Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Goat Trail

I spent my first five years at university trudging from the carpark (known then as the 'dust bowl') up a winding path to lectures. The winding path, colloquially called the 'goat trail', was etched into the grass thanks to the collective unconscious of all the students rushing to lectures - a planner could not have designed a more optimal route.

Around November each year the goat trail would inexplicably change route - it suddenly diverted around a large pair of jacaranda trees. The jacaranda trees at the University of Queensland flower beautifully and smell even better, but local legend has it they are deadly to students - especially around exam time. The legend warns that if a jacaranda flower lands on your head you're certain to fail your exams. New students who had never heard of the dangerous jacaranda flower were spared failure thanks to following the goat trail.

It must have been while walking along the goat trail after a philosophy lecture by Professor Priest (a long-haired member of the 'Hells Logicians' motorcycle club) that I marvelled at the high technology of a simple path on the ground - a meme filtering machine.

The goat trail has influenced Trexy in many ways. When we chose a mascot for Trexy we considered other trailblazing animals like ants (too ugly) and snails (too slimy) but it really had to be a Goat. The ranking algorithm that distills the optimal trail for a search is modelled on the simplicity of people finding an optimal route from points A to B - a 'goat trail'. But it needs to be smart enough to guide you past the flowering jacaranda trees too!

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