Monday, May 5, 2014

Answer: Horses

Well... THAT was a busy week!  

As I mentioned, I was in Toronto for the annual Computer-Human Interaction conference where I ran a workshop on "Learning Innovation at Scale" and presented a poster on some data I analyzed from the MOOC.  

It was fun, but I was traveling back home on Friday.  Now it's time to get back to SearchResearch.  


As you figured out, this Challenge is really about recognizing that some things, especially things like measurements, change with time.  

The first Challenge is basically all about realizing this (and using what we learned a couple of weeks ago about searching through archival newspapers). 
1.  What was the price of a horse in 1918 in the United States?  In particular, can you find an advertisement in a newspaper printed in 1918 for a horse that would measure 2 meters high? How much would such a horse cost?   

This is a bit tricky, as you have to have the insight that horse height isn't measured in meters, but in hands.  

Take note:  You might have noticed that something was fishy when doing your first searches for horse that are 2 meters high.  You'll get results that are recent, but if you're searching in archival news content, there's nothing there.  Or at least, there's nothing that's useful.  

When you notice this, you should back up one step and ask yourself, "What is it that could be different between now and 1918?"  Horses were still called horses, so the only thing that's left to check is the measurement. A quick search for: 

     [ horse measurement ] 

tells us that in the English-speaking world horse height is measured  in hands and inches (one hand is equal to 4 inches, or 101.6 mm). The height is expressed as the number of full hands, followed by a point, then the number of additional inches, and ending with the abbreviation "h" or "hh" (for "hands high"). A horse that's described as "15.2 h" is 15 hands plus 2 inches, for a total of 62 inches (157.5 cm) in height.

The easiest way to convert the meters into hands would be to do a Google search for: 

     [ 2 meters in hands ] 

which gives us 19.68 hands = 2 meters.  

So in our archival news search, we'd be looking for something like: 

     [ 1918 horse sale 19..20 hands 

where the 19..21 indicates a number range from 19 to 20.  

This is a great idea, but unfortunately, this doesn't give us much.  Even doing this search inside of (the archive collection) and doesn't yield much.  

I couldn't believe that all those archival newspapers didn't have ANYTHING about tall horses, so I revised my strategy to search the Google Newspaper Archives for: 

     [ 1918 horse sale "20 hands" ]   -- this gave me nothing 
     [ 1918 horse sale "19 hands" ]   -- this gave me nothing 
     [ 1918 horse sale "18 hands" ]   -- this gave me nothing 
     [ 1918 horse sale "17 hands" ]   -- FINALLY.. a hit.  

The result is from the Gettysburg Times, April 27, 1918.  (Why did I do it this way?  Because the number range operator doesn't seem to be working in newspaper archives... Sigh.)  

If you read the text carefully, you'll see this horse isn't exactly "for sale," but his stud services are for sale.  ("All accidents at the owner's risk.")  

However, the text of the ad goes on to say that horses of this kind (a Percheron) have been sold in Pennsylvania (Franklin County) for around $250.  

Of course horse prices can vary tremendously, but from other items I found, the middle of the price distribution seems to be $200 - $500, with really high-class horses fetching higher prices, going up into the thousands.  

One of the things I learned in the process is that there didn't seem to BE any 19 or 20 hh horses in 1918.  It was a complicated time--World War 1 was still heavily influencing horse markets, and the US was undergoing a horse shortage (remember, in 1918, horses were still often used for farming).  But despite all of that, a 20 hh horse didn't seem to exist!  So we had to make do with what was there--17 hh horses.  

On to the next question, and yet another "archaic measurements" question.
2.  What's the oldest horse racing course you can find that's around 5,800 feet in length?  (The course may-or-may-not be in the US.)   

As you probably remember, horse races are often measured in furlongs.  (Again, you can see this by doing a query for [ horse racing distance ] and noticing all of the uses of the word "furlong" in the descriptions.)  

So we need to convert 5800 feet to furlongs (a furlong is 1/8th of a mile, or 660 feet): 

     [ 5800 feet to furlongs ] 

and find that it's 8.7 furlongs.  This means we need to search for old racing sites that are around 8 to 9 furlongs in length. 

But let's find the oldest racing track first.  The obvious search: 

     [ oldest racecourse ] 

(using the specialty term "racecourse" for horse racing) leads us to the Doncaster racecourse and the Chester racecourse.  Both date to the 1600's, with Chester making a claim as being the oldest racecourse in the world.   There are older tracks, such as those in Italy that date back to the Romans, but these have been in constant use for the past 400 years.  

If you look the the lengths of each, you'll find that the Doncaster course is 2 miles, while the Chester course is 1 mile AND 1 furlong, which is 5280 feet + 660 feet, which is pretty close to 5,800.  


I learned something here.  While racecourses are often measured in furlongs, in English-speaking parts of the world, they're often shown in mixed units.  (Such as "6 feet, 3 inches" or "1 gallon and 2 cups.")  

3.  What's the horse breed with a kind of gait that's particular to only that breed?  

A "gait" is the way a horse moves its feet--canter, trot, gallop--those are all patterns of footfalls that are particular gaits, and they're shared among all horses.  

So how to find a gait that's used by only one horse breed? 

     [ horse gait "only one" ] 

is what I did.  I read about Peruvian Pasos, and Tennessee Walking horse gaits.  There's no great solution for this kind of search problem other than to read a bit, and learn about your topic area in the process.  

As I read, I noticed that all of my results were about something other than "gaits," so I needed to focus my search a bit.  This is the kind of thing that calls for the use of AROUND, like this: 

     [ horse "only one breed" AROUND (4) gait ] 

here I'm searching for the phrase "only one breed" within 4 words of the term "gait."  

This quickly led me to discover that Icelandic horses are the only breed that can do the tölt gait.  It's a four-beat lateral ambling gait known that is particular only to Icelandic horses.  It's also apparently great for covering a lot of ground in a smooth, easy-to-ride fashion. 

 Here's a short video that gives you the idea.  

Search lessons:   

There are many here.  

1.  Sometimes the thing you're searching for isn't there.  Yes, we wanted a 20 hh horse, but the best I could find was a 17 hh horse (which is still a pretty tall horse--1.7m, or 5.5 feet at the withers).  
"Nice searching, SearchResearchers!"

2.  When an operator isn't working, use a word-around.  Sorry that the number-range trick doesn't seem to work in Newspaper archives, but the range from 20 - 17 isn't that long.  I was able to do the search and find what I needed quickly.  

3.  Revise your query based on what you're finding.  In this case, the "only one" boilerplate phrase wasn't working all that well, but using it in conjunction with AROUND works well to localize the meaning to something about gaits.  

4.  Watch out for anachronistic measures.  Horses aren't measured in meters, but in hands.  Racecourses, meanwhile, or measuring in furlongs AND miles.  Beware of mixed measures, which are always tough to search for! 

This was a difficult week's challenge.  We'll take it slightly easier this week with something that's easy to find, but fun and exotic.  

Search on! 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dr. Russell. I liked the challenge very much.

    It was hard as you say and with lots of teachings. I honestly didn't have a clue about how to answer question 1.

    Other 2 were easier. The issue is that when 2 or more answers can be the correct one; sometimes, I have problems selecting the correct. For example, in question 3, I chose Tennessee. What I read said they are known for that unique Gait. My second choice was Icelandic due to they 2 extra gaits.

    I learned a lot and that is what matters. Thanks Dr. Russell for the Challenge and for the post about A great read about SearchResearch methods looks very interesting. Thanks also to my peers and specially to Fred who helped me to understand question 2.

    Happy Teachers Appreciation Day, Dr. Russell. We are lucky and blessed to have you with us.