It was a calm and quiet day in Cyberia. The 3D birds were singing in their synthesized voices and the only other sound was the clicking of keys on a computer terminal. The old man sat by the roadside, staring at his broken down handheld computer, reading his horoscope for tomorrow as predicted by the CyberOracle. He wasn't harming anybody - he was just minding his own business. The quietness of the day was broken by the sound of running feet and voices raised in anger.
"Stop you coward!"
"Yeah, come here and take your medicine like a man!"
The old man slowly raised his head from his computer and looked at the road and what he saw was this: a young boy, possibly in his midteens, was running away from a couple of boys who were certainly a couple of years older than him. The old man stood up in one smooth motion that belied his apparent age and stood stock still for a moment as he muttered to himself "Ouch! Should stop doing that" and then walked briskly (or as briskly as he could manage) towards the three people who were running towards him.
The young boy nearly collided with the old man as he was running all out without any regard for where he was going but the old man managed to stop him by tripping him up on the power cable of his computer.
"Woah, there! Where do you think you are running to?"
"Let me go! You don't know what those guys will do to me if they catch me!"
The others had reached the two by now and the two older boys were reaching with grins on their faces which could hardly qualify as pleasant when the old man pushed the boy behind him and took a protective stance which would have been more convincing if he hadn't been bent double with age.
"OK, that's far enough! Why are you chasing this boy?"
"Mind your own business, grandad!" snarled one.
"He lost a SearchDuel and must now pay the price ..." grinned the other one.
The old man looked thoughtful.
"A SearchDuel, eh? OK, tell you what - we'll have another one now. You two against me and if I win, the boy goes free, if I lose, I'll take the boy's punishment as well as mine"
If you said the boys looked scornful, it would be an understatement. Their look seemed to imply that the old man was even beneath scorn.
"You? Beat us in a SearchDuel? With what? That old handheld? Hah!"
"You wouldn't be afraid to take on me, now would you?" quietly asked the old man.
"OK, old man - now you are asking for it! We are gonna teach you a lesson that you'll never forget!"
The two boys got out their own computers and linked them together for shared mode and stood expectantly. The old man seemed to consider for a moment and then said:
"I will let you have the choice"
"You don't know what you are doing old man! OK ... let's find ... the home page of The Cyberian!"
The boys immediately started up their browser and set about composing a query. The old man's fingers seemed to fly over his keyboard and you could hear the machinegun fire sound of him typing in command after command. Before the boys could even receive a reply to their query, the old man looked up and said quietly:
"I've found it!"
"What? You must have cheated!" cried both the boys in unison.
In reply the old man simply turned his screen towards them so that they could see his query and the results and the final page that he had accessed and the boys could only look incredulous and then quietly slink away in defeat. The young boy had been observing all of this with wide eyes and now he spoke in a breathless voice:
"You are a MasterSearcher!"
"Now, now boy! I have saved your skin so go away and leave me in peace!"
"Please, oh please ... teach me how to be a searcher like you! I have always been bullied because I couldn't search the Net as fast as any of the others ... please?"
The old man got a faraway look in his eyes as if he was remembering somebody else who used to be no good at searching and then looked down at the boy with a slight smile.
"Oh well ... OK come along then. What's your name?"
"Cee Pee Yew"
"You may call me CyberChan" said the old man with a hint of laughter in his voice "I will teach you how to search faster than you have ever done before but you must promise me never to abuse the power that you will wield."
"OK! Take out your computer and lets get you started on your exercises!"
"Yes, now! You think there is any better time than the present, Cee?"
So started Cee's lessons with CyberChan and it was to be a very interesting experience indeed for the boy who was destined to become one of the greatest SearchMasters of all time because of this chance encounter with an old man on a forgotten byway of Cyberia.
"The first thing you've got to learn is how to compose a search on your browser ..." was how Cyberchan started his lesson.
"But I already know how to do that! You just start your browser, NetScrap or Internet Exporter or whatever, and you select the search button and type in what you want to search for!" interrupted Cee.
CyberChan looked at Cee for a few minutes till the boy began to fidget uncomfortably under his scrutiny and then snapped:
"Yesss ... you know how to do all of that. So how come your searches aren't fast enough? Listen to me when I talk to you my boy and wait till I finish before you decide to shower me with your words of wisdom!"
"I am sorry, master" said the boy in a contrite voice.
"Hmph! When you compose a search, you must try to use words which might be unique to the document that you are searching for and usually, most search engines give you the facility to combine words and thus, you can make your search more effective by combining words. Then, on some search engines, you can give whole phrases by enclosing them within quotation marks and if you know a special phrase from a document or are searching for maybe a famous quotation of which you remember a few words, you can put the whole thing within quotes to make your search more effective."
"Then you have to know which search engine supports which feature?"
"Of course, boy!" snapped Chan "Every person who uses a weapon must know the strengths and weaknesses of his weapons. In the same manner, one must know the characteristics of each search engine one may use and what each engine might be capable of. For instance, take Yahoo (at http://www.yahoo.com), that site is a search engine as well as an Internet directory. Unlike the other search engines on the Web, Yahoo is organized by human beings, who visit and categorize each site that goes on the directory. So, the directory is much more reliable than at other places if you know the exact category that you are searching for ..."
"So does that mean that Yahoo is the best search engine, master?"
"By no means! As a web directory, Yahoo is the best ... but if you don't know the category that you are searching for, then you can try either Alta Vista (at http://altavista.digital.com) or Excite (at http://www.excite.com) which are very competent and thorough engines. As is the case with all software, you would do well to read the online help to find out how to optimize your searches so that you can get the best out of the web by using things like advanced queries"
"Advanced queries? That's a SearchDuelling style that I have never heard of!"
CyberChan looked scornful.
"That is because you youngsters know nothing about classic searching! All that you know is to type and click! Type and click! No finesse at all!"
"Will you teach me how to do advanced queries, master?"
"You could never survive against a seasoned Duellist without knowing it! Some search engines allow you to compose a query in such a way so that you can specify that a matching document should contain one of several possible words or that it should contain all the given words or that it should contain a particular word near another word - this is done by using special keywords like AND, OR or NEAR. The composing of a query which makes use of these techniques is known as advanced querying."
"So if I wanted to find a document where the words "geology" and "history" appeared, the query would be "geology AND history", right?"
"Excellent! You are learning! But this is just the tip of the iceberg my boy ... there is a lot more!"
"Oh ... "
What Cee was about to say will not be known to us (well ... at least not this week). So, be here next time too to find out the continuing saga of ... The Search!
To be continued ...
Return to my homepage