Archive for August, 2006

Book Search resources

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

Google’s Book Search is an ambitious project to digitise the world’s printed books. Although it has been dogged by various problems with copyright, the service is maturing nicely and is very useful for a wide range of research tasks.

The results come in a number of forms: book details without snippets, very tiny snippets, full-page previews for a limited number of pages per viewing, or full-view. For example, you can see all of these on the first page of the results for the “research strategy” query.

Helpfully, there is an option to restricted the search results to full-view books only. Furthermore, you can now download PDF scanned versions of many out-of-copyright books.

Not all out-of-copyright books are downloadable. It seems the only way to find them is to search with the “full-view” option, then click on the results and look for a “Download” button in the right-hand column. For example here is a version of Dante’s Inferno for which the PDF is downloadable.


Project Gutenberg has been making out-of-copyright works freely available for many years, but the project originated in the days of mainframes and flexible disks and the works are generally offered as text rather than in scanned form.

At Gary Price’s ResourceShelf there is a useful summary of other full-book resources including the World eBook Library, the International Children’s Digital Library, Shop ebrary, NetLibrary Text and Audio Books, The Online Books Page, The Open Access Text Archive and many more.

What do star ratings mean?

Friday, August 25th, 2006


I, like many other Google Answers researchers, pay close attention to the ratings that the paying customers give for our answers. But what do those stars really mean?

I recently spent a few days in Paris, staying at a two-star hotel. Sure, it was on a noisy street – but that’s because it was in a supremely convenient location. Sure, the room was pokey – but it was clean and cheap. And the breakfast, although not included in the price, was generous, delicious, reasonably priced, and was served in a bright and cheery room with sparkling cutlery and crockery.

Maybe the hotel was only two-star rated because the room didn’t have a trouser press or satellite TV. But I wasn’t in Paris to press my trousers or watch TV.

The point is: everyone has a different set of standards by which they rate something, so we should not expect every customer to have a rating scale that matches our own.

The point was driven home by a recent question about car-sales websites which was answered by politicalguru-ga. The customer rated it “only” three stars, but gave a tip.

Some researchers take three stars to mean that the client is not satisfied with the answer given, but I see it differently. I reckon it usually works like this:

  • 1 star = very poor
  • 2 stars = poor
  • 3 stars = acceptable
  • 4 stars = good
  • 5 stars = very good

The Google Answers Help and Tips page says something slightly different (though I doubt that many customers have studied it carefully):

To rate an answer, click on the “Rate Answer” button in the answer field. You can rate an answer from 1 star (poor) to 5 stars (great) … Google Answers suggest that you rate an answer based on its content (how helpful was the information), clarity (how clearly was the information communicated), and tone (how friendly and polite was the writing).

A slightly different rating scale is offered by Google Video. When you hover your mouse over the rating stars you see the following guidelines:

  • 1 = poor
  • 2 = below average
  • 3 = average
  • 4 = above average
  • 5 = excellent

None of this really matters: the point is that ratings are always subjective and can certainly be inconsistent. If you bear that in mind, they can still provide useful feedback to the researcher.

Robert Skelton’s SearchEngineZ

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Former researcher Robert Skelton (robertskelton-ga) runs a quirky but useful website at

Rob lists a whole bunch of useful links to search engines, reference websites, webmaster tools and the like. One of Rob’s specialities is People Search, and his site offers 20 pages related to that.

Perhaps the links on these pages include ones which Rob uses for another of his sites ( where he will attempt to locate anyone for $25. He writes: “Individual people tracing, done by hand, utilizing various databases and search engines – many are not available to the general public. Every query is different, so we use intuition, experience and intelligence to spot clues and provide accurate results

SearchEngineZ is a rather cluttered site (some might even say a jumble), and there are ads and affiliate links sprinkled around, and a few links are out-of-date, but there’s a mine of great information too. (Rob makes a point to mention that there are no popups.)


As if that isn’t enough, Rob also runs (“Fast Info for the Google Enthusiast”) which is packed with news, links and tips about Google. He also has a rather quirky but interesting blog and a bunch of ideas to improve the world.

(edited 2006-08-25: I hadn’t previously been aware that Rob was no longer a GA researcher)

Google Answers Researcher Interviews

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Back in 2003, Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped ran a series of interviews with Google Answers researchers. The interviews have been approved by Google, but do not in any way represent Google’s views.


The interviews make interesting reading, and most of the researchers interviewed are still active on Google Answers.

There are interviews with clouseau-ga, digsalot-ga, easterangel-ga, journalist-ga, justaskscott-ga, knowledge_seeker-ga, larre-ga, leli-ga, missy-ga, omnivorous-ga, pafalafa-ga, pinkfreud-ga, politicalguru-ga, robertskelton-ga, scriptor-ga, sublime-ga, tehuti-ga, till-ga, tisme-ga, tlspiegel-ga and voila-ga (who writes that a book about her life would start with the sentence “Albatross, flavored dental floss, wing-ed fleeber’s dross; roll softballs in my salad”).

Incidentally, Philipp Lenssen recently had a positive experience with Yahoo Answers.

A warning or a promise?

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Digshotep and his extended family will be returning along with the school year. Around the US Labor Day holiday.

My wine shop is doing well. The stinky emperor has gone back to Rome after winning all the Olympic Games and ‘wowed’ ’em in the theaters. ( I wish I could put some kind of symbol here to indicate a smirk – but smilies have not been invented yet )

But – Since I, Phillip Digsopter, am supposed to be the one writting the rest of these histories, both past ‘and’ future, I am going to have to do something about that :) – I’ll just borrow from the ‘future’ part ;p – – more fun than hieroglyphs ;]

There will be stories from here in Greece, and from contemporary locations elsewhere. There will also be flashbacks to earlier days in Egypt, which will help explain just how we got here.

We will be sending our own merchandizing agents to Babylon, India, China, the far off Philippines, and even someplace that will someday be called “The Americas,” to explore future markets for our good Egyptian wines and learn a bit about ancient lifestyles there.

Listen to me. I’m already writting of my contemporaries as though I lived a couple of thousand years in the future. “Ancient lifestyles,” indeed!

Might make an interesting mix of viewpoints though?

If you want to catch this story from the beginning again, you can do so here:

Or if you want to begin with Phillip Digsopter’s arrival in Athens, go here:

Or if you want to ignore it completely, you can go here

Till then

Phillip Digsopter

Domesday Book now online.

Monday, August 7th, 2006

In 1085 William the Conqueror’s England was under threat of invasion by the Danes. In order to find out the financial and military resources available to him, he ordered that a survey should be undertaken throughout England. The results of this great survey is known as The Domesday Book.

Copies of the survey are now available online at the UK’s National Archives. There is a searchable database for place and people’s names, and plenty of background information on how the survey was conducted, the questions asked, and what life was like in 11th century England. Images of the pages of the book require a small payment.


Sunday, August 6th, 2006

I usually write about things that I know something about, but I fear that I’ve already covered everything in my meager repertoire. 

Anyway, today is a bit different. I’m writing on a topic about which I know next to nothing…ftp.

In researching an open question at Google Answers, about world timezone data, I came across what looks to be a very informative site on the topic of timezone databases:  Sources for Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time Data


Everything I need to answer the aforementioned question is here, no doubt.  Problem is, I can barely make heads or tails of it. 

There’s a mysterious world out there of the ftp-heads; folks who prefer storing and trnasfering information using an ancient method known as file transfer protocol, rather than the more recent hyper-text transfer protocol, or good old http, that powers the internet. 

Why use ftp?  I haven’t a clue, except that most of those involved seem to programmers, so perhaps there’s an advantage in that world that I can’t quite make out. 

But I suspect it has more to do with ftp’s appeal as the sort of street slang of the internet.  FTP-ers have a secret language, known only to insiders, and it rarely seems to get translated into http-happy language. 

Take the timezone link that I mentioned above.  The site starts off with:

The tz database…The public-domain time zone database contains code and data that represent the history of local time for many representative locations around the globe.

BINGO!  That’s exactly what I want.  But where the @#$%^&*! is it?

The site is full of links…to pages on time zone boundaries, daylight-saving rules, something called the GNU C Library, and a site on FTP distribution.

But the actual timezone database is, how shall I put this, elusive.  At least to me, it is.  Not even a specialized ftp search engine was any help. 

And if you want to paly around with a file or two, just try unzipping things with file extensions like rmp, gz-tar, sqx.   Poor old WinZip just throws up its arms and chokes.


There are plenty of other folks who have figured out how to access timezone files and put them to use, such as: Service: Date and Time Gateway – Timezone Selector

Current Time in 1000 Places

etc., etc.

But nowhere does anyone seem to provide the sort of Timezone 101 instructions that a non-programmer like myself needs in order to get going.

By this point, you’ve probably recognized my little write-up here for what it really is – 50% whining, and 50% pleading.  But just in case, let me be explicit….

For the thousands of Web-Owl readers out there…a little help?


pafalafaga David Sarokin

How many Google products do you use?

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Google has a raft of products and services available. How many of them do you use? or even know about?

Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped has put together a survey. For each service, click whether you use it hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, basically never, or you haven’t even heard of it. Then view the results.


It probably won’t surprise anyone to see that Google Answers is not at the top. But it’s ahead of Google Sets, a service that I really like and use occasionally.

British Pathe newsreels

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

Here in the UK, I fondly remember as a young boy going on my weekly trip to our local flea-pit, sorry cinema, to watch the latest film. Before the B movie – yes, in those days there were two films – there were the newsreels from British Pathe. The loud crowing of the Pathe News cockerel announced that start of the news. These newsreels had been bringing the news to cinema-goers since 1902. The commentary was always very precise and well-spoken, often with lively music, and in a style that today would be laughed at. The news covered events not only in the UK, but abroad as well. The newsreels stopped in 1970 because of the rise of television.

The archive is now available online at The archive consists of “3500 hours of filmed history amounting to over 90,000 individual items.”
To download a free view of a newsreel you need to register. A wonderful source of UK history particularly British culture during the 20th century.