i-81ddfadf0a61ebbe3f1d1bfab8c3ad76-cat.gifA few years ago I did something utterly stupid. I listened to someone’s advice. Now, I don’t want to sound too cynical, but really, half or more of what people tell you is, shall we say, unconsidered. They don’t stop and think that they are actually telling you something that will affect what you do next, what decision you make, how you adjust your plans, or what money you spend. So random shit comes flying out of their mouth and you do it and later feel stupid.

I’m reminded of an incident some years ago. Some guy was looking for a job and was hiring. He told me we had a mutual friend, whom I’ll call “Bob.” (His real name was Jake.) So I went to “Bob” and asked him if he knew this guy, if he would be good to hire, and so on. “Bob” went on and on for a few minutes about how well he knew this guy, how great he was, how he’d be great to work with, bla bla bla. So I hired him.

Then the job started and the guy turned out to be a total loon. Unfortunately, being a loon was his good feature. He also had a tendency to do things his own way, which is not good on an archaeological dig where there is a method everyone is supposed to follow. I’ll admit some of his ideas were … interesting … but we really just needed someone who could follow the basic instructions and keep track of what he was doing. The problem was, when I asked him to do this, he became violent. He would get mad at, and very aggressive with, anyone who disagreed with him. He was a freakin’ mad dog.

So I want back to Jake, I mean “Bob”, and asked him about his friend.

“This guy isn’t really working out, ‘Bob’.”

“I know. He’s crazy! Did you see how he attacked you with that shovel?”

“Ah… well, yeah, I did notice that, seeing as how I was the one being attacked … anyway, this whole thing, it surprises me, ‘Bob’.”

“Waddya mean?”

“Well, remember back in April when I asked you about this guy and you went on and on about how great he was and stuff?”



“No, I don’t remember. Did I do that? I can be such a dork.”

“Bob” had not considered his recommendation very carefully, did he. Well, “Bob” doesn’t know this, but I did get even with him in the best way a guy can get even. But that’s another story.

So, returning to the less distant past, I was at a party a while back with a bunch of high level managers and engineers and such from (not name dropping, really) several of the major high tech companies in California. You know, Apple, Google, HP, Intel, and so on. And I mentioned something about how I’d like to get more use out of the Google interface, to use it for stuff other than just a web page that fetches URLs for me. So the guy from Intel says “Yeah, ask the Google guy, he’ll know” and the lady from Apple says “Yeah, ask him, he’ll know” and so on, so I waited until the google guy was done with a very exciting game of Laser Khet in which he was engaged, and asked him.

So he told me to get this book called “Google Hacks”

I’d show it to you but I tossed it in the recycle bin the other day, along with the thirty or forty post-it notes I had stuck all over it. You see, I spent a couple of very enjoyable evenings reading through it and marking, with a Post-It, each thing that seemed interesting to me. Then, a couple of days later, I started trying them. And none of them worked no matter how carefully and skillfully I applied the suggestions in the book.

Then I found out that Google had changed its interface and none of the old stuff worked. That guy from Google must have known that but a) he didn’t consider his advice very carefully, and b) I took his advice at face value, drunk as I was with the effects of Silicon coming off with all that high-tech elbow-rubbing at the party.

However, that is all water under the proverbial bridge, and I found a new book that makes a lot more sense than that book did. Data Source Handbook by Pete Warden is new, fresh, and covers many different interfaces that give you access to cool stuff.

Try this. Go to the Blekko web site. Type in a URL, followed by a space, followed by this:


Hit enter and enjoy the data that comes flying out at you.

Or, try this at the command line (if you have curl installed):

curl “http://google.com/complete/search?output=toolbar&q=%22San+Francisco+is+”

… and you can replace “San+Francisco+is+” with any other phrase, using the little plus signs for spaces. The result will be an XML formatted list of the top ten search terms that begin with the phrase you used.

How cool is that?

This book is very current, and if you get an electronic version that you can cut and paste from, you can, well, cut and paste from it and get up to speed even faster. And no Post-Its.

You can interface with Google Books, various movie databases, and all sorts of other things. I highly recommend it.


  1. #1 gb
    February 25, 2011

    Sorry, but I heard some nasty things about taking advice from others without thinking.

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    February 25, 2011

    Actually, gb, you heard some nasty things about taking advice from people who aren’t thinking.

    This goes along with something Ben noticed a few years ago. If you can, avoid asking yes/no questions when accuracy is important. It won’t keep people from answering, “Yes,” but at least you’ll be able to tell the ones who are just trying to be agreeable without thinking from the ones who are actually answering your question.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2011

    gb: Are you trying to give me advice?

  4. #4 Paul
    February 26, 2011

    Greg, liked your article, Thank You

  5. #5 marco
    February 26, 2011

    Maybe you should’ve considdered verifing data..

  6. #6 OgreMkV
    February 26, 2011

    I don’t do much actual ‘data-mining’, but I spend a heck of a lot of time looking for exactly what I need.

    The big problem is that I often don’t know exactly what I need until I find it.

    My advice (see what I did there?) is use what works for you.

  7. #7 Joon Ha
    March 14, 2011

    Dear Greg, I really enjoyed your blog even though it was judgmental and, pretty much, you venting. It helped me to realize that some people in my life are also very unreliable. You also specified different points of your life where people would just babble on without realizing what they’re saying, so it helped me to find some of my own examples. Furthermore, I really benefited from your handbook because, aside from me being a computer geek, it made me interested in the Internet and how the boundaries to what’s possible with it are infinite.