The amount of information that you can dig up by searching the web is dazzling – sometimes to the point of being distracting. Happily, there are tools and tricks you can use to get you through the clutter and into the information you need.
Google is, of course, the go-to source for web searches, so these tips will refer to Google search tools; but it’s worth noting that most of these techniques will work on Bing or Yahoo and other search engines, too.
Advanced Searches, and ‘Doing the Boolean’
Some tricks hidden in plain sight on Google are called Boolean operators. If it sounds like tech-cool, do feel free to toss it around in the lunch room, but in the case of our searches, it means using terms for “AND” and “OR” and “NOT”.
Use the Boolean terms to narrow things down when your search results are too broad. For example, if you’re doing a paper on the Amazonian rainforest, and don’t want to see results for stuff for sale, you can tell Google: amazon AND river AND rainforest
That tells Google that the results must contain the three words, “amazon,” “river,” and “rainforest”.
If the results still contain too many extra things, you can tell Google to leave those out by using a minus (-) sign. Google reads that as “NOT”. For example: amazon AND river AND rainforest -calming -mood will get you results that don’t include the soothing sound effects recordings.
“OR” is another word that Google uses in Boolean searches. So: amazon OR Brazil AND river AND rainforest will get you results that include “Amazon” or “Brazil” plus “river” and “rainforest”. (You can also use the “|” symbol for “OR”.)
You can combine the Boolean operators in any way that works for you. Sometimes you’ll need to be more specific for Google to understand what you mean. Do that by grouping search terms with parenthesis: (amazon | Brazil) AND river AND (rainforest | tribes)
Sometimes you need matches for exact phrases. Do that with quotes, like this: “Amazon rainforest tribes” to tell Google what you need.
Advanced search: Google also has an “Advanced Search” form to help you construct more helpful results. Find the advanced search form at: https://www.google.com/advanced_search
Google Tools & Tricks
There are quite a few nifty tools built right into the search bar. Try out some of these:
Spellcheck: Type any word – or just part of it – into the Google search bar. As you type, Google immediately checks your spelling against a list of common spellings and shows them to you. If your spelling isn’t recognized, it will show a red squiggle under it.
Definitions: Type the word “define” followed by the word you’d like to look up. The primary definition will come up, along with a pronunciation guide, plus links to several online sources for other definitions. (Click the speaker icon to hear your word pronounced.)
While it isn’t an actual Google tool, you can also use “synonym” plus a word to quickly get thesaurus links, too.
Nifty Words that Google Knows
“Time”, “weather,” “sunrise,” and “sunset” get special treatment by the search engines. Type “time” into the search bar of your browser, and the time of day will come right up. For “weather” or “temp” you’ll get the current weather in your locale. If you’d like to know the time or weather in another city, include the city name, or zip code, or airport code with your request; like, “temp 12564” to get Pawling weather.
Google also recognizes disaster words, like “earthquake”, “flood”, “hurricane”.
Local info: Adding a town name or zip code to your search will get you loads of local information. For example “food 12564” will show you our restaurants, or “pizza Pawling NY” to go straight to the pizza shops. Enter “movies 12564” to get a list of movies and show times in the area.
Nifty Words that Google Guesses
This is the Google machine really showing off.
Sports scores & stats: Type a team name, like “NY Giants” and you’ll get stats, box scores, and schedules.
Stock symbols: Type in just a stock symbol, like “CSCO” and you’ll get the current market quote and a graph of current trading history.
Calculator: Type an equation into the search bar and press enter to get the result. It recognizes words, too, for example, “6*9+(sqrt 5)=” will get you 56.236068.
Unit and currency conversion: Convert between different units of measurement of height, weight, and volume by entering the value you have followed by “in” and the units you need. For example, “3 feet in meters” will get 0.9144 meters, and “$1 in yen” will show the current dollar equivalent in Japanese yen.
Package tracking: Put in just a package tracking number from the Post Office or any of the parcel carriers, and Google will take you straight to the correct package tracking info.
Flight tracking: Enter an airline name and flight number, like “Delta 127”, and you’ll get current departure and arrival status.
Medical information: Enter just the name of an illness or a drug to go straight to the heading of key information about it. For example, “flu” or “aspirin”. Click through from there for the details.
Google and Bing and the other search engines have lots more helpful tricks, too. You can find more by searching Google for “search features” and following the link. Or, of course, if I can help, please give me a call.
Mike Pepper, The Computer Guy, has been providing software and hardware support in New York and Connecticut for more than 35 years. He can be reached at: www.PawlingComputerGuy.com.