Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Answer: What's the story with these things?

Where was I?    

This week's Challenge is another in our series of "What's the story?"  

This week's Challenge wasn't difficult in the ordinary sense. (I figure that you'll be able to search out the place and name of the things.)  But these questions give us a chance to dig into the remarkable stories that are associated with these places.  


Here's what I found, and how I found it.  

1.  I saw this remarkable beast of a device that's labelled as "Clydeport" just across the river from where I'm staying.  I can figure out what it is, but I know nothing of its genesis or why it's there?  Can you search out the story?   (Here I've pasted a small image so the SRS page will load quickly.  But here's a LINK if you'd like to download the whole image.) 

What / Where / Why is this beast?  

I recognize that shape as a crane, used for loading and unloading ships.  So I just did: 
     [ clydeport crane ] 
and quickly found the Wikipedia article on the Finnieston Crane.  That article tells us that:
"...The Finnieston Crane or Stobcross Crane is a disused giant cantilever crane in the centre of Glasgow, Scotland. It is no longer operational, but is retained as a symbol of the city's engineering heritage. The crane was used for loading cargo, in particular steam locomotives, onto ships to be exported around the world. It is one of four such cranes on the River Clyde, a fifth one having been demolished in 2007, and one of only eleven giant cantilever cranes remaining worldwide. The crane can be seen in the background of news broadcasts from BBC Pacific Quay.
Finnieston Crane in use.  1957
Naturally, I checked a few other sources by doing the query: 
     [ Finnieston crane ] 
finding the port's own website in the process.  Their page about the crane also tells us that: 
"...A noticeable peculiarity of each lateral movement [of the crane] was that it was not continuous, but took place in gentle jerks of a few inches at a time. The object of this is to prevent the load at the end of the cables acquiring a swinging motion, which would soon render the accurate placing of any load a matter of great difficulty and danger...I saw the heavy machinery ... placed in a few minutes into a space where there was hardly an inch to spare on one side or the other, all the directions during this delicate operation being conveyed to the craneman by signs, and blasts on a whistle..."
Having been a swamper to a crane operator (job description) in my youth, I can attest that this is a great property for a big crane to have.  When you're the swamper directing a crane, the operator often can't see where the load is supposed to land (e.g., inside the belly of a ship).  Stability and accuracy are key to getting this job done safely.  A mistake of a couple of inches can make for a very expensive (or deadly) disaster.  To be able to drop a locomotive inside of a ship with an accuracy of a few inches is quite an achievement.  
To check up on this claim, I followed the link in the Wikipedia article references to the book Imperial Cities: Landscape, Display and Identity.  In this book we learn that the locomotives were dragged from their assembly plant to the dock by using Clydesdale horses is particularly remarkable.  (Just to remind you, Clydesdale horses are named for the county of Clydesdale, which is the old name for the current county of Lanarkshire, noted for the River Clyde running through it, which is where Glasgow is.  These aren't just horses, they're very strong local horses.) 
Here's the only photo I could find of a horse pulling a train car (although I can't tell where it is).  Apparently there aren't any of Clydesdales pulling locomotives through the streets of Glasgow, although I wish I could find one.  (Any SRS Readers in Glasgow know of one?) . 


And here's the crane in a shot from BBC Scotland (see arrow).  


2.  About 1/2 mile away from this thing is a slightly mysterious building.  It has a nice Italian restaurant on the bottom floor, but this building was clearly NOT designed to be an Italian restaurant.  This kind of mismatch makes me curious.  What is this building?  And what was it originally designed to do?   LINK to the full image.  

What / Where / Why is this building?  
As many SRS Readers did, I used what I had and searched for: 
     [ la Fiorentina building Glasgow ] 
And much to my surprise, this leads to the restaurant's website that claims: 
"La Fiorentina occupies the ground floor of the landmark Angel building at Paisley Rd Toll. Famous throughout the city as Ogg Brothers Drapery Warehouse... Look up and you’ll see a gilded angel known as “Commerce and Industry” reaching into the sky. The sculpture was commissioned as part of the original building in 1889 and was probably the work of James Alexander Ewing...."  
This is great, but again, I want to triangulate this claim and find a very different source for it.  My next query was for: 
     [ James Alexander Ewing angel ] 
which led to multiple hits.  My favorite was Glasgow Sculptors, which repeats another variation of this story, and tells us that James Alexander Ewing also made a rooftop angel at 520 Sauchiehall Street.  A quick trip to that location using Google Streetview and I have these two angels side-by-side: 


You can see a decided similarity in style (especially in the angle of the angel's wings, the odd notch in the trailing edge of the wings, and the style of the cloth around the legs). 
But there were others, including the Evening Times of Glasgow's article about the Angel.  On the other hand, a book about the sculptures of Glasgow, Look up Glasgow, confirms that this building is at 2-20 Paisley Road but lists the sculptor as unknown.  (It also asks "why is there a star on this angel's head?"--great question.. don't know... another SearchResearch Challenge in the future?)
On the other hand, Regular Reader Jon (the Unknown) found a great drone flyover video of the building.  One frame from that building shows the angel in from an angel's perspective (as it were): 
Frame from drone flyover video. The angel is atop the tower on the left. 

Search Lessons

1.  As usual: Work with what you have.  The big sign saying "Clydeport" and knowing it's in Glasgow is a big tipoff.  From that we can work the story forward, finding its history, current disposition, and some surrounding stories for context. 
2. Working forward.  In the case of the Angel building, once again, working forward from the restaurant name to the history books leads to a more-or-less consensus about the sculpture (1899, by Ewing), and what the building's original purpose (as a draper's shop and storage).  But we need to have some occasional flashes of insight, as when SRS RR Jon suggested looking in the British Newspaper Archive.  (Free, but requires a login.) You can read a lot about the Oggs' shop in Glasgow.  

Published: Saturday 04 September 1909 in the Hamilton Herald and Lanarkshire Weekly News.  

Search on! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (5/8/19): What's the story with these things?


I'm in a port city somewhere in the English-speaking world.  

This place is full of remarkable places, and in my walkabout today I saw two things that I didn't know anything about, and for which there was basically no signage.  I suppose if you're a local, these things are obvious--but they're not obvious to me!  

This Challenge is another in our series of "What's the story?"  

As you remember, each "What's the Story?" Challenge will be an open-ended question (or two) that asks you, the SearchResearcher, to figure out what's going on in the image.  I figure that you'll be able to search out the place and name of the things--but can you also dig into the remarkable stories that are associated with these places?  



1.  I saw this remarkable beast of a device that's labelled as "Clydeport" just across the river from where I'm staying.  I can figure out what it is, but I know nothing of its genesis or why it's there?  Can you search out the story?   (Here I've pasted a small image so the SRS page will load quickly.  But here's a LINK if you'd like to download the whole image.) 

What / Where / Why is this beast?  


2.  About 1/2 mile away from this thing is a slightly mysterious building.  It has a nice Italian restaurant on the bottom floor, but this building was clearly NOT designed to be an Italian restaurant.  This kind of mismatch makes me curious.  What is this building?  And what was it originally designed to do?   LINK to the full image.  

What / Where / Why is this building?  


As always, use your best SRS skills--and when you figure out the answers (including the backstories), let us know what you found and HOW you found it.  Leave your pearls of wisdom in the comment!  

Good luck!  (I've figured out the first one but haven't yet tackled the second.  This might be tough to find.) . 

Search on! 





Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Answer: More questions while traveling...?

So.... 

I'm about to head over to Scotland for a conference all of next week, but SRS will continue unabated!  (Assuming I can get a bit of wifi in a coffee shop somewhere.)  I'm looking forward to a Celtic-inspiration for SRS!    

But last week's travel has brought up a couple of little questions--the kind of questions that happens to me (and I bet to you) every time I travel around.  Here are three from my walkabout in a town that's near some impressive mountains.  

Can you answer them? 

1.  When I look out of my hotel room window, THIS is what I see:  spectacular mountains.  Can you tell what city I'm in?  (Yes, I've removed the EXIF metadata.  You'll have to work with just what you see.)  


As the SRS Regulars quickly figured out, this is in Boulder, Colorado.  

I would have zoomed into the image, looking for something I could identify.  In this case, I downloaded the image and then looked around a bit.  In this case, there's a lovely sign that says "Pearl Street Parking"  (the green sign in the left-of-center foreground).  Then, doing a query like this: 

      [ Pearl street mountain ] 

quickly tells me that it's Boulder, Colorado.  

However, when I tried to do this just now with the image that's in the blog, I realized that the Blogger platform downsampled my image a bit, so it's really hard to read the text on the sign.  (Darn it! Trust me--it's legible in the full res image.)  

So, using our favorite subimaging trick on this image, I looked for the most picturesque  part of the pic and made a quick image of just that.  For this, I chose the cliffs over the town on the left.  They're impressive, and I figured that a lot of people have probably taken this picture before.   



Even though it's a bit low-res, when I did a search-by-image, it came up with a great result.  



This is what Regular Reader amjeff did, and it clearly works pretty well.  Note that the picture in the knowledge panel (on the right) is exactly the same as the image I cropped out of the larger photo.  (I didn't know this ahead of time, I just went for "the most likely tourist picture" and got lucky.)  

JonTheUnknown's approach was also pretty interesting.  He looked on my home page to see if I had any connections with Boulder, and discovered that yes, I'm associated with the University of Colorado at Boulder.  From there, it's pretty easy to look around and figure out that those mountains are the Flatirons, really dramatic angular mountaintops.  

Remmij was able to figure out not only was I in the Boulderado Hotel, but also in the northwest corner as that's the only place where I could have taken this photo. (SearchResearchers are scarily good!)  


2.  As I walked to my meeting, I found a large field of these beautiful blue flowers--what are they?  (Species specific name, please.)  

Several readers just knew that these are called Grape Hyacinth.  I'm impressed.  Somehow these flowers have escaped my attention until this week when I saw an entire field of them (this image is only a small part).  

Since I was actually there (in real life!), I used an app on my phone called PlantSnap which told me what it was--Grape Hyacinth, in the genus Muscari, a group of perennial bulbous plants native to Eurasia with intensely blue spikes of dense flowers resembling bunches of grapes.  (This one is most likely Muscari armeniacum, although there are many closely related subspecies.)  

There are a bunch of differing plant identification apps (see, for instance, this list of plant identification apps).  I've tried a bunch, and PlantSnap works well for me.  

But if you weren't there, live in the field (and since I didn't see you, I bet you were somewhere else)... how could you do this on your laptop?  

I tried the same subimaging trick and made a closeup of just one cluster of flowers.  (Why?  To avoid confusing the matching algorithm with too many parts of the image.)   




And did the same search-by-image search.  Look what Google says--Hyacinths. 




And that's kind of right; at least it's close.  But look down just a bit to the "Visually similar images" 




This looks really good.  Clicking through on any of these blue flower clusters also tells you that it's a Grape Hyacinth, in all of their infinite variety.  


Regular SRS Reader Ramón also used his phone (even though he wasn't there, so he had to do a different procedure) to do the same thing.  


First, he viewed the SRS blogpost on his phone: 






And then he downloaded the image to his phone.  




And then opened the image in Google Photos: 





THEN... he clicked on the Google Lens icon (3rd from the right--looks like a square with a dot in the center and a dot on the lower right edge).  This gave him the result: 




Easy peasy.  




3.  Just past the field of blue flowers was this former church building.  As with many church buildings, it has a very distinctive window shape.  As we know, if you know the precise term for this window shape, it's much easier to search for information about these things.  So... what's the precise term for this window shape?  (NOT the round one...)    



By now you know the trick:  Subimage to just one window (crop tightly!) and do a search-by-image.   As amjeff pointed out, this window is one of a pointed arch (aka a Gothic arch, which is lighter than a rounded arch and spreads the load sideways) or lancet window, so-called because of it's resemblance to a lance's point.  This window design is common in Gothic architecture (or its later reincarnation as Collegiate Gothic, the the late 19th century / early 20th century).  




BTW, for extra credit, is there a specific term for a building like this that was a church, but is no longer a church?? 

To answer this I used my favorite reverse dictionary like this to search for the term that captures this concept:


With this, I found that the term is "deconsecrated" (meaning "removed from its consecrated status as an active, holy church place").  

Although, as amjeff pointed out, such churches are termed "redundant" in Britain (where that term is also used for jobs that are no longer useful or duplicated).  


These terms, lancet window and deconsecrated are perfect for digging more deeply into the ideas.  They're very precise.  




Search Lessons 



Even for a short Challenge, we learned a few things... 


1.  Subimaging is a great trick.  Yes, I know you know this.. but the skill of how to pick the cropping is still something worth learning.  In most cases, you crop to the subimage that other people will most likely shoot.  In the case of the mountains, that particular outcropping of the Flatiron Range is very impressive and very visually distinctive.  That's why I cropped to that sub-piece of the large image.  And what do you know, it worked perfectly. Likewise, when you've got a big image with many identical things in it (such as the pic of Grape hyacinths), crop it to just one representative image.  Too many pieces in an image are confusing to the algorithms.  (This may change in the future, but for now, focus in on just one singular element--try to get just the essential.)  


2.  An app is sometimes the right approach.  When I was walking around, I tried using Google Lens on the hyacinth, but it was being really picky.  Luckily, I have the PlantSnap app on my phone, which worked beautifully.  Take note:  There are MANY apps that have special identification capabilities--be aware of what they are and stay on top of your SearchResearch game.  (We'll talk more about recognition apps in the future.)  


3.  Speaking of speciality apps, remember reverse dictionaries.  They're incredibly handy for going from a vague concept ("buildings that are no longer churches") to a specific term ("deconsecrated").  As you know, if you have the specific term, that's MUCH better than casting around for a general topic.  Specific terms rock... but only if you can find them!  (AND.. be sure to double check that the term means what you think it means!) 



Search on! 




Friday, April 26, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (4/26/19): More questions while traveling...?


So.... 

I hear your quiet murmurings in the vasty hallways of the internet asking "What's going on?" and "Where's Dan?"  and "Why hasn't there been a SearchResearch Challenge this week?"  

Basically, I'm kinda busy.  Lots of travel (see below!) and lots of time on Google projects (yeah, I still have a day job), and lots of work getting details finished on the book (did you know writing a book takes a lot of time?).   

The good news is that the book index is finished (maybe with a bit more polishing, but basically done), AND we now have cover art!  I'm pretty pleased about it, and hope you are too.  This should make it easy to find in bookstores... 


The book is now in the hands of the MIT Press editors who have promised that the final (final!) galley will be sent to me in the first week of May.  I'll turn it around, and then it goes to the printer.  Everything is actually coming together!  

I'm ALSO following up on a bunch of threads I've left open.  

1.  What's the story with the "a" character on the holiday card?  (Why did I get it wrong?)  
2.  What's the update on the recycling story?  (Where do plastics REALLY go after the trash people pick them up.)  
And,
3. What's the update on the strand jack construction project?  

Each of these is taking longer than I ever would have thought... but it means that when I figure them out, we'll have a bunch of great stories here at Camp SRS.  

And, as mentioned, I've been traveling.  For much of the rest of this year, travel will be the new norm.  The downside is that it delays my SRS writing... but the upside is that I'll have a bunch of new Challenges in the near future.  

In particular, today's travel has brought up a couple of little questions--the kind of questions that happens to me (and I bet to you) every time I travel around.  Here are three from my walkabout today.  Can you answer them? 

1.  When I look out of my hotel room window, THIS is what I see:  spectacular mountains.  Can you tell what city I'm in?  (Yes, I've removed the EXIF metadata.  You'll have to work with just what you see.)  



2.  As I walked to my meeting, I found a large field of these beautiful blue flowers--what are they?  (Species specific name, please.)  



3.  Just past the field of blue flowers was this former church building.  As with many church buildings, it has a very distinctive window shape.  As we know, if you know the precise term for this window shape, it's much easier to search for information about these things.  So... what's the precise term for this window shape?  (NOT the round one...)    



BTW, for extra credit, is there a specific term for a building like this that was a church, but is no longer a church?? 



As always, please leave your answer in the comments, being sure to tell us HOW you did it!  What worked?  And what didn't work? 

Search on! 


Monday, April 22, 2019

Answer: What's that logo?






 

Visually, the world is full of unknowns...

And this week we took on the Challenge of figuring out how to identify logos.  

Recently, SRS Regular Reader Jacob sent me this wonderful holiday card he received that was made up entirely of logos.  Designed by Marc Reiner, it's a gem of a card design.  

On the one hand, it's a fun and playful design.  I recognized a bunch of logos immediately (Pintrest, Yahoo, Amazon, etc.) -- but could you name them all?   I couldn't.



Logo holiday card by Marc S. Reiner (Hand Baldachin and Assoc. LLP)



























This is a great reminder that image identification is a valuable skill to have.  And clearly, this particular card pulls a lot of logos together for us to ID.  



Here is our three-part Challenge for the week: 



1.   Can you identify all of the logos shown here?  What are they?
2.  If you wanted to search just for logos, is there a way to do just that?  How about just searching for logos in the EU?  
3.  For what  product is this the logo?  (The usual tricks might/might-not work here.)  





As we've talked about before, subimaging is probably the way to go.  That is, since the card is composed of a bunch of individual logos, we can extract each logo and do a Search-By-Image on that.  (If you haven't seen it, check out my short YouTube video on this.  It's a One Minute Morceau on Search-By-Image.) 


And in our case, we could divide up the holiday card into 12 different small images.  

But as we discussed in an earlier episode (A new search-by-image method on Bing), Bing Image search has a great way to interactively search for parts of a larger image.  Here's an illustration of the normal / old way of doing search-by-image (SBI).  You upload or drag the image from your computer into the Image search.  


A diagram showing me dragging a image from my desktop into Bing's SBI tool.  
But the brilliant Bing SBI tool lets you specify the cropping that you'd like.   (That's the turquoise cropping widget in the image below.)  



Here I've cropped into the letter "H" in the image.  Once you release the crop, it immediately pops up the related images.  You can see on the "Similar Images" region that this subimage is pretty clearly the History Channel logo.  

You can do this for the other letters on the card. Just drag and drop the cropping window to search for those individual logos. 

HOWEVER... It doesn't work for all of them.  In particular, Bing SBI can't quite figure out the script P, the yellow rectangle, the S with the arrowhead tail, the red O with a ship on top, and the squishy L logo.  So, while it's a brilliant tool, it doesn't get everything right.  

To get those logos (P, rectangle, S, O, L), I had to chop up the image into subimages and then do a regular Google SBI on those.  Here's Google SBI for the script P logo: 



You can do this with all of the logos. 

There's an important lesson here... Not all tools necessarily work for everything.  Although Bing's SBI works really well, there are a couple of images it can't find.  For those, I switch to Google's SBI.  (And, pro tip, if both of those don't work, I've sometimes gone to Yandex.com for their SBI tool which also works very well.)  

Interestingly, the yellow rectangle with the blue center did not work with ANY SBI tool.  I ended up going to regular Google Image search with the query: 

     [ logo yellow rectangle ] 

Why that?  I wanted the simplest possible description of the logo, and that was it.  Remarkably, this works!  The search led me to several articles and images about this logo design for National Geographic.

Finding the S + arrow logo was a little trickier.  I did a regular SBI on Google, but then had to edit the query to include the word "logo"  (see below).  That worked perfectly well, and I was able to confirm that this was the Subway logo!  Note that it wasn't exactly the same as the logo letter we searched for, but it was the same color AND had the funny arrow.  (It also had a green additional arrow, but when I clicked through to the article, it was clearly the right thing.) 




Using all of these tricks (the Bing tool and using regular Google SBI on subimages that Bing couldn't handle), I was able to identify all of the logos: 


History channel
Amazon
Pintrest
Phillip Lim
Yale

Holiday Inn
Old Spice
Lego
I - National Geographic
Dove
Atena (marketing firm in Padova)    (Error was mine.  Remmij pointed out the error of my ways.  Thanks!)  
Aware -- Aware.org (the Association of Women for Action and Research)  
Yahoo
-->
Subway

Interestingly, when I wrote this Challenge, the cat logo was really hard to find.  Google Search-by-Image didn't work, neither did Bing's.  When I tried Yandex (which also has a pretty good search-by-image function), it found something pretty close!  

Here's the target image: 



And here's what I found using search-by-image on Yandex.com: 



Not quite, but pretty darn close!  

Just out of curiosity, and making a guess that this was either a vet's logo OR a cat food logo, I tried this as a regular old Image search: 

     [ cat food logo ] 




I was a bit surprised to find this just a few rows down! 




Truthfully, that was just a lucky guess.  (But luck happens to those who are prepared and willing to try a few extra queries.) 



Search Lessons 


Working backwards from the end: 

1.  Sometimes if you guess at what the image might be, you'll get lucky.  Obviously, it wasn't a random guess on my part--it was either X or Y (cat food or cat vet)... and my first guess proved correct. 

2. Using the Bing subimaging tool is pretty fast and effective for searching in multiple places inside of a complex image.  It's a quicker way to search for subimages, and if you have a lot of them, this is a great gadget to use. 

3.  Remember that there are multiple tools out there for Search-By-Image.  If Google doesn't work for you, try Bing, or Yandex--they're all great tools, and some cover images that the others don't.  Keep trying!  




Dan's P.S.  

Sorry about the delay, again...  Wednesdays have become complicated with a few meetings that I can't reschedule.  PLUS, this week I was superbusy trying to create the index to "The Joy of Search."  If you've never done it, believe me, it's not a trivial exercise.  What DO people want to search for in your print book?  In any case, that was a good 20 hours of work inbetween this and that.  


Dan's P.P.S.   

Just so you'll have a sense of what it's like when I solve these Research Challenges, I recorded my path as I answered these questions.  Then I edited it a bit to give some color commentary and a word or two of wisdom. 

Let me know what you think!