Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday Search Challenge (Nov 30, 2011): Antarctic islands and India?

Here’s a tale that I’ve been trying to track down.  Put on your best discoverer’s hat and see if you can figure this one out as well.

I was told that not long after the Seven Years War, a Breton privateer discovered islands near Antarctica that he believed were the headlands of a new and previously undiscovered continent.  That didn’t pan out, but he did find islands  that are somehow related to an entire submerged small continent that was formerly covered in pine trees.  Strangely enough, that watery sub-continent is in turn somehow connected to the large hills near the city of Rajmahal in India.

WHO found WHAT islands, and WHAT IS their connection with India?  

You don't need any particularly tricky search techniques for this, but you do need to be willing to look around and find connections that you might not have thought about.  

Search on! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Doodles, cool and archived

I saw a really surprising search the other day.  I was watching a school-age kid trying to find one of Google's clever interactive logos. You know, like the one from today celebrating Bob Noyce's 84th birthday.  

You've probably noticed--they're sometimes interactive, they're always celebratory in some way and they have a popup explaining what it's all about.  (I'm showing the popup on the right-hand side of the above image.)  

What you might not know is that if you click on the image on the Google Home Page, it will do an appropriate search for you on that topic.  

What was so interesting about watching this kid search for the Google Archive was that he didn't know they're called "Doodles," so he was fooling around searching with queries like [Google images ] (which won't get you very far because the results are so heavily skewed by Google Images, the search verical).  He tried things like [cool Google images ] before I finally told him to try adding the word "doodle," which of course got him what he wanted.  

Search lesson:  Sometimes you just need the right word to access the right body of information.  The deep trick is knowing which is the right word. 

In this case, the kid might have tried to search for [Google images ] on Images and he would have found all kinds of results, including links to the Google Official Blog, which then has links to the archived Doodles.  

To save YOU the trouble, here are a few links to Google's collection of great Doodles.  

The official Google Doodle archive

The marvelous Doodle ode to Stanislaw Lem 

The Les Paul interactive Doodle (play your own tunes!)

And last, but not least, the video of the famous Charlie Chaplin Doodle.   

Search on!

Changes... always changes to Google products

You probably saw the recent Google blog post about sunsetting different products.

Here it is in short:   (Remember, this is my personal blog and doesn't represent Google official thoughts, policy or inclinations...) 

1.  Google Bookmark Lists (Dec 19, 2011) -- essentially nobody was using them (I mean, not even was using them, so you know it didn't have much uptake).  Fatal flaw--what user problem was it solving?  Nobody really knows, so it's going away in December.  

2.  Google Friend Connect (Mar 21, 2012) -- being superceded by Google+ features.  

3.  Google Gears (Dec 1, 2011) -- it was a valiant attempt to make Google products work offline as well as online.  But with the advent of HTML 5 (and the various offline features it offers), Gears is rapidly becoming redundant.

4. Search Timeline (Oct, 2011) -- this is unfortunate, as there really isn't anything else quite like it. Yes, you can use Google Insights for some of this function, but the ability to do Timelines over News Archives is just gone.  I'm hunting around for a good replacement for the ability to do this kind of search + charting.  

5. Google Wave (Mar 30, 2012) -- I can't say that I'm sorry about this one being turned down.  In my use of Wave, it was just a giant, unwieldy thing.  Nice idea... but it was too much all in one package.  I want a speedboat, but got a cruise ship.  

6. Google Knol (Oct 1, 2012) -- This too was a great idea--authored Wikipedia style articles.  But it never took off in the way that Wikipedia has, partly because the articles never got enough links to make them show up high in the results.  Sigh.  Unfortunately, Wikipedia is suffering its own set of difficulties.  (Have you tried to add a new article to Wikipedia recently?  See Danny Sullivan's recent rant about this.  He's totally right.  His critique shows the growing problems that Wikipedia is having, and worries me about its future.)  

Moral of this particular story:  As I've been saying for a while, things come, things go.  The good news here is that Google is getting better about letting everyone know about these changes.  You can see the culture change over time.  Used to be that changes just happened without any kind of comment.  People noticed, or they didn't.  

Another kind of change that went unremarked (but I'll tell you) was that there were recently a bunch of changes to the online Dictionary.  When you do the [define: ] operation (such as [define:peruse]) the quality has gone up, primarily in marking typical uses.  While keeping up with shifting definitions is a full-time job, the fact that Google is paying attention to the quality is a great thing.  

But it's one of those things that isn't, from Google's point of view, worth mentioning.  It's just one of the continuous changes that tries to make everything better.  Of course, not every change is 100% improvement for everyone, but the goal (and I think Google pretty much succeeds at this) is to make the majority of people happier and have access to higher quality information.  (For even more information, see Matt Cutts recent post about recent ranking changes or the YouTube video about ranking changes below.)  

If you see something that is clearly worse for you (or better yet, worse for a large number of people), let me know.  The least I can do is to pass your observations along. 

Search on! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Memories of green lines on the land

There are lines on the landscape that you can’t see easily, lines that mark the memories of stream pathways and old property boundaries, leaving a persistent impression of the past on the surface of today.

We’ve all seen lines of trees before.  Depending on the place, straight tree lines are usually old property boundaries, with the trees marking off the edges of ephemeral property ownership that changes at decade speed, while the trees change at century speed, out of sync with the short / fast / furious lives of those that would use them to mark a bounding box around what they think they temporarily own.   In California there’s been a long-standing tradition of using eucalyptus trees to mark off edges, even though the trees remain long after the human claimants have been returned to the soil as nutrients.   

What’s even more remarkable is that these green lines can be seen through Google Maps.  The aerial images (“Satellite view,” even though many of the images at the scale we’re interested in are actually taken from planes) often reveal the past of a place through the green lines. 
Click on image to see at full size.   

In the above image you can see a long line of trees just below the lake on the left.  That's Felt Lake in the Stanford University foothills.  But those are 60 foot tall eucalyptus trees that used to mark the southern end of the old Stanford farm.  You can pretty clearly see what the boundary was.  That line of housing development crowds right up next to the property line, making a nearly vertical slash through the hills.  

But I’m really more interested in the ways memories of streams persist in the landscape.  Here’s an aerial image of some land in Palo Alto taken in 1948.  The sinuous line of trees running through the photo is Matadero Creek.  The straight line running almost vertically is a railroad track, and you can see that the line of trees following the creek stops at a major highway—in this case it’s El Camino Real, an old road that has been in that location for hundreds of years. 

 From 1948... I pieced these together from Google Earth images in History view mode.   

What captivates me about this is that the tree lines persist for a very long time, even through 50 years of intense development.  As you can see, the line of trees along the creekbed have survived, in a sense, for half a century.  The creek is in a very different setting now; once it enters the industrial park, the stream is completely driven by runoff from acres of asphalt, and no longer fed by trickles from grassy fields. 

This is a recent image.  I’ve highlighted in red the creek once it enters the Stanford industrial park  and flows into suburbia.  It’s really broken only in two places—first when it crosses Foothill Blvd (just before entering the industrial park), and then just a bit later when it was channelized to go beneath the Tibco building (the straight segment in the middle of the industrial park). 

Seeing these images makes me think of how much of a lasting impact we have on the world.  Developers channelize creekbeds, but the lines still persist.  It’s hard to undo that much geography, it’s just incumbent unless you move the entire landform. 

These lines of trees (oaks, mostly) explain something you see from time to time walking through suburbia.  Every so often, there’s a tree that is way out-of-size, something that just seems incongruous with its surround.  If it’s an oak, chances are good that it’s part of a much larger structure—a persisting line of trees that remembers a world before the developers came.

I find this both heartening and sad at the same time.  I feel lucky to have come along at a point in time when one can still see these marks on the land.  At the same time, it’s a bit like finding a palm tree deep in a scrub oak woodland—the marks of people on the land are inescapable, and often woefully out-of-place.  

We cover, we bury, we replant… and still the land manages to persist.  The big oak in the suburbs is an oddity, way out of keeping with the other trees in the area, until you realize that it’s been there for 200 years.  Ultimately, that makes me glad.  I hope the trees win in the end.  

And feeling lucky enough to live in a time when I can see both the trees from the ground and from the air through Google Maps and Google Earth. 

Searching for more trees and more green lines on the land... 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Answer: What's that flower?

The quick answer is that it's Ithuriel's Spear, aka Wally Basket, aka Grass Nut.

Latin name: Triteleia laxa.

Regular reader Hans nicely provided a link to an illustration of Ithuriel and the spear he used to reveal that the frog he's threatening was actually the devil in disguise.  (Who knew?) 

To solve this challenge... I first looked up where I (were the flower) was.  If you enter the lat/long into Google Maps, 37.1540, -121.4200, you'll find that you're in the middle of Henry Coe State Park. 

Why does this matter?  Because when locating things like wildflowers, birds, animals, insects (etc.) the geo-location matters a great deal.  There are many thousands of blue wildflowers in the world, but your first big clue in figuring out which one it might be is location.  

Once I knew that this flower was in a State Park, I figured that this might be useful in doing my search.  So I did: 

I could have used a search term like "northern california," but I went with Henry Coe because I know that state parks often have volunteer organizations that publish things like collections-of-wildflower-photos.

Once I did that search, I saw that one of the top hits was "Album of Blue Wildflowers from Henry Coe State Park."  

Ah ha!  Since I had a couple of good pictures (see yesterday's challenge page), it was pretty easy to compare with each of the photos in that album.  And, sure enough, the 13th image down is a match.  

But matching flowers based on just an image can be tricky, so I copied the Latin name (Triteleia laxa) and did another search on just that.  

which led me to the Wikipedia page for Triteleia laxa (which wasn't all that helpful, but did give me another image to compare).  It ALSO led me to the Calflora site entry for Tritelia laxa, which IS a great, very authoritative site.  (Why is it authoritative?  Because it links to very well-known herbarium sites such as the Jepson Manual and the USDA plant manual.)  

That pretty much confirmed it for me, but to be triply sure, I ALSO checked the Jepson Manual entry for Triteleia laxa... which was consistent with my field observations about number-of-stames, descriptions of anthers, flower composition, etc.  

A quick search for [ Ithuriel's Spear Milton ] confirmed that the story of Ithuriel's spear and the devil-disguised-as-frog appear in Book IV of Paradise Lost by the 17th century English poet John Milton.  

Search moral:  There are a couple of takeaways.  
1.  When searching for animals, plants, and similar localized things, consider starting your search with a geo-reference.  In this case I used "Henry Coe State Park" -- I could have used something else (even California as a search term would have helped.)  
2.  When looking for a specific flower, you probably need to find images to verify your observation.  If you REALLY want to get into the details, you're going to need to use a wildflower identification key to verify that the flower you're looking at really is what you think it is.  Note that most keys are region specific--be sure the key you're using is for the location the flower is in!  

Search on! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Search Challenge: What's that flower? (Nov 23, 2011)

You've probably asked a question like this before:  What's that flower?  

Unless you're botanically inclined, or have a friend who's horticulturally minded, it's often kind of hard to figure these things out... especially for wildflowers that are unrelated to anything you'd see in a domesticated garden.

As you might guess, this happens to me all the time.  

This past March I was out for a leisurely hike at lat/long 37.1540, -121.4200 when I noticed a pretty blue flower.   Here are a couple of pictures so you can get an idea of what I saw.  
It was about 3 feet high and was growing in open grassland--nothing especially odd or strange about where it was growing.  Just along the trail, sticking it's head up 

When I got home I looked it up based on what I saw. 

To make your task slightly easier, I'll tell you that the flowers were blue, but that there were some variation in flower color between the plants.  They were blue, blue-purple, or white.  The flower tube was around 12–25 mm long, with the petals ranging from 8–20 mm in length.  The flowers are cone-shaped and are made up of 6 petals that are fused together at the bottom.  In the flower there are 6 stamens, 3-lobed stigma atop a single triple-chambered ovary.  In the flower,  filaments attached at 2 levels, and the anthers ranged from 2–5 mm.  As you can see, individual flowers were arranged in clusters of 4 - 8 flowers at the end of longish stalk, roughly 100 mm long.   The leaves are long and grass-like in appearance.  

When I figured out what it was, I was surprised to discover was that its common name is the name of a weapon that's used by a particular angel!  (Do angels normally carry weapons??)  

Question:  Can you figure out what the Latin and common names of this flower are?  

For extra credit on this one--be sure to write down HOW you figured this one out, and how long it took you.  I'm curious to see if you find this one hard or very simple.  Let me know! 

Search on! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Intuition and counterintuition

Intuition:  What’s the deal with intuition these days?  It seems to be on everyone’s mind, a brainworm on the loose.  People are claiming that tablets like the iPad “tap into intuition,” that Steve Jobs had an “intuitive designer’s sense,” George Bush “trusted his gut feelings” about the presence of WMD in Iraq, Kim Kardashian decided that “intuition led me to divorce” after 72 days of wedded bliss,  and the Huffington Post writes “Science says to trust your gut.”  Intuition seems to be more valued than ever, although there seems to have been no recent upgrade in our collective intuitive skills.  Is intuition really just the flowering of some inner, secret power? 

By contrast, the current movie “Moneyball” is about the success of the Oakland A’s team of 2002, a team that was put together with guidance of  some clever statistical analysis by their general manager, a baseball quant-jock if there ever was one.   Even Roger Ebert says the film is about “the war between intuition and statistics.”  Is there really a war going on? 

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell talks about intuition as “thin-slicing” experience based on training up your experience base after 10,000  hours of practice in a field.  If you have that much time-on-task, practicing and learning how to operate efficiently in a field, then you’re capable of rapidly assessing a situation based on few, rapidly scanned clues, and somehow coming up with a quick recognition of what’s going on. 

Here's the thing to know:  How much time have you spent doing search?  My best estimate is that I've done about 5,000 hours of search since I first started using Google in late 1998.  That is, I started practicing my search skills around 13 years (or 4748 days) ago.  

If I've done a bit over 1 hour of search / day since then (which seems reasonable), that means I've invested ~5,000 hours of practice.  While that's a lot of time, it's only half of the 10,000 hours that are usually needed for real expertise. 

System 1, System 2: Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman points out that people have two different and parallel systems of thought when they confront  problems.  The cleverly named “System 1” is a fast recognizer of situations in context—it identifies and labels objects, picks up on relationships, and does so by recognition, rapidly, rather than by deliberation.  

Then there’s “System 2,” the slower, more deliberate, symbol-pushing and rational part of our minds. 

As an example, System 1 recognizes that the number sequence 2, 4, 8, 16, 32… is just doubling from one to the next.  It would be System 2 that lets you realize that this is also the powers of 2.  Of course, if you’re a computer scientist, the powers of 2 has become, over many repeated exposures, something that’s a System 1 effect.  For non-CS majors the problem 2 * 256 is a System 2 task.  For CS-majors, it’s a System 1 task—you recognize the pattern and say, “it’s 512…” without thinking much.  In this sense, intuition is what you’ve been trained to expect to perceive.  It is the power of repeated exposure and the accumulation of inarticulate recognition skills.  

About System 1 Kahneman writes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow
“We are prone to think that the world is more regular and predictable than it really is, because our memory automatically and continuously maintains a story about what is going on, and because the rules of memory tend to make that story as coherent as possible and to suppress alternatives. Fast thinking is not prone to doubt.”

Nor is System 1 particularly good at noticing contradictions.  We swim in a sea of counterintuitions--things that seem to be intuitively correct, but are not.  We have difficulty seeing the sea we swim in simply because we swim in it all the time.  

Some examples:  
  • How is it that clouds made of water vapor yet can float mid-air?  (Water is awfully heavy.)  
  • The world is visibly and obviously flat—yet we now believe that it’s intuitively obvious that the world is round.  (Trust me, historically speaking, that wasn’t obvious at all!)  
  • When we’re on a merry-go-round, our intuition tells us that the force is outward—that centrifugal force is really trying to thrust us radially away from the center, not on a tangent along the direction of travel.  
  • Dense things are typically opaque, except for glass and water, which are “intuitively obvious” exceptions to the rule.  

Counterintuitive: Except that they’re not obvious, it’s just the pattern you’ve seen so often that System 1 doesn’t even pick up on the contradiction. 

Intuitive thinking is primarily what you’ve experienced and on patterns you pick up.  While it’s fast, it’s also errorful.  Dan Ariely has asked hundreds of Princeton undergraduates the following question:  “A bat and ball together cost  $1.10.  The bat costs $1 more than the ball.  How much is the ball?”  It’s a simple question, but around 50% of Princeton seniors get it wrong and say that the bat costs 0.10.  (That can’t make sense.  If the ball is 0.10, then “$1 more than the ball” means that the bat is $1.10 – adding the bat and ball prices together means the bat + ball are $1.20.) 

So, why do they get it wrong so often?  

Because they don’t check their work.  Why?  Because it’s a bit of a hassle, and the answer is so obvious and apparent (and the stakes are so low) that it’s not worth the effort.  This is characteristic of many intuitive answers—it’s so *obvious* that it’s not worth checking. 

Seems to me that there’s not really a contradiction between System1 (intuition) and System 2 (rational) modes of knowing.  Instead, one’s just faster than the other.  Both are useful, both are necessary.  But the great achievement of science has been to tell us that intuition always has to be checked.  In essence, science is the overturning of intuition by slow, painful, careful System 2 reasoning.  Clouds float because cloud-borne water droplets are really, really tiny and are kept aloft by random air movements.

A note from Dan’s System 2:  Cloud droplets average between 1 and 100 microns.  A typical droplet 20 microns in diameter is 4.2 picoliters in volume with a weight of 4.2 nanograms, falling at a terminal velocity of 0.02 mph.  Thus, an updraft at just over 0.02 mph will keep the cloud in the sky.  That’s not much updraft.  Or to look at it another way, if the cloud formed at 10,000 feet, at 0.02 mph it will take nearly 4 days to fall to the ground.

The trick is to know when to use one mode versus the other.  “Trust the force, Luke” Obi-Wan whispers into our ears.  But the same time, you can’t build a pan-galactic empire with massive infrastructures based on your intuitions about mechanical engineering, power grid design, or waste management systems. 

We know there are a number of rather rapid inferences that are System 1.  A while ago Bob Zajonc showed that determining preference is much faster than cognition… that is, it anticipates cognition.  You see this when making choices about which kind of thing you prefer over something else—be it mates, brands of peanut butter or random Chinese characters.  As he said, “Preferences need  no inferences.” It’s fast and gets there before you’ve figured out what you really should want.   That’s what System 2 reasoning is for. 

It strikes me that we have a lot of brainware dedicated to specific fast System 1 type tasks, and even those mechanisms get it wrong much of the time.  We’ve all seen various visual illusions that we KNOW can’t be true—a vertical table that looks much longer than a horizontal table; two patches of color that look very different in a scene, but can be easily shown to be the same color when placed side-by-side. 

The strange thing is that visual illusions persist, even when you know they’re wrong; even when you’ve measure the differences; even when you put the color patches side by side.  Even though you do the measurements yourself, you can’t convince your vision system to accept your measurement as truth.  It’s as though you haven’t learned anything in the last minute of experience.  

(In the example below, squares A and B are the same color.  Use an eyedropper tool to measure the colors and find they're the same. This illusion image is from Wikipedia,  created by Edward H. Adelson, Professor of Vision Science at MIT in 1995.)  

Even though we DO more vision than anything else we do with our brains,  we still have predictable, repeatable mistakes in vision.  How can we be better in domains where we don’t have so much hardwired brain? 

This is the realm of the cognitive illusion, and is even more problematic.  We know that if you set up a program with an opt-out vs. an opt-in choice, the differences in selection rate are huge.  In one European study, the rate of people selecting to be in a organ donation program was massively different: in Sweden the participation rate is 86%, while in Denmark the participation rate is only 4%.  The difference is that one is opt-in while the other is opt-out. 

Dan Ariely points out that when we’re filling out the form we 

“feel as though we’re making decisions… but the person who designs the form that is actually making the decision for you.  You like to think that the options don’t influence us, but that’s not true.”  

The illusion is that you have control over your destiny.  That is, you think your System 2 rational decision-making system will actually express your deeply-held, fundamental beliefs.  “I believe that organ donation is a social good, so I’ll participate.”  That’s the story you might tell yourself.  But statistically speaking, the choice is made for you when the form is designed as opt-out. 

We don’t recognize the illusions we all live with day-to-day, we’ve come to accept them as intuitive and obvious.  Normal is what you’ve grown up with, the non-intuitive, confusing, difficult  high-technology world is whatever was invented after you turned 8, and stopped seeing everything as pre-destined.  

Isn't that intuitive?  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Verbatim mode - Google without interpretation

Remember the ruckus about the + operator going away?

We knew about the issue, and this week Google has announced a new search mode that you might want to know about. 

Verbatim mode was announced on the Inside Search blog (a blog I recommend you read, actually, since most of the interesting announcements about new Google search features will appear there first).  

What's Verbatim search?  It's Google search without any synonymization, spell-correction, personalization or other interpretation.  That is, it's just a basic search without any alterations in what you typed into the query box.  To be clear, 99% of the time, those alterations actually improve your search results quite a bit.  But every so often you really want just what you typed.  Verbatim mode is for those situations.  

To turn on Verbatim, you first open the "More search tools" button on the left hand panel... 

That is, click on the bottom option, just below "Custom range..."    This will open up a new set of options below that point.  It should look like this: 

When you click on Verbatim, you'll put your subsequent searching into this hyper-literal mode.  

As we've discussed before, sometimes a search term seems so obviously misspelled (to Google) that it can't resist spell-correcting it for you.  

 But as you know, in this case we REALLY want to word to be unaffected by spell-correction or synonymization.  You already know that you can double-quote the word like this: 
 ... to get the Finnish folk music style that you were really searching for.  

Now, when would you use Verbatim?  
Whenever you want to do longer queries that you don't want altered at all.  
For instance, a multi-word query such as [ joiker music finland ], a trip to Verbatim mode might be exactly what you want.  Here's the query in default search mode: 
But you might want to search this in Verbatim, as below.  The first result is the same, but the next several results are somewhat different.  
Notice the blue bar at the top of the results.. that's how you know you're still in Verbatim mode.

The difference is probably easiest to see in a side-by-side like this.  Here I'm searching for "gyros":  
As you can see, the Verbatim mode search (on the right) gives a very different answer--one that's NOT localized or personalized.  

Hope you find this new tool useful!  Let me know how you like it!  

Search on. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Answer: Where's the quarry?

The fast answer to the question:  the Tennessee pink marble for the Newseum First Amendment tablet comes from the Endsley quarry, which is in Friendsville, TN at  35.75413, -84.1334

Here's what I did to find it.  

I did a straight-forward search on [ Newseum stone ] which led me to this article in 

"...The marble came from the Endsley Quarry in Friendsville and was provided by Tennessee Valley Marble before the company was purchased last year by Tennessee Marble Co.  
Architects chose Tennessee pink marble for the tablet because the same stone was used on the exterior of the National Gallery of Art, which is across the street, and in several other prominent buildings and monuments throughout the city..."  

Wow.  THAT was easier than I thought.  

I did a big of digging into the Tennessee Valley Marble company and found that it actually runs several quarries, but that the Endsley quarry, just outside of Friendsville, wasn't used for many years, but was re-opened for the Newseum project and is still active.  

By using the "Drop lat/long marker" tool in Google Maps, it was pretty simple to find out the lat/long. 

Along the way I found that they needed only 50 tons of stone for the tablet, but in order to get enough decent stone, they had to quarry out (and discard?) around 278 tons.  

If you look to the right (east) of the quarry, you can see a stone cutting facility that you can't see from the road.  But if you zoom in, you can spot large blocks of stone sitting around outside, looking like small cars. 

But if you look closely and use the measuring scale in the lower left of the image, all of the blocks at the quarry are actually fairly large.  They're not at "finished size."  Most of the blocks in this image above are around 10 feet on a side.   
It looks to me as though they're quarried here, cut in to large blocks, then shipped off to the main cutting facility in town at the Tennessee Marble Co, on West Vinegar Valley Rd.  (I found this location by zooming the map out a bit and doing a query for [ Tennesee Marble Company ].)  

At this location a few miles away from the quarry, you can spot many more slabs that are of the right size to be sent off for final engraving and installation.  You can watch the video of the engraving and installation by the Rugo Company which did all of the work of actually putting words onto the stone.  In this video you can see that the individual slabs are really fairly small--the kind of slabs that would be precision-cut in a place like the one above.  

As several of you geologically inclined readers pointed out, Tennessee Pink marble actually isn't marble, but a kind of crystalline limestone that looks a lot like marble when polished.  As the Wikipedia article on marble points out: "Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone."  

So Tennessee pink is really just unripe marble.  It needs a bit more metamorphosis to mature from limestone into marble!  

All the comments this time were great!  Many readers figured this one out.  Excellent.  We are getting smarter! 

Search on! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday search challenge (Nov 16, 2011): Where's the quarry?

I'm in Maryland this week and had the chance to visit the Newseum in downtown Washington DC.  It's an incredible museum of news, a place I highly recommend when you visit the DC.  It has a great view of the capital building and on the top floor, a wonderful vista of the entire mall.  

While I was there I spoke with man who told me that the beginning 45 words of the First Amendment to the constitution are engraved on giant slabs of marble on the front of the building.  He went on to say that it was made of the same stone as was used to build the museum directly across the street.   "The idea was that they wanted it to match, so they went and re-opened the original quarry."  

He didn't know where the quarry was that was used as the source of stone, but he was pretty sure it was "down south" somewhere.  

I was curious about where such a massive chunk of rock would come from, so I searched it out.  It took me about 3 minutes to find an aerial photo of the quarry from whence it came.  

I now know where the quarry is.  Can you find that aerial image and provide the lat/long of the quarry?  

For extra credit, can you find the lat/long of the place where the stone was cut to shape? 

Search on!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Answer: How do people spend their time?

Whaddya know?  This turned out to be simpler than what I thought--for an unexpected reason.  

Here's what I did.  My first query was to see if I could find any database that had reasonable information about how Americans spend their time day-to-day.  

Americans spend time ] 

This query led me quickly to the American Time Use Survey at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  This is their job: collect data and stats on American behavior across many different dimensions.  

 I drilled down almost immediately to their data sets about time use and found data from their big survey of ~13,200 Americans in 2010.  The metadata for this survey is here (which is where they write down all the details of how the surveys were coded, the survey question form (ever want to see the script that surveyers use when asking you questions--this is it), etc.  

Eventually, I got to the summary table of "Time spent in primary activities (1) and percent of the civilian population engaging in each activity, averages per day by sex, 2010 annual averages."  I exported that data into my spreadsheet, and generated the following chart rather quickly.  

Whenever you look at a chart like this, questions and insights immediately spring to mind.  For instance, WHY is the average amount of work / day only 4.09 for men and 2.94 for women?  (Or 3.5 average between the two.)  Or, to answer my original question--"Do I spend a lot of time in email?"  The answer is "yes, you do... but you're in Silicon Valley, what did you expect??"  

You might prefer to see the data in this format:  

(Same data, just different chart.)

Remember that this is a sample of  people nation-wide, balanced across demographic categories (age, gender, location, etc.) and included a representative sample of unemployed people as well.  Keep in mind, if you work a standard 40 hour work-week for 50 weeks of the year, you're really only working 4.3 hours/day averaged over the entire year.   

Contrast that with the number of hours / day if you're engaged in that activity--7.82, which reflects more what you'd expect for number-of-hours worked given that you're working on that day.  

We could continue analyzing the data, which is really interesting, but I want to return to the search question for a minute.  

Why did I say this was simpler than I thought? 

Answer:  Because I had a particular solution path in mind when I started out.  I would (1) locate the data, (2) extract it, and (3) analyze it.  

I never expected that the BLS would have already done this for me!   As gasstationswithoutpumps commented,
     "I searched for [ hours spent american statistics ] which got me to which has pointers
     to tables for 2010 statistics divided in lots of ways. (in particular...) 
    Table 12 
     seems to be the one you want, with sleeping and watching
     TV as the two biggest categories."

I never expected that they would have already done the analysis, with charts and everything!  (Note that this chart from BLS is slightly different than mine--they're charting the time use on an average workday for employed persons with children.  The chart above is for everyone in the sample set.)  


On the other hand I read analyses of how people spend their time as compiled by various other organizations.  Neilsen, for instance reports that people spend 4.9 hours/day watching television.  That's very different than the amount that the BLS finds in their data.   You can find similar differences for other measures as well (e.g., internet use; amount of time spent care-giving; household activities; ....).  

The big takeaway is that you have to be VERY careful that you know exactly what data is going into your analysis.  It matters how it was collected, what the coding scheme was, and how the sample was chosen.  Was it random digit dialing (as in the case of the BLS data), or was it "Neilsen Family" people?  The outcome can vary tremendously. 

One of the beautiful things about being able to find data of this kind is the ability for us to download and analyze it according to our own interests.  The folks at FlowingMedia did a beautiful interactive version of this same data by building on D3, Mike Bostock's visualization system.  The image below is just a single frame from their system.  You should visit the FlowingMedia interactive visualization (click on the demographic segments in the upper right) to get the full experience.  

Bottom line:  Searching for a data that you can easily download, understand and do your own analysis of is a great feature of the new Data Age.  You should learn how to get to data AND how to understand it.  That metadata stuff turns out to be deeply important.  

Yours in finding ever more data! 

Search on!