Monday, February 29, 2016

Answer: How to find compound concepts

Really well done, SRS team! 

This Challenge was fascinating.  There were more comments in the stream than usual (the ordinary run-rate is around 7 comments / week), all of which are great.  What's more, you found some solutions that I hadn't anticipated--which I always think of as a great outcome.  It tells me that the question is richer and more interesting than I'd thought.  

Let's jump into the answers. 

1.  A friend's child came down with a rare disease that involved an extended period of high fever.  She told me what it was, but I forgot the exact name.  Can you help me find it?  All I remember is that it's called_______ Disease, and the first word is a Japanese name that begins with either an "H" or a "K."  What IS the name of this disease?   
Hans, Luís, and Claire all did a smart thing:  They used the facts given in the description (rare disease, high fever, childhood), did a search, and scanned the snippets for Japanese-seeming names starting with H or K.  

Their queries were some version of: 

      [ child extended period high fever disease ] 

A quick scan of the snippets quickly shows us "Kawasaki Disease" in a couple of the snippet. 

A confirmation search of [ Kawasaki disease ] gives us the following Knowledge Panel, which has a great age-range graph at the bottom. 

2.  I remember reading a book awhile back, that was something like  _________  Oranges.  All I remember about the forgotten term is that it's the name of someone out of Moby Dick (it's like "Ahab," but that's not it).  What IS the name of this book?  
In this case, the simplest search is to search in Google Books and to use a fill-in-the-blank search, like: 

      [ "* "Oranges" " ] 

This query looks odd with an extra set of quote (marked by the extra red quotes), but here's what's going on.  

I started this Challenge by searching for a phrase with an asterisk match like this (that is, without the quotes):   

     [ "* Oranges" ] 

But I noticed that there were a few not quite useful hits in the Search Results Page (SERP). See this odd result at the bottom of this list? 

What's going on here?  

In this case, the book (The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet) has enough hits that match the query, [ "* Oranges"].  What could be happening is that synonyms could be registering as well.  So... I put an additional set of quotes around the term "Oranges" to ensure that ONLY phrases with ONLY the word "oranges" would match. In other words, I'm quoting a single term inside of a quoted phrase. 

Hence, this search now shows: 

In this case, I recognized Ishmael as a character from Moby Dick, but if you didn't recall all of the characters, a quick search for: 

     [ list of characters in Moby Dick ] 

will show you a short list of some of the best-known characters in Moby Dick at the top of the page (but be careful:  this is NOT guaranteed to be a complete list).  On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry does look to be pretty complete.  If you scan through this list and then return to the Books search, you'll quickly find the book by Claire Hajaj called Ishmael's Oranges.  

3.  Somewhere in Europe there's a region of the Alps that has an odd, very distinctive name.  It's something like  M________ Alps.  (That is, the first term starts with an "M.")  It's not Mont Blanc, or anything like that.  It's just a single word that starts with "M." And as I remember, it's a kind of odd term to associate with the mountains.    What's the full name of this Alpine region?  
As Ramon pointed out, using an online dictionary service like OneLook (which has a strong partial match capability) is really effective.  

In this case, I just went immediately to OneLook with the query: 

     [ M* Alps ] 

And here's what you see: 

 You can see there are three plausible hits ("Maritime Alps," "Minami Alps," and "Mürzsteg Alps").  A quick couple of clicks tells us that the Minami Alps can be found in Japan, but both the Maritime AND Mürzsteg Alps exist in Central Europe.  

The point of this Challenge is really to bring out methods for doing these kinds of otherwise difficult searches.  I think we've done that... 

Search Lessons  

1. Searching for general topics + visual scanning can be effective.  As we see in #1, the search for the specific topic (an unusual childhood disease), with a quick visual scanning step at the end while looking at the SERP can be effective--especially for properties that are difficult to specify (e.g. a "Japanese-sounding name that starts with H or K").  

2.  The * operator can be useful, especially in constrained searches.  Looking for a book entitled +Oranges can be crazy-making, but is fairly simple if you (a) look in the books collection, (b) use a pattern to specify the compound concept you seek, and (c) use the double-quote to prevent any synonym matching!  

3.  Sometimes the best search for a compound concept is in a computationally enhanced dictionary!  In the Alps example, I turned to the OneLook dictionary and specified a pattern, looking for anything that matched--which includes all (most!) of the mountain ranges of the world.  

For Teachers 

If you're a teacher who's creating as assignment that would use one of these methods, my usual "search lesson" caution applies:  pre-test everything!  

It's also worth exploring the space of possible search options for the online dictionaries.  OneLook's capabilities are fairly extensive--it's not web search, but search in a dictionary, which can be really powerful... especially when you're searching for specific terms / specific concepts.  (For instance, remember our discussion about the "Egg of Columbus"?  Here's the query on OneLook [ "egg of * "] )  

Some nice questions that link concepts to queries might be: 
(1) what kind of choice is a forced choice?  (What name is associated with that?),  
(2) what's the hypothetical universal solvent that was sought by alchemists?
(3) you once went to a place that's called "Big " in Texas.  What is the name of that place?  

Search on!  

(P.S.  I REALLY  haven't forgotten about the immigration / emmigration data Challenge from last week.  I'll write it up today and post my answer tomorrow. Really really really.)  


  1. Like the concept and also like to deepen the these are searches that deal w everyday life...

    Anyway..i was trying to recall a name of a town in Portugal whose name begin with S... and it's on the coast. Finally i checked on the map..because otherwise with a standard search like the ones described above i was not able to find the name...Anyone has a better approch than the map? :-)

    1. "Anyway..i was trying to recall a name of a town in Portugal whose name begin with S... and it's on the coast. Finally i checked on the map..because otherwise with a standard search like the ones described above i was not able to find the name...Anyone has a better approach than the map? "

      not necessarily better than the map, but an alternate search might be…
      … don't know if the place you are searching for is among these 8 (and assuming you would know it when you saw it…) —
      • Sagres/Santarem/Serpa/Sesimbra/Setubal/Silves/Sines/Sintra •
      but the approach used was [portugal coastal town s**], which showed this site on the SERP:
      "Portugal Towns - A-Z of Portugal towns and areas". which had the above 8 under "S" (was it one of those?)

      another approach: [best portuguese seaside towns] scan the best or top__/pa# lists…
      Sintra turned up on this top 10 list
      check the 's's here

      the Wiki way…
      plenty of "S"s, but sometimes just seeing the name will jog the mem… or likely candidates could be clicked on/explored…
      Sagres (Vila do Bispo)
      or use [seaside towns in portugal] & search the IMAGE results page to see if there is a visual reference that resonates…
      like this

      OR (drumroll) — ask Luís Miguel Viterbo! — on site/on-the-ground expertise/ground truth & frequent sRs commenter & proud citizen of Portugal ;) ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    2. I'd try [list of Portugal towns] or [Portugal towns starting with s] And I think in this case Map is the best option because question is limited to just one place.

    3. I just read the comments, sorry for not answering earlier.

      I believe Ramón's strategy is pretty solid for this kind of search. The Web is full of lists (namely on Wikipedia), thanks to obsessive-compulsive list creators like myself. So [ list of towns in Portugal ] and [ list of cities in Portugal ] would actually find these on Wikipedia in convenient alphabetical order — including Sesimbra.

  2. THX for all the answer...anyway the Place was Sesimbra :-)

  3. alt?:
    Sesimbra - "A long (here and there narrow) stripe of sand, lined by restaurants, and protected against north wind by the mountain, this beach challenges Nazaré for the title of the best structured beach on western coast. Nazaré has its people... Sesimbra one or two more degrees in water temperature... You decide (or visit both... they do deserve it)"
    understandable attraction

  4. eh...Sesimbra it's a nice place...:-)