Monday, May 15, 2017

Answer: Things I had to look up this week

Fun time!  

Last week I posted my personal SearchResearch Challenges from the past week as the Challenge for you.  As I mentioned, these have fairly simple answers... but as usual, there's more depth here than you might have expected.  

1.  What's a placket (This might be obvious to you, but it's a word I've only ever heard before, so I had to look it up.  In the book I was reading, it seems to refer to both shirts AND petticoats, which doesn't seem to make any sense.  Can you tell me what it is and what the shirt / petticoat connection is?) 
I began by just looking up the definition with: 

     [ define placket ] 

which tells me that a placket is: 

So... it's a slit or opening in a garment covering fastenings (such as buttons or a zipper) OR it's the flap of fabric that's under such an opening.  

That's fine, but what do they look like? 

I clicked on the Images tab to see this: 

Clicking on the first image (upper left) took me to the Wikipedia entry on placket.  Really?  There's an entry on that?  Yes... and it's pretty good.  It told me that: 

 "...In modern usage, the term placket often refers to the double layers of fabric that hold the buttons and buttonholes in a shirt. Plackets can also be found at the neckline of a shirt, the cuff of a sleeve, or at the waist of a skirt or pair of trousers. 
Plackets are almost always made of more than one layer of fabric, and often have interfacing in between the fabric layers. This is done to give support and strength to the placket fabric because the placket and the fasteners on it are often subjected to stress when the garment is worn. The two sides of the placket often overlap. This is done to protect the wearer from fasteners rubbing against their skin and to hide underlying clothing or undergarments..." 

Alright then. Now I know.  

What about the petticoat connection?  Wikipedia to the rescue again.  In the "historical use" section of the article, we find that as placket was also considered to be: 

   1. A decorative panel or "forepart" attached to a woman's petticoat.
   2. An opening or slit in a skirt or petticoat to access a separate hanging pocket.
   3. A petticoat or skirt pocket.

All of which make sense--they're all slits in the garment intended to give access (or to allow buttons to connect two parts of the garment to connect).  

2.  Speaking of clothing, what's that little loop on the back of a man's shirts called? And WHY is it there?  
The obvious query works pretty well: 

Although the results are all from hobbyist or somewhat informal sources.  

The first result (from LifeBuzz) claims that they're called "locker loops," and are intended to hangup shirts on a hook in a locker, thereby NOT requiring lockers to have shirt hangers.  

Could be, but I wanted to be sure, so I kept checking around.  I checked the next three results, and they all provide the same answer, but with slightly different sources, which is good--they're not all just copying each other. 

The consensus is that a Locker Loop is an extra fabric ring located on the high center back of men's shirts, often associated with a particular brand (such as Gant, or Brooks Brothers).   

Most sources point to this little loop originally being used by East Coast sailors, who would hang their shirts on ship hooks when changing in a locker room. These loops became part of the Ivy league clothing style of the 1950s and 60s.  By the early 1960s, then had become known as ‘Fruit loops’ within some school settings (especially the Ivy League and many high schools).

Locker loops were still being used to hang shirts in locker rooms but were now also used to denote your relationship status or to show your interest. Young ladies would rip the locker/fruit loops on the shirts of boys they took a liking to. More than one male student removed his loop completely to show that he was taken, well before Tinder and Facebook's relationship status .  

3.  At the local pond, red-winged blackbirds  (Agelaius phoeniceus) are out in force. But this year, their songs seem slightly different.  Can you find out if their songs change from year-to-year? 

When I looked up this topic, I did almost exactly what Ramon did: 

     [ Agelaius phoeniceus song change ]

I started with the scientific name because I didn't want any confusion between different kinds of blackbirds (there are several).  
One of the first hits I found was a large collection of Agelaius phoencius songs.  If you listen to the different songs, you'll see they vary from place to place. The red-winged blackbirds in Florida don't sound exactly the same as the same species in California. (I hadn't thought about this.  I might have been noticing a regional variation, rather than a variation from year-to-year!)  
The second article in the SERP ("Song-related brain regions in the red-winged blackbird are affected by sex and season but not repertoire size") reminded me that bird songs also change seasonally (calls during mating are not the same as during other times of the year).  
So that's another possible explanation: seasonality effects could be causing the difference.  
On the All About Birds website, there's a nice page about the Red-winged Blackbird songs and call with a recording of 5 different calls.  (They're all very different, and perform different functions.  Territory identification, mating, alarm, etc.)  
In this same vein, the EarBirding page about red-wing blackbird calls mentions regional variations as well.  (Interestingly, they also cite a 1986 paper "Communication by Changing Signals: Call Switching in Red-Winged Blackbirds" that points out that signaling alarm, such as when a predator hawk appears, would cause a switch in the call they made.  But, "...which call type they switched to didn’t matter. That’s because it was not the call itself but the change in calls that sent the alarm signal.  
This is fascinating stuff, but what about changes over time?  
Ramón's query was:

   [red-winged blackbirds song OR call changes over years]

while mine was: 
     [ Agelaius phoeniceus song changes over time ]
These queries led both of us to the paper, Eastern Bluebirds Alter their Song in Response to Anthropogenic Changes in the Acoustic Environment (Integr Comp Biol (2015) 55 (3): 418-431) 
Doing a text search (CTL+F) for  “red-wing” shows that this behavior (that is, changing the song based on what man-made sounds are in the area and in response to other acoustic environment changes) also happens for red-winged blackbirds.  
What a result!  
This means that not only do red-winged blackbirds have regional variation, and time-of-year variation, and changes in calls by function... but they ALSO change in response to the local sounds!  
So, in the end, I don't know if the change I hear is actually year-to-year, or the result of time-of-year or changes in the local acoustic environment.  

My very last query was a generalization of this specific query.  This one was: 

     [ bird song changes over time ] 

and I found that indeed, several studies have show how a single species bird song in one location can change over the years.  Researchers at the University of Guelph published a paper showing how the Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichiensis) song had changed over 30 years of recordings in their paper, "Three decades of cultural evolution in Savannah sparrow songs." (PDF) Since they "know the identity of every single sparrow in the study," it's pretty clear that this is a long-term change.  
We know bird song can change by season, by reason, and by location, sometimes due to external factors such as man-made sounds or changes in the acoustical environment.  Now we see that there can be a cultural, long-term change as well.  
So... it's possible that I am hearing long-term change in my local pond's red-wing blackbird songs.  I just need to start recording for the next 30 years to find out!  

Search Lessons

1. When searching for fairly common items (that you don't know), be sure to check multiple sources--especially when the top hits are of popular blogs.  If you see a consensus, then it's probably correct.  (But remember to always double check!) 

2. Try a generalization of your query--you might find really useful information there.  As you saw above, when I tried searching for the more general "bird" rather than "red-winged blackbird" or Agelaius phoeniceus, I found some results that gave me insight into the song behavior that I would have otherwise been able to find.  This is a great strategy to remember when you're doing your research. 

Search on! 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Dr. Russell!

    As always I had great fun and learn new things doing the Challenge and reading your answer. For example, didn't know about birds song change and even more that they have so many reasons to change. You listening those small changes is wonderful.

    I wonder why they keep the locker loop in our days. Maybe people doesn't know what it is for and they will ask for it.

    Related to previous SRS
    About flow, lava and lahar found today this:

    Which sounds more dangerous, lava or mud? The answer may surprise you...