Thursday, February 8, 2018

Answer: What's going on in these photos?

The key is asking good questions. 

But you knew that.  
This week, we tried to figure out what's going on with a couple of  decontextualized images.  In this case, these were pictures that I'd taken and recently re-found.  I also found myself puzzling about what they were... (Why, I asked myself, did I take this picture??)  

1.  What's up with these railroad tracks?  They see very odd, yet familiar.  Why are there three rails?  (I'll spare you the metadata extraction task.  This image was taken at:  38.908711, -77.068983)  

Link to original

As many Regular Readers quickly figured out, that lat/long is at the corner of P Street NW and 35th Street NW in Georgetown, Washington, DC.  
If you jump there using Streetview, you'll see more-or-less the same image I show above, confirming that the image is recent and in the correct location.  The map also tells us that this is in the Washington DC neighborhood.  

Since I know that trains that run through small side-streets are typically called streetcars, I started with the search: 
     [ streetcar Georgetown ] 
and quickly found the Wikipedia article about Streetcars in Washington, D.C.  I did a quick Control-F text-search in that article and found that there are several mentions of P Street in the article.  Apparently, there have been streetcars running to Georgetown down P Street since 1876. A few years later, in1895, Congress authorized the Rock Creek Company to purchase the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company, producing the Capital Traction Company.  In the article there's a comment that "Tracks are still visible on 3200 to 3400 blocks of O St NW and P St NW..."   Checking the Google Map, that's correct.  (Just to be obsessive, I also checked Streetview on O St. and found that it's true: O Street also has old streetcar tracks with cobblestones.)  
Interestingly, a bit later in the the Wikipedia it goes on to say that "...The region's only remaining visible tracks and conduit are in the center of the cobblestone 3200 through 3400 blocks of P Street NW and O Street NW..."  
That's fine, and it's consistent with what we already learned... but I don't know what a conduit is in this sense.  By clicking on the link that's offered, I land on the DC Streetcar Tracks and Structures web page.  There, I learned that the "conduit" is the slot in the center which acts like a third rail, supplying power to the streetcar.  Reading the Streetcars in Washington, D.C.  Wiki article carefully, I see that the 3200 - 3400 blocks of P Street have the only remaining tracks and conduit that are visible in Georgetown and DC.  
Still a little uncertain about what a conduit was, I did another Image search for: 
     [ streetcar conduit diagram ] 
and found this page from the US patent application: 

And another diagram, showing how the conduit connects for power to the streetcar: 

And why would this look familiar to me?  What else does it look like?  
This is a tricky question.  How do I figure out something that's familiar to me??  
The only way I know to do this is to do a bit of visual scanning.  I wasn't sure where to start, so I did a few searches for images using queries like [ streetcar conduit ] or [ streetcar conduit rails ], looking for something that would trigger an ah ha moment.  Unfortunately, these weren't working for me.  
My next query hit paydirt.  I thought I'd try looking for images of the original Georgetown railway, so I did an Image search for: 
     [ Capital Traction Company ] 
and found this for my results page: 

That's when it hit me.  Those streetcars look a great deal like the cable cars I've seen in San Francisco.  What's more, cable cars also have a groove in the center of the street that looks like a conduit! 

Although, unlike the Georgetown streetcars conduit there's a cable down there, rather than an energized electrical cable.  The cable car gripman pulls back on a long lever, closing the jaws of the grip around the cable, which is constantly moving just under the street.  (Yes, it sounds unlikely--the cable is really, really long, and run in a continuous loop under the street.)  
But the cable car slot is NOT a conduit.  It just looks a lot like one, which is why it seemed so familiar!  

2.  Here's another picture I got from a friend, obviously taken late at night at the Googleplex back in December, 2013.  What's the backstory on the dinosaur?  Why pink flamingos? And what's with all the yarn??    (Extra credit:  What's the dinosaur's name?)  

Link to original 

I was there, but obviously don't remember much about this incident with the dinosaur in the night.  Can you fill me in on the yarn, flamingos, and dinosaur?  
This was a fun Challenge.  It's not hard... a simple search with the uncommon terms from the Challenge statement works well:  
     [ Googleplex dinosaur ] 
leads to all kinds of fun pictures. Here's one from the first day flamingos appeared with the T-rex.  I remember walking into the building that day and being impressed that someone went to all the trouble to buy dozens of flamingos for a practical joke.  (This was not long after the T-rex was first installed.)  

It's also fairly easy to find multiple sources (e.g. Business Insider) telling us that the T-rex's name is Stan. (And no, I don't know why "Stan.") 
The yarn thing is a bit harder--the key insight here is to search for the idea: 
     [ yarn statutes ]    or 
     [ yarn covering statues ] 
to discover that knitting yarn-based coverings for statues is called yarn-bombing, which is often a gentle act that is often about reclaiming and personalizing sterile or cold public places. It's also often quite funny, as the artists sometimes do quite elaborate yarn constructions to annotate or comment on public art.  (See:  R2D2, benches, or the Wall Street bull covered in yarn).   
So in some sense, the flamingos are, like yarnbombs, easily removable commentary on the underlying structure.  
You might enjoy knowing that perhaps the cleverest "easily removable commentary" on Stan-the-T-rex happened a few weeks after the flamingos first appeared.  They slowly disappeared over time.  Two went missing the first night, four vanished the next night, etc.  Until after about two weeks, they were all gone.  All that was left was this, below the tail end of Stan... 

Use your imagination! 

Search Lessons 

1. Searching for familiar things that you don't have words for often requires a bit of browsing.  In this case, hunting for "something that looks like a triple streetcar track" took a bit of doing.  We started by trying to figure out what those tracks were in Georgetown, then we had to pull out a little bit and start looking at images of the Capital Traction Company before we found an image that reminded me of the target--San Francisco cable cars!   The skill here is to get to a topic area that's close to what you seek... then browse a bit.  
2. Searching for a concept is often choosing a query that describes the concept, rather than just searching for the thing itself.  Here, it wasn't obvious how to search for information behind the yarn on the statue... until we searched for the concept expressed in the simplest possible form.  THEN we learned that there was a general concept of yarnbombing, which then gave us what we needed to know.  

Search on! 


  1. (And no, I don't know why "Stan.")
    Amateur fossil hunter Stan Sacrison, the discoverer of 2 T.rex! (STAN and Duffy)
    SoP -Jan. 27-May 6, 2018
    1000+ exihibits, poozeum
    diver nexus
    poozeum proper
    found a slightly larger image of your "processed flamingos" —
    Stan's thought …why? - plus, he has those short arms
    short arms
    short arm SERP – with chips
    not that far from a flamingo… "She said, "It’s just a huge overgrown chicken basically. It’s just this giant bird with teeth is what it looks like to me.""

  2. For pic #1, I might have had an unfair advantage--I used to walk down that street to get to work. Thought it looked familiar, expanded the picture to see the license plates, confirmed it was DC, and there you go!

  3. the conduit track concrete mixture…
    "The concrete employed in the conduit construction was mixed in the following proportions: One barrel best imported Portland cement, thirteen cubic feet sand and twenty-two cubic feet broken stone. The concrete base for asphalt pavement on top of the conduit is made of native cement. Both lines have a large number of curves, there being thirty-four single curves on the avenue line, and twenty-two single curves on the Fourteenth Street line, none of them, however, less than sixty foot radius. There will be about 4,000 ft. of curve construction, (single track) which will require over 700 curve pulleys."
    Notes From the Field/Washington, D. C., 1891
    what's in the Georgetown U. car barn building…
    Master of Science in Analytics
    uphill side

  4. just because it is an odd street view:
    on the steps

    1. That's a great view! Note that the brick building on one side is the "Car Barn," which was the terminus for the Georgetown and Washington Railway system. Here's a nice image of the Car Barn, built in 1895.

    2. I always get turned around in Washington…
      Le D.C.

    3. a German parade in Georgetown…? has a William Peter Blatty feel to it – he would have known the site…
      guess that could be the River Seine… instead of the Potomac & FSK bridge
      Jacques Tilly - Rose Parade?
      from wiki -
      the Georgetown U nexus…
      "Blatty was a Roman Catholic. In 2012, he filed a canon law petition against his alma mater Georgetown University. According to Blatty, the school for decades has been at variance with Catholic church teaching by inviting speakers who support abortion rights, and disobeying Pope John Paul II's instructions issued to church-affiliated colleges and universities in 1990.

      Blatty died of multiple myeloma on January 12, 2017, at a hospital in Bethesda, five days after his 89th birthday."

  5. I can answer the question about Stan. Most dinosaur "finds" are named after someone on the team who found the bones - this particular set was found in South Dakota, the Hill Creek Formation, which is near Buffalo, SD. Stan Sacrison was the person who discovered "him".

    I thought I recognized him, since I'm at the SD School of Mines & Technology and any big dinosaur find is big news on campus.

    More about Stan here: