by Gary North
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Google's new Desktop Search program works great on a hard disk full of old e-mails and downloaded Web pages. The bad news is that it clutters up the screen with links to non-functioning files called .gif files, and I find no way to get rid of them.
To download it takes only a couple of minutes. It offers you a choice: let the program communicate with Google to identify problems — this is a beta version — or override this feature. I overrode it. I am writing this report instead.
As you know, I think the best way to make more money is to increase your productivity. That's why, from time to time, I report on freeware that can improve the way we do our work. This is one of those reports.
After 24 years of dreaming, one of my data storage and data retrieval dreams has come true. Well, not quite. It came true for one day. Then I woke up. Reality intruded. But reality is a lot closer to my dream today than it was last week.
I assume that you have the same dream: locating that lost file, e-mail, or article.
HERE IS MY PROBLEM
I am a writer. I write all sorts of stuff — e-mails, articles, and books. Like everyone else, I forget where I have filed all this stuff on my hard drive. I lose track of where certain items are.
I also do a lot of research. I download links in my "Favorites" section, but this feature has severe limitations. The main one is that Web links go bad all the time. When I click on a link, I often get this page instead: "This page cannot be displayed." Bad news. A second limitation is that I must be on-line for a Web link to work. The Web document is not on my hard drive. A third limitation is that I can search only for keywords in the name I assigned to the link. Because the page itself is not on my hard drive, I cannot search for words in the original article.
Google has begun to solve my problem. The company has just released a search program for desktop computers. It looks and works much like Google's on-line search engine does. It works instantaneously. It is in beta-testing stage. It still has glitches. The company is going to enlist a "team" of several million beta-testers who will help identify problems free of charge. I am one of them.
I downloaded the program. This took under two minutes. I then had it index my hard drive. I have about six gigabytes of files. This process took under ten minutes.
If you have a huge collection of wordy HTML pages on your hard disk, it may take overnight for the program to index your hard drive the first time. Anyway, that's what Google says.
Here has been my long-term problem. In my office, I have eleven 4-drawer filing cabinets stuffed with clippings, which are filed under hundreds of categories. I have no electronic filing system for these clippings. So, I forget about them. Also, when I do remember an article, I may forget which article was filed under which category: the keyword problem. Ideally, it ought to be filed under half a dozen keywords. It amazes me how many I can still find, even though I stopped filing in 1996 when I went on the Web full-time.
I don't trust my brain to do this work indefinitely, and besides, I would prefer to create a data base of clippings that others can use after I'm gone. Filing cabinets full of articles filed according to my classification system are not easily used by third parties. In any case, I rarely use those files these days because of the Web and Google. I don't read physical newspapers any more. I read on-line newspapers instead. I don't need to print them out.
With Google's search tool, I will now assemble a very large collection of digital documents. I will be able to locate them. If I forget one, I may still be able to retrieve it through the use of keywords.
HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
I give it a B-minus.
Click on the program's desktop icon. A search page pops up that looks like Google's regular search page. It offers a "Search Desktop" button and a "Search the Web" button, which you can use if you're on-line.
It searches these file types, any of which you may choose or reject: Outlook mail, Outlook Express mail, AOL IM, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, text, Web history, and Web pages (HTML). It does not search PDF files. Too bad.
First, I wanted to see if I could retrieve a specific e-mail. I decided to search for the word "gatekeepers." I have used this word to describe those people and institutions that filter information so that the general public cannot gain easy access to it. I have argued that the Internet has created a society in which gatekeepers can no longer perform this function effectively. This fact is re-shaping society. (For evidence, search the Web for "Monica Lewinsky," "Drudge," "Newsweek," "spiked," and "impeached.")
I typed in "gatekeepers." As soon as I clicked the "Search Desktop" button — in the twinkling of an eye, to use St. Paul's language — there were half a dozen e-mail links on my screen. Every one of them had "gatekeepers" in it. I could see a brief extract of each e-mail on-screen. I clicked the first link. Up popped the complete e-mail, nicely formatted.
This takes care of what has been a major retrieval problem: e-mail clutter.
Note: I use Outlook Express. The beta version of Google's Desktop Search works only on Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. I hope the programmers add other formats later on.
Second, I have always wanted to fill my disk with Web pages: a digital filing cabinet with 500 drawers. I do lots of research on the Web. I want to be able to do the following:
Download a Web page.
Enter as many keywords as I can think of.
Search months later for any or all of these keywords.
Have the search program pull up the link fast.
Avoid pulling up links to 50 unrelated Web pages.
I went to Lew Rockwell's site and downloaded an old article of mine, "Why the Job Market Is Slanted in Favor of College Graduates." This article discusses some of the myths of college education and ways to get around the corporate career barriers that are placed against non-graduates.
Second, I saved this page to my hard disk — not "Favorites," but "Save As." To save it, I had to type in a title in the "File name" box. Instead of typing in a name, I typed in keywords that I think I may possibly recall if I ever go looking for this article or related articles. I typed in these words: discount college degree graduates money salary business hire apprenticeship boredom.
I clicked the Save button. In an instant, the article was saved to my hard disk.
This long title widens the spaces in between the rows of article titles in my filing system. This is a small price to pay.
I then disconnected from the Web. I wanted to test the program's disk-searching capabilities.
Again, I clicked the Google icon. Up came the search page. I typed in two words: "discount college" (without quotation marks). I then clicked the "Search Desktop" button. Immediately, I got a list of files. The first two were obviously useless: .gif files: which are component parts of the complete file. The third one was the right one: "Why the Job Market Is Slanted in Favor of College Graduates."
I clicked it. Bad news. I got "This page cannot be displayed." For some reason, pages from LewRockwell.com do not download properly, as I was to discover in subsequent tests.
Then I noticed the word "cached" at the end of the link. I clicked it. Up popped the original article, with the words "college" and "discount" highlighted in yellow. Because of the highlighting, this cached format is actually more valuable to me than the original page would have been. I can easily find the keywords I'm looking for.
Warning: If your keyword is not in the original article, there will be no highlighting.
The Google program searches both for keywords in the "File name" and words in the original article. This is good.
In downloading other Web pages, I did not have the "problem" of the message, "This page cannot be displayed." But all downloaded files offer "cached," and these cached pages have highlighted all of my keywords that are in the article. So, I intend to use "cached" as my original choice. It makes rapid skimming so much more efficient.
This takes care of the second-biggest storage/retrieval problem I have had since 1996: how to save a Web page to my hard disk and find it later. The use of a long file name solves my old clippings-based problem: the need for multiple categories for the same clipping.
I came across an article on the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida. Derrida taught that words and reality are not really linked. He was famous as a deconstructionist philosopher. The article is a short, brilliant satire on Derrida, who is dead. Or is he? We can't be sure if we follow Derrida's philosophy. You can read it here.
Deconstructionism is taught at the best and most expensive universities that charge parents $140,000. It is rarely taught at junior colleges or lower-tuition universities. This is another reason why I recommend discount colleges rather than Ivy League universities. For my instant-reply free report on this, send an e-mail to [email protected].
In order to test my keyword system, I saved the Web page to my disk and inserted these words in the "File name" box: "goofball French philosopher."
If I ever download a page on Jean Paul Sartre, I will have to use a different file name, so as not to overwrite the article on Derrida. I will add "commie" to "goofball French philosopher."
Again, I disconnected from the Web. Then I typed in "goofball." Up came the article. This time when I clicked on the link, there was no announcement: "This page cannot be displayed." I did not have to click "cached."
Nevertheless, I will always click "cached," because I like the word-highlighting feature.
The Google program also pulled up a bunch of irrelevant links: "background.gif," "article_submenu_r1_c1_gif," etc. This is a beta version. I trust that the programmers will fix this glitch.
Will I remember "goofball French Philosopher" as an article on Derrida? Probably. But if I don't, I can still search for "Derrida." Google will search the text on the Web page, not just my name/keyword entries.
Searching will become a problem only if I have lots of entries on Derrida, which I won't. A little Derrida goes a long way.
What happens if I want to find an article labeled "Greenspan"? I will have a problem. Now that I have Google Desktop Search program, I will file lots and lots of Web pages about or by Greenspan. I may even have to buy a 200-gigabyte hard disk. How will I locate the Greenspan article I am looking for? "Goofball central banker" won't be sufficiently narrow. Besides, I can only use it once.
I will use the "File name" box to enter key words that I think will help me retrieve a particular Greenspan article. That will take some creativity on my part, but every detailed filing system does. I won't type in Greenspan. That word will be in the article's text. I'll file the page in a "Greenspan" folder. If the article is about his obtuse language, I will add "esperanto." If it's on his denial of a bubble, I will use "bubble." If it's an admission of a previous bubble that he failed to warn against or even denied was happening at the time, I can use "retroactive bubble." And so on.
GLITCHES: .GIF FILES
The program retrieves .gif files along with the original Web page. This is a major flaw. The program should retrieve only the Web page, not clutter up the screen with useless .gif files that make up the Web page.
Another glitch is also quite serious. I downloaded a Web page with lots of graphic-heavy ads in it. All I wanted was the text of a particular columnist. It took a long time to save this page to my disk. Then, when I used Google Desktop Search, all I got was a .gif file — a small image. No text.
So, I removed the file. Blip.
I then went to a "print" page of the columnist's article and downloaded it. I named it similarly, but not identically.
Google Desktop Search now cannot find the new file. It keeps retrieving the original .gif file. It says: "The following file cannot be found . . . This may happen if you renamed or deleted this file." But I deleted a different file/name.
The program apparently cannot differentiate between the quick and the dead. They had better fix this problem.
So, it's a beta program. Don't expect it to solve your data retrieval problems yet. But Google is serious about developing a useful piece of software. It will get better.
You can use quotation marks to limit your search to a phrase. This is helpful, but only if you recall the exact phrase. The program should someday imitate Google's "Advanced Search" option. It will allow a search for only specific words, though not a single phrase. This will let us retrieve only those documents that contain all of these words.
It should search PDF files someday.
Google should create an on-line manual of tips on how to use this program efficiently. To do this, the company should hire a skilled instruction manual writer to work with a skilled user of the program. (These are never the same people.)
A competing company, whose product, Copernic, I used to use, says that Google's product could become a privacy threat. The company has said that the threat is potential. Users can opt out of sharing information, which I did.
If your computer is not secured by a password, then someone can access your e-mail, with or without Google Desktop Search (GDS). Your privacy problem is your lack of computer security. Don't confuse the issue.
Google wants to protect its image as non-coercive. I have few fears that the company is going to use my files against me, especially when I opted out of data sharing. In any case, my files are sufficiently boring that I'm not worried about MP3-tracking by the RIAA, which was one example that the critic provided. I don't have any MP3 files. If I ever do, they will be lectures and sermons, which I am happy to share.
THE HIDDEN WEB PAGES ON YOUR HARD DRIVE
When I search the Web with the regular, on-line version of Google, it now also searches my hard disk in order to remind me of previous downloads or e-mails. We all forget what we have already searched for and downloaded. I now get a message: "[number] results stored on your computer." I can click this link. This takes me to piles (the old, paper-based word) of documents that I did not know I had.
Now things get very interesting, to say the least. It turns out that when you download any Web page, it stays on your hard disk drive unless you write over it, which is rare. Even if you did not save it, it's on your hard disk. Even if you saved it and blipped it, it's still there. It is missing from your list of files, but it's on your hard disk drive.
I have an acquaintance who was enmeshed in the 1987 Ollie North scandal/PR victory, depending on how you look at that event and its results. He had been a U.S. Ambassador. As he said to me in private a few years later, "When you erase a document, it ought to stay erased." It (they) didn't.
If you have ever wondered what's on your hard disk that could be easily extracted by a technician who is hired by a plaintiff in a lawsuit against you, use GDS to find out. The court can subpoena your computer. (So can the Feds.) Just think of search words and phrases that you hope the plaintiff's lawyer won't think of. Search for them now, while your computer is still in your possession.
For a few of you, this may be the most important piece of information you will get from my reports this year -- or any year.
This retrieval feature of GDS gave me an opportunity to test a free program that I had downloaded, Stellar Wipe Personal Edition 2.0. The company also sells a professional version for $39. I tested the free version. I had searched for "silver" with GDS. GDS offered over 210 links to documents on my hard drive with the word "silver" in them. Several of them were from a movie review Web site that I visit, Rotten Tomatoes. I never save these pages, so I know they have to be temporary files.
I set Stellar Wipe to erase all Internet links that I had never actively saved to my hard disk or that I had blipped: "Temporary Internet Files." It took at least five minutes of audible chugging for Stellar Wipe to do its work.
Then I went back to GDS and searched for "silver." All of the links were still on my hard drive. The cached files were complete. Hmmmmm.
I downloaded a shareware file-erasing product, Smart Protector. If I ever decide to buy it, it will cost $25. I used it to erase temporary files. It chugged away for longer than ten minutes. This was after Stellar Wipe had informed me that it had removed all temporary files. So far, so good.
Again, I booted up GDS. I typed in "silver." Sure enough, all 210 of the links were still there. This included the cached files. Hmmmmm.
If nothing else, you should use GDS as a test of any file- erasing program that you intend to use or have used, thinking that it is effective. If the program can't thwart a freeware program like GDS, then it can't thwart a determined technician. In fact, GDS can be used by a plaintiff's technician to save lots of search time!
If you have located a file-erase program that erases all unmarked, never actively saved/labeled files, so that GDS can't retrieve them, let me know. The better-known ones all seem to have limitations.
MY SECOND DREAM
I have a second dream regarding data storage and retrieval. I want to take notes verbally on a digital recorder that allows me to use a high quality external microphone like the Sennheiser 835e ($99), and then upload my voice files into speech-recognition dictation software: Naturally Speaking 7. Then I want to be able to retrieve these notes (Google). I'm still looking for the right digital recorder, although I think it will be a Sony.
These notes will be long, especially if I'm summarizing a 500-page book. So, when I call up a file by means of keywords, the file may be very long. I want to be able to go right to the section I need to recall. I will therefore need keywords.
I will dictate key words at any relevant point in a document. After verbally summarizing whatever I have been reading, I will tell the program "paragraph." It will create a new paragraph. Then I will dictate a string of keywords. Then I will say "paragraph."
When it comes time to retrieve documents using these keywords, Google Desktop Search highlights in yellow the search words. This means that I can type in the search words and then rapidly scroll down the file, which will probably be in ASCII or e-mail text format. I will be able to skim rapidly.
I can make skim reading faster by breaking up my notes into shorter files, such as summaries of just one chapter, and filing all of these chapters in one folder. This way, I can skim read a shorter file.
The problem is, I may want the folder to summarize one book, or I may want the folder to relate to a single research project, which means notes taken from many sources. Or maybe I want both kinds of folders.
This is not much of a problem any more. It was when I used physical folders. Google Desktop Search will spot the keywords. It pays no attention to folders.
I will probably create one notes folder per verbally summarized book. If I summarize several of one author's books, I will create a large folder with his name, and then create sub-folders with each book's summary. I can also download book reviews from the Web.
Now I'm going to let you in on a little-known fact. Universities today subscribe to many newspapers and journals on-line. These are library-paid subscriptions, not Web articles. If you go to a local university, you may be able to log on. Not all of them screen out visitors. Not all require passwords. You can read a full-text article on-line and then send the document to your email box. It depends on school policy. When you can do this kind of research at a local university, free of charge, you can assemble a huge data base. Google Desktop Search lets you manage a large data base.
This program, when it's out of beta stage, will be a godsend for college students. Here is a tool to use in researching term papers. For graduate students, it will become indispensable.
If you want to retrieve lost e-mails, this program will help solve your problem.
Someday, they will fix it, so that it will work well with downloaded Web pages: no .gif files cluttering up the screen. Then it will be a terrific tool.
October 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 LewRockwell.com