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41. Internet Searching for Bromeliad Information,
PUP TALK (Saddleback Valley Bromeliad Society), 14(6)p.7-9, June, 2007.
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By Gerald Krulik

Many people are only vaguely familiar with how to do information searches. As I
have been doing these since before there were personal computers, I would
like to share some tips.

There are at least four different Internets, as I define them.
1. The public Internet. This is what we normally see when we open the net
through our browser, do a search, or download things.
2. The private Internet. This is typically the private workings of a company,
government entity, or university. There may be public pages, but the bulk of it is
not open to the public on any terms
3. The secret Internet. This is used by banks, intelligence services, anti-virus
companies, and the like. This can only be accessed on a need to know basis, by
select persons.
4. The pay Internet. This is what the Internet actually mostly is. If you want
anything other than basic programs, photos, and most scientific or technical or
literary works, music, videos, etc, you need to pay for access.

In my opinion, the Internet is fantastic at searches. Searches for anything
topical or recent, give many hits. It is not hard to get a million hits on Google.
Most of these hits will also be trivial or useless, so you need to know how to
whittle them down, and what to trust.

What most people don’t realize, is that there is actually very little information on
the Internet, compared to the whole pool of knowledge out there. Most books
and articles cannot be found on the Internet, so mostly you will never see them
referenced. The Library of Congress, the national libraries of England, France,
Russia, and other countries, probably have more than 100 million published
works between them. Most of these cannot be accessed by Internet.

Thus if you want to do any real search about bromeliads, I feel that it is essential
that you at least have a few good books. One of the best is one by Werner
Rauh, Bromeliads for Home, Garden, and Greenhouse. It is a bit dated, but
gives lots of information in one compact area. This is great for double-checking
suspect information from the web. The books can quickly give you an overview,
allowing you to do a directed search using the correct words to get you to your
desired information. For example, you need the correct spelling of a species
name or genus name, for an accurate search.

You can jump directly to an encyclopedia web site if you want. Two of the well-
known ones are the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Wikipedia. Britannica
claims to be more accurate. However, independent tests by the scientific
magazine NATURE show that the Wikipedia is just as good. Britannica charges
for in-depth information. The free Wikipedia articles can be written by anyone.
The articles then go through a period when anyone can check and dispute the
information, just like in a referenced journal. It eventually is finalized and
published. The Wikipedia is totally free and has many times more entries than
the Britannica. I often go to the Wikipedia first, and then do a more directed
search once I get some background information.

You will normally do a search by using some general purpose search engine,
like Google or Yahoo. Here is a list of many of the major search engines: Google.
com, Yahoo.com, Ask.com, MSN.com, alltheweb.com, search.aol.com, hotbot.
com, Teoma.com, AltaVista.com,
Gigablast.com, LookSmart.com, Lycos.com, and Netscape Search.

The search starts by having you type in at least one word. For a Google
literature search, you have lots of options. I start by setting the preferences.
Since I have high speed cable connections, I set it to give me 100 references
per page. I rarely try more than that, but do not like to keep paging through
multiple pages when the default is set at 20 references per page. I also set it to
look for pages in any language, while giving English as my default language.
Note that Google has a neat feature. The search engines can automatically
translate many articles in foreign languages. Portuguese, French, German,
Russian, Spanish, etc will quickly be turned into a good approximation of
English. The automatic translation programs are getting better every year.

I usually use the Advanced Search Mode. This has four blank lines. You can use
any or all of the lines, and start with as little as a one word search. The search
lines are: With all of the words; With the exact phrase; With at least one of the
words; and Without the words. The Exact Phrase line is best for species
searches, for finding a specific article, etc. After you have done a search and
found maybe several hundred thousand hits, you can do a search within the
search, using more words to exclude or include. This is a quick way to narrow it
down to what you may want. However, you will always get lots of weird hits that
seem to have no relevance to what you asked for.

I usually stick with one search engine, unless I get few relevant hits. Then I will
switch from Google to Ask or Yahoo. The reason is that each search engine has
a different number of sites in its memory bank. The Internet is filled with
invisible programs called ‘web crawlers’. These devices get into all the public
web pages, eventually, and usually the public portions of private web sites.
They work in different ways; for example some look for specific key words.
Others basically do a word index of the site. They send the info back to the
search engine site, which is what you are actually querying. Try different orders
of words, or slightly different spellings, to see what happens.

When I do genus or species searches, I may often try different variations on the
names. For example, Hechtia gives a lot of hits. The incorrect version Hectia,
also gives a lot of hits.

For Google image searches, I will often try to start with a species name. If that
does not seem interesting enough, I will expand it to give me all the images of a
genus. This is very helpful when you have a plant you suspect is a certain
genus, but don’t know the species. Often a photo will have a link that leads me
to more directed information on the plant.

You can also do map searches. Google gives historical and recent maps. I like
MSN map search better.

Can the web searches be trusted? This depends on where you find the
information. If your search turns up papers that were published in some
scientific or specialized journal, the information is probably fairly correct. It all
depends on whether the article was from a refereed journal, and if the referees
were doing their job. Much of the web info is NOT refereed. Anyone can put
information on the web, regardless of their actual knowledge of anything. This
is a great weakness of any web search. I will usually try to view more than one
photo of some unfamiliar species, to see if the images match, in order to weed
out incorrect info. Likewise if the written information seems strange, see if
independent articles confirm or contradict it. Then use your own judgement, or
post a question on one of the relevant web sites for this. For example, there
are sites for bromeliad questions, for questions about current computer
viruses, and for information on urban legends or tall tales.

Here are some web sites of special interest to bromeliholics (or bromoholics?).
There are lots more, especially of private individuals who show off their
collections, offer plants for sale, and dispense advice and information.

The Bromeliad Society International is a place to start looking for information.
You need an ID and password to do article searches from the journal. Our club
has a membership, so go to a current issue of the BSI Journal in our club library
and find the ID and password.
http://bsi.org/
This one is from Berkeley University.
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/monocots/bromeliflorae.html
This page is one of many devoted to various aspects of taxonomy.
http://www.ecocam.com/species/Bromeliaceae.html
This is a good German site. The BROMWIKI has almost 4000 entries. The link
takes you to my search on Pitcairnia.
http://ephedra.hip.uni-heidelberg.de/bromwiki/en/index.php/Category:Pitcairnia
This one is from the Netherlands.
http://botgard.bio.uu.nl/brom/bcg/Encyclopedia/start/Literature.htm

Use your favorite places setting to save any good web search site. You can
easily delete the favorite place settings later when you don’t need them. This is
great when you are trying to do an article, and you want to gather all your
references.  

One last note about the odd things that show up during searches. This is a
great way to expand your knowledge base. I am a firm believer in serendipity.
Often while searching for some topic, I will accidentally run across one or more
interesting items way off the mark. I will often get lost in running these down;
use the back button on your browser to get back to where you left off.

I will put a copy of this article on my website (
www.aecphotos.com). If you go to
my website posted article, you can click on the above links and go directly to
the other websites.
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