literature pick, Dreaming in Code, by Scott Rosenberg, is the full chronicle of that effort. The book is the first true successor to Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine, and is written with a combination of technical sophistication and narrative skill not seen in many years. Read it to understand what all these software wizards actually do. —J.F.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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