Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (7/27/16): Mind the gap!

The biggest surprises... 

... are sometimes the ones you don't see at first.  They're the kind of little things that slowly creep into your consciousness and make you wonder... why is it that this is so??  

Long-time readers will remember the one of the harder Challenges of the past ("How much death at the roadside?") when we tried to figure out why there are gaps in the plant cover next to many roads in California. We discovered in that Challenge that the state Dept. of Transportation (CalTrans) regularly sprays herbicide on the edge of the road to prevent weeds from taking over the road.  

This week we have another "gap in the weeds" Challenge.  

Not long ago, I went for a run up on Black Mountain, one of the local peaks in the Santa Cruz mountain range.  If you look carefully on the right side, you can see the typical summer-time wave of fog coming in from the Pacific Ocean.  On typical summer evenings, that fog (aka "Karl") comes in from the sea to cover San Francisco.  Luckily, Black Mountain is usually high enough that the fog comes around, not over, the peak.  

Selfie of me running in the early morning at the peak of Black Mountain

It was on this run that I noticed something that was pretty small, but very odd.  Here are 3 pictures I took on that run of a strange phenomenon.  (Remember that you can click on the images to see larger versions.)  

What struck me about each of these pictures is that there's a noticable gap between the green plant and the grassland next to it.  Oddly, this doesn't happen ALL the time, but it does happen a lot.  

The plants here are chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), but I'm pretty sure I saw gaps like this around coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) in the same area.  

This strange plant-free boundary around most (but not all!) of the plants on Black Mountain led me to this week's Challenge:  

1.  What causes the odd, plant-free gap around the plants in these photos?  

If it helps (and it might, or might not), these photos were taken on August 13, 2013, at 37.3195203,-122.1630756  Which looks like this in the Google Earth photo:  

Looking carefully at this clump of chamise and coyote brush, you'll see this kind of gap all around these plants.  (The light color perimeter is where you can see the soil 

What's going on here?  I looked very carefully, and this gap at the periphery aren't trails of people or deer.  (You can see deer trails weaving between the clusters of bushes, especially to the west of the drop pin.)  

So... What's causing this?  Any ideas?  Let's do some of that SearchResearch and figure it out! 

Once you've figured it out, be sure to let us know HOW you figured it out.  What sources did you refer to?  And best of all, how did you know to search for that?  We all want to learn from your crazy SearchResearch skills!  

Search on!  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Answer: Finding connections between people

Finding connections... 

... is one of those basic skills we have to develop as SearchResearchers.  But it's also something that we encourage in our students, and in critical thinking in general.  "Compare and contrast the American Civil War with the French Revolution. In what ways were they similar?"  That's a typical assignment for school, but the ability to find interesting and useful connections is an important ability.     

What are the connections as highlighted below.  

Note that for all of these images, you can use Google Search-by-Image to identify the people, places, and logos.    

1.  What's the connection between these two people?  

This is Amerigo Vespucci's statue in the Uffizi Gallery, by Gaetano Grazzini (Florence, Italy).

And this is Simonetta Vespucci.

My favorite trick for finding connections is just to do a search with both of the names in the query.  In this case, 

     [ Amerigo Vespucci  Simonetta Vespucci ]  

I usually then open several tabs from the SERP to quickly get several perspectives on what's in common between them.  

It didn't take long to find that at age fifteen or sixteen she married Marco Vespucci, son of Piero, who was a distant cousin of the explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.  (Amerigo was the Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer who first showed that Brazil and the islands of the Caribbean were not Asia's eastern outskirts, but instead was an entirely separate, previously unknown landmass.  Colloquially referred to as the New World, this second, newly discovered continent came to be termed "America," deriving its name from Americus, the Latin version of Vespucci's first name.)  

Simonetta was an incandescent beauty, the "it" girl of Renaissance Florence until her untimely death at age 34.  

She was also, apparently, the muse of the famous Florentine painter Sandro Botticelli, who painted both the picture above, and this portrait below.

Simonetta Vespucci, by Sandro Botticelli
Widely considered the most beautiful woman of Florence, it's also thought that Simonetta was the model for the picture of The Birth of Venus, which you've seen before.

The Birth of Venus, Botticelli, ca. 1482-1485

Pro tip:  Keep this picture (and Botticelli) in mind as we keep searching for connections.  It will come up again... 

Connection:  Amerigo Vespucci was Simonetta Vespucci's cousin-in-law. 

2.  What's the connection between this company and this house? 

It's a quick search to find that this is the logo of Mitsubishi.  The Mitsubishi Group (三菱グループ, Mitsubishi Gurūpu) is a closely-linked set of autonomous Japanese-headed, multinational companies in a wide variety of industries.

Just another reverse-image search to find that this is the house of Thomas Blake Glover. 

Now, what's the connection?  Using the same method as before:  

     [ Thomas Blake Glover Mitsubishi ] 

This leads to some remarkable information:  In reading about the life of Thomas Blake Glover, we learn that Glover was a key figure in the industrialization of Japan. For this SearchResearch Challenge, he was instrumental in helping found the shipbuilding company which later became Mitsubishi.  In particular, Mitsubishi's web site points out that Glover, invested in developing the Takashima coal mine on an island near Nagasaki in 1868. Their mine was the first in Japan to employ Western methods of mining. Even so, Glover later had to sell his stake, but he stayed on as manager of the mine for several more years. Mitsubishi acquired the mine in 1881 in the organization's first main diversification beyond shipping.

Japan lacked modern facilities for repairing ships. So, Glover imported the necessary equipment for a slip dock in Nagasaki in 1868. He later sold his share to the government, which leased the dock to Mitsubishi as part of the shipyard in 1884.

But there's more!  He helped to negotiate the sale of the Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama, thereby setting up the Japan Brewery Company, which later became the major Kirin Brewery Company, Ltd. (An urban myth has it that the mustache of the mythical creature featured on Kirin beer labels is in fact a tribute to Glover, who wore a similar mustache).

The house shown above is in Aberdeen, Scotland, and is the place where he lived for a while before moving to Japan.  Born in Fraseburgh, Scotland, his birthplace was hit by a bomb in World War II and destroyed.  This little Victorian cottage on the banks of the Don river was purchased by Mitsubishi in the 1990s and set up as a museum.  (Apparently, it isn't doing so well, as a news report from July, 2015, tells us that it's boarded up, even though it's being touted as a tourist attraction in Japan.)  

By contrast, his house and garden in Nagasaki, Japan, attracts millions of visitors each year.  

This is an 1863 drawing of Glover House in Nagasaki (グラバー園 Gurabāen), the oldest western-style building in Japan.  Known in Japanese as Ipponmatsu (Single Pine Tree), the tree was chopped down in the early 20th century.  

Connection:  The house shown was lived-in by Thomas Blake Glover, who went to Japan back when that was a rare thing, and helped to startup Mitsubishi.  

3.  What's the connection between these two people?  

Reverse image search tells us that this is Gustav Holst, the famous British composer (1874-1934).  Best-known for his classical pieces, notably his orchestral masterpiece The Planets.  

While this is a portrait of Elizabeth Siddal in the character of Beatrice, as painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, English poet, illustrator, co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting.  (Incidentally, Elizabeth later became Rossetti's wife, but more on that in a bit.)  

Once again, I did the conjoined search for: 

     [ Gustav Holst Elizabeth Siddal ] 

Interestingly enough, about halfway down the page of the SERP, I see both Holst and Siddal's name in the same snippet. 

Normally, I wouldn't think of Pintrest as a reliable source, but a clue is a clue, you take them where you can find them--and in this case, it leads on to discovery.  

If you click through on that result "In the Bleak Midwinter-Christina Rossetti" you'll find a page that says, intriguingly enough: "In the Bleak Midwinter-Christina Rossetti. 1872.... see it put to music by Gustav Holst." 

You don't suppose there's a connection between Christina Rossetti and the composer of "In the Bleak Midwinter" do you? 

Searching for the connection: 

     [ Christina Rossetti Gustav Holst ] 

we find that "In the Bleak Midwinter..."  is a Christmas carol based on a poem by Christina Rossetti, the sister of Dante Rossetti, written before 1872.  It was published posthumously in Rossetti's Poetic Works in 1904. The poem became a Christmas carol shortly after it appeared in The English Hymnal with a setting by Gustav Holst in 1906.

Incidentally, Elizabeth Siddel was Rossetti's muse, and towards the end of her life, his wife.  Their relationship was always rocky, with on-again-off-again engagement for years. They finally married in 1860. The couple had a stillborn daughter and she became addicted to Laudanum (an an alcoholic solution containing morphine, prepared from opium and used as a narcotic painkiller)

She died just two years later in 1862 due to an overdose of Laudanum.  Possibly a suicide, but we'll never know for sure.  (The suicide note was supposedly burned by Rossetti...)   

In his grief, Gabriel Rossetti buried the only manuscript of his poems with her. The poems, nestled in her coffin next her famous copper hair, haunted him. Seven years later, he had her coffin exhumed in order to retrieve the poems for publication. Although he got the poems back and published them as The Book of Life.  

The story began to spread that when she was exhumed, Lizzie was still in beautiful, pristine condition and that her flaming red hair had continued to grow after death, completely filling the coffin.  A bit macabre, but fascinating (and most likely untrue) story.  

Connection:  Elizabeth Siddel (in the picture) was the sister-in-law of Christina Rossetti, whose poem, In the Bleak Midwinter, was set to music by none other than Gustav Holst.  

Extra Connection:  As I was reading through the web pages on Elizabeth Siddel and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, I happened across a fascinating connection between the art of Botticelli and the Pre-Raphaelite school.  

The picture of Elizabeth Siddel (above) is clearly in the PreRaphaelite style.  But as I read through the page at the Musée d'Orsay website, I happened to notice the following in a commentary about Pre-Raphaelite movement:  

Gradually, the medieval theme [that they had been using] was abandoned; Ruskin [a famous critic of the time] was concerned to see this obsession with the Middle Ages distancing artists from nature.
Henceforth, Burne-Jones [another PreRapahelite] and Rosetti turned to Italian art, and to Botticelli in particular. Finally, Jane Burden (1839-1914) and Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862) – who married Morris and Rossetti respectively - became the true muses of the movement and brought a more sensual dimension to it.

It's not completely improbable when you look at the pictures side-by-side.  

But that wasn't a connection I expected to find.  

Search Lessons

1.  When searching for connections, try a search with both connection targets in the query.  This seems obvious, and yet the surprise is that it works so often (and so well)!  

2.  Read "around" the target of your search.  That is, you often will want to open up several different web pages to understand what possible connections might exist between your two targets.  Be open to the possibility that there might not be any connection.  Having several pages open side-by-side is a really useful strategy.  

3.  Connection clues sometimes show up in the oddest places.  We found the connection between Holst and Siddal by looking at a Pintrest entry that linked Dante Rossetti with his sister's poem.  Once we tested that connection, we found the obvious link between sisters-in-law.  

For Teachers

As I said, finding connections is something that's important for our students to learn.  One important skill to get across is that while it's easy to find connections, it's a bit harder to find meaningful connections.  That is, spurious connections are simple--but ones that make a difference are a bit tougher.  That's why "reading around" is important.  Your students should get their connection information from more than one source. 

Also, impress upon them the importance of "reading around" in order to be prepared.  "Chance favors the prepared mind," said Louis Pasteur.  One way to be prepared is to understand much of the context in the topic of interest.  (That's how I happen to notice the unexpected connection between Sandro Botticelli and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...)  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (7/20/16): Finding connections between people

Connections between artists... 

... thinkers, do-ers, builders, writers, composers, and makers is important.  

If you know that Mr. X somehow influenced Ms. Y, or that Organization A is somehow connected with Place B, you're a leg up on understanding how history proceeds.  

(For teachers:  This is the kind of thing we expect our students to do all the time.  This Challenge is a neat example of the kind of connection-making we want in their research papers.)

This past week I was struck by several connections that I discovered.  These were so striking that I couldn't help but think of them as Challenges for the brilliant researchers in SRS.  

Here are three clues to surprising connections that I found this week.  Can you find the connections as well?  To make this a bit more like what I was doing in my reading process, I'll give you the starting points for the search.  Note that I wasn't searching for a connection between these, but I found them, and was delighted.  I hope you are too.  

1.  What's the connection between these two people?  

2.  What's the connection between this company and this house? 

3.  What's the connection between these two people?  

My answers (with a bit of colorful background on each of the connections) next week!  

I thought you might find the Challenge useful because research often involves the process of searching out the possible linkages between people, ideas, and their work.    

Search on! 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Answer: Tools!

Tools adapt to fit the task... 

... so it's no surprise that there are some really interesting tools to fit to unusual work tasks.  

1.  A tool that's been used by stained glass workers since medieval times is a  fid.  What IS a fid?  And how would you use it? 

I thought this would be harder than it was.  A quick search for 

     [ define fid ] 

reveals that its primary definition is as "a stout bar of wood or metal placed across a lower spar so as to support a higher one" (such as between the topmast and a lower mast).  

Is there any connection to stained glass?  Not yet.  We must go deeper.  

A secondary definition is as a "conical tool used for splicing rope."  But what does this have to do with glazier work?  

I modified my query to be: 

     [ fid use stained glass ] 

and found that this is also the name of a simple tool used by stained glass artisans.  (You can tell it's a specialized too because I got a couple of ads for fids!)  

It's a little widget that's used to it open up the lead channels in the "came" (the lead channels between pieces of glass), then used to push them back down.  It's also used to clean off excess cement, and to "burnish" (or push down) copper foil.  

Here's a video talking about the use of a fid (which is also sometimes called a lathekin): 

While (stained glass) fids can be beautiful and elegant (as in the above images), I just whittled one out of an old clothespin I had lying around.  

My daughter and I working on her first stained glass project.
My fid is just to the right of my right hand.
I'm using an Xacto knife to trim the copper foil.

2.  What's this tool?  What would you use it for?  For scale, it's about 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide.

Once again, easier than I thought: Search-by-Image is the way to go here.  Most people very quickly discovered that this is a freewheel removal tool.  Different bike makers have slightly different versions of this.  An excellent tutorial (with a good video) can be found at The Bike Tube site.   You can watch him put this kind of tool over the freewheel and rotate it to pull it off the wheel.  (Which you'll need to do when repairs are necessary.)  

3.  What is a languid depressor, and how do you use it?  (And why is does it have such a strange name?)  
With such a strange name, this isn't hard to find either, but it's a bit tricky to determine exactly what it is.  

The query: 

     [ languid depressor ] 

is pretty clearly a term of art for pipe organ building, but once you've figured that out, you need to refine your search to get to a clear idea of what this tool might be. My next query was: 

     [ languid organ ] 

Why this query?  Because I figured that a "depressor" was a generic term--that is, like a "tongue depressor" and the "languid" was the thing being depressed.  

Aha!  With that query, it's easy to see that the languid is an interior component of a pipe (in a pipe organ), and that a depressor would be used to adjust the height of the languid.  I did a search for [ languid organ ] on YouTube, and (a little bit to my amazement) found the following video (which is the same one that Regular Reader Remmij found), showing a languid depressor in use.  


4.  When, why, and where would you use a kelp iron?  Can you find a picture of one? 

As everyone discovered, this was a much more difficult Challenge than the others.  No surprise, as it's a tool used for an unusual job in a far-off and distant land.  

My first query: 

     [ kelp iron ] 

This turns out to be useless for our goal (of kelp iron as a tool), but very useful if you're trying to figure out how much iron is in your daily serving of kelp. 

The next page or two of results are all like this.  What now? 

Remember that what we're trying to do is to find what a kelp iron is and how it's used.   So I modified my query to include words that would be in an article about how it's used.  (And, just as importantly, NOT in any articles about kelp as a source of nutritional iron.)  

This is simple, but works: 

     [ "kelp iron" use ] 

I did a phrase search using double quotes (so the words kelp and iron wouldn't be separated) AND I added in the word use.  This turned out to give me some great results fairly far down on the SERP. 

The fact that these results are all in Books suggests that I repeat this query in  I did that, and found these three same results.  By reading these three works, I learned that the kelp iron it is a long, thin pole round 10 feet (3 meters) long with a 3 foot (1 meter) iron rod with a hook on the end.  It's used to stir up kelp as it is burned to produce a kind of brittle, bluish slag that is rich in the chemicals used for creating soap and glass. Burning kelp become an important industry along the coastlines of Scotland, Ireland, and the islands all around the northern parts of Britain.  

The kelp-iron is used for working the ash as the kelp burns, in order to make the burning ash of consistent consistency, leaving a high quality product without unburned chunks of kelp.  

In one of the  books in our hit-list,  Agricultural Surveys: Inverness (1808) by the Great Britain Board of Agriculture, we read that "This instrument [the kelp iron] consists of a wooden handle, similar to that of a spear or a hayrake, and of such a length, that a man can work it, standing upright: the shaft is fixed into the socket of an iron head which is six-inches (12 cm) long"  and that "the kelp is thus wrought into a liquid mass without intermission, until it become stiff, which is very hard labour..."  

This is great, but continued searching with "kelp iron" isn't especially productive, there just aren't that many books with this term in it. How can we expand our search terms to find more about this difficult topic? We need to find another term that's more common, but just as precise, to find more content about the kelp burning process.  

If you read just a bit around the description of the kelp-iron in this book, we find several other unique terms we can use, the most likely of which is: 

     [ "kelp kiln"]

 which is where the kelp was burned.  

If we repeat our search using this new term, we find:  

These results are starting to look promising, surely the kelp kilns were worked with a kelp iron!  

By doing a bit of reading through these results, I learned a bit more (including the promise of an image of a kelp iron in the book "Highland Folk Ways" by Isabel Grant on page 115), and found many more descriptions of the process, including many (many!) photos of kelp kilns, where the kelp was burned, and lots of pictures of people working the kelp kilns with shovels and pitchforks... (another photo of kelp workers with shovels)...  but NOT the kelp irons.  

But so far, I haven't been able to locate an online copy of "Highland Folk Ways."  (I've requested it via inter-library loan, but that will take more than 1 week.  Will report back when I get it.)  

Like Regular Reader Jon the Unknown, I managed (after a couple hours of browsing the results from the [ "kelp kiln"] query) to find the book General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides, Or Western Isles of Scotland, With Observations on the Means of their improvement... by James McDonald (1811).  In that text we find (p. 801) this description of the process and a tiny sketch: 

And this seems to be the best image (so far) of a kelp iron from Celtic lands.  

Interestingly enough, Regular Reader Kathe Guste found some remarkable images from a Norwegian digital history museum site: 

P/C DigitalMuseum.no
 CC by attribution

The hand-tinted photo and the black-and-white both look a lot like a kelp iron, but they seem to being used to harvest the kelp (not to stir it up in the kiln).  So I suspect these are staged photos, but even so, they certainly give an impression of what a kelp iron might be. 

I was just about to give up on this search when I tried one last thing... 

At this point, after a couple of hours of low-quality reading through search results, I was thinking to myself "How can I search through just museum websites?"  

This is when the INURL: operator becomes useful.  Not all museums have the word "museum" in their title (think of the Smithsonian, a great museum that's found at SI.ORG), but enough do that it's worth the effort.  

My last query in this search was:  

     [ inurl:museum "kelp burning" ] 

(Another variation on the "kelp" + frequent word association.)  

Lo and behold, this query has two results (!), yet this is how I found the Shetland Museum site: 

This site has it's own internal search tool (see the upper right corner).  So, I dropped in the term "kelp" to see what general kinds of things they had.  This is what I found

By this point, I'd read enough about kelp irons to know what one should look like (especially with the helpful sketch from McDonald's book. Here's the closeup of their image

P/C Shetland Museum Archives.
Obviously, this is just the iron part of the kelp iron--you'd attach a 9 foot (3 meter) pole onto this. Also notice that the Shetland Museum calls this a "kelp rake."  

Odd thing worth knowing: if you do a query like this:
[ kelp ] you WILL NOT find this kelp iron.  This is why you sometimes want to use the on-site search tool--most, but obviously not all, pages on a site are indexed by Google.  

Search Lessons

There are several things to pick up here.

1. Some searches require additional context terms in order to focus in on the target.  The fid example required that we add in use and stained glass in order to get good high quality results.  Sometimes context terms are needed to clarify the particular meaning.  

2. The right context term is sometimes the general area.  This was the case with the languid depressor.  To get decent results, I had to eliminate the word depressor and add in the word organ, once I figured out that a languid depressor is part of an organ pipe.  

3.  Remember to check other media types.  The best way to learn about how to use a languid depressor is to watch the video. 

4. Finding your goal often means figuring out the other ways people talk about your target.  In the kelp iron case, the query evolved from
     ["kelp iron"] to ["kelp iron" use] to
     ["kelp kiln"] to ["kelp burning"] to
     [inurl:museum "kelp burning"] 

5. The INURL: operator can be used (imperfectly) to limit your search to a specific kind of location (e.g., museums).  This doesn't always work, but in this case, it was exactly the right thing to try. 

This was a difficult last Challenge--but completely fun!  Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  

Search on!