Friday, May 28, 2010

Answer: Larry's first patent

Sorry about the delay in answering..  As I was writing up the answer, I noticed a bug and needed to let some folks know about it.  

But back to our problem--what was Larry Page's first patent?  

As Aleatha correctly points out, Google has a very nice Patents property.  (Just as Google has News, Images, Video, Scholar... so too we have a collection of US Patents.)  

However, it seems that the Advanced Search function on Patents is currently not working correctly.  Because my answer WOULD have been, SHOULD have been:  Use Google Patents, use the Advanced Search interface and search for inventor "Lawrence Page" (because people typically use the full form of their name, rather than the diminutive).  

Alas, that's the bug.... At the moment, it seems broken.  (It will be fixed soon, I hope!) 

But what does it mean to be a skilled searcher if you can't work your way around it?  

So, using just the regular Google Patent search page, you can enter [ Lawrence Page ] and sort by date.  That's not hard, but it is a bit painful to sift through all of the non-Google-related patents.  You could even try quoting his name,  "Lawrence Page" but even that won't help much.  

Another approach (and what I actually did) would be to go directly to the US Patent Office web site ( and use their advanced search UI.  Note that their's is a bit more baroque than Google's (for instance, you have to do the search [ IN/Lawrence AND IN/Page ] in their system).  The good property of searching the USPTO is that you'll find only 12 hits on "Lawrence Page," so it's simple to figure out which one was first. 

From USPTO, then, the answer is US Patent: 6,285,999  granted on September 21, 2001.  "Method for node ranking in a linked database."  

(And I'll see if I can't get someone to fix that bug in the Google Patent property...)  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wednesday Search Challenge (May 26, 2010) - Larry's first patent

Sometimes you think a problem is going to be dead easy, and it turns out to be more complicated than you'd expect.  

For instance, here's today's challenge... "What was the title of Larry Page's first patent?"  

You'd think this would be simple and straightforward.  (And maybe you'll find a simple way to answer this.)  But the way I did it was a little more complex than I thought it should be.  

What's YOUR solution? 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Search for ideas from long ago

Over the past weekend I was doing an obvious search, and not having ANY luck whatsoever.  What was going ON?  

In my case, I was just trying to look up what had happened in Ethiopia during the Jazz Age (roughly 1910 - 1920, don't ask why.. it's a long story).  But I was having very little luck.  It was as though all records of Ethiopia had vanished for dates before 1930.

And then I read the Wikipedia article on Ethiopia (trying to read a little history about the country as general background).... and noticed a really interesting thing.  Ethiopia used to be called Abyssinia!  

Armed with this knowledge, I popped back to my Google News Archive search and found many references to Abyssinia that predate 1930.  Voila!  

And after thinking about it, I realized this must happen a lot with historic searches.  Consider the following list of "retro terms" I found on the HWWilson site.  

For the original content, see:

What terms do YOU find have undergone a significant change?  Any experiences from readers? 

Abandoned towns                                                                                     Ghost towns
Abyssinia                                                                                                            Ethiopia
Boers                                                                                                                  Afrikaners
Bombs, Flying                                                                                         Aerial bombing
Brontosaurus                                                                                              Apatosaurus
Chemistry, Legal                                                                              Forensic chemistry
Drunkards; Drunkenness                                                       Alcohol and alcoholism
European War, 1914-                                                            World War I, 1914-1918
Feeble-minded                                                                             Mentally handicapped
Game protection                                                                         Wildlife conservation
Gases in warfare                                                              Chemical and biological weapons
Glacial period                                                                                                  Ice age
Hashish                                                                                                        Marijuana
India-rubber                                                                                                  Rubber
Insane                                                                                                              Mentally ill
Lodging houses, Municipal                                                                    Flophouses
Ministers of the gospel                                                                                  Clergy
Mohammedans                                                                                             Muslims
Moros                                                                                                    Muslims/Philippines
Monitors                                                                                                        Turret ships
Negro-English dialects                                                                         Black English
Outdoor relief                                                                                        Public welfare
Physiological chemistry                                                                     Biochemistry
Sportsmen                                                                                                        Hunters
Stock exchange/Crisis, October 1929                      Business depression, 1929-1939
Trade unions                                                                                             Labor unions
Wireless telegraphy                                                                         Radio telegraph

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tips 3 and 4 towards better searching

It's been a busy week.  This week I ended up presenting at two elementary school assemblies--the first to 700 kids about Doodle 4 Google, and the second to 350 kids on the topic "Curiosity Tools for Curious Students"--all about Google, with plenty of demonstrations.  

Here's Chris Haas (my co-presenter, on the left), me and Kathy Lee--the 4th grade winner of the Doodle-for-Google content in her greater Minnesota region. 

One of the important things I tell the students is this:  You've got to keep checking back to see what's new at Google, because we're always making new tools and new capabilities available.

That observation leads me to the next 2 tips towards better searching...  

3.  Learn about the different Google search properties.  

Everyone knows that Google lets you search the web, and most people know that Google lets you search for images and videos.  But did you know that Google also lets you search through the collected news archives going back to the mid 1800s?  And you can use Google to search for scanned copies of books and magazines (, financial information about companies you care about (, scholarly articles from scientific journals and conferences (, and blogs (  

What’s more, Google also has a number of services that you can use to be a super searcher.  Google Translate can transliterate words from English to Hindi and back (Urdu is in alpha, with other Indic languages on the way). You can also use this service to translate entire documents or web pages to/from different languages.  While the translations aren’t quite as good as the best human translators, if your working knowledge of Swedish is as low as mine, Google Translate will be a powerful tool.  (

For instance, last week Google launched 5 new languages on Google Translate — Armenian,AzerbaijaniBasqueGeorgian and Urdu. Google also extended their support for spoken translations to 29 more languages.

If you blink, you might miss an important announcement that's really relevant to the kinds of work you do!  

4. Use short, simple queries that get to the point.  

A common mistake beginner searchers make is to use too many words in their query.  If you’re still searching for the Purple Moorhen, a poor query is one that uses too many words that aren’t really relevant to the topic.  For example, 

[ purple bird I saw at the Lotus Pond last Tuesday afternoon ] 

is not a great query.  The key thing you want to search out is information about the bird.  All the extra words about “I saw at” or “last Tuesday afternoon” just aren’t relevant.  Worse than that, all those extra words actually decrease the accuracy of the search results.  Keep your search queries crisp and to the point.  

We'll talk about how to explore a query space in a few more posts.  But for the moment, keep your queries tight and on-target.  

Search on! 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tips 1 and 2 towards better searching... (Control-F and Toolbar highlighting)

Google is pretty easy to use, no doubt.  When you want to find out something about the purple bird that you saw at Lotus Pond in Hyderabad, India, you just type a Google query like: 

and—voila!—there you go, you’ve found the Purple Moorhen.  

Now if you Google bird’s name [ Purple Moorhen ], you can learn its scientific Latin name (Porphyrio porphyrio), that they range from India to Australia and Africa, and that the state of Florida is trying to eradicate their accidentally introduced population.

But it’s worth knowing that most Google searchers can, with just a bit more inside information, can become really super searchers.  When I teach classes on how to search with Google, there are the top few key ideas that make people much faster in their searches, and able to discover things they never knew existed. 

1. Find a word on the page.  Ever do a search and then discover that you’re on a very long web page with no idea where your search terms are?  This happens fairly often, and the most important skill to have is the ability to find a word on the page.  As it happens, your internet browser has this ability already built-in.  Just look for the Edit menu at the top of the internet window.  Click on it and you’ll see the submenu item labeled “Find.”  If you click on that, you’ll see a small window that let’s you search for any word on the page.  This is a lifesaver when  ou’re searching for a particular word and it’s found only on the 10th screen down. 

If you do this often enough, or search for more than a single word at a time, you should consider installing the Google Toolbar.  Here’s why…

2.  Install the Google Toolbar to speed up your searching.  (Click here to find out how to install the Toolbar)  Google offers a free toolbar for all the different internet browsers.  The Toolbar lets you do a plethora of things to help you search, including bookmarking good web pages that you find, translating terms you see on the page, spell-checking, and instant searching on other Google properties (like Google Books, Google Maps, Google News, etc.).  But the one Google Toolbar feature that is very useful to power users is the highlight button. 

If you do a search on Google and end up on a page (say, the Wikipedia page about Purple Moorhens), when you click on the highlighter button, it will highlight all the appearances of your search terms on that page.  So if you’ve searched for [ purple moorhen India ] and gone to the Wikipedia page, clicking the highlighter will highlight all three of those words in different, highly visible colors.  This is a real timesaver for pages with small fonts or long, complex articles.  

Check out the results as shown here on the Wikipedia page... Note the yellow, blue and purple highlights.  You can quickly spot ALL of your search terms on the page. 

Next week... a few more tips!  

Search on! 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Answer: Searching for something someone once said

Well... as you can see from the comments, there are actually at least three different articles that quote me in the NY Times. (Nice job, David!)  

How should one approach a search question like this?   Answer:  Once you realize that the name "Dan Russell" is very, very common (what where my parents thinking in giving me such a high frequency name?), you'll need to start the search with a little care because there are bound to be lots of false hits.  

You can see this right away from the obvious query:  [ Dan Russell ]   There are just too many "other" (and obviously incorrect!) Dan Russells in the news.  

So the first realization is this:  

People often have a "professional" name that they use.  That is, scholars (and people who are slightly savvy about marketing) like to have a single nom de professional that is the same everywhere.  That way, when someone does a search for the papers and articles you've written, they all show up in the same place in the index.  

This practice pre-dates the web by a lot.  Authors often want all their publications to be found at the same place in the library stacks and in the same location in the accumulated index of articles.  Does anyone else remember the "Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature"  published by the H. W. Wilson company?  It was the way you found articles pre-web-search.  It was a giant set of books that indexes magazines and journals by author's name and article subject.  To use the Reader's Guide, you'd look up "Russell, Daniel M." to get to all of my articles.

(And conversely, when authors do NOT want all their books or articles together in one bucket, they'd adopt a nom de plume to keep their various identities separate.  This was widely considered a good thing when you'd write serious works and juvenalia or sexy works that you didn't want to taint your professional reputation.) 

So...  when searching for someone who, like me, writes a fair bit and writes professionally--
try searching their professional / canonical name.  

The search [ Daniel M Russell ] is a bit better, but this is a case where you really want to limit by using site:  

[ Daniel M Russell ]  -- this starts to look much better.  

It's also worth knowing the conventions of the authors.  In this case, it's useful to know that the NYTimes has a policy of spelling out the names of people in their stories.  (Thus, looking for "Dan Russell' or "D. Russell" won't usually work... in the NYTimes... unless that IS the person's name, such as singer "Jay-Z," whose name actually includes the hyphen.)  

Now, having said all that, you should know that reporters also sometimes get it wrong, which means you still have to check name variants.  

So now where are we?  We have to try name variants ("Dan Russell"  "Daniel M Russell" and "Daniel Russell") and we'll use  But if you've been trying these queries out, you'll see that my name is STILL too common.  

We need to add something else to the query to cut down on all of the other, obviously bogus Dan Russells in the results!  

The simplest tactic at this point is to ADD a term (a "context term") that would discriminate the Dan Russells from each other.  Often a good filter is the place of employment.  In my case, that history includes Google and IBM.  So let's try adding in "IBM" as a context term.  

If we try adding "IBM" then you'll see that results get much better.  Now, the top 4 hits are all exactly what we're looking for.  

[ Daniel Russell IBM ]   

And, as you'll see (and just as David said), I've appeared 4 times in the NYTimes.  

The take-aways here are simple:  

1.  Use the SITE: operator to limit your search to just the newspaper of interest. 

2.  Search on name variants.  (And use double quotes if you want to limit the synonyms that Google will search for.  Note that the searches [ "Dan Russell" ] is very different from [ Dan Russell ] Without the quotes, Google will also search for Daniel (but not, so far as I know, for Danny)

3.  Search for a person's professional name (if they have one--many academics, writers and reporters do).  

4.  Remember to search for earlier variants of a name.  Women (and on occasion, men) will sometimes change their surname upon marriage.  Often the best way to discover earlier variants of a name is to look for their home web page or for parenthetical comments in their writings.  Look for things like  Susan Smith (nee Kline) for clues to other names.  

5.  Look for a "context term" that is associated with the particular person you're searching for.  In the case of Dan Russell, that "context term" is IBM.  It's just another word that's used in association with the person you seek (and NOT associated with all the other people with the same name).   

Search on! 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday Search Challenge (May 12, 2010) - Searching for something someone once said

A few weeks ago we talked about the difficulty of tracking down original quotations.  (Remember the post about Mark Twain?)  

Now, this time, the search is much closer to home.  

This question, like many of the challenges, started out with someone telling me something just a bit funny, and then I run off and try to track it down.  

This time one of my friends said "You know, I saw that you were quoted in the New York Times!  You must be famous!"  

Well, I'm not sure the two statements go together, but when I looked I found it was true.  A few years ago I WAS quoted in the New York Times.  

As a Search Challenge, though, finding it proved to be revealing of a few heuristics one might like to know when embarking on such a search.  

So... can you find it?  Can you find the place in the New York Times where I was quoted a few years ago?  

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wednesday Search Challenge / Answer (on Friday, May 7, 2010): Finding similar images

It's been a fascinating week.  I'm in Hyderabad, India to teach classes at Google on "How to Search."  I know that sounds odd, but that's what's making this hugely fascinating.  Turns out that there's a lot to learn about search, even if you work at Google.  So I'm here, teaching my fellow Indian Googlers how to be better at search.  

And THAT'S why there was no Wednesday search challenge this week.  So I thought I'd give you an example from one of my discussions with people here this week.  It's somewhat of a continuation from last week's challenge, so it's a nice segue.  (And if you're not sure what "segue" means, you can always [ define:segue ] )  

The challenge this week comes from a Googler who wanted to find pictures of men and women in a "standard pose, facing forward, on a white background."  That is, just standing there, looking at the camera. 

Initially I thought this was incredibly hard.  HOW are you going to describe that ("standard pose...") to a search engine? 

Turns out you don't have to.  Here's what I did... 

Step 1:  In Google Image search, describe the thing you're looking for.  In this case, [ man standing ] 

You then search down a few pages until you find an image that's pretty much what you're searching for... in this case, the man standing on the white background in the lower right.  

Step 2:  See that little blue link below the image of the business man?  That lets you Find Similar Images... that is, ones that look a lot like this!  

As you can see, this works perfectly for the search I'm trying to do.  

With "Find similar images" searches that were previously impossible now become practical... even fast.  

Check it out on an image you'd like to see multiples of.  Some great examples:  Find 5 different photos of the uncompleted Eiffel Tower.  Find 10 different images of a red rose.  Or 30 different Venn diagrams.  Once you get the hang of it, this will be a tactic to remember! 

Search on!