Power User: How to find the needle in the haystack

John McCormick

There's always more to learn about search engines.

Limiting hits to certain file extensions is a great way to shorten search time. For example, Google.com can search for 10 specific file extensions besides HTML: Adobe Portable Document Format, Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPro, MacWrite, Microsoft Excel PowerPoint and Word, Microsoft Works and Write, Rich Text Format and text. Whether you're looking for .pdf, .doc, .xls or some other documented extension, give it a try.

So-called Google hacks are gimmicks that let you fine-tune a search. Don't worry that you might violate copyrights'Google itself posts application programming interfaces for advanced searchers. You just have to know where to look: www.google.com/apis.

Another hack involves starting an advanced search, then recording and modifying the search uniform resource locator to limit the hits.

One of the best tricks is simply to search only recently indexed pages. It's often difficult to focus search terms exactly enough to avoid getting thousands of hits. But if you have an idea of when the page you want was created, chances are good that Google indexed it soon afterward.

The advanced search page gives a couple of options for specifying when a page was indexed, but you can generate your own searches for other time periods.

Check out the technique at www.researchbuzz.com/toolbox/goofresh.shtml.

There are limitations, and you have to understand how it works. For example, Google's day changeover happens at noon rather than midnight.

You can't be certain whether a search bot captured the page right away, so the index date might not be exactly the same as the page creation date. Even so, it's useful. See links to the Google tools at www.helpdotcom.com.

The ResearchBuzz site also has tools for AltaVista and Amazon search engines as well as the latest search news. A recent addition of interest to military readers is the Library of Congress' posting of World War I 'Stars & Stripes' issues. See memory.loc.gov/ammem/sgphtml/sashtml.To watch what Google programmers are up to, check out beta test search concepts at labs.google.com.

When Google fails, check out www.fossick.com for links to thousands of search directories and topical guides. Link to www.fossick.com/Search.htm and you can jump right to a good search page.

Meanwhile, a brand-new technology called quantum cryptography is possibly the ultimate way to secure secrets. The Swiss firm id Quantique, at www.idquantique.com, offers both quantum-based public-key distribution and a low-cost, hardware-based random-number generator for Universal Serial Bus connections and Microsoft Windows software.

The random-number generators in many computer programs are in fact far from random. A reliable source of truly random numbers is essential to many security applications as well as scientific and statistical work.

Quantum key distribution currently is limited to pairs of computers linked by optical fiber over distances up to 25 miles. It has significant potential for use between government buildings. Because quantum events are notorious for being altered by observation, any attempt to tap such a link likely would fail.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at [email protected].


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