The Search - Part 3

The story so far:

The time is the far future when Cyberspace has become a physical reality. People have invented a new sport called SearchDuelling where two people or two teams use their handheld computers to search the Net for a given word – the first person or group to find it are the winners. Losers are often ridiculed and bullied. A young boy who has lost a SearchDuel and is being pursued by two bullies meets up with an old man who promises to teach him the secrets of the art if he promises not to misuse his power. The boy agrees but becomes too cocky before his training is complete and goes off to SearchDuel, not heeding the old man's words. He loses and comes back but cannot find the old man. Instead, he encounters another person who says that he will make the boy the greatest SearchDuellist in the world. The boy is put through a tough training session and is told to go out on his own and come back after he has won a Duel.

Last time on The Search:

Nader: "Right! Now you are slightly more prepared to face somebody in a SearchDuel! Go out there and find somebody and challenge them. Come back only when you have won!"

Cee Pee Yew: "But how will I find you?"

Nader : "The people around these parts know me. Just ask anyone, they will tell you where to find me – ask them to tell you where Drak Nader is!"

And now, the ongoing adventures of Cee Pee Yew:

Cee looked at Nader walking away and wasn't sure whether he was glad to be out of his clutches or sorry that he couldn't learn more. He stood there lost in thought for a moment as he pondered the events of his life during the last few hours - it looked as if he had begun a deeper search, a search for his own identity, when he started his quest to learn how to be a SearchMaster. He shook his head violently as if to drive away some nagging thought and set off to find somebody on whom he could try out his newly acquired skills.

He had walked only a small distance along the pathway when he came face to face with a young man at a narrow point in the pathway where only one person could pass at a time - one of them had to back up and let the other pass but neither of them seemed to be willing to do so. Cee looked at the other person coldly and asked:

"Well? Aren't you going to let me pass?"

"Funny you should ask me that - I was going to ask the same question from you!"

"Ha! Ha!! Now that I have laughed at your joke, let me pass!"

The young man shook his head ruefully.

"Oh, dear! Looks as if I will have to engage in another Duel to find out who gets to pass."

Cee couldn't believe his luck - here he was in search of somebody to engage in a SearchDuel with and this guy turns up almost immediately. He eagerly pulled out his computer and the young man raised one of his eyebrows quizzically.

"An eager beaver, eh? Hold on my friend, I don't Duel the normal way!"

"What do you mean?"

"When I SearchDuel, you don't search for a specific word but for a specific bit of information …"

"But that's not the way it is supposed to be!"

"Come now … what possible use can the finding of an obscure word be? The real objective of SearchDuelling is to promote better searching skills in people and my method is the better way to achieve it. Of course, if you are afraid to Duel …"

"Me? Afraid? Hah! I just didn't think it was fair that is all … I am not afraid! I'll show you!!"

The young man smiled.

"That's the spirit! Let's get on with it, shall we?"

"OK! What do you want to search for?"

"To show you that I am willing to be fair, I will let you choose the information that you want to search for."

Cee thought for a while before replying.

"How about finding the number of Internet users in the world?"

"Fine by me! On the count of three - one, two, three, go!"

Cee's fingers seemed to race across the keyboard as he typed, clicked, read and clicked again using all the skill that he had acquired from CyberChan and Drak Nader but try as he might, he couldn't seem to find the information he required. He went through page after page of HTML documents but nowhere could he find any reference to the number of Internet users all over the world. Then he heard the sound that he'd been dreading since he started the Duel … or rather the absence of a sound - the absence of the sound of his rival's key taps.

"OK! I've found it" said his opponent cheerfully.

For Cee that was the last straw. All the humiliation that he had undergone at each Duel he had lost, the contemptuous comments of Drak Nader, the pitying glances of his peers it all seemed to overwhelm him all of a sudden and he flung his computer away and started sobbing as if he had lost all that he held dear in the world. The young man looked astounded for a moment to see Cee's reaction and then he seemed to be slightly embarrassed and at a loss for words.

"Oh I say! Come on now! Err … there is no need to cry! Uh … if you want you can go first … here, I will walk back …"

Cee didn't even look up while his whole body seemed to heave and shake with sobs.

"(sob) I don't mind losing but … (sob) but … it's not fair!"

"What's not fair?"

"They all (sniff) told me that they would make me (sob) a SearchMaster but I keep on losing!"

"They? Who are they?"

"CyberChan and Drak Nader."

"Wow! Those guys have been teaching you and you still lose? Hard to believe …"

That set Cee off on a fresh round of wailing and sniffing and the young man looked at the sobbing boy before him and seemed to consider his options and come to a decision.

"OK! I am no SearchMaster but I might be able to help you out. Do you want to give it a try?"

"No! Go away!! I have had enough of people telling me that they can make me win and then finding that I still lose!"

"Come now! You can't become a SearchMaster overnight! It takes time. I might not be a great Duellist but I do know a couple of tricks that might help you. Give it a shot - you have nothing to lose, right?"

"(sniff) Oh all right."

"Good! My name is Little John - they call me that because my father is named John too. What's your name?"

"Cee Pee Yew"

"OK, Cee, let's see you do that search again and I will watch over your shoulder to see what you are doing wrong."

Cee picked up his computer from where it lay on the ground, started his browser program and tapped in his query while John nodded in approval. He then scanned down the list of hits till he found one that looked promising and clicked on the link to get the page. He did a word search on the page using CTRL+F and when he didn't find what he was looking for, was about to go back to his list of hits when John stopped him.

"Go down to the bottom of that page, Cee."

The boy scrolled down to the end of the page to find the words "Transfer interrupted by user" at the end of the page and John nodded as if to say his guess had been correct.

"See? You had mistakenly pressed another button while in the middle of the transfer and so, you got only part of the page. The information you are searching for might be on the missing half. You must always be careful about things like this."

"What do I do if I get an interrupted transfer? Just press the reload button on your browser and the page will be retrieved for you again - it's that simple!"

The boy immediately pressed the appropriate button, got the entire page loaded and did the search again but did not find what he was looking for on that particular page. He went back to the list of hits and began scanning down the list till he found another possible entry and was about to click on it when John tapped him on the shoulder.

"Compare the summary for this page and the summary for the previous page you tried …"

"They are identical!"

"Yes and that probably means that the same page is duplicated at two different locations. In such cases, you shouldn't waste time loading the page once more and go on to the next match."

Cee was already doing so but had come to the end of the list of hits. He looked unsure for a minute as if this had never happened to him before and then scrolled to the top of the list and began typing in a new query when John interrupted him for the third time.

"You mean you don't check the rest of the hits?"

"The rest of the hits?" repeated Cee looking puzzled.

John took the computer from Cee and scrolled down to the bottom of the hit list and pointed to a link which said "Next 10" and asked:

"What do you think that link points to? Most of the time, your query will give so many hits that all of it cannot be shown on one page - if you don't find what you are searching for on the first page itself, check out the rest of the hits as well."

"I never knew that!"

"It's small things like these that trip you up when you want to find something on the Net fast - remember that!"

"I will! I will! Is that all that I should know? Do you think that I can win a SearchDuel now?"

"Is that all that you can think of? SearchDuelling is not the important thing - it's finding the information you want fast! SearchDuelling was started to teach you kids this and now you have lost all sense of prespective!"

"All right! All right!! Don't have a cow! I was just trying to find out whether I could do really good searches now."

John seemed to consider for a moment.

"That should get you started but practice is essential. And then there are the metasearch tools."

"Metasearch tool? What are they?"

On that question we leave you this week on … The Search!

To be continued ...

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