Thursday, June 30, 2011

Answer: How many furlongs is...

I thought I'd talk for a minute about writing the AGoogleADay puzzles, using yesterday's puzzle as an example.   

Here's the link: 

And the puzzle was stated simply:
          Your name is Galloping Gertie. How many furlongs long are you?

There are a few constraints on the AGAD puzzles.  They have to be short (less than 140 characters in order to fit both in Tweets and onto the page design for the NYTimes print format).  They have to be interesting.  And they have to illustrate some point about search skills.  

Here's how I solved this puzzle: 

1.  "Galloping Gertie"?  What's that?  Don't be fooled by the rest of the puzzle statement, and in particular, don't be fooled by the use of the present tense.  (A few people complained about this in the Twitter stream.  As a puzzle this makes it interesting.  Here's why.  

If you do [ galloping gertie ] you'll quickly find out that this refers to the Tacoma Narrow bridge... the one that was destroyed by resonant oscillations caused by wind through the narrows.  That's easy enough. 

2.  What was the length of Galloping Gertie?  Be careful here.  They rebuilt the bridge at the same site, but that has a different length.  If you read carefully, you'll see that the OLD bridge (the true "Galloping Gertie" of 1940) was 5939 feet in length.  In this step, you just have to be careful to get the right length! 

3.  Convert 5939 feet to furlongs--easy, just use the Converter in Google.  [ 5939 feet in furlongs ] and you'll have the answer.  

This is a typical AGAD problem.  It takes a few steps, usually requires some special care at one point, but it's not intractable.  

As I mentioned yesterday, I was at ISTE in Philadelphia all this week.  When I showed AGAD to teachers, they were nearly all intrigued and thought this was a great idea.  I agree, although I find that people can be SO picky about the questions.  

Mostly when people complain about the AGAD questions it's because they think they have the answer, but on close inspection, they usually stop one question too soon and answer the question they THINK they read.  But no.  This is probably the biggest source of problems. 

But sometimes we make mistakes too.  For example, the question:  

A branch of the U.S. armed forces with the motto "Semper Paratus" runs a training facility in Northern California. Approximately how many people are trained there each year?

One astute reader pointed out that there is ANOTHER base in Northern California that has the motto, "Semper Paratus"  and trains recruits.  (To wit, Beale Air Force Base;  see:  Beale Fact Sheet, check out the motto near the bottom.)  

Who knew?  That's one of the great things about this kind of work.  You're always learning something new.  

And while at ISTE, I showed a few teachers some very short lesson plans I'd prepared based on AGAD questions.  They were pretty positive.... and so I'll show you some other these soon as well.  

I'll send these out for your feedback soon (later this week). 

Search on!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Search Challenge (June 29, 2011): How many furlongs is Galloping Gertie?

 I haven't been posting much this week because I've been at a conference in Philadelphia. (So look for a Search Challenge about Philadelphia next week!)

The conference I'm at is the ISTE conference, a fairly large (say, ~15K people) that all about teaching people how to think about science and technology.  (Okay, it's really about teaching people everything, but there's a strong science/technology/math, aka STEM, focus.)  

Google has a large booth here, and I'm interviewing teachers and technology coordinators about how they teach students to search and what problems arise in how kids learn how to do research.  More on that later as well.  

But it's Wednesday, and I wanted to give you a Search Challenge... but today is ALSO the day when we have a Google home page promotion for AGoogleADay... so I'm going to point you to that problem for today.  I'll still write up the answer tomorrow, but if you would, for today's puzzle, please click on the following link:

         visit for today's Search Challenge

Tomorrow will be a lovely, quiet day.  More thoughts about the ISTE conference (and a a discussion of the answer) tomorrow.

Search on!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Answer: Two images of the Statue of Liberty?

As you can see from the comments, there are multiple ways to solve this problem.  And that's great!  Nice job, search detectives!

But I used the new Search-By-Image feature (see the Inside Search Google site about SBI for details) to figure this one out.

I just dragged both images into the Image Search box and poked around the results, quickly learning that the USPS used an image of the Statue of Liberty--the Las Vegas version--rather than the original statue in New York harbor.  As much as I'd like to interpret this as the USPS's way of commenting on our American attitude toward self-invention and re-interpretation, it's clear they just were running fast and loose with their checks on metadata.  (I presume they got copyright for the image.  How they could have NOT noticed it was the Las Vegas Statue of Liberty is beyond me.  I'd fail a student who turned in work that sloppy!)

Nevertheless, I solved the problem in this way....  I put the two images off on the side of my desktop, then dragged them into Google Image search query box and looked at the results.  Easy.  

Once I'd done that, it was pretty straightforward to compare the kinds of results I was seeing, and notice that the second image was the same image as the one on the Liberty stamp. 

And once you know THAT, then the whole sordid story about how and USPS ended up using the image of the Las Vegas statue comes up.  Yeah.  They printed up $880M worth of stamps with the wrong image.... 

For bacground, here's the YouTube video some folks at Google put together to show how SBI works.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday Search Challenge (June 21, 2011): What's the story with these two pictures?

A friend pointed out these two images of the Statue of Liberty and asked a simple question: 

     What's the story with these two images?   

 Statue version 1

Statue version 2

As you can see, they're pretty similar, yet my friend assures me there is a strange-but-true story about one of these images.  

And, drat him, that's all he'll tell me.  "You'll figure the story out for yourself, once you know how to search for it..."  

So.. for today's challenge, can you find the strange-but-true tale about one of these images?  (I assure you--these are both actual images of real objects.  Neither is a CG model.)   

Search on! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Webinar on sensemaking today at 1PM PST

I'm teaching a webinar on the basics of sensemaking later today. (Sorry. I just realized that you readers might be interested in this too!) 

title: Sensemaking: The next level of search skills
abstract: Sensemaking is what you do when you collect, organize and restructure information to come to some deeper understanding.  In essence, it's the process we follow when we research complex historical topics... or when we're buying a refrigerator.  I'll talk about ways that people do sensemaking, some best practices and how you can improve your sensemaking behavior.

date/time: Tuesday, June 21 (1:00pm PST) to register:

The presentation will be archived within a few days after it goes live at this link:

Note-to-self: Because there are a wide variety of people signed up for this webinar, I'm really not sure at what level to pitch it. There are elementary school teachers signed-up and research managers from DARPA. Uh oh. That's a big dynamic range to try and teach in one class. Remember for next time--describe the level of the class more accurately!

I'm going to try and make it both a graduate level seminar AND a practical guide to sensemaking. If you attend and have any comments, please let me know. I'd love to hear your feedback.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Answer: Which sword is larger?

Answer:  the one in Germany is larger.  

Now, how do I know?  

First, start your search with the obvious--what the heck is a "Varusschlacht"?  

[ varusschlact ] 

Clicking on the Wikipedia article (and perhaps translating it from the German) you'll find that this is the German term for the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, a victory for the German tribes (led by Arminius, who was later known as Hermann, for various obscure reasons) over three rather well-equipped Roman legions.   It is said that when the battle site was rediscovered it was a "debris field" 15 miles long and up to 1 mile wide.  This was a BIG battle.   

As you can imagine, this has been a point of German national pride for a long time, ever since it was written about by Suetonius in his classic book  De vita Caesarum ("On the Life of the Caesars") and then picked up later as an unforgettable tale of Germanic superiority.  

In any event, the in the middle 1800's, the Germans built a mighty statue, the Hermannsdenkmal in Ostwestfalen-Lippe in Germany in the Southern part of the Teutoburg Forest.   On the Wikipedia article it's noted that the sword is 7 meters long.  A quick search for other sites show confirmation--so I believe the Hermannsdenkmal statute sword is 7 meters (22.96 feet).  

But, interestingly enough, German emigres ALSO built a near-duplicate of the Hermannsdenkmal near New Ulm in Minnesota.  And here's where the search gets fun. 

From the Wikipedia article it's simple to find the Hermann Monument near New Ulm in Minnesota... and all kinds of information about it.   But not the sword length.  So we're going to have to use more direct means.  

It's simple to search for various images of the Hermann Monument.  It's easy to find the height of the statue by doing a quick visual analysis of an image.  

From the official Hermann Monument site I found this nice image of the statue.  Using my favorite image editor, I drew a couple of lines--one for the sword, one for the height of the statute.  

By measuring the length of the lines in pixels (an easy thing to read off from the editor as you're drawing), I find that the length-of-sword / height-of-statue is 219 pixels / 382 pixels... or 0.57.  

I know from reading the official web site that the statue (without the pedestal) is 26.2 feet tall... so, 0.57 * 26.2 = 15.39 feet.  

So... I know the German statue sword is 7M (22.96 feet)
And now I know the New Ulm statue's sword is 4.69 M (15.39 feet)

This is pretty simple photogrametry, but it's a nice example of deriving simple facts from indirect measurement.  

AND yes... I should worry about the fact that this photo was taken from the side and that there's a geometric shortening of the sword, but I'm not going to worry about.  (A quick back-of-the-envelope computation tells me that the difference is going to be < 5% of total length, so it doesn't matter for my question.)  

Search Lessons:  
1.  Unusual words (such as "varusschlact") can be translated, or the web pages they lead to can be translated.  You can them work back to English sources (or work directly from the German pages).  
2.  Sometimes you just have to measure things directly, or in this case, indirectly by measuring properties of the photograph.  

Note that "sword length" was pretty easy to just look-up for the Hermannsdenkmal, but impossible for the New Ulm Hermann Monument.  Not all properties have equal prominence across all things within a category.  (I'm willing to bet that most web pages on statues do not mention "sword length"!)  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday Search Challenge (Jun 15, 2011): Which sword is larger?

The past week has been a bit busy... sorry about being offline all last week!  The stuff heated up, and I ended up giving a few talks here and there, etc. etc.  It was all good stuff, I just can't quite make extra time appear out of nowhere.  

"But enough of that!" I hear you cry.  "Where's the Search Challenge?"  

In writing questions for I end up spending a lot of time doing background research on topics that are fascinating, but that often don't end up yielding anything useful for my questions.  But it's endlessly interesting.  

One of those side pathways led me to the following Search Challenge....   

I started reading about the Varusschlacht, and ended up spending a completely fascinating and absorbing hour reading a tale of lost Roman legions and battlegrounds that lay undiscovered for centuries.  

This battle turns out to be important in the history of Germany, but I'll let you find out for yourself why it's so interesting... (more on this when I write up the answer):  

     For this challenge:   Two rather large statues were built to commemorate 
     this decisive victory.  Can you find out where they both are, and to compare 
     their sizes, can you figure out the length of the sword each figure is holding aloft?  
     Which statue has the larger sword?  

Happy searching! 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Answer: Economics of landings in South San Francisco bay

I wanted to understand how/why and how-much money was involved in the landings, what was being exported, and what lead to their eventual disappearance.

I knew that there was Cooley's Landing in Palo Alto, Dixon Landing down in San Jose... and I knew of Guth's Landing.  I figured that was a fairly rare term ("Guth"), so I started with that.

[ guth's landing ] 

let me know there's a copy in the San Jose public library.  But (the note says at the SJPL), "see librarian."  Gee thanks.  I won't get down there for a month at best.  (I want to write to a friend at the library and ask "couldn't you just take a quick photo of it with your iPhone and send me the image?" I didn't though.)

Okay... so I tried modifying my search to:

[ guth's landing san francisco bay ] 

And that wasn't great.  I was having a hard time getting exactly what I wanted, so I used the intext: operator  like this to make SURE the text was on the page:

 [ intext:"guth's landing" san francisco bay ]

... and THAT got me to this remarkable map produced by the City of Oakland Museum!

If you click through to the link (caution:  it's a slow download), you can get the PDF of the map and just read-off all of the landings around the South Bay.

I found Cooley's Landing; Guth Landing; Rengstorff Landing; Jagel's Landing; McCubbin's Landing; Dixon's Landing; Warm Springs Landing; Mowry's Landing... etc.   In the early 1900's there were around 12 landings that were regular enough to make it onto maps.  (Doubtlessly there were more, less regular landings.)

And the text on the map gave me a bit more insight.  There's a panel about the city of Drawbridge which was a small town with two hotels and duck-hunting cabins that was created when the railroads built a bridge across the bay in 1877.  That's a useful date to remember.  

So I did another query: 

(The 1800..1900 restricts numbers between those years in the results.)  The first hit in the list was for a historical note about Roberts Landing.  Although that's really mid-bay, I figured it would be useful.  And it was.  

"Captain William Roberts established the port in 1851 to take locally-grown hay, fruits, and vegetables across the Bay to San Francisco. Warehouses and docks were built here along the slough. Flat-bottomed two-masted scow scooners sailed in and out of the slough at high tide. Roberts Landing lasted until the 1870's. It was put out of business, like many other transportation ventures on the Bay, by the transcontinental railroad." 

That's the first bit of evidence:  The landings were primarily for "scow scooners" that could get in/out of the sloughs at high tide.  And it looks like the cheaper/faster rail transportation spelled the end for the landings system.  

Now I've got an idea.  That phrase, "scow scooner" sounds like something that was particular to this time and place.  I poked around a bit, and quickly discovered that the conventional spelling is "scow schooner." 

Let's try this:  

[ "scow schooner"  "san francisco bay" ] 

The results look great.  Turns out that there's still one of these ships around, berthed at the Hyde Street Pier (in  the middle of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco).  The Wikipedia article on the Alma is pretty good.  From that article:  "Like the many other local scow schooners of that time, she was designed to haul goods on and around San Francisco Bay...carrying hay and lumber..."  

Interestingly, the article goes on to say "..the scows’ strong, sturdy hulls could rest safely and securely on the bottom and provided a flat, stable platform for loading and unloading..."  That makes sense.  From the map above we can see that the landings were pretty shallow drafts.  Any boat going in/out of a landing would have to be able to handle sitting flat on the mud.  (Which would be nice for loading and unloading.  Putting heavy loads onto a tippy boat is never fun, and this would have provided huge stability.) 

I also found what looks to be a fabulous book "Scow Schooners of San Francisco Bay," but while it's IN Google Books, it's not viewable, which is a pity. (If I could see it, there's a good chance I would have bought.)  But Google Books told me it's in the Mountain View Library, so I'll go pick it up there.

Until then... I also found from this search (via the Rengstorff House site) that Rengstorff Landing was used for shipping farm products (primarily hay, barley, wheat, lumber) and people in the era before bridges crossed the bay.  I also found that Henry Regstorff's landing journal (daily shipments invoices!) from 1879-1883 was recently found and has been digitized... but it not yet on the web!  Luckily, my bike path to work happens to pass the Rengstorff House, so I'll stop in there to see what they can show me.  

I started to focus on finding information about particular locations.  Now that I knew about Rengstorff Landing, what about the others?  To find out more, I zoomed in on the commercial aspects of the landings.  

[ commerce "Cooley Landing" san francisco ] 
At the same time, Cooley Landing (the next landing to the north) was specializing in brick export.  In 1873, William Hunter and Thomas J. Shackleford, searched for clay suitable for bricks and a site for a new brick plant. Finding both on the property of Lester P. Cooley at Ravenswood (now East Palo Alto), they set up a brick foundry on five acres of land near Cooley's Landing, opening their factory in 1874. 

This included seven field kilns and a number of pugmills. Wood for fuel was hauled from the mountains just to the west. The clay pit (site now Jack Farrell Park) was north of the kilns. They ran rail cars to Cooley Landing and shipped bricks to San Francisco using their own ships "Dora" and "Heckla". They produced about 40,000 bricks a day, or around 40 million during the 10 years of operation before exhausting the clay pit.

This image from CalBrick's history of brickmaking in San Francisco shows Cooley's Landing, with two brick kilns and the short railway to the Landing.  A scow is heading out with a delivery. From Moore and DePue Illustrated History of San Mateo County (1878).

The end of the landings:  The age of the landings seems to have petered out around 1900 when the first rail lines (established in 1880's) started to haul the fruit from orchards and hay to the cities more rapidly and reliably than tide-bound scows.  They settled into other roles--Cooley Landing became a dump and a base for bridge construction.  It's now closed to the public, and rotting away slowly.  All of the other landings are long gone.  Some of them have been buried in landfill (Guth's Landing is now part of a business district), and others like Dixon Landing or Mowry Landing are placenames only.  

What does this tell us about search?  The first and most obvious is that I wasn't able to find any economic data about the landings.  They were clearly important, perhaps even essential to the developing economies of the lower San Francisco Bay region, but it's hard to be sure of that without at least an estimate of the total volumes of products shipped out via the landings versus the quantity that was shipped via roads or rail.  

So... until someone writes an article or book about the details of the economies of the South Bay, it's hard to get beyond what we've found so far.  

Or... I'll have to go around to the libraries and check out those books, dig up those journals and do old-fashioned legwork the way you used to have to do.  It's like research used to be: Stuff is scattered all over, and you need to do some work to assemble the collection of information you need.

Old place names:  Some of the searches I did were spectacularly unhelpful.  A query like [ "mowry landing" history ] triggers a bunch of sites that seem to exist only to fill in the blank spaces.  Very little could be found that was real information.  Luckily, these poor quality sites are easy to recognize as junk.  


ROSS Nelson gave a great answer to the question:   In a private email to me (which he has allowed me to share with you) he writes... 

Shipping on the Bay seems to have been at its peak between 1840-1870, when the railways took over.
Ports: Aviso, Cooley, Rengstorff, Ravenswood, Warm Springs, Redwood Landing, etc.
Products: Primarily produce from Santa Clara valley, but also quicksilver (from the Almaden mines), redwood lumber, wheat/barley/flour, and passenger traffic.
Some of the products were shipped as raw materials (the barley to a SF distillery, but processing plants were also built at the ports, (e.g. fruit canning & tanneries).

First I looked up Cooley Landing to see when it was operational, from there, just focused on including relevant key words, e.g.,

There were tidbits in each of historical backgrounds for Cooley and Rengstorff and a nice payoff for when I found Alviso. I'd swap in different cities as discovered and used "19th century" or "agricultural shipping" once I discoved the main products.
If I were going to be methodical about it, I probably look at the history of each of the bay area cities.  Lacking a book in regional history, that seems to be the best source (along with those development plans!) and piece it together.  Interesting how once-thriving places (the formerly thriving cities of Ravenswood or Alviso) are basically non-existent today, primarily because of the railways.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

...extended... one more day!

Okay.... since this is a reasonably hard problem, I'll add a day onto it.  I'll write up my answer tomorrow!  

(And kudos to Ross who's done a nice solution, which I'll talk about tomorrow.) 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wednesday Search Challenge (June 1, 2011): The economics of south San Francisco bay landings

It's time to up the level of our game and tackle not just a query problem, but a real sensemaking problem.  Note that I have not yet solved this problem, but I hope that we'll be able to do some kind of collective sensemaking operations on this together.  

Here it is.... 

In the southern parts of San Francisco bay there was (historically at least) an extensive marsh & slough system.  And in days of yore, there grew a number of landings where boats could sail up and dock to onload / offload goods.  

Something I've wondered about for a while is how well this all worked.  In particular, WHAT came on and off those boats, and how long did the whole "landings" economy work out?  

To get you started, one of the best known landings was Rengstorff Landing in Mountain View.  (Yes, it' was very close to the Googleplex.)  Another was Cooley's Landing in Palo Alto... but there were many more.  I'll leave it to you to find them out.  

Modern aerial view of Cooley's landing

To succeed at this challenge, you don't need to write a thesis about the economics of the south bay, just sketch the merest outlines of how the landings worked.  

To make sense of the challenge, you'll need to find a few of the landings, and determine the inflow/outflow from the landing--what, when, who, and for what price... 


Search (and make sense!) on!