Thursday, November 15, 2001

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Honing your search engine technique

Be more specific when using web search engines. First of all make sure you're using as it's undoubtedly the most comprehensive search engine ever to have existed, and what's more, the hits it returns are actually relevant to your search queries - surprisingly a feature which all too many search engines lack!

Now that Google is set as your home page remember to use Boolean queries whenever you use it to search the web. A Boolean query is a logical term or operator, which can be added to your keywords or phrases to refine your search. The most common ones include the words AND, OR and NOT. It's worth remembering though that some search engines will allow you to replace the words AND and NOT with the symbols + and -, and that Google dispenses with the + operator altogether as it assumes you want all the keywords entered to be included in the results - makes perfect sense if you ask me. Notice that these are written in uppercase. I haven't accidentally left my caps lock button turned on; I've done this deliberately to indicate that this is the way they must be typed into your search engine.

As already noted, the AND operator is largely superfluous today, but to demonstrate how this would work in less advanced search engines, consider the following example. If you were looking for information regarding the author Joseph Heller (you know, the guy who wrote Catch-22?), you might try typing only the two words comprising his name into a search box. The hits your search engine returned would lead to any web pages containing either the word 'Joseph' or the word 'Heller', but not necessarily ones that contain both. In effect, you could be directed to sites that revolve around John Heller or Joseph Smith (whoever they are!). If you wanted to filter out all the irrelevant hits you could use the AND operator. This ensures that the keywords you specify must both appear in the search results (or hits). Any sites containing just one of the terms will be ignored. To do this you would type Joseph AND Heller into your search engine. Try it now and you'll see how effective this can be.

If you don't want to rule out too many possible matches you could use the OR operator instead. Typing in two keywords separated by the OR operator will return web pages that contain either one of your keywords. Again, this switch is fairly redundant in most cases because it will already be the default setting, but since most search engines support it I thought I'd give it a mention.

The NOT operator is much more useful. This can be used to specify words which should not appear in the results (I apologize if this is already obvious!). For example, typing in soap operas NOT Neighbours will give you a list of all the web pages that concern soap operas, except the ones about Neighbours in particular. So you may be directed towards Home and Away, Days of Their Lives or Family Affairs fan sites. Disclaimer: my knowledge of these program's existence does indicate that I watch them, thank you very much. ;)

Perhaps the most effective measure you can take to refine a search query is to use phrases enclosed by inverted commas. For instance, one way to find a selection of Monkey Island related sites would be to type "The Curse of Monkey Island" or "Escape from Monkey Island" into your favourite search engine (the case isn't important, I just like to be grammatically correct). This will only return web pages that include all the keywords listed in the correct sequence, i.e. any sites containing just one or two of these keywords, or containing all of the words, but in a different order will be filtered out.
For more search engine fine-tuning tips refer to the official Google cheat sheet.

So what are you waiting for? Go and practice with Google. Remember, 'tis all in de Booleans mon!... or something like that.

Saturday, November 03, 2001

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How do I close full screen pop-ups that do not have menu bars?

A quick way to do this would be to use your Task Manager. This displays a list of all the programs/windows you currently have open. To summon the Windows Task Manager you can press control, alt and delete simultaneously and then select the 'applications' tab. Alternatively, you could open the Task Manager by selecting the run option from your start button and typing in 'taskman'.
When the applications list appears, search through it for the title of the pop-up you wish to terminate, select it and press the 'end task' button. A quicker way still, however, would be to press alt and F4 together to close the active window.

Refer to the pop-ups tutorial for more proactive solutions.