Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Answer: What ARE those things?

I often look at the world and wonder... 

Gratuitous curious internet cat image, although she's probably
wondering why you haven't delivered her next meal yet...

... what is that thing I'm looking at?  This happens to be a cat, but what about more difficult questions? 

This happens all the time. I usually take a photo and then SearchResearch it when I get home.  

Here are three images I posted last week.  How well did you do?  

1.  What's going on here?  Or, more properly, what happened here?  This seems a bit... unusual, no? 


The first trick for many such Challenges is to look carefully at the image.  What ELSE do you see?  In this case, you can immediately spot that the telephone pole is pretty badly burned. That's definitely interesting.  If you ALSO notice that there's another telephone pole in the background.  I zoomed in on that and saw this in closeup: 

We're clearly starting to see pixels here, so this is about the max resolution I can get out of the image.  I note that there are 6 insulators on top of the crossbar.  If you zoom into the objects dangling above the burned telephone pole, you can see this: 

The angle looks a little funny, but these look like the same insulators as we see on the pole in the background.  

Since I gave you the full image, it's possible to pull out the EXIF metadata (see HERE to learn how to do that) and find that this pole is at: 34° 10’ 27.552” N, 118° 2’ 50.42” W

On the left you see the drop pin for the pole--look carefully and you can see its shadow across the trail.  Meanwhile, on the right side of this image is the pole we see in the background, with its shadow also across the trail.  

It's pretty clear that a wildfire wiped out the top part of the pole, leaving the insulators dangling from the wires.  (The really curious SearchResearcher could find out what year this wildfire happened.  For tips on how to do that, see SRS-wildfires in California. Let me know when you figure it out and we'll post the answer here!)  

2. And what's this thing?  This is from Southern California, and you see them everywhere... but I've always wondered what they're doing.  What it this and what does it do?  (They usually have the yellow warning post, but not always...)  


Tried Search-by-Image, but didn't get much of anything. 

Did a simple Image search with the text on the yellow post: 

      [ warning petroleum pipeline ] 

In there I find: 

By clicking through on this image (to find out the technical term), I learn that this J-shaped thing is actually called a "casing vent." 

Then, next image search is:  

      [ petroleum pipeline casing vent ] 

which gives even better results! 

The image in the upper left corner is intriguing. Here's a low-res version of it. (Note that they call it a "vent pipe.")  

From: Oil & Gas Journal 

That explains the J-shaped (or candycane shape, depending on your point-of-view) tubes.  They're vent pipes that connect to a casing pipe that contains the actual petroleum pipe. 

But to my surprise, it ALSO tells us what that yellow post next to the vent pipe is!  It's a "post-mounted test station."  

     [ petroleum post-mounted test station ] 

quickly leads us to determine that this triangular (cross-section) yellow post with a red cap is in fact a cathodic protection test station.  (Remember that we discussed anode/cathode protection in an earlier SRS.  The key idea is that metal objects, like pipes, that are underground create a current that causes corrosion.  A test station lets the pipeline workers check to see if corrosion is happening in the pipe.)  

But what's a casing pipe?  Reading some of those pages taught me that where a pipe passes beneath a road or rail tracks, the pipe is enclosed within a larger diameter pipe that "encases" the smaller pipe.  The vents are allow testing of the enclosed volume--to check if anything is leaking, or to provide a way to pump out any excess, OR to allow the workers to pump a fluid into the space to solve other issues.  

Who knew?  I didn't.  

Since I was curious about the exact post-mounted test station, I wanted to see if I could find the manufacturer.  Sure enough, the query: 

     [ pipeline triangular test station post ] 

led me to a maker of such devices, Rhino Markers, which looks exactly like the post next to the casing vent pipe.  In the above image.  

TriView+ test station with terminals for testing points.

3.  Finally, this is a common thing to see along roadsides in more rural parts of the state.  What is that silver canister with the orange label?  What does it do?   


I tried two different ways to do this.  

First method:  Search-By-Image didn't do much for me (I tried Google, Bing, and Yandex), I even tried cropping the image just to the silver canister.  Nothing.  

I then tried describing what I saw, doing lots of Image search variations of silver, can, pot, SLC, RPTR, 6A, FIL, F, cable, roadside, etc.  Nothing worked.  

But then I got lucky (after about 4 minutes) when I tried: 
     [ pot rptr pole telephone ] 

that's when I spotted this in the Image search results page: 

Notice that image in the lower right corner?  Here's the closeup: 

That looks very very close to what we see in our Challenge photo above.  

When you click through to the article, you'll see that Erik Torkells had this same question before I did, they called their local telephone operating company, Frontier.  They told him that it's a "...repeater that extends Frontier’s network in more remote areas or where signal is weak."  

My next query, slightly more focused with this new information: 

     [ telephone network repeater cylinder pole ] 

gave me a hit at pole collection

Interestingly, BELOW this hit are shown the Related Images:  which turn out to be incredibly useful.  

Looking through this collection of pages, it becomes very quickly clear that our silver "cooking pot" in the image is actually a container for a T1 repeater.  The external canister is a stainless steel pressure vessel that can be pressurized to keep moisture out.  (See the part specs for details.)  

Method #2:  I tried this out of sheer curiosity, and was surprised that it worked so well.  I just used my cell phone, took a picture of my monitor and ran Lens over the image.  To my immense surprise, it just worked, and immediately gave me a link to the above AnnsGarden site. 

No, I don't know why Google Lens isn't available as part of Search-by-Image yet; I'm told it will be... someday.  

Until then, we have to use our SRS skills where we find them!  

Search Lessons 

1. Inspect the image carefully.  I often figure out what's in the image well after I've gone home.  Being able to zoom in ("Enhance!  Enhance!") and look at the details lets you ask questions that don't occur to you when you're on location.  Corollary: Take more pictures from different angles than you think you might need. Storage is cheap, but traveling back to the location might be difficult.  

2. You might have to explore variations on your query. I was surprised at how many queries it took me for both images 2 and 3.  The first, and most obvious queries didn't work.  But I took 10 (or 15, or 20) shots at it and eventually found that useful clue that got me to the answer. Be persistent!  Not everything that's valuable can be found with a single query!  

3.  Try Google Lens... even when you don't think it will work!  In this case, I tried Lens just by pointing my camera at the monitor.. yes, there are artifacts in the image, but Lens impressed me by returning great results--even under less than ideal conditions!  Check it out!  

Keep exploring... and... 

Search On!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Pro tip: How to Search your tabs

You might have heard me mention...

.. that the ability to search-your-tabs is a key productivity Chrome extension.  I've used a number of Chrome extensions over the years to get this capability.  But here's a Pro Tip for power SearchResearchers.  



Look for the icon in the upper right of your Chrome window The circle with the downward-pointing triangle: 

(If you don't see this, check out the note at the bottom.  It will improve your life.) 

When you click on that icon, you'll see a list of all your open tabs. It's scrollable, if you can't remember the tab title. BUT...   You can then type in something to find the tab you need.  


Use the keyboard shortcut.  (You saw that, right?)  

Search on.... in your tabs!! 

AND... if you don't see the icon in the upper right corner of your browser, do this: 

1. In the Chrome URL bar, type (or click on this link):  


2. Click enter.

3. You'll be taken to the Chrome Browser's Experimental Features menu and a highlighted box that says "Enable Tab Search."

4. Enable it. 

5. Relaunch your browser.  

Friday, March 26, 2021

Four tricks you need to know to read on Google Books

 Google Books... 

... you might have used it to do research.  Even though it's a resource I use all the time, this week I learned a few tricks that completely change the way I use Google Books.  Here are the 4 key things that you need to know: 

1. Move forward/backward in a book with J and K.  

I'm amazed that I didn't know this!  Instead of trying to click the left arrow / right arrow with your mouse, just press the J key to move forward and the K key to move backwards.  Simple, but it completely changes the way you read. 

2. Select Full-view or Google eBooks to find books in Full-view  

Of course, the "Free Google eBooks" that are in full-view are mostly older books, but that still might be useful.  Here's a side-by-side comparison that shows Any vs. Free eBook vs. Any (with full-view only selected in the advanced search menu).  

Click to see in full-res.

3. When you want to search carefully, use the Advanced search menu for Books.  

It's kind of hidden, but here's how to get to it. 

Once you're there, you'll see a lot of options--check out the figure below.  For today, just notice the view options below the blue area: All books, Limited preview, Full view only, Google eBooks--these are the different viewing conditions for the books.  

Yeah, it looks old-fashioned, but it works.  

4. Use the 2-page viewer AND the multi-page viewer.  

Somehow, I totally missed this in the Books user interface.  Pay attention to these three buttons: 

Default view is 1-page. High res: great for reading. 

As you see here, the default view is 1-page. That's great for reading, but not so great for skimming.  

And skimming is a great way to quickly get an overview of an entire book.  If you're searching for a particular piece of information (say, in a graphic or illustration), the multi-page overview is your friend.  Here's that previous book Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands in multi-page: 

A multi-page view of Adorning the World.  

And lastly, I actually prefer the 2-page view because it often shows you how the two-page spread sits on the open book.  In this example, the map makes a LOT more sense when seen in a 2-page layout: 
Check these tools out.  Trust me--they'll change the way you read Google Books online.  

Search on! 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

SearchResearch Challenge (3/24/21): What ARE those things?


I constantly ask why, what, where, who, and how... 

Gratuitous curious internet cat image, although she's probably
wondering why you haven't delivered her next meal yet...

... yes, that means I'm as curious as a cat, but if you read this blog, you're probably equally curious. 

Today's Challenges are about those moments when you're wandering around and you spot something that you just don't understand.  I my case, I usually take a photo and then SearchResearch it when I get home.  

Here are three images I took recently that I had to think about.  Can you figure these out as well?  Perhaps you see things like this and wonder, curiously, what's going on.  Let's figure these out together. 

1.  What's going on here?  Or, more properly, what happened here?  This seems a bit... unusual, no? 


2. And what's this thing?  This is from Southern California, and you see them everywhere... but I've always wondered what they're doing.  What it this and what does it do?  (They usually have the yellow warning post, but not always...)  


3.  Finally, this is a common thing to see along roadsides in more rural parts of the state.  What is that silver canister with the orange label?  What does it do?   


These are full, clickable images (if you want to download them at full resolution).  

Let us know what you think they are--and, of course, HOW you figured it out!  

We want to learn from the best of our SearchResearch practice. 

Search on! 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Answer: Epidemic historical context?


The past doesn't repeat itself,  

... but it sometimes rhymes.  (You could look up the attribution yourself, but no matter the answer, it's disputed.)  

So let's revisit the Epidemic Rodeo and see what lessons we might take away from these Challenge questions that came up last week.     

1. In the Swine Flu epidemic of 1976, a strange new device was used to quickly give many immunizations to a large number of people.  (You'll know it when you find it.)  What was that device, and why aren't we using it to rapidly immunize people with the COVID vaccine?  

My query was straightforward:  

     [ Swine flu vaccine device ] 

Which gave a link to the CDC web page about the Swine Flu outbreak of 1976.  In that page, there's an image of President Ford getting a regular injection, but there's also an image of a woman getting an injection from something that looks like a medical device from a science-fiction garage.  It's described as a "jet injector," so my next query was: 

     [ Swine flu 1976 jet injector ] 

which leads to a number of articles that describe the jet injector as a new piece of technology that would let thousands of immunizations to be given rapidly.  

Swine flu vaccine being given by jet injector (1987).  CDC

Or this slightly happier looking view of a woman getting a Swine flu vaccine.

So why aren't jet injectors used everywhere, especially in these days when we need to immunize a LOT of people REALLY RAPIDLY?  

The Wikipedia article about jet injectors tells us that the World Health Organization no longer recommends jet injectors for vaccination due to risks of disease transmission.  That article goes into great detail about why jet injectors are at risk for cross-contamination and subject to the perversely named suck-back effect.  "Fluid suck-back occurs when blood left on the nozzle of the jet injector is sucked back into the injector orifice, contaminating the next dose to be fired..."  Not a great idea when you're unsure if the recipient has the disease or not!  

Interesting tidbit:  In 1936, Marshall Lockhart, an engineer, filed a patent for his idea of a jet injector after seeing similar devices.  He called his gadget the hypospray.  Thirty years later, Star Trek (TOS) series started to use its own medical jet injector device, also called "hypospray."  

2. Can you find the first large scale program to immunize people from smallpox in the Americas?  Who did it?  

My query was: 

     [ history of vaccination programs ] 

which led me to this fascinating timeline on the history of vaccination (by the The College of Physicians of Philadelphia). 

 It looks like this: 

On this timeline, you can scrub back and forth and see a fairly complete list of the major historical vaccination efforts.  It even includes the early (circa 1000 CE!) Chinese practices of variolation (that is, the deliberate inoculation of an uninfected person with the smallpox virus through contact with pustular matter.  

If you look take the time to look through this extensive list, you'll find many early vaccination efforts (e.g., Cotton Mather's  (1663-1728) smallpox variolations)... 

But the first campaign or drive to immunize people in the Americas is clearly the 1803 expedition to the Americas by Francisco Xavier de Balmis

Where we learn that ... 

"King Charles IV of Spain commissioned royal physician Francisco Xavier de Balmis to bring smallpox vaccination to the Spanish colonies in the New World. De Balmis departed on a ship with 22 abandoned children and a host of assistants, planning to vaccinate the boys in sets of two throughout the trip so that fresh pustules would be available at any given time. He eventually reached Caracas. Despite only one of the children still having a visible cowpox pustule, De Balmis initiated South American vaccination. (All 22 children were eventually settled, educated, and adopted in Mexico, at the Spanish government’s expense.)"

Not only do we now know the earliest mass vaccination campaign (1803) but also the answer to our next Challenge... 

An illustration made by by Francisco Javier de Balmis showing smallpox vaccination scars. 
Wellcome Library, London


3. As we've learned, vaccine injectable materials often require special handling. The Pfizer vaccine requires a refrigeration between -80C and -60C. So, how was the smallpox vaccine transported in the answer to the previous question? 

The somewhat remarkable answer is "in the bodies of 22 orphaned boys who were successively given the smallpox vaccine."  And, even more amazing, only one of the boys had a useful pustule when they finally made it to Caracas.  They came that close to not having transported the variolation material across the Atlantic.  

This is such an amazing story that it just asks for verification and triangulation.  

That's not hard to do.  A quick search on the name: 

     [ Francisco Xavier de Balmis ] 

leads to all kinds of high-quality sources about his life and the story of the expedition.  

One paper (Aldrete, J. Antonio. "Smallpox vaccination in the early 19th century using live carriers: the travels of Francisco Xavier de Balmis." Southern Medical Journal 97.4 (2004): 375-379) tells the story.  The abstract reads: 

Realizing that the Spanish colonies were being devastated by epidemics of smallpox resulting in thousands of deaths, Charles IV, King of Spain, sent one of his court's physicians to apply the recently discovered vaccine. Without refrigeration, the vaccine was passed from one child to another (boys taken out of orphanages). Francisco Xavier de Balmis and a team that included three assistants, two surgeons, and three nurses sailed from Spain on November 30, 1803. They vaccinated more than 100,000 people from the Caribbean Islands and South, Central, and North America, reaching up to San Antonio, Texas, and then traveled to the Philippines, Macao, Canton, and Santa Elena Island, landing back in Cadiz on September 7, 1806. During his journey, Balmis instructed local physicians on how to prepare, preserve, and apply the vaccine, while collecting rare biologic specimens. 

That's an amazing vaccination program for the early 19th century.  

I couldn't find anything similar that took place before that time.  


4. Yellow Fever epidemics have ravaged many places around the world forever.  And while Yellow Fever used to be an enormous problem in New York, it isn't any more.  Why not?  Was it due to the success of the Yellow Fever vaccination program? Or what? 

My query:  

[ yellow fever history in New York ] 

The New York History site tells me that YF finally was extirpated when NY got rid of standing water for mosquitos.  

“More sanitary conditions and the draining of stagnant waters have largely decimated the mosquito populations that once plagued the city.” 

The New York City data site tells us that there was a Yellow Fever epidemic from 1795 to 1804. 

"Although yellow fever killed dozens of New Yorkers in the first year, people were reluctant to publicize the epidemic due to fear of business loss and of mass immigration away from New York. Doctors also didn’t initially realize yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes, many hypothesizing it began from rotting coffee or from poor sanitation in slums” 

Even worse: 

"Between 1668 and 1870 there were at least 25 outbreaks in New York, and there were devastating outbreaks in such cities as Philadelphia, Memphis, and Charleston. The New Orleans epidemic of 1898 involved almost 14,000 cases with 4000 deaths, whereas the epidemic in the lower Mississippi valley in 1878 resulted in 20,000 deaths and economic losses of almost $200 million."  

So it wasn't clear WHAT was causing Yellow Fever.  To find that, I did: 

     [ who found yellow fever cause ] 

and learned from an article published in Bulletin de la Societe de pathologie exotiqueCentenary of the discovery of yellow fever virus and its transmission by a mosquito (Cuba 1900-1901) that it was Walter Reed's commission about Yellow Fever that figured out it was a virus, carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that could transmit the disease.  (Yes, THAT Walter Reed, for whom the large Army medical center in Washington DC is named). 

Walter Reed, ca. 1900

If this mosquito is transmitting Yellow Fever, then the fix for Yellow Fever is to eliminate the mosquitos, which means removing stagnant pools of water where they can breed.  

THAT led me to search for: 

     [ mosquito control New York ] 

which gave me a lot of results, but mostly for present day pest controls... so, to limit it to historical information I modified the query to be: 

     [ mosquito control New York history ] 

which gives lots of results, but to find the ways in which they controlled yellow fever took some digging.  

I finally found an authoritative paper "Yellow Fever Crusade: US Colonialism, Tropical Medicine, and the International Politics of Mosquito Control, 1900-1920." which tells us that once Walter Reed figured out that the Aedes aegypti mosquito was responsible, that led to a massive mosquito control effort in Cuba (which US forces occupied following the Spanish-American war).  Remarkably, that effort (removing standing water or spraying oil on stagnant pools) reduced yellow fever deaths to ZERO in less than one year.  This program was transferred to the Panama Canal project (which was being built at the same time) with equal success, completely changing the way people tried to control yellow fever.  

Now I want to learn about the history of mosquito control efforts in New York:  

     [ mosquito control New York history ] 

which led me to a paper in the Journal of Urban Health, "The control of mosquito-borne diseases in New York City" and in there I found that: 

"Mosquito control began in New York City in 1901. Large-scale efforts to drain marshlands occurred through the 1930s, and aerial application of pesticide occurred as early as 1956. Components of early mosquito-borne disease control were reimplemented in 1999-2000 in response to an outbreak of West Nile virus.."

Ah ha!  We actually addressed this in an earlier SRS Challenge: What are those lines in the bay? when I wondered what made the lines I spotted from a plane landing at JFK airport.  Those were mosquito control ditches.  But they dug primarily in the 1930s.  What happened before 1930? 

A little farther down in that previous paper, we also find the answer: 

"Deliberate efforts to control mosquitoes in New York City began in 1901 to prevent malaria. The basic elements of mosquito-borne disease control implemented in New York City began in 1901: promoting public and health professional awareness regarding disease causation and prevention, establishing government laboratory testing capacity, reporting cases of suspected mosquito-borne disease to the New York City Department of Health, and mapping and eliminating or applying larvicide to natural and artificial mosquito breeding sites..."  

In essence, the effort to control malarial mosquitos (which are Anopheles, not Aedes aegypti) had the fortunate side-effect of also controlling the yellow fever mosquitoes.  

A vaccine for yellow fever wasn't developed until 1937, so it wasn't a mass vaccination program that saved the populace from yellow fever, it was simply a matter of getting rid of the mosquitos (although, as we saw earlier, that's not a minor effort!).   It was a happy accident! 

Search Lessons 

The lessons here are: 

1. Sometimes historical searches need the term "history" in them.  That seems simple enough--but it's often needed to remove results that are from current times (e.g., to get historically interesting results about the history of mosquito control, rather then just companies that are offering to do mosquito control for you).  

Search on!