Saturday, February 15
"Since 2012, the United States has refused to fund the Afghan government’s road maintenance projects because it has no faith in the country’s ability to perform even simple tasks, such as dispatching a contractor to fill in a pothole or repaving a stretch of highway," reports Kevin Seiff for The Washington Post. He adds that the US continues to build new roads to assist the economy. "The new, U.S.-built highways seemed to be a godsend for this impoverished nation. But the projects became notorious for their exorbitant costs and poorly implemented contracts."
Alexa Pena for Stars & Stripes. As US troops prepare to leave this year, responsibility for patrols and checkpoints is being handed over to Afghan troops.
More than two thirds of Afghans live within 30 miles of Highway 1. The highway, also known as A01 is 2,200 kilometers, circling the country, connecting major cities. In the sequel to Fear of Beauty, two characters travel Highway 1 from east of Lashkar Gah in Helmand to Kandahar, and only one returns to the small fictional village of Laashekoh.
Photo of Highway 1 reconstruction in 2003, courtesy of USAID and Wikimedia Commons. Screenshot of the 137-kilometer stretch of Highway 1 between Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, courtesy of Google Maps.
Thursday, February 13
"On Tuesday, campaigners at FreeWeibo, a tool that allows uncensored search of Chinese blogs, revealed that Bing returns radically different results in the US for English and simplified Chinese language searches on a series of controversial terms,” reports Dominic Rushe for The Guardian.. Microsoft called it a system error.
Readers commented, one pointing out that searches for specific religions like "Catholic" or "Methodist" on Google produce maps showing the location of the nearest church. But a search for "Islam" or "Judaism" produced no similar map - even though an Islamic center is less than 2 miles south from the search location and the nearest synagogue is 1 mile north. A quick search on Bing and Google confirmed the commenter's observation. Christians and others also complain about negative search results.
Alert users quickly detect the online discrepancies.
Such exercises are a good reminder that search engine users should be vigilant - and that search results are only as good as the user. Search engine firms tweak algorithms, varying the results produced. Emphasis is placed on a users's own recent searchers. Discrepancies are to be expected. Vary search terms - for example, Rushe describes how Chinese users use "June 4" to get around blocks on "Tiananmen Square." Users should check multiple sources, and results should be double-checked and confirmed.
As Paul Gil notes, legitimate research requires more than a 10-second search on Google or Bing. Rushed results can lead to rush to judgment - both easy to avoid with a few more clicks.
Screenshots of Google searches for "Catholic" and "Islam."