Chapter 5 - Part D

Looking for Files in All the Wrong Places

Bill: We've separated the things we're going to look for into two groups we're going to call "files" and "facts." A file is any given thing that you want to obtain -- a program for your computer, for instance, or a back issue of an electronic journal you can obtain over the Internet, such as InterText. You might also find the lyrics to that song that's been driving you crazy for the past 36 hours, such as the theme to Gilligan's Island.

Adam: Whatever you do, folks, don't think about it! Just drive the millionaire and his wife straight from your mind. Don't let it take hold! Don't think about the theme to Gilligan's Island! Just relax, and sit right back, and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip....

Bill: Adam, that was a terrible thing to do! Folks, I apologize. After we've gone out onto the Internet and located some files, we'll start looking for facts. A fact is any piece of information that you can locate on the Internet -- the answer to a riddle, help on a specific problem you may be having, or perhaps a concert date.

Bill: Let's get started; maybe we can distract you so you don't think about the theme to Gilligan's Island too much.

Adam: Let's find a weather map. I'm pretty sure some of those exist on the Internet, and it would be nice to see what sort of weather we're having right now.

Bill: Why don't you look out the window?

Adam: Because it's dark.

Bill: Oh, right, you live in the 'burbs. There aren't many streetlights outside of the city.

Adam: Okay, let's see if we can figure out what sort of weather system is over the East coast, hammering on our parents.

Bill: For the reader at home, it's hard to tell, but this is taking a while. If you like, I could entertain you with my rendition of various pirate songs from Peter Pan while we wait.

Adam: No, wait! I've found a weather map. It wasn't as easy as I thought it should have been, though. I did a Veronica search on "weather map" but every one of the folders of weather maps that it found turned out to be a bum steer.

Bill: Interesting mental picture on that phrase. So that's what was happening when you were downloading that file for twenty minutes. I thought you were downloading Willard Scott himself for a while there.

Adam: Yeah, I didn't time it, but the file was almost two megabytes large and was a gorgeous satellite picture of the planet, complete with white parts that might have been clouds.

Bill: Oh, yeah, I see it. It's pretty, why don't we use that figure?

Adam: Because you can't tell from the picture what part of the planet you're even looking at.

Bill: Hmm. True. In fact, you can't even tell which planet it is. How do weatherbeings interpret this stuff? You might as well hand them a Picasso.

Adam: No kidding. But I did eventually figure out how to find a better map of the United States. I remember seeing something about weather once in a list of Internet resources maintained by Scott Yanoff. You can get a copy of this list from Scott's machine, and you can find out what machine that is by using Finger on Scott's address. I've done this before so my copy of Finger remembered it.

Bill: Lucky.

Adam: I prefer to think of it as foresight. Anyway, once I retrieved the entire Special Internet Services list, I found a site mentioned as having weather information, so I went there with Gopher, found the maps, and downloaded one (see figure 5.17).

Figure 5.17: 50% chance of something in your area tonight.

Adam: Moving on to less concrete problems, here's a question that has always bothered me.

Bill: What's that?

Adam: What are the risks of buying gas at a gas station with a credit card from one of those automated pumps? I like using them since they're a lot faster than dealing with the cashier, particularly if they make you pay first and go back for change. But, at the same time, I've seen a bunch of receipts just lying around, which says to me that people don't particularly protect their credit card numbers.

There's a fabulous mailing list called Risks Digest that focuses on the risks of technology, and I'll bet this is the sort of thing that they've talked about at some point. I've noticed postings from that group come up when I search the Connection Machine Server via WAIS, so let's see if there is anything (see figure 5.18).

Figure 5.18: Name, number and expiration date, please.

Bill: That's one thing I like about WAIS, the ability to use real English sentences as you did there: "Tell me about using a gas pump and a credit card." But I've never seen anything in that "Which are similar to" box before. What's that for?

Adam: Glad you asked. That box provides a truly interesting part of WAIS called "relevance feedback." Relevance feedback is a phrase that basically means: "Show me more like this one." So, in the example above, I first searched for the search phrase alone and found a few articles that matched what I wanted, but there were also some that were far from the subject. By asking WAIS to find me more like the article I dropped in the relevance feedback box, I narrowed the search and found more articles that were on the topic I wanted. You can do that with either an entire article, as I did above, or with just a part of an article.

Bill: Clever. That would allow you to narrow the search, as you did, or broaden it by loosening the original parameters while allowing the relevance feedback to keep the answers on track.

Adam: Relevance feedback requires a good WAIS program, though, and although you can search through a WAIS database from within Gopher or the World Wide Web, clients for those two generally don't support WAIS's fancier features, like relevance feedback. The same principle applies elsewhere; so, for instance, although World Wide Web servers can show you the contents of Gopher sites, Mosaic or Netscape isn't nearly as slick as a real Gopher when it comes to navigating through Gopherspace. There's always a right tool for the job.