MVCUG Meeting Notes
October 12, 2019
Well, it’s been two weeks since the last meeting and I’m finally getting the meeting notes out. Sorry for the delay — life just has a way of happening. Thanks to all who attended the monthly meeting on October 12. We had a full house for John’s presentation, “Optimizing Your Searches.” Below are his 15 tips to improve your web searches followed by information from the Q&A, favorites, tips, and terms of the month.
Searching the Internet
- What is a Search?
- Search is the ability to request information from the Internet community (millions [billions?] of websites) using a search engine.
- How do Search Engines Work?
- Search engines send out spiders (programs that crawl through web pages looking for keywords in text) and return the results to the engine. The results are kept in a database of URLs along with the keywords the spiders find.
- When you use a search engine to perform a search, it queries the database and returns the sites that have those keywords. (To perform a search, launch your web browser and type what you want to search for in the address or search fields — most modern browsers combine these fields so typing search strings or an actual URL in the field is common practice.)
- Which Search Engine to Use
- The big four are Google, Yahoo, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. Google, of course, is the de facto — so much so that its name has become a verb for searching the Internet. Each will provide slightly different results. Google, by virtue of it being around the longest and it’s ubiquity is most likely to provide the most comprehensive results. DuckDuckGo is a compilation search engine in that it’s results are an aggregation of other engines’ queries. It’s advantage is that it doesn’t track you or your searches like most other engines.
- The default behavior of a search engine is to return results for every word you type in the address/search field (with the exception of certain parts of speech, like “the,” “of,” “to,” etc. depending on context). This means that if you type “roses lilies” the results will include both roses and lilies.
- Tip #1: Use “or” or “|”
- If you want to search for images of roses or lilies, type “roses or lilies” or “roses | lilies”. This helps narrow down a broad subject if you are unsure of what you are after. Without the “or” you would get images of roses, images of lilies, and images with both. Using the “or” you will only get images of roses or images of lilies, but not images with both. See the difference?
- By the way, the “|” character is typed by holding down shift and tapping the backslash key (right above the return/enter key on the main keyboard). This character has different names depending on the context of use. In computer programing it’s called a vertical bar. In typography it’s called a pipe. See this Wikipedia article for information on its other names.
- Tip #2: Use the Tabs
- Every search engine provides content or category tabs (links) just below the search field. Clicking on one will narrow your search results to that type of information. For instance, Google provides tabs for All, Images, Shopping, Videos, Maps, and More. DuckDuckGo provides tabs for Web, Images, Videos, News, and Maps. The tabs you get will depend on the search engine you use and may change depending on what you search for. Other tabs you may encounter include Books, Flights, Finance, Settings, and Tools.
- Tip #3: Use Quotation Marks
- Quotation marks around a string of words forces a search of all those words in that literal order. Searching for…
- “health food” stores
will provide a different result from…
health food stores
- Tip #4: Use a Hyphen to Exclude Words
- Let’s say you want to search for bass guitars. So you type “bass” in the search field. You will likely get results that have to do with the fish called a bass in addition to guitars. Or maybe because fishing is a much more popular activity than playing bass guitar, your results maybe overwhelmingly about bass fishing. So to exclude what you don’t want, type “bass -fishing” into the search field and your results will exclude any information about bass fishing and you’ll get closer to just getting results about bass guitars.
- Tip #5: Use a Tilde to Search for Similar Words
- To force a search for a word and all of its synonyms, type a tilde (~) first. You can type the tilde character by holding down shift and tapping the grave accent key (the key just to the left of the number 1 on the main keyboard — below the escape key and above the tab key). So typing “~mobile phones” into the search field will force a search for those words and synonyms, such as “cell phone, cellular, wireless, etc.” Some search engines do this by default.
- Tip #6: Define a Specific Range Using Numbers
- Limit a search by giving a range of numbers using an ellipsis (…), three periods (…) — and yes there is a difference, or an en-dash (–). Search engines don’t care which you use, so whatever is easier to remember for you, go for it.
- Searching for “Willie Mays 1950…1960” will yield different results than “Willie Mays 1961…1970.” You can use this for not only a range of dates, but also price ranges ($100…$200).
- To type an ellipsis on a Mac, hold down the option key and tap the semi-colon. To type an ellipsis on Windows, hold down the alt key while typing 0133 on the numeric keypad of your keyboard. To type an en-dash on a Mac, hold down the option key and tap the hyphen. To type an en-dash on Windows, hold down the alt key while typing 0150 on the numeric keypad.
- Tip #7: Find the Definition of a Word
- To find the definition of word, type “define:” followed by the word you want defined. For example, “define:plethora” (note there is no space after the colon). This often works without the “define:” part.
- Tip #8: Find the Etymology of a Word
- To find the etymology or history of a word, type “etymology:” followed by the word. For example, “etymology:plethora” (you don’t need a space after the colon here, either).
- Tip #9: Search for a Specific File Type
- If you’d like to narrow down a search by a specific file type, you can use “filetype:” followed by the specific file extension you want. Let’s say you want to find video files of fireworks in the QuickTime format. You would type “fireworks filetype:mov” (QuickTime movies have a file extension of “.mov”).
- If you don’t know the file extension of the filetype you want to search for, guess what? You can search for a list of filetype extensions and get many, many web pages that provide such information. Here’s a nice starting place with the most common file types and file extensions courtesy of Computer Hope.
- Tip #10: Wildcard Searches
- You can use the asterisk character (*) as a substitute for one or more letters in your searches. For instance; if you want to search for images of Ferrari cars but are not sure how to spell Ferrari, you could type “images:Ferar*i” (you don’t even need to use the correct spelling of the part that’s not an asterisk). The search engine will take into account misspelled words and return results based on correctly spelled words similar to what you typed and replace your wildcard asterisk with the missing letters.
- This wildcard technique can also be used for whole words in a speech or quote search (see the next two tips).
- Tip #11: Find a Speech
- If you want to find the text of a speech, type “speech:” followed by the beginning of the speech, or some part of the speech you remember and then the wildcard character (asterisk). For example, to find the text of Hamlet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play you would search for “speech:to be or not *” and the search engine would find a source for the complete text. You can also search for speeches by the person who gave them, such as “speech:Abraham Lincoln”. In this example a search may return results of web pages that contain multiple speeches by Abraham Lincoln.
- Tip #12: Find a Quote
- This is not a way to find estimates or stock quotes, but a way to find a specific quotation or quotations by a specific person. Type “quote:” followed by part of the quotation you know/remember (even just one word will often work, depending on how famous the quotation is) and then an asterisk. Or you can follow “quote:” with the name of a person who’s quotations you want to search for. As in, “quote:twas*” will most likely bring results that help you find the text for ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Typing “quote:Twain” will bring you famous quotations by Mark Twain.
- Tip #13: Search for Related Sites
- Use this tip to find sites that are related to a site you know about. For instance, to find sites that are related to our group’s site, you would type “related:www.mvcug.org” (this can return some interesting results).
- Tip #14: Track Packages
- Expecting a package and want to know where it’s at? You can track packages on USPS, FEDEX, and UPS (sometimes others as well) by just typing in the tracking number. Each shipping company has a unique format for their tracking numbers and the search engines know how to parse that to take you to the appropriate shipper’s tracking page for that package.
- Tip #15: Search Using Images
- If you’d like to search the Internet based on an image that you already have, or to identify something in an image, both Google and Bing provide a way. First, select the image tab (or go directly to Google.com/images). At the right end of the search field you will find a camera icon next to the magnifying glass icon. Clicking on it will offer you some options. Google allows you to paste an image URL (a web address for a specific image) or to upload an image from your computer. Bing offers you those two options in addition to being able to take a photo with your device’s camera. Once your image is in the hands of the search engine, you will receive results based on the image that you have provided.
And that covers John’s 15 mind-blowing Internet search tips. Keep in mind that search engine companies are always refining their algorithms and these tips may or may not work going into the future.
Tips & Favorites
Tips and favorites were fairly short this month John, Mike, and I each brought something to share.
- A favorite from John, augmented with a tip from Barry
- There is a new version of Reminders for iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS 15 Catalina. It has been rewritten and has many new capabilities. Since it uses a new file format, once you update your Reminders database to the new format it will no longer sync with older versions of Reminders in iOS 12 or macOS 14 Mojave (or earlier). It requires user input to update the database within the app on both platforms, so if you need to continue syncing with older devices running older operating systems, the new Reminders will use the old database format—just don’t tap/click that “upgrade” button. Some of the new features of Reminders will be covered in next month’s meeting.
- There were a couple of iOS tips regarding Apple’s on-screen keyboard.
- 1) If you touch and hold on the space bar the entire keyboard will turn gray and you can use it like a track pad that enables you to move the insertion bar around through text on the screen to place it where you want it for editing or adding more text. If you tap on the keyboard area with another finger while in this mode, your dragging around will select text as you go.
- 2) In iOS 13, you can now swipe to enter text. Touch the first letter of the word you want to type and then, without lifting your finger, move to the second letter, then the third, and so on until you’ve spelled the word. Then lift your finger off the screen. Here’s an Apple knowledgebase article all about entering and editing text on an iPhone.
- Mike offered the following Windows 10 tip
- “Microsoft is starting to roll out their fall updates and that instead of releasing new versions of Windows they roll out new features in spring and maintenance patches in fall.” So be aware that if you are running Windows 10 you will be getting maintenance update notices.
- If you are an Apple iCloud account holder (you don’t have to have any Apple hardware to have an iCloud account, by the way, but it does make using Apple devices much better)
- You can access your iCloud account by logging in at iCloud.com using any web browser from any computer connected to the Internet. Once logged in you can access your account settings, your iCloud email, your contacts, calendar, photos, iCloud Drive, Notes, Reminders, use Apple’s online iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote), and Find My functions (for friends and devices).
Even though we had scheduled an extended question and answer session, we didn’t have very many questions posed. Here are the highlights (in no particular order).
- There was a question posed about saving passwords in a web browser, as in “where are they saved?”
- All the major browsers (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and probably others) have a built-in, basic password management system. They all save the data for your web logins in a file on your device. They all also offer account syncing of logins across devices, in which case the data is also stored encrypted on each respective services’ servers. Apple’s system is called iCloud Keychain and is restricted to Apple devices. Google’s and Firefox’s work cross-platform on any device their browser software will run on. Following are links to each company’s help or knowledgebase information on the topic.
- Another question asked was how to delete Firefox from Windows.
- Here’s the Mozilla support article with the directions.
Terms of the Month
- “Malware is any software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server or computer network. Malware does the damage after it is implanted or introduced in some way into a target’s computer and can take the form of executable code, scripts, active content, and other software.” ~Wikipedia
Malware can take a number of forms:
Do you need anti-malware software? That may depend on the context of your computer use. In an enterprise/business and/or government environment, it may be mandated by the entity’s Information Technology (IT) department. For home computing with Apple or Microsoft operating systems, there is less of a need now that in the past for third-party anti-virus/malware software to be installed and constantly scanning your computer for threats. Both macOS and Windows 10 have excellent anti-malware capabilities built in. On an iPhone or iPad, there isn’t any need for this kind of software as it’s a closed garden (curated) environment. But android phones are another story, however. There is a plethora of malware for Android, so some kind of anti-malware software is advised.
Mike shared that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a free tool for Chrome or Firefox that blocks web trackers. It’s called Privacy Badger.
And that brings us to the end of these notes. Please join us for our next meeting for another look at an exciting new topic.
- Saturday, November 9, 2019
- “Apple’s New Operating Systems.”
- We’ll take a look at iOS 13 and macOS 15 Catalina specifically.
- Check our website and our Facebook page for a tantalizing description (coming soon). Mark your calendar and join us next month.
Thanks for reading to the end. Happy computing!
Barry “Bazza” Midgorden
Vice President (macOS)
Mountain View Computer Users Group
Sierra Vista, Arizona