Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday search challenge (3/19/14): What's that thing on the horizon?

YESTERDAY  I mentioned the Verification Handbook, which has a section on "Verifying Images."  The key idea of that chapter is that we all, in our role as literate online researchers, need to learn a bit about photointerpretation.  That is, we need to learn how to look for clues in an image to figure out what it is we're seeing.

That's essentially today's Search Challenge--What is it that I'm looking at?  

Here's a picture I took on my bike ride this past Monday.  I was out for a ride in the hills, and just snapped an image.  But as I looked at it later, I wondered what exactly I was seeing... 

I've included the original (unedited) image at the end of this post, so you can download it and do whatever image processing you'd like.  (Zooming in will help a bit, but it's not going to be enough to get you the unequivocal answers.)  

I'll also spare you the hassle of looking up the lat/long from the image:  I was standing at 37.365861, -122.180174 

Here are the questions I had from looking at this image... 
1.  What is that white thing labeled as #1?  Can you find a nice video of this thing close up so we can REALLY see what it is?  
2.  See that line of trees labeled #2?  What kind of trees are they?  
3.  What's the name of that big mountain at #3?   

I won't surprise you to find out that you probably can't figure all of these out just by looking at the picture.  You'll actually have to do a little triangulation to figure out what all of these things are.  Triangulate away!  

As usual, please tell let us know what the answers to #1, #2, and #3 are... but just as importantly, HOW you found the answers.  What resources did you use?  What queries worked for you?  

I'm curious to see how everyone will solve this classic photointerpretation challenge.  

Search on! 

Here's the full-size unedited image.  Right click (control-click) to download for analysis.  


  1. ?? just tried to put 2 & 2 together and came up with 3.14159265359… hope it's close.
    (iPegman needs a compass…)
    Project M
    the straight story
    Mt. Diablo
    look forward to seeing how this should be properly determined…

    1. alterate building guess - tried to triangulate, but ended up wrapped in a irregular polygon (might have been a Nonagon)…
      "an inhuman fortress of cement"
      aka: El Dorado Building, 525 University Av..
      @ 3:33
      this also helped -
      Frank Austin Nothaft/flickr

  2. I entered the coordinates into Google Maps and then used the Google Earth plugin to lineup a view with the picture. Looking in the distance for the white object, I came upon the Stanford Dish. Searching for videos yields lots of different results. The one I liked the best was here (

    Next was trying to identify the trees. Using the Google Earth plugin again, I found what I thought looked to be the general area of trees and noticed that there is a lake, Felt Lake, nearby. I then searched for ["felt lake" AND tree*]. The second result, Arastradero Preserve, Palo Alto, looked promising ( Within that page, eucalyptus trees are mentioned. I did a new search ["felt lake" AND eucalyptus] to see if there were more sources to verify and indeed there was.

    For the last part, I again used Google Earth and saw the mountain peek in the distance. By simply clicking on the spot, Google Maps/Earth tells me that it is Mt. Diablo.

    Those are my initial answers. I'm fairly confident in #1 and #3, but I feel like there is a better way to verify the trees, so I am off to figure that out.

  3. 1. What is that white thing labeled as #1? Can you find a nice video of this thing close up so we can REALLY see what it is?

    2. See that line of trees labeled #2? What kind of trees are they?

    3. What's the name of that big mountain at #3?

    First off I ran the co=ordinates in Google Earth just to make sure there were no 'mistakes'. I landed in Foothills Park which seemed reasonable. I noticed that you were not the only person to have used a camera there. On the the third click up popped a dandy image by Andrey Kukushin in which he looked in exactly the same direction as you did. His image is much better than yours. Sorry Dan, just an observation. Clearly item 1 is a radio telescope dish. Search [radio telescope palo alto] tells me this is The Stanford Dish. Walkifornia has a nice video at ttps:// Time a few seconds

    2: Back to GE I find the trees and Street View lets me see they our old friends Eucalypts. A Few seconds.

    3: Your image is better for identifying Mt Diablo than the previously mentioned one. This via GE again. a minute or so to chug across the countryside to the mountain.

    Excellent topic.


  4. nicely done Casey & Unknown Jon! - very interesting video finds, wonder what happens when hawk meets drone?… but that's another search.
    Matt Abrams
    dish on the Dish
    SRI - see images 4 & 5 for "triangle/horn"
    feed horn
    tracking the moon, nice detail pic

  5. I'm trying to solve the challenge in a different way.

    At the beginning, thought about using Google Earth. However, in the machine that I'm working in these days, I can not run neither Google Earth nor its plug on Google Maps (only lite mode is available.)

    Then I read the answers on the blog.

    Until now, this is why I tried:

    Tried Google Maps with your coordinates and then right click "What is here" A: Coyote Trail, near Foot Hills Park.

    Tried Satellite view and moved Pegman around to watch images.

    Nothing that can solve the challenge at the moment. I'll keep trying. It is very interesting and I am sure there most be more ways to find the answers than the way Casey and Unkown Jon did. (well done, guys!)

    Thought [how far can a camera see] ? That is, how far can a camera can take picture. For what I learned today, in order to recognize a face you need at least 36 pixels.

    I'll be back.

  6. I am in the same predicament as Ramón in that today I don't have access to my desktop therefore I have Litemode Google Earth on my Android and no Google Earth on my Chromebook. I was frustrated enough that I dropped in to my local Mac store and I'm almost ready to order a MacBook Pro. As soon as I saw your image I thought about navigation so I would like to share a little bit.

    You've used the term "triangulation" and may also be known as "resection" (Search and Rescue). If we had only our compass and map we would determine your location by identifying preferably three distant landmarks. This is essentially what is referred to as Ground to Map orientation. The map would be topographical (elevations identified by contour lines) and preferably we would have an adjustable declination compass. You don't need three landmarks but you'll get better results.

    We would orient our map to the north using our declinated compass. That just means we would find true north by lining up the compass and map grid lines so our map & body are pointing to true north. Then we would get what's called back-bearings using the compass on the three landmarks. We've kept the map lined up with true north. We would draw lines on the map back towards us from each landmark and where they all intersect is your location. We then can identify our coordinates on the map and as well we can measure out the distance from us to each landmark using the grid lines on the map after verifying the map scale. Generally the maps will have 1 kilometer squares. Next if you want to get an idea how long would it take to travel that distance we would look at the topography, read the contour lines, and if experienced we'll know what our hourly pace is on flat, hilly or mountainous terrain.
    Now let's say you want to head to the white object. You would still take more than one bearing from a distance because some times the terrain isn't easily traveled. Rather than try to hit your object dead on you would take bearings of nearby landmarks either side of your destination. The chances of missing three landmarks is much less and it's easy to get new bearings as you travel.

    The nice thing is that even with all of today's technology we can still find our way with simple tools.

    I will now see what I can do with this challenge.

    1. Observations from the image in the meantime.
      Your elevation is 950 feet based on the Foothills Park brochure topographical map.
      Time of Day 5:00 pm - the sun appears to be behind slightly over left shoulder based on shadows cast on bushes/trees. I’m not 100% sure because of the lightness of the background above the mountain but if so you are facing North - North East.
      Flat terrain and rolling hills between you and the mountain which is at a much higher elevation.
      If you look at the shrubs in the forefront they look very dry and the nearby hills facing you look quite green which would suggest to me they are facing west getting sun in the later part of the day at its hottest. Further suggesting you are looking north east.
      Or maybe not, I’ll be interested in knowing.

    2. I went to Google Earth and found a photo that gave us a quick answer but I chose to ignor this photo because had it not been there I would need to know some skills to find the answer . Google Maps provides me with sufficient info. Now without the photo we don’t know for sure what direction you were facing except for speculations made earlier and using landmarks. From Google Maps I identify the area known as Arastradero Preserve[#1]

      Query [arastradero preserve observatory OR tower OR dish]

      The Dish [#2] “is a radio telescope is Stanford Research Institute. The cost to construct the telescope was $4.5 million, and was funded by the United States Air Force, with the original purpose of studying the chemical composition of the atmosphere. The Dish was used to communicate with satellites and spacecraft. At one point, the Dish transmitted signals to each of the Voyager craft that NASA dispatched into the outer reaches of the solar system. It has also been used to remotely recalibrate ailing satellites orbiting the Earth.”

      As well asThe "Dish" Radio Antenna Facility [#3] and we learn that when built it was the third largest of its kind.
      There are several videos by recreational users of the area. I found “Building of the SRI International Radio Antenna”[#4]but not a great video.(link below if needed)

      Next Query [arastradero preserve trees] Provides several sites that mention the Eucalyptus Tree and in the East Bay Trails:Hiking Trails in Alameda and Contra Costa by David Weintraub we find on page 67 reference to the area nearby referrred to as the Redtail Loop Trail. In Google Maps switching to satellite view we can see the trees parallel to the trail. According to the book most of the eucalyptus trees were planted in 1910 by People’s Water Company (East Bay Water Company).

      Again using Google Maps we can line up the image using the Dish and the higher elevation to determine the third landmark is Mount Diablo. To confirm we can view several hikers photos. Here’s a site [#6]by hikers in “the dish” area with a photo of Mt. Diablo in the background. And another hiker’s photo collection showing “The Dish” to Mt. Diablo [#7]

      I just saw you posted an update and I have more comments somewhat related that I'll post.

  7. It certainly helps to have someone working on this with you who grew up in the area. Anne immediately knew where the picture was taken and said that it Mt. Diablo in the background. We did go to google maps to verify. The structure threw us. When we zoomed in the "structure" looked rectangular to us, so even though Anne's first guess was the Stanford dish after looking at images of the Stanford dish it didn't appear to be the same. So we looked for other large structures in the area. When we looked at Google maps we came up with SLAC, the national accelerator lab. We found videos that showed the SLAC building. But today when we saw Dan's zoomed in image it appears that it is the Stanford dish. Found this interesting video from Walkifornia - Stanford Dish, Walking, Running, Hiking...
    For the trees, Anne was sure they were oak trees. We zoomed in on the area in google maps and used pegman. Anne was sure they were oak trees. We did a search for California foothills oak trees and got this site in the results:
    It is from the U of CA and describes oak woodland management. We have narrowed it down to a few different varieties: blue, valley or coastal.

  8. Being in Australia and totally unfamiliar with the area, I used Google Maps to find all three. I started by entering the co-ords and found my bearing by matching the foreground features to to the photo. I then used the tilt view to find the features. If I was to locate videos, I likely would have been lazy and linked them straight to YouTube. All of this whilst logged in with my Google account. So there's your monopoly.