Give it a google

I’m a programmer. In programming, people talk about how the ability to Google is such an important skill. No one knows everything. In practice, people are always looking things up and running into weird situations that they have to figure out.

That’s not what this post is about. Not quite. This post is about the decision to give it a google in the first place.

Poker

Here’s an example. I play poker. It’s hard to get good at poker, but not sucking at poker isn’t very hard. Don’t play junky hands preflop. Don’t open-limp. Learn some basic poker math such as pot odds. If you can follow basic guidelines like that, you won’t suck.

Yet if you sit down at a $1-2 game in Vegas, where hundreds of dollars are exchanging hands, people who have been playing poker longer than I have been alive often don’t understand these basic ideas. Ideas that you would learn if you spent ten minutes googling “basics of poker strategy”. You’d come across articles like How Not to Suck at Poker and you wouldn’t be making such mistakes at the table.

As an even more extreme example, I’ve played in home games where despite playing poker for many years, people don’t know even more basic things such as sizing your bets according to the size of the pot. Betting $20 into a $200 pot is a very small bet even if $20 feels like a lot of money. Your opponent only needs to put in $20 to have the chance at a $220 pot. Great risk-reward. In general, bet sizing is an incredibly complex topic, but all you have to know is to size your bet between 12 and the full size of the pot. The 8020 principle really, really applies here.

Health

Recently my girlfriend and I have been waking up with scratchy throats. Intuitively we thought it might be because it’s getting colder out. Especially as we sleep. So we tried sleeping with the heat on higher.

Turns out that was the exact wrong thing to do. I gave it a google and the issue seems to be that using the heat dries out the air, and dry air causes the sore throat symptoms we were experiencing.

Shopping

I bought a humidifier last night. I could have just surfed around on Amazon a bit and picked something out. Instead, I gave it a google first.

It worked out well, I learned some really interesting things. A humidifier is something that seems simple where it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. Turns out that intuition was also wrong.

  • It’s something that you’ll probably need to refill once a day, so you want it to be easy to refill. That means purchasing one that has a flat edge so you can sit it down on the counter while you refill it. My previous one was spherical so I couldn’t sit it down like that. I had to hold it in one hand while I used the other hand to pour water into it. Such awkwardness adds up in the long run.

  • Same story with ease of cleaning. With my previous one, the spout was small enough where I couldn’t really reach inside to clean it and it had weird nooks and crannies that were hard/​impossible to clean.

  • One type of humidifier is called an evaporative humidifer. The main advantage is that it won’t overhumidify your area. Once the humidity hits ~50% or so, it’ll naturally stop producing as much humidity. The downside is that it is loud, has more moving parts, and requires you to purchase parts for it as a recurring expense.

After learning all of this stuff on The Wirecutter’s humidifier guide, I was able to pick the right humidifier for my needs instead of just finding the cheapest one on Amazon with decent reviews, which probably would have led to a good amount of future frustration.

Tennis

My girlfriend and I started playing tennis. We had played three times and made a little bit of progress, but still weren’t very good.

Before our fourth time, I decided to give it a google. I came across this YouTube video: Beginner Tennis Lesson | Forehand, Backhand & Serve. It was great! It’s amazing how some of those simple tips were so helpful. Without them we would have been doing much more floundering around.

Restaurants

I find that there is a pretty high amount of variance in restaurant quality at a given price range. Most are pretty meh and leave me questioning whether it was worth spending my money there. But some are incredible and leave me very happy to have spent my money there! Especially the hole-in-the-wall type places. I really enjoy seeking those places out and channeling my inner Anthony Bourdain.

Review sits such as Yelp and Google Reviews are far from perfect. Blogs and Eater are somewhat of an improvement, but also not perfect. Still, spending ten minutes skimming through such resources will definitely move the needle and seems like a great use of time.

Dishwasher

My dishwasher hasn’t been working very well. I gave it a google and came across ol’reliable Wirecutter’s position on the topic. I learned some very useful things that surprised me:

  • Cheap dishwashers still do a great job at cleaning. The thing that makes expensive ones better isn’t that they do a better job at cleaning. This went directly against my initial impression that the old dishwasher in my not-renovated apartment was the problem.

  • If you pre-wash your dishes too much, it could cause problems. The water in your dishwasher that accumulates has crud and stuff from your dishes in it. The dishwasher measures this concentration. If it is low enough, it assumes your dishes must be clean and stops. This too went directly against what I previously thought. I had been trying to do more and more pre-washing to fix the issue.

  • Dishwashers need to be cleaned! With all of that hot water and soap in there, who would have thought!

  • As a bonus, it’s significantly more energy efficient to use a dishwasher than to hand wash. I previously always tried to hand wash stuff and fill up the dishwasher pretty full so I don’t have to run as many loads.

Cooking

I made black bean burgers last night. Before doing so I hit up my trusty resource: Serious Eats. They have a great article on black bean burgers that really improved the quality of my cooking. Here are the important things I learned:

  • Baking/​roasting your beans makes them more meaty and less mushy/​starchy.

  • Some cooked grain or nut like cashews give it a nice textural variation on the inside like you’d find in a normal beef burger.

  • It’s also nice to get some pockets of fat on the inside of the burger, and cheese works great for this. But you need a firmer, fresher cheese like feta. A gooey would just melt and be more uniform.

  • Unlike beef burgers, you have to use moderate heat. Otherwise the outside will burn and the inside won’t cook all the way through.

I’m not sure how much this example really meshes with my main point of “give it a google”. If I just “gave it a google”, I’d probably come across some more standard recipe that wouldn’t mention these things. I also cross-referenced with Budget Bytes and sure enough they didn’t mention these things. Here this only worked because I was previously familiar with Serious Eats and knew to look there. So it’d probably be more accurate to say “give reliable resources you know a quick check” than “give it a google”.

Covid

Another example of “give reliable resources you know a quick check” is with the microCOVID Project. They’ll tell you roughly how much risk eg. going shopping is compared to an outdoor hangout with friends.

My girlfriend had some family business to take care of at her parents yesterday, but it would involve being indoors with them for a few hours during the peak of the pandemic. So we consulted the site, determined that it would cost about 400 microCOVIDs, and decided that it would be an acceptable risk.

Bike rides in nature

I recently discovered the River Mountains Loop bike trail. It looks so cool! I want to give it a try!

I was looking around on that TrailLink website and saw that there are “big horn sheep” along the trail.

“Big horn sheep”? WTF are those?

Googles it.

Oh! You mean rams!

Well, are those safe? Turns out the answer is that you shouldn’t get close to them or carry food around them, but they’re not nearly a big enough danger to get in the way of a bike ride.

Good news. But what about other dangers? I spent a little bit of time (ok fine, a full two day rabbit hole) skimming around The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange and it seems perfectly safe if you’re not stupid.

Ok. But what about hills? I’ve done ~25 mile rides before and felt ok afterwards so you’d think 36 would be alright, especially if I take a rest. But maybe this route is a lot more hilly and I wouldn’t be able to finish the ride. I googled it, ended up on YouTube and watched a few videos, discovered that there are in fact some significant hills and that I’d try doing part of the route first before attempting the whole route.

Airbnb

I’m planning on buying a house. One of the things I’m looking for is the ability to Airbnb the house and spend time traveling. Particularly if I buy the house in Vegas where the summers are crazy hot and I’d like to get away. How easy is this to do? How big is the risk that it just fails and doesn’t generate any revenue?

I spent some time googling around for answers to these questions. And this time, I didn’t find them!

I think that this is a key point. It’s ok that I didn’t find the answers.

I’ve listed nine examples in this article. This one is the tenth, so I’m batting 0.900. I think that’s probably in the ballpark of my true success rate with “give it a google”. Given these odds, “give it a google” is still highly worthwhile, even though you risk leaving empty handed at times. You gotta risk it to get the biscuit!

Conclusion

Perhaps you can tell, I’m a little bit passionate about this “give it a google” idea. The return on investment is just so huge. A few minutes can teach you so much and help you avoid so many headaches.

I remember the first time I learned about Google. I was at my grandparents house. My grandpa has always been a curious person who likes to learn. Whenever I go there he likes to sit down and teach me things, which I thoroughly enjoy.

Normally he has a mild excitement to him when he explains things to me. This time though, there was a noticeably higher amount of excitement to him.

He taught me about this web search thing he read about in the newspaper. You don’t have to know the website you want in advance. If you know the question you want answered, you can enter it in and Google will show you the websites you should visit to find the answer!

That’s amazing!

Try taking a time machine back a few dozen years, find someone at the library searching for something, and tell them you have a machine that will show them exactly where to search. Avoids a lot of frustration, right?

Now try telling them that the entire library fits inside of this little machine. And that the machine fits inside their pocket! Madness! But this is the reality that we live in.

I don’t think we take enough advantage of it though. Given how quick and convenient it is to research certain topics, I think “give it a google” is a major low hanging fruit that society should spend a lot more time plucking.