Monday, May 30, 2016

Answer: What's in common?


Although I thought that this week's Challenge would be difficult, it turned out to be fairly simple and straightforward.  

Here's what I did (obviously only AFTER I wrote the Challenge)... 

1.  Over the past 150 years there have been a huge number of floods in North America.  But what do THESE floods have in common? 

     a. May 16, 1874, Mill River flood of Williamsburg, Massachusetts
     b. March 12, 1928, Castaic Junction flood, California
     c. August 4, 2014, Polley Lake flood, British Columbia 

Answer:  If you do the searches on each of these floods, a fairly obvious connection should leap out at you... 

     [ Mill River Flood Williamsburg 1874 ] 
     [ Castaic Junction flood California 1928 ] 
     [ Polley Lake flood British Columbia 2014 ] 

They're all floods that have been caused by dam failures.   This wasn't that hard to discover--the unusual phrases "dam failure" or "dam disaster" or "dam break" appears in all of the first several hits for each flood.  Here's a set of sample side-by-side articles.  You can't help but notice that a dam appears at the center of each disaster, be it from 1874 or 2014.  Dams still have the potential for catastrophic failure.   

Three results side-by-side for comparison purposes.
Note that I did NOT include the exact date of each flood (such as "May 16") in the queries.  Why not?  Because I was worried about inexact reporting, or about the floods being spread over multiple days.  Since the floods would be fairly dramatic, I didn't want to overlimit the results by including the specific date.  

Notice that I'm showing you 3 results side-by-side in the above image.  If the common features were more subtle and difficult to find, showing all three results in side-by-side browser windows is often a great method for seeing commonalities.  That's what I did in this case, as seen below: 

This is a powerful argument for having a monitor (or monitors) large enough to let you do that.  (I have two monitors--one is 1900X1000 and other is 1600X1000... which is a reasonably priced pair of displays.)  

Okay.. that was easy... what about the flowers?  

2.  What do these flowers all have in common? 

Answer:  I had expected this to be more difficult than it was.  I was going to talk at length about how to find commonalities between different items... but just doing the search for: 

     [ bougainvillea dogwood poinsettia ] 

brings out some great results, all of which point out that each of these flowers have large, prominent bracts (if you [ define bract ] you'll learn that a bract is usually differ in shape or color from leaves and flowers. Leaves may be anywhere along the stem while bracts are generally located on a stem just below a flower, a flower stalk, or an inflorescence.  They're also often more brightly colored than the true flower's petals, not always, but when they are, they can be confused for petals.  

That was fairly quick and easy.  

I hadn't thought that there would be article anticipating my Challenge!  Yes, each of these "flowers" is actually a tiny flower surrounded by large, brightly colored bracts.  The "petals" of the bougainvillea are really bracts!

This leads to today's.... 

Search Lessons:  

1.  Sometimes you can find things that other people have already worked out!  The floods shared the "dam" cause, and that was pretty easy to find.  In the case of the bracts, someone else had already written about this.  So I'll have to do another SRS Challenge to probe this basic search skills. 

2.  Leaving out super-precise details is often a good strategy.  As you saw above, I left out the exact date of each dam disaster, hoping to avoid adding in TOO much detail (which might be spurious, especially for events that happen over the long period of time).  Of course, if I hadn't found anything, I would have added the dates back in... But I start my searches broadly, and add in nitpicky details when required.  

3.  When comparing different versions of something, a large monitor (MORE displays!) is often really handy for doing side-by-side comparisons.  When you see things side-by-side, it reduces your cognitive load, and will let you see things that are otherwise tough to see.  If you don't have a large monitor, try one for a while and see how it changes the way you work.  You might it really useful.  

Teachers Notes

As you can see, it's really pretty hard to predict how hard (or easy!) a search Challenge might be.  When you create assignments, be sure to solve them yourself ahead of time to see if things really are the way you believe they are.  I've been doing this kind of Challenge writing for years, and I STILL can't predict how easy, difficult, closed or open-ended these things might be.  Check your assignments first!  

Search on! 

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