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Who’s Alive? Who’s Dead? Quick Reference

After the Jon Bon Jovi Twitter hoax of yesterday (he’s alive, though no word if his living is still on a prayer) I thought you might find this site useful: “Who’s Alive and Who’s Dead,” an index of famous people and whether they’re alive or dead. It’s accessible at http://www.whosaliveandwhosdead.com or http://www.wa-wd.com if you need a mobile-friendly URL.

Obviously this site can’t index everybody ever. It’s got about 3,000 people in it, including actors, musicians, athletes, etc. You can search by name, browse by last name or by category, or look at the recently-updated or special features. (Bon Jovi is here.) The index pages include the name of the person, birth date, death date (if applicable) and either their current age or the age they were when they died. Each person has their own page that gives this information and a little extra data about what they’re famous for if you’re wondering.

The site had everybody I could think of when I checked it (with one exception, more about that in a minute) though about 3,000 people doesn’t seem like a lot. I was surprised to see some of the people listed here. Are people really wondering whether Jimmy Fallon is alive or not? Kirk Cameron?

If I was going to check on one person I’d probably go to Wikipedia first. But if I were on a mobile phone (this site is very fast loading) or I needed a quick reference site (complete with an RSS feed about recent changes in status) I’d bookmark this one.

And the missing name? Elvis Presley (though I did see Priscilla Presley.) Sorry folks, you’ll have to keep wondering…

Fagan Finder Gets a Stack of Updates

Michael Fagan’s Fagan Finder (http://www.faganfinder.com), a search tool which has been around for ages and ages, has gotten several updates recently. You can read all about it at the Fagan Finder blog. Some highlights:

The video and movie search engine now has specialized categories. You can search large sites like YouTube, but also an array of sites with educational video, how-to, and news. Hey, how about the content from the Internet Archive?

The news search engine also includes some options for blog search, and unfortunately just brings home how limited the options for blog search are to start with. There are a couple of video and semantic search engines too.

The academic search is really nice. Categories of resources to search here include scholarly papers, online courses and video, flashcards and quizzes, and books. I was a little surprised to not see the Haithi Trust as one of the book search options — did I miss it?

Finally, the search engine page includes several choices for real-time as well as alternative search engines like Wolfram|Alpha and DuckDuckGo.

I was surprised to not see a social search category or a code search category, but what’s here is extensive. Fagan Finder has a basic design that’s not AJAXy and slick, but I’ll take useful and informative over AJAXy any time.

Facebook Launches New Questions Service

It’s kind of funny that I actually found out about Facebook’s new Q&A service via bemused comments on Twitter. Those actually popped up on my radar a bit before Facebook’s actual announcement

Facebook Questions (in beta) is a new part of Facebook that allows you to ask questions of everyone on Facebook. Yup. Everyone. And if you already have concerns about Facebook’s privacy issues, don’t use this new feature, because any questions you ask will, by default, be public and available to anyone on Facebook. (If you have a question like Should I be worried about this rash?, save it for a status update on your wall.)

The questions feature lives in a menu selection on the left part of your Facebook home page. I decided to test the service by asking a question I really needed answered — the best antivirus/Internet Security for Windows 7, 64-bit. I didn’t find an easy way to specify what category I wanted to use — Facebook seemed to pick the category itself based on keywords in my question.

I asked my question, and then a day or so later tried to go back to the question’s page to get a screenshot for this writeup. No good. I can’t get to the question’s permanent page, and I can’t even get to the answers. (So the questions will be open and public, for a given value of open, public, pageload, and if-I-see-that-spinny-cursor-thing-one-more-time-I’m-gonna-cuss.) Fortunately the answers are also e-mailed to you.

According to my e-mail the question got five answers. The first was from a friend on Facebook, the others were from people I don’t know. There was no snark, just honest, polite opinion. I guess I was expecting something like the anarchy of Yahoo Answers (which does have good content, but also has a lot of answerbombing) and instead got something closer to LinkedIn or Ask Metafilter (my gold standards for question-and-answer communities.)

The problem of course is that Facebook makes it hard to get to the content. I should not have had to dig into my e-mail’s trashcan to get to these great responses. I also can’t browse other questions. I go to the Questions part of my Facebook page. It says there are three questions about Ubuntu, so I try to browse them. Facebook pulls away the football — there are actually no questions about Ubuntu. But there are 34 questions about computers, Facebook notes. So I click on that category. NIX, saith Facebook. There are no questions about computers. But there are 38 questions about sports…

At that point I gave up. From what I could tell from the answers I got, Facebook has a community that’s ready to be helpful in answering questions. Sadly Facebook’s Q&A service has an infrastructure that’s ready to give me an ulcer.

Update: Wednesday — I got Facebook to show me an individual question page! Here’s what it looks like:

(It is my understanding that currently these questions are viewable only with in Facebook, so I had concerns about showing user names and avatars outside the confines of that community. So I blurred full names and avatars. I apologize if it seems excessive, but I figure with an issue of privacy it’s better to do too much to protect it than too little. All these answers were wonderful so if you’re one of the ones who left them leave me a comment and I will give you link love.)

As you can see, Facebook shows the answers and gives you the option to vote them up or down. You can follow a question to see new answers as they’re added, and if a question is offensive you can report it, of course. And if you’re bored with a question you can explore one of the other ones that Facebook helpfully provides you on the answer page.

This is pretty basic, but I like the voting. I just wish I had gotten to explore this page more when I was doing the writeup!

New Dictionaries from WebFinance

I got a note from the folks at WebFinance letting me know that they’ve launched a bunch of new dictionaries within the last few months. You can get a full list of the dictionaries available at http://www.businessdictionary.com/aboutus.php, but here’s a list of some
highlights.

InvestorWords.com — Over 7500 words relating to finance and investing with lots of crosslinking. Words have spoken pronunciations available, but I’m wondering how useful they are. I heard EBITDA pronounced as “EEE-bit-deh,” when I had always heard it on CNBC as “Eee-bit-DAH.” Not that CNBC is canon or anything.

InfoScienceDictionary.com — Over 6000 terms related to library science and knowledge management. Strangely I didn’t find “MLS” when I did a search. Pages are basic with just the definition and some tools for citation, translation, and ranking definitions.

EnglishDefined.com — English terms in common usage with fairly simple definitions. Definitions also include related words and “nearby” words (for example characterize had as nearby words character, characterization, and characteristic. Over 20,000 definitions here.

IdiomDictionary.com — Over 5000 idioms explained, which is not nearly enough. A day without a good idiom is like a day without sunshine. Er. Or something. Anyway, the listings include a definition, an example, and some notes on the usage of the word. The page for Mess of pottage notes that the idiom came from the Bible and is now in uncommon use. Some of these definitions and examples felt very British. (Not necessarily a bad thing.)

Word-Origins.com — The etymology of about 7,000 words. The word origins themselves were pretty thorough — at least the ones I looked at — but the related words were odd. Related to the word apple — apricot, cider, pomegranate. (Okay.) Thyroid. (Huh?) Some crosslinking but not so much that the definitions are unreadable.

There are many, many, many dictionaries online and you may find ones that have more data, especially for topics like etymology. But the dictionaries here were fast-loading and simple to use.

Wolfram|Alpha Adds Military Data

Wolfram|Alpha announced on June 1 that it had added information on army, navy, and air force personnel for over 150 countries as well as armament statistics (tanks, nuclear warhead stockpiles, etc.)

I wondered if this new data means you could now do a Wolfram|Alpha search for random army, but it doesn’t. However you can do country army requests and separate them with commas to get a table of results comparing army sizes. For example, you could search for South Korea army, North Korea army.

You’ll get a result page that compares several different data points, including total population, military population, military fit population, and military expenditures. This is interesting, but I liked
taking it a step further and comparing military statistics with non-military data. I could run this search: South Korea army, North Korea army, Luxembourg population and get data about the size of the armies of South and North Korea, and by comparison the Luxembourg population. In case you’re wondering, the population of North Korea’s army is over twice that of the country of Luxembourg.

You can also stack up several bits of data about the same countries and put those together in a table. I did a search for North Korea army, North Korea Population, North Korea GDP, South Korea army, South Korea population, South Korea GDP and got a table of information comparing the two countries. Note when you do a search this way you don’t get all available information about a country’s military.

Finally, you can also do military information math by using military statistics with other data. If I wanted to get the ratio of the population of South Korea to its military population, I could do a search like South Korea Population / South Korea Army and get the answer 86 — in other words, 86 people in the general population of South Korea for every member of the military. There’s also a chart showing how this number has changed over the last 210 years and how it is expected to change over the next 40.

As I’m discovering more and more with Wolfram|Alpha, the data itself is of secondary interest to discovering all the new and interesting ways you can divvy it up.

Wolfram|Alpha Celebrates First Anniversary with Some New Features

Happy birthday, dear Wolfram|Alphaaaaaaa…. happy birthday to youuuu….. Search engine Wolfram|Alpha put up an interesting blog post Tuesday about its first anniversary and the way it has changed over the last year. The search engine also announced a few changes.

The home page is a bit different, pretty but still simple. If you’ve never quite “gotten” W|A, check out the examples by topic, so you can get an idea of what Wolfram|Alpha can do. If you really want to get under the hood, check out the still-incomplete entity index, which shows you very specific examples of what W|A covers in different categories. (This is still under development but it’s fascinating and I can’t wait to see how it fills out.) The home page also has settings now, too, though it’s just for background settings (the blue one is nice) and whether W|A shows hints or not. Looks like it relies on cookies to keep these settings.

There’s also some new content; the site now offers street maps; searching for something like Sydney Opera House shows, in addition to information about the structure itself, a street map to where the structure is located. There’s also several ways to search for diseases — pulling up that URL will let you calculate disease risk, look at the incidence of disease in populations, get information on specific diseases, and more. I did find that I had to play with my searches a bit to get some of these results. And of course I knew a long time ago that the phrase random disease works.

W|A also announced that when the search engine doesn’t know the answer to a question, it’ll will try to find the “nearest” query to interpret. It doesn’t work all the time, but W|A is working on making this better. I’ll need it, because I’m still not great at figuring out Wolfram|Alpha’s syntax sometimes, though I find myself using it more and more.

In fact, I’m using it so much that I find myself actually looking for a couple of features, though neither one of them is probably what W|A is made for. First of all is an expansion of random words. You can search W|A for random word and get a word with definitions, synonyms, etc. But though the definitions include the parts of speech, you can’t search for, say, random noun. I wish you could; it would be a handy tool for Mad Libs or generating random queries for Flickr. You also can’t stack random queries, either, which is a shame. Wouldn’t it be a great creativity tool for writers if you could run the query random first name, random surname, random occupation, random city and get all the answers on one page?

Happy birthday, Wolfram|Alpha. You’re not getting as much attention as you probably deserve, but it hasn’t stopped you from evolving in new and useful ways. Keep it up!

Ever Wondered? Site Helps You Answer “Life’s Little Mysteries”

If you have kids or like “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not” You’ll enjoy Life’s Little Mysteries, a Web site that answers all those random questions that you constantly wonder about. It’s available at http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/. It’s a terrific reference site, though it does in my opinion suffer from a lack of sourcing.

Life’s Little Mysteries is sort of like a question engine but human-powered, with extensive articles to answer the questions. So the data pool isn’t particularly wide, but it is pretty deep. The front page divides its answered questions into sections, like Body & Mind, Animals, and Just Plain Strange. Ancient mysteries (“Do Fish Sleep?”) exist side-by-side with more contemporary questions (“How Are Oil Spills Cleaned?”)

There is a keyword search available; a search for baseball found six results, including “Why Is Baseball Spring Training in Both Florida and Arizona?” and “Are Left-Handed People Smarter?” (the keyword search is a full-text search, so you will find questions that are far afield.) Questions are answered by articles that range from a couple hundred to several hundred words; terrific detail. I was surprised to see that while many articles had links, some that didn’t didn’t offer much sourcing. For example, “Why Is Baseball Spring Training in Both Florida and Arizona?” offers several quotes and dates, none of them are sourced in the article that I can see.

I bring this up because of the quality of the site wranglers, which you can read about here. Several of the staffers have journalism or science degrees, and that’s one of the reasons I decided to cover this resource. So I know research has been done to create these articles, so why not source it?

Though the site has just launched, it looks like there have been articles added since at least March, so there’s plenty to see here. I just wish there was more bibliography available.

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