Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
You've probably noticed--they're sometimes interactive, they're always celebratory in some way and they have a popup explaining what it's all about. (I'm showing the popup on the right-hand side of the above image.)
What you might not know is that if you click on the image on the Google Home Page, it will do an appropriate search for you on that topic.
What was so interesting about watching this kid search for the Google Archive was that he didn't know they're called "Doodles," so he was fooling around searching with queries like [Google images ] (which won't get you very far because the results are so heavily skewed by Google Images, the search verical). He tried things like [cool Google images ] before I finally told him to try adding the word "doodle," which of course got him what he wanted.
Search lesson: Sometimes you just need the right word to access the right body of information. The deep trick is knowing which is the right word.
In this case, the kid might have tried to search for [Google images ] on Images and he would have found all kinds of results, including links to the Google Official Blog, which then has links to the archived Doodles.
To save YOU the trouble, here are a few links to Google's collection of great Doodles.
The official Google Doodle archive
The marvelous Doodle ode to Stanislaw Lem
The Les Paul interactive Doodle (play your own tunes!)
And last, but not least, the video of the famous Charlie Chaplin Doodle.
You probably saw the recent Google blog post about sunsetting different products. http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/more-spring-cleaning-out-of-season.html
Here it is in short: (Remember, this is my personal blog and doesn't represent Google official thoughts, policy or inclinations...)
1. Google Bookmark Lists (Dec 19, 2011) -- essentially nobody was using them (I mean, not even I was using them, so you know it didn't have much uptake). Fatal flaw--what user problem was it solving? Nobody really knows, so it's going away in December.
2. Google Friend Connect (Mar 21, 2012) -- being superceded by Google+ features.
3. Google Gears (Dec 1, 2011) -- it was a valiant attempt to make Google products work offline as well as online. But with the advent of HTML 5 (and the various offline features it offers), Gears is rapidly becoming redundant.
4. Search Timeline (Oct, 2011) -- this is unfortunate, as there really isn't anything else quite like it. Yes, you can use Google Insights for some of this function, but the ability to do Timelines over News Archives is just gone. I'm hunting around for a good replacement for the ability to do this kind of search + charting.
5. Google Wave (Mar 30, 2012) -- I can't say that I'm sorry about this one being turned down. In my use of Wave, it was just a giant, unwieldy thing. Nice idea... but it was too much all in one package. I want a speedboat, but got a cruise ship.
6. Google Knol (Oct 1, 2012) -- This too was a great idea--authored Wikipedia style articles. But it never took off in the way that Wikipedia has, partly because the articles never got enough links to make them show up high in the results. Sigh. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is suffering its own set of difficulties. (Have you tried to add a new article to Wikipedia recently? See Danny Sullivan's recent rant about this. He's totally right. His critique shows the growing problems that Wikipedia is having, and worries me about its future.)
Moral of this particular story: As I've been saying for a while, things come, things go. The good news here is that Google is getting better about letting everyone know about these changes. You can see the culture change over time. Used to be that changes just happened without any kind of comment. People noticed, or they didn't.
Another kind of change that went unremarked (but I'll tell you) was that there were recently a bunch of changes to the online Dictionary. When you do the [define:
Friday, November 25, 2011
Click on image to see at full size.
From 1948... I pieced these together from Google Earth images in History view mode.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Latin name: Triteleia laxa.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
You've probably asked a question like this before: What's that flower?
Unless you're botanically inclined, or have a friend who's horticulturally minded, it's often kind of hard to figure these things out... especially for wildflowers that are unrelated to anything you'd see in a domesticated garden.
As you might guess, this happens to me all the time.
This past March I was out for a leisurely hike at lat/long 37.1540, -121.4200 when I noticed a pretty blue flower. Here are a couple of pictures so you can get an idea of what I saw.
To make your task slightly easier, I'll tell you that the flowers were blue, but that there were some variation in flower color between the plants. They were blue, blue-purple, or white. The flower tube was around 12–25 mm long, with the petals ranging from 8–20 mm in length. The flowers are cone-shaped and are made up of 6 petals that are fused together at the bottom. In the flower there are 6 stamens, 3-lobed stigma atop a single triple-chambered ovary. In the flower, filaments attached at 2 levels, and the anthers ranged from 2–5 mm. As you can see, individual flowers were arranged in clusters of 4 - 8 flowers at the end of longish stalk, roughly 100 mm long. The leaves are long and grass-like in appearance.
When I figured out what it was, I was surprised to discover was that its common name is the name of a weapon that's used by a particular angel! (Do angels normally carry weapons??)
Question: Can you figure out what the Latin and common names of this flower are?
For extra credit on this one--be sure to write down HOW you figured this one out, and how long it took you. I'm curious to see if you find this one hard or very simple. Let me know!
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
“We are prone to think that the world is more regular and predictable than it really is, because our memory automatically and continuously maintains a story about what is going on, and because the rules of memory tend to make that story as coherent as possible and to suppress alternatives. Fast thinking is not prone to doubt.”
- How is it that clouds made of water vapor yet can float mid-air? (Water is awfully heavy.)
- The world is visibly and obviously flat—yet we now believe that it’s intuitively obvious that the world is round. (Trust me, historically speaking, that wasn’t obvious at all!)
- When we’re on a merry-go-round, our intuition tells us that the force is outward—that centrifugal force is really trying to thrust us radially away from the center, not on a tangent along the direction of travel.
- Dense things are typically opaque, except for glass and water, which are “intuitively obvious” exceptions to the rule.
Counterintuitive:Except that they’re not obvious, it’s just the pattern you’ve seen so often that System 1 doesn’t even pick up on the contradiction.
A note from Dan’s System 2: Cloud droplets average between 1 and 100 microns. A typical droplet 20 microns in diameter is 4.2 picoliters in volume with a weight of 4.2 nanograms, falling at a terminal velocity of 0.02 mph. Thus, an updraft at just over 0.02 mph will keep the cloud in the sky. That’s not much updraft. Or to look at it another way, if the cloud formed at 10,000 feet, at 0.02 mph it will take nearly 4 days to fall to the ground.
(In the example below, squares A and B are the same color. Use an eyedropper tool to measure the colors and find they're the same. This illusion image is from Wikipedia, created by Edward H. Adelson, Professor of Vision Science at MIT in 1995.)
“feel as though we’re making decisions… but the person who designs the form that is actually making the decision for you. You like to think that the options don’t influence us, but that’s not true.”
Friday, November 18, 2011
We knew about the issue, and this week Google has announced a new search mode that you might want to know about.
Verbatim mode was announced on the Inside Search blog (a blog I recommend you read, actually, since most of the interesting announcements about new Google search features will appear there first).
What's Verbatim search? It's Google search without any synonymization, spell-correction, personalization or other interpretation. That is, it's just a basic search without any alterations in what you typed into the query box. To be clear, 99% of the time, those alterations actually improve your search results quite a bit. But every so often you really want just what you typed. Verbatim mode is for those situations.
To turn on Verbatim, you first open the "More search tools" button on the left hand panel...
That is, click on the bottom option, just below "Custom range..." This will open up a new set of options below that point. It should look like this:
When you click on Verbatim, you'll put your subsequent searching into this hyper-literal mode.
As we've discussed before, sometimes a search term seems so obviously misspelled (to Google) that it can't resist spell-correcting it for you.
But as you know, in this case we REALLY want to word to be unaffected by spell-correction or synonymization. You already know that you can double-quote the word like this:
... to get the Finnish folk music style that you were really searching for.
Now, when would you use Verbatim?
Whenever you want to do longer queries that you don't want altered at all.
For instance, a multi-word query such as [ joiker music finland ], a trip to Verbatim mode might be exactly what you want. Here's the query in default search mode:
But you might want to search this in Verbatim, as below. The first result is the same, but the next several results are somewhat different.
Notice the blue bar at the top of the results.. that's how you know you're still in Verbatim mode.
The difference is probably easiest to see in a side-by-side like this. Here I'm searching for "gyros":
Hope you find this new tool useful! Let me know how you like it!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Here's what I did to find it.
I did a straight-forward search on [ Newseum stone ] which led me to this article in KnoxvilleBiz.com
"...The marble came from the Endsley Quarry in Friendsville and was provided by Tennessee Valley Marble before the company was purchased last year by Tennessee Marble Co.
Architects chose Tennessee pink marble for the tablet because the same stone was used on the exterior of the National Gallery of Art, which is across the street, and in several other prominent buildings and monuments throughout the city..."
If you look to the right (east) of the quarry, you can see a stone cutting facility that you can't see from the road. But if you zoom in, you can spot large blocks of stone sitting around outside, looking like small cars.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
While I was there I spoke with man who told me that the beginning 45 words of the First Amendment to the constitution are engraved on giant slabs of marble on the front of the building. He went on to say that it was made of the same stone as was used to build the museum directly across the street. "The idea was that they wanted it to match, so they went and re-opened the original quarry."
He didn't know where the quarry was that was used as the source of stone, but he was pretty sure it was "down south" somewhere.
I was curious about where such a massive chunk of rock would come from, so I searched it out. It took me about 3 minutes to find an aerial photo of the quarry from whence it came.
I now know where the quarry is. Can you find that aerial image and provide the lat/long of the quarry?
For extra credit, can you find the lat/long of the place where the stone was cut to shape?
Friday, November 11, 2011
Here's what I did. My first query was to see if I could find any database that had reasonable information about how Americans spend their time day-to-day.
[ Americans spend time ]
This query led me quickly to the American Time Use Survey at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is their job: collect data and stats on American behavior across many different dimensions.
I drilled down almost immediately to their data sets about time use and found data from their big survey of ~13,200 Americans in 2010. The metadata for this survey is here (which is where they write down all the details of how the surveys were coded, the survey question form (ever want to see the script that surveyers use when asking you questions--this is it), etc.
Eventually, I got to the summary table of "Time spent in primary activities (1) and percent of the civilian population engaging in each activity, averages per day by sex, 2010 annual averages." I exported that data into my spreadsheet, and generated the following chart rather quickly.
Whenever you look at a chart like this, questions and insights immediately spring to mind. For instance, WHY is the average amount of work / day only 4.09 for men and 2.94 for women? (Or 3.5 average between the two.) Or, to answer my original question--"Do I spend a lot of time in email?" The answer is "yes, you do... but you're in Silicon Valley, what did you expect??"
You might prefer to see the data in this format:
(Same data, just different chart.)
Remember that this is a sample of people nation-wide, balanced across demographic categories (age, gender, location, etc.) and included a representative sample of unemployed people as well. Keep in mind, if you work a standard 40 hour work-week for 50 weeks of the year, you're really only working 4.3 hours/day averaged over the entire year.
Contrast that with the number of hours / day if you're engaged in that activity--7.82, which reflects more what you'd expect for number-of-hours worked given that you're working on that day.
We could continue analyzing the data, which is really interesting, but I want to return to the search question for a minute.
Why did I say this was simpler than I thought?
Answer: Because I had a particular solution path in mind when I started out. I would (1) locate the data, (2) extract it, and (3) analyze it.
I never expected that the BLS would have already done this for me! As gasstationswithoutpumps commented,
"I searched for [ hours spent american statistics ] which got me to
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm which has pointers
to tables for 2010 statistics divided in lots of ways. (in particular...)
Table 12 http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t12.htm
seems to be the one you want, with sleeping and watching
TV as the two biggest categories."