Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday comment: What's missing from the sphinx?

As mentioned, this is our first regular week of a Challenge that is posted on Wednesday, but answered on Friday.  

But I thought I'd provide a bit of color commentary inbetween. 

As expected, this wasn't that difficult of a challenge.  I was surprised to find that the query: 

    [ sphinx forehead ] 

worked so well.  That's a surprise because it seems to have come from the language I used in writing up the challenge.  And that gives me a useful observation.  

Sometimes when you're stuck on a problem, it's useful to write it up in an email to a friend.  You know, "Dear Joe, I'm trying to find out what this thing is that's on the forehead of the sphinx in this picture..."  

Not infrequently, just writing-it-out (or, alternatively, talking aloud to a Teddy Bear) will cause the so-called "Teddy Bear Effect" to kick in.  That happens when you just go through the motions of explaining it to someone else.  Often that causes you to realize something about the problem you didn't realize.  

Big revelation:  Every TA knows this.  It's happened to me many times.  Someone comes to me with a problem, something they "just can't figure out."  I ask them:  "Tell me what your problem is."  They start talking through the problem.  And even if I don't know anything about their problem, some large fraction of the time the questioner solves the problem on their own.  

And no infrequently they say "Thanks!" as they walk away. 

That's why writing out a problem, as I did with this challenge, is often a great source of clues.  It doesn't always solve the problem, but it works often enough that you should keep this strategy in the back of your mind as you work through a tough problem.  

Keep searching!  Answers tomorrow. 


  1. Dr. Dan mentioned a couple weeks ago that using custom search engines can be a good strategy if you will be reusing the same sources frequently. I knew nothing about CSE but then knowing this could be done an opportunity came to make use of this tool. I created a CSE to save me steps in something I do very frequently.

    I am studying spanish and on my Chromebook I find at times that I want to quickly find out “How can I get a quick verb conjugation of a spanish verb? Normally it would be several steps to get what I wanted. But now it’s all done in one step. This should work on any device.

    I went into “Manage search engines” and ‘Added a search engine’ chose a label for the SE and then a keyword, then added the webpage I wanted. So for example I added the label “Spanish Verbs” with keyword ‘conj’ and the URL. Now when I want to conjugate a verb I just type in the search box for example - ‘conj vener’ and there it is. I also set it up to do Spanish to English translation and English to Spanish. I can use that when double clicking on a word to translate doesn’t work. I can see how this can be applied in many ways. There may be more to creating CSE ‘s but this is my experience.

    Also, I don’t see my posting for this week’s challenge but I will check back. And now that we have further advice from Dr. Dan I’ll take another look.

    1. Thanks, Rosemary -- that's a great (and unexpected) use for CSEs. Nice.

  2. Now that Dr. Dan reminded us to ‘reword the question’ I went back and did this. I normally do reword before I start but what I think can help me is throughout the search when I want to reassess my strategy based on new findings reword the question again. So I went back and in a few key strokes found credible information.

    Query [sphinx louvre missing cobra]


    The best description I've seen and it was at the Louvr. It describes the head of a sphinx which is what we are talking about and refers to it as “recurrent features on a sphinx”. It’s also the only image that gives a clear view of the top of the head.

  3. In this search I did 'image search' looking at many images. In part I would pan across the thumbnails looking at the URLs in search of credible websites such as archives and libraries rather than relying on blogs and Wiki. I looked at lot of images. During this process out of the thousands maybe millions I see an image that has an acquaintance of mine standing before the Sphinx. I'm wondering if this was just one chance in a million or some function of Google image search. She lives in the same city but we have never been in the same photo, I have no photos of her nor her of me and I didn't use any keywords related to her. We are both curious how Google could find her out of all the Sphinx images?

    1. Unless she's tagged in the image, it's just random luck that you managed to find her in the pile. There's no face reco (or anything similar) going on here.

    2. Hello Dr. Russell, RoseMary and everyone.

      RoseMary, it is nice how you applied CSEs.

      For this challenge, tried first searching images of the Sphinx. Looking them noticed the Cobra and from then did other queries.

      About "Tell me what your problem is" talks, for me they are the best way to learn and something that you don't forget. I had them in college many times and still remember what they told me, what I learned and why I asked them. Don't know why but it is easy to remember in that way that in normal class.

  4. I started by looking at lots of images and noticed that there is an 'asp' on the foreheads of some sphinxes. I googled 'sphinx forehead asp' and found a little bit of info. If it is an asp it is because that sphinx was female, and the asp was the serpent of the Nile.

  5. just curious - is your acquaintance named Helen Kolodziejzyk?
    … but not this woman nor this Sphinx poser

    the Head of a sphinx of King Djedefre link you found seems to be the same one "passenger" references (although they used the French version and you kindly used the English option.)
    The nice thing about the Djedefre example is that it clearly shows the stylistic use of the cobra body across the top of the head/"plain linen nemes".
    Djedefre also illustrates that noses, ears, beards, nemes, Uraeus were all subject to damage… accidental, intentional and just time.
    Great Sphinx or Giza being an example. Giza
    seems in line with contemporaneous descriptions
    "reportertanya" (#6) had a good summary of the Uraeus used in the Lower, Upper & unified Nile Valley… vulture and/or cobra.

    found a couple of other items that may be of tangential interest:
    Bibliotheca Alexandrina
    the collection of information
    interesting images - #2
    see Uraeus depiction
    Lubitsch, 1922

    lastly, don't want to activate any latent curses, but Brian Griffin may be Thoth incarnate…
    Brian, entering the spirit world
    Brian in pose
    Thoth, Brian-esque
    Thoth backstory

    more serious Thoth:
    Thoth, 'He who cuts off the face of him who cuts off your face' British Museum