R is for R

[N] I accidentally typed n into google the other day. I meant to type “n” into my address bar to bring up news.google.ie, but I typed it into the search box instead and found myself staring at the first entry on the results page before I realised my mistake. It had the enigmatic title “N : Puzzle-Platformer with Physics and Style”, so I had to click. N turned out to be a nifty little game written in ActionScript which seems to have a very loyal following, but what I really liked on their website was a tutorial on the physics used to create a realistic physical interaction between the objects in the game. The tutorial is short and accessible, with great use of simple interactive flash to demonstrate some of the mathematical principles being discussed. So check out N, and remember, “the ninja is driven not only by a thirst for gold, but also by a physics simulation.” Quite true in general, that.

Anyway, after spending a few minutes on the N site, and since I am an R user, it occurred to me that there might be other single-letter gems out there. So, in the interest of science, I decided to systematically proceed through the letters of the alphabet and see what other exciting discoveries would crop up on the first search results page. Here are my field notes.

[A] A List Apart makes it in at number 6, and the <a> HTML element is there at number 3, but the first link on Google is to Wikipedia’s entry on “A”. I always love reading the definitions of letters in dictionaries. This entry is, evidently, a target for wikispammers seeking to take advantage of its status as the first alphabetical entry in the google-verse; the wikipedia entry was locked down when I visited it.

[B] The Physical Review journal, the scholarly journal of the American Physical Society, has editions designated by letters, and the B edition just edges out Wikipedia’s entry on “B” for first place on a google search for ‘b’. (Physical Review A comes in 4th on the A page.) The B journal relates to Condensed Matter and Materials Physics, so research into semiconductors and Giant Magnetoresistance would be published here. For example:

G. Binasch, P. Gr├╝nberg, F. Saurenbach, W. Zinn. 1989. “Enhanced magnetoresistance in Fe-Cr layered structures with antiferromagnetic interlayer exchange”. Physical Review B39. 4282.

Basically, this is one of the journals where people working to maintain Moore’s law publish their findings. Check out their extensive RSS feeds page if you want to keep up with the latest research.

© the speed of light = 299 792 458 m / s. Very important for many reasons. The Wikipedia entry for the poor letter C is nowhere to be seen, but the Wikipedia entry for the C programming language is the first “real” google link returned. (C is also the ticker for Citigroup so that comes up just after the speed of light, but that’s a Google Finance link.) The rest of the page is pretty much C, C++ and C – - links.

[D] The D programming language is here, of course. So is the D-Lib Magazine for digital library research and development. And D-Link just gets in at the bottom of the page. I just think D-Link routers are ugly. Probably a silly prejudice. I must have had a bad experience trying to get one working once.

[E] This is a rather transcendental page. We have e = 2.71828183 at the very top of the page as a google calculator link, along with a Wikipedia entry and a Wolfram Mathworld page about the base of the natural logarithm. We also have Physical Review E (Statistical, Nonlinear and Soft Matter Physics). Then there’s E – TextEditor | The power of TextMate on Windows and of course eBay.

[F] Not very many hits of interest here, we have the F programming language and the F-Root nameserver.

[G] G brings us Gmail, the geeinbaghdad blog (that’s an impressive position for a blog that hasn’t been posted to since 2003) and the Type G Electric Plug, which is feeding my MacBook even as I type.

[H] There’s Hydrogen, the building block of the universe. And then there’s the H.264 video codec, the building block of MPEG-4.

[I] i is for iTunes. The imaginary number i is down at 3rd. Then we have Star Wars Episode I and I, Robot in the IMDB. There’s something called i-am-bored.com, and then there’s this:

I am nerdier than 88% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

I would probably have scored higher than 88% except they have some anachronistic questions about graphing calculators. (I assume lots of people posting ‘I am nerdier than…’ is responsible for a site called nerdtests.com showing up on the ‘i’ page.)

[J] I never knew that there was a J programming language or a J text editor (written in java).

[K] K brings us Boltzmann’s constant, which appears in Boltzmann’s entropy formula which has applications to information theory. K also brings us the International Plastics and Rubber trade fair (which looks rather interesting, actually), KDE and the K root server.

[L] Okay, my first total blank. LaTeX is result No. 11!! It’s on Page 2! Page 1 of L is totally geekless. This must be stopped. Please add L is for LaTeX links!

[M] Well I won’t ask you to link to the M Root DNS Server to boost its ranking so it gets onto the first page, which means I’ll have to refer you to the Wikipedia page on the metre for an ‘m’ geek fix. Go metric system!

0 That’s a zero. I’m cheating. There was nothing interesting under O, except oxygen. Zero is, of course, rather useful in mathematics and computing. It’d be rather difficult to have a binary numeral system or write machine language without it. Using binary arithmetic you can count up to 1,023 using your two hands. For example, using this technique to represent the number 4 would involve tightening your right hand into a fist, then extending your middle finger upwards. Yet more evidence that the number 4 is evil? The 0 search results page also has XHTML 1.0, several links about Web 2.0 and J2SE version 1.5.0.

[P] Here we have a few different links describing the HTML paragraph tag <p> and also P as in NP.

[Q] Q is open source OS X virtualization/emulation software, it’s a cocoa port of QEMU. Q is also a functional programming language. And Q-BAL is a language “based on queues rather than stacks”, the up to date Q-BAL page is here (but the old page is the one which shows up on google).

® Ah, home sweet R. The R Project for Statistical Computing. R is a statistical programming language and software package based on the S language which was developed at Bell Labs. The search for R also brings up a MMORP game called RuneScape, and Flickr also makes an appearance at the bottom of page.

[S] S-Plus, the commercial implementation of S, has a website which annoys me. This is software targeted at statisticians, and the website claims “Create statistical applications up to five times faster with the S language”. Five times faster than what? Based on what evidence? Where is the link to the white paper backing up this claim? And why are all your white papers login-only? And sheesh get mod_rewrite and clean up your URLs already. Okay, maybe we can have an S is for Craigslist campaign to push S-Plus off of page one.

[T] The letter T brings us AT&T as the top link. I’ve always had a rather romantic perception of Bell Labs, mostly because of the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, and, well, okay the invention of little things like UNIX and C. Bell Labs was, of course, spun off from AT&T several years ago so regardless of how you might feel about AT&T you can still have a warm glowing feeling about the innovations which have came out of Bell Labs over the years. By the way, one of my favourite podcasts at the moment is Cory Doctorow reading The Hacker Crackdown, and there are lots of tidbits about AT&T in there. Search for the phrase ‘attempted improvement’ in the text of The Hacker Crackdown to get to a really entertaining description of a simple software bug which caused a major telephone system outage.

[U] U gives us YouTube, Apple’s iTunes University and the (deprecated) HTML u element. Ha ha. You can’t click on that. It’s underlined, not a hyperlink. That’s why it’s deprecated.

[V] V is a C++ Gui Framework, and the V results page also has a link to the Victoria and Albert Museum. There will be a Rails application (twittervision) in the Museum of Modern Art soon, so perhaps the V&A is next.

[W] The best thing on this page is the Wikipedia entry for the letter W, here’s a sample: “This gives the nine-syllable initialism ”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web">www the irony of being an abbreviation that takes three times as many syllables to say as the unabbreviated form."

[X] Lots to choose from here. We have X Windows, more X Windows and the Wikipedia article about X Windows. There’s also Apple’s OS X, the PayPal Labs page at x.com and the X Javascript library. If you’re bored then there’s the X Prize or the X-Men page on IMDB.

[Y] Y gives us Yahoo! mail and Yahoo! as the top hits. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s page on the Y chromosome, which is basically a collection of links on genetics, can also be found here.

[Z] Z (pronounced “”http://vl.zuser.org/zed.au">zed") is a formal specification notation based on set theory and first order predicate logic. Check out their web page, very entertaining. (I especially like the list of “entirely different and unrelated ‘z’ links”. Apparently “If you cannot stand vi, ”http://zed.c3po.it/“>this is the editor for you.”) Z is named (indirectly) for mathematician Ernst Zermelo, who is quoted as saying “…self-evidence … must not be confused with … provability.” If that sounds profound to you then check out Z, otherwise it’s probably not going to be your cup of tea.

Well, that’s the alphabet. Actually, what I found most interesting about this exercise was the SEO aspect. Some sites, like R, are intrinsically related to the searched-for letter. Others, like nerdtests.com, earn their place on the top-ten page based on commonly used link text. Some sites which show up are very highly ranked sites generally which simply have the searched-for letter somewhere in their name, or perhaps just on the page somewhere.

Finally, if you try any of these searches yourself then YMMV. I suspect these results will be more volatile than the results of searching for a whole word, especially where the link to a letter is coincidental rather than inherent.