Monday, March 30, 2015

Answer: Discovering unusual perspectives

This week's Challenges are all about finding information from an unusual perspective.  

One of the biggest problems people have when searching for information is that they get locked into thinking about their search in one particular way.  By asking these questions, I'm trying to make the deeper point that sometimes you have to have a different point-of-view.  


Let's look at the Challenges:  

1.  I was in Los Angeles (CA) the other day, and I happened to notice something unusual attached to the back of each letter on the famous "Hollywood" sign.  Once you see it, of course they'd need to have this on the back of each letter--but I'd never though about it before.  What's on the backside of each of the letters? 

It's an interesting point-of-view problem.  Literally.

Google Earth won't give you this;  neither Streetview nor satellite view in Google Maps will do.  What else can you do?

When I thought about this, I immediately thought about Google Images.  "Surely someone has taken a recent picture of these letters... and almost certainly from the backside as well."

This is a bit of knowing that there's a sub-culture of people who love to take pictures of things they're forbidden from visiting.  (Witness all of the picture of people you love urban exploring.)

My query was simple:

     [ Hollywood sign back ]

And here's what I got:

From this vantage point you can see that there's a support structure (which you'd expect) and a set of ladders to climb up each letter (which I did NOT expect).  I assume they're for maintenance, but the point here is that everything has multiple points-of-view.  It's not hard to search for them, but you have to keep your mind curious and remember this.

2.  The aurora borealis  (or aurora australis) is one of the most amazing sights on the planet.  When you look at it, you see vast sheets of colored, translucent drapes moving across the sky.  In appearance, it's just colored lights--but when seen from above, what shape are the Northern (or Southern) Lights?  Can you find a picture that shows the overall, planet-wide shape of the aurora? 

We've all see these pictures of the aurora--they're gorgeous (and I hope to see them in person one day).  They're generated when the charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth's atmosphere, causing electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they create the glowing curtains of light we see as auroras.

But to figure out the pattern of the aurora on a planetary-scale, we have to find an image that's taken from WAY out in space.  

Here, my query on Google Images was: 

     [ deep space aurora ] 

but I ended up accidentally finding lots of science fiction images (who knew that "Deep Space" is the name of a science fiction television show AND a 1988 horror/science-fiction movie?).  

So I modified my query to pull up only reliable images: 

     [ deep space aurora ] 

this is our old friend site: being used to limit my results only to images. Even so, I had to look through a few images before finding this (click on the image to follow it back to NASA's web page): 

But notice that this isn't QUITE a picture of the aurora as it appears on Earth.  If you read the web page carefully, you'll find that this is a picture of the aurora in a composite image:  It wouldn't look like this from space without special filters, etc.  As the web page says:  "The IMAGE satellite captured this view of the aurora australis (southern lights) on September 11, 2005, four days after a record-setting solar flare sent plasma—an ionized gas of protons and electrons—flying towards the Earth. The ring of light that the solar storm generated over Antarctica glows green in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, shown in this image. The IMAGE observations of the aurora are overlaid onto NASA’s satellite-based Blue Marble image. From the Earth’s surface, the ring would appear as a curtain of light shimmering across the night sky."  

3.  We know that some plants move to follow the sun.  Can you find a video of a sunflower following the sun?  How about some other plant?  What do they do to follow the sun across the sky? 

This was a slightly trickier question.  Since I already knew the word for "sun following" (it's heliotropic) I used that to find a video of a sunflower in motion with the query: 

     [ heliotropic sunflower ] 

It's not hard to find them.  (But be careful--there are at least a couple of animations of sunflowers that look good, but are completely synthetic!  Careful what you accept as evidence.)  

As I looked through the videos, I learned from the Indiana Dept. of Biology website that many people are under the misconception that the flower heads of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) track the sun. When you see a field of cultivated sunflowers, the flower heads face in more-or-less the same direction. However, if you check out a field of sunflowers in the afternoon, it will be apparent that the flower heads are mostly facing east, where the sun rises each morning.  And if you look at them in the morning, they're still pointing east.  

Immature flower buds of the sunflower do exhibit solar tracking and on sunny days the buds will track the sun across the sky from east to west and by dawn the buds will have returned to face eastward, like the leaves in the movie above. 

So I modified my query to include: 

     [ immature sunflower heliotropic time lapse ] 

and found this video of immature sunflowers sun-tracking during the day. 

However, as the flower bud matures and blossoms, the stem stiffens and the flower becomes fixed facing the eastward direction. Flowers of the wild sunflowers seen on roadsides do not follow the sun and their flowering heads face many directions when mature. However, their leaves exhibit some solar tracking.

But that left me wondering:  What DOES a sunflower do during the day, if not tracking the sun?  

The query: 

     [ sunflower time lapse ] 

brought me the following very satisfying (and beautiful) video of a sunflower making small, fascinating movements during the day, but notably NOT tracking the sun! 

Unlike the sunflower flower, the flowers of some plant species track the sun across the sky from east to west. A good example of this is the alpine plant, the snow buttercup (Ranunculus adoneus).  Searching for a video for this lead me to this completely unexpected video of Arctic poppies following the sun during a full 24-day (when it never sets). 


Search lessons:  

These weren't hard Challenges, but they're great examples of the deeper point that we searchers sometimes need to take a somewhat different point of view... and that it's often useful to think about what other points of view (from the back, from space, from a time-lapse) would be helpful in answering our Challenge questions.  

Hope you enjoyed this one!  

As always, 

Search on! 


  1. Good Morning and great week, Dr. Russell.

    I enjoyed this challenge. Lots of fun, knowledge, videos and nature. How many amazing things offer Mother Earth to us and we don't about it.

    Thanks for commenting about urban exploring. I'll see what new things can I found. Immature Sunflowers is also new and very interesting.

    Finally, you said: "that it's often useful to think about what other points of view." That is true. I always thought or worst never thought about how Moon could be watched in other parts of the world. It was until last week when reading, learned that Moon looks different in Northern and Southern hemispheres.

  2. cheers all — atypical vantage points…
    new terms for me:
    automagically & auto-synthetic sequence… gets weedy quick — created by Otto Aüto
    Dan, thanks! for sharing, via Story, the Cozumel dive pics - wondered how that fit into Challenge…
    thought you might say a bit more about that process - hope you are going to do a similar thing with the D.c. outing… maybe even a Fred cameo? all auto generated? I need to read more… & G±PHotos
    liked the Bubble Algae and the blanco spotted filefish (was thinking Parrot at first…)
    that must be one of the lures of the deep… never knowing who or what awaits… seemed to be a 20,000 theme ;-)
    anyway, great pictures/nice dive - you are a milage guy, above, on and below the surface - sojourn on.

    was going to ask about seeing any evidence of Deepwater Horizon or other spills, but apparently not an issue?
    did run across a few related items that may be of interest:
    Lionfish… there's an app for that… at least in FL.
    off Jupiter
    Martin County, excellent detail
    led to the next link ⬇
    Bob the Drifter
    Drones at the Beach
    Ocean 180

    for Ramón & Rosemary - a bit of español use - what/where would we be looking at here?
    el Goo
    a panorama
    Reforma 115
    Ricardo appears in Dan's + comments on Cozumel, the circle of virtual life… MX City G Off - but what is the "agenda"?
    Ricardo Blanco interview & tour, ✔~4:50 in, seems like a fun guy/place - nice view high above MC
    "Mr. White" - (not Walter)

    1. Hello Remmij. Thanks for your links. Lot to see!

      Yes, Ricardo is great. It is always fantastic to be inform with his posts. I don't understand what you are asking for. Can you please make it clear? :)

      About "agenda" its like a things to do in a day. Not sure if this is what you are asking.

      [Mexico reforma street history]

      Paseo de la Reforma is the most important and beautiful avenue in the city. It’s also one of the most famous in the world.

      [historia paseo de la reforma]

      El Paseo de la Reforma
      Historia e imágenes. History and Images.

      Excélsior en la Historia: La metamorfosis de Paseo de la Reforma. "The metamorphosis of Paseo de la Reforma"

    2. thanks for the links Ramón - just thought the views of Google's office in Mexico City were interesting - as far as "agenda": was wondering if Ricardo was suggesting Goggle had one for Mexico… from his comment to Dan, on Dan's + page.
      Thought this was interesting - similar to Mexico City's Diana
      backstory on the Mexico City original - Baltimore Sun

  3. …coming to a beach near you…
    GuardBot - video
    reminiscent of…
    … seems familiar…Rover
    number six
    a peek
    Rover, 2.0
    topless robot
    North Bayshore - don't be regal
    E&G GJanus Ἰανός
    regards, #7,025,669,327… oh wait, the Borg are here… Goggle Scholar
    …discovering unusual perspectives