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Accessing Web Services Painlessly And Effortlessly

Two technologies endemic to every Apple/Unix OS X machine that should never incur an add-on expense are access to search engines and other online resources through the Cocoa Services menu and command line operations. This article discusses using the former for fun and profit.

NeXTSTEP Services

If you don't have the ACP Web Services (AWS) on your box yet, you'd best wander over. Click the icon to the right and get the download. It's under 50 KB and it's free. It will be easier to follow this discussion if you're running AWS.

The ACP Web Services are a descendant of NeXTSTEP services (which in turn became Cocoa services). They're a clipboard mechanism, simple in design but extremely sophisticated and powerful in their implementation.

The OS X 'AppKit', running on behalf of all Cocoa applications for OS X, takes care of 'marshalling' data across process boundaries and effecting a one-way service or a two-way filter.

Whatever is selected in the client (the application you're in) can be helped by your Services menu. Some deal with graphics or text manipulation; others lead to other services such as accessing web search sites.

The trick here is not writing lugubrious code as used in Watson or Sherlock; the trick is in knowing how to formulate the 'URLs' so that the remote sites understand what you're after and give you back what you're looking for.

Both Watson and Sherlock rely on what is often called 'HTML scraping': the data returned, fully formatted web-ready HTML, must be 'scraped' to remove its HTML tags and break down the 'code' into its basic elements so as to - ironically - reformat again - in a new format expected by these applications which are run on your local computer.

A process that is a complete 'overkill'.

Yes, you could visit the search sites personally, and find out how they accept local searches, and input the queries you want, but this would remove the 'contextual' advantages the NeXTSTEP/Cocoa services are there waiting to give you.

Anything you can execute on the remote server is infinitely better than using your own computer power to do the same - with often less attractive results.

There are times when Watson and Sherlock can be to a real advantage - but they're not very often. Most of the time all you have to do is get to the web search site in question and formulate the query. The power of the ACP Web Services is that you can do this completely 'context free': you can do this literally anywhere you can select text - anywhere at all.

Again, the power of the ACP Web Services comes not from miles and miles of intricate sophisticated and clever code, but from being able to exploit a feature already present in the operating system - a feature that's never been used before. That part might be clever...

Given a aptitude for studying how the hundreds of good search sites work, how request URLs are supposed to be formulated, literally anyone can add services to their system which can be of great use. The 'starter kit' of the ACP Web Services, currently with some 240 very cool services, is the best place to start, and the instructions with the download fully explain how you can make new services of your own once you 'get' the general idea.

AWS Categories

Current AWS categories are the following.

  • ACP Dialectizer Services - amusement; fun stuff.
  • ACP IMDb Services - searches by category at the IMDb.
  • ACP Legal Services - legal stuff; world-wide searches.
  • ACP Lyrics Services - song lyrics search services.
  • ACP Quotations Services - finding quotes and their sources.
  • ACP Text Services - filters for ACP users only.
  • ACP Translation Services - Google web page translations.
  • ACP Google Services - the 95 international Google web search services.
  • ACP Web India Translations - more web page translation services.
  • ACP Web Search Services - the major search engine services.
  • ACP Web Services - the final category.

ACP Dialectizer Services

Fun stuff by Rinkworks. Available dialects are Bork, Cockney, Fudd, Hacker, Jive, Moron, Piglatin, and Redneck. Give the service a URL and Rinkworks will 'dialectise' the page.

ACP IMDb Services

Access the new IMDb search engine by category: Bios, Characters, 'My Movies', People, Plots, Quotes, Title - or all at once.

ACP Legal Services

Search for legal information at institutes around the world.

ACP Lyrics Services

Want to find lyrics to a song in a hurry? Google is fine, but there are specialised sites as well. The grab bag includes A-Z Lyrics, Absolute Lyric, Lyrics XP, Lyrics007, and LyricsFind. The latter three can search both by artist and by song.

ACP Quotations Services

All but one are from Quotations Page; the odd one out, Bartlett's, is from Bartleby. Author searches are divided up into Classic, Cole's, Devil's Dictionary, Cynical, and all categories; quote searches go by the same.

ACP Text Services

For ACP users only. These seven services hook into the ACP framework. They convert text to capitals, HTML 4.0, lower case, single-spaced, standard quotes, HTML stripped, and upper case. No changes are propagated if no changes are needed.

ACP Translation Services

These are all from Google, and translate from a URL. Back and forth with the following languages: Chinese simplified, English French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portugese, and Spanish.

ACP Web Google Services

These are the 95 (ninety five) localised versions of Google.

ACP Web India Translations

Google aren't the only ones doing translations. Web India offer translations from English into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portugese, and Spanish.

ACP Web Search Services

Some of the more popular services. Accoona has three; so does Ask Jeeves; Dogpile has five; Google has nine (in this category alone); Mamma has three; Vivisimo has six; Yahoo has seven.

ACP Web Services

The final category.

ARIN Whois

ARIN manage numbers - IPs. Any IP submitted will result in registration information. Certain ranges get a referral to other registrars.

Abuse Whois

Shows you where to send a nastygram if you've been spammed.

Acronym Finder, Amazon, Amazon UK

Self-explanatory.

BBC News

The BBC have their own news search engine.

BNC

British National Corpus. Not always as connectible as one would like. Repository for all things in literature.

BugMeNot

The perfect foil for the newspaper site that wants subscription - and cookies and tracking, and who knows what else. Select the URL and use this service: it will tell you what username and password to use to enter.

DMOZ

The Open Directory project.

Dictionary

Self-explanatory.

Eupicurious

Recipes.

Epinions

Find out about products.

Google BSD, Google Linux, Google Mac, Google Microsoft

Specialised Google searches.

Google Full Phrase

The same categories as ordinary Google searches (Answers, BSD, Catalogs, Directory, Froogle, Groups, Images, Linux, Mac, Microsoft, News, Scholar, Web) but the search key is taken as a phrase rather than as individual words.

Googlism What, When, Where, Who

A take off on Google which uses the Google search engine.

IMDb

The Internet Movie Database. Look up a movie, an actor, or almost anything in movies or TV, both in the US (Hollywood) or internationally.

Mac OS X Hints, MacMiner, MacUpdate

Self-explanatory.

Mail Body, Mail Subject, Mail To

Puts the selected text in the body, the subject line, or the 'To' line of a new message.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Thesaurus

Self-explanatory.

Mooter

Yet another search engine.

MusicMoz

Music searches compliments of Mozilla Foundation.

NetLingo

Erin Jansen's award-winning lookup service.

Network Tools Trace

Traceroute.

OneLook

Look up any word or phrase.

Ping SDSC

Ping service.

PriceGrabber

Compare prices on products.

Teoma

Yet another search engine.

Thesaurus

Self-explanatory.

Ticketmaster

Buy tickets to events.

Traceroute Opus One, Traceroute Socket

Self-explanatory.

UniSite Whois

A fast but limited whois service in the one of only two countries outside the US with DNS root servers. URLs only.

VersionTracker (OS X)

Self-explanatory.

Whois Source, Whois.Net

Self-explanatory.

Wayback Machine

Archive of abandoned web pages. Select a URL that no longer works and try this. They have over 60,000,000 pages in stock.

Wikipedia

A phenomenal online 'pedia' with phenomenal growth. Use it to look up almost anything.

World Factbook

Self-explanatory.

Wunderground

Weather service.

eBay

Self-explanatory.

wordIQ

Look up a word.

Root Level Services

A few services are left at the root level because of their ubiquity.

Visit URL

Just highlight a URL anywhere - local or remote, 'file://' or 'http://' or 'https://' or even 'mailto:' - and your browser (or mail client) will open at the page (or start a new message). Has the advantage over Safari's service that it does not necessarily open a new window, but opens a new tab instead if it can.

Yahoo

The most useful URL on the net?

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