Thursday, April 16, 2015

Going beyond the paywalls with paid databases


The last Challenge took me a while to figure out. 

Getting the answer wasn't that difficult, but figuring out how to do it without paying an arm and a leg... that was harder.  

Here's the situation:  If you're trying to research on a topic (say, cognitive psychology, or art history, or whatever), you can use Google to search over the "open web," that is, all the stuff that the Google spider has been able to crawl.  When you search on Google, you're really searching our index of content that the spiders have crawled.  

But some content can be crawled, but not displayed.  That is, in some cases, our spider can index the text of the document so you can find it, but when you click on the link, you might not be able to actually see the original source material.  

The thing is, lots of publishers don't provide open access to all of their content.  The let the spiders crawl the content (to make it searchable), but then put the content behind a paywall.  That makes sense if you're trying to make money, you want searchers to pay for the ability to search and read.  But it's kind of a pain if you're just trying to do research.  

Sometimes you'll find a document--say, a book like Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film.  This is a big (1200 pages) reference work that you might use to do some research on directors, films, genres, production methods, etc.  But it's also $528 new, and even used copies typically sell for around $400.  

This is a classic reference book, the kind you might find in library reference collections.  

Of course, getting access to it online would be incredibly handy--the kinds of search you can do in an online version of a book is very different than with a hardcopy version.  But the only way to get online access is through Gale's system--they have rights to the e-version of the book, and you have to use their system (which costs money) to access it.  

Luckily, some of this book is indexed by Google Books, so if your search on Books was: 

     [ "where only the Maltese Falcon (1941) have survived intact" ] 

you'd find this quotation in the Google Books copy of Shirmer Encyclopedia of Film: Academy Awards - Crime Films.  

BUT... notice that you have to search in Google Books for that quote.  Doing this search in regular Google doesn't find the book.  The only way to get access to the complete book is to be part of an institution that has a Gale account that you can use.  To get beyond the paywall means that you need to be affiliated with a university, or a really great public library.  (And in truth, all great Search Researchers try to develop and maintain such relationships--it's the only way to get access to this content.)  


However...sometimes there are other ways to get around the paywall.  In our last Search Challenge, you could do a regular Google search for the title of that paper we were interested in: 

     [ "Public response to an academic library microcatalog" ] 

 This is paper by Dwyer that looked interesting, but the first link goes to the public version of ERIC, and they don't have the full-text (at least not via the public web interface).  

But the second link looks like this: 


If you click on this link, it takes you to the EBSCO Host site, which has a very nice link to libraries near me, like this: 



This is great!  (Although, as I said in yesterday's post, the Palo Alto library doesn't actually HAVE EBSCO Host, so that link is broken.  Luckily, the Mountain View library does, and I have a library card there as well. When one link doesn't work, try the next--be a resilient searcher.)  

It's worth knowing about these paid databases, because they sometimes have the only online-available copy of an article.  

There are sometimes cases with workarounds...  For instance, sometimes an author will publish a paper where the paper is on a paywalled site.  For instance, there's a well known paper with the title, "Reflections of the environment in memory," which is available through the publisher for $35.  However, if you do a search like this, you can find copies that other people have put up on the open web (usually for educational purposes): 

     [ "reflections of the environment in memory" filetype:pdf ] 

I know it's sometimes hard to pay $35 for a paper from the publisher when you don't even know if it's what you're really looking for--so this is a way to see the entire paper without having to break the bank.  

Of course, if you find the paper to be what you want, and you end up using it in your research, the right thing to do is to go purchase a legal copy of the paper from the original publisher.  


Search Lessons:  There are several here... 

1.  Some online content can be found in slightly different forms than what you might expect.  That's the lesson of the Schirmer's guide.  If you only looked for the complete book, you might miss all of the different volumes as they exist in Google Books.  

2.  Sometimes, you just have to search Google Books.  Currently, even direct quotes from published books do not appear in a regular Google search--you still have to check Books.Google.com. (In theory this will improve over time, but as of today, you still have to go to Books.)  

3.  Be sure to notice that some content collections (e.g., EBSCO)  direct you local libraries that have access rights.  This is a wonderful service--use it when you can. 

4.  Sometimes you can do a workaround by searching for a PDF of the article.  With luck, you'll find a version of it somewhere on the web.  And, as I said, IF you use this article (or even read it end-to-end), you really should go buy the real PDF from the provider.  

5.  There are a lot of paid databases out there:  Learn which ones have what kind of content.  Obviously, this is a huge problem; in the future I'll write about the ones I use, and how I learned what's where.  

6. Be a part of the university / college / library ecosystem.  Having a couple of library cards (especially for libraries that have access to the paid databases) is incredibly valuable.  Besides, the librarians frequently know things that can shave hours off your research time.  One of their great strengths is knowing what all of the paid databases are and what they contain.  


That's it for today.  

Coming up, an answer to Rosemary's question about how to think about forming queries.  (I'll work on this while in-flight.) 


Search on! 


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Search Challenge (4/15/15): Who are these mythic characters?


When I travel, I take photos... 
no surprise there.  But perhaps a bit unlike most travelers, I like to figure out the backstory to the remarkable things I shoot. 

For today's Challenge I'd like you to help me... 

1.  Figure out who/what these photographs depict.  In particular, are they depicting real people, or just characters from the legendary past?  In either case, who are these people?  





The ideal answer to this Challenge would tell us:  
     (1) Who is the sculpture is depicting?  
     (2) Where the sculpture + building is located? 
     (3) If you can, what's the story here?  This is a lot of work--what's being commemorated?  

For Supreme Extra Credit, can you figure out who were the models for (a) the young girl in the center of the second picture, and (b) the rather ferocious looking fellow in the first?  

As always, be sure to tell us what worked for you.  We all want to learn what you did to discover the answer to these Challenges.  Teach us! 

Search on! 




P.S.  I'll be traveling to a distant shore on Friday and Saturday of this week, so the answer will be posted by Monday of next week.  



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Answer (part 2): Can you find the reference for...


I told you this... would be difficult! 

Remember that the Challenge hanging us up from last week was this:  
1.  Can you find the reference for.... A paper I once read that claimed "the probability of a reader reading a book in the library was a function of the distance of that book from the library catalog."   
As you can tell, this research was done a while ago (back when library science papers were measuring book access in terms of card catalog distances).  I haven't had any luck finding the original paper that made this claim.  Can you?  What's the citation?  

 Regular Reader Hans got the first solid reference for this result with his search... 

He did a search on Google Scholar: 

     [distance reading a book in the library probability library catalog ext:pdf]

and found... 
Library economic metrics: Examples of the comparison of electronic and print journal collections and collection services. Donald W. King, Peter B. Boyce, Carol Hansen Montgomery, Carol Tenopir: Library Trends 51(3) (2003)

in the 3rd position on the SERP.  (Note that "EXT:pdf" is the same as "FILETYPE:pdf".)  

In that journal, on page 392 the author writes:  
One indicator of print collection effectiveness is the proximity of the collection to readers (i.e., its accessibility). Every survey we have done comparing distance (in minutes) of readers to the print collection shows the overall use of the library, use of its journal collection, and amount of reading are inversely correlated with the distance to the library. That is, those closer have higher use, although it is found that readers further away from the collection tend to read more when they do visit the library. Evidence of the effect of distance on reading is as follows: 
- 66 percent of the readings are from library print collections when the readers are less than five minutes away; 
- 48 percent of readings are from there when five-to-ten-minutes away; and  
- 34 percent of readings are from there when over ten minutes away

In other words, the graph looks like this:

time to the books, in minutes from card catalog

And then a bit later, Regular Reader Kirk (with support from Luke) found this article:  

Dwyer, J. R. (1979). Public response to an academic library microcatalog. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 5(3).  

Both Kirk found this article by searching through librarian journals.  In this case, he found it by using LISA (Library and Information Science Abstracts), but he mentions that you can also find it on Google (or Scholar) by searching for: 

     [ "distance from the card catalog" ] 

Once you do that search, you'll find this paper by Dwyer. Here's what it looks like there: 



The URL is http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ206855  -- and if you notice the last word of the green text, you'll see the word "ERIC."  It's a large collection of articles from the academic (and especially academic education) world.  You can see the entire list of articles indexed by ERIC by looking at their catalog of journals list.  

Unfortunately, not all of the articles indexed by ERIC are available in full-text.  That means we have to go to another place to find the full-text!  

Luckily, there are database companies that DO provide the full-text of many academic journals.  The big three in this area are Gale, Proquest and EBSCO.  A quick search for: 

     [ "Journal of Academic Librarianship" full-text ] 

tells us that the "full text is available from EBSCO's Academic Search."  

This tells us that the journal is available in full-text on EBSCO Host (a paid database service).  This is a great approach IF you know that such a database exists and if you have access to it.  Unfortunately, like many databases, EBSCO Host requires payment to access.  

HOWEVER, I was able to get access to EBSCO Host through my Mountain View library account, which is one VERY good reason why you want to have a library card--you can still get access to articles that aren't available in any other way.  Here are 4 other reasons...  (Notice that it was the 3rd library I checked--my other local libraries didn't have it!)  I just logged in with my library card and clicked on the "Research" button.  In that list I found the EBSCO Host database, clicked on it.  That took me to the EBSCO Host data base, but I noticed that it defaults to "Searching ERIC."  That's a fine database, but is aimed primarily at educational resources, not the the "Academic Search" that provides access to this journal.   


The default is to search only on ERIC, you'll want to change this to get to the J. of Academic Librarianship


Change it like this...

And now you have access to the full-text!  

When I finally found and read the full-text of that paper, I found a very similar set of data about the probability of accessing a book as a product of its distance from the card catalog.  Here's the chart of probability vs. time to the book from Dwyer's paper.  (Note that I had to transform the data pretty seriously to get it to be comparable, including looking up distances between the libraries on the U. Oregon campus in order to determine the amount of time it takes to get between the various campus libraries.)  

time to the books, in minutes from card catalog

What's striking about these graphs is how similar they are, even though the data is from two very different libraries over a time-span of 24 years apart!  (The second curve has an inexplicable uptick at ~5, but I suspect that is an aberration caused by too small of a data set.  The paper doesn't give the exact count, but I suspect the number of samples is small.) 

These curves are pretty similar to this inverse square curve.  (I could do a curve fitting to prove the point, but for this blog, general similarity is enough.)  

time to the books, in minutes from card catalog (model)

There's more to write about this, but it's getting late and I want to send this out to you before tomorrow's new Challenge.  

Excellent job on everyone's part in getting this all figured out.  

Bottom line:  These two articles give a pretty decent case that the probability of access DOES diminish with the distance (or more accurately, the amount of time it takes to get to the book).  However, in order to find this we had to do some fairly clever searching--first to choose the right / workable search terms, and then to get to the second article we had to go to a paid database via our local library.  

Notice that Hans' query: 

     [distance reading a book in the library probability library catalog ext:pdf]


seems unlikely to work.  Why do you need both instances of the word "library" in the search?  (Try taking it out: you'll see that both of them are needed to bring up the King paper to top.)  

It's because Google search works on word sequences as well as simple words in the search. That is, the phrases "book in the library",  "library probability", and "library catalog" are all part of the text, and therefore match.  

The only way to get this to work is to keep trying with short phrases that you think are likely to be in the text of the perfect article.  Think about it this way--if you were to write an article about this topic, what kinds of likely short phrases would be in that text?  

There might be a shorter query that will find this article, but this query isn't bad at all.  

Nicely done.  

And WRT having to also search EBSCO Host for the full-text of the paper:  Sorry, that's the way it is these days.  Some journals are indexed and text-available via databases like EBSCO, Gale, or Proquest.  Luckily, all of these providers allow Google to index the text, but not provide the full-text.  For that, you still have to figure out which database has the full-text, and then figure out a way to get into that system.  Even more luckily, many libraries still provide this kind of access to their patrons.  Thank heavens!  Hurrah for libraries again!  

Search on!  


Friday, April 10, 2015

Answer (part 1): Can you find the reference for...

Jewal [sic] Mazique cataloging in the Library of Congress. 1942 Winter. 
Prints and Photographs Division.  LC-USW3-000381-C 
 

As I mentioned... 

these are sometimes quite difficult Challenges to answer.  Luckily, the second one was pretty straightforward, while the first was (and remains) quite hard.  

Here are the Challenges for this week: 

1.  Can you find the reference for.... A paper I once read that claimed "the probability of a reader reading a book in the library was a function of the distance of that book from the library catalog."   
As you can tell, this research was done a while ago (back when library science papers were measuring book access in terms of card catalog distances).  I haven't had any luck finding the original paper that made this claim.  Can you?  What's the citation?  
2.  Can you find the reference for....  A paper I read, I believe it was by Alan Newell, about the "three time bands of human cognition."  The idea in that paper was that Newell claimed that there are 3 different time scales at which cognition can be studied.  One was millisecond-by-millisecond, another was minute-by-minute, and the other was day-by-day.  Can you find this reference? 

Answering the second Challenge was relatively straightforward.  Here, the big helping clue is the author's name, Alan Newell.  He left a broad and easily discoverable body of work during his years at CMU.  A relatively straightforward search such as: 

     [ Alan Newell different time scales cognition ]  

brings up a SERP with lots of hits, including the diagram shown below from page 122 of his book Unified Theories of Cognition (1994). 

Fig 3-3, pg 122 of the Newell book. This is the diagram I was seeking.  


Note here that my memory of the reference was that it was "three time scales," whereas the actual reference has four distinct bands of behavior.  The "millisecond by millisecond" is the "biological band," while the "day by day" is up at the "social band."  This is great--exactly what I was looking for.  


Search lesson:  When crafting a query, don't overlimit your query by including details that might be wrong.  My query was just for [ ... different time scales cognition ] (I assumed that the name was correct--but if I didn't have any good hits here, I would have started searching for variations on the name as well).  I did NOT do [ ... 3 different time scale cognition ] because I didn't know if that "3" would overlimit the results.  


Now, about Challenge number 1:  If you read the comments, we've been making good progress on the search problem.  We don't have exactly the right solution yet, but we're getting better.  

What does "better" or "progress" mean in this context?  

It means that we've started to explore the vocabulary of the problem, and we now have a few hits that are nearly there.  These are really valuable because you can grow outwards from the "near hit," and use the names of journals or fields of interest to help limit the discovery process.  

Regular Reader Rosemary has shared a doc with us that tells the story of her search so far.  She correctly points out that we're looking for the "magic combination of keywords" that will get us to the target.  

This is a genuinely hard problem (and I don't yet have the answer myself), so I'm going to leave this Challenge open over the weekend.  I'll summarize what we've got on Monday.

We're not quite there yet... So Search On! 







Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Search Challenge (4/8/15): Can you find the reference for...

Card catalog at the Library of Congress, 1942

One of the things... 
I find myself doing as I do my real, daily, research work can be loosely thought of as "tracking down the citation for something I remember imperfectly..."  

You know how it is--you read something once, and then later you need to find that thing again.  Typically, it's a result I read somewhere / sometime... and the Challenge is to work from What-I-Remember towards the original paper or article that I read.  

But here's the problem: As we know, human memory is pretty leaky.  Things are often incorrectly remembered or only dimly recalled.  So we're faced with the problem of searching the real world for the original work that is only faintly remembered.  

This is exactly what research librarians are faced with all the time.  A researcher comes into the library and asks "Can you find the reference for..."  They then proceed to describe what they remember about the result, leaving you to figure out the rest.  

I'm guessing that I spend at least 10% of my week doing this kind of thing.  It's a really handy skill to have if you're a professional researcher, writer, or someone who's interested in getting the details right.  

This week's Challenge is two of my recent "Research questions of the hard kind..."  Can you figure out the citations for each? 


1.  Can you find the reference for.... A paper I once read that claimed "the probability of a reader reading a book in the library was a function of the distance of that book from the library catalog."   
As you can tell, this research was done a while ago (back when library science papers were measuring book access in terms of card catalog distances).  I haven't had any luck finding the original paper that made this claim.  Can you?  What's the citation?  
2.  Can you find the reference for....  A paper I read, I believe it was by Alan Newell, about the "three time bands of human cognition."  The idea in that paper was that Newell claimed that there are 3 different time scales at which cognition can be studied.  One was millisecond-by-millisecond, another was minute-by-minute, and the other was day-by-day.  Can you find this reference? 

Obviously, the Challenge here is to figure out the reference despite mis-rememberings and errors in what I've told you.  For example, the Newell paper might not actually say "three time bands of human cognition," but could actually say something quite different.  

Still, the key idea should be clear; once you find the original citation, it should be obvious that THIS is the original paper that was intended.  

Warning:  I know the answer to Challenge #2.  I do NOT know the answer to Challenge #1, although I'm pretty sure I can find it. 

As always, when you find the answers, please tell us HOW you found the results.  

Hints:  Remember that Scholar.Google.com is probably a good friend to you for searches like this.  But don't limit yourself to that--there are other collections that might also be useful to search.  

Search on! 



Friday, April 3, 2015

Answer: What's this?

Great job, Search Researchers!  

You answered the question before I got around to doing my own searches.  Are we getting better?  Certainly seems so!  

If you've read the comments on the Challenge, you can see the number of approaches people used to figure this one out. 

But let's repeat this week's Challenge from Jill in Alameda: 

It dates to 1912 and is made of some kind of silver metal in a 2 and 5/8 inch circle. It says 'Compliments S.F. Chronicle, San Francisco.'  (The S.F. Chronicle is the local San Francisco newspaper.  It's been around for a while.)  




The number tabs can actually punch out a kind of "dot matrix" number when you slip a piece of paper in the side slots and press down on the tabs. 




On the back it says Page Mfg Co. Pat Oct 1, 1912.


1.  What is this device called?  How is it used?  (And why would the S.F. Chronicle hand them out with their compliments?)  


Quick answer:  It's a "check protector," made by the Page Manufacturing Company from 1912 until around 1915.  It's used to punch the dollar value of the check into the check itself as an anti-fraud measure.  At this time in the early 20th century, various methods were used to attempt to prevent changing of the monetary values and altering the payee on checks and other financial documents.  This device made that kind of alteration very difficult.  


Search Solutions:   

Hans did an Image search on:  ["Page Mfg Co" Pat Oct 1, 1912] and found several very similar items.  (This is a great example of "working with what you've got.")  

Ed realized that it was a kind of "number punch" and thought it might be used for punching tickets or transfers, so his first search was:  [ "page manufacturing" punch antique ] and found the Page Check Protector.  

David B. tried a Patent search, but had no luck, and switched to searching for the Page Manufacturing Co. in 1912.  Both David and Ed found the Early Office Museum web page that's dedicated to "Small Check Protectors," which lists the Page Mfg Co. 

David P. did an image search for:  [ 1800s device punch numbers in paper ], leading him to a similar device made by the Brady company called the "Brady Check Protector."  He revised his Image query to be [ check protector ], and found something rather similar:  



Jon (the Unknown) did a Patent search and was able to spot it quickly.  His Patent search was for [ Page Oct 1 1912 ] -- and I'm amazed at how well it worked.  He found this as his result: 


It wasn't just in the list of patents, it was the number 1 hit!  Luckily, the date format on the patent was the same as that printed on the device ("Oct 1 1912"), and not in some other format (e.g., "October 1st, 1912").  

Ramón, meanwhile, did a series of straightforward searches, modifying his query until he too found the Early Office Museum web page.  Interestingly, he found it with the query:  [ Page Mfg silver 1912 devices], but an Image search with that query gives you this: 



When I did my searches, I didn't include the word "silver" because I thought it would be too distracting.  (I know there are a LOT of silver things in the world, most of them described with that term on the page, so I avoided it.)  But obviously it worked fine here, mostly because "Page Mfg" and 1912 works well to find the gadget. 

Luís did a long search after noting the similarity between the Protector and the Dymo label maker.  (In truth, that was the first thing I thought of as well.  It's just VERY similar.)  He tried variations on that theme, checking out the idea of "perforated number wheel" and even saws!  His stick-to-it=tiveness got him to the Google Patent search page with the query:  [Paper perforator ] which leads to the US Patent 1039789A, the patent given to Mashall A Page on Oct 1, 1912.  

Application filed March 14, 1912. Serial No. 683,723.
To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, MARSHALL H. PAGE, a citizen of the United States, residing at San Francisco, in the county of San Francisco and State of California, have invented a new and useful Check-Perforator, of which the following is a specification in such full and clear terms as will enable those skilled in the art to construct and use the same. 
This invention relates to a check perforator and protector and its object is to make a device which is small enough to be carried in the pocket, as Well as to make a device which will be cheaper than the large machine protectors now in use.




Rosemary decided to focus more on the SF Chronicle connection, and after checking the newspaper archives, she found that Marshall H. Page was an advertiser in the San Francisco Chronicle.  As this image from the San Francisco Chronicle of Sunday, 6 Apr 1913 (Page 39) shows:  

Image from Newspapers.com, April 6, 1913.

And then Hans noticed that the Page Mfg. Co is located IN the Chronicle Building!  (Although I can't spot a sign for "Page Mfg" in this picture...)  




Coincidence?  Seems probable that Page made some of these as handouts (what we would now call schwag) for the Chronicle.  

Search Lessons:  

One: Note that there are multiple ways to solve this.  Searching Patents works; searching web results works; search Images works.  But ... 

Two: Use what you've been given.  In this case, the text on the front of the device ("Compliments of the SF Chronicle") didn't do much for us--but the company name and date--those worked.  

Three: As several Searchers noted, just hanging in there and scrolling down the page will sometimes work well.  You have to take note of when the quality of the results you're seeing starts to diminish.  

Again... Great work team!  Keep it up! 

Search on! 

(Thanks again to Jill for such a great Challenge!)  


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Search Challenge (5/1/15): What's this?

Although I should have planned....
an April Fool's Challenge, I didn't think about it until this morning, so all I have for you is a real Challenge that was posed to me by Jill, a librarian who works in the Bay Area.  

There's an interesting backstory here... Jill told me this about the device:    

It dates to 1912 and is made of some kind of silver metal in a 2 and 5/8 inch circle. It says 'Compliments S.F. Chronicle, San Francisco.'  (The S.F. Chronicle is the local San Francisco newspaper.  It's been around for a while.)  



The number tabs can actually punch out a kind of "dot matrix" number when you slip a piece of paper in the side slots and press down on the tabs. 



On the back it says Page Mfg Co. Pat Oct 1, 1912.

1.  What is this device called?  How is it used?  (And why would the S.F. Chronicle hand them out with their compliments?)  

As always, please let us know how you figured this one out.  When you write in, be sure to tell us your search path (I suspect there will be a lot of blind alleys here), and what you finally did that worked.  

In full disclosure, I also have no idea what this is.  Neither does Jill.  So we have our work cut out for us!  

Search On, Search Researchers!  


All photo creds to Jill.  2015.  



Monday, March 30, 2015

Answer: Discovering unusual perspectives

This week's Challenges are all about finding information from an unusual perspective.  

One of the biggest problems people have when searching for information is that they get locked into thinking about their search in one particular way.  By asking these questions, I'm trying to make the deeper point that sometimes you have to have a different point-of-view.  


Literally.  


Let's look at the Challenges:  




1.  I was in Los Angeles (CA) the other day, and I happened to notice something unusual attached to the back of each letter on the famous "Hollywood" sign.  Once you see it, of course they'd need to have this on the back of each letter--but I'd never though about it before.  What's on the backside of each of the letters? 

It's an interesting point-of-view problem.  Literally.

Google Earth won't give you this;  neither Streetview nor satellite view in Google Maps will do.  What else can you do?

When I thought about this, I immediately thought about Google Images.  "Surely someone has taken a recent picture of these letters... and almost certainly from the backside as well."

This is a bit of knowing that there's a sub-culture of people who love to take pictures of things they're forbidden from visiting.  (Witness all of the picture of people you love urban exploring.)

My query was simple:

     [ Hollywood sign back ]

And here's what I got:


From this vantage point you can see that there's a support structure (which you'd expect) and a set of ladders to climb up each letter (which I did NOT expect).  I assume they're for maintenance, but the point here is that everything has multiple points-of-view.  It's not hard to search for them, but you have to keep your mind curious and remember this.


2.  The aurora borealis  (or aurora australis) is one of the most amazing sights on the planet.  When you look at it, you see vast sheets of colored, translucent drapes moving across the sky.  In appearance, it's just colored lights--but when seen from above, what shape are the Northern (or Southern) Lights?  Can you find a picture that shows the overall, planet-wide shape of the aurora? 


We've all see these pictures of the aurora--they're gorgeous (and I hope to see them in person one day).  They're generated when the charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth's atmosphere, causing electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they create the glowing curtains of light we see as auroras.

But to figure out the pattern of the aurora on a planetary-scale, we have to find an image that's taken from WAY out in space.  

Here, my query on Google Images was: 

     [ deep space aurora ] 

but I ended up accidentally finding lots of science fiction images (who knew that "Deep Space" is the name of a science fiction television show AND a 1988 horror/science-fiction movie?).  

So I modified my query to pull up only reliable images: 

     [ deep space aurora site:nasa.gov ] 

this is our old friend site: being used to limit my results only to NASA.gov images. Even so, I had to look through a few images before finding this (click on the image to follow it back to NASA's web page): 


But notice that this isn't QUITE a picture of the aurora as it appears on Earth.  If you read the web page carefully, you'll find that this is a picture of the aurora in a composite image:  It wouldn't look like this from space without special filters, etc.  As the web page says:  "The IMAGE satellite captured this view of the aurora australis (southern lights) on September 11, 2005, four days after a record-setting solar flare sent plasma—an ionized gas of protons and electrons—flying towards the Earth. The ring of light that the solar storm generated over Antarctica glows green in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, shown in this image. The IMAGE observations of the aurora are overlaid onto NASA’s satellite-based Blue Marble image. From the Earth’s surface, the ring would appear as a curtain of light shimmering across the night sky."  



3.  We know that some plants move to follow the sun.  Can you find a video of a sunflower following the sun?  How about some other plant?  What do they do to follow the sun across the sky? 

This was a slightly trickier question.  Since I already knew the word for "sun following" (it's heliotropic) I used that to find a video of a sunflower in motion with the query: 

     [ heliotropic sunflower ] 

It's not hard to find them.  (But be careful--there are at least a couple of animations of sunflowers that look good, but are completely synthetic!  Careful what you accept as evidence.)  

As I looked through the videos, I learned from the Indiana Dept. of Biology website that many people are under the misconception that the flower heads of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) track the sun. When you see a field of cultivated sunflowers, the flower heads face in more-or-less the same direction. However, if you check out a field of sunflowers in the afternoon, it will be apparent that the flower heads are mostly facing east, where the sun rises each morning.  And if you look at them in the morning, they're still pointing east.  

Immature flower buds of the sunflower do exhibit solar tracking and on sunny days the buds will track the sun across the sky from east to west and by dawn the buds will have returned to face eastward, like the leaves in the movie above. 

So I modified my query to include: 

     [ immature sunflower heliotropic time lapse ] 

and found this video of immature sunflowers sun-tracking during the day. 



However, as the flower bud matures and blossoms, the stem stiffens and the flower becomes fixed facing the eastward direction. Flowers of the wild sunflowers seen on roadsides do not follow the sun and their flowering heads face many directions when mature. However, their leaves exhibit some solar tracking.

But that left me wondering:  What DOES a sunflower do during the day, if not tracking the sun?  

The query: 

     [ sunflower time lapse ] 

brought me the following very satisfying (and beautiful) video of a sunflower making small, fascinating movements during the day, but notably NOT tracking the sun! 



Unlike the sunflower flower, the flowers of some plant species track the sun across the sky from east to west. A good example of this is the alpine plant, the snow buttercup (Ranunculus adoneus).  Searching for a video for this lead me to this completely unexpected video of Arctic poppies following the sun during a full 24-day (when it never sets). 

Lovely. 



Search lessons:  

These weren't hard Challenges, but they're great examples of the deeper point that we searchers sometimes need to take a somewhat different point of view... and that it's often useful to think about what other points of view (from the back, from space, from a time-lapse) would be helpful in answering our Challenge questions.  

Hope you enjoyed this one!  

As always, 

Search on!