Thursday, February 28, 2013

Answer: What kind of animal made these tracks?

The questions were: 

     1.  Exactly where and when was this photograph taken? 

     2.  What kind of animal left these tracks?  
          (Ignore my shoeprint in the lower right.  That's mine.)  

The quick answers:  
1.  Where / when? The photo was taken in Santa Teresa County Park, San José, California on the Fortini Trail--Feb 20, 2012 at 2:44PM.  (Specifically, at lat/long 37.207815, -121.796928333333) 
2.  What kind of animal?  Those are wild turkey tracks.  (Meleagris gallopavo)
Image link from Wikipedia

How can you figure this out?  

As I was trying to suggest with my funny Latin motto, "everything is fair in love and search."  Although I often manipulate the photos that I post here, in this case I just used the image as it came straight out of my cell phone.  (Yes, I went running with my cell phone--I was using it to track my run location and time.)  

Step 1:  Copy the file to your local device.  On a Mac you can CMD-click on the image (on a PC right-click) and save the picture onto your drive.  

Note the name of the file.  It's IMG_20130220_144409.jpg 

If you look at that filename carefully, you'll see the first number is the date (2013-02-20) and the second number is the time (14:40:09).  That's the metadata about the image you get for free without much work.  

But if you've ever uploaded an image like this into a G+ album (or into a Picasa album), you'll notice that you can see the geo information as well.  Here's a screenshot of me looking at this image in my G+ image album: 
To get here, I just imported the saved file into my G+ Image albums, then clicked on the "Photo details" button (see the pointing hand in the pic below). 

Once I click on that, I'll see the larger image WITH the map and other metadata exposed (Camera type, exposure time, aperture, etc.).  

What you need to know is that all digital cameras capture some metadata and store it with the image.  For JPG files, this is called EXIF metadata.  (For details, see the Wikipedia article on EXIF.)  

For OUR purposes, it's enough to know that EXIF almost always has all of the information about the picture... and if it was taken on a smartphone (or a smartcamera) it will have the GPS data as well.  

There are lots of tools for inspecting the metadata of an image.  You can get some of the metadata by getting "more information" when you Preview an image on the Mac.  And there are lots of tools for reading the metadata as well.  I did a search for: 

[ image metadata tool ] 

and found several.  I downloaded and installed a freeware tool called FileViewer (from and was able to easily look at the entire metadata list.  You can see some of it in the box on the right.  

Now that you know all this, you can easily drop the lat/long into Google Maps and find that the image was taken on the Fortini Trail in Santa Teresa County Park.  

To figure out what KIND of animal left these tracks, I started with what I knew.  It was obvious to me that these were bird tracks (although as one reader pointed out, they look like theropod tracks... although cell phones and theropods missed each other by 230 million years).  

So a quick search for: 

[ birds Santa Teresa county park ] 

(or anything close to that) will reveal a number of sites from local birders with possibilities.  

If you look through these for a bit, you'll quickly realize that these tracks of this size and in this location could only be from a wild turkey or maybe a turkey vulture, Cathartes aura (they're the only birds in this area of the right size, which if you look at the tracks and compare it with my shoeprint in the image, shows the tracks to be around 2.5 - 3" in length).  

Here, I've taken the image I took and put it side-by-side with turkey vulture so you can see the difference.  
As you can see, vultures have more of a rear-toe than turkeys.  
Also notice that all of the tracks are going the same way.  Turkeys tend to roam in small flocks, walking on the ground together, foraging for food.  So I strongly believe that these tracks were made by wild turkeys.  (And from my observations on the Fortini trail, I'm 99.9% sure this is right.  I've seen turkeys there before, dodging through the underbrush like tiny theropods.)  

Search lesson:  First, you have to know about the existence of image metadata.  If you don't know that cameras write EXIF metadata into the JPG files, you won't think to check for it.  Whenever you're checking an image for place of origin or you're otherwise checking into it, be sure to look at the metadata.  (But note that metadata can be edited, just like anything else!  Just because you find it there doesn't guarantee that it was written by the camera.)  

But now you know how to search out, find, and use the EXIF metadata.  

Note that the EXIF format is flexible.  In the future, one could imagine metadata that includes things like ambient weather (temperature, humidity, etc.) or even photographer ID  ("dmrussell held this camera for this shot").  Stay tuned, because metadata attached to the image is a rich and growing area for expert searchers!  

Footnote:  I was curious about how many people knew about EXIF, so I ran a small survey among 100 people who I thought of as fairly technically savvy.  To my surprise, 40% of them said they'd never heard of the term before.  21% of them only had a vague idea.  Now you are in the metadata literate 39%!  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday search challenge (2/27/13): What kind of animal?

On being a tracker of information... 

I went for a run recently, and ran across the following set of mysterious tracks in the trail. 

This is a unretouched image, just as I took it. 

Today's question is very simple (but if you don't know how to solve it, it's probably close to impossible).  

     1.  Exactly where and when was this photograph taken? 

     2.  What kind of animal left these tracks?  
          (Ignore my shoeprint in the lower right.  That's mine.)  

As usual, be sure to tell us HOW you figured this one out, and let us know about how long it took you to figure it out.  

(Trust me, there's enough information for you to figure all of this out.  Remember, omnia iusta sunt in amore quarenteque omnes pulchrum est in amore et in quaerendo. )      { NB: Correction of my Latin text with regards to Marian.  Thanks. }

Search on! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

If you like the 1MM short videos...

If you've enjoyed the 1MM short videos I've been making, I highly encourage you to go check out the GoogleHelp YouTube channel.  This is a great collection of short videos that will explain a bit about some of the lesser-used search capabilities.  

Check these out:  Some are by Matt and Kousha, both of whom have worked with me at Google teaching classes.  You might recognize Matt as Santa in the "Santa Search Tips Rap" ... and you might recognize Kousha who was the star of a couple of the challenges in the PowerSearchingWithGoogle MOOC (such as the "Sutro Baths" challenge).  

Here are a couple I really like from this channel.  Enjoy!  

How to search by Reading Level. 

"Wishin' for a definition"

Friday, February 22, 2013

1MM #8 -- Why search query word order matters

Did you know that the particular sequence of words in your search query can have a big effect on the results you see?  

Here's a short 1MM video to illustrate the variations you might get.  The key thing to remember is that pairs of adjacent words ("cat lady" vs. "lady cat") can have profound shifts in meaning.  English is highly word-order specific, so it should come as no surprised that this is true for search as well.  

Hope you find this useful! 

Search on! 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Answer: How did Dickens fare?

First, BRAVO to everyone who wrote in with answers.  I’m not sure quite why (maybe it was the MOOC?), but the quality of the research we’re seeing in the comment stream has greatly improved over the past few months.  Many of the comments in reply to yesterday’s question were excellent.  Not just the answers, but also the process AND (bless you!) the references to the places where you found the data. 

Now, a small mea culpa:  I wasn’t 100% clear on the question.  When I asked for “how many copies were printed by Dickens during that first year of publication?”  what I should have said was:  “how many copies were printed by Dickens in 1843 and all of 1844?”  That would be been a bit more clear.  (Also a better question, since publishing accounts would tend to close at the end of each year.) 

As you know, A Christmas Carol (link to the Gutenberg Project text copy ) was first published by Chapman & Hall (London) on December 19, 1843.  It’s the well-known tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's transformation coming from the ghostly visits of his former partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  He is a reborn man at the end, full of Christmas spirit and a quality of charity.  The book was an instant success and received positive critical acclaim.
A vivid account of how the book came to be is told in an article published in the Guardian newspaper.  Here's my summary of that article, integrating things I picked up along the way... 

In 1843, Dickens was in a tough financial situation.  He desperately wanted A Christmas Carol to be a beautiful little gift book that would return a nice profit.  Working with his publisher, he tried to make it an attractive (and hopefully, high profit) Victorian equivalent of a coffee table book.  It was to have a fancy binding stamped with gold lettering on the spine and front cover; gilded edges on the paper all around; four full-page, hand-colored etchings and four woodcuts by the famous illustrator John Leech; half-title and title pages printed in bright red and green; and hand-colored green endpapers to match the green of the title page. 

The first printing of "A Christmas Carol" by Chapman & Hall.  Image from Wikimedia.

But production problems began almost instantly.  Dickens disliked the green of the title pages, which had turned a drab olive, and found that the green from the endpapers smudged and dusted off when touched.  By December 17th, only two days before the book's release date, the publisher produced new copies of the book with a red and blue title page, a blue half-title page, and yellow endpapers (which did not require hand coloring). Dickens wrote to his lawyer that "I am sure [the book] will do me a great deal of good, and I hope it will sell, well." The price of the book was 5 s. 

The book was published and almost immediately sold out in its first printing.  But he’d set the price too low. 

According to the Guardian story, when Dickens received the initial receipts of production and sale from Chapman and Hall, he found that after the deductions for printing, paper, drawing and engraving, steel plates, paper for plates, colouring, binding, incidentals and advertising and commission to the publishers, the "Balance of account to Mr Dickens's credit" was a mere £137. "I had set my heart and soul upon a Thousand, clear," he wrote to Forster. "What a wonderful thing it is, that such a great success should occasion me such intolerable anxiety and disappointment!" Even after the close of the following year and the sale of 15,000 copies, Dickens had still only received £726.  As the result of a feud with his publisher over the meagre earnings on his previous novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens chose to receive a percentage of the profits in hopes of making more money. This obviously did not pan out in the way he had hoped. 

From the VictorianWeb:  Ironically, this, one of the best loved stories in the English language, at first lost the author money, for his income on sales of the first 6,000 copies was but £230 while costs he incurred in suing Parley's Illuminated Library for pirating the Carol amounted to £700 when the malefactors declared bankruptcy.

Search process:   This search was long, but the complications weren't in the searching, but in reading through the things I found and trying to reconcile the different versions of the story.  

I started with the obvious

[ Wikipedia “A Christmas Carol” ]

and read through the article.  The links at the end of the Wikipedia article were marvelous, however, and I followed more than a few of them to get a broader perspective on the story.  Jon Varese’s article in the Guardian was illuminating and fascinating. 

But I wanted to get a few other points of view, and by this point I realized that the story of the creation of “A Christmas Carol” was as much a story in and of itself, so my next query was:

[ “A Christmas Carol” history ]

which led me to the site (which, oddly enough, I should have known about—curator and author George Landow is a good friend). 

But then the problem was determining how much profit he’d made from the printing.  Several sources said £137 for the first printing, while others claimed it was £230.  That’s a big difference!  To further complicate matters, some sources reported the profit for the first year (that is, 1843-1844) as £744  and others as £726.  So, after looking through many sources, I came to the following conclusions:  

Number sold:  6,000 in the first printing (1843); with almost another 9,000 sold in subsequent printings during 1844; or nearly 15,000 in 1843-1844.  

Profit made:  According to the Guardian article, £726, which agrees with the very nice accounting page at  (which reproduces a page from the publisher’s accounts book), the profit for the year was £726, so let’s go with that.  But as many readers pointed out, he seems to have cleared £137 in the first printing.  Nice profit for 6 weeks of writing time, but nothing like the £1000 he had hoped to make. 

Changes made:   In addition to the changes in colors, gilt lettering, title pages and end papers (see above),  three regular readers (Ramón, GRayR and DropTheGloves) pointed out that (quoting GRayR here): 
From the NYT article about "A Christmas Carol"
“At least one change did not occur until the book was at the printer. You will note that the manuscript is silent on whether Tiny Tim lives. But before the first editions went out the door, a line was curiously inserted on page 65 noting that “and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.”
I did not know that.  A marvelous and significant catch! 

For people interested in even more of the backstory of Dickens and "A Christmas Carol," Rosemary M suggests (and I agree with her):  The Man Who Invented Christmas: How CharlesDickens's a Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived our Holiday (Author: Les Standiford) 

The things you learn by writing a blog.

Search on!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday search challenge (2/20/13): How did Dickens fare?

You probably have already read, or seen, or heard, some version of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” 


What you probably don’t know is the backstory to this tale.  Today’s question requires a little digging to get to this part of the history, primarily because there’s SO much that’s out there about Dickens and about this story in particular.  

So today’s challenge is really about filtering through all of the options to find the nuggets that you really want to know. 

We have three questions for today’s search challenge:

1.  How much money did Dickens make from the sales of the first edition of “A Christmas Carol”? 

2.  What kinds of changes did Dickens make to the book just before publication?

3. How many copies were printed by Dickens during that first year of publication? 

Search on!  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Teaching the Advanced Power Searching with Google MOOC

Teaching 36,000 students is nothing like what I thought it would be.  Instead of preaching to a stadium full of students, it was more like talking with a city full of scholars, two and three at a time, one group after the other.  It was a lot of work, and utterly worth it.  

The last two classes we ran at the end of last year were MOOCs as well—Massive Open Online Courses—each had around 150,000 students registered. I’d sort of figured that 1/5th of the students would mean around 1/5th the work.  That was optimistic and utterly wrong.  I don’t yet have the final numbers, but my sense is that this smaller course was just as much work as the big ones—just a different kind of work, much more contact with students as individuals.

Of course, this was the *Advanced* Power Searching MOOC, but I didn’t quite know what to expect when we launched it.  Would it require more handholding, or less?  Would the students be really advanced or not?

It turned out that it felt like *more* questions were asked, more contact was required.  I still don’t know if it was because we had more people take it without having the prerequisites (that is, the Basic search class) OR if it was just that the MOOC was that much harder.

I’m also really curious to find out what happened to all of the 36,000 people who signed up.  Again, I’m not sure of the final numbers yet, but it looks like maybe 10% of those who showed up for the first class actually completed the course.  That’s seems like a pretty low number…but it's pretty standard among MOOCs these days.  Lots of people sign up for a class, thinking they'll have lots of spare time and motivation, but then reality sets in and they end up having to work an extra 20 hours that week.  I don't blame them, I have same problem.  I've signed up for several MOOCs and have watched lots of video, but haven't yet managed to complete the course work.  

One of the truly striking features of this MOOC was that we had so many videoconferences with students by using Google Hangouts.  As a result, I was able to talk with lots of students around the world—including Bobby in Beijing who was attending the class by working around the Chinese firewall to watch the YouTube videos.   He looked to be around 14 years old.  That’s pretty sophisticated stuff for a 9th grader. 

I also had a long conversation with an Ecuadorean flower seller that made think twice before making assumptions about the students.  She was in her mid-30s and when she told me that she “sold flowers” I assumed that since she was in Latin America, she sold flowers in the local farmer’s market, or sold them by wandering from restaurant to restaurant they way I’d see many times before in Mexico and Honduras.  So when I asked her WHY she wanted to take the class, she explained that she wanted to research various markets in the US and Europe for her flowers.  She didn’t sell them a bunch at a time, but in large numbers per order—she was a large exporter of tropical flowers, not a small-time seller.  Amazing.  It was suddenly obvious why she wanted to improve her search skills—her market research was an important part of her job.

But perhaps most surprising was the kid in Syria who participated in a few videoconferences.  I kept wanting to ask HOW he was taking this class while living in a country that is deeply embedded in a civil war, but I resisted the urge.  The fact that he was able to connect from Syria was remarkable enough.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing about the MOOC—the constellation of people, countries, and cultures.  Five percent of all the course attendees were from Egypt!  That tells me there’s a pretty deep interest in improving one’s research skills.  Google’s not just for looking up triviata and answering bar bets, it’s also being used globally to dig more deeply into questions that are tremendously important.  I’m glad we were able to help some students out.

If you took the MOOC and finished (or if you didn't, but watched at least a couple of the videos or worked on one or two of the challenges), I'd love to hear your experiences.  Anything you want to share? 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Answer: What kind of flower is it?

Short answer:  It’s Calendula arvensis, also known as the “field marigold.” 

T-shirt awards:  

Joe at 7:35AM called it Calendula officinalis (which is close enough that I’ll accept that answer). See details below.  

Khilbelink at 7:37AM named it correctly as Calendula arvensis

Unknown (aka “Julio”) at 7:47AM got VERY close by calling it a Malmequer flower (but when you translate “Malmequer” it means “marigold” in English, which is close, but not quite precise enough).  Sorry, Julio.

Sean at 7:53AM also figured out it was a Calendula arvensis

So… Sean, Khilbelink and Joe… send me an email and I’ll get those t-shirts to you! 

What I did to find the answer…

Since I knew the stem was “square” I did a search for:

   [ square stem plants ]

and found that Mint plants (in the family Lamiaceae) have square stems with rough, aromatic leaves.  But when I read a bit more, I found that all Mint flowers are shaped a bit like pea flowers—with a couple of fused big petals below and free upper petals. 

This flower clearly wasn’t like that.  This one looked more like a sunflower or an aster, both of which I already knew are in the Compositae family.  (Other composite flowers include sunflowers and dandelions.  They all have a center set of tiny flowers with petals arrayed around the center, just like our mystery flower.)  

But I did the search for orange mint flowers anyway, hoping that this one might be an odd one in the family.  My next query was:

   [ mint plant orange flowers ]

I switched to Image search and scanned down a bit.  Here’s what I found about 5 rows down… a flower that looked a LOT like the one I was after. 

This suggested that it was a “marigold calendula officinalis.”  That was a great clue—so I started looking up “marigold” and “calendula” and “officinalis” as search terms, quickly finding out that “marigold” is a common name of a large number of flowers, while Calendula officinalis is the name of a specific kind of flower that looked a lot like the one I had in my hand.  This was great! After only a couple minutes of searching, I seem to have a real clue about the flower.  

But now I wanted to find an extremely authoritative source that would give me a positive ID for the flower.  My next search:

   [ California wildflowers ]

led me to the website, a site I soon discovered is associated with UC Berkeley and a whole bunch of people with extensive California botanical experience.  (And, to their credit, they document ALL of the flowers in California, the weeds, the invasive species, and the native flowers.)   I started noticing that they had fantastic images... ones that looked just like mine.  
Image from CalFlora of Calendula arvensis.
Note the similarities in leaves and the tips of the petals
which have the same indentations as in my
photos of the flower.  
Image from CalFlora of Calendula arvensis.

So I checked on their site for Calendula.  This is part of what I found:

Not only are there many different kinds of Calendula in California, none of them are native, and some are invasive.  Well, that certainly seems the case here—they took over that hillside in a big way. 

As you can see, both C. officinalis and C. arvensis look like the flower in question.  Which one is it?

If you spend any time at all looking around at flower identification sites, you quickly find that they all end up pointing to the Jepson Manual ( ) which is THE bible of plant identification. 

So let’s look them both up in the Jepson Manual.  That’s pretty easy, but then you end up with these two descriptions side-by-side. 

C. officinalis L. POT-MARIGOLD
Finely hairy.
Stem: slender to ± coarse, sparingly branched.
Leaf: sessile, <= 15 cm, ± thick; base generally clasping.
Inflorescence: heads erect at maturity, flowers closing at night.
Ray flower: ray pale yellow to orange.
Disk flower: corolla generally 5–6 mm.
Fruit: 10–20+ mm.
2n=14,32. Uncommon. Escape from cultivation in disturbed areas, occasionally from seed mixes; < 500 m. Central Coast, San Francisco Bay Area, Outer South Coast Ranges, South Coast, San Bernardino Mountains; native origin unknown. Mar–May
 C. arvensis L. FIELD-MARIGOLD
Finely glandular-hairy.
Stem: slender, <= 60 cm.
Leaf: petioled; blade <= 7 cm, ± thin, becoming sessile distally.
Inflorescence: head nodding at maturity.
Ray flower: ray yellow to orange.
Disk flower: corolla generally 2.5–4 mm.
Fruit: 3–12 mm.
2n=18,36,44. Uncommon. Escape from cultivation in disturbed areas, sometimes established from seed mixes; < 200 m. c Sierra Nevada Foothills, Central Western California (except Inner South Coast Ranges), South Coast, expected more widely; native to c Europe, Mediterranean. Mar–Apr

So… how do we decode this?

Two key items leap out at me when reading these descriptions.  First, C. officinalis is described as “finely hairy” and having “sessile” leaves.   Second, C. arensis is described as being “glandular-hairy” with “petioled” leaves. 

If you look up “sessile,” you’ll find that it means the leaves attach directly onto the stem of the plant without any intervening stalk. That intervening stalk is called a “petiole.” 

Below I’ve highlighted a part of the one of the images that makes it pretty clear these leaves are in fact  “petioled.” 

I think this pretty much determines it:  Our flowers are Calendula arvensis, aka “field marigold.” 

Search lessons

Let’s face it—I got lucky with the image search.  (Especially since the stem was really pentagonal, and not square.) 

If I had NOT discovered the calendula family that way, I would have had to start searching for image collections of golden-yellow Bay area wildflowers, probably filtering by image color.  But the process would have been the same—find something that is a near match, then double and triple check on the details of the flower. 

As you see, I spent some amount of time looking for great reference materials ( and the online Jepson Manual).  Just matching pictures isn’t really detailed enough to give authoritative answers on plant identification questions. 

When the flowers actually bear fruit, I’ll take a few pictures and measurements… and determine if they’re really those of officinalis (at 10-22mm) or the smallish ones from arvensis (3-12 mm). 

Searching on!