Doing What Google Can’t Do

The first digital computer – a Hartwell – developed in 1951.

Internet based resources for all types of cycling enthusiasts are extraordinary.  Being able to share experiences, insights, knowledge, photos, and technical advice is a real testament to the upside of the worldwide web.  Sheldon Brown’s site is a good example of a knowledge base (Sheldon’s brain) growing with an emerging technical delivery platform (the web).  Sadly, his site is now monetized with obnoxious advertising. That is one of the downsides of the browsing experience.  It is also one of the ways the web has “matured”.  Money must be made, or our “free” browsing will be at peril.

Have you ever tried to find an answer to a question that seemed elusive?  You might experiment with various search terms or try out other languages, but you still can’t find what you are looking for.  Well, that’s Google (or whatever search engine you might be using) limiting your results, based on their own proprietary algorithm for generating revenue.  So, your goal is to get around the Google biases so that you accomplish your research objective.

Decades ago, as a young accounting student, I often stayed up late reading George Boole‘s The Laws of Thought.  That book, published in 1854, remains a challenging read for me to this day, but at the time I was struggling to not flunk out of my three term computer science class, led by the oldest and crankiest math professor at my university.  She held court at the local dive, and while drinking vodka straight up, counseled the undergrads who gathered round her in the hopes of avoiding an embarrassing grade and the humiliation of summer classes.  Our sole task, encompassing all three terms, was the creation of a computer program, written in Pascal, which would convert Roman numerals to their numeric equivalents.  The Pascal program would be fed at night, via punch card, into our university’s giant humming computers, and we’d learn of our success or failure (mostly the latter) only after days had gone by.

My own efforts were sub-par.  My Pascal program would abort after reaching the number 71, for reasons which I could not determine.  Nevertheless, I passed all three terms with a miserable C grade, probably mostly attributable to my monetary contribution to the vodka fund.

1960’s Mercian Catalog

Later, this experience paid off in spades.  Not only was I tuned into the way in which computers operated, I learned that computers do exactly what they are programmed to do.  If you provide the proper inputs, you will get the desired results.  I learned the logical Boolean expressions which I use to this day to develop spreadsheets, to conduct internet searches, and even to contemplate Boole’s most baffling equation:  x = x squared.  However, Google, or whatever search engine you use, is not a computer that you can program.  It’s a “free” service that comes at a price.  So, if you want to get better results from your vintage cycling searches, I recommend using different search engines, and especially using other languages.  If you vary your search terms and put them out of order, you are likely to also come across hits that wouldn’t appear otherwise.  An invaluable resource can also be cycling forums, which will often contain links to unusual sites that you would not locate with an internet search.  This is especially true for foreign language sites.

Locating a 1960’s Mercian Catalog on the internet was not as easy as it sounds.  If you type in those search terms, you’ll come up with a lot of other stuff, but not what you are looking for.  To find the info I wanted for the restoration of my 1972 Mercian, shown above, I needed to go directly to the Mercian website and download their historical catalogs.  This link did not appear in any search that I attempted.  So, sometimes your result is really the most logical (thank you, George Boole), regardless of whether or not your search engine thinks so.