A thousand questions

November 2nd, 2007 - by eiffel

At Uclue we have just passed a major milestone – our first thousand questions. Actually, we now stand at 1017 questions including 911 funded questions, of which 640 have been answered.


It’s a big milestone for us, and it’s been a fascinating journey. Along the way we’ve discovered what kind of person you can hire to sort through your bills and get your finances in order, how to size I-beams for an overhead traveling crane, what to give to an architect who has everything, whether the middle name of Wayne is associated with criminality, the source of a painting from a distant memory, how much chocolate a young lady could buy for five shillings in 1925, how to calculate the foci of an eillipse, which are the worst organizational charts in the world, how to make a human hamster ball and a thousand and one other fascinating facts.

Researcher davidsarokin coined the term kiloclue to describe what is discovered in the process of answering a thousand questions. May Uclue generate many more kiloclues in the years to come!

Information please!

November 1st, 2007 - by eiffel

How could we obtain information in the days before the internet? Well, apart from the library there was always the telephone operator.

Officially, their role was to help customers make calls and find numbers, but they would often be willing to go beyond that.


Uclue Researcher sublime1 brought to my attention a delightful and touching story of a young boy who made use of this “Information service” in unconventional ways.

Sadly, the friendly and caring telephone operator seems to be an endangered species.

Free website, anyone?

October 31st, 2007 - by pafalafaga

For about a year now, I’ve been making use of the free web-hosting service offered by Microsoft called Office Live Basic.

Most people have probably stopped reading already, as soon as they saw the name Microsoft. Truth be told, I can’t really blame you. Their free website tools, all ASP-based (don’t ask me what that means) are cumbersome, and definitely have a learning curve.

But, you can register a domain name for nothing flat, build a site pretty quickly using their template construction methods, and — in time — pick up enough tricks to make the site look and function reasonably well.

I’ve used Office Live Basic to build to build two sites which are both doing nicely in terms of steadily-increasing traffic. My latest is FirstMention.com where I indulge a peculiar fascination I have with word and phrase origins. If you visit the site, you’ll see several features of the ASP-based sites, including:

  • Pages work okay when viewed in Internet Explorer, but there are some problems with Firefox and other browswers. I’m just beginning to work out how to fix these.
  • It’s possible (but not easy) to incorporate Adsense. Text ads work well, but image ads, for some reason, seem particularly non-relevant to the pages, and I’m eliminating their use bit by bit.
  • There are limits to page formatting options with the free service. For instance, there are only a handful of fonts available.

Anyway, just wanted to mention this, in case anyone feels like exploring a useful-but-not-perfect freebie for registering a domain name and quickly building a site.



Victor Hugo tells poet: “Keep your day job”

October 15th, 2007 - by eiffel

A handwritten note from Victor Hugo was found in a French edition of his book “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Uclue customer binder123 wondered what Victor Hugo was writing about, but the author’s scrawl was hard to make out, and he had used antiquated spellings and letterforms.

Researcher scriptor managed to decipher most of the text, and uncovered a touching letter written by Hugo to an aspiring poet who had sent a sample of his work and sought his advice. Hugo replied that the hopeful should not give up his day job, because “success sometimes avoids the talent and goes to the mediocrity”.

Here is scriptor’s English translation:

Hauteville house. – 3 November [1862]

I read your poem, Monsieur, you asked me for advice, I sense a noble heart in your ___ plea, I strive to answer you.

No, do not sacrifice your profession, do not hazard your peace; the priest lives on the altar, but the poet does not live on poetry.

That literature requires the literate, ___ without exception. Success is capricious. I add this: success sometimes avoids the talent and goes to the mediocrity; thus it is impossible to predict anything.

After having read a very beautiful poem, one must neither encourage nor discourage the poet.

That is my disposition, Monsieur.

Recieve my cordial sentiment of ___.

— Victor Hugo

It’s amazing (and fabulous) that something like this can come to the public eye for the first time, 145 years later. It’s a lovely insight into Victor Hugo the person.

For further details, see Victor Hugo Note Translation at Uclue. If you don’t know the poet and author Victor Hugo, see his entry at Wikipedia.

Decoding acronyms

October 10th, 2007 - by eiffel

Sometimes you want to know the meaning of an acronym. Perhaps it’s new, or perhaps it’s jargon — a term used within a particular community or subculture.

There are two ways to go here. You could look it up on a comprehensive site such as The Free Dictionary, where you may get dozens of possible meanings. Take a look at this Free Dictionary search for the acronym OP, for example.

Or, you could look it up at the Urban Dictionary. A Uclue user, willdeans, describes the advantage of this approach:

People submit their own definitions and then vote on the definition. As a result, the most common uses of an acronym become immediately clear. Chances are the definition you are looking for will be in the top few

Thanks, Will!

Prices, Inflation, Stocks, Interest Rates

October 2nd, 2007 - by eiffel

Historical information about prices, inflation, stocks, interest rates, exchange rates, labor prices, the value of gold, etc goes under the name of Economic History.

A wealth of economic history data can be found at the Economic History Services website, where you can explore a variety of data sets and use a variety of calculators to answer questions such as these:

  • How many modern dollars would I need to buy the same goods that I could have bought for $10 in 1793?
  • How has the purchasing power of the pound changed since 1264?
  • How much did unskilled labor cost in the past?
  • What has happened to interest rates, exchange rates, the cost of living, the stock market, and savings in the past?

Other services at the site include book reviews, databases, an encyclopedia of Economic and Business History, and a massive set of useful links to related sites.

Some of the calculators redirect to the Measuring Worth site, where a number of useful data sets are hosted, together with a glossary and explanatory article about Measures of Worth.

The Rolls Royce of Patent Searching

September 27th, 2007 - by eiffel

If you need to go beyond what Google Patent Search can deliver, you could consider LexisNexis TotalPatent, a pay service. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it (unless you’re a Patent Attorney).


The following blurb comes via Amy Storey, who sent it on behalf of LexisNexis TotalPatent:

I’ve enjoyed reading Web Owls tips on searching patents and thought your readers might be interested in LexisNexis and their recently launched TotalPatent … While TotalPatent isn’t a free service, users of TotalPatent will get the benefits of:

  • Exclusive back files – we have patents that go back as far as 1836 for the US patents. The European Patent Office is 1978; World Intellectual Property Office is 1978; Great Britain is 1890 and the Netherlands is 1915.
  • In some cases, TotalPatent actually has more documentation of these patents online than the national patent office. For example, we are loading the full text of Granted patents published by the British Patent Office back to 1979 that are unavailable from any other source, including the British Patent Office. We are able to do so because we had heard a library was going to throw away their older patent records due to a space problem.
  • 22 full-text authorities in one source
  • 3 times more full text collections than anyone else offers
  • 65 million compressed, multi-page, searchable PDF documents.
  • Chisum on Patents, Milgrim on Licensing, and many others
  • Prior-art content from Elsevier Science Journals.
  • World’s largest collection of searchable full-text and bibliographic patent databases—in the language of publication and English translations—including images, citations, legal status and patent family collections.
  • Alert and profiling tools used to monitor industry trends and technology issues, allowing the user to stay ahead of technological developments and competitive activity.

What can you do with an ISBN?

September 18th, 2007 - by eiffel


Suppose you have the ISBN for a book – what can you do with it?

You can look it up in WorldCat, the free catalog of the world’s libraries. You can look it up using Google Book Search, or the Internet Book Database, or the Internet Book List. You can check LibraryThing to see how the book has been tagged, and to find a list of similarly-tagged books.

You can find the book on search engines. You can do a citation metasearch. You can access the bibliographical information in MLA or APA format

You can find the catalog entry for the book at numerous libraries worldwide, whether famous (such as Oxford University) or obscure (such as the Waikato Institute of Technology).

You can find this book at online booksellers such as Amazon, or perhaps half.com. Or maybe you want it for free, in which case you could check BookMooch, or perhaps you can swap it at BookHopper. If you want to know where your copy has been before you bought it, you could find the book at BookCrossing.

You could look up the book at a price comparison site, or you could see if it’s listed by sellers of rare books. Or perhaps it’s a technical book that’s available in the online reference library at Safari Books?

How do you do all these things? I could give you a long list of links, but I don’t need to. Those good wikipedians have set up a wonderful page for this.

Visit Wikipedia’s Book Sources page and enter your ISBN. In return you’ll get a page full of links, all customized to that ISBN, with which you can access that book at all the services listed above and many more too.

Wikipedia warns that possession of an ISBN doesn’t prove that a book was necessarily issued, as the publication may have been cancelled after the ISBN was assigned. Also, an ISBN identifies one specific edition of a book, so a single book might have multiple ISBNs (paperback, hardcover, second edition, etc). Wikipedia even comes to the rescue here – the Book Sources page also generates links to thingISBN and xISBN, services that will help you find different editions of the same book.

And if you want the same service for sites in upteen other languages including Slovenian and Persian, that’s available too. Book Sources is truly a comprehensive service.

Oh, and see this page if you don’t know your ISBN from your ICBM.

Shadow Genius

September 14th, 2007 - by pafalafaga

You’ve probably made shadow dogs and shadow rabits in front of a flashlight beam.  Well check this out.

It’s a wonderful world.   Just make sure your sound is on. 


Dinosaur Bob is missing (again!)

September 14th, 2007 - by eiffel

Have you seen this dinosaur? It’s a plastic toy, about 4 inches (100mm) tall, with spring-loaded ‘hands’ that can grip onto things, and legs that swivel.


What’s so special about Dinosaur Bob? Carl Jensen has owned Dinosaur Bob since he was a child, and has photographed him in front of famous landmarks, in twenty-five US states and four countries. Carl is desperate to have Dinosaur Bob back, and has offered a generous reward.

Bob was lost earlier this month at the Galleria shopping mall in Henderson (near Las Vegas). If Carl can’t recover the original, he would be very happy to discover how he can get a replacement of the same design.

Bob has asked for help at Q&A service uclue.com, without luck so far.

Actually, this isn’t the first time that Dinosaur Bob has gone walkabout. He also went missing in January 2005 during a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles. That time, Bob asked for help at Google Answers to no avail, but the Chicago Tribune picked up the story and a reader contacted Carl with a replacement.

Here’s hoping the story will have an equally lucky ending this time!

(PS: This Dinosaur Bob is not related to the one in William Joyce’s “Dinosaur Bob” book.)