Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Answer: How much is a cappuccino at the cafe near here?

You might recognize the place... 

Most of this week's Challenge wasn't too hard--but the last Challenge question is tough.  Let's jump into it.  

This pic from last year brought forth a couple of Challenges for you:  

1. Where am I standing in this photo?  

For some reason, I thought the partially obscured view would make image identification difficult--but I was totally wrong.  If you just do a simple Search by Image, you'll find that this are the results you see: 

 I did this by saving the image to a file, then uploading that file into, which produced several lovely images (including my own).  A quick scan of the results tells you that this was taken at St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di Marco).  With just a bit more poking around, you'll find that the brick tower in the background is St Mark's Campanile (Italian: Campanile di San Marco, Venetian: Canpanièl de San Marco), and the statue of the horses is the Quadriga di San Marco--although the one behind me is a copy of the original, which is housed in the museum. 
Here's a pic with an arrow pointing to where I'm standing.  Yes, I'm on the roof (but that's okay!).  

2. Can you tell me how much a cappuccino costs at that famous nearby cafe at the moment?  (Extra credit: Why is this particular cafe so famous?)  

What's the famous cafe?  The obvious query works well: 

     [ famous cafe piazza san marco ] 

 How much is a cappuccino there?  

Initially, my query was [ menu Caffe Florian ] -- but that proved to be ambiguous.  (You know how many cafes are called "Caffe Florian"?)  So I added in the location: 

     [ menu caffee florian venice ] 

Which led me to the Caffè Florian website.  If you download the PDF, you'll see on page 27: 

For the "why is this cafe famous?" Challenge, I tried the obvious Google query:  

     [ why is the Caffe Florian famous? ] 

which led me back to the Caffè Florian's website.  Of course, you have to take what they write about themselves with a grain of salt--they're heavily motivated to have a large claim to fame.  But in fact, the website is fairly history-free--certainly no exaggerated claims.  The Wikipedia page on Caffè Florian gives a good deal more background.

There are many reasons for the cafe to be famous, but in its early days, the Caffè was patronised by many celebrities of the time, including the playwright Carlo Goldoni, Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, Goethe and Casanova... who was no doubt attracted by the fact that Caffè Florian was the only coffee house that allowed women. 

The cafe is also famous for Casanova's late night stop on Oct 31, 1756... the night that Giacomo Casanova broke out of prison, but before fleeing into the dark, he stopped for a quick cup of coffee.  Of course.   

3. Can you tell me how much a cappuccino would have cost at that cafe in 1955?  (For extra credit, can you determine why I'm asking about 1955?)  

It turns out that THIS is a difficult Challenge.  I've tried all kinds of things--looking for old menus, searching the Internet Archive, looking in old books for mentions of buying a cappuccino in 1955 Venice--but no dice.  At least not so far!  I'm widening the Challenge just a bit to see if we can't figure out the cost of a coffee in Venice in the 1950s--but even that is proving difficult.  Apparently, the price of a coffee / espresso / cappuccino was so obvious that it didn't need writing down!  

But take heart--I have some leads.  This little tidbit of info is just harder to find than most.  I'll be back in a few days with an update on this Challenge.  

Meanwhile... the extra credit question is pretty straightforward.  The query:  

     [ Caffe Florian 1955 ] 

leads to several hits, but perhaps the most interesting is the discovery that the book The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is set in Venice and has scenes in Caffe Florian, was published in 1955.  What's more, the movie Summertime, starring Katherine Hepburn, also came out in 1955--again, with scenes set in Caffe Florian.  Here's the trailer for that movie--see if you can spot the Piazza San Marco and a coffee shop there...  

I'll summarize our lessons next time.  But until then... Keep searching! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

SearchResearch Challenge (5/8/24): How much is a cappuccino at the cafe near here?

 This is me, somewhere in the world... 

If you've been here, it's easy to recognize where I'm standing--but if you haven't been in this slightly unusual spot, it'll take a bit of SRS magic to figure it out. 

In the next photo taken on the camera, I'm drinking a cappuccino with my daughter at the most famous cafe near where this image was taken. 

This fun memory from last year brings forth a couple of Challenges for you:  

1. Where am I standing in this photo?  

2. Can you tell me how much a cappuccino costs at that famous nearby cafe at the moment?  (Extra credit: Why is this particular cafe so famous?)  

3. Can you tell me how much a cappuccino would have cost at that cafe in 1955?  (For extra credit, can you determine why I'm asking about 1955?)  

I suspect there are new ways to find out the answers to these Challenges, which is why I'm posting them here.  Tune in next week for my solution to these questions. 

But when YOU find the answer, let us know how you did it!  

Keep searching.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

SearchResearch is taking a week off!

 Every so often... 

... one needs a break.  So this week, I'm off in Hawai'i enjoying a dive trip with a few friends.  Here are a couple of photos of my piscine friends... 

Back next week.  

Keep searching.  (I will leave it to you to identify the kinds of fish shown in the photos.) 

Not a fish, but roll with it.  What makes those electric blue pentagonal patterns?

Friday, April 26, 2024

Answer: Consider the alternative?

 Most animals have a left- and a right-side...  

P/C. OpenAI [create a grid of diverse animal noses including human, dog, cat, gorilla, etc. ]

... nose... that is, we're (mostly) bilaterally symmetric, even to the level of the nasal passages.  I have two kidneys, two eyes, two nostrils, etc.  (Yes, I know--one heart, one stomach, one intestine... those are special cases.  But even your brain comes in two halves.)    

But when I noticed that I seem to switch from my left to my right nostrils, it caused me to wonder a bit about this bilaterality.  If I really DO switch nostrils during the day, what else might I switch from left to right?  Do my kidneys work differently at different times of the day?    

Let's turn this into a SearchResearch Challenge for this week: 

1. Is my nose just weird, or do people really have a slow change in breathing from side-to-side over the course of the day?  

I was really unsure about where to start, so I did the first search I thought of: 

     [ switch nostrils breathing during the day ] 

which led me to an article in Live Science ("Why don't we breathe equally out of both nostrils?")  that told me "..The dominant nostril switches throughout the day. This is called the nasal cycle.." 

That's an interesting phrase, nasal cycle.  Live Science tells us that people tend to breathe out of one side, then switch to the other.  That article points to a paper in PLOS One (a respected journal), "Measuring and Characterizing the Human Nasal Cycle."  That paper in turn tells us that "Nasal airflow is greater in one nostril than in the other because of transient asymmetric nasal passage obstruction by erectile tissue. The extent of obstruction alternates across nostrils with periodicity referred to as the nasal cycle."  

Fascinating.  Who knew that we have small patches of erectile tissue in our noses that alternate the side of breathing.  

A quick search in Google Scholar for [ nasal cycling ] leads to a bunch of papers, including this one in the journal Rhinology ("The nasal cycle: a comprehensive review") In that paper, we read "... It is based on the dilation/constriction of the venous cavernous tissue in the submucosa of the turbinates and septum, but also of the ethmoid sinuses. It is accepted that almost 70-80% of adults experience a regular
nasal cycle, but a true periodicity/reciprocity exists only in 21-39% of the population."  

Even more details--most people have nasal cycling, but a strong nasal cycling seems to be present in around a quarter of all people, although it's a little unclear why this happens.  It's a complicated mechanism--what's the evolutionary advantage?  My friend Rehan Khan sent me an article that he co-authored in Nature (1999).  That paper, "The world smells different to each nostril" suggests that the reason for switching the sides of your nose is that each nostril has a somewhat different set of receptors--so switching gives a better, higher-quality perception of what's going on in the environment. "..we show that this difference in airflow between the nostrils causes each nostril to be optimally sensitized to different odorants, so that each nostril conveys a slightly different olfactory image to the brain."  

In any case, this look like a real effect.  And now we picked up some terminology for the alternation--this should help us with the next Challenge.    

2. What other kinds of behaviors might happen for a while on one side of the body, and then switch to the other side of the body?  (Think outside the body: What about non-humans?  Do they have these odd behaviors?) 

I started with this query: 

     [ alternating cycles in humans  ] 

I didn't know if I'd find anything or if I'd just get some ideas to pursue.  

The results mostly did the latter, and suggested a couple of bilaterally symmetric systems to check--e.g., ovaries, kidneys, brain hemispheres, eyes, ears, etc.  But the results weren't incredibly specific.  So, I had to try each system in turn: 

     [ ovaries alternating cycles ] [ kidney alternating cycles ] etc... 

The first query (about ovaries) led me into a rabbit hole where search led to some results that indicated that humans DO ovulate alternatively on the left one month, and then on the right the next month.  This was apparently believed for quite a while (largely because it seems like common sense, and detecting the side of ovulation takes some pretty high resolution ultrasounds.  But once that visualization technology became available, it wasn't long until a decent sample size was reached, and it was discovered that NO.. in fact women ovulate or more less randomly (wrt left vs. right)!  I found this paper through my searches: "Side of ovulation and cycle characteristics in normally fertile women" published in the journal, Human Reproduction in April, 2000.  

On the other hand, searching for alternating phases of kidneys, testes, eyes, and ears all led nowhere.  I wasn't able to find ANYTHING to suggest that there are interesting alternations of perception or production.  

BUT, when I searched for :

     [ brain hemisphere alternating cycles ] 

I found (way down on page 2) a mention of hemispheres alternating in sleep patterns for marine mammals and certain birds!  

The paper "Unihemispheric sleep and asymmetrical sleep: behavioral, neurophysiological, and functional perspectives"  (in the journal, Nature and Science of Sleep) tells us that "... certain marine mammals and species of birds show a different sleep behavior, in which one cerebral hemisphere sleeps while the other is awake. In dolphins, eared seals, and manatees, unihemispheric sleep allows them to have the benefits of sleep, breathing, thermoregulation, and vigilance. In birds, antipredation vigilance is the main function of unihemispheric sleep.."  

Even more details:  ".... In some aquatic mammals, sleep and wakefulness periods alternate between the hemispheres, and it is the only way of sleeping. In other animals (seals and birds), unihemispheric sleep is a transitory sleep event intermingled with bilateral sleep." 

I checked multiple sources (naturally), and found lots of corroboration--those marine mammals listed DO sleep just one side at a time.  Remarkable.  I hope to see a semi-sleeping dolphin one day while out diving in the sea.  

SearchResearch Lessons 

1. Count on your friends.  Shortly after I wrote my SRS Challenge, Rehan wrote to say that he just happened to have published a paper on this topic.  It's a wonderful paper, well worth the read.  And it both confirmed that smelling alternates sides AND that there's a reason for the effect.  

2. Search for leads, not just answers.  It's often the case that when searching you'll learn something along the way that's useful in your later searching.  That's what happened when I did a search for [ alternating cycles in humans ] and found some suggestions that I was able to follow up and find gold.  Sometimes the path to an answer is another step away... and you need to find the terminological bridge to get there.  

3. Sometimes you just have to check each category.  When I did my search for alternating cycles of ovaries, kidneys, etc., I did so because I couldn't come up with a single search term what would capture the idea of "bilateral pairs of organs in human bodies."  It would have simplified my search if I had, but I couldn't find one.  So... I had to check each by hand, hoping that would work.  And it did!  

Hope you had as much fun as I did in searching for the answers.

Keep searching! 


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

SearchResearch Challenge (4/17/24): Consider the alternative?

"Strange."  I thought... 

P/C. OpenAI [create a grid of diverse animal noses including human, dog, cat, gorilla, etc. ]

... early this morning, I noticed that my left nostril was slightly congested.  Now, a couple of hours later, I noticed that my right nostril is slightly congested.  

Is this just a peculiarity of people who do SearchResearch?  Or is it a real phenomenon?  Is this all just in my head?  

Let's turn this into a SearchResearch Challenge for this week: 

1. Is my nose just weird, or do people really have a slow change in breathing from side-to-side over the course of the day?  

2. What other kinds of behaviors might happen for a while on one side of the body, and then switch to the other side of the body?  (Think outside the body: What about non-humans?  Do they have these odd behaviors?) 

Of course, the real question is how on Earth do you search for something like this?    Any good ideas?  Of course, you'll fact-check what you find... 

Let us know what you find out.. and how you discovered it! 

Keep searching! 


Friday, April 12, 2024

Gemini has serious hallucinations (at least when you ask about composers!)

 Asking an LLM for facts isn't great... 

P/C Midjourney. Prompt: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin sitting at a
coffee table with a musical score in the background.

Remember our Challenge from March 28...when we looked for names of composers that had associated movements, societies, or foundations?  

The easy example is Richard Wagner.  Immensely famous in his lifetime, his legacy gave rise to the adjective Wagnerian, to describe fans who are enthralled with his work.  Gustav Mahler, for instance, has been called a Wagnerian for the kind of music he composed.  

There are also many Wagner societies and clubs.  There's a Wagner society in Northern California, another in London, etc etc.  

In that Challenge, I was curious how we might use Google search AND the power of LLMs to help answer this question.  

After I wrote up the SRS Answer for that Challenge, I had a sudden brainwave.  Why not make a big spreadsheet of all the composers I could find, and then ask an LLM to tell me, for each of these composers, is there a society, club, or foundation associated with their name?  

After an easy search on Wikipedia, I found a long list (4962 composers!) of musicians and composers.  It was simple to pull that into a spreadsheet.  Here are the first few rows... 

And then, I looked for a Google Sheets extension that would connect me to ChatGPT.  (That's an obvious search, and was straightforward to install the extension. I used GPT for Sheets and Docs.) Just for completeness, I did the same thing to find a sheets extension for Gemini (AI Assist for Gemini).

Then, for both sheets, I wrote a prompt in Column B like this: 

=GPT("does this " & A26 & " have a society or foundation to promote their music? Please give a short answer that includes the name of the society or foundation and give a URL to the website if possible")

 That's a pretty straightforward way to ask ChatGPT a bunch of similar questions.  Here are the top few rows of results: 

Note that the first ChatGPT reply is a bit odd ("Michel van der Aa is not a composer.  He is a Dutch composer..."  -- so which is it?)  

Column B is ChatGPT's reply to the prompt.  

Of the 4962 composers/musicians, ChatGPT responded affirmatively for 1214 of them.  I wrote a little function to extract the URL from each of the responses that had a link to the composers website, and I found that about half of them were actually valid sites--632 of them worked.  That's not great, but it was a lot better than what I could do by hand.  


I did exactly the same thing with Gemini (using the Gemini Sheets extension), but got a VERY different answer.  Here's the top of that spreadsheet.  Notice anything different? 

Gemini's replies

Yeah.  Gemini thinks everyone has a foundation and a website. 

What's strange is that it's like that for most of the rest of the spreadsheet.  Gemini found that 75% of the composers listed in the sheet had a society or foundation to promote their music.  I checked around 150 of them--they're all bogus.  

After spending a bunch of time checking the results, I decided to try and just vet the URLs that Gemini suggested.  

Instead of testing every one of these URLs by hand, I wrote a function to extract them, and then did a simple WHOIS (to check and see if they were actually valid domains).  No surprise, virtually none of them were valid. 

But look at the very first result:  It turns out that Michel van der Aa DOES have a foundation, but it's called DoubleA Foundation, and its URL is  The URL that Gemini gives above ( is not a valid website.  This is purely hallucinated.   

This is true for the next several thousand URLs that Gemini "found" for us.  The URLs look convincing, but they're just plausible looking junk.  



It's interesting that ChatGPT missed the DoubleA Foundation of Michel van der Aa, AND it hallucinated about 50% of the positive hits.  Still... I was able to learn some useful things.  

But ChatGPT is very picky about the prompt.  In an earlier version of the spreadsheet I asked with the prompt 

"Is there a musical society for the music of <musician>?"  

In the case of musician Gamal Abdel-Rahim, ChatGPT said "No, there's no such society."  

But when I asked with a slightly different prompt: 

"does <musician> have a society or foundation to promote their music? Please give a short answer that includes the name of the society or foundation and give a URL to the website if possible"

The answer completely flipped to "Yes, Gamal Abdel-Rahim does have a society dedicated to promoting his music..."  

That's no especially handy but it does show how sensitive these things are.  

On the other hand, Gemini hallucinated thousands of results and just made-up thousands of URLs, nearly all of which have invalid domain names.  (And it ALSO missed the DoubleA Foundation!)  

Looking on the bright side, ChatGPT at least found a few hundred valid composer/musician societies AND legit links to websites describing them.  I actually found the GPT results to be useful, if slightly buried.  

But after wading through a few hundred totally bogus results from Gemini, I got discouraged.  So much nonsense made up so fast.  


Don't trust ANY LLM for accurate answers to prompts that involve actual people. You really can't trust the results.  

And in particular, don't count on Gemini until they really improve their game.  If accuracy counts, think of another way to do this.  

Keep searching.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Answer: Solar eclipses and shadows?

The eclipse of April 8, 2024... 

... was seen by millions.  And if you were lucky enough to see it, you almost certainly know the answers to this week's Challenge.    

The shadows we see every day are round things.  The Challenge was why, and now we have some clues.    

1. Why ARE the dapples of sunlight round in shape?  Why isn't the shape of the sunlight exactly like the shape of the hole in the tree canopy?  Related: Why are only the small patches of light round while the bigger ones are other shapes?  Super related: Will the round sun patches change shape during the eclipse? 

I started with a statement of the Challenge: 

     [ why are dapples of sunlight round ] 

which led me to a blog post about dappled light effects (Gurney Journey) about the effects of dappling light in artwork, which led me to Edward Tufte's article about visualization, which led me to M. G. J. Minnaert's brilliant book Light and Color in the Outdoors.  In there, we find this page: 

The text goes on to say that at a large enough distance, the gaps in the tree foliage act as pinhole cameras, creating images of the disk of the sun on the ground.  THAT's why most of the dapples we see are round--they're little suns projected onto the surface of the earth.  (Keep reading to learn why some of the dapples are other shapes.)  

To pursue the second question about the changes in shapes of the dapples during the eclipse, SRS Regular Reader Ramón searched for this:   

     [tree canopy eclipse light shape]

which led him to this article about the Mystery of the Crescent Shadows, with a nice explanation of why eclipses will produce crescent-shaped shadows.  

Regular Reader remmij contributed this wonderful YT video about why solar eclipses make those crescent (with some nice animation in the middle). 

This change becomes clear when you see photos of the dapples taken during the eclipse: 

25% covered. Pacman-like.

Very near totality

Note that the "pinhole" (or leafy equivalent) has to be far enough away from the surface to have a focusing effect.  If the non-circular "pinhole" is near enough to the focus plane, it will project the shape of the hole, and not have any focusing effect.  Example:  

Triangle aperture in my "pinhole" projection.
Distance from hole to surface, about 4" (10cm)

But when you move the triangular "pinhole" farther away from the surface, the dapple becomes circular. 
The projection throw is about 2 meters.

As it turns out, I was in Austin, TX with some friends to see the eclipse.  The weather was cloudy, but everything worked out, more-or-less, with clouds sometimes parting enough for us to see the eclipse happening.  I did't have any fancy photo gear, but I got  a couple of okay shots with my iPhone 17--here's my best from the day.

Totality, with some cloud cover (and Texas telephone wires)

2. What other solar light phenomena should I be looking for?  Are there any other extraordinary shadow and light things I should be looking for?  

My query was: 

     [ other phenomena associated with eclipse ] 

which easily led to a bunch of other effects, some of which I expected (the temperature drops), and several of which I did NOT expect.  One of the ones I didn't expect was the 360-degree sunset, brighter towards the north and south, which are outside the path of totality. Apparently, darkening happens first to the west and as the eclipse progresses, the darkening moves to the east as the Moon's shadow rushes over you.  

Regular Readers provided some additional ideas:  Almaden Mike pointed out that "There are optical phenomena such as Bailey's Beads, the Diamond Ring and shadow bands, which are described here [on]."

Shadow bands!  What are those?  I haven't heard about them before either.  

RR Mark said that shadow bands are "are kind of a cherry on the top of the whole eclipse dessert experience" explaining that "When the first tiny bit of sunlight appears at the end of the eclipse, all the photons from the sun are aligned. This provides something of a free 'Schlieren Optics' setup, that makes the pressure of the wind visible. So the bands are letting you see the 'wavelength', of the speed of wind in the air. Very cool to see the invisible, made visible."  

Remmij pointed to an article at Shore & Islands, with a nice pic of the shadow bands.  

My quick search for [ shadow bands ] led to this really nice article on  (Shadow bands are a solar eclipse mystery), including a great video by Destin ("Smarter Every Day") about how to photograph the bands.    (Update: Here's a excited video of shadow bands from the April 8th eclipse. Worth the 1 minute watch time.)  

What a marvelous physical phenomenon!  Moar eclipses, please!   

SearchResearch Lessons

There was SO MUCH written about the eclipse that this wasn't a difficult Challenge.  (It's good to have them every so often as well.)  But I did want to point out: 

1.  Notice the things you don't know about. Good searching involves reading and understanding... and picking up on the things that are new to you.  In this case, there was SO MUCH written about the eclipse, that there was a hyper-abundance of content.  As I scanned the material, every so often I'd notice something that I didn't know about (like, Shadow Bands, or the 360-degree sunset).  

Keep searching!  

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

SearchResearch Challenge (4/3/24): Solar eclipses and shadows?

 I'm sure you've noticed... 

... that when you're walking through a group of trees, they cast shadows on the ground, dappling the surface with a lovely pattern of light and shadow.  

When I look up into the trees, I can see where the sunlight is coming from, and I'm struck by something: Why are some of the spots of light round when what I see in the trees is not round?  

Here's another view of light through trees: 

See those gaps?  The patches of light projected onto the forest floor are shaped like the openings in the tree canopy... mostly.  

But when the holes are small, the projected light is always circular.  In the image above, you can see that the large patches of light are soft rectangles, irregular blobs, and triangles with fuzzy edges.  When I look up into the tree, I see those rectangles, triangles, and irregular gaps in the tree cover.  

But when the hole is small, it always creates a small circular pool of light.  


That's our Challenge for this week.  Since there's a solar eclipse that's passing over the center of North America on Monday, April 8, I thought I should understand why the shadows are like that. 

Path of eclipse on April 8, 2024. P/C NASA.
I will be standing at the tip of the red arrow on April 8. 
Hope there are clear skies!

To prepare for the eclipse and the avalanche of shadows, I have a couple of Challenges: 

1. Why ARE the dapples of sunlight round in shape?  Why isn't the shape of the sunlight exactly like the shape of the hole in the tree canopy?  Related: Why are only the small patches of light round while the bigger ones are other shapes?  Super related: Will the round sun patches change shape during the eclipse? 

2. What other solar light phenomena should I be looking for?  Are there any other extraordinary shadow and light things I should be looking for?  

Of course, all this will happen next Monday--so I hope you post your answers to the blog before then so I'll know what to look for!  Tell us how you found your answers.  

Keep searching!  

(And wear eye protection if you're going to watch the eclipse.)  

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Answer: When you're looking for a term or concept but can't quite say what it is?

One of the biggest SRS issues... 

P/C Midjourney

... is how to convert your vague thoughts, considerations, ruminations, and ideas into something that can be researched.   

You know what I mean--you're wondering about something, or you have an ill-formed curiosity about something and you'd like to find out more about it.  

We've talked about this many times before:  

A. That funny feeling of haziness you have when you first wake up?  (SRS Sep 12, 2022

B. How to find immensely talented people?  (SRS Sep 14, 2025

C. Finding words or phrases that you've only ever heard, but don't quite know?  (SRS Aug 9, 2012

D. What do you call that strangely-shaped building?  (SRS July 20, 2015

E. Questions about things you see while traveling? (SRS May 1, 2019)  

From all of these Challenges we learned that having a specific term that describes what you seek is usually an essential step.  

In particular, from each of these we learned the following rules-of-thumb: 

A.  Search sometimes takes a few iterations--don't give up after one search. When searching for a concept with really common terms, it sometimes helps to call an expert.  Changing your search from the generic to the specific is sometimes a great strategy.  When you're stuck, trying shifting to a more generic search (or, if you're already generic, trying shifting to more specific searches).  

B. Even vague ideas can be captured in a single word (or short phrase)--the problem is to find that term.  In this case, a 2-step strategy was the right one.  First, find the word (or phrase) by describing the concept--".. skilled in multiple arts / sciences / domains-of-expertise..." and then scanning for a short term that captures exactly that idea. In this Challenge, the term was "polymath."  

C. When searching for unfamiliar terms, sometimes you can figure them out just by fooling around a bit--explore!  Don't get too hung up getting everything just right, often the Google spellchecker will help out by suggesting alternatives.  Also, when searching for word meanings, it's often useful to include a "context term" to set the stage.  Including other terms that are "in the context" often leads to the perfect term or phrase.  

D.  Use context terms to help find articles / pages that are relevant to your search.  In this case, finding a photo of building let me read about what industry used that shape of building--once I knew that, the rest of the research was simple. 

E.  Remember reverse dictionaries.  They're incredibly handy for going from a vague concept ("buildings that are no longer churches") to a specific term ("deconsecrated").  

All in all, moving from vague understanding to some language we can actually use for search purposes is a bit of an exploration.  

The Challenges for this week are intentionally challenging--I wanted to stretch our collective imagination about what kinds of things we can search for--to go beyond the ordinary and try out new methods. Here were the Challenges:  

1. Can you find the terms / names for ardent fans of particular composers from the classical era? (I mean this expansively, anything from 1700 to 1920.)  "Debussyist" is one example, "Wagnerian" is another--can you find others?  In particular, what kind of search term(s) do you use to find such fan labels? 

I spent a few hours on this on a merry chase trying to figure out the best way to approach the problem.  I have about 10 pages of notes, documenting all of the twists and turns.  But rather than give you all the details (you can see my notes here if you're curious), let me give you the top-level summary.  

First, of course I tried the LLMs.  But for this part of the Challenge, I could not get any of them to give me a list of the "terms/names for ardent fans..." 

With ChatGPT and Gemini, I tried two different prompts: 

a. [Franz Schubert, Claude Debussy, and Ludwig van Beethoven all had followers who formed clubs or societies after them.  What is this behavior called?  That is, when a musical composer is has followers that create a movement in their name?] 

b. [what composers have movements named after them?]  

ChatGPT gave fairly boring answers "..they're called composer appreciation societies" and then 3 examples of composer movements (Beethovian, Mozartian, Bachian).  Fine, but it seems a bit thin, eh? 

Gemini gave me a bit better answer, teaching me about "Composer cults" (a term I hadn't heard before), and that "...depending on the specific activities of the groups, terms like "Schubert Circle" or "Debussy School" might be used to describe a group that not only admires the composer but also seeks to emulate or extend their musical style."  

That's an interesting twist, but not too helpful. 

(I went down dry pathways looking into Composer Cults, Circles, and Schools, but didn't get very far.)  

I then asked the LLMs [ Can you give a list of some composer societies named for individual composers? ]  This gives a better reply.  

Here is a list of some composer societies named for individual composers:

 The Bach Gesellschaft (English: Bach Society) is a German musicological society founded in 1850 in Leipzig for the purpose of publishing the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The International Frédéric Chopin Society was founded in Warsaw in 1932. The Society maintains a large collection of Chopin-related items, including manuscripts, letters, and first editions.

The Deutsche Mozart-Gesellschaft (English: German Mozart Society) was founded in 1880 in Salzburg, Austria. The Society promotes research on Mozart's life and works, and organizes concerts and festivals.

The Internationale Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft (English: International Gustav Mahler Society) was founded in 1957 in Vienna, Austria. The Society promotes research, performances, and appreciation of Mahler's work.

The Richard Wagner Society of North America was founded in 1892 in New York City. The Society promotes the study, performance, and appreciation of Wagner's operas and music dramas.

 These are just a few examples, and there are many other composer societies around the world dedicated to preserving and promoting the works of their favorite composers.

That's definitely the kind of thing I was looking for--but surely there are more.  

Sudden insight:  As I was reading through one of the LLM comments, I saw something about a group that was dedicated to preserving "the Mozartian style.."

I thought, "maybe, just maybe there's a way to attack this question if I think about adjectives..." 

So I posed this question to Gemini: [ what do you call it when a person's name becomes an adjective describing their style of work?  Is there a term for that? ]  (Highlighting mine.)

Gemini: Yes, when a person's name is turned into an adjective to describe their style or something reminiscent of their work, it's called an "eponym." More specifically, when referring to the stylistic characteristics reminiscent of an artist or author, you might hear it referred to as an "eponymous adjective." These adjectives often highlight the unique, identifiable qualities of the person's work and can be applied across various fields, including literature, music, art, and more.

For example, "Shakespearean" refers to something that is characteristic of Shakespeare's work, whether it be his writing style, themes, or dramatic structure. Similarly, "Kafkaesque" is used to describe situations or narratives that reflect the surreal, oppressive, or nightmarish qualities found in Franz Kafka's stories.

That's interesting.  Can I somehow leverage this insight?  Turn to regular Google: 

     [ list of eponymous adjectives ] 

which took me instantly to the Wikipedia list of eponymous adjectives!  (Who knew?)  

But that's a fairly long list (the page is 486 adjectives long)... 

How could I go through that long list and pull out the adjectives named for composers or musicians?  

This really is a call for ChatGPT.... 

Prompt: In this text file is a long list of adjectives named for people.  Can you select out the lines of people who are famous composers? 
A: The file contains a list of eponymous adjectives in English, along with the names associated with these adjectives. Given the nature of the file, I will now filter through the list to identify and extract lines related to famous composers. Since the content spans a wide range of individuals from various fields, I'll focus on those explicitly known for their contributions to music composition. Let's proceed to identify the composers. 
Here are the lines from the file that mention famous composers:
Bachian – Johann Sebastian Bach
Beethovenian – Ludwig van Beethoven
Brahmsian – Johannes Brahms
Chopinesque – Frédéric Chopin
Handelian – George Frideric Handel
Haydnesque – Joseph Haydn
Lisztian – Franz Liszt
Mahlerian – Gustav Mahler
Mendelssohnian – Felix Mendelssohn
Mozartean – Wolfgang Mozart
Rachmaninovian – Sergei Rachmaninoff
Schubertian – Franz Schubert
Wagnerian – Richard Wagner (as in Wagnerian rock)
These entries represent a selection of eponymous adjectives derived from the names of notable composers, highlighting their impact on various aspects of culture and art.
That is, this is a list (from English) of composers and musicians whose names have become integrated into the language.  I spot-checked this, but didn't go through all of the lines to verify it completely.  There are a lot of other artist-based eponymous adjectives (Hitchcockian, Felliniesque, Palinian, etc.)  

This isn't quite what I was looking for (for instance, "Debussyist" isn't in this list), but it's pretty close.  

Note that it really is oriented towards European composers, and reflects only English.  It would be fun to do this in other languages.  (Any volunteers?)  

Interesting side note:  when I ask it to do the same thing with the web page (URL given), it only returns 6 of the entries.  It's completely unclear why this is so. 

Pro tip: I found that it's much better to extract the text, save to a plain text file, and ask ChatGPT to do it from scratch—you get better answers. 

2. Can you find clubs that were formed to celebrate and fête musicians from that time period?  (I found some clubs that astonished me.  Perhaps you will too.)  

I thought I'd try the same trick--find a list of clubs or societies that are named for musicians... but I quickly ran into the ambiguous terms problem.  Just try searching for [ list of clubs ] or [ list of music societies ] and you'll quickly find out that there are a LOT of clubs and societies that have to do with music, but aren't quite as near the meaning that I want.  

I asked ChatGPT4: can you give me a list of organizations that are named for composers?  example: The Bach Society  ] 

I got a reasonable list of such societies: 

Here's a list of such organizations:

The Bach Society - Dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach, focusing on performances and studies of his works.

Beethoven-Haus Bonn - A memorial site, museum, and cultural institution focused on the life and works of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Chopin Foundation of the United States - Aims to support young musicians in their studies and careers, and promote the appreciation of Frédéric Chopin’s music.

The Handel and Haydn Society - Based in Boston, this organization is one of the oldest continuously operating arts organizations in the U.S., focusing on performances of Baroque and Classical music, including works by George Frideric Handel and Joseph Haydn.

The Mendelssohn Foundation - Established to preserve the legacy of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, including his music and the historical sites associated with his life.

The Liszt Society - Dedicated to promoting the music and legacy of Franz Liszt through concerts, publications, and research.

The Mahler Society - Focuses on the music and life of Gustav Mahler, promoting performances and scholarship.

Rachmaninoff Society - Aims to promote the understanding and appreciation of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s music.

The Schubert Institute - A research facility and society devoted to the study and dissemination of Franz Schubert’s works.

The Sibelius Society - Dedicated to promoting the life and music of Jean Sibelius.

The Vaughan Williams Society - Aims to advance the education of the public in the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The Wagner Society - Several societies around the world focus on the promotion and understanding of Richard Wagner’s music and operatic works.

These are all fine, but I have the feeling there are more.  But how many more? 

When I ask this question of Gemini, I get three more societies in addition: 

The Giuseppe Verdi Society (founded in 1951 in Busseto, Italy) is dedicated to the study and performance of the music of Giuseppe Verdi.

The Johannes Brahms Society (founded in 19 Brahms-Gesellschaft) is dedicated to promoting the music of Johannes Brahms.

The Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Research Center and Museum (founded in 1893 in Klin, Russia) is dedicated to the life and works of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.



Is this all?  How complete is this list?  Are there only 15 societies? 

Another Pro Tip:  Don't mistake a list for the complete list.  

The obvious thing to do at this point is to find a list of composers (easy: [ list of composers ] leads to the Wikipedia list of composers).  Then, I could ask ChatGPT to check for a society or association for each... right? 

I did a couple of manual tests to see what would happen.  (Yet Another Pro Tip: When doing searches like this, always test them out by running a few by hand.)  

When I did a test, I purposefully chose a few different composers to see what I'd find.  

     [ Domenico Zipoli society ] 

Sure enough, there's a Domenico Zipoli Society.  


     [ Nadia Boulanger society ] 

I figured there would be a society, and there is.  

But even something easy like: 

     [ Antonio Vivaldi society ] 

leads to a bunch of societies that are named for Vivaldi, but aren't necessarily dedicated to his music.  

There're even hits for the [ Hans Zimmer society ], which tells me something.   

Uh oh.  The more I dug into the data, the more I realized that a human would have to go through each of the search results and determine if this is a society or organization that was dedicated to their music, or if it was a society that was about the history and culture of that composers lifetime, or was merely an accidental name-collision.  (There are lots of people named Vivaldi, some of them aren't musical.)  

This is gonna be a problem.  And at this point, I stopped trying to find a complete list--I've got a decent-enough list, but looking for a complete list is probably a fool's errand.  If a library patron asked for this, I'd ask them "and what will you do with this list once you have it?"  But for me, for now, this is good enough.  

SearchResearch Lessons

There are several morals to this story: 

1. Going from inarticulate and vague to crisp and clearly defined is probably the hardest issue in SearchResearch: you need to go broad, search around, keep your eyes (and mind) open to new clues as they appear.  This process of wrestling with an idea until you're able to be clear about it is, to my mind, the most fun and engaging thing you can do while searching.  It's part psychoanalysis, part essay writing, part learning new things while trying to get to your goal.  

2. A great strategy is to go back and forth between Google search (to find things you know exist) and the LLMs which can then manipulate the data you've found.  We did this by learning about eponymous adjectives, getting the list, then semantically filtering it with ChatGPT.  

3. Before doing a massive search (as I proposed doing in the last example), be sure to manually run some of the searches to understand what it is you're asking.  In this case, the responses were truly all over the place, leading me to abandon this task as requiring way too many resources... and leading me to question why I was asking it in the first place, when all I wanted were the top 20 or so.  

Keep searching!