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January 5, 2006

Web Search 101: Walt Mossberg, the world's best tech writer, offers a free introductory course


Bad news, good news.

The bad news is that you have to read the Wall Street Journal to get the information.

The good news is that I do this for you and pass it on.

Without further ado then, the December 28 story.

    What You Should Know About Web Searches

    A Guide to Hidden Features Of Google and Yahoo Engines; Avoiding the 'CHiPs' Links

    Doing a search in Google or Yahoo seems as easy as falling off a log.

    You just type in a word, and almost instantly you get a page of links to Web sites that bear some relevance to that search term.

    But too often your search results aren't exactly what you'd like.

    Irrelevant links can clutter the page, especially when your search term is ambiguous.

    If you type in "chips," the search engine has no way of knowing whether you mean computer chips, potato chips or chocolate chips.

    In fact, when I tried searching Google for that term a few days ago, the top result was a reference to the old "CHiPs" TV show.

    A few simple tips and tricks can help you get much more out of a Web search without becoming a professional researcher.

    Some are better techniques for general searches, others are simple ways to do more-targeted searches, which can often yield answers, rather than merely links.

    For instance, most people don't know that Google and Yahoo (the biggest, most-popular search engines) can perform math calculations and currency conversions, look up addresses based on phone numbers, and more.

    The easiest way to get better search results is to use two or three words, every time, instead of just one.

    Search engines do much better when they have a little context to help narrow the results.

    If you're thinking of going golfing in Scotland in the summer, a search on "Scotland" is a waste of electrons.

    But using three words -- "Scotland," "golf" and "summer" -- is much more on target and takes only a few seconds more.

    Similarly, typing in "chocolate chips" or "computer chips" yields a results list on which that old "CHiPs" TV show is nowhere to be found. (You don't have to type the word "and" between your search terms, because Google always assumes it's there.)

    Another great tip is to surround your search terms with quotation marks if you're looking for an exact name or phrase -- say a song title made up of common words.

    When Google or Yahoo (or most other search sites) see words in quotes, they interpret the words as an exact phrase and look only for instances where the words appear in their entirety, in the order you entered them.

    Combining these techniques is even better.

    If you're looking for lyrics to the Bob Dylan song "I Want You," the best thing to do is enter the title in quotes, followed by the words "Dylan" and "lyrics" not in quotes.

    You can also sharpen searches in Google by instructing the search engine to exclude certain topic areas that might clutter the results.

    This is done by following your search term with a space, then a minus sign followed by the topic you want to exclude.

    For instance, my search for "chips" would have excluded its very top listing, for the old TV show, if I had typed "chips -TV."

    Or, you can focus your Google search on a certain topic area by using the "+" sign.

    A search for "Washington +mountain" is very different from a general search on "Washington." (You'll get narrow info on mountains in the state, rather than links ranging from the University of Washington to the Washington, D.C., transit authority.)

    Other search-sharpening methods can be found on the Advanced Search pages of both Google and Yahoo.

    These are essentially forms you fill out that let you customize your search in numerous ways.

    Both Google and Yahoo also are packed with hidden search tricks that make getting information faster.

    They aren't foolproof, but they will frequently turn up an answer right on the results page, without requiring you to click on a link.

    Here are some examples:

    In both search engines, typing in a stock symbol gets you the company name, latest price and a price chart, right at the top of the results page.

    Typing in a U.S. street address in Google gets you a link to a map of the location.

    Yahoo goes one step better -- it actually shows the map on the results page.

    Entering a U.S. land-line phone number in Google or Yahoo gives you the name and address of the person to whom it belongs.

    Current weather conditions for U.S. cities can be displayed in Yahoo by typing the city name followed by the word "weather."

    In Google, you type the word "weather" first, followed by the city name.

    In Yahoo, if you type in the name of a sports team and the word "scores," you will get the current score of a game in which the team is involved.

    In Google, you can type in certain fact-based questions, like "population of Boston" or "birthplace of Tom Brady" and you get the answer, not just a link to the answer.

    If you type simple math problems, like 5x8.1999, into the search boxes of either search engine, the sites act like calculators, spitting back the result.

    Both sites will also perform conversions of weights and measures, and currency conversions, right in the search box.

    In Google, you just type in questions like "37 centimeters in inches" or "7,000 yen in us dollars."

    In Yahoo, you begin such questions with the word "convert," as in "convert 7,000 yen to dollars."

    Both sites will let you type in certain kinds of numbers, like package-tracking numbers, to get immediate information.

    A vehicle ID number will get you links to basic information about the car and an offer to buy more detailed reports on the vehicle.

    If you want to dig further into these hidden features, Google has a guide at: www.google.com/features.html.

    Yahoo has a similar guide at: tools.search.yahoo.com/shortcuts/.


A few thoughts and additional tips from my crack research team, for what they're worth (certainly not close to what I'm paying them...):

1) Don't waste your time on Yahoo or MSN or AOL search: they're useless compared to Google. Every single time I read some story about how one of the pretenders is "almost as good as Google" in one area of search or another, I do a comparison test: Google destroys the others — overwhelmingly.

2) The "Preferences" feature on Google's home page is worth customizing to your needs; it's got lots of things you can tune to your particular frequency — even if your name's not Kenneth.

3) The "Cached" link — which appears below most Google search results in light blue — is an invaluable feature. Quite often a page is unavailable for one reason or another yet can be retrieved, albeit with your search terms in colored blocks, via this route.

4) Putting an item's catalog product or model number into the Google search box will, in a surprisingly — and pleasantly so — large number of instances take you right to a page featuring that item.

January 5, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Liquid Trust — 'World's first spray trust enhancer'


Boy, this translation from the lab to the marketplace took place in record time.

Usually when someone describes something fundamental in Nature magazine any commercial potential is a decade or more away — at best.

No so with the work of economist Ernst Fehr and colleagues from the University of Zurich.

Their report in the June 2, 2005 issue of Nature (here's a link to the abstract) described how they dosed half their volunteer investors with a whiff of oxytocin nasal spray, the other half with placebo.

Investors who sniffed oxytocin were twice as likely to invest all their money, and on average put in about 20% more than the placebo subjects.

The researchers suggested that their work "could help alleviate social phobias," wrote Charles Q. Choi in the August, 2005 issue of Scientific American.

But wait — there's more.

In the December 7, 2005 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists at the National Institutes of Health, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, showed that oxytocin spray markedly "reduced activation of the amygdala and reduced coupling of the amygdala to brainstem regions implicated in autonomic and behavioral manifestations of fear."

Translation: the stuff works and we know where.

The scientists wrote that oxytocin may have a role in the treatment of social phobia or autism.


It would appear that someone with more ambitious horizons got wind of these studies because last week came the announcement of Liquid Trust Oxytocin Spray, a "sleek, colorless oxytocin body spray with a light alcohol base, small enough to carry around in a purse or pocket."

From the website:

    Unleash the power of Liquid Trust and instantly build relationships that were never possible before! It happens in just 3 simple steps:

    1. Apply Liquid Trust to yourself in the morning while getting dressed, before important meetings during the day or in the evening before going out to socialize.

    2. Everyone you encounter will immediately and unconsciously detect the pure human Oxytocin in Liquid Trust that you are wearing.

    3. Without realizing why, the people around you have a strong feeling of trust. They can’t explain it, but you know that Liquid Trust is doing its magic!


So don't bother asking what you saw in him or her — the answer is, "nothing."

There was nothing to see.

It just smelled right.

Forget roofies — this takes things to a whole new level.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot — you want some Liquid Trust, don't you?

You dog.

A two month supply costs $49.95 here.

No computer?

No problema.

They'll take your call: 800-507-3718.

You've heard of "hope in a jar?"

Welcome to "trust in a bottle."


And you thought you had to drink it — that's so 20th–century....

Disclaimer: bookofjoe cannot be held responsible for any mischief you get up to as a result of this or, for that matter, any post that appears here.

January 5, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Kobe Beef at Costco


Who woulda thunk it?

For $99.95 Costco will sell you two pounds of Kobe beef from Cuisine Solutions.

Nice price.

Should you happen to be in Japan and in the mood for Kobe beef (above) prepare to drop at least a couple hundred dollars a person — or more — for a meal at top restaurants like this.

Of course, some of the price differential between Costco and Kobe Renga–tei is due to the restaurant serving the real thing while Costco's offering the frozen American–raised version.

First Costco got into art by selling an original Picasso and now they're flogging Kobe beef: I say they're taking a cue from Google and will be satisfied with nothing less than total world domination.


[via Jerry Knight and the Washington Post]

January 5, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Armand Diradourian Cashmere Hangover Ice Pack


Yeah, yeah, I know — where was I with this a few days ago when you really needed it?

Hey, sorry, I'll make it up to you — promise.

This lovely cashmere ice pack cover will ease the pain next time the hammer comes down.

$130 at Barney's New York (212-826-8900) or the Beverly Hills branch (310-276-4400).

[via dailycandy]

January 5, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Got Voice? Washington, D.C. Metro launches star search for 'Doors Closing 2006'


After ten years of listening to Sandy Carroll (above) saying, "Doors opening" and "Doors closing," Metro officials have decided that commuters no longer even hear Ms. Carroll's voice, so familiar has it become.

Thus, as of now the agency is searching for a fresh voice.

Anyone 21 or older — amateur or professional — is welcome to compete.

Lyndsey Layton wrote about the quest for a 21st–century sound in a story that appeared on the front page of yesterday's Washington Post Metro section.

If you'd rather just cut to the chase, visit Metro's website to read the rules and all.

If you don't have access to a computer, no problema: call Metro at 202-962-2554.

Here's the article.

    Metro Launches a Star Search

    Contest Will Choose Train 'Doors Closing' Voice

    Think about it.

    Your voice, echoing through the cavernous Metro stations, pouring from every train, ringing in the heads of hundreds of thousands of daily subway riders.

    You -- that's right, you! -- the voice of Doors Closing 2006.

    Worried that commuters have turned a deaf ear to the "doors closing" recording that warns when a train is about to pull out of a station, Metro officials plan to record a new message this year and are searching for new talent.

    The agency is holding a contest to choose the next voice of Metro, and anyone -- professional or amateur -- is welcome to compete.

    "We want a fresh voice and a new sound," said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the transit system.

    Those 21 and older are eligible to audition by submitting an audio recording to Metro by Jan. 20.

    Contestants are asked to submit six recordings using three tones on each of two messages described on Metro's Web site.

    The three tones that would-be stars are asked to use are polite, authoritative and serious.

    Nothing jokey, nothing warm and fuzzy, Farbstein said.

    That's the opposite of the current announcements, which were recorded in 1996 by Sandy Carroll, a District resident with a honeyed Southern inflection who made the recording as a favor for a friend who worked at Metro.

    A sound engineer "brought his laptop computer to my apartment and put this microphone in my face, and he said, 'Say doors opening, doors closing,'" Carroll said in a 2001 interview.

    "And I said it and he played it back. The next thing I knew, we were riding on the train, and there was my voice."

    Ellen O'Brien, resident voice and text consultant for the Shakespeare Theatre, said candidates should remember the first rule of speech: clarity.

    "You want to be able to understand the messages, and the trick with that is to let it sound human," she said.

    While recording the message in a polite voice, contestants should smile to themselves, she said.

    "It's an old tip, but it does work," she said.

    Metro officials are expecting a large number of contestants to try to knock Carroll from her perch.

    "We really think this is something people are excited about in a very positive sort of way," Farbstein said.

    "It's certainly not up to 'American Idol' proportions, but we expect a lot of people are going to be sending in recordings."

    Contestants can submit recordings on cassette tape or compact disc. A list of rules is posted on Metro's Web site, http://www.metroopensdoors.com, and is also available by calling 202-962-2554.

    A group of Metro officials -- not Paula, Simon or Randy -- will select 10 finalists based on vocal quality, versatility, enunciation and elocution.

    The finalists will be asked to make a recording in a professional sound studio in late January.

    A panel of outside experts in marketing, elocution and advertising will select the winner, whose name will be announced in February, Farbstein said.

    The winner doesn't get a professional recording contract, a concert tour or even a free ride on Metro to hear the recording.

    "Just bragging rights" until the next voice of Metro is found, Farbstein said.


I can't speak for you but I thought the part about not having access to a computer was kind of funny.

But then, it doesn't take a whole lot to amuse me.

I know, I know — tell you something you don't know....

January 5, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Faces On Time — 'Your favorite photo set in a quality timepiece!'


Look, ma — no hands!

That's right.

"Unique image suspension technology displays your photo unobstructed by center pin or watch hands, yet shows the time at a glance."

Traditional and sports models are priced at a most reasonable $89 here.

January 5, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reader Q & A — How to share bookofjoe with a friend


Yesterday afternoon Ms. Karen Pittman of Durango, Colorado emailed me as follows:

    Hi Joe,

    thanks for your wonderfully creative site.
    i love sharing it with others... soooo... have you ever thought about incorporating a way to send pages to friends?
    is that do-able??

    keep up the great work... Karen

Hey, it's always nice to hear sweet words from Durango, what?

I replied instanter as follows (more or less — I've elaborated a bit in this post beyond what I wrote back to Ms. Pittman):

    Dear Karen,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    Yes, it is indeed possible to send either single articles or a particular day's posts to friends.

    To send a particular article, click on "Permalink" at the bottom of an article, then copy and paste the URL that appears for it.

    To send a day's posts, go to "Archives" (on the right of the home page), choose the day you want to send, click it, then send the URL as with the Permalink above.

    Note that only the past ten days are displayed by date; for those earlier, click on "All Archives," then go the date you'd like to send.

    You can also click on "Permalink" below any one article on a date you pull up via an Archives search, then send that individual post.

    Let me know if this works for you and if these instructions are clear: it's the first time someone's asked.




In deciding to post this Q&A I've simply taken into consideration my "rule of a hundred," to wit: anytime anyone does anything that takes any time or effort, there are a hundred more people who feel the same way but can't be bothered.

Note: I do not charge above and beyond what you paid for the original post no matter how many times you send it.

I consider what you've bought from me to be your personal property, to do with as you wish.

I read somewhere once that owning something means you're free to sell it.

Since you can indeed sell whatever's on bookofjoe for whatever you can get you indeed do own it.

I hope you get rich.

At least somebody will.

January 5, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pot Lid Organizer


You put it inside any kitchen cabinet door.

No more bending down and clanking around amongst your culinary armory in search of the right lid.

In Jamaica they have a saying, "There's a lid for every pot."

It refers to the fact there's a certain special someone out there for everyone — no matter how weird or otherwise seemingly hopeless.

But I digress.

The device (they call it the "Lid File" which, while amusing, is kind of an odd term for it) puts five lids at your fingertips.

It's made of vinyl–coated wire and comes with mounting screws.

Measures 17 3/4"H x 10"W x 3"D.

$5.98 here (Pot lids not included).

January 5, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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