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The Google You Don't Know

March 2004

You say: Yet another column about Google? Borrrrring.

I say: Man, I could write one every month and still hardly keep up with the features. I was just exploring some of them. Only one word for it: "awesome." Or maybe "cool."

These are useful features, features that you want to know about.

Take, for example, the calculator feature. Type in any calculation you want, such as 14*82, and click Google Search or hit Enter, and Google will return the answer (1,148). Google's calculator will find percentages ("20% of 150," for example), square roots, trigonometric functions, unit conversions, and much more.

Or for fun, type in your phone number. If you have a listed number, Google will return your name and address, as well as the amount in your bank account. (Kidding on that last one.) Just to the right of your name and address are links for Yahoo Maps and MapQuest. Click on that and you'll get a map of where you live.

OK, so maybe you don't like that anyone can type in your telephone number and instantly have your address and a map showing where you live. No problem. Just to the left of the info that Google returns when you type in your number is a little telephone. Click on that, and you'll be taken to the Google help page, where there's a link you can click to be removed from Google Phonebook.

To look up a phone number, just type in the person's name and city.

Google also helps travelers. To look up the status of your flight, type in the name of the airline followed by your flight number. If you want to know the weather conditions at an airport, type in the three-letter airport code followed by the word airport.

A feature that I use a lot now is the one I mentioned in last month's column: the ability to look up definitions. You simply type in the word "define" followed by a colon, then a space, and then the term you want to define. (define: boustrophedon) This will find terms and phrases not necessarily in a dictionary but that do exist in specialized lexicons on the web.

You can also use Google to find dictionary definitions. You may have noticed that when you do a search, at the top of the page of results Google will say "Searched the web for boustrophedon." The term you searched for is underlined. If you click on the underlined term, it will look up the definition at Dictionary.com.

I also regularly use Google as a spelling checker. Recently I was writing an article about China and needed to check the spelling of place names. I'd simply type the name in Google. You've probably noticed that if you use an uncommon spelling of a word, Google will say at the top of your results page, "Did you mean: xxx." Because Google's spell check is based on occurrences of all words on the Internet, it is able to suggest common spellings for proper nouns that might not appear in a standard spell check program or dictionary.

Let's stop right here and ask the burning question some of you are thinking: why would I want to use Google as a calculator or dictionary? Think of the time that it takes to dial up the Internet, go to the Google web site, and then use Google. It would be faster to pick up a calculator or dictionary.

I'd feel the same way if I were you. But in my case, I'm sitting at a computer all day long and am always connected to the Internet via my broadband connection. Doing these things via Google is always a lot faster.

PLUS, I have a Google search function built into my web browser (Apple's Safari). I don't even have to go to the Google web site. My browser is always booted up, and many many times a day I turn to it to type something into the search box.

Here's good news for you PC users: the free Google Toolbar lets you add a Google search box into Microsoft Internet Explorer. I recommend this highly. It saves so much time not having to go to the Google web site to do a search. In addition, the Toolbar has other features such as blocking popup ads and filling in forms with one click.

Other Google features include looking up stock quotes, UPS and FedEx tracking numbers, and more. See www.google.com/help/features.html.

© 2004 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen