Well, Google did it to me again. Every time I look at their Top Charts, I find something confusing.

This time around, it’s the “Animals” chart. It’s not that the chart itself is confusing, nor are there any peculiar entries. No, what’s confusing me is the actual data.

Number One: “Dog”

Number Two: “Cat”

And it’s not even close. If we can believe Google, people search for dogs more than twice as often as they search for cats. And it’s been that way since Google started keeping statistics back in 2004. Here’s the comparative popularity of dogs and cats as measured by Google over the past decade:

“OK,” I hear you say. “People are more interested in dogs than cats. So what?”

Well, it just doesn’t make sense. The Internet was created for cats. Nobody wastes their entire day looking at videos of dogs in boxes. Nobody obsessively creates LOLDog images*. There’s no mythology of Basement Dog, Ceiling Dog, or even Monorail Dog.

* Yeah, OK, there is Doge. But his followers are a lunatic fringe, and he’s only been hot for the past year. Doesn’t explain the numbers prior to 2013.

So what’s going on? I can only come up with two possibilities. Either our Evil Feline Masterminds are attempting to minimize their visibility on the Internet, or the Criminal Canine Conspiracy is staging a takeover.

I don’t see an obvious way to establish which is correct–though if we see a surge in feline snuff videos, that would be a pretty good indication that the CCC is adopting ISIS’ tactics*.

* By that logic, a surge in videos featuring non-fatal violence against cats would suggest the CCC is fronting for the NFL. Or maybe using the Internet to facilitate a takeover of the NFL. There are, after all, four cat-related team names (Bengals, Lions, Jaguars, and Panthers), but not a single dog-related team name.

My money is on the EFM scenario. There’s been a real shortage of news coverage of criminal cats lately. Take another look at that chart. Notice how smooth the cat curve is compared to the dog curve. The variations in the canine searches strikes me as suspicious. Why would it suddenly peak, then drop back? Those are the kind of numbers you would see if a random number of searches were being added to the actual interest levels.

I suspect the EFM has been conducting a disinformation campaign, pumping “dog” searches into Google late at night when their cover humans aren’t online. Check your browser history, especially if you spot suspicious cat hair on your keyboard.

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

I was thinking it’s been a while since I did a general “food” post. I’ve done several recipies, but the last genre survey/rant was arguably December’s leftover turkey discussion. Less controversially, you would have to go back to August for the pizza post and its shocking news about spinach.

I wound up doing the pizza post when I noticed that pizza was eternally at the top of Google’s trends in food searches and consistently dominated the “fast food” category as well. Parenthetically, did you know that interest in pizza peaks on Saturdays? You probably could have guessed that; the bit I found most interesting was that the lowest valleys in interest are on Tuesdays. Why Tuesday? I would have expected it to slide around the middle of the week. But I digress.)

OK, that makes it easy to find a new topic, right? Just check the trends and see what’s number two behind pizza, and I’m all set. I figured the odds were pretty good that it would be burgers. They’re currently hot, judging by the commercials I’m seeing on TV, and the perennial popularity of McDonald’s in the fast food category.

Burgers would have been a problem, actually. I mean, there are plenty of things you can put on a burger, but burger eaters seem to be creatures of habit, even more than pizza eaters. Either you’re already experimenting with toppings or you’ve settled on a single configuration (and the odds say that’s “with bacon and cheese”). If you’re in the first set, you’re not going to gain anything from the amount of guidance I can give in a general survey. If you’re in the latter group, you’re not going to listen to me anyway*.

* On the off chance that I’m wrong about that, I’d suggest starting easy. Try a cheese that isn’t generic “Cheddar” or “American”. Blue is good, and most burger joints joints have some on hand–even if it’s only in the form of salad dressing.

Much to my surprise, burgers don’t even make the Top Twenty list in Google’s “Foods” category. Number Two is “Chicken”. Well, crud. Aside from the fact that I’ve already done several chicken recipes, chicken is the second-most boring foodstuff in existence (behind tofu, naturally). No problem, I’ll try the next one down the list.

Number Three is “cake”. Cake? Come on, Google, cake isn’t a food, it’s an art form. There are plenty of blogs covering cake already–and I don’t bake.

Moving on to Number Four. “Egg.” No, not “eggs.” Just “egg.” Singular. What the hell can you do with one egg? I don’t have a clue. I eat an occasional omelet, which requires more than one egg, thank you. Beyond that, I eat plenty of things that contain eggs, but not much in the way of actual egg dishes. Side question: Are eggs good for you or bad for you this week? I’ve lost track of the current nutritional gospel.

Next? The next three items on the “Food” chart are “Coffee,” “Wine,” and “Beer”. Excuse me? Those are beverages, not foods. Toss ’em off the list and move everything else up three slots.

With the beverages banished, Number Five is “Cheese”. Touched on that in the burger footnote. I could probably milk “cheese” as a subject for a week. On the udder hand, I did that for butter, so doing it for cheese seems redundant.

Number Six: “Bread”. Sigh As the Big G notes, “Bread is a staple food…” Yeah, it is. Sure, there are millions of variations in bread. Billions when you start looking at all of the combinations of form factor, core ingredients, and flavorings. But let’s face it: bread isn’t really a standalone food, it’s more of a supporting element in the larger meal. Important, sure, but you’re probably going to pick your bread once you’ve settled on a main dish.

We’ll toss out “Tea”, pulling “Beef” up another slot to Number Seven. That was one of the first posts on the blog. A popular one, too. Been there, done that, as the hip kids don’t say anymore. Moving on.

Number Eight is “Milk”. Whoops, nope. ‘Nother beverage. Out it goes, with an added kick in the pants for redundancy a la “cheese”. Number Eight is “Potato”. You’ve already go my favorite potato recipe. Anything else I say about it would be anti-climactic.

“Taco” slides up the chart and into the Number Nine slot. Hmm. We could have some fun with a “soft versus hard” debate. Argue whether it’s absolutely necessary to bread the fish in a fish taco. Discuss whether what Taco Bell sells is actually “food”. This has some potential. Put it in the envelope.

Number Ten: “Cookie”. See “Cake”.

That wasn’t nearly as productive as I had hoped. I’m over 800 words into the post, and I’ve only now managed to settle on a topic. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek behind the scenes at how a blog post comes to be. Tune in Thursday when we’ll actually talk about tacos. Excuse me. “Taco”.

What’s Up With That

Time for another look at the world’s preoccupations as revealed by Google Trends.

Can anyone explain this to me: Yesterday’s top search was for “Edie Brickell”. I know why she’s topping the chart (something she hasn’t done since last year’s collaboration with Steve Martin hit number one on the bluegrass charts, by the way). That’s the result of her court appearance with husband Paul Simon. My question is why everyone is searching for her. Poor Paul failed to crack the top searches list and is relegated to “Related searches”.

That does seem to be typical–women draw more search interest than men. Another example: yesterday’s number three search was “On the Run Tour”, for a concert tour by Jay Z and Beyonce. Today’s number one search is for Beyonce herself. Jay Z didn’t even make the list as “related”.

The number two search yesterday, for what it’s worth, was “Arkansas tornado”. Today’s number two is “Firefox”. Clearly that second slot is reserved for disasters. No, I’m not suggesting that the new UI introduced in today’s Firefox release is a disaster–I haven’t seen it myself yet, so I’ll reserve my opinion for now. I suspect a large part of Firefox’s sudden popularity is the result of the massive publicity blitz warning people away from Internet Explorer. Changing browsers takes a much smaller investment of time and energy than changing operating systems. We may never see the end of XP, but maybe we can eradicate IE in our lifetimes.

Short attention span theatre: Racist remarks by LA Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling nailed the number one slot in Sunday’s search list, outscoring the runner-up by a score of two to one. (Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the runner up was Chicago’s hockey team, the “Blackhawks”?) By yesterday, though, the public had had their fill of Mr. Sterling’s opinions about race relations. He didn’t even make the list, beaten out by such thrillers as “Cinco de Mayo” (#16), “AAPL” (#11), and “Problem Ariana Grande” (#4). Apparently people are trying to figure out whether selling their stock will let them buy some new music to listen to while getting drunk Monday.

For the record (no pun intended), “Problem” is the title of Ms. Grande’s single. As far as I can tell, she is not in any trouble personally, professionally, or legally. Which may make her unique in the top searches list. Aside from the aforementioned Edie Brickell, we’ve got “Craig Ferguson” (quitting his job), “Dani Alves” (subject of racist abuse and hurled bananas), “Jack Ramsay” and “DJ EZ Rock” (died), “Tori Spelling” and “Amy Purdy” (hospitalized), and “Michael Grimm” (arrested and charged with 20 counts of fraud). Congratulations to Ms. Grande.

Short Takes on the News

America is thinking with its collective stomach again.

As I write this, the top search on Google–in fact, the only search with enough activity to make it to the Hot Searches page–is for information on a Hot Pocket recall.

I like a fresh-from-the-oven* chunk of processed food-like substance as much as the next guy**, but really people, is this the most important thing going on in the world today?

* Forget the microwave. A nuked Hot Pocket is a flabby, vaguely disgusting thing. A baked Hot Pocket may still be vaguely disgusting, but at least it has a crispy crust.

** I should probably get a new fact-checker. I don’t even know who this “next guy” is, but sales figures strongly suggest that he likes Hot Pockets considerably more than I do.

Yesterday’s top search was for information on the winning Powerball lottery ticket. Somebody in California is getting $425 million. That’s before taxes, naturally; if they go for the lump payment, the after tax amount is likely to be closer to $4.25*. Let me go on record here and officially announce that I am not the winner. Darn it.

* Do the math, Beth. $100 million is closer to $4.25 than to $425,000,000. See, I do know a little about taxes…

What I find most interesting about the lottery being the top search is its margin of victory over the next most common searches.. It beat out Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp by 2:1; ditto for Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold and for Olympic hockey.

I find this sort of heartening. Really. I’ve complained in the past about Americans’ search fascination with sports, scandal, and sex, so it’s rather pleasant to see them taking such a strong interest in someone else’s good fortune. (I have to believe that the majority of those million-plus searches were not people trying to find out whether they had won. Have to. I’m probably wrong with that belief, but if I need to maintain some illusions about humanity in order to live with them.)

Looking further down the list, we see America’s usual obsessions creeping in. We’ve already mentioned the Olympics, which some people consider to be sports (the rest of us think of them as more of an exercise in politically-themed performance art). Then there’s Ray Rice allegedly beating his fiancee, which qualifies as both sports and scandal. No, not sports like that. Ray Rice plays football–or at least he has up until now. It remains to be seen whether his employer (the Baltimore Ravens) will follow the example set by the New England Patriots in the Aaron Hernandez case last year and terminate Rice’s contract if he’s indicted.

Hmm. Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner finished ninth in the search standings. Presumably her sixth-place standing in the competion makes her less than half as interesting as fellow American Gracie Gold’s fourth place. There’s clearly an exponential factor at work here: Polina Edmunds’ seventh place wasn’t even enough for her to crack Google’s top twenty.

Late update: There’s now a second search in today’s Hot Searches list: Olympic figure skater Mao Asada has made the list, trading on both sports and scandal: former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshior Mori, now chairman of the organizing committee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics publicly criticized Asada’s ability in the wake of her 16th place finish.

Americans are still more interested in Hot Pockets, however. A triumph of the stomach?


We’re back to Google’s hot searches today. I know we just hit it last week, but something popped up that struck me as interesting. (There’s probably a blog post in why peeking at someone else’s searches is so fascinating. This isn’t that post.)

As we’ve discussed in the past, top searches tend to fall into a few recurring categories. Chief among these are sports and partially-dressed women. Monday’s top searches are such a classic example that I had to share it with you. Here’s the top five:

  1. Raiders (for those of you who don’t follow sports, that’s the Oakland Raiders American football team)
  2. Scarlett Johansson (let’s just note that Google’s thumbnail image for this search shows her in a skin-toned tank top and move on)
  3. Atlanta Falcons (another American football team)
  4. Red Sox (over to baseball)
  5. Presidents Cup Streaker (yes, a nearly nude woman ran onto the course at a golf match)

So in the top five results, we have four sporting events and two partially-clad women. So why did I find this interesting? Well, mostly because the streaker only made it to Number Five. Why didn’t an event that combined sports and bare bodies rank higher in the American psyche?

I don’t have any definitive answers for the question, but I do have some ideas.

  • People are bored with streakers – It’s possible. Certainly the pictures of the event seem to include a number of bored-looking spectators. There may be a certain amount of editorial bias in the selection of still photos, though: the videos show more interested-looking onlookers. More generally, Google’s historic results show a definite downward trend in searches for streakers over the past decade.
  • Maybe it’s just Americans losing interest – Google’s trend data points out that the most searches for streakers come from New Zealand, Australia, and the UK. Maybe it’s only Americans who are bored with streakers. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald traces streaking back to London in 1799. It’s only reasonable that members of the late, great British Empire would take a proprietary interest in keeping the tradition alive. On the other hand, Canada and India show even less interest than the U.S.
  • It’s golf – I had to suggest it, since golf is far from the most popular spectator sport. But the fact that the Presidents Cup made the top searches list last week without a streaker’s involvement implies that someone (actually, quite a few someones) is paying attention to golf.
  • She wasn’t nude – Frankly, this is the most convincing theory to me. Once people heard that she was wearing a thong and (as one news report put it) “strategically placed red, white and blue stickers”, they lost interest.

Obviously, more data is necessary. We need to do some controlled experiments. By varying the types of events streaked at and the amount of clothing that the streakers wear, we can begin eliminating some of the possibilities above. We do need to control the other variables, though. Age and sex of the streaker seem likely to skew the response (though that might be the subject of another set of experiments). Since it seems unlikely that Ms Webster, the Presidents Cup streaker, will be available for the complete run of experiments, we’re going to need some volunteers. Women in their early 20s who are willing to bare some-or-all in the name of SCIENCE! are invited to drop a line to their local university. Psychology PhD candidates are standing by.


This has been bugging me for a while, and since I’m feeling curmudgeonly today, I’m going to rant for a bit. I’ve already posted a cute cat picture, so I figure I’m entitled.

Google has a variety of pages that show trends in what people are currently searching for. The most visually spectacular is the “Hot Searches Visualization“, which shows “the latest hot searches”, updating live as new requests come in.

Then there’s the main “Hot Trends” page, which gives a static view of the most frequent searches along with an approximate count of the number of requests for each. (As I write this, four of the top five searches are “Lil Snupe”, “Miley Cyrus”, “Shailene Woodley”, and “John McAfee”*; clearly America has a deep interest in popular culture – but its attention span is getting shorter: James Gandolfini was the runaway top search Wednesday (5,000,000+ searches with numbers 2-4 at only 200,000+, yet he didn’t even crack the 50,000 search mark Thursday.))

* What, you don’t consider a YouTube video featuring cocaine, lap dances, and the handgun execution of a recalcitrant computer to be pop culture at its finest? OK, let’s discuss that at some point.

And then there’s my pet peeve. The “Top Charts” page. Go take a look, I’ll wait. Back? My problems with this page have to do with how things are categorized and how useful they are. For instance:

  • Can we drop Shakespeare from the “Authors” category? Let’s face it, he’s been number one on that list by a wide margin every time I’ve looked at it. Let’s just declare him the winner, filter him out of the results, and make room for the real competition – the current four-way battle between Dan Brown, Ernest Hemingway, Dr. Seuss, and Anne Frank is neck-and-neck, and could only be improved by the addition of a steel cage match. Ditto for the Bible in “Books”. Let’s make more room for the slugfest between “Romeo and Juliet” and “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
  • What are the New York Yankees doing in the “Baseball Teams” category? Shouldn’t they be in the “Bottom-feeding Scum” table?
  • Readers in Texas, are you happy to know that UT Austin is holding a narrow lead over Harvard? Does it enrich your life in any way? Seriously, what benefit does tracking searches for “Colleges & Universities” bring to anyone? Oh, wait, I get it. Clicking through to the top 100, I see that Brown University has dropped 33 places since last month and now sits at number 100. Clearly they need to step up their recruiting. Bet they never would have figured that out without this handy chart.
  • Google generously provides separate charts for “Drinks” and “Foods”. “Coffee”, to nobody’s great surprise, is Number 1 on the Drinks chart, narrowly edging out “Wine”. More surprisingly, “Coffee” is also Number 4 on the Foods chart. Why exactly does Coffee show up on both? (So do Wine, Beer, Tea, and Milk.) How about leaving them on the Drink chart and making room for five actual foods? It’s not like they’re contaminating the Drink chart with crossover foods such as chocolate.
  • Given that we’ve got “Car companies” and “Cars”, do we really also need “Sports cars”? We do? OK, if you insist. But then shouldn’t we also have “SUVs”, “Hybrid cars”, and “Luxury cars”? I guess it’s similar to having “Sports teams”, “Basketball teams”, “Soccer teams”, and “Baseball teams”, but skipping “Football teams” and “Hockey teams”. I get it that the categories are arbitrary, but I’m not seeing any obvious logic behind the selections.
  • Hey, can we go back to the food and drink question? There’s also a category for “Whiskeys” (Jack Daniel’s is leading by a wide margin.) “Whisky” is also Number 10 in “Drinks” (yes, it’s spelled with the ‘e’ in its own category but without in the parent category.)
  • Can anybody explain why “Arnold Schwarzenegger” is being tracked in “US governors” instead of “Actors”? Oh, wait, he’s in both: Number 1 as a governor, Number 50 as an actor. Does that give him an unfair advantage over poor “Chris Christie”, running a distant second in “US governors”? Or should I rather be giving my sympathies to “Clint Eastwood”, Actor Number 92, who can’t take consolation in the fact that he’s leading the list for “US mayors”, since that category doesn’t exist?
  • Then there’s “Medications”, which is a huge mess. It cheerfully mixes brand names, specific drugs, and classes of medications in a single list (the top four are currently “Antibacterial”, “Amphetamine mixed salts”*, “Alprazolam”, and “Ibuprofen”; “Tylenol” comes in at Number 6).

* Any bets on what proportion of the hits are NOT from people interested in ADHD or narcolepsy?

OK, that’s pretty much got the rant out of my system. Does this stuff matter? Maybe it’s just my training as a librarian speaking, but I believe that a consistent classification scheme is the key to storing information. Arbitrary classification leads directly to the inability to find what you need when you need it and misinterpretation of the data you do find. Consider: if Google uses similarly arbitrary methods throughout their operations, are you confident that they won’t be combining your garden center search for deals on lawn fertilizer with your neighbor’s search for the gas station with the cheapest diesel and telling the NSA that people in your neighborhood seem to be very interested in making fertilizer bombs?