NEW YORK -- It may be the best way to find stuff online, but most of us who use Google a lot still find ourselves wading through oodles of Web pages.
A new book from O'Reilly & Associates helps fine-tune the foraging.
"Google Hacks" gets its name from the geek vernacular for quick, clever ways to accomplish something. It's the kind of hacking that draws compliments, as opposed to the cops.
The $25 book bills itself as offering 100 "industrial-strength tips and tools" and can easily save beginner and techie alike time and frustration if they spend anywhere as much time with Google as yours truly.
Bet you didn't know Google lets you quickly look up U.S. phone numbers (business and residential), stock quotes, even dictionary definitions (simply click on a word in your search string at the top of a results page).
Or that you can enter special codes into Google's search box to narrow a query to, say, Web page titles, Web addresses (Uniform Resource Locators or URLs) and/or the content of specific Web sites such as www.ap.org.
You can also do translations, check spelling and limit a search to a range of dates.
Google can also be told to search for images, or even for specific file types such as Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Adobe PDF files.
Thumbing through this 328-page paperback, you realize why "google" has become an unofficial verb and why so many people set their homes pages to www.google.com.
The authors, Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest, don't shy from the basics.
* Google is a database with about 3 billion full-text snapshots of Web pages, obtained by computerized "spiders." Think of it as a command post that dispatches Web explorers who report back with periodic updates.
* In searching, placing phrases or full names in quotations (such as "Saddam Hussein" or "George W. Bush") yields better results. Oh, and the order you put words in the search box counts. Try mixing terms up and see.
* Google is not case sensitive and it limits searches to 10 words, ignoring anything beyond. It accepts wild cards (for which you use an asterisk) but they can only replace entire words, not word stems.
Now for fabulous features:
Did you know that Google has a toolbar you can add to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser so you needn't go to the Web site to type in a search?
In my house at least, Google has replaced the white and yellow pages (space hogs, they were). But until I got hold of this book I had no idea I could search residential or business listings separately.
Don't neglect the "Advanced Search" page. It lets you narrow a query with a number of variables including language, date range and words to be excluded. At the bottom there's even a link for searching U.S. government pages only: http://www.google.com/unclesam
Special codes can also hasten the hunt. Let's say all you want is recipes for kumquat dishes where the name of the fruit is in the Web page's title. You'd enter "intitle:kumquat recipe" in the search box. If you're only interested in recipes on commercial Web sites in Australia, you would add "site:com.au" to the search string.
Sometimes you're unable to find a page that was on a particular Web site just a few days ago but has since vanished. For that there's the special prefix "cache:". Combine it with "site:" and you're apt to score.
A salad of special services is also on the Google menu.
Want to sample technology that Google is currently researching? Try labs.google.com.
If it's current news you're after, "news.google.com" trolls 4,000 news sites. It can take weeks for pages to show in a general search.
Beyond detailing such features, "Google Hacks" plumbs unexpected, obscure and even fanciful ways of exploiting this invention; the authors acknowledge 23 contributors.
All kinds of applications have been written to work on top of Google -- and you don't necessarily need a Web browser. One program lets you query by e-mail, another by instant messenger.
Then there's the wacky.
If you've got time to burn try Google Whacking. Attempt to enter a two-word search string that yields only ONE result.
Or try a Google hack that composes poetry. Another hack will give you a recipe to cook up all the odds and ends in your refrigerator.
Had enough? I didn't. But I ran out of time.
Oh, I guess I do have one complaint about this book.
It's paper, so I can't google anything in it.
Frank Bajak can be reached at techeditorap.org
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