Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Answer: Scandinavia?

Travel is broadening.  That's what they say... 

And I think they're right. Although, as Dave Barry says: 

“The major advantage of domestic travel is that, with a few exceptions such as Miami, most domestic locations are conveniently situated right here in the United States.”  (Dave Barry, The only travel guide you'll ever need.) 

That's not true for international travel, of course, and it's travel outside of your normal scope that gives us our SearchResearch Challenges for this week.  Did you figure these out? 

1.  Okay, which is it?  Was I in Scandinavia or in the Nordic countries?  What's the difference between Scandinavia and the Nordic countries?   
This isn't hard--but there are two approaches here.  (A) Compare the definitions, (B) Ask the question and hope for a QA match.  Here's what I mean.  

(A) Comparing the definitions.  Here they are for easy comparison.  

"Scandinavian" refers to the people that speak one of the Scandinavian languages: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Faroese.  While "Nordic" refers to Scandinavia, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.

Hmmm... From this definition, it looks like the term "Nordic" is used for Scandinavia + Finland. Also notice that the term "Nordic" seems to have been in use only since about 1900.  That makes it of fairly recent coinage.

(B) The question-asking approach: What happens when we do a simple question like this?   

     [ difference between Scandinavian and Nordic ] 

When you ask a question of this form, you get: 

The not-especially-clear answer here is extracted from the Wikipedia page, Nordic Countries, where it argues that "Scandinavia" is just Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. 

This answer doesn't give a great definition for Nordic, but we can go check the original Wikipedia article to see that the Nordic Countries "...consist of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, including their associated territories (Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Åland Islands).

Notice also that when you ask that question, you'll see the "People Also Ask" feature popup in the SERP.  It looks like this: 

These are questions that are strongly related to the question you asked in the original query.  These are questions that Google has determined are probably the next kind of question you'd want to ask.  

Notice that if you click on one of the questions, the panel opens up, and provides some answers at the bottom.  Here's what happens when you click on the first question "Is Nordic the same as Scandinavian?" 

2.  This is a real puzzle.  I saw these wires coming out of the bottom of drain pipes all over Scandinavia, but I can't figure out why they're there.  It's obviously not just a wiring mistake; basically EVERY drainpipe has this.  They're usually in a loop (as shown), but sometimes it's just a thick wire.  They're firmly attached (I pulled on one to see if it was loose--it wasn't).  What are these drainpipe wires?   
This was a bit tricky, partly because it was a solution to a problem I'd never thought about before.   

I tried a bunch of searches starting with [ drainpipe wires Scandinavia] and variations on that theme. 

Finally I remembered that sometimes it's useful to be more specific and use a specific term to stand in for the whole...  (Remember this SRS post from 2012 about synecdoche? That's what I mean--using a specific term to stand for the whole).  

I changed my query to: 

     [ wires in drainpipe Norway ] 

and when I switched to Images mode, I saw this in the upper right part of the window. 

See that set of wires coming out of the drain pipe?  The title suggested that these are "perhaps heat wires to prevent ice blockage."  That sounds plausible.  (And certainly something I never would have thought about--what do I know about ice and drains?  I grew up in LA, where we never had to deal with these things.)  

If you click on the upper right image (the two rolls of white wire), you'll find that those are "300m Insulated Floor Heating Pipe Cable For Defrost Ice In Downspout PE And Drain Pipe."  

This gives me a big clue.  When I modify my query terms to be

     [ downspout heating cable ice ] 

I start finding interesting and useful results, including this diagram that clearly shows the heating cable running along the eave of the roof, down into the downspout and back up again to the next gutter / eave / downspout.  

Diagram courtesy of HeatersPlus.com

So why have the loop outside of the pipe?  I found the answer to that one in an image just a bit farther down the page.  If the loop is up inside of the pipe, there's a good chance it will clog up with leaves.  (The picture is of someone's downspout that they had to break into as a way to remove the leaves!)   

3.  While wandering around the central streets in the capital of one unnamed country, I saw these odd little plaques with animals.  Why are they there? What's going on here?  

Search for the most distinctive thing in this first image  "yksisarvinen."  When I did that, I found that this is Finnish word for "unicorn."  Makes sense--it looks like a Finnish word. 

Looking at the other two photos (of the hamster and giraffe signs), it seems they're on street corners.  I know enough Swedish to recognize the word "gatan" as the English word for "street."  So "Fabiansgatan" is probably "Fabian's Street"--but why would this Swedish street be in Finland?  That suggests to me that "Fabianinkatu" is probably also a "Fabian's Street" in Finnish.  Let's check.  

A search for: 

     [ Fabianinkatu ] 

Clicking on the map transports me to downtown Helsinki, Finland. Then switching into Streetview, you see the giraffe sign on the street corner (next to the traffic light).  Yup--that's it alright.  

While I was in Streetview mode, I turned around to look down the street to the east, and found THIS on the street corner across the way... Note the TWO camel signs, on each side of the intersection.  

It's pretty clear that this isn't a street sign (or it would be just on one of the buildings, probably the one facing the street).  The street names are different, but the animal sign is the same on both sides of the corner.  What's going on here? 

I thought I'd check Images for a link to something related.  So I did this query (where the intext: operator requires that the term be on the destination page text): 

     [intext:yksisarvinen street sign] 

When you click through to Google Images, you see: 

Clicking through on the first picture takes you a blog by a student in Finland who's writing about textiles.  If you click through to her blog page, you'll see the unicorn sign (and several others).  But more interestingly, she has a link to the Helsinki city council's page about named city blocks.  (Yes, there is such a document!) 

In there they write: 

A new regulation was issued in Stockholm in 1810 stipulating that
plots within each street-lined quarter were to be individually numbered.
Additionally, the owners of corner buildings were to affix signs indicating
the name of the quarter. In the Stockholm of those times, names were
also given to blocks along with the numbers because they were easier
to remember. The names drew on various subjects, for example trades,
person’s names, sea life and birds. In Stockholm’s Old Town, the blocks’
names are still well known. 
{DR: You need to know that at this time, Finland was part of Sweden, which is why Stockholm is so important in this story.}  
In Helsinki the numbering and naming of sites bordering streets was
legalised in 1820 in connection with fire regulations. At the same time the
first street names were also ratified. Blocks in built-up urban areas were
named after domestic and wild animals as well as certain flowers. In the so-called
Uusimaa suburbs, the names of fish and birds were most commonly
used. In 1836, when the names of blocks were harmonised in certain
areas, flowers had to make way for mammals to ensure that entire blocks’
nomenclature in existing city districts remained thematically consistent.
Except for what is now Eira, the blocks in all of the city’s southern districts
were named in this fashion. 
During the following decades blocks continued to be named according to
the same themes, except in Katajanokka, where it was decided to name
blocks after different tree species. The naming of blocks never extended
north of Töölö and Pitkäsilta bridge because this practice was discontinued
since the 1890s..
The golden age of block nomenclature was therefore experienced in the
mid-1800s, particularly during the century’s last decades, when the blocks’
names were often better known than street addresses. Officially, the blocks’
names were in Swedish. A name directory of Finnish-language blocks was
never officially published, but Finnish-language names were however used
when it was necessary to mention the blocks in Finnish-language speeches
or texts. For example the Giraffe was known in Finnish by the name
Kamelipartti, Dromedary by the name Nopsakameeli, Gazelli by the name
Lempikauris, Pelican by the name Kitahanhi and Cuttlefish by the name
The concept of block naming has however enjoyed a resurgence in the
2000s when amusingly archaic-sounding names have inspired new kinds of
marketing and the fostering of neighbourhood identities. 

So now we have the answer directly from the Helsinki city council:  These are blocks--not streets--in the Finnish capital that have been given names, a practice that dates back to the mid-1800's.  If you lived in Helsinki, you might live on the Unicorn (Yksisarvinen) block or the Hamster (Hamsteri) block. 

Search Lessons

There are lots here.  A quick rundown... 

1. Doing a query as a simple question often works well.  As in the Scandinavian vs. Nordic distinction, your question can be pretty simple.  That often just works.  

2. Be sure to check out the "People also ask" questions.  They often will have a refinement of your query that's even better than the one you started with.  Take note that the questions will often change once you click on one of the options.  

3.  Remember synecdoche!  Sometimes, adding in a specific term (that will stand in for the whole) can get you to better results.  In our case today, we used "Norway" as a stand-in for "all Scandinavian countries."  It works because people often prefer to use a specific, rather than general term.  

4.  Learn from your near-misses.  As you see in the change of my queries above, often a near-miss query (like [ wires in drainpipe Norway ]) can lead to a useful reformulation by picking up nearby clues (as I did when I spotted the "heating cable," which changed my query. 

5. Using intext: is a great way to make sure the term you want is actually on the page.  In this case, we used it to find an image!  Incredibly handy.  

I'll be back tomorrow with a fun Challenge for this coming week.  Until then... keep your drainspouts ice-free.  

Search on! 

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