make-believe.org

And counting

I do like to keep track of how many days I've wasted so far in my quest for world domination. Google, whose sage-like wisdom I have rarely had occasion to doubt, assures me that I'm up to 9,524. That's 822,899,275 seconds, for the record.

We use Google almost as a reflex. Compared to the search engines we used before it arrived (it's a young'un by Altavista or Hotbot standards, for example), it's so much more functional in style. But its austerity belies a subtle and rather nerdy penchant for humour. The above referenced Google Calculator will not only perform mundane calculations like my "days wasted in world domination attempt" query, but it will also give you the agreed answer to Life, the Universe and everything (although you'll have to ask Jeeves if you want to know the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow). Prefer your search results to be served up in Klingon? Google provides.

Some search specifiers, such the site: prefix, are endlessly useful. Some satisfy deep curiosities, such as who links to you. And some can be perverted for the course of humour, like the little known synonym operator (~). The synonym operator returns results for not only a word but all of its synonyms. When combined with the minus operator (-), which excludes terms from the list of results, you can get an idea of what Google determines the synonyms of a term to be. A search for ~calculator -calculator turns up "counter" as a synonym. That's reasonable. Sometimes Google's fuzzy synonym determination makes interesting judgement calls, such as with geek or loser. And sometimes it betrays a rather bizarre ontology, such as the results returned for (apparent) synonyms of soccer.

This is my second paean to Google in a couple of weeks, which is probably unhealthy. Some people are very concerned about Google: they suggest its domination of the search engine market gives it perhaps more of a controlling stake in the character of the internet than any other company (as well as reams of information about people's interests). But somehow, I just don't find the case as convincing as it is with Redmond.

Joseph | 21 Sep 2003

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