Archive for July, 2006

Latin translations

Monday, July 31st, 2006


A popular genre of questions at Google Answers is translations from English to Latin.

Sometimes the questions are driven by personal curiosity, sometimes the translations are related to schoolwork, and some are motivational messages. Sometimes someone just wants a pompous-sounding byline for a website, and a surprising number are messages of love.

Since the Google Answers service started, around 200 such questions have been answered, at prices ranging from $2 to $60.

The following translations were for tattoos – better get those ones right!

Nearly as critical was this one, to be engraved onto an Ipod as a gift:

Here's just a tiny sample of the rest:

There are many more.

Researchers providing these translations included hlabadie-ga, guillermo-ga, pinkfreud-ga, tutuzdad-ga, juggler-ga, livioflores-ga, but mostly alanna-ga who also provided two further links of interest: Latin phrases used in English, and Latin proverbs and locutions.

I've don't speak Latin myself, but back when I was at school my friend Neil used to quote ridiculous Latin phrases. One of his favourites was Quanti canicule ille in finestre? which translates as How much is that doggie in the window? and can be found with other similar nonsense at Latin Phrases and Expressions.

(photo by Sanja Gjenero)

Full-text book searches…search online and search for free!

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

If you browse the shelves of any large library, most of what you'll find there is not available online.  Even in this amazing electronic age of ours, this is still a fundamental truth — most content in print is on paper, and cannot yet be found online.

There are efforts afoot to change this, most notably Google's noble, ambitious, tortured, and controversial effort to put entire university libraries online.  But this project, if it ever comes to pass, will be many, many years in the making. 

In the mean time, though, there are substantial chunks of the world of printed books that are finding their way online. The beauty of these sites is not only easy access to the books, but the fact that you can search the entire content of the texts at a whim. 

For a casual browser, this is a nice convenience for searching out a forgotten quote or passage.  For a professional researcher, it is an essential tool.  Without access to full-text book searches, I would guess about 25% of the Google Answers questions that I answer would go unanswered.

The two biggest and best known resources of full-text book searches are's A9 site — far and away, the best and deepest online book resource on the internet — and, Google Books, which is making a valiant effort at catching up. 

There are many others, though.  I've mentioned before three of my favorites, the Making of America, Project Gutenberg, and Questia, all of which are rich sources for historical and other ebooks.

The Making of America and Gutenberg sites are totally free.  Questia, though a subscription service, allows free searching, and shows brief snippets of the results.  Most of the resources listed below are totally free, but a few are subscription sites that nevertheless, allow full-text searching for free, even if showing only a limited result without a subscription. 

Here, then in no particular order, are some other resources worth checking out:

Taylor & Francis' eBookstore has over 10,000 books in its online collection of diverse, mostly scholarly, topics. A search returns only a brief snippet from the book's content, but full pages can be seen for limited viewing

Ebrary has a hard-to-find, hard-to-understand search function for its 20,000-volume (and growing) online library of assorted books.  There's no topical theme here…think of ebrary as an online bookstore catering to a diverse clientele.  To search ebrary, you need to go through the odd steps of registering AND opening an account with a minimum $5.00 balance…however, you don't need to actually spend the five bucks.

I'll mention NetLibrary just because it's a biggie, but (two thumbs down) you can't search it without subscription access, despite netlibrary's supposed goal of making information more readily available to the world at large.

There are many smaller collections, some of general interest, and some with a very narrow speciality.  Finding them can be tricky…Here are a few that I've come across:

A small collection of 19th Century schoolbooks in the United States.

HEARTH stands for the Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History, and that's just what you'll find…about a thousand Home Ec books and related materials.

EServer Online Books Collection–Assorted fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Books Online from the University of Toronto has almost 1,000 assorted titles, mostly early 1900's vintage. 

I'm sure everyone will want to visit the Distributed Digital Library of Mathematical Monographs…full-text monographs from Cornell, UMich, and the State and University Library in Göttingen.

Cornell also offers Historical Monographs and a site devoted entirely to books (more than 3,000…wow!) about the history of witchcraft.

Bartleby is a terrific resource for classic reference books, literature and verse, things like Bullfinch's Mythology,
Roget's Thesaurus, Robert's Rules, and Bartlett's Quotations, just to drop a few names.

University of Virgina offers over 2,100 ebooks “…including classic British and American fiction, major authors, children's literature, American history, Shakespeare, African-American documents, the Bible, and much more.”

And the University of California has a different sort of offering — eScholarship Editions of almost 2,000 books from its academic presses, although only a small subset are fully available to the public.  

Haven't really used this source yet, but I guess Posner was some rich guy who collected and eventualy digitized rare books, including more than six hundred “…landmark titles of the history of western science, beautifully produced books on decorative arts and fine sets of literature.”

For Classics, head to The Online Medieval and Classical Library, “…a collection of some of the most important literary works of Classical and Medieval civilization…”

Australia's got some e-content books at this University of Adelaide collection.

And so does Ireland , via CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts, which “…brings the wealth of Irish literary and historical culture to the Internet, for the use and benefit of everyone worldwide. It has a searchable online database consisting of contemporary and historical texts from many areas, including literature and the other arts.”

For science and science policy, turn to The National Academies Press collection of more than 3,000 titles…a clumsy interface (and deliberately so, if you ask me), but who could ask for better content? 

The Electronic Open Stacks at the University of Chicago appears to have a rich collection, though I haven't really made use of it yet, myself.

But enough with the scholarly stuff.  To get yer blood pumping, check out the pulp fiction at Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls.  There are only a few available, but they include some doubtless classics such as:

Nick Carter, Detective: The Solution of a Remarkable Case,
by a celebrated author

Jesse James, the Outlaw,
by W. B. Lawson


Deadwood Dick's Doom; or, Calamity Jane's Last Adventure,
by Edward L. Wheeler


Have fun, everyone.  Here's hoping for a rapid outbreak of peace in the world.

pafalafaga David Sarokin

missy-ga’s 24-hour blogathon

Saturday, July 29th, 2006

Google Answers researcher missy-ga was one of the first and is one of the greatest of the GARs.

For the next 24 hours she's joining others in a 24-hour Blogathon. I can't manage to keep awake that long, but she's blogging away every few minutes posting a fabulous collection of recipes.

I've never had the pleasure of tasting missy's cooking, but I've heard great things about it more than once in the researchers' forum.

The purpose of the blogathon is to raise money for charity, and missy is raising for the National Kidney Foundation. Her best friend has Alport's Syndrome and is waiting for a kidney transplant.

Her kids are the photogenic assistant chefs, and I gotta say, the Gingered Mango-Habanero Sauce is looking mighty good!


So mouse on over to Missy's “Someone's In The Kitchen With Moozie” blog, and consider clicking on the “Sponsor this blog!” link.

Answers are not just research

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Although we call ourselves Researchers, and Google calls us that too, what we do can often go beyond that.

The service is called Google Answers, yet what the customers ask for often goes beyond an answer to a question. Here are some of the things we have done recently:

These aren't things you can “just Google for”. It's a whole different job from research-oriented questions like Omega 3 requirements in pregnancy or Incidence and prevalence of asthma.

QINANs: The Untouchables

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

At any given moment, there are hundreds of unlocked, unanswered questions at Google Answers awaiting a researcher's attention, including, typically, about 25 questions priced at $200, and even more in the $100-200 range.  The unanswered questions have a combined list price of, easily, $10,000 or more.

At the same time, there are dozens of researchers scanning what I call the QINAN list — Questions In Need of An Answer.   Each researcher is hungry for their next lock, and hoping that, this month at least, they'll earn something approaching minimum wage.

So why aren't the researchers locking the QINAN's, and socking away those thousands?

This has been one the major surprises to me about Google Answers…the sheer number of questions that, while doubtless posted in good faith, are virtually unanswerable.

I've picked out one or two in several price categories to give you a bit of a feel for what I mean.


Q:non linear optimisation $200


This one is asking a highly technical question involving the solution to a mathematics problem in C++ programming.  It's the type of thing you either know, or not.  There's no searching for a solution for this one.


Q: Names of engineers in Palm Springs  $200.00

This asker wants the names of ALL designers and engineers and CADD operators and a few others who work for any civil engineering firm in several California cities.

Ha, ha.

Actually, it's hard to articulate WHY this question is unanswerable, but it is.  First off, we can't promise ALL of anything, as there's always the probablility that we've missed one or two.  But the main problem is that firm-by-firm employee directories just don't exist, and no amount of skillful research on our parts can bring them into existence.


Q: Investment accounts that allow debit card access? Sub accounts?   $150.00

This one's interesting, because it probably is answerable with the right amount of clarification and effort.  But I would have to charge the asker $150 just to read through and make sense out of the convoluted question about specialized features of investment accounts.  Then I'd have to start calling around for information about such accounts (which is generally a lost cause, because the firms don't want to give out a lot of information to me, until I give them the details about my finances, etc, and they feel they have me on the hook as a potential customer). 

Then, I'd have to start a long round of Clarifications with the asker (which may never be seen, given the problems with the notification system) asking if such-and-such a bank sounds like the right one…and so on, and so on.  It really would take thousands of dollars worth of effort, and at the end of it all, there's a good likelihood that there simply isn't a firm out there that offers the type of specialized accounts that are needed. 

And the asker has made clear that an answer of 'it can't be done' just ain't gonna cut it.


Q: Retail Sales United States and Western Europe   $120.00

Wants to know every major retailer in the US selling SuperMax razors.  And their sales!  And their profit margins! 

And then do the same thing for all of Western Europe.

I'm out of breath, just thinking about it.


Q: USDA Schedule C position?  $100.00

This one broke my heart a bit, because I have some pretty deep background knowledge on this topic, and I would have like to have helped here.  But the back and forth only made it clear that the asker didn't want what this researcher had to offer, and seemed to want some sort of magic that, I suspect, no one can provide. 


Q: I am looking for scientific research papers that state GHB is safe   $100.00

GHB is a dangerous and illegal drug, and this asker wanted proof that it's 100% safe. Sorry….


and lastly there's:


Q: attorney lied about healthcare How do I get legal redress.  $5.00

At least it isn't all caps!  But the question is unclear — it's amazing how many like this are posted — and the process needed to better understand what's being asked here hardly seems worth the effort, particularly for a legal mess that we would be unlikely to help untangle. 


These are by no means the worst of the bunch, or even particularly representative of the unanswerable questions at Google Answers.  Just a look at a not atypical bunch of QINANs from yours truly,

pafalafaga David Sarokin

July Twenty First…

Friday, July 21st, 2006

The Daily Perspective, from my old favorite,, offers a nice way of looking back at This Day In History.

For July 21, here are the stories they're covering:

Moon landing is complete

Apollo 11 astronauts departed from the moon today after making history with man's first visit to the moon. As the world watched in awe, astronaut Neil Armstrong took the very first step on the moon yesterday night, declaring, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin joined him on the lunar surface, with Michael Collins staying on board the command module.

First Battle of Bull Run begins

The first major land battle in the American Civil War began today at Manassas Junction, Virginia. Despite early victories in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Union Army was forced to retreat back to Washington, D.C. “For the South, Bull Run was confirmation of the long held theory that one Southern fighting man was the equivalent of seven cowardly Northern clerks,”

First true western showdown

In what some consider the first true western showdown, Wild Bill Hickok shot Dave Tutt dead today. The duel took place in the market square of Springfield, Missouri. “What set Wild Bill apart was his ability to shoot fast and straight while being shot at. He killed Dave Tutt at 50 yards in the public square of Springfield, Mo., in 1865, apparently in a duel over his attentions to Tutt's sister,”

Bombs explode in downtown Belfast

At least nine people were killed in blasts in Northern Ireland today as downtown Belfast was hit by more than a dozen bombs. “The death of Leslie Leggatt, a news dealer, and an unidentified civilian whose body was found by soldiers near the Roman Catholic Springfield Road area early today brought to 453 the total fatalities in three years of violence in Northern Ireland,”

World's lowest temperature recorded

Today, a record low temperature was recorded in Antarctica. “The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth, 128.6 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, occurred in 1983 at Russia's Vostok Station, located about 840 miles from the Pole at a higher altitude.

USS Constitution celebrates 200 years

The USS Constitution, known as Old Ironsides, celebrated 200 years today by sailing for the first time in 116 years. Thousands watched as the oldest commissioned warship left Marblehead, Massachusetts, under its own power.

Not a bad track record for a random date in history.

pafalafaga David Sarokin

Google Answers Researchers are People Too

Friday, July 21st, 2006

by Knowledge_Seeker 

Reflecting a bit on the numbers in my previous post and in the other posts about the number, locations, and answering rate of Google Answers Researchers, I’ve decided I should try to dispel what may be a common misperception.

When you read Google’s description of More than 500 carefully screened Researchers…” and then learn that we hail from hundreds of locations in dozens of different countries, you may get a sense that we are 500 separate entities working in isolation – that from our kitchens, offices, upstairs bedrooms, libraries and cafes, all we focus on is grabbing the next question.

But no, Google Answers is not a melee of hundreds of researchers all scrapping for questions and trying to grab locks and post quick answers before other researchers can get them. We are a relatively small group of dedicated Researchers who work steadily (and sometimes collaboratively) through the list of unanswered questions providing timely and (most importantly) accurate substantiated answers.

Yes there are hundreds of Researchers, but the core group of active Researchers has changed little over the years. Many of the names on my list of those who have recently answered questions are Researchers who have been actively answering since the service began in 2002. Sure, some have fallen off the bottom of the list and a few have come out of hibernation and have joined us along the way, but all-in-all we are the same people.

Despite our physical remoteness, Google Answers Researchers frequently work together. We have at least one forum and one Google Group where we can meet. The forum I belong to (provided by one of the researchers) has 75 members – again shaking down to 25 or 30 active participants. Here we discuss and critique answers, debate ethical questions, get advice on dealing with difficult clients, and ask for assistance on answers.

At any given time we might be arguing the ethics of providing a customer with information on how to commit suicide, finding a few more references for a colleague who feels his answer is a bit short, asking if someone in Germany could please make a quick local phone call to confirm a fact, or alerting a Researcher that a customer is requesting her. Mindful that the customer is more important than the almighty dollar, we willingly hand off full or partial answers when our lives take us unexpectedly from our work.

Google Answers Researchers are perfectionists. For many of us, a 3-star (and for some, even a 4-star) Answer is unacceptable. A rejection is devastating. When an answer gets rejected or rated one- or two-stars, the Researcher often brings it to the attention of the group. Together we dissect it and try to determine if the problem was the customer, the Researcher, a misunderstanding, or simply a rating mistake. If it was the Researcher, we say so. Yes, we’re friends, but when it comes to our work, the customer comes first.

Google Answers Researchers go far beyond just answering questions. We may be independent contractors, but most of us care as much about Google Answers as the Google employees do. We put a great deal of thought and effort into improving our own service to the customers and improving Google Answers overall.

In our forum we maintain a large resource center with links to helpful sites, databases, and tools. In addition to what Google supplies to us, we have put together our own training guidelines, Researcher FAQ’s, and Beginning Researcher guide. We have brainstormed and submitted to the Google Answers Editors an extensive list of suggestions for improvements and changes to the service. We have taken part in an “Owlet” program set up by the editors to apprentice new Researchers.

Google Answers Researchers serve as front-line watch dogs for the Google Answers Editors, alerting them to inappropriate questions, comments, and answers. We also monitor the media and the web for references to Google Answers, correcting misconceptions and errors as they arise. We’ve corrected our Wikipedia entry in several different languages, have thanked reporters and researchers for delivering balanced articles, have debated with critics and skeptics, and have carefully watched as competitors rise and inevitably fall.

In short, while we may be “More than 500 carefully screened Researchers”, Google Answers Researchers are committed to Google Answers as a whole, not just to our own paychecks, star ratings, or personal fame on the website. We are wholly dedicated to keeping Google Answers the highest quality answer service on the net.

Thanks for listening,


Finding Companies and Businesses Online

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

There are plenty of great sites that provide free information on companies, including Yahoo Finance, Accoona, and (for US companies) the SEC EDGAR database (now full-text searchable…Yippee!).

But there are a whole lot of other sites as well, some of them offering some suprisingly in-depth information.

One of my favorites is Bureau van Dijk, which you know has just gotta be Dutch…except it's not!  They have a deep database of companies from around the world.  Up at the top of their site they offer a “Free Directory – Company information in an instant”.  You can search here for individual companies, or leave the company name field blank (be sure to uncheck the “whole words” box) to generate large lists of particular industries, particular regions, particular size-ranges, or all of above, combined.  Not bad, for a freebie.

The Dun & Bradstreet Small Business site is a great way to quickly search for a company name/address anywhere in the world…despite the site name, large companies are included here as well.

ICP is not the deepest or most up-to-date site for international business searches, but I sometimes get hits here when nothing turns up at other sites.

The Small Business Administration in the US provides incredibly detailed information on the zillions of small companies that are registered as contractors with the US government through their Dynamic Small Business Search.  The search function isn't the easiest to use, but the rewards in terms of information returned, make it more than worth the effort. 

And there are quite a number of country-specific options, provided by government agencies or through private sector databases.  Here are a few for a quick look-see:

Companies House for companies in the UK.

Teikoku Databank, Ltd covers Japan.

For companies in France, have a look at Société-bilan

IBISWorld covers Australia and the Integrated Companies Registry Information System handles Hong Kong.

As always, have fun.

pafalafaga David Sarokin

Finding People Online

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

There are lots of places to lookup information that you might not think of right off the top of your head.

For looking up people in the United States, there is…

The People Finder Lookup at MelissaData.  You don't get a complete phone book listing (but you know where that is, right?), but the database is still interesting because it searches multiple sources, and will tell you if a listing exists, and the age, town, and possible relatives and aliases of the person.  And for more detailed information, you can always elect to purchase a detailed report.

Prison contact and inmate lookup information.    If someone you know is, or might be, in jail, this is the place to begin looking.  Unless, of course, they're in a federal prison, in which case check the Bureau of Prisons' Inmate Locator.

And if your prisoner needs a bit of assistance, Martindale's the place to look for lawyers

Tax Refund Finder is worth a look if you think (or merely hope) that the IRS owes you or someone you know some money.

Jigsaw is a site where you can “Buy, Sell and Trade Business Contacts”. It's an odd and pretty interesting information bartering system, and probably pretty annoying for all those private office execs whose phone numbers are being outed.  And, too, it takes a while to get the hang of it.  But if you're looking for business contacts, take advantage of their Free Trial and give 'em a whirl.

Birthday lookups.   Yep, believe it or not, you can find an awful lot of birthdays here (but be sure to hit the SEARCH button…hitting Enter won't work).  My birthdate isn't in the records, but both my parents are…conveniently for me, as I'm always forgetting just which birthday is coming up when. 

Politicians.  Federal, state and local  government officials are all here, in all their moderately effectual glory.

There are plenty of doctor search tools, but I'm fond of the large database at Dr-411.

I'm still getting used to Zabasearch, which bills itself as a powerful people finder.  I'm not really recommending it…just letting y'all know it's there. 

So…let's see you find pafalafaga David Sarokin!

Searching old stuff

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006


There's a rather ambitious project called waybackmachine with the aim to archive the web. It sounds impossible, but the makers really have stored billions of pages trying to make this a “universal access to human knowledge”.

Besides archived webpages you will find a lot of free audio files, movies, even complete live concerts for download.

Be sure to have some time left when visiting the page. It took me several days to get an overview of only a very small part of the contained information.