Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
Reveiw: "Google Hacks"
Reviewed by Alan German
Tips and Tools for Smarter Searching, this
book just had to be for me. I have never figured out how
to do a Google search without producing at least 100,000
hits, few of which pertained to the issue in question.
So, did authors Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest come to
my rescue? Lets find out
The review copy, kindly provided to OPCUG by the
publisher, OReilly Media, Inc., is the 2nd Edition
of the work. The book is more-or-less sanctioned by
Google since members of that company provide the
forewords for both editions. As the first foreword
indicates, one has to wonder just how much hacking can be
done on Google to warrant an entire book. The answer is
clear plenty. The book contains 100 hacks (i.e.
tips, tools, and techniques) that require well over 400
pages of explanation.
As you might imagine, just about everything you wanted to
know about using Google is between the covers from
case (in)sensitivity, to the 850 million messages in
Google Groups, to the technique of screen scraping. One
caution though to use most of the hacks in the
book requires the knowledge to do scripting - using
packages like Perl, Java and PHP. In fact, the
books contents are broken down in several distinct
sections. The first chapter is probably the most useful
for many users since the tips describe Googles
basic features, and how to make best use of the search
engines built-in, advanced capabilities. The
remaining chapters make heavy use of scripts, together
with information on specialized items such as add-ons,
Googles AdWords, page ranking, and the Web API.
Since I dont really do any scripting, and
dont think I have a use for AdWords, this article
will mainly focus on the first section of the book, with
just brief mentions of some of the more esoteric hacks
that appear in later chapters.
Probably everyone knows how to search for a specific
phrase by enclosing the text in quotation marks. But, do
you need to enter capital letters for proper names? Try
entering ottawa pc users group in
Googles search box and the answer is clear. Just
like the book says - text searches are case insensitive
and can be very direct!
Probably everyone also knows that the use of
and as a search word is redundant for most
search engines, Google included. But, did you also know
that if you want to use a Boolean or, this
has to be entered in upper case? Or, that you can combine
Boolean search terms using brackets? For example, "President's
Report" AND (Taylor OR Schopf) site:opcug.ca
returns information on precisely what you might expect.
(As noted initially, AND in this search phrase is
redundant; it is included here for clarity.) A remarkable
finding, to me at any rate, was this item of special
syntax: site:, that allows you to restrict
your search to a specific web site. You may have heard
that OPCUG ran a workshop on digital imaging this past
fall. You could have looked on the clubs home page,
where you would have found the Workshop button
prominently displayed but, just to illustrate the power
of this tip, try typing the following into Googles
search box - "digital imaging workshop"
site:opcug.ca. Now, thats a focused search
Google has lots of other similar tricks up its electronic
sleeve. For example, theres the use of * as a wild
card that, among other uses, will allow you to circumvent
the search engines ten word search limit (did you
know Google had such a limit?) You can also specify that
a search is to include a range of numbers, such as
looking for a digital camera having between 3 and 5
megapixels, by using the syntax: digital
camera 3..5 megapixels. Regrettably, a search for
"Windows XP" ..$10, i.e. hopefully finding
someone selling XP for less than $10, is not so
Try typing "digital
into Googles search box.
Now, thats a focused
if you dont want to hack too much, you dont
have to learn all this strange syntax stuff. Google has a
perfectly fine advanced search engine readily available
through the link Advanced Search, just to the
right of the main search box. Here, you can set a variety
of complex search terms by simply completing various
pre-defined fields, and selecting from a set of drop-down
Googles other features noted in the book are
similarly available from links on the search
engines main screen. Have you tried searching for
image files on a given topic through the
Image link? "Chris Taylor"
+OPCUG produces lots of hits but not the
particular image I was thinking of (Chris will know the
one!). On a more serious note, the more link
on Googles main page leads to a whole raft of
things discussed in the book, including Directory, a
subject index making use of the open directory project,
Scholar, where academics can search for technical papers,
and Googles Labs where mere mortals can play with
some stuff that is still under development. One of the
latter items that has been mentioned on PUB II recently
is Google Maps, http://maps.google.ca/. This is a great tool for finding
locations, showing them as maps, satellite images, or a
hybrid of the two, with a street map overlaid on a
satellite image. And, the site gives really good driving
directions between your house and the target location -
or vice-versa - in case youre really drunk on the
drive home! Of course, in the latter case, what you
really must do is to use Local and search for
taxi in Ottawa, ON.
If you are a user of G-mail, theres a whole chapter
on that system for you to read. If you want to be a user
of G-mail theres a whole raft of tips on how to
obtain a G-mail invite. In fact, if anyone with such an
invite and who, having read this article, is feeling
particularly grateful probably because you
werent singled out like Chris! you can
donate your invite to a very worthy cause. You will find
my E-mail address on the back page of the newsletter!
(See! I really did read the book. This is Hack #71 in
As promised, here are some of the really weird and
wonderful things that you can find in the book, most of
which require scripting. How about finding a recipe based
on the contents of your refrigerator, generating a random
page view, or running permutations on a number of
keywords automatically? Or, theres my particular
favourite - the Red Green special - making a search
engine belt buckle by fastening a PDA onto a belt
with (duct) tape, and programming it to generate
scrolling Google results! For non-programmers, there are
also some ready-to-go systems available on the web. You
can try the easy expert search at http://www.soople.com/ as an alternative to
Googles advanced search engine. And, if you find a
real use for Touchgraph (a visualization tool for results
from entering a URL), http://www.touchgraph.com/TGGoogleBrowser.html, please let me know!
Finally, for those who, like me, have no idea what a
screen scraper is, it refers to the process of extracting
information automatically from a web page, as in
spidering and scraping. A program can wander
around the Internet, capturing information from various
web pages, for use outside of the context of the actual
pages, e.g. in an indexing application like Google.
Google Hacks is packed with useful tips although, as
noted, many require scripting and may be beyond the
capabilities (or interests) of most of us. The good news
is that the text is written with exceptional clarity, so
that the simpler tasks are easy to follow and put into
practice. While you can purchase the book on-line from
OReilly (see below), you can also preview the full
text at no charge for a trial period of 14 days by
signing up at:
Click here to view the
full OPCUG website with frames.
Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON K2G 1S6
opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.
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