Riddle me this, Google

One of the reasons why I do all this technical stuff in a blog is to leverage the power of search engines like Google.  I wrote a program the other day to go through the referrer log and extract all the Google queries that sent people to my page, and I was quite pleased to discover that the vast majority of the Google queries were from people who would have gotten their questions answered by various articles.  Lots and lots of queries like "vbscript and jscript arrays", "cannot use parentheses when calling a sub" and so on.  I've gotten over 15000 Google hits since I began this project.  Next time I'll discuss the details of the simple analysis program I wrote, but today I want to answer more reader questions.

Looking through the logs though, I see there are many questions posed to Google which were referred to my blog, but my blog didn't actually answer them.  I'd like to take this opportunity as a public service to answer those questions.  (I've capitalized and punctuated the queries, but otherwise they're pretty much as they were typed into Google.)

Personal questions:

Are you a traveling man?

I'm a travellin' man. Don't tie me down 'cause there's just too much livin' goin' all around.  A man has got to see what he can see.  I love the road and I love the air and I don't worry and I don't ever care.  I love my women, and sometimes they love me.

Historical Questions:

Name as many people you can who went before the Committee and did name names.

Elia Kazan, and, um, hmm, he's pretty much the only one who comes to mind. Oh, and Disney of course. That part of history is not my strong suit.

Linguistic Questions:

What does "MSDN" stand for?

Microsoft Developer Network.

What does "foo" mean?

Nothing.  It's a metasyntactic variable used as a placeholder.

What does "FUD" stand for?

Fear, uncertainty and doubt.

What does "elision" mean?

It's a grammatical term. To elide a word is to omit it in such a way that the meaning is still clear.  For example, I live with two people who grew up in Pennsylvania, and they have a habit of eliding the verb "to be" in certain contexts.  For example, they'll say "Do you have any towels that need washed?"  instead of "need to be washed".  The missing "to be" is an elision. (I hardly even notice it anymore.)

We use the term in artificial languages in the same way.  For example, when you say class blah { int foo; } in C#, you've elided the internal on the class and the private on the member.  They're understood to be there, but omitted for brevity without changing the meaning.

What are some opposite words for "boring"?

Fascinating, engrossing, interesting, captivating.

Is there a difference between English and German?


How can I write Urdu?

Learn the alphabet first.  Try this page:  http://www.ukindia.com/zurdu1.htm

Romantic Questions:

What are the best ways to get a boy to like you?

Just be yourself -- the last thing you want is to get a boy interested in a fake, put-on version of yourself, because then you'll only have to maintain the charade to keep him interested, and what fun is that? 

If you're having trouble meeting boys, do stuff that makes you a more interesting person and puts you in contact with new people.  Volunteer in your community, join a mixed-sex sports team, take some classes, whatever. That not only increases your chances of meeting someone with common interests, it gives you something to talk about as you're getting to know them.

More generally: I've learned by bitter experience that it is a bad idea to predicate your own happiness on the behaviour of other people.  It seems crazy, I know, but one of the best ways to have a good relationship with someone else is to first learn to be happy by yourself.  Happy single people are highly attractive to MOTASs compared to desperate, depressed single people.

(I am amazed that my blog is number three on the Google page for this query.)

Why do guys string you along?

Some guys are just jerks, I guess.

Health Questions:

What make my eyes hurt when I open them in the morning?

Your planet is in orbit around a giant ball of fire.  Close the blinds before you go to bed.

What are those little things in my eyes?

Assuming they aren't contact lenses, they're probably "floaters" -- little pieces of detached protein.  Unless you suddenly start getting a lot of floaters, they're nothing to worry about.  If you do suddenly get lots, go see an optometrist immediately.

I see things with my eyes.

No kidding?  Me too!

Philosophical Questions:

Why does my clock change?

Because time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future.

Who can say where the road goes?

Any decent cartographer.  Or try stopping at the next gas station.

I have evil powers. How do I use them?

I'd tell you, but that would be morally wrong. 

Am I too smart?

Probably not; few people are.

Practical Questions:

How to tell asbestos vinyl flooring?

I had that stuff in my old kitchen.  Believe me, you can't tell whether it is contaminated just by looking at it.  

Get a spray bottle and soak a small area with water.  Keep spraying it as you use a sharp knife to cut off a small sample.  (If there are asbestos fibers, you want them wet so that they fall out of the air.)  Immediately put the sample in a zip-lock bag, or, preferably, two, and take it to an asbestos testing lab. 

I can also give you some tips on do-it-yourself abatement if you decide to take it out yourself.

Where do cufflinks come from?

When a mommy and daddy cufflink love each other very much…

Seriously, any good formal wear store can hook you up with a nice pair of cufflinks.

How can employees give good service to the customer in order to get more customers in a restaurant establishment?

In general, good service is straightforward: treat the customer like you appreciate their business and want them back!

Remember, good service doesn't get people in the door; good service gets repeat customersAdvertising gets them in the door.  Of course, there is always word-of-mouth, but that's more likely to be about the good food than the good service.  Regular customers are the lifeblood of most restaurants.

How can I break my foot?

Dropping a really heavy object (for instance, a bunch of bricks, or perhaps an anvil) is the "classic" method.  You can also get it caught in a door or some machinery or get run over by a heavy vehicle.  There are lots of ways -- be creative!

How can I add two numbers?

Start by adding the ones digits, then the tens, and so on.  Make sure to keep track of the "carry".

How can a monkey be interviewed?

Lock James Lipton in a room with a monkey and a tape recorder, see what happens.  Better yet, lock James Lipton in a room with a couple dozen monkeys.  I'd pay good money to see that.

[This is part one of Riddle Me This, Google.  See also Part Two and Part Three.]

Comments (36)
  1. fricking. Hysterical. certainly your most entertaining post to date. 😀

    as for guys stringing you along; perhaps your readers should try to use string.IsInterned to determine if their guy is in for the long haul, or just trying to invoke a string.Split() operation on them. 😉

  2. Would you be making your log analysis software available?

  3. J.P. Stewart says:

    Foo does stand for something though. While it is a metasyntactic variable, it has roots: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foo

  4. Scott Duffy says:

    Inpired by Eric’s blog entry, I wrote a small VB .NET program to analyze my dasBlog referrer logs for Google search terms.

    The search terms I found are here:


    And the source code/executable for the program is here:


    It’s not perfect. But it was an interesting programmatic exercise.

  5. Peter says:

    It reminds me of Rory Blyths weekly session of Google Wierdos on dotNetRocks … but not that wierd.

  6. "For example, when you say class blah { int foo; } in C#, you’ve elided the public on the class"

    C# classes aren’t public by default, so the the elided keyword would be internal (or private if the class is nested).

  7. Dave Verwer says:

    It never gets any less funny to hear that people are still typing questions like these into Google

    My favourites from this post are Are you a traveling man? and What are the best ways to get a boy to like you?

    I might do it to mine one day, release your application 🙂

  8. Robert Hahn says:

    What a great way to start a day!

    Eric, methinks that the intent of this question: "Where do cufflinks come from?" was asked in a historical context, not a "where can I get some?" context.

    2 Google searches later, and man, is it hard to find that info out. So here’s my grand theory, based almost entirely on speculation, seasoned with a bit of half-remembered art history from university. I think they come from France back in the days when men were women, and women were, well, women, and everybody wore makeup and wigs and pantyhose.

  9. Shike Maffer says:

    Where I used to live (Maine) the answer to

    Who can say where the road goes?


    Don’t go no where, just lays right here. A Mainer accent is required for the full effect.

  10. Wow. Glad I found out about asbestos vinyl flooring. I never knew such a thing existed. Think I’ll just tile OVER the kitchen floor instead of tearing it up!

  11. Eric Lippert says:

    If you can get away with it, that’s the preferred solution. But in my case, doing so would have meant about an inch step up to get into the kitchen.

    When we took apart the kitchen floor we discovered that in fact it went like this:


    asbestos backing


    particle board

    butt-ugly linoleum


    tongue-in-groove pine


    Whoops. Didn’t know about that other floor under there! No wonder it was so thick.

  12. Charlie Hensler says:

    I actually DID drop an anvil on my foot once (junior high metal shop), and it DID break my foot! (I’m still waiting for the Darwin award…)

  13. Eric Lippert says:

    The Darwin awards are only for people who removed themselves from the gene pool. Had you dropped it, uh, somewhere else, you might qualify.

  14. Charlie Hensler says:

    Well, there’s always the next time… 🙂

  15. A better answer for the "I see things with my eyes" one might be: http://www.weebls-stuff.com/toons/22/ 🙂

  16. Chris S. says:

    It’s linked in that Wiki article on Foo, but if you’ve never read it, RFC 3092 http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc3092.html is a hoot.

    I’ve never seen something that seems so much like a joke talked about so seriously.

  17. Jeff Talley says:

    The whole thing is entertaining and hilarious, but the best line, by far, is the one explaining that we live on a planet that orbits a giant ball of fire. I am supposed to be working right now and that one tipped off my wife.

  18. Eric Lippert says:

    Thanks — though, obviously, I stole the line from Tycho and Gabe. Sincerest form of flattery, theft.

  19. >> the vast majority of the Google queries were from people who would have gotten their questions answered by various articles.

    Eric, I first learned of your blog via Google while trying to get answers to some VBScript questions. Now I’m hooked!

  20. foobaruser says:

    I thought foo and bar evolved out of fbr or fubar, as in "f***ed beyond all repair".

    True they are commonly just used as symbols or place holders now, but everytime I see them still this is what comes to mind. A little bird told me this when at university. As in when things did not go quite right in the old days it was considered "foo bar’ed".

    In fact I will often say (when pissed off), "Oh FOO!", etc. That you can get away with when saying it outloud in your cubicle.

    Well regardless, quite a few programmers do of course swear out loud anyway.

  21. I’m on week 3 of my 3 week trip to Europe, lots of blog material but I am tired, grumpy, sat in a…

  22. This post by Eric Lippert is pretty high on my list: Riddle me this, Google. I’ve been collecting interesting…

  23. Simply stunning… and fascinating, interesting, engrossing and captivating. Well done, Eric.

  24. Inspired by "Riddle me this, Google", I will answer your questions. The following are all from my Google referrer logs:…

  25. Newt says:

    you have a good sense of humor. no wonder you had that girl for six years! girls really go for the guys that are funny, oh, and don’t forget tall. but i’m not that shallow. i don’t care how tall guys are. some girls are just stupid.

    And going on sports teams is a good way to meet guys. i played on a three on three hockey team and we were the only girl’s team in the leage. lots of guys were there.

    (the url up there is my website)

  26. Apparently I’ve sparked a discussion amongst the super-geniuses of LtU on various innovative language

  27. FYI, I will be live and in person available for questions about C# 3.0, working at Microsoft, relationship

  28. John Kovarik says:

    Eric, you are still talking about your floor!  Long time no see, wondering how you r doing?

    If it would be okay with you I would really appreciate a visit to your kitchen to take some

    pictures, and do a 36 month evaluation- with your input- as to how everything has held together.

    Hope all is well with you, couldn’t help but think of you this week with your "Longhorn" work

    Finally coming out! Congrats!

  29. John Kovarik says:

    This might help… j_kovarik@hotmail.com

  30. Happy New Year everyone! Let’s start 2005 off with another episode of Riddle Me This, Google. Yes, once

  31. I knew this would end up being an agony column. Of the 29950 Google-referred hits since the last time

  32. I’m back, and I’ve almost made it through the 525 not-automatically-sorted email messages, caught up

  33. elision says:

    Thanks for sharing this interesting post.

  34. Ken says:

    I have found this page enormously helpful in answering all of my questions.

    However, I would like to point out a technicality: the sun is not on fire.  It's a nuclear fusion reaction, not a chemical one.  This is fortunate for us who are alive, since a fire that size would have burned up all of its fuel ages ago!

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