Web searching for the researcher, part 2

This is the second part of a two-part article on getting the most out of DuckDuckGo for research. Start here.

Narrowing the search

Excluding a search term can improve results. Let’s say you want to find out about trumps in card games and not about the president. Try this:

trump card -donald -president

That doesn’t get rid of all the irrelevant results; I got a headline that says “China plays Trump card brilliantly.” But most of the results are about cards rather than politics. DuckDuckGo is honest enough to say that the minus sign gives you “less” with the search term, not none.
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Web searching for the researcher

Writers of every kind need to do research. Even if you’re writing pure fantasy, you occasionally need to check on human physiology right or cultural allusions. This often means using the search engines — but they make it hard. They give you popular results instead of accurate matches. They give you recent stuff while ignoring older pages. With some work, though, you can force useful results out of them.

I’ll be focusing here on DuckDuckGo. Google annoys me in too many ways to mention, and I get tired of people giving it free advertising by telling me to “google” something. DuckDuckGo has its own problems, but it least it doesn’t second-guess you based on your earlier Web activity. They’re similar in a lot of ways, so a lot of this advice will work with other search engines as well.
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A disturbing collaboration against “extremist” speech

The Guardian reports that “Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have pledged to work together to identify and remove extremist content on their platforms through an information-sharing initiative.” This amounts to high-tech blacklisting, and it could be very bad for people trying to convey unpopular ideas.

The article freely conflates “extremist” and “terrorist” content, as if anyone who advocates an extreme position must intend to support it with violence. Does this include extreme pacifists, I wonder? Perhaps even extreme programming?
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Websites to sell your writing

The Internet features a lot of websites where writers can connect with customers. None of them pay as well as finding your own clients, but some do offer decent pay and deal fairly. Others have serious problems of various kinds. Here are some notes from my experience:
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Getting actual news with RSS

Just about all news websites on the Internet are terrible. Most of what Google News offers doesn’t even qualify as news, and its advocacy links have an obvious slant to the left. Most news sites’ homepages are full of unimportant sports and entertainment material and pictures that take half a minute to download. If you find an article on a solid news event, it’s usually got more about people’s reactions than to what actually happened. Often headlines can’t even describe their stories correctly. Perhaps lowest of all is the story that consists of Tweets by people nobody’s ever heard of, “proving” that some alarming new trend is gripping society.

A good alternative is well-selected RSS feeds. They lead to the same websites, but it’s far easier to browse through them for the stories that are worth reading. They’re handy for reading blogs that have new posts only once every few days but consistently say worthwhile things.

A lot of the feeds I follow are for specialized tech areas, and I won’t mention them here. Maybe I’ll list them in a future Mad File Format Science post. Here are some feeds I follow that have some general interest:

  • BBC News, Europe. Stories we might not see in the US.
  • Christian Science Monitor. Decent general news coverage.
  • Hit and Run from Reason Magazine. Obvious libertarian advocacy, but also news stories you might not see elsewhere.
  • Mother Jones. Leftward advocacy, but more pro-freedom than many, and again it’s got news stories you might otherwise miss.
  • New York Times, international. A left-establishment slant, but better news coverage than many.
  • Schneier on Security. This veers toward the techie side, but if you’re reading this on the Internet, you should care about its subject matter.
  • Spiegel Online: Schlagzeilen. Good European coverage, in German. (I’m not just being silly; my stats confirm that people from Germany do read this blog.)
  • The Volokh Conspiracy. A legal blog tending toward the libertarian. It often has good analysis that’s missing from other coverage of big stories.

I read RSS feeds on my Mac with Leaf. It’s simpler and more straightforward than most readers, though it’s slower than it should be. I’m open to other recommendations.

If you’d like to share some favorite news RSS feeds, please mention them in a comment.

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Why Bucharest’s Internet is so fast

Bernie SandersHere’s my latest article on the FEE website, on Internet in Romania.

The editor asked me to write a piece on this topic, because of Bernie Sanders’ tweet that Internet speeds in Bucharest are faster than the average speed in the US (which is true). I was flattered by the request and started researching the article right away. I joked to my friends that if you wanted to know about Internet in Romania, obviously I was the person to come to.

What I learned about the ad hoc networks in Romania’s major cities was fascinating; they have lots of competition, while we’re lucky to have a choice between the government-franchised cable company and the government-franchised phone company. The headline writer chose to play on the irony of Sanders’ endorsing a free-market solution, though I thought the solution itself was the really fascinating part. Mentioning Sanders draws more readers than mentioning Bucharest, I suppose. :)

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Battling the search engines

Whether it’s Google, DuckDuckGo, or Yahoo, all the search engines seem to work the same way, and they all have the same problems. I generally use Startpage, but it’s just a privacy-enhancing front end to Google. If you look for an unusual word, they’ll decide it should really be another word. I’ve gotten used to this happening with my name, but even the FCC Commissioner has the same problem, with search engines giving mostly “O’Reilly” in the results when I search for “O’Rielly.” If I search for DROID, the software tool from the UK National Archive, I’ll get lots of hits for “Android.” (Insert obvious Star Wars joke here.)
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Twitter’s user manipulation

Social media sites keep deciding that the key to success is to be more like Facebook. It never works. I have no idea why Facebook is so popular, but no one’s improved their competitive position by emulating its most annoying features. Now Twitter is trying anyway. This bothers me because I’ve found Twitter more useful and less bothersome than the alternatives.
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Udemy retroactively bans courses

As some of you know, I have a couple of video courses up on Udemy. With a notice I received yesterday, I’m not feeling very happy about this.
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Naxos Music Library revisited

My love-hate relationship with Naxos Music Library continues. It has an ever-growing collection of on-demand streaming music. I love being able to listen to unfamiliar composers without any cash outlay beyond the monthly subscription fee.
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