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I recently stole away for a week to get into the next book. I stayed locally, in a student room at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.

Look! So pretty!


This is interesting!

I just got the copyedit of my next book, and it’s a completely different experience. When I copyedited The Whole World (about two years ago, I guess) it was done entirely by hand: a printout had been marked up and then Fed-Ex’d to me, for me to mark up in pencil and Fed-Ex back.

The copyedit I just received for The Start of Everything, however, is electronic! I got it this week over email. The edit uses “track changes,” but, instead of “accepting” or “rejecting” the changes, I’m to accept by ignoring, and reject by adding a comment balloon with the word “stet.” (In editing by hand, I would have rejected something by writing “stet” in the margin.)

Two years ago I was amazed that copyedits were still done by hand. Now I kind of miss it! I was looking forward to holing up at a coffee shop again, with a logpile of new pencils…

Quick post just to say how much I am hating whatever new algorithms Google is employing.

I remember back in the day when Google first came out, and I was skeptical that another search engine was needed. I had AltaVista and Yahoo; what more could one want? This new company Google had a lot of TV commercials, and I remember thinking how silly it was to spend so much money on just another search engine.

I was wrong. Google’s mandate to get you the site you were looking for on the first page of results (often the first hit!) was a revelation. I quickly made it my search engine of choice, and continued to be impressed over the past ten years, as it got better and better at “reading my mind.”

Now it’s gone too far for me. It’s hit Microsoft territory, where it assumes that I’m stupid and so makes decisions for me. I feel like I no longer have power to refine a search to mean what I actually want it to mean. Google keeps interpreting what I write to mean what it THINKS I want it to mean.

Things I hate:

1) I will put in a number of search terms, and Google will only use some of them. I have to put a + next to every single word to prove that I actually want Google to search for all of those words. Even the top hits it gives me will include, say, only three of the four words I have searched for. As soon as I put pluses in, those top hits all disappear. Even if it wants to include options using the majority of my search terms, rather than all, shouldn’t those results be lower down? If there are any pages at all using all my words, shouldn’t they be the top hits?

2) Google searches homonyms now. Drives me crazy. While I appreciate spelling variations, like searching for versions of the word “embarrassed” spelled with one s or one r, searching for “break” when I have typed in the word “brake” is madness. I don’t want hits about things that have broken. I want hits about brake systems!

3) While + and quotes used to be reliable for meaning “I want you to search for this exact thing, darn it!” that is no longer guaranteed. I don’t know how to play the game anymore, honestly. I try and try to search for a specific phrase sometimes and the top hits are for variations of what I have quoted and plussed. The TOP HITS. That’s crazy. Just say “no results found” and I’ll vary my terms.

4) I understand why Google doesn’t count apostrophes or really any symbols. That’s usually helpful. But there are times where a symbol actually alters the meaning of the word or phrase, and I would very much like an option (a backslash, perhaps?) for including it.

5) Where has caching gone? I love using cached versions of pages, because my search terms are highlighted. This is especially important on the iPad, because you can’t search for a word in a web page. When the result is a very long page it can be challenging to find the relevant part. Sometimes the “cached” option is there under each hit, and sometimes not. Where has it gone?

Google: your search engine is jumping the shark. Rein it in, please.

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."