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!


  1. It was, as always, interesting, fun and full of surprises and new stuff to know.

    About Q1, I tried the Exif Data using the link. I don't know why but with the link, no location is given. I tried using the photo, after reading the answer, and with that, I got the lat and long.

    Also, when trying the Challenge, with the insulators, though it was an electric pole not telephone. That is why I was surprised when Jon TU mentioned it was wood and it was burned.

    In Q3, Yandex worked for me perfectly and in seconds. And Google Lens didn't. I love Google Lens and maybe didn't work because the way I downloaded the image or who knows, maybe I needed to look more results. That is why I tried Yandex.

    In your Method 1, Dr. Russell, why you added telephone after those 4 minutes? I had no idea about what the pot it was.

    1. Interesting! I'll have to play around a bit more with Yandex and see if I can reproduce your experience.

      I should have mentioned this--I added the term "telephone" because I saw a result with the title "what is this pot doing on the telephone pole?" -- and that made realize that the canister looks just like a cooking pot. (There's even a web page out there that asks "why is this menudo pot mounted on a telephone pole?"

      Pretty funny, but it was a useful clue.

  2. I wonder, though, did you get the Ann's Garden link because it was already in your results? I find, if I search for something and click on a link, then try variations that are still close, Google will repeat those results ad nauseum. Trying to customize my search for me.

    1. It's a good question, but no, it wasn't already in my results. If your second query is close to your first query, it makes sense that some of the result might be repeated -- that's not customization, that's stability in the results returned. (Which is, generally speaking, a good thing.)