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Using web resources


Most of the material on the Web is in HTML format, and can be viewed by any Web browser (for example, Netscape or Internet Explorer). However, on some sites you may need to have the latest versions of these browsers in order to take advantage of all the facilities, and other sites will ask you to download ShockWave, Java, Flash or similar plug-ins. You will also need Adobe Acrobat Reader to handle the PDF versions of documentation: if you don’t yet have this utility, it is available for free down-load at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html.

Problem areas

A number of issues with the web confront the student, especially with a fast-moving subject:

And the material you discover may be distorted, or reflect only part of the truth. Taking lead-free implementation as an example:

Because of the dangers involved in wide-ranging searches, our practice is to direct you to specific sources, at least in the initial stages, and to provide any questions you are asked with summary answers that will allow you to check your findings.

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Search engines

Most engineers working in electronics will be very familiar with using search engines, and probably have their own preferences. Remember however that it is very easy to get swamped with information, so keep refining your search until you get a manageable and relevant list to browse. Some suggestions:

Experiment with alternatives, especially when American and English spellings are different.

Use two or more search terms: these words are usually inferred as being combined with a logical AND, so that the search will be for items containing all the terms.

Enclose a group of words with straight quotation marks (as in "speed reading") to search for the exact phrase.

Put a minus sign in front of the search term. This will often allow you to screen out unwanted material.

Improving your searching

One of the difficulties of web searching is that it gives results that depend crucially on your selection of the key words. For example, if you are looking for the implications of the transition to lead-free electronics, you might find this expressed as “lead-free electronics has a number of implications for . . .”, as well as “the implications of moving to lead-free are . . .”. In other words, the search terms can occur in either order and with varying amounts of space between them.

The normal way of dealing with this is to look for both terms anywhere in the document, but this can result in too many hits. A useful feature would be to be able to search for specific words within a small (preferably specifiable) number of words of each other, where the key words could appear in either order. This type of search is referred to as a “proximity search”. Altavista and MSN are claimed to support a NEAR operator: when checked (in June 2004), an Altavista Boolean search for "lead-free" NEAR "pad design" produced 116 results, but then "lead-free" AND "pad design" gave the same number of hits. This compared with 8,950 hits for "lead-free" +"pad design" in Google, indicating that NEAR in Altavista may not work and that Google definitely has more links . . .

There is however a way round referred to as the Google API Proximity Search (GAPS) – look at this link for details – that lets you look for two words or word groups within one, two or three words of each other. "lead-free" within 3 words of "pad design" reduced the number of hits to 4, which shows the principle, even if it was a bit too effective! However, when we tried "lead-free" within 3 words of "implications", our search yielded 41 hits of reasonable quality.

Other scripts on the Staggernation site allow you to search by host and for related or linking pages. For ideas and other search resources to explore, go to the Search Engine Watch web site for the article Hidden Google Tools by Mary Ellen Bates.

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