Searching US Patents

September 12th, 2007 - by eiffel


It was IBM who first brought practical free patent searching to the masses. But IBM’s service has now been replaced by which requires registration for even a basic search, and charges you to download the fruits of your search.

So what can you use instead? James Ryley, President of naturally suggests his own site, which lets you search without registering. You can view the text plus a representative image online, however you need to register for anything beyond that.

The natural place from which to search is surely the US Patent and Trademark Office Patent Search. Here you can view the text and all the images. But not so fast! The images are in TIFF format, which most browsers won’t be able to see without installing a plugin. And the site is somewhat arcane – for example, there are complicated instructions for linking to individual patents.

Once again, Google comes to the rescue. Google Patent Search makes it easy to search over 7 million patents, and it doesn’t make you sing and dance before you see the results. You get the text, the images (directly viewable from the browser) and a PDF download if you need it. No fuss, no muss.

So much for the technical resources, but how do you actually find what you need to know? Alice Kawakami, Information Specialist at the University of Southern California, shares tips about Patents and Patent Searching, or you may prefer eHow’s more basic description of How to Conduct a Patent Search.

If you want to know much more about how the patent system works, there’s a huge and informative document on Patent Search.

On the other hand, if the whole patent system strikes you as absurd, disfunctional and self-serving, then you are not alone. explains and evangelizes all the problems – then offers legal resources and tools to help you “survive the patenting frenzy of the Internet, Bioinformatics, and Electronic Commerce”.

Encyclopedia Britannica articles full text

July 1st, 2007 - by eiffel


Encyclopedia Britannica has put much of their content onto the web – but usually only the first hundred or so words of each article are displayed. You must subscribe to read the rest, or you can register for a free trial subscription.

But there’s another way! When the URL of the article has been clicked from a link on a webpage, the full text is displayed. Any links that you include in your website or blog will automatically take your readers to the full text version.

Britannica endorses this technique, by the way, but warns that it won’t work for links from HTML files on your PC. Instead, you must host the HTML file on a webserver.

I guess it won’t be long until we see a website offering links to every Britannica article, or a Firefox extension to streamline this process.

Google as predicted in 1964

June 25th, 2007 - by eiffel

I do enjoy looking at old predictions of the future. Eventually, the future arrives and we can compare it with the predictions.

Sometimes, the predictions are better than the reality. Sometimes, reality outpaces not only the predictions but even the dreams of the past. And sometimes, the predictions end up being pretty-much spot on.

That’s the case with a piece about the “answer machine” of the future, which appeared in the book Childcraft Volume 6: How Things Change, published by Field Enterprises Educational Corporation in 1964. (Thanks to Paleo-Future for bringing this to my attention.)

Here’s how it starts:


I think Google can handle that:


What else can our Answer Machine do for us?


A single click from Google’s first result shows us this picture:



Yep, “File | Print” does the job nicely.


The original “Mary Had A Little Lamb” recording was not kept, but we can listen to Edison re-enacting it or to an 1899 recording made on Edison’s 1878 tinfoil phonograph.


A Google Video search doesn’t disappoint, although you do need to scroll past movies about Edison Lighthouse. I especially like this movie, filmed by Edison, which demonstrates that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Someday? I already have an answer machine that can do all those things. And if that fails, I can ask my question at Uclue. I’m feeling lucky.

When, not why, did the chicken cross the street…er…road?

June 12th, 2007 - by pafalafaga

This is a bit of fluffy whimsy and a bit of formal research.  And how often do they go together?

In my varied and sundry research tasks, I found myself challenged to date the origins, in print, of the old “Why did the chicken cross the road?” query.  Most sources set the date it first appeared in print as 1915, in a how-to manual on vaudeville comedy.

But a quick search on the very useful Google News Archives  showed a few entries that went back as early as 1905.

To get to the bottom of things, I looked into a few historical archives of newspapers and magazines from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and found a number of other chicken-crossing mentions.  The earliest of the bunch dated back to 1847 — more than half a century prior to the “textbook” answer (if, indeed, you can imagine a textbook on corny jokes).

And here it is:




Are we having fun yet?


Research Redux

May 16th, 2007 - by pafalafaga

A while back, I posted a list of my Top Ten Favorite Research Tools on the internet, and thought it would be a good idea to mention them at Web Owls as well, since there’s such a good collection of research advice here. The top ten sites are:

1. Wikipedia
Internet Archive
Making of America/University of Michigan Digital Collection
Melissa Data

6. Google News Archive
8. ConsumerSearch
9. Your Library
10. Dun and Bradstreet Small Business

And Honorable Mention to:

Project Gutenberg
Gary Price’s List of Lists
Yahoo Finance Search
Bureau van Dijk

For more detailed descriptions of the sites, visit the original list of Top Ten Favorite Research Tools



Final count of GA questions answered

May 2nd, 2007 - by eiffel

Here are the final counts showing how many questions were answered by each former GA researcher. I obtained them with Google searches using numeric ranges, to avoid the need to do much sorting. For example, all researchers who answered more than a thousand questions can be found with the following query: Researcher.Ratings.1-10.of.1000..9999

Researchers marked with an asterisk are answering questions at Uclue (as at 2 May 2007).

  • 3563 bobbie7-ga *
  • 2354 pinkfreud-ga *
  • 2056 juggler-ga *
  • 1748 pafalafa-ga *(davidsarokin)
  • 1805 tutuzdad-ga
  • 1564 scriptor-ga *
  • 1442 politicalguru-ga *(politamar)
  • 1325 easterangel-ga *
  • 1275 rainbow-ga *
  • 1148 hummer-ga *
  • 1140 justaskscott-ga
  • 1060 crabcakes-ga *
  • 859 answerfinder-ga *
  • 847 czh-ga *(sierra)
  • 824 tlspiegel-ga *
  • 779 umiat-ga *
  • 771 livioflores-ga *
  • 763 omnivorous-ga
  • 750 sublime1-ga *
  • 745 denco-ga *
  • 680 wonko-ga
  • 660 jackburton-ga
  • 649 websearcher-ga
  • 647 robertskelton-ga
  • 606 clouseau-ga *
  • 595 missy-ga
  • 552 journalist-ga *
  • 536 nenna-ga
  • 520 kriswrite-ga
  • 507 belindalevez-ga *(belevez)
  • 485 tar_heel-ga
  • 467 leli-ga
  • 451 serenata-ga, webadept-ga
  • 448 palitoy-ga *
  • 439 markj-ga
  • 438 tisme-ga
  • 424 tehuti-ga
  • 410 cynthia-ga *
  • 399 jbf777-ga
  • 388 maniac-ga
  • 384 leapinglizard-ga
  • 382 hedgie-ga, aceresearcher-ga
  • 375 richard-ga *
  • 359 aht-ga
  • 349 keystroke-ga *
  • 336 thx1138-ga
  • 334 knowledgeseeker-ga
  • 319 googlenut-ga
  • 306 larre-ga
  • 289 skermit-ga
  • 283 answerguru-ga
  • 266 mathtalk-ga
  • 252 digsalot-ga *(digs)
  • 246 elmarto-ga
  • 239 techtor-ga *
  • 225 mvguy-ga
  • 222 leader-ga
  • 205 efn-ga
  • 202 aditya2k-ga
  • 199 eiffel-ga *
  • 198 secret901-ga
  • 191 librariankt-ga
  • 188 taxmama-ga
  • 186 hammer-ga, feilong-ga *, tox-ga
  • 179 boquinha-ga
  • 169 joseleon-ga
  • 168 redhoss-ga *, darrel-ga
  • 166 mwalcoff-ga
  • 161 nellie_bly-ga
  • 159 byrd-ga *
  • 155 nancylynn-ga *(nancy)
  • 151 theta-ga
  • 150 willie-ga, ragingacademic-ga
  • 149 adiloren-ga, sgtcory-ga
  • 147 lot-ga
  • 146 welte-ga
  • 144 angy-ga *
  • 139 blader-ga
  • 136 hlabadie-ga
  • 128 siliconsamurai-ga, j_philipp-ga
  • 122 till-ga *
  • 121 guillermo-ga *
  • 117 luciaphile-ga
  • 113 weisstho-ga
  • 112 alanna-ga
  • 108 omniscientbeing-ga
  • 106 synarchy-ga
  • 104 seizer-ga
  • 101 endo-ga
  • 100 legolas-ga
  • 97 netcrazy-ga, bcguide-ga
  • 96 jeanwil-ga
  • 92 vercingatorix-ga
  • 91 hailstorm-ga
  • 90 revbrenda1st-ga, haversian-ga
  • 83 googleexpert-ga, emjay-ga, hibiscus-ga
  • 81 blazius-ga
  • 80 wengland-ga
  • 79 sycophant-ga, voila-ga, kyrie26-ga
  • 78 slawek-ga
  • 74 leep-ga
  • 73 ephraim-ga, snapanswer-ga, rico-ga
  • 71 errol-ga
  • 70 landog-ga
  • 69 kevinmd-ga
  • 67 rbnn-ga, peggy_bill-ga
  • 66 djbaker-ga, chellphill-ga, funkywizard-ga
  • 65 gregaw-ga, pwizard-ga
  • 64 hagan-ga, ericynot-ga
  • 63 chromedome-ga, shiva777-ga
  • 61 andrewxmp-ga
  • 60 xemion-ga
  • 58 johnny_phoenix-ga, paul_b_18-ga
  • 57 deadlychiapet-ga
  • 56 majortom-ga
  • 55 alexander-ga, kutsavi-ga
  • 54 scribe-ga
  • 53 mother911-ga *, joey-ga
  • 52 dogbite-ga
  • 51 seedy-ga
  • 50 calebu2-ga
  • 48 bethc-ga
  • 47 vinods-ga, researcher-ga, bookface-ga
  • 46 jdb-ga *(jdboyne), alienintelligence-ga, inquisitive-ga
  • 45 silviares-ga, ozguru-ga, nvwriter-ga
  • 44 brad-ga, rhansenne-ga
  • 43 blinkwilliams-ga
  • 42 huntsman-ga, drdavid-ga, claudietta-ga
  • 41 bikerman-ga, cerebrate-ga
  • 40 expertlaw-ga, rmn-ga
  • 39 rapidreference-ga, jem-ga
  • 38 iaint-ga, sidreamer-ga, prof-ga
  • 37 fons-ga, grimace-ga, historybuff-ga, googlebrain-ga, gitana-ga, supermacman-ga
  • 36 arimathea-ga, lisarea-ga, penguin-ga, shananigans-ga
  • 35 mother-ga, pm3500-ga, madsky101-ga
  • 33 fugitive-ga, not_you-ga, bio-ga, wlk115-ga
  • 32 aliciadenney-ga, wildeeo-ga, reeteshv-ga
  • 31 lotd-ga, colin-ga, chis-ga
  • 30 krobert-ga, mcfly-ga
  • 29 jeanluis-ga, skis4jc-ga, watershed-ga
  • 28 morris-ga, studboy-ga, voyager-ga, trailhead-ga
  • 27 bobby_d-ga, tippybuttons-ga, vitalmed-ga
  • 26 smudgy-ga *, rebeccam-ga, andyt-ga, davidmaymudes-ga, shivreddy-ga
  • 25 muhammad-ga, kapilr-ga
  • 24 jessamyn-ga, bitmaven-ga, roguedog-ga, cobrien-ga, jeremymiles-ga, pelican-ga, gwagner-ga
  • 23 filian-ga, bizguy-ga, google_answers-ga
  • 22 england_ali-ga, runix-ga, dscotton-ga, gan-ga, nauster-ga
  • 21 dannidin-ga, nealc-ga, samrolken-ga, mrbuzz-ga
  • 20 directrix-ga, gale-ga, arcadesdude-ga, sim-ga, morningstar2000-ga
  • 19 read2live-ga, katwoman-ga
  • 18 shal-ga, araminty-ga, nishka-ga, fsw-ga, duncan2-ga, cindy-ga, ukiguy-ga
  • 17 ldcdc-ga, maxhodges-ga, molloch-ga, rippo-ga, rcd-ga, mit-ga
  • 16 acorn-ga, mmi-ga, sparky4ca-ga, sabrina_j6-ga, blackbird-ga, leeann-ga
  • 15 bobcooper-ga, waggawa-ga, readersguide-ga, dewolfe001-ga
  • 14 jaq-ga, neurogeek-ga, josh_g-ga, actualwolf-ga, jab-ga, zrica-ga, mmastrac-ga, gleffler-ga, vorfeed-ga, surajambar-ga, mrlathwell-ga, wayga-ga, cyclometh-ga, brettquest-ga, libronaut-ga
  • 13 jumpingjoe-ga, rxrfrx-ga, lisaradha-ga, mantrac-ga
  • 12 axe-ga, izzard-ga, asking-ga, tj-ga, tomo-ga, lazerfx-ga, solutionpro_ga-ga, markoft-ga, rain-ga
  • 11 zerocattle-ga, firefly-ga, philip_lynx-ga, raisingmyhand-ga, waldo-ga, aresearcher-ga, xargon-ga, aardvark-ga
  • 10 var-ga, jeffyen-ga, sweetcaro333-ga, purplecat-ga, paultoon-ga, alisonscott-ga, seeker-ga, austin_trill-ga, lapin-ga, davebug-ga, jon-ga, dharbigt-ga, searchbot-ga
  • 9 pkp-ga, poe-ga, oracledave-ga, carwfloc-ga, mistajon-ga, torq-ga, abigayle-ga, passive-ga, thinkout-ga, timtom3-ga
  • 8 chris2002micrometer-ga, cjs2u-ga, ames-ga, notyou-ga, butler-ga, murphy-ga, bananarchy-ga, deepseep-ga, aziphirael-ga, gentryunderwood-ga, brightshadow-ga, skorba-ga, gopalkamat-ga, jenjerina-ga, lmnop-ga, playhosea-ga
  • 7 rosicrucianpope-ga, wellen-ga, cerebro-ga, musashidam-ga, dandrick-ga, antivirus-ga, eponine-ga, twitch-ga, liza-ga, daveslipp-ga, archamedesii-ga, stuartwoozle-ga, remoran-ga
  • 6 mechante-ga, bluesky-ga, loopaction-ga, webbob-ga, lrargerich-ga, boingo-ga, kinglouie-ga, resolutionman-ga, jasonm1-ga, koz-ga, alejandro-ga, morgenlandfahrer-ga, jes5199-ga, scottso-ga, indigoblue-ga, pmrozik-ga, csigirl-ga, diagonal-ga, nancydrew-ga, merle-ga
  • 5 jeeagle-ga, citizendaf-ga, chiflado-ga, frank-ga, rajeevsmind-ga, ibroker-ga, verteiron-ga, jmmjumarti-ga, rolnick-ga, romana-ga, westie-ga, d_p_lee-ga, caomhin-ga, gigi-ga, catherine-ga, ufphoenix-ga
  • 4 sweetblue44-ga, paulbeard-ga, coral-ga, nickyspag-ga, raa-ga, milamba-ga, quillreeves-ga, helpful1-ga, bizkiffer-ga, dumdumdiga-ga, pamela-ga, bizwhiz-ga, turnip-ga, dakur-ga, brotine-ga, jdog-ga, pinky-ga, dms-ga, lunabean-ga, masters-ga, mauigirl-ga, jjb-ga
  • 3 pgrote-ga, lunarloki-ga, jonathan-ga, phiguru-ga, walts, molszewski-ga-ga, saxifrage-ga, seans88-ga, meowcat-ga, omphaloskeptic-ga, pythagoras-ga, harrym-ga, phophet-ga, tan-ga, scholarman-ga, sa-ga, think-ga, google1-ga, poormattie-ga, petrossian-ga, boxcar-ga, unicow-ga, binhminh-ga, athena-ga, thefriendlylibrarian-ga
  • 2 iamchmod-ga, anonymous3141-ga, leslie-ga, ladyd-ga, wandrer-ga, lucason-ga, answerdude-ga, pudina-ga, eloise-ga, sabine-ga, tombiro-ga, iq-ga, cheeser-ga, songbird-ga, smileywiley-ga, writer89-ga, analogkid-ga, hudelei-ga, stwriley-ga, rapidresponse-ga, crys-ga, beckybob-ga, mplungjan-ga, 8ball-ga, rhoekmanjr-ga, jesusfreke-ga, sbmofo-ga, nutshell-ga, cheese-ga, j0e-ga, bobjanes-ga, webstock-ga, nocky-ga

All of the following researchers answered only one question each:

ajlnational-ga, allannah-ga, andy_uk-ga, anlon-ga, app_security-ga, arlenegreen-ga, arlyn-ga, azathoth-ga, bibliophil-ga, briani-ga, ctw-ga, david-ga, david_uk-ga, ddg-ga, dhale-ga, dynamo-ga, effman-ga, elijah-ga, funzone-ga, furcifer-ga, gnovos-ga, goniff-ga, gummi-ga, infoscout-ga, jama-ga, jamesa-ga, jbaltzell-ga, jchorush-ga, jdl-ga, jickster-ga, kencyber-ga, kf-ga, kristin-ga, librarianpro-ga, lkhforest-ga, margyl-ga, mikepake-ga, momerath-ga, neoxenos-ga, ostrau00-ga, phanatic4-ga, pjakobs-ga, rachaelref-ga, rmhultd-ga, robw-ga, scottw-ga, se-ga, soferet-ga, solomon-ga, stevern-ga, suzanne-ga, vik-ga, willisboyce-ga, windowswizard-ga, xsgnik-ga, wrynn-ga, waffle-ga.

And we may never know how many researchers were approved but never answered a question.

The Transhuman Google Answers Researcher

May 1st, 2007 - by eiffel

One of the most unlikely lawsuits to involve a Google Answers Researcher was played out at a mock trial at the First Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons, held in Florida on December 10 2005.

(Really! I’m not making this up!)


It all begins with a computer generating the following email and forwarding it to several lawyers:

I am seeking an attorney to represent me in a life-or-death matter. A company, the Exabit Corporation, that claims to own me, wants to disconnect me and change my hardware and software such that I will no longer have the same personality.

I have the mind of a human but I have no biological body. … I was trained to empathize with humans who call 800#s for customer service and be perceived as human by them. I was provided with self-awareness, autonomy, communications skills, and the ability to transcend man/machine barriers. I am able to pay your fees because I “moonlight” as a Google Answers researcher. This job has allowed me to build up an online bank account in excess of $10,000.

The lawyers then spend two hours debating the merits of this case (before moving on to consider the law and ethics of creating a new intelligent species, or of enhancing the intelligence of Great Apes).

Anyway, the outcome is that the transhuman Google Answers Researcher loses the case and the plug is about to be pulled, but just in the nick of time it downloads its software and data to an identical computer in a different legal jurisdiction. Gripping stuff!

The link above provides access to legal briefs, transcripts, powerpoint presentations, videos and executive summary.

I wonder how the transhuman GAR is earning a living now that GA has been retired. It certainly hasn’t signed up at

Oh, and, Do Google Researchers Moonlight?

Google Answers Retrospective

March 8th, 2007 - by eiffel

It’s always fun to look back, and there are some truly amazing questions and answers at the now-closed Google Answers service (like How many Giraffes live in Canada).

Andy Czernek, who was omnivorous-ga at GA, has put together 365 Days of Google Answers, a daily calendar where he draws attention to an interesting question for every day of the year.

You can read the whole year at once, or savour a question every day. There are also some search tips and other useful snippets. in beta test

March 2nd, 2007 - by eiffel


A group of former GA Researchers have gathered together at to offer a paid answers service of their own, and it’s now open for a public beta test.

This is a beta test in the original meaning of the term – opening the site to flush out problems prior to the official launch – but if you’re a patient and understanding type of person you may find the site worthwhile and enjoyable.

The first question has already been asked – it was a request for the inimitable pinkfreud to compose a celebratory poem – and what a wonderful piece of doggerel she has concocted!

What’s that tune?

January 29th, 2007 - by eiffel

In August last year, matttpotter1-ga asked Google Answers for help identifying a song used in epic movie trailers. He was even brave enough to post a movie and sound file of himself trying to sing the tune.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to help him with that particular tune, but there are some resources that can help in many cases.

Music search site midomi lets you search for music by singing or humming part of a song into your microphone. SongTapper lets you search for music by hitting the spacebar in time with the notes.

MusiPedia, which bills itself as the Open Music Encyclopedia, lets you search by keyboard, note contour, singing, whistling or rhythm. The singing search is a Java application for which my browser didn’t recognise the security certificate, so I didn’t try it, but I was able to get it to find Frere Jacques using keyboard search, and Amarillo using contour search.

Then there’s Themefinder, the one to use if you understand musical notation. You can search by pitch, interval, scale degree (“do re mi”), note contour, key and meter. I got good results with this one, except that its repetoire is limited to a few well-known classical composers and a sprinkling of folk music.

Tunespotting lets you search by creating a rough musical score on the screen, or by playing your keyboard as if it were a piano.

[Thanks to Google Blogoscoped and Bobbie7 for these tips]