Friday, January 3, 2014

Answer: Did everyone like the lights?

The short answer seems to be... surprisingly... oui!  

But before we dive into this, the results of our mini-survey are back.  And it's pretty clear that people prefer having the second day to work on the Challenge.  So I'll shift to this plan for a while, see how it goes.  Challenge on Wednesday, and then maybe commentary on what I'm seeing on Thursday, with the answer on Friday.  Sound good?  

Back to the program. 

This Challenge question just came up in conversation, and without thinking about it too much I thought it might be a good SearchResearch question because (I was thinking) it's in another language / culture, and there's probably no simple, definitive way to answer it.  (I was just betting that Wikipedia wouldn't answer it outright.) 

But I didn't count on the question being ambiguous.  As Ramón first pointed out in the comment stream, there have been lights on the Tower going all the way back to the time it was built.  Those were arc lights (which is a lot like the light generated by an electric welding rig--brilliant, dazzling, too much to look at).

I'd just been thinking about the latest installation.  As you see in the photograph, there are actually two lighting systems on the Eiffel Tower.  There's a rotating beacon that cycles around once every 30 seconds, and then a shimmering set of strobes that fire randomly (those are the little white dots you see on the Tower). You can check out the video below (which I didn't take) to get the effect.  

So I guess my question really breaks down into (a) What did Parisians think of ANY lighting scheme, beginning with the first lighting setup from 1889, when the Tower was completed?  And (b) When the strobes were added to the Eiffel Tower, how did they react to THAT?  

What I did... 

I started very much as Rosemary did: 

     [paris newspaper tour eiffel lights OR lumière 

That's when I read the Wikipedia article.  And THAT's when I found out that it's always had lights...  As the Wikipedia article says: "After dark the tower was lit by hundreds of gas lamps and a beacon sending out out three beams of red, white and blue light using two mobile projectors mounted on a circular rail..."  

So what I thought was new, was, in fact, as old as the Tower itself.  That put a very different spin onto the question!  

But it was public reaction that I was interested in.  So I thought I'd search for the time when the strobes started up, and also for public reaction when the regular lights began in 1889.  

So I tried: 

     [ public reaction lighting Eiffel Tower ] 

(I dropped the lumière part because it had been around so long that I figured it would be covered in English.)  

I ended up then thinking that perhaps the FRENCH language version of the Wikipedia page would have something.  And while it gave more background (that's NOT in the English version!) on the history of illumination, there wasn't much controversy mentioned.  

Learned from (in a Google translation):  

"As early as 1888, even before its completion, fireworks were fired from the second floor, and even now, it is the place of rendezvous for every Parisian French national holiday . 
In 1889, and at first, the lighting of the tower are using 10,000 gaslights , but when the 1900 Universal Exhibition , held in Paris , they make electricity. 
In 1925, André Citroën installed a huge advertising light for its brand, ranging in height. Illuminations by 250,000 bulbs in six colors are nine tables, the latter being the name "Citroën" lettering with a stylized version of Art Deco. It remains in place until 1933 that the town has multiplied by six the tax in 1926. 
In 1937, for the International Exhibition of Applied Arts, André Granet new lighting designs highlighting the lace structure of the tower."

What this told me was that something as pretty as the strobe lighting wasn't likely to cause much of a fuss for the Parisians.  It's been used for fireworks, it's been used as advertising (as Remmij brilliantly found--link to Tower with advertising on it!), it's been through multiple colors, styles, types, and patterns of lights.  Twinkling lights probably aren't going to cause anyone to lose much sleep.  

Still, I thought it would be worth a try to check out some French newspaper archives.  To find a decent list of them, I did a search for: 

     [ newspaper archive list ] 

Yes, I'm under no illusions that Google has ALL the world's news archives (esp. in non-EN-speaking countries). 

Luckily, Wikipedia has an outstanding list of links to online archives.  

From there, I could pick and choose a couple of archives (e.g., Le Temps, or Le Gaulois, both of which predate the Eiffel).  With them, I could do simple searches like 

     [ "Tour Eiffel" lumière ]

(I double quoted it to be sure I didn't get references to just Eiffel, the architect, and the word lumière as the French word for light, which also includes illumination.)  

And you can check out the newspapers from those days (sample search in Le Gaulois).  

As we've talked about before, showing the absence of something is often pretty hard.  But I read through about 100 pages (50 pages from each of these two newspapers), and didn't find any harsh words about the light.  (I did read about how "tablecloths of light fill the fields below the Tower.." and about how such-and-such a worker was injured when a bolt fell several stories and opened up a cut on his wrist during the final stages of construction... but negative press about the illumination?  None.  

I did pretty much the same procedure for the more recent strobes.  Again, nothing.  

In desperation, I asked a couple of Parisian friends--"Do YOU remember anything controversial about the strobes when they were introduced?"  

They both couldn't remember anything except delight when the new lights came online.  

Now, a caution goes here:  I'm not a historian of Paris, but my searches into several online resources (including contemporary French newspapers and writings) don't reveal much, if ANY controversy about the lighting.  The construction of the entire Tower, yes.  But everyone seems to have enjoyed the lighting. Of course, the famous writer Guy de Maupassant often ate lunch in the restaurant at the base of the Eiffel Tower, not because he liked the food, but because it was the only place in Paris he could avoid its otherwise unavoidable profile.  [1] 

Search Lessons:  There are a couple of lessons here...  

First--never assume a question is as simple as your assumptions make it out to be.  I would have SWORN this was a simple question when I asked it.  I'd foolishly assumed that the installation of the blinky strobes was the first time the Eiffel Tower had been illuminated.  When you start a research task... question your assumptions.  

Or, at very least, hold on to them very lightly.  You might have to give them up, and you don't want to waste a lot of time trying to work yourself out of a lot of assumed ratholes! 

Second--Know about the Wikipedia list of newspaper archives.  It's a remarkable resource to draw upon, especially for non English-language research challenges.  

If this was the kind of question I thought I was going to do a lot, I might well create a Custom Search Engine for the task, and seed it with URLs I found there.  

And don't, under any circumstances, do something as foolish as this man, who designed a "coat parachute" and tested it out by leaping from the Eiffel Tower.  It looks like a wing suit, but it isn't a wing suit after all.  It's just slightly slower way to kill yourself.  Check out those assumptions!!!  


Search on! 


[1] Barthes, Roland. The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies. (1997) Tr. Howard, Richard. Berkeley: University of California Press.  


  1. Thanks Daniel. Informative and helpful as ever. I assume you're aware that it's possible to watch archive footage of the ill-fated Franz Reichelt's attempted parachute-jump? (Appropriately flagged by Pathe as 'distressing footage',

    1. Thanks, David. I did find that video, but decided to not post it in the main stream. (Too distressing.) But thanks for your comment here.

  2. This search challenge also took me in another direction. I've heard teachers express concern about their homework or test questions when students only have to google the answer. So the response to teachers is to rewrite your questions so they are are "google-proof", meaning the correct answer won't be found on a single web page, but students have to apply what they learn to answer the question correctly.

    Example: Based on information learned in this search challenge about the different times lights were placed on the Eiffel Tower, what day/month/year was this picture taken? Eiffel Tower Lights

    1. ok, I'll "byte" —

      … 3/27/1999 uhhhh, 2:19 p.m. (guess) given that it's a week+ past the spring equinox.
      you are a traveler too Fred - this one would be tougher:

      conflicting EXIF - scanned/posted?

      FD, U2Y2K
      Passage à l'an 2000


      another light display example -
      the northwest view

      btw, interesting, energetic person/approach… just wonder why everything has to be so amped up to get the meagerest attention
      from those who should be most curious…? curious.
      Amy Burvall,HI
      AB Twitter
      at least the rap didn't refer to Old Norman: Williame as Billy the "exploding" Bastard… although it has a certain ear-bug, rhythmic quality… word.

      "google-proof" good Gandalf man, doth thou seek banishment from the Plex realm & outposts? mind thy textual tongue, lest friar Dan
      be forced to report such heresy to the High Goo Council - AWTTW - just sayingth…

      now back to my Dixie cup of Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux 2004

    2. Nice job remmij. Correct on the scanning too. It is from a film camera.
      Especially liked your laughing alternative. Can you share what search terms you used to find the alts?

      With regards to "amped up" learning, applying music to things you want students to learn goes back a long way, including Alphabet Song. I remember that not one of my 7th grade classmates had trouble completing a memorization of the Preamble.

      With regards to "google-proofing" questions - to paraphrase a different Googler when asked what it takes to get hired at Google, "we don't want people who can regurgitate information. We have all of the information. We want people who can think outside of the box and do things differently with the information." (Google Teacher Academy, Boulder, CO 2009)

    3. ♪ une baguette à la main n'est pas aussi bon que deux dans le ventre. ♬ pt.1

      my best recollection/reconstruction is as follows:
      wasn't on hardware that had Goo image search capability so zoomed on the image and tried to capture the lighted text -
      came up with [j-279 avant lian 2000 paris]
      close, but results not promising - clicked "Did you mean:j-279 avant l'an 2000 paris." bingo… shows how a small difference can impact search
      first result on the serp — Wikimedia commons
      get the gist from the description as to the numerical significance, do the arithmetic and arrive at the date - also do a search for that date in history…
      see that you are the author and it has the source link too. just to confirm, use flickr search on your page to find the image there too & use the night shot next to it also.
      Got the EXIF info off the photo there and saw it was scanned at a later date.
      also use a general search on the flickr site to do a general timeframe/subject search - [eiffel tower 1999]
      and found the examples used as alternates.
      saw a bit of antidotal disgruntlement about the 2000 countdown lights here: "the most romantic place in the world"
      it seemed to be a 1000 day countdown tied to a revamped green lighting renovation: 6 watts
      also looked through these - good sources - northwest
      liked this image, marked the switch from gas light to electric - would have been something to see the gas illumination -

    4. pt.2 (I got carried away)
      good description of initial surrounds and reception -
      freshly minted, with surrounding structures
      this seems to suggest that there may have been open fires on the Tower?? ET drama
      1889 photo - from a balloon/drone
      night shot from the 1900 exposition: 1900, the electric light show
      1889 footage
      picture of the gas light fixtures - 1889 view
      more gas fixtures - great expo pics
      other pics - P Expo, LoC
      1889 displays

      a bit off topic, but interesting Paris/Tokyo nexus influences
      125 overview

    5. was looking for something totally unrelated to sRs and ran across this, thought it was interesting in the time context of natural and artificial lighting…

  3. I found this detailed description of Citroen's lighting effects on the tower:
    Sounds fabulous!

  4. I hope you will share more in the future regarding this comment. It sounds like an alternative to bookmarks I've been asking about.
    "If this was the kind of question I thought I was going to do a lot, I might well create a Custom Search Engine for the task, and seed it with URLs I found there."
    Thanks for sharing your time on vacation with us. I hope you have a great time.

  5. Hello, Dr. Russell and everyone. You are right, Dr. Russell, this was a always a great SearchResearch Challenge. I learned a lot with your answer and the ones from my peers. Lots of unknown facts now are known for me.

    I searched for some extra stuff. Here what I found:


    The Tower and its lights

    ["Public opinion"]
    Blue Prints


    Debate and Controverst Surrounding the Eiffel Tower and Gustave Eiffel’s Response

    [fun facts Eiffel Tower]

    There are 5 billion lights on the Eiffel Tower.

    Eiffel Tower goes green

    Google Cultural Institute

    Eiffel Tower Youtube

    Have a fantastic weekend !