Computing Columns

from the Near North News

Updated April 29, 2001

[yin-yang symbol]

by Jerry Maizell

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Jerry Maizell's columns also appear monthly in Hard-Copy, the journal of the Chicago Computer Society

The Yin-Yang symbol, above, is variously understood. Yang originally meant sunshine or light, and Yin its absence. Chou Yu, a Chinese savant of the 8th century B.C., explained, "When the Yang is concealed and cannot come forth, and when the Yin is repressed and cannot issue forth, then there are earthquakes."

About 500 years later Tung Chung-shu explained Yin-Yang as a theory of correlates: where there is up there is down, where there is left there is right, where there is cold there is heatů.

Yin-Yang theory eventually merged with Taoism, and the Tao, according to Chuang-tzu, is itself nothing.

I leave it to the reader to apply, or not apply, these principles to my musings on computer things, from my columns in the Near North News.

Start with the column below, or see the Contents, or Introduction. Or, if you want to know more about me 1st, and believe that one can tell a lot about a person by the links he likes, go directly to Links, Searches & Stuff.

// Jerry Maizell

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Searching the net (NNN May 23, 1998)

Scotland declared its independence in 1320, in the Declaration of Arbroath. The complete document, in Latin with an English translation, is available via the Internet. Whether or not you're interested in such arcana you may be interested in how I found it.

Dylan Thomas once expressed surprise at being referred to as "a man of letters." Similarly, many Internet users might be surprised to be labeled "researchers." Yet, after e-mail, research of one sort or another is probably the most significant use of the Internet. Even the most casual Internet dabblers occasionally click Search on the Netscape menu, and try search engines like Yahoo, Lycos, InfoSeek, Excite or AltaVista to look up a point of interest.

Serious researchers quickly find that the vast resources of the Web's virtual library offer the same frustrations as searching for information in a "real" library: one is often either starved for specifics or overwhelmed with irrelevancies. Search engines work by regularly sending out "spiders" or "crawlers" to thousands of Web sites, cataloging their content, then searching their indexes based on your request. My favorite search engine is AltaVista, so the following tips are tailored to it, though they are applicable to other tools.

To make your query as efficient as possible use nouns rather than pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs or conjunctions. For example, enter "geese" rather than "Why do geese migrate?" Combining keywords inside quotation marks, such as "geese migration" makes a phrase, restricting results to closer matches. Use an operator like "OR" (in caps, without quotes) to cover multiple possible descriptions or concepts that will satisfy your interest, e.g., "code OR cipher OR cryptography."

Limiting the query with the AND operator ("code AND Enigma") finds documents containing those words anyplace within them. To narrow the search to locate both "code" and "Enigma" within about 10 words of each other, enter "code NEAR Enigma."

One of the handiest searchers is Amnesi. If you remember part of a URL (uniform resource locator), but not the exact URL of a site, tell Amnesi your best guess and it returns a list of possible matches.

I found the obscure Scots independence document via StudyWeb, whose editors have reviewed thousands of sites of academic interest. Excellent for students working on research papers. A searchable database listing over 56000 sites on education topics for teachers: Education World. To find information from Internet newsgroups (discussion forums) try Deja News. Medical World Search, is a goldmine for physicians or hypochondriacs. Filez, will help you search through 75 million downloadable files.

Curious about what others are searching for? Nosey folks go to WebCrawler's search ticker, where a continuous ticker shows current search terms entered in the Webcrawler engine. (Note: some terms may offend sensitive readers.) If your browser is not Java-enabled, or to see the words as a list: try this (click Reload for updates). Sample search terms I just found there: Chicago gang signs, employment agency in London, dissertation philosophique sur les lois, ellipsoid moment of inertia, Burmese, boise mortgage, MUSTARD PLUG, neon parrot cages, and Royal Ulster Rifles Museum.

I just did my own search to find out what the heck a mustard plug is. I'm sorry I asked.

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