Monday, June 27, 2016

Answer: The intriguing way a lake can be dangerous

This turned out to be simpler than I expected... 
 

The Challenge this week was to find a lake somewhere in the world that had turned deadly.  How deadly?  And how was it deadly?   


We were looking for a non-poisonous, non-boiling lake... That is, NOT like this one in Yellowstone National Park. 


A boiling lake WILL kill you either with temperature or poisons.
But this isn't what we're searching for this week. 

That's not what we're searching for this week.  Instead, we want to find...  


1.  Can you find a lake somewhere in the world that caused the death of nearly 2000 people?  How could such a thing happen?  (Hint: This happened within the past 100 years, so it's relatively recently.)  

2. Was a large wave of water associated with this bizarre lake event?  If so, how high did the wave go, and what kind of damage did it cause?  (If any.)  

3. Given this kind of watery disaster, how high would the water go up into the sky from the event? 

I thought this would be a bit more of a Challenge than it was.  The talented team of SearchResearchers simply took the clues I gave, and did a search for: 


     [ killer lake ] 

Or.. 

     [ lake kills 2000 people ] 

Everyone discovered that Lake Nyos, in Cameroon, suddenly released a huge quantity of carbon dioxide on August 21, 1986, killing nearly 2000 people who lived nearby by asphyxiation when the bubble of CO2 flowed over their villages.  Tragically, this happened at night, when many people were sleeping, and killed everyone and everything within a roughly 15 mile (24 km) radius.  (Article in Slate.  Article in the NYTimes.)  

Dead cattle near Nyos, August 1986. (P/C USGS)

Lake Nyos (Google Maps link) is roughly circular maar in the Oku Volcanic Field.  A maar is a crater formed when a lava flow interacts violently with groundwater, blowing a giant hole in the ground. The lake is thought to have formed in about 400 years ago and is pretty deep, (682 feet; 208 meters) sitting on a porous layer of rubble, full of leftovers from earlier volcanic eruptions. Carbon dioxide seeps up into the water from below transporting the gas upward and into the deep lake-bottom water. There, under pressure from the water above, the CO2 accumulates, with water pressure preventing the gas from bubbling up.  Instead, it just dissolves into the water. In essence, this unusual configuration is creating very pressurized soda water.  

If the lake were in a different place, seasonal temperature swings would mix the waters, preventing carbon dioxide buildup. Cold weather causes surface waters to become dense and sink, displacing lower layers upward; in spring, the process reverses. But for equatorial lakes such as Nyos and nearby Lake Monoun, these deep layers seldom mix with top layers.  These waters might be unmixed for hundreds of years.

But on that night in 1986, something happened to suddenly cause the waters to mix, bringing the carbonated water from the bottom to the top. One theory is that boulders crashing into the lake set it off.  (There were signs of a recent rockslide nearby.)  Or it could have been a wind-generated wave that hit the surface just wrong, causing a mixing of the layers. As the bottom layers of water saturated with carbon dioxide started coming to the top, dissolved carbon dioxide bubbled out of solution, and the bubbles drew larger and larger until the lake exploded like a huge shaken seltzer bottle. This explosion also brought up iron-rich water, which oxidized at the surface and turned the lake red.

In the process of reading about this, I realized that the USGS (United States Geological Service) probably had a report or two on this, so I did a search for: 

    [ site:USGS.gov Lake Nyos ] 

which shows a number of great results.  


This leads to several very technical reports on the lake's CO2 eruption.  There's a USGS final report with as much detail about the eruption as a geologist might want to read.  (If you're interested in this, I highly recommend this.)   

After reading about this event for a bit, I learned that the technical term for this kind of sudden bubbling up of CO2 from a lake is termed a "limnic eruption"  A quick search for this specialized term teaches us a good deal:  

     [ limnic eruption ] 

What about that wave?  

This search takes us to several more research reports, including ones that tell us about the wave.  The Washington Post reported it as being 82 feet, but a report from the USGS claims that the resulting wave "washed over a promontory that is 80-meters in height..."  

Here are the images that accompany that report:  


Lake Nyos shoreline that's been washed away by a large wave(s). 

If that barren promontory is the same one that was denuded by the post-limnic eruption wave, then it very likely was an 80 meter wave.  (It's difficult to actually know without a better image or a topographic map to tell us the exact elevation, but if those are trees in the foreground, it very well could be 80 meters.)  

And how high did the eruption blow water into the sky?  

To solve this Challenge, I turned to Google Scholar (as a place to find peer-reviewed scientific papers) for a few reports written on the Lake Nyos eruption using the query: 

     [ limnic eruption ] 

... and quickly found this paper by Zhang (U. Michigan department of geology).  In this paper he creates a mathematical model of what happened in August of 1986.  And although he doesn't have a picture of the event on that fatal day, his reasoning is pretty compelling, and leads to this diagram:  

Figure A from Zhang, Youxue. "Dynamics of C02-driven lake eruptions." Nature 379 (1996): 57-59.

... showing that the limnic eruption caused a shower of lake water roughly 300 meters into the air.  (Note also that he's indicated a promontory height of 80 meters.)  The water would have shot up from the surface at a top speed of around 199 mph (320 kph), which is incredibly violent.  

So what's going on with Lake Nyos today?  It's still dangerously full of high-pressure CO2, but there has been an effort to depressurize the lower levels of the lake by dropping a 200 meter tube from the surface to the lower part of the lake.  As you might expect, when you make a connection between the surface and the pressurized bottom of the lake, you get a fountain, which they hope is removing the pressurized CO2 fast enough to prevent a similar disaster from happening in the future... 

The degassing fountain that runs continuously, powered only by force of
expanding gases as the water flows from 200 meters below to the surface of Lake Nyos.
(P/C USGS

But of course, where there's one maar waiting to turn over, there might be others. Nearby,  Lake Kivu could be another such lake with a huge CO2 reservoir just waiting for the right trigger to overturn and release its CO2 contents into the atmosphere (USGS report on this hazard). If this happens, it easily kill many more people, as there are around 2M people living nearby... 

Search Lessons 


There are a couple here: 

1.  The obvious searches often work well.  Much to my surprise, a query like [ killer lake ] actually led instantly to Lake Nyos.  Sigh.  The biggest lesson I pick up from this is that obvious queries work... but only if you have some kind of target in mind.  ( [ killer lake ] isn't a query any normal person would do unless they were looking for something like the story behind Lake Nyos.)  

2.  Checking a known expert site (e.g., USGS.gov) is a great strategy for getting in-depth articles.  While it's easy to find lots of articles on Lake Nyos, scholarly articles are best when they come from a known source that does a lot of work in this area. 

3.  Specialized terms, when you learn them, are great!  This is a lesson we've seen a bunch--when you see these special terms (or phrases, such as limnic eruption), use them!  

4.  Triangulating multiple sources is a requirement.  As you see, there are reports of the tsunami being 80 feet... or 80 meters.  That's a huge difference.  When you're doing research like this, keep looking around--you might find very different data (or points-of-view) around a topic, even things that should be easy to verify.  


Take care, if you find yourself next to a temperate, carbonated lake that hasn't turned over recently!  
    

Search on! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (6/22/16): The intriguing way a lake can be dangerous

Not long ago I was reading about a strange lake... 

I know what you're thinking--how strange can a lake be?  A lake's a lake, right?  

In this case, the lake I'm thinking of seems not just strange, but deadly.  

The lake I've been reading about directly caused the death of a lot of people.  They didn't drown, and it wasn't due to something obvious (like a dam bursting, or an earthquake), but was something intrinsic to the lake itself.  

A generic lake, quiet, serene, and probably not very dangerous lake.

It's not a poisonous lake (that is, you can go swimming in it without any harm coming to you), and it's not a boiling lake, like this one in Yellowstone National Park.  Falling into this is a bad idea.  

On the other hand, a boiling lake WILL kill you either with temperature or poisons.
But this isn't what we're searching for this week. 


That's not what we're searching for this week.  Instead, we want to find...  


1.  Can you find a lake somewhere in the world that caused the death of nearly 2000 people?  How could such a thing happen?  (Hint: This happened within the past 100 years, so it's relatively recently.)  

2. Was a large wave of water associated with this bizarre lake event?  If so, how high did the wave go, and what kind of damage did it cause?  (If any.)  

3. Given this kind of watery disaster, how high would the water go up into the sky from the event? 

As always, be sure to tell us HOW you found the answer.   (Extra points for finding high-quality, reliable sources.  Presentations from 6th graders, as wonderful as they might be, are not a substitute for highly credible sources.)  

Search on! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Answer: What was that word again? Effective searching with old terms.

As you know... 

... the language of the past is somewhat different than the one we speak (and write) now.   

As a consequence, when you're trying to search for historical content, you sometimes (often?) have to shift your language to accommodate the way authors in the past would have written.  

The motivating example was the long-known, well-loved  brontosaurus.  When I was a kid, that was the dinosaur of choice (unless you were a T-Rex fan).  But, a finer distinction was made between the brontosaurus and the apatosaurus.

The named, un-named, and restored (with a different skull) brontosaurus.

And, more generally, can you come up with a general way to help answer questions like this?  


The interest level in these questions were pretty high--we had lots of comments. 
1.  While reading about the US Civil War, I had read in one source that many of the soldiers died from some kind of disease that had extensive diarrhea.  Yet, when I search in writings from that time, I find lots of diarrhea, but I seem to be missing many of the references.  What other term(s) SHOULD I be using to search in archival accounts from that period for this disease?  
There are several ways to find terms for medical conditions used during the US Civil War (1861 - 1865).  Here are a couple of methods.  

Search for synonyms explicitly: 

      [ diarrhea during the us civil war ] 

This leads us a few documents that give us several synonyms:  dysentery, diarrhea, quickstep, flux, and "alvine flux" by the doctors. Unfortunately, doctors knew neither how soldiers contracted the condition nor how the diseases should be treated.  Likewise, a search for: 

      [ diarrhea synonyms ] 

will give us a bunch more synonyms (Delhi belly, flux, Montezuma's revenge, runs, trots, turista), but for each of these you have to check to be sure they're Civil War period relevant.  Looking at the Ngram chart for "Delhi Belly" shows that it didn't come into use until the late 1940s. 

Unfortunately, checking NGrams for "flux" doesn't work because it's a very common industrial term as well.  However, a search for: 

      [ flux Civil War ] 

leads us straight to a dictionary of Civil War slang (a different source than the one above), and confirmation that "flux" and "quick step" were synonyms. 

For these kinds of historical topics, it's worth checking Google Books with a search like: 

     [ Civil War language disease ] 

which leads us quickly to The Language of the Civil War (John Wright, 2001), confirming "flux" and "bloody flux."  

The disease problem was massive.  Soldiers had to content not just with the fighting, but also with typhoid, pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis, and malaria.  An indication of just how bad this was is shown in this chart from the Civil War Trust




As you can see, MOST of the deaths during the American Civil War were due to disease--there were many terms, but any diarrheal problem was often called flux, quickstep, or trots.  Those (along with regular old diarrhea, in all of its misspellings) are the search terms to use.    


2.  These days, it's popular to go to a spa that features natural hot springs, such as those at Wiesbaden (Germany) or Bath (UK).  But if I'm searching for such a spa to visit in 1890's America, what search terms should I use? 
Again, the problem here is to find terms that were used during this time to describe a spa with hot springs.

While SRS readers made many great suggestions:  (Ramon) "Hot/cold springs," "Balnea," “Thermal waters," "taking the waters" --  (R) "mineral springs,"  "wash-houses" --  (Sarah) "Mineral springs."  

As we did above, you can get started by doing standard synonym queries and poking around at Wikipedia articles, looking for alternative phrases.  

But I decided to go to one of the contemporary sources:  archival newspapers.  I found the Library of Congress collection by doing a search for: 

     [ online archival newspapers ] 

Then, once there, I limited the dates of my search to 1890 - 1899, and searched for "Saratoga Springs"  (a place that I already knew as a famous natural spring resort).  My idea was to search for newspaper accounts of the place, and see how the articles referred to it.  

My query gave me a page that looked like this: 



All of the red boxes are hits for the string "Saratoga Springs."   

Within a couple of minutes, I found those springs referred to as: 

sanitarium, tonic spring, sulphur springs, soda springs, and very commonly hot springs. 

I'm sure if I kept reading, I'd find other ways to refer to these kinds of therapeutic resorts-with-springs.  But this is a great list, and it comes directly from the writing of the times.  

(Interestingly, the best way to pick up on these alternative descriptions was to read through the advertisements.  Often the language is colorful and the claims extravagant, but completely fun to read!) 


Ad for Gilroy Hot Springs, California.
(from the Record-Union, July 13, 1895, page 6)

3.  While reading about optics and the life of John Dollond (the inventor of the achromatic lens, for which you should be grateful), I learned that he died of a stroke.  But I can't find period accounts with that search term.  What search term should I use instead to find an 18th century death by stroke? 

Now we know that searching directly for synonyms can often give us lots of options, but then we need to verify that the term was used during that time period. 


My first query was: 

     [ stroke synonym ] 

which led me to the only term I hadn't heard of before:  apoplexy.  (Well, to be honest, I'd heard of this word before, but I wasn't really sure what it meant!)  

A quick define search: 

     [ define apoplexy ] 

confirmed that it means a "stroke."  

How do we confirm that this was using in the 1700's?  The NGRAMs database only goes back to 1800, and many of the newspaper archives are limited to post 1800 as well.  

But Books.Google.com goes WAAY back!  By searching in Google Books for apoplexy and limiting the time range to 1700 - 1799, we see: 



I scanned down a bit to find a book that has a readable (to my modern eyes) explanation of apoplexy, and found it in the book:   Advice to people in general, with respect to their health. Translated from the French ... To which are added, by the author, two new chapters; one upon inoculation, the other upon lingering distempers ... The sixth edition, corrected and improved (by Samuel Auguste David Tissot, 1793).  

Wherein we find the following definition: 


Page 55 of the above-mentioned book. Recall that the letter that looks like
an "f" is in fact a "long-S."  Thus, "fudden" is "sudden."  

I like the image here (of "inflammable blood, and that in a large quantity..").  But you get the idea.  Apoplexy is the word we seek.  


Search Lessons 


1.  Search for synonyms.. but check that the synonyms you find are time-period appropriate.  As we saw, the obvious search for synonyms will often offer up old-fashioned and even archaic terms for a idea you seek. But you have to check that this term is the right one for the time.  

2.  You might find multiple terms!  It shouldn't be a surprise, but people often have different ways to refer to a common concept.  (If you think about it for a second, you can probably think of a few different ways to refer to diarrhea in your own language.  It shouldn't surprise you that this was true in the past as well.)  

3.  A great way to find old terminology is to check-out old newspapers and books.  The simplest way to do this is via online archival newspapers (e.g., those at the Library of Congress) or in a books database (Books.Google.com) that has a collection from the deep past.  


Great job, everyone!  

Tomorrow... a new Challenge.... 


Search on! 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Why SearchResearch skills matter in education

There’s always been a gap between 

...those who know how to use information resources and those who don’t.  Students who knew the ways to leverage a library for research could consistently do better research than those who couldn’t.  That's not a surprise.  

But this gap is turning into a vast chasm of difference.  

Students who know how to use online resources efficiently and effectively will be able to massively outperform students who don’t.  

This is a qualitative change from the days of paper-based libraries and information resources.  Then, doing research was largely limited to what you could reach out and touch by hand.  Now, it’s possible for students to do research on information that scattered across the entire planet; and they’re not limited just to finding text in documents, but can find original archival images, movies, code fragments, transcripts of trials, books, magazines, and sounds. 

Here’s my favorite example of this change.  

In the 1990s  I used to teach AI algorithms to my graduate students in Computer Science as a way to help them understand the inner workings of Artificial Intelligence.  If you can write a program to do some task better than a human can do it, then you’re well on the way to understanding how this algorithm operates and in the process, you’d learn something about the nature of intelligence.  

I taught this class this for over 10 years—handing out the assignment one week, and then expect the homework to be done three or four weeks later after we’d covered the material, discussed how things worked, and let them write, debug, and explore the code.  

And then, in the early 2000’s, I noticed that my students were suddenly turning in their assignments weeks ahead of schedule.  

What?  Weeks ahead of the syllabus? That didn’t seem possible, until I asked around and found that they were just Googling for the code, finding that someone else had written it already, modifying it slightly, and then turning it in as their solution.  

This was the leading edge of a huge shift in the way people program, and more importantly, in the way students did their work.  

That was a few years ago, but it set the stage for what’s happening now.  

It was never great educational philosophy to just shovel facts to a student and then ask them to pick the right one from the set of options, but now, with search engines and a galaxy of online content available in milliseconds, it’s a truly terrible idea.  Students who are good researchers can find information on a topic faster than you can push it to them. 

This is as true in the elementary grades as it is in graduate school.  We all know sixth graders who can (with the aid of their phone and a quick search) name all of the signers of the Constitution in less than 10 seconds.  

Suddenly, what it means to know something has profoundly changed.  There’s a difference between knowing, and knowing how-to-search.  

There’s a difference between knowing that something exists, being able to find it rapidly with a moment’s worth of research, and then being able to pull together multiple sources of information into a coherent analysis. 

In particular, the research skills gap is growing.  Students (and teachers, and for that matter, employees) who are able to do rapid and accurate research on a topic have a substantial advantage in getting things done and deepening their understanding.  

What’s more, there’s an unexpected second-order effect: those that have developed and sharpened their research skills can grow those research skills over time, increasingly widening the gap from their peers who haven’t mastered that self-teaching nuance. Having research skills isn’t just an optional part of your education—they’re essential.  Especially once you know how to do the research to upgrade your research skills. 

It’s important to realize that there is a fundamental change going on in what it means to learn.  We know that memorizing the US presidents in election order isn’t really a useful skill for most students.  It’s rare that anytime after high school that you’ll be asked if Chester Arthur was before, or after, James Garfield.  

It’s even less likely that you’ll be asked how many US presidents were in the Whig party.  But it takes a student about 5 seconds to find the number. (I timed my students doing this.  It does take around 5 seconds, limited mostly by typing speed.  Their answer?  There were four, the first was William Harrison, and the last was Millard Fillmore. There's a handy list of US Whig presidents available online.)   

But if you don’t know the names of the presidents, if you have never studied them as a group, in a sequence, possibly with their party affiliations, then you probably won’t recognize the name of Millard Fillmore as a Whig president, but perhaps only as the name of a trivia hunt game. 

The very nature of what it means to know is shifting our understanding of teaching, and what’s important for our students to command.  

Students still need to know about presidents, their policies, and the role they play in the history of the nation.  
Do you know who Millard Fillmore and Zachary Taylor are?
Or, why it matters that you do?  Be curious, my friends.  

For example, Fillmore wasn’t elected president, but assumed the presidency when Zachary Taylor died in office.  His attitudes about slavery influenced the course of the Civil War.  

Students still need to know these kinds of things, and is possible that learning the sequence of presidential elections is a good way to introduce those ideas.  

But even more, they need to know how to find out more about a topic in a way that is efficient and accurate.  They need to command the key topic ideas, recognize the presidents, their policies, and their parties.  They need to cultivate the trait of curiosity that will let them keep reading beyond Millard Fillmore, and learn about Zachary Taylor, and why Taylor setup Fillmore, and why that affected the US Civil War.  

Most importantly, they need to be able to answer the entire range of questions that will come up... and for the most part, that will require the skills of SearchResearch skills, and a drive to be curious about the world.  




Wednesday, June 15, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (6/15/16): What was that word again? Effective searching with old terms


One of the greatest problems with the past... 

... is that the language they spoke then is different than what we speak (or write, or blog).  

As a consequence, when you're trying to search for historical content, you sometimes (often?) have to shift your language to accommodate the way authors in the past would have written.  

For instance, when I was young, I grew up learning about a dinosaur called the brontosaurus.  The way these things go, the name was more-or-less rescinded, and then brought back a few years later when a newer, finer distinction was made between the brontosaurus and the apatosaurus. If you're curious, you can go read that article to hear the whole story about the name changes (and why they keep changing the name back and forth-it's an interesting story). 


The named, un-named, and restored (with a different skull) brontosaurus.


But the reason I bring it up here is that terms can change significantly over time.  I've written about this before (Search for terms from long ago), and we're revisiting this idea with a couple of new Challenges.  In the earlier post I gave a bunch of examples of terms that have shifted with time:  Boers -> Afrikaners; insane -> mentally ill; outdoor relief -> public welfare; etc.  

This terminological shift (a great phrase to use at your next party!) showed up a bit in my own research recently.  Can you figure out how to answer these Challenges?  

And, more generally, can you come up with a general way to help answer questions like this?  


1.  While reading about the US Civil War, I had read in one source that many of the soldiers died from some kind of disease that had extensive diarrhea.  Yet, when I search in writings from that time, I find lots of diarrhea, but I seem to be missing many of the references.  What other term(s) SHOULD I be using to search in archival accounts from that period for this disease?  

2.  These days, it's popular to go to a spa that features natural hot springs, such as those at Wiesbaden (Germany) or Bath (UK).  But if I'm searching for such a spa to visit in 1890's America, what search terms should I use? 

3.  While reading about optics and the life of John Dollond (the inventor of the achromatic lens, for which you should be grateful), I learned that he died of a stroke.  But I can't find period accounts with that search term.  What search term should I use instead to find an 18th century death by stroke? 

This can be a little tricky... so when you give us your answer, be sure to tell us HOW you determined what the time-period appropriate term(s) should be!  Did you just know off the top of your head, or what resources did you use to get this insider information?  

Search on! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Answer: Looking up TILTs?

TILT: Things I Learned Today



One of the true pleasures of life in the Age of the Internet is our historically unparalled ability to notice something interesting out there, and then using your SearchResearch skills to figure what's the backstory to this interesting thing you noticed.

While I've always noticed the unusual, the strange, the bizzare, and the unexpected, NOW you can do the background research fairly quickly. 

I keep notes, and at the end of the day I spend a few minutes to look these things up and write them down in my notes with a little label of #TILTThings I Learned Today.  (The #TILT label is really handy because I can then search for these things fairly simply--I just for for #TILT and a keyword or two from the thing I looked-up.  Incredibly handy.)  

This week had more than the average number of TILTs.



● First, there were several news articles about electric eels jumping out of the water to shock their prey. Really?  That sounds unusual / strange / bizarre & unexpected all at once.  What's the backstory here?   Do eels really do that?  (And of course, what other kinds of fish do that as well?)   


An electric eel at rest, not leaping. But it could.

1.  What other kinds of fish leap from the water to attack their prey?  
A straightforward search for: 

     [ electric eel leap ] 

brings a bunch of articles about electric eels that, when attacking a large animal, actively leap out of the water to touch their chins to the body of the prey animal while the rest of their body remains in the water.  (The better to focus the effect of the electrical discharge into their prey.) The original report  on this shocking eel behavior is from the National Academy of Sciences, and mentions Alexander von Humboldt's story of electric eels attacking horses that had been herded into a shallow, muddy pool.  You can read the original account of the story in the book The Travels and Researchs of Alexander Von Humboldt (by Von Humboldt himself, 1833; see also The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, Andrea Wulf, 2015)

Von Humbolt's depiction of eels leaping from the water to attack horses
that have been herded into their shallow water pools. 


The naturally curious mind wonders if this is something that's peculiar just to electric eels, or to fish (and other aquatic creatures) more generally. A great search to do here is: 

      [ fish leaping to attack ] 

Notice that if you try a couple of variations on this search, you'll get somewhat different results each time.  (The better with which to scan the universe of possibilities.)  Try alternates such as [ fish jumping out of water ] [ fish jumping to attack prey ] and so on.  

I quickly learned about the needlefish (which apparently dive bombs prey from the air, leaping out of the water to avoid detection) according to a report in New Scientist, and of course, the completely remarkable African tigerfish, which can leap from the water to catch low-flying swallows mid-flight.  (Article in Nature.)  They published this video, which is pretty amazing of this swallowed swallow: 


As I read, I also learned about the arowana which can leap up to 2 meters out of the water to capture small prey (video of an arowana catching a spider, see: 3:11). 

There are reports of sharks leaping out of the water, but as far as I can tell, they're not doing that to attack prey that's not in the water, but are attacking prey on the surface (such as a seal), and then driving up into the air as part of their follow-through.  

But, much to my surprise, there are a number of fish that leave the water to attack their prey.  Who knew? 


● I also saw a YouTube video that mentioned the use of X-rays to destroy hair follicles to permanently remove hair from your body.  (Note: This turned out to be a really bad idea.)  


2.  What other interesting / odd uses did people (unwisely) use X-rays for during the past 100 years?  (You don't have to list them all, just one unusual use that you didn't know about before.)  
There are many approaches to this Challenge.  My first search was for: 

     [ historic xray OR "x-ray" uses ] 

(although others work as well).  I decided to search for "historic" rather than "unusual" or "weird" because I didn't want to find lots of strange x-rays, but I wanted to focus on the uses of X-rays, and since most of the recent uses are primarily vetted (and mostly not odd), I figured that the historic perspective would be useful.  

I used ... xray OR "x-ray"... since I wasn't sure how people would have written about this in the past.  (Just being careful.)  

Looking through the list of results, I found a few really interesting things.  Here's a quick list of things I found interesting: 

a.  Xrays for shoe fitting:  Yes, X-rays were once use to see if your shoes fit.  Sounds great (and if you don't know that X-rays are potentially harmful, it would seem to make sense)!  



b.  X-rays as a medical therapy: Back when Xrays were novel and not well-understood, many things that had radioactivity (in any form) were thought of purely as medicine.  Kohler's Antidote offers X-rays as a treatment for headaches. Oddly, the real treatment was a pill labeled with the word X-Ray, and didn't actually include anything radiological.  Why?  Because "X-ray" was a magical, hi-tech term at the time, a bit the way "laser" was back in the 1980s. (Or "cyber" in the 1970s, etc.)  

Kohler's Antidote... "X-ray exposure" pills. Ad from Cosmopolitan magazine, 1897. 
 There was also a great use of radiation therapy in general.  The Wikipedia has a fascinating history of radiation therapy that covers everything from "radium waters" through Röntgenotherapy (another name for X-ray therapy), including the discovery that radiation can cause hair loss.  Which brings me to... 

c.  Hair removal: Since one of the side-effects of x-ray treatment is that your hair falls out.  This led to a real growth industry in using x-rays to cause focal hair removal.  By 1924 the "Tricho System Sales Corporation" came into being (see their ad below).  

  
Of course, this was a bad idea as well.  By 1970, US researchers were attributing over one-third of radiation-induced cancers in women to X-ray hair removal.  ("Nothing but a ray of light" by Paul Collins; New Scientist; September 8, 2007; pages 68-69.)





3.  I saw a concert at a church with this on the ceiling.  What's the name of the church where the concert was held?  
Since I recognized that this was a depiction of the Virgin Mary, and if you look closely, there seems to be 7 knives (or swords, or something) that's piercing the heart.  So my query was: 

     [ Virgin Mary heart seven swords ] 

A quick scan of the SERP tells me that this is a depiction of "Our Lady of Sorrows,"  a carving of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, each of the swords (or daggers) stands for one of the sorrows she experienced.  

But WRT the name of the church, there are many Catholic churches named for "Our Lady of Sorrows," but if you look at the Wikipedia page, you'll see (near the end) "Mission San Francisco de Asís in San Francisco, California, known also as Mission Dolores."  

If you then search for: 

     [ Mission San Francisco de Asís concert "June 1..7 2016" ] 

you can find there are a number of concerts, so it seems plausible that I would have gone to the Mission San Francisco de Asís... 

But (and I didn't realize this would work until after I'd written the blog post), an Image search shows a link to the wood carving sculptures of Samuel Berger, which shows definitively that this particular carving of Mary was done by Berger, and placed in the Mission Dolores.  

  

Search Lessons 


1. Don't forget about reverse image search.  Since I took that photo of Mary late at night and under not-exactly-optimum conditions, I didn't think image search would work... but I was totally wrong.  (I only tried it later, and discovered the wonderful carving of Samuel Berger.)  But don't forget to try it! 

2.  Don't forget about image search for complex concepts.  Although I solved the X-Ray problem by using ordinary search, I later discovered that doing those searches and then checking out the Images results often would lead me to some other kinds of fascinating results.  

3. When trying to get a broad overview of a topic, consider doing multiple DIFFERENT versions of your query.  As I found, three or four different versions of a query will often give very different search results.  If you're trying to get a broadbrush overview, this is often a great method to get good coverage.  


Search on!