Wednesday, August 28, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (8/27/19): What are these three things?

After the immensity of last week's Challenge... 

... let's do something fun (but challenging in a good way).  

During the past week, three questions came up for me, each of which I needed to do a bit of SRS sleuthing to figure them out.  

Can you do these along with me? 

1.  I've got a BIG (4 meters tall!) trellis of green beans growing in my garden.  On Monday, I found this growing on stalks.  Do I need to worry about them?  Will they eat up all my beans?  What should I do?  

So... what IS this creature? 

Here it is on my thumb for scale: 

And a fairly in-focus closeup.  The colors are even more striking in real life! 

2.  This is a diagram of an important part of a 3-hole punch that's currently broken.  It's an aluminum metal pin with a collar-like-thing around the middle.  That's the part that is missing, so the pin keeps slipping out onto the floor when I use it.  I want to buy a new one… but... What do I call this?  How can I find this online?

I tried to get a good picture of this part, but could never get a good enough photo to use.  Here's my sketch.  

 The pin is about 1 inch long (2.5 cm) and the "collar" clearly snaps into a groove around the center.  (It's also a bit more circular than my sketch, but you get the idea.)  

What IS this gizmo?  How do you search for something like this? 

3.  I just got  a new piano.  Hurrah! I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.  But the place where it will sit in the house is fairly sunny.  What should I use to cover it to protect from sun damage? What material should it be made of?  (Keep in mind that this instrument has a new finish.) 

As always, be sure to tell us HOW you found your answer. We want to learn your SearchResearch methods as well! 

Search on! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Answer: What's your favorite geo-mapping / geo-information tool? (Part 2/2)

I have to admit… 

… that writing this second part of the answer was WAAY more complicated than I expected.  

It's more like writing about Planet Maps, a world of possibilities.  

I’d thought I would just pull together a few examples of different geo-resources, write a quick and snappy post and call it a day.  

But no. 

The more I dug, the more I found.  (The irony is that I should have known better—when I’ve written about geo-information resources before, it ALWAYS takes longer than I expect. See:  Finding the shortest and flattest route  or Mapping the discovery of the sea cow and the blue jay.)   

So I shouldn’t have been surprised by this outcome.  The bottom line is that there are LOTS of geo-information resources out there.  Here’s my initial cut at the major categories that I found. 

1. Map resources – maps of all kinds, many interactive
2. Geo-data visualization tools – interactive maps that let you see information of various kinds on a map (or in the form of a distorted / colorized / annotated map).  
3. Professional mapping tools and data – there’s a very large number of professional data resources and tools to manipulate them.   

Methinks we're mostly interested in the first 2 (map resources and geo-data viz tools).  I love professional GIS (geographic information systems), but it’s a little outside the scope of what we want to do in SRS.  

Let's look at the first two a bit more... 

1.  Map resources:  The obvious ones are Google Maps, Google Earth (the app), Google Earth Web (the new web version of Google Earth), and associated parts of the geo-resources at Google such as Google Street View and Google Earth Time Lapse.  

There are also the Microsoft versions of these: Bing Maps, Bing Maps Aerial (like Earth), and Bing Streetside (like Street View).  

And there's more!  Note also that Yandex has a map, as does Tencent (the Chinese company) and Baidu (the Chinese search engine).  LOTS of general purpose maps out there.  

They each have their strengths and weaknesses.  Tencent maps is great in China, but has little coverage in the rest of the world.  Yandex maps is also great in Europe (but shows Ukraine as part of Russia).  In general, maps show the political beliefs of the country of origin. (Check out the boundary of China in the South China Sea; other countries don't necessarily agree that this is the extent of China's territory.)  

Not every country agrees that this border is the actual extent of the PRC. 
(Esp. the part that runs down into the South China Sea.)  

Likewise, you can make an interesting comparison with these two maps of downtown Warsaw.  If you look carefully, you'll see some differences in what makes it onto the map. 

Yandex' map of Warsaw, Poland. 

And Google's map of the same area, which has a lot more commercial entities on it.. and fewer bus stops.  

For me as a SearchResearcher, the value of all these different maps is that I can get very different views of a place.  That's particularly useful when you're looking at places that some people want to be un-photographed.  Sometimes one service has it in clear view while another has it obscured, as is the case with Ingolstadt Airport, Germany.  (Note to the reader:  Here it's one way obscured; there are places where it's the other way around.) 

There are a LOT of general purpose map resources out there.  Here are a couple that I like: 

Wikimapia - a geographically indexed kind of Wikipedia.  (Although it's not part of Wikpedia.)  Handy for looking up things you can see on the ground (or in an aerial image) and figuring out what they are.  

Open Street Map - a map that's created by the users.  Lots of different layers (e.g., "Humanitarian" and flexibility in creating different kinds of maps.  

You can find more by doing a search for: 

     [    Open Street Map Wikipedia ] 

and then skipping down to the section called "See Also"  (I've used this trick to find many other fascinating mapping services).  As you can see, this is where I learned about the HERE Map Creator and learned the word neogeography.    

Speciality maps:  In addition, there are LOTS of specialty maps that locate  on a map, sometime in real-time, as with this map that Krossbow suggested showing live lightning strikes at (shocking!).  

Often you can find such sites by searching.  Example: 

     [ maps lightning strikes real time ] 

you can find maps of wildfires, road closures, tweets, and so on.  

Jon-The-Unknown pointed out this great Marine Traffic map, here showing the real time marine traffic near Vancouver: 

And we've talked before about various air traffic maps, such as this one from -- here showing the live air traffic around San Francisco airport.  

And, of course, most spreadsheet systems (certainly Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets) both make it very easy to create simple maps of states or countries showing different kinds of values in spreadsheet cells.  But we'll talk about that another day!  

Search Lessons 

There's a big lesson here for all of us.. and that is that the world of mapping, geo-information, and geographic tools is gigantic.  It's a major project to pull a complete list of resources, and the moment it would be published, it'd be out of date.  

So, instead, I want to focus our lessons on strategies for finding the resources we need--be in a data set, a tool, or a mapping visualization system.  

As we saw above, there are a couple of quick and easy strategies:  

1. Search broadly for the data (or tools or systems).  Think about it--this field is changing rapidly--things that were around even a couple of years ago no longer are available, or they've been combined with other systems. SO... even if you know of a system, you might have to go looking around for what the system is called now.  (Another argument for keeping those search skills sharp!)  

2. Look for synonyms or other ways of describing the thing you're looking for!  As you read, take note of other systems similar to what you're seeking... and then use those terms to search for MORE resources.  (Neogeography anyone?) 

3.  Try to locate people, projects, or institutions that work in the area and look at what they're doing / what they're interested in.  Follow their tweets, look fo their home pages, and read their work.  You'll probably learn something that will lead to new discoveries!  

My favorite new mapping application?  Using this exploration method, I discovered this interactive map application (DinosaurPictures) that shows the continents at different points over the past few million years.  Here's what our planet looked like this 150M years ago... amazing.  

And keep searching on.. even over the megayears!