Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In Search of the Holy Grail

Today my search led me to seek movie clips on the theme of the Holy Grail that could be used as an introduction to a course I am developing on coolhunting. Using the query holy grail movie, Google returned pages and pages of Monty Python and the Holy Grail references. I already knew about that one.

What I wanted was a list of all the movies that contain references to the Holy Grail. Certainly, Monty Python belongs in the montage, but how to retrieve the rest? Monty Python is so popular, it eclipses all the others.

This is a good opportunity to use a Boolean operator. Most of the searches one does only need the AND operator (nowadays this is represented by a space between words). But occasionally the NOT operator (represented by the minus sign [-] in Google) comes in handy. Today was one of those rare occasions.

The challenge with using something like -monty in a query is predicting the likelihood that the page you want contains the term monty. Since monty is a proper noun and has few meanings--as far as I know--this is a pretty safe term to exclude from the results. Sure enough, half as many results were retrieved, and now other movies came to the top of the list.

Knowing when NOT to use NOT takes some forethought. For the examples below, when would you not recommend excluding the term indicated?

  1. bill gates author -microsoft (looking for an author named Bill Gates who isn't associated with MicroSoft)
  2. dangerous fish -piranha (looking for a dangerous fish that isn't a piranha)
  3. paul saint artist -apostle (looking for a contemporary artist named Paul Saint)
  4. christmas carol -book (looking for a collection of carols, not the book by Dickens)

BTW, I still didn't have the elusive Holy Grail list I was seeking. Rather than say anymore, maybe you know a way to get one. If so, post your solution to this blog.


Anonymous said...

The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) produces 66 exact matches and 9 partial matches when queried for "holy grail". You can even search TV episodes, which nets more results.

Marie Baker
WSI class member

Carl Heine said...

Marie, this is a good application of the second Information Fluency Competency: Know Where to Look. By choosing a specialized database you get more focused results.