Google, Going Forward

And the Googly fun continues. Angela likes the Google Calculator and its unit-conversion function, as you never know when you'll need to figure out how many cups are in a liter or how many fathoms make a light-year; the syntax, "How many XX in a YY," even resembles English, evoking fond thoughts of Ask Jeeves (another Angela favorite). Steve, meanwhile, cites the ultra-quick local weather forecast function: type "weather #####," replacing the octothorpes with a zip code, and there you have it. (What, you never encountered the word octothorpe before? Type "define:octothorpe" on Google for a quick definition.) You can also type "weather:city state" to get your forecast, but that deprives your humble Duo correspondent of the fun of using octothorpe in a sentence.

Another (free) item worth a look is the Google Toolbar. This is a piece of downloadable software that attaches to Internet Explorer as a toolbar and lets you keep Google at your fingertips without having to visit the home page. It remembers your most recent searches, blocks a fair percentage of pop-up windows, and even helps you fill out online forms. Alas, for the moment only IE users have access to this program, though there is a third-party version for the Firefox crowd.

Firefox and Mozilla fans do get a little something extra from Google, though it's rather a mixed blessing. A Pre-Fetch option--switched on by default--speeds up your surfing slightly by pre-loading the first item on the first page of your search results, assuming that, like most folks, you're apt to click on whatever's at the top of the page. There's a problem here, though: you may end up with Web pages and other debris in your browser cache (and therefore on your machine) that you'd never in a million years have clicked on.

To switch off pre-fetch:

• Open your browser
• Type "about:config" in the URL bar and scroll down to the "network.prefetch-next" line
• Click on the line to select it
• Double-click on the word "default" (in the Status column); the word changes to "user set," and the Value column entry changes to "False"

Google's also got its fun side, and Angela mentions two games (or, put more bluntly, two methods for killing a slow-moving five minutes) that involve the site. Googlefight lets you choose two words for a simultaneous search, with higher results delivering a "winner."

Requiring rather more brain engagement, the GoogleGuessingGame plays almost like Pictionary with real pictures. One person thinks of a phrase, does a Google image search on each word in the phrase, and chooses an image from the first page of search results. Then he or she posts one image from each word in a sort of filmstrip and submits it to the site.

A final new Google function caught the Duo's eyes, but with mixed results. Google, like many sites, knows that somehow, someday, someone will figure out a great way of localizing Web search--letting you type in, say, "pizza" and a zip code and passing back the best pizzerias in the area. And Google Local does in fact deliver a list of zip-code-sensitive results if you like. But, says Steve, if you live in a given neighborhood, you already know where the pizza places are. And if you don't live in that neighborhood, adds Angela, unless you're a die-hard fan of a particular chain, you're not going to get enough information about the results to make an informed choice. This local search concept has great appeal to cell phone companies, but the reality is, nobody's been able to figure out how to make it work. Including, apparently, Google.

For more cutting-edge Google attractions, suggest the Duo, keep an eye on Google Labs, where you can try out the stuff the company is refining. Some of it may be of no use to you whatsoever. But sooner or later you might run across the latest search feature of your dreams ... even if there's no telling when Google will be able to hook you up with the perfect mozzarella-and-anchovy pie.

SAVE/DELETE

Steve:SAVE all but Google's local search
Angela: SAVE all

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