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Monday, January 12, 2004

Google Answers Researcher Chromedome Interviewed

As of May 2002, Fred from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada is Google Answers Researcher Chromedome-Ga. 40-years old Fred is a cook and culinary student (“career change posterboy”).

Chromedome on Google Answers

How did you find out about Google Answers?

In a local (Halifax) indie paper called “The Coast.” One of the columnists mentioned it; and since I was without income at the time, I jumped on it immediately.

What do you like best about answering for Google Answers?

I’m insatiably curious about almost everything you can imagine. Spending my (currently nonexistent) free time looking things up and getting paid for it is almost too good to be true. I guess the lack of time to do it, and the lack of payback for doing it, are what keep GA from utter TGTBT-dom.

Would you consider taking this up as full-time job, provided the question volume would be high enough (or is it already full-time for you)?

Um...well, I’ve kinda put a whole lot of time and effort into becoming a professional cook, and I really love what I do. I certainly consider GA a sweet part-time gig. As time permits, once I graduate from school, I’ll probably be more involved again. At present, I’m only around sporadically and I’m usually too tired to think, let alone research.

What kind of question subject you usually like to answer?

It’s all good. I’ve not answered a great many questions, but they’ve been all over the map. I’ve gone into engines of various types, persecution of Asian-Africans, obscure missionaries, literature, movies, historical documents...I just get a kick out of looking things up. I’m an information junkie.

In one sentence, what’s the trick to a good answer?

Trick? The trick is that there are no tricks, no shortcuts. It’s all about due diligence...understand the question, answer it fully, proofread proofread proofread. And cite your sources when you’re done.

What would be the new Google Answers slogan, if you were responsible to create one?

I don’t really know. I have an innate suspicion of slogans.

Which Researcher would you take as guide on a dangerous island?

Tough call. There are lots of researchers whose company I’d enjoy, but I don’t know who’d be a good guide. Maybe Laare’s knowledge of geology would make the island less dangerous?

Chromedome-ga’s Favorites

What are your favorite research tools and websites (please include browser and text editor you are using)?

There are lots of good sites out there, most of which I’ve been pointed to by other researchers. For inquiries that go beyond what Google will point me to, I make heavy use of government and industry-group websites. A great resource for many bizarre inquiries is the Strategis website operated by Industry Canada, a service of the Canadian government. I have an eclectic home library, which sometimes answers questions for me, and as a student I have access to my school library as well (I do a lot of offline research). Oftentimes, the starting point for an answer will simply be my lifetime’s accumulation of bizarre factoids.

As for my tools, I don’t have a very elaborate setup. I use IE 5.0, and recently installed the Avant browser (a makeover for IE, and pretty useful). I also have Mozilla, which I use occasionally when one or another site makes my IE crap out. I’ve never intentionally installed any toolbar, and root them out obsessively when my wife or kids do so. I like a clean screen.

I typically use Notepad for typing my answers, since my built-in spelling and grammar checking are pretty good (thanks to my grade 7 teachers). If the question is getting long, or my eyes are getting bleary, I’ll occasionally copy-and-paste into Word to do the spellchecking.

What are your favorite websites and newsgroups?

I’ve never gotten into newsgroups; and occasionally I’ve kicked myself for that when I’ve seen another researcher pull an answer from a Usenet posting. I have a fairly limited daily round (because of limited daily time): Google News for the headlines; a variety of independent news outlets for what’s behind the headlines; a Canadian sports site; memepool; IFilm and IMDB for movie stuff (IFilm for trailers and clips, IMDB for hard info).

I will just suppose Google is your favorite search engine (right?). Do you remember which one you were using before, and why you decided to switch to Google?

I was mucking around with a few different ones; mostly Hotbot, a couple of meta-search engines, and Ask Jeeves. I got very excited about natural-language searches for a while, but (like everyone) decided that it’s still a few years away from being functional. I tried Google after reading a news article about Brin and Page; and stayed because it really works.

What are some of your favorite questions & answers by others?

Oy. Again, I’d be hard put to narrow that down. I haven’t had time to read more than two or three answers by other researchers in the last, um...eight months? Nine? I’d tell you that there are a handful of people whose answers are always fun and informative, but you already know that...most of them are interviewed here on your blog.

What are some of the questions that were really a lot of fun answering for you?

I’ve enjoyed most of them. The question about Micro-Electromechanical Devices (MEMS) was fascinating; so was this one about Tacitus. The three I probably had the biggest stake in personally were the Halifax Explosion; the history of soups; and the question about the use of apprentices in the art world. All of these were subjects that I had a pre-existing interest in.

What would be a fun $200 question for you to answer?

Any time anybody posts a $200 food question, just e-mail me, okay? Or something about “War and Peace” would be good, or “Dr Zhivago” (the book), or another one about “Jane Eyre”...

Spare-time of Chromedome

Got any weird hobbies?

No time for anything too esoteric. Mostly I eat, cook, and sleep.

What was the last book you read, the last movie you saw, and the last album you listened to?

Do you know some other Researchers in Real Life?

Haven’t met any others face to face, no. I do correspond regularly with a number of them, though.

Final Words

If you’d write a book about your life, what would be the first sentence?

It’s been pretty interesting, so far...

Anything else you’d want to add?

This is the most amazing group of people I’ve ever gotten to know. What a privilege!

Search.CSS Update

Laurent Gomez has made a Search.CSS, styled like his French DragonBall site. And to answer a question that popped up several times: the thumbnail previews by are only delivered for sites which are in, the Open Directory Project.

Missing First Letter

This morning there was a Jamiri Cartoon at German featuring Google. Now the cartoon has been removed (it included a non-PC, slightly racist term for Asian people), but it pointed at an interesting phenomenon: people sometimes use special first letter layout hacks, which then split the word to a searchbot or certain browsers. That’s mostly the case for PDF files, but also if images are used as first letters, or if special characters are used (e.g. “//elcome”). So you get actual results for “rug consumption"; as in “rug consumption is an expanding phenomenon worldwide”*. Or “Roup Ours to Ermany“**. Or CNN’s “resident Bush”.

*In German, a PDF document is titled: “Rogenkonsum in der Artyszene”.

**That’s “Group Tours to Germany”: “Put on your lederhosen and enjoy some bratwurst as you travel through the Black Forest and down the Rhine River passing fairy-tale castles along the way."


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