Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (6/14/17): What's difficult for YOU to find?

By now you know... 

... what kinds of research questions that come up for me.  In the past couple of months we've done research on: 

     - finding shadows in ball parks 
     - what kind of mirages cause ships to apparently float in mid-air 
     - how to find tweets from a particular place 
     - finding cartoons from a not-quite-correct description 
     - how to build an interactive widget for the island-viewing problem
     - exploding seeds 

So you know that I'm interested in the kinds of questions prompted by photos like this:  

Major General George A. Custer, officer of the Federal Army. (circa April 15, 1865)
Brady National Photographic Art Gallery (Washington, D.C.).
Did George Custer have freckles?  

(Or is it an imperfect in the photographic process?  Or is it some other skin condition?)  

Where did that crazy uniform design come from?  Was that standard Federal Army issue?  

But that's not the question for today.  Today's Challenge is about what kinds of SearchResearch questions come up for YOU in your average week.  Here's your Challenge for this week: 

1.  What kinds of things do you find tough to research?  In an average week (however you define that),  what topics and questions do you find yourself trying to research?  

I'm asking this question broadly (in my Facebook posting, on Twitter, G+, through surveys, and other venues).  

Next week I'll pull together the answers that have come my way, and I'll try to identify themes and topics.  (And, in the process, try to come up with some future SRS Challenges that will be based on what I hear from you.)  

Search on!  (And tell me what kinds of things you do research for, and what makes it difficult!)  


  1. Hello Dr. Russell.

    Thanks for asking us this. I'll post a better answer later.

    I like, like you do, to search things that I look and that amaze or intrigue me. Or things like I read or hear that then I wonder what is that, why or how of that. The questions you ask about Major General George A. Custer, are something that I will search to find the answer.

    About my topics, some are super basic like the difference between turtle or tortoise (in Spanish we only use tortuga) others are more complicated because need to remember name and something to relate to. In this case, recently saw TV show that mentioned something "iwaki" related to bonsai. And to find it, needed to search bonsai, the word I apparently heard and iterate. Until found transcript and found the word is niwaki.

    I like topics like animals, nature, parts of the world. And, also all those topics you find in the world. I am sure I wouldn't hear about that if you didn't create a SRS Challenge. So thank you!

    Do you have any survey to answer? I think maybe that could help us to make more suggestions to you because sometime we don't "see" what we searching for until we read about it.

    1. Some questions come from watching videos or reading. For example, I watched yesterday How Does it Grow? ORANGES At minute 4:15 she mentions: "If you plant an orange seed you might get a lemon or grapefruit..." I think I miss understand that or they mean different thing that the one I understand. Or is that truth? I think grafting, as they mention is very useful and helpful but never thought was used this way.

      Also, something that is hard to search and find for me is ancient symbols. Once I tried to know the meaning of the symbols on a cross and find out if it was as old as it says. Even today, can't find the answer.

    2. Google search [ draw symbol and search ]. I have used the second result often (Shapecatcher), I tried the first result now (Detexify) and it's good too. You may also want to try turning on handwriting on Google Translate.

  2. One of my daily search frustrations is looking for quantitative information, e.g., the speed of a particular algorithm or the price one company paid to acquire another. Unless I'm lucky and the information is on Wikipedia or Quora in a sentence that maps formulaically to my question, my searches tend to lead to content that, while somewhat relevant, don't provide the quantitative information I'm looking for, i.e., they offer qualitative discussion of related to my information need by no numbers. I tend to bang my head on these tasks for a while, until I either manage to find something relevant or I give up and wonder whether the information I'm looking for has ever been published.

    1. Thanks, Daniel. I'm optimistic that this will improve (one day!), in the meantime, I'll write up something on this (probably next week) as one of the Challenges.

  3. Niantic, Inc. made the app Field Trip that incorporates a ton of location databases. From this wealth of information they created Ingress and Pokemon Go. Near my house is one just entitled Crucifix in a church parking lot. This is a BIG crucifix for such a small town. The inscription reads "Erected by friends and relatives of Reverend Father Horstkamp to commemorate the tragic death of his mother Mary Eve Horstkamp on August 28, 1931."

    I wanted to know why erect this for a priest in the incident of his mother's death? I asked around and the story I was told was he in great grief over accidentally backing over her with a car. I have yet been able to find anything to back up the story.

  4. Hi Dan. First of all I'd like to thank you for this question.
    I read things in 4 languages and currently learning a fifth. I'm interested in a great variety of subjects and there is hardly any subject that doesn't have my interest at some point in time (save perhaps politics). Besides mainstream ideas, I often try to find alternate views on topics to complete my perception of what people have been cogitating. Then I ask myself questions about the original sources (which are unfortunately often not referenced or when so not freely available). Then temporarily make up my mind on that subject (my personal view on a subject at that moment). In this last phase I add it to my holistic view, my belief system(s).

    Although huge progress has been made in the past few years (and is still going on), all the above pinpoints to aspects of the current search results that are not so satisfactory or require a huge investment of time to get what I want.
    Some shortcomings are related to the information producers, absence of sources i.e., but could be provided by time based results of similar/identical ideas (different from time-based search results), and the absence of markup (which in my opinion will only happen at a large scale when we associate Artificial Intelligence in producing information). Some are related to the language used when querying or the ranking mechanism (authority aspect and even mobile first).

    Given the remarkable progress Google Translate has made recently, in particular in longer texts (presence of some level of context), the continuous improvement of the Knowledge Graph/Vault (although I'm not sure there are separate graphs for each language or if it is multilingual) are steps in the right direction. Combining machine learning silos (breaking boundaries) is another one (curious to know if this is going on already). Making the leap in machine learning in combining text, imaging and voice (including emotion detection for all three) could be the next step.

    I'm aware that my requests for information are not among the most common ones Google receives, even far from it, but one could ask why this is so and whether it should/could be otherwise. I leave aside the huge implications that would have for our society, education etc.

    1. Interesting questions! Thanks, Ronald. Finding original sources (esp. of news articles) is sometimes hard. I'll show a few tricks for getting to them in a future post.

      I agree that making time-sorting (which you can do in Scholar right now) would be helpful. I'll add this to my list of things-I-want-to-see!

  5. The most frustrating questions for business librarians revolve around private companies Since they don't have to report financials to the SEC, they don't tend to disclose the information that we are looking for. I share Daniel Tunkelang's frustration as well with uncovering actual prices for corporate acquisitions. Sometimes this data is private, known only to insiders, and they're not about to publish it anywhere it could be searchable. We have to recognize that some questions are unanswerable -- but we shouldn't conclude there's no answer without some thorough searching to support that assertion.

    1. Good point, Marydee. As you know, there are some sources of company insights that have deeper information than you can easily find than with regular, open-source Google searches. (e.g. or Even though Google is great at some things, it doesn't really replace knowing the information landscape for particular technical areas. If you're a chemist, you need to know about how to search for chemical structures (say, using ChemFinder or SciFinder)--Google isn't good at that.

      I'll add an essay on this topic to my future discussions. Thanks.

  6. Obviously, most any search returns more data than one wants or could ever sift through, and so a major challenge is filtering out the unwanted. In my case, when looking for answers about a particular religion, the results are polluted with hate speech, bigotry and nonsequitur garbage. Is there a way to limit search results to only those from authorized sources? What I want is what those responsible for the religion and its activities have to say about it. The same concern could be expressed about a search for President Trump, for example, or Black Lives Matter. Is there a way to cut through the distracting disinformation and irrelevancies?

  7. the Google SE has replaced my frontal lobes… a problematic blessing… ;-]
    terminology (e.g. esp. technical or field/discipline specific) can be a search knee-capper…
    a bit of search from this PM:
    …whenever I search 'covfefe', I get 'covfefe', covfefe-ness sets in and then I become the covfefe…
    some citations
    how the undefined becomes legislation
    Bart's idea
    still an active SERP… cah-PEESH
    – now, where did I leave my chocolate?
    10 opinions
    about the 'snippet'
    Paul Pletka does a great deal of research for his subjects… seems to indicate active melanocytes…
    better resolution — appears he did
    search can complicate things… and/or reveal additional complexities…
    DNA search? - Yellow Swallow/Yellow Bird
    Battle of Punished Woman Fork - brother Tom's?
    a Victorian tone
    Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery
    on wiki
    a Custer/Monahsetah descendent?

    the demise of Yahoo… 3 years older than Goo, hindered by #20, MS dodged a bullet

  8. Great question, thanks! I thought about it and couldn't remember anything on top of my head, which is either a sign that both Google and my search capabilities have improved a lot in the past years, or that I am losing memory.

    Anyway, I just stumbled upon a kind of search that I don't know how to do and I happen to need often. So, Problem #1: someone posts an image of a product for sale on eBay (or some other auction or sales website) and I want to find the product. For example, this image of a Euro banknote. Where is it or was it for sale? On some websites, the image url includes information that is also on the product page url. Not on eBay though.

    Problem #2: This is a pet peeve I have since the beginning of Google times. When I search for anything on (PT is for Portugal), and not on (Brazil), I get really upset when, as it happens almost always, the vast majority of the results on the first SERPs are from Brazil. Restricting the answers to site:pt is not effective, because a lot of .com sites would be missing, as well as .net, .org, .eu and so on. I know how to restrict the search to Portugal results, but that should definitely be the default answer and not a needed tweak. Think of results from searches on being mostly from Canada. I have complained about this before several times through several ways, including here.

  9. Well, my work requires me to do legal research: looking for cases, statutes & commentary on various legal issues. In my free time, I am usually trying to find directions to things, figure out how long it will take to get there, looking for restaurant menus, or looking up things relating to vacations (hotel reviews, flight price comparisons, etc.). What most recently stumped me was finding a good website for reviews of books in order to determine whether they are appropriate for children. My local library provides some helpful tools, but it seems my son is now choosing books that fall outside the scope of those tools. I have several go-to sites for family-friendly movie reviews, but I'm still looking for a good site for evaluating the appropriateness of books for kids.

  10. Melanie my colleague Anne and I are school librarians we have several sites that do this. Will get back shortly with some sites.

  11. Dan, over the past few days I have researched these things

    Colonoscopy procedures. Turned just about all the results were not what I experienced

    Obscure words takes me to Oxford English Dictionary on line. Always fascinating

    I needed 4 different T shirts, sizes and designs. Best one is in Indonesia but I am reticent about $$$

    R2Ak - Race to Alaska occupied a whole lot of time the past week to check on progress of the boats

    Videos of How To Juggle. East to find but hard for me to do

    Source of Juggling Balls: found it here in Canada, suppliers to Cirque de Soliel

    Given a vague description of a flag seen I found in a minute or so Hawaii which looked close
    Meanwhile a friend of the friend who asked just went over and asked them. Also Hawaii plus a story.

    I use British, Australian and New Zealand newspaper archives on a regular basis, for sussing out ancestral types in 19th century. I use the info to flesh out my writing.

    cheers jon tU

  12. I was told this morning that cricketers are the world's highest paid athletes. That was easy to disprove.

  13. I am able to find most everything for which I search. I search for crossword answers, but only after I have exhausted my recall. Am the "family secretary" so I search, for example, for car parts, car part schematics, DIY help for many of my husband's projects. Also search for info re political, U.S. & world cultural info, and pop culture trivia. The general answer to your question is that I search for practically any question or interest of mine, my husband or occasionally for our adult children. You might say I'm the official "answer grape." Research is fun & I have lots more time to devote to it since retirement.

    You did not ask for search dead ends, but that may be a future topic for you to question others about.
    Apart from a few genealogy related dead ends, my ongoing challenge is to find out the color of female mourning attire of the early Spanish in the South West of this country. That question was inspired by an episode of the New American Adventures of Zorro. If you could point me in any direction of that topic, I would be grateful.
    I'm able to discover some info about mourning attire of women in Spain during that time period, but practically no info for the South West. Thank you.
    P.S. Off topic, and assume you have this info, but in case you do not: How to Find Almost Anything on YouTube

    1. The link to the "How to find... on YouTube" is good. Thanks for sharing it with us.