Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

January, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How well do you use search engines?


    One of the things that amazes me is how poorly many people are at using Internet search engines. Students are particularly bad at it. You would be amazed at what they can't find. Recently I found out about a game called Page Hunt. I’d like to get a lot of students to play it myself. They may find out they are not as swift at searches as they think but more importantly they may get better at it. Either that or they may make search better by supplying data to the research project that Page Hunt is part of.

    A brief blurb about the game:

    This game is like search in reverse:  you're shown a web page, which you have to ‘hunt down' using queries sent to Live Search.

    When you see the web page, think of a set of terms that would return this page.

    You type these words  into a search box. Page Hunt shows the top 5 results for this query from Microsoft’s Live Search.

    You get points if the web page you're 'hunting' is one of these top 5 result pages: 100 points if it's at position 1, 90 points at position 2 etc. If you don’t get it right, change the query and try hunting again. If you get it right, you advance to the next page.

    Occasionally, you'll see very frequent queries listed for a page. If you don't use these queries to hunt these pages, you'll get a 50% bonus when you crack that page. And sometimes, just for fun, we give you other bonuses!

    If you move the mouse away from the search box, it becomes slightly transparent, so you can see the page better. You can also move the box around if you like. If you get stuck on a page, you can click on the Skip button to go to the next web page, with no penalty in your score. If you encounter a page which does not render properly, or is bad in any way, click on the Bad Page button to flag it.

    Each session of the game is 3 minutes long. At the end of a session, you get your session score. At the end of a session, you can review each page, the searches you tried and the results you got from Live Search.

    The game uses Silverlight, so you may be prompted to load Silverlight when you first run it. 

    Page Hunt is actually part of a research project that is trying to improve online search by looking at how people actually use search. How metadata is used and other attributes of both web pages and the way people form queries. So if you think online search could be better playing this game may help improve things. And honestly I find it fun trying to find out how many pages I can “find” in the 3 minute time period.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    PostRank Ranks My Top Recent Posts


    I was playing with PostRank the other day and got an interesting (well to me anyway) list of the top rated blog posts I’ve made recently. The number to the left is a ranking score that as best I can tell is calculated using things like number of comments, links to it determined by Google blog search,  Twitter mentions and a number of other web sights that involve something loosely called engagement.

    Top Posts

    I'm not sure how valid a score this is and apparently there are PostRank gadgets that people use that also help figure into the calculations. I’m really surprised about the Thanksgiving reading and wireless power posts though. Those were not posts I thought were particularly good or important. Though I did like the links I linked to for Thanksgiving.

    But for the time being I though I would just share one view of what my top recent posts are.  Are any of my readers using PostRank? How useful are you finding it? Are the results what you’d expect?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Coding Up A Coded Message


    I love codes and ciphers. As a kid I loved to play with simple substitution ciphers. Since I like these sorts of applications anyway I was happy to see at post on the Visual Basic team blog called Sshhh… it’s a secret (Matt Gertz) I love the story of how Matt used a code as a seventh grader to sort of/kind of communicate his affections for a girl. I think that middle school was when I started getting interested in codes so I could communicate without anyone knowing what I was communicating. Later in life I learned how to write in mirror image (I was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci and his notebooks) so I could keep a journal that would not be easy for others to read. But of course real codes are harder to break/read but they are also harder to actually use to encode messages. The code that Matt shows how to use is called the Vigenère method and is simple to understand and use but hard to break. A little tedious to use though. So a computer program is a natural.

    Codes are natural applications for computer software because they can be so tedious to do by hand. Tedious is one of those emotions I think we’re all glad that computers don’t have. :-) Matt has some sample code and some images you can download as well as some code in the blog post itself. He really explains things well too. As someone who is always concerned about the need to teach input validation I was very pleased to see that Matt spends some time on validation code in his program. So this blog post was great in my opinion. Check it out.

     In related news, the FBI is apparently in the code education and challenge business. See the code to break on the FBI's home page at and at the code challenge page. There is an easy code at code on the FBI Kids' page.

    Also there is this interesting page at PBS that includes a video. [Thanks to @higgysports who sent me that link on Twitter. I'm learning a lot on Twitter these days.]

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