The repartitioning went well, my laptop’s running much faster now, thanks to Gizmo Guy’s magic.

Yesterday I blogged about getting hooked on watching DC traffic cams. And a few of you commented, asking how I find those sites. Not to puff myself up, but my critique partners often send me emails saying “Oh Googlemeister, can you find …”

I’m often surprised by how many people comment about how quickly I find the information they need. Because it’s just … there … for anyone to find.

But then I went to last Saturday’s TRW meeting where Natalie Boon talked about doing research. While listening to the questions, I realized that some people don’t know how to enter their search parameters to whittle down to the specific topic you want without wading through a lot of extraneous pages.

The more words you can put in your search, the more specific the returns Google will show you. So if you’re writing about an RCMP officer who needs a search warrant, you could enter “Search Warrant” and have a lot of sites pop up, from all sorts of countries, mainly the US. Well, that’s not going to help your Mountie as the US rules are different from Canada. So you have to make your search more specific. So you’d type in “Search Warrant Canada” And then you may have to get even more specific – does he need a Search Warrant or does he need a general warrant? So actually type that into your search engine “Search Warrant vs General Warrant Canada”. Now you’re getting closer.

Trouble is, Google will often return pages that include not just pages including all those words but pages including any of those words – search – so many you have pages about search and rescue operations, and General Motors or General Electric. And a whole lot of hits on ‘Canada’. That gets daunting. But there are some tricks.

For instance, if I want to look for someone named Laura Luke, Google returns thousands of pages about Luke and Laura from General Hospital. I’ll also be shown almost any page that has a Laura or a Luke mentioned on it. So I have to keep the two words together. I do this by enclosing the name in double quotes – “Laura Luke” Whatever you enclose in quotes, ensures that Google will search only for those words in that order. It considerably decreases the number of returns you have to scroll through. Well, usually, anyway.

If you’re researching the baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays, then you type in Blue Jays +baseball – see the plus sign before baseball? That means Search for Blue Jays AND baseball. By using the plus, then only those pages that have both the term Blue Jays AND baseball on them but not pages about the feathered friend currently hanging on my suet feeder will be listed. (Out of habit I also enclose Blue Jays in quotes, but it usually works without them. And usually you don’t need the plus sign, but it’s handy to know.)

Now let’s suppose you want to research the birds, but NOT the baseball team. You can tell Google (and this works with yahoo’s search engine as well, by the way) to ignore any entries that have ‘baseball’ in them by using the minus sign. So you’d type in Blue Jays baseball. But you do have to be careful that you’re not excluding information you may need.

And don’t forget you can click to look only at images or videos if that’s what you’re looking for. Those options are found at the top of the search returns. And you can even look for specific sizes of pictures.

Now if you need to get more specific but can’t remember how to search, on the search engine’s page, look beside the box where you type in what to search for. See the Advanced Search link? Click on that. It’ll bring up this box.

Just fill in the boxes. Type in words you want to look for, words you want to exclude if necessary. You can choose the number of returns displayed per page, choose the language you want to look for – yeah, sorry, but my laptop can’t read Japanese or Hebrew so why include pages with other languages. And you can also search specific sites, like YouTube or ones with specific endings – .gov or as they suggest .edu. The more parameters you put in the less you have to scroll through.

But you know, sometimes I find scrolling through all those entries can lead to unexpected finds.

As for the traffic cameras people asked how I found? I simply typed in “Washington DC Traffic Cameras” and Bob’s my uncle (which Marley reminds would NOT be said by Americans) up popped a list to choose from. After looking at the map and realizing the DC webcams didn’t cover the areas I needed, I also googled “Virginia traffic cameras” and “Maryland Traffic Cameras” and soon came up with an amazing list. It’s not rocket science, but you have to be a little creative sometimes. (By the way, avoid the west end of the National Mallthis morning – there’s a Neo Nazi demonstration going on. I kid you not!

  • Demonstration

    National Mall

    Neo-Nazi March – Counter-protesters gathering at 10 AM – Best to avoid the west end of the Mall near the Washington Monument and the Ellipse (the area of Constitution and 15th NW) || police activity likely; road closures possible)

How’s that for spawning some ideas?

Oh, and I also use Google Earth. (Google Maps is good too – they’re both able to show a flat map or a satellite image, but Google Earth has more features). It’s amazing how much their cameras capture. You know that old saying “I can see my house from here”? I can, including my car in the driveway. It not only gives me an idea of terrain but also of the type of area I’m looking at – is it industrial, is it residential, a downtown area, etc. And if you see little blue dots on the map, you can click on them and see pictures taken in that spot. That’s really handy if you want to describe a style of building or neighborhood. So it really helps me with my real-world building for an area I haven’t been to – or at least one I can’t just hop into my car and drive to for a ‘look-see.’

But sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m writing FICTION. I can make up streets and hills and whatever I need for my story. Within certain boundaries of course – I can’t suddenly put a mountain in the middle of Washington DC. Unless I’m writing a prehistoric story. Or a Sci Fi/speculative fiction. But if I need a road with a steep drop off – well, I can create one!

Tips from the Googlemeister
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4 thoughts on “Tips from the Googlemeister

  • April 19, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Well, Bobs your uncle. You shared some of secrets. Although I already knew about quotes and plus and of course there’s the comman, the minus sign is cool thing to know.

    All those good hints aside, you’re still the Googlemeister because you know what to search for, how to coax the information out of google. I’m from D.C. and wouldn’t have thought to search for D.C. traffic cams.

    Thanks for sharing your GM wisdom.

  • April 19, 2008 at 4:47 pm


  • April 20, 2008 at 6:50 am

    I’m from D.C. and wouldn’t have thought to search for D.C. traffic cams.

    Ah, well, that was just sheer genius *wink*

  • April 20, 2008 at 8:46 am

    I SWEAR TO GOD I left a comment on this post yesterday… Where did it go???

    Ah well… I said something about learning new things from Natalie Boon, like the site and how it works, and also the Ask a Librarian feature is pretty cool. Though it brings out the mischief in me… I want to ask a bunch of bizarre questions, just to see if I can coax an answer!!!
    What was Hitler’s blood type anyway?

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