Friday, January 28, 2022

How to find anything #4 (part 2/3): News and Late Breaking Information - how to keep track

How to find:  News & Breaking Events: Keeping track of your news sources  (part 2)

Foreword:  This is part two of our chapter on finding news (and late-breaking information).  Mario Callegaro and I have been writing this to let you know some of the best practices in how to find online news.  Here we talk about that important step--keeping track of the sources you find useful!  


Key tip: Keep a list of your favorite sources

There are millions of news sites—how do you deal with them all? 

Answer:  People usually create their own lists of news sources and sites and apps that they visit to follow breaking events.  

Most news  sites have email subscriptions that can deliver a regular stream of news to you (in addition to you visiting the site).  Bear in mind what your preferred type of news is.  How do you want to consume  your news?  There are news websites, news email lists, news apps, you can subscribe to video news services, podcasts, vlogs—you name it, and it’s out there.  

Often, frequent searchers will have subscriptions (which we encourage) to the sites they visit during their news reading.  Many news sites also have email feeds that you can set up to see the breaking stories that you’d like to track.  Keeping track of all that in your head is impossible.  We recommend making a list of your top sites (a Google Doc is a simple way to do that).  

What do you put into your Doc list of news?  Here are the key kinds of sources:  

1.  News providers 

There are lots of news providers, many with their own apps: Cleveland Plain Dealer; Times of London; Boston Globe; El Universal (Mexico); El Pais (Spain); Dainik Jagran (India); etc etc etc...  Find one that’s close to you and subscribe. 

2. News providers with videos

Note that many news outlets have video streams as well (see, for instance New York Times Videos or Washington Post videos), and of course your local television news source usually has a YouTube channel (or some other kind of way to pump out news videos).  

In addition to these, many news providers also have YouTube channels that don’t carry exactly the same content.  (Examples:  Washington Post YouTube channel.)  

And of course, some news providers are primarily video creators and only have written forms as alternative ways of presenting information. (Think about ABC, CBS, NBC in the US, or BBC World News in the UK.)

3. Aggregators

A news aggregator collects news from multiple sources into a simple to use format.  They have their own news scanning and ranking algorithms. This is really a collection of stories pulled together from other places:

4.  Wikipedia 

In addition to all of the normal news sources, the Wiki-world has its own set of resources to tap into. If you haven't seen these, it's worth a look to get another perspective on the news and what resources are available.

  1. List of news sources worldwide - lists ONLY news resources, organized geographically.  This isn’t a list of all newspapers, just websites with news coverage. 

  2. List of newspapers - geographically organized.  Fairly complete. (Includes lists of defunct newspapers, not all of which are still online, but still readable via the Internet Archive.) 

  3. List of TV news - global, geographically organized. 

5.  Realtime news sources

While the global news cycle is increasingly nearly real-time, sometimes you might want to get up-to-the-second news.  This is a common need during disasters and calamities of all kinds.  (Most recently, Dan was monitoring the wildfires in California and the follow-on effects of the smoke that drifted everywhere.)  

In these cases, you’ll want to consider real-time sources like Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook.  The one thing to remember in all of these real-time sources is that you probably do NOT want to watch the raw stream of updates from random posters.  Disasters often create a flood of incorrect and misinformation: be very cautious.  We recommend that you find authoritative sources that have a good reputation beforehand.  Many official government sites will provide official feeds.  The drawback of these sources is that they’re often slow and will give the official story.  IF you can find a reliable news provider ahead of time (e.g., your local newspaper or on-the-spot news provider, such as the BBC), you’ll want to follow their various channels.  

If you’re interested in where people get their news, the Pew organization released the results of their survey about news sources from social media in 2021. Bottom line: Less than 50% of Americans get news from social media, and of those that do, less than 10% of  Americans say they regularly get news from Reddit (7%), TikTok (6%), LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%). At the same time, about 31% read Facebook for news, while 22% turn to YouTube.


  1. Bookmarks - you know, you can use the regular old bookmark manager in your browser.   (Bookmarks in ChromeBookmarks in Firefox)  

  2. URL managers (aka Bookmark Managers) These are, basically, fancy bookmark managers; often run as a separate app on your phone.  You can set up a tab with just the news feeds you want to check.  

  3. Just plain notes.  This is what I do—I have a document with the links I want to check every so often.  I also have a little note next to the link with features (e.g., editorial writers that I like, or special sections and topics).  You can use Google Docs or Microsoft Word.  A key question for notes: Should you include the entire URL in plain text?  I would say yes, just in case something bad happens and your links go bad. With the full URL you can still get to the destination.  (Why do I keep my news links in a plain text file?  Answer: So I can pick up my links and move to another kind of browser or computer system without any hassle.  Moving a single file (that has exactly the information you want) is much easier than figuring out how to export bookmarks from one browser and maybe importing them into another kind of browser.)  

NEWS FLASH: Links go bad.  You should know this by now: note that links (especially to news stories) often go stale. When that happens, your news link won’t work any more.  News organizations will sometimes move their content around  breaking a formerly working link.  Sometimes that content gets put behind a paywall and you have to pay for it.  

So… Save what you care about:  IF the news content is important to you (e.g., critical to some research you’re doing), consider saving the entire web page WITH the URL with time-date stamp by saving it as a PDF (here’s how) or as an MHT (web-page complete, here’s how) file.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve lost valuable bits of information because a link went bad or a site disappeared.  If it matters, save it.  Storage is cheap—pulled-out hair is painful.  

Simplifying reading of news (or other web pages):  You probably have noticed that reading news pages is often an annoying proposition because some news sites carpet-bomb their pages with ads and flashing doodads of every possible kind.  You can use reader mode to simplify your reading of the page.  If you find yourself annoyed by all of the visual clutter, here’s how to activate the Reader Mode for your browser: Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge.  

As an example, here’s a side-by-side comparison of an article from the NYTimes in Reader mode vs. in full-view mode--they're very different presentations: 

You can control your news feeds and the way in which you read.  Use Reader mode if you find yourself getting distracted while doing your research.

But however you do it, be sure the content is believable.  We’ll show you how in the next installment of “How to find anything,” the News edition, part 3.  

Search on!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Answer: Time and tides in different places?

 This was a curious question... 

The tide comes in near Gualala, California.  P/C Dan.

... which is my very favorite kind of question. 

This Challenge really started from a chance observation ("the times of the tides are different here vs. there") and then a bit of a thought experiment ("what would it be like if the tides were the same everywhere").  

When I thought it through, I realized that I'd never really considered how tides work at different places around the world.  It was something to see that different places on the west coast of North America have different tides at different times.  Of COURSE they must be different (I realized)--there's no way that high tide in Juneau, Alaska could happen at the same time as in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (at the very bottom of the Baja peninsula).  

And then, because this is the way thought experiments work (at least in my head), I wondered when high tide would happen if I looked westward.  What time is the tide in Hawai'i or Japan?  And of course, there's no way the tides on the east coast are the same as those on the west coast.

That's when I had my AHA moment--tides are complicated--and that's what led to this week's Challenge.  

1. Is there some way to understand how the tides move around on the planet?  If the time of high tide varies so much on the west coast of North America, there must be a similar variability in low tides at different locations.  Is there some way to understand how tides vary over the course of a day?  What's the best way to get an understanding of this global behavior? 

I tell you what I did, and then review some of the responses in the comment thread.  

My first thought was to get some kind of global visualization of the tides over time.  That is, I was looking for some kind of animation to make the tidal changes over time AND space very apparent.  

When I think of animation, I turn to YouTube.  There, I did a search for: 

     [ global tides ] 

and found this truly remarkable video from NASA: 

Global tides animation video from NASA
Download the video from their site (Barotropic tides)

It's worth watching this video a couple of times to notice the patterns.  If you focus in on the northern Pacific Ocean, you can see the tides rotating around the Pacific basin like clockwork. (White is high, black is low.)  Notice how the white blob saunters up the west coast of North America (the high tide), followed by a black blob.  If you look carefully, you can even see the large high tide followed one cycle later by a lower high tide.  

The video is also worth listening to as they give a nice summary of what's going on here.  This is the transcript (lightly edited) of the video:  

Ocean tides are not simple. If our planet had no continents, tides would be hemispheric-sized bulges of water moving westward with the moon and sun.

This animation shows the tides as a complex system of rotating and trapped waves with a mixture of frequencies. In many oceans we see waves rotating clockwise or anticlockwise, with small amplitudes in the middle of the ocean and high amplitudes around the boundaries, especially along the coasts of northwest Europe and Britain.

Waves are trapped and rotating around New Zealand, causing a high tide on one side of the islands with a simultaneous low tide on the other side. The Topex/Poseidon and Jason satellite altimeter missions were designed to observe and record this complexity.

Altimeters on these missions acted as flying tide gauges. And after several years collecting data, researchers could analyze the signals at each ocean location to determine the tidal characteristics.

With that knowledge, plus near-perfect knowledge of the motion of the sun and moon, the tide can be predicted at any location and at any time in the future.

Note that the large short-scale waves on continental shelves and marginal seas, as well as polar regions outside the orbits of Topex and Jason, and are still inadequately known. Scientists expect that SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite) will provide wide-swath altimeter readings that will help improve tidal knowledge in these regions. (SWOT is due to launch in November, 2022)

As the narrator points out, take a close look at New Zealand--the tides really do race around the island, with high tides on one side and lows on the other.  It's a truly remarkable difference over a relatively short distance. 

Also take note of the crazy tides in northeastern bays of Canada (such as Hudson Bay) and off the east coast of Argentina near Tierra del Fuego.  This side-by-side capture of two video frames (roughly 6 hours apart) shows the high/low tides, and you can clearly see the variation.  

Bottom line: Tides are a world-wide phenomenon.  You have to take a large-scale perspective to see what's going on... and why tides and time vary so much between San Diego and Juneau.  


We had a bunch of comments on this topic, which happily surprised me.  I had no idea so many people were interested in the tides.  A few cherry-picked summary comments: 

Arthur points out that "The specific features of a coastal location can affect how water moves, creating a lag that influences the times of the tide and other conditions. These variations give each coastal location a unique tidal pattern." He also points us to this remarkable time lapse of the extremely large tides in the Bay of Fundy (one of those NE Canadian bays).  Worth a look:  

Jon tells us that "
On the west coast of North America the returning tide is forced by the Coriolis effect of Earth's rotation to be pushed to the right--landward-- as it races from the equatorial region at 700 mph to the north."  (Details about the Coriolis effect, if you're a curious person. And no, the Coriolis effect doesn't make your bathroom drain turn one way north of the equator and the other way south of the equator.)  Interesting thing to consider: Why doesn't the tidal motion go clockwise in the southern hemisphere?  (Another Challenge?) 

Remmij gave us the delightful discussion of oceanic whirlpools (e.g., the Old Sow, a whirlpool in the Bay of Fundy), and a pointer to how the big waves form off of Nazare, Portugal.  (A video showing crazy surfers on those waves.)  

Remmij also brought up the idea of creating mathematical models of tides with dynamic systems.  A wonderful topic, but a bit beyond what we'll cover here.  To see a model of the tides (and not the actual data), you might enjoy this animated tide model--compare it to the actual data visualization above.  

Dan standing on the rocks at high tide near Gualala, CA, pondering time and tides. P/C K. Russell

SearchResearch Lessons 

1. When looking for animated visualizations, check video sources first.  When people publish their work with visualizations of things like sea-level data, it's common to push out a video of their work. 

2. Sometimes the simplest query can open up the topic. In this case, just searching for [global tides] was enough to shift the focus from "just the west coast" to a larger, more global phenomenon.  

3. Curiosity leads to many things worth learning.  In this case we started with a simple observation, but now we've got a lot of additional questions that come out of this topic.  Following your curiosity is a great way to get into a deeper understanding of the world we live in.  For instance, something that has bothered me for a while: why do we have TWO tides each day?  (Look for a future Challenge on this!)  

Search (curiously) on! 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (1/19/21): Time and tides in different places?

 I was at the sea the other day... 

The tide comes in near Gualala, California.  P/C Dan.

As usual, I had looked up the tides before going, so I'd know when both high and low tide were to happen.  That's an easy query on Google.  If you do: 

     [ tide chart ] 

Google will return a list of local tide chart sites, like this (my query here was done from Palo Alto, CA): 

And if you click on the first result, you'll see a beautiful chart of the tides near you: 

Chart from

As it happens, the other day when I went for my seaside walk, I was near Gualala, California, and I'd looked up the tide chart, which looked like this: 

All charts in this style are from 

On Jan 14, the first low tide was at 1:49AM while the first high tide was at 7:59AM; second low tide was 2:35PM and second high tide at 10:36PM.  

In one of those serendipitous moments that defines SearchResearch, I just HAPPENED to have looked up the tide chart for San Diego earlier that morning (I was looking up something else, don't you know...).  So when I saw this chart for Gualala, it struck me that the time of the tides were different

As I've often said, noticing small inconsistencies in the world often leads to curious outcomes.  This is one of those.  

Here's the tides chart for three locations on the coast of North America, San Diego (just above Mexico), Gualala (one quarter of the distance to Alaska), and Juneau, Alaska (way up north).   See the map down below.

That's when I noticed--for the first time--that the tides seem to arrive later and later the farther north you go.  To see this, look at the first high tide peaks: San Diego at 6:48AM, Gualala at 7:59AM, Juneau at 10:41AM.  Apparently, the tides seem to arrive about four hours later. The distance, as the jet plane flies, is about 1947 miles (3134 kilometers) between San Diego and Juneau, so it seems the "tide" apparently travels at around 486 mph from south to north (787 kph).)  

Realizing that the tides don't all go up/down at the same time along the west coast of North America was a surprise.  I'd implicitly assumed that they all went up and down at the same time.  (A moment's reflection makes me realize that can't possibly be true.) 

BUT... it leads to today's SRS Challenge:  

1. Is there some way to understand how the tides move around on the planet?  If the time of high tide varies so much on the west coast of North America, there must be a similar variability in low tides at different locations.  Is there some way to understand how tides vary over the course of a day?  What's the best way to get an understanding of this global behavior? 

When I did this Challenge, I was happily surprised to find that there are some beautiful ways to understand this.  Perhaps you can find them as well?  (I guarantee that this is an easier problem that the Skytree shadow!) 

Let us know what you found to answer this Challenge and HOW you found it!  

Search on! 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

How to find downloadable books in Google Books

 All I wanted was a full-view version of Audubon's masterpiece, The Birds of America... 

A page from Audubon's "Birds of America"

... but I was having a hard time findingi it.  But with a little help from my friends on the Books team, I learned how to do this.  

1.  Do your search and limit the returns to "Full View" 

2. Then, open that book (Volume 1) to see this: 

3. Clear the search (you'll see why in the next step).  This will then show you the summary page of this book: 

4.  To find the other volumes of Birds of America, click on the "Other editions" button in the center of the UI:  

5. Click on "More" -- This will then show you all of the "Other editions" of this book, which will include the option to filter by "downloadable"! 

6. Once you click on "Download available," it will show you all of the PDF versions of the books, including nearly all of the other volumes: 

Interestingly, this list now shows you full scans of Birds of America that do not show up in "full view," but which are downloadable (and therefore in full view... go figure).  

But I'll tell you now--Volume 5 doesn't show up when you do this search.  (It doesn't seem to have ever been scanned.)  But the OTHER 7 volumes do show up!  And if you're an amateur field biologist, this is a treasure trove for you.  

Search on! 

Post Script:  

If you like this, try the following amazing books, which I leave as suggestions for the interested SRS reader to find: 

On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres.  (aka De revolutionibus orbium caelestium) Nicolaus Copernicus.  

Le operazioni del compasso geometrico, e militare, etc, by Galileo.  (1649)

Hamlet, Shakespeare: 


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Answer: A new year, a new Challenge about parakeets!

 Is it a parrot, or a parakeet, or... 

C. c. ludovicianus by John James Audubon. This is the blue subspecies variant of the green/yellow Carolina Parakeet (C. c. carolensis)  P/C Wikimedia.

Last week's Challenge was pretty straightforward:  

1. ...the Carolina Parakeet, can you find a drawing (or etching or painting) that was done from life?  (And yes, I know about the painting in the Wikipedia article.  Can you find something OTHER than that?)  

I was fascinated by the comments we got about HOW people did their search.  Thanks to all who wrote in.  

Full disclosure: here's what I did...

The straightforward search was: 
     [ Carolina parakeet "from life" ] 

and then wander through the images looking for plausible leads.  In looking through this collection of results: 

I quickly learned a couple of things: 

1. the artist Mark Catseby  (1682-1749) drew "The Parrot of Carolina and the Cypress of America" c.1722-6.  While he was a great collector and he certainly saw live Carolina parakeets, it's unclear if his illustration (see below) was from life...  (This image is a fairly low-res version: you can see a beautiful high-res version here, at the Royal Collection.)  

Mark Catseby (c. 1772)

2. This bird is also called the Carolina Parrot, which, when you search for it in the manner above, leads to the OTHER Wikipedia image of the Carolina Parrot.  

John James Audubon (1833) "from life."  P/C Wikimedia.

I figured that John James Audubon (the famous American bird illustrator of the 19th century) probably had done a sketch (or two, or dozens) of this bird.  So the simplest search would be to search for Carolina parakeet in Google Books with the date filter set to BEFORE 1918. 

I did this... and redid this search multiple times--to no avail!  I know Audubon wrote and illustrated a multi-volume work called “Birds of America," and as we see in the above illustration, we KNOW that he painted them at least once, so it was peculiar to not find this in Google Books. 

However, once I noticed that the bird was also called the "Carolina Parrot," a search in Google Books for [ "Carolina Parrot ] quickly led me to Birds of North America, Volume 4 (page 306), wherein one finds this image: 

Audubon, "Birds of North America, Volume 4" p. 306 

Two things to note here:  

First, the Latinate name is, according to Audubon, Centurus carolinensis.  Today, of course, it's Conuropsis carolinensis.  (Which explains why searching for Conuropsis carolinensis in the works of Audubon didn't work either--he never knew it by that name, nor wrote about it.)  Nor did he call it the "Carolina Parakeet" -- he called it either the "Caroline Parrot" OR the "Carolina Parrakeet."  Synonyms are great, but they're not perfect substitutes!  

Second, in the lower left corner is the notation:  "Drawn from nature by J.J. Audubon FRSFLS."  Now, we know that "from nature" is about as close to "from life" as Audubon is going to get.  As we read in the article, Drawn from Nature, by Laura Harbold, 
He spent hours observing birds in their natural habitats, then shot them, using scatter pellets to lessen the damage to their bodies. For Audubon, Eldridge says, "a bird was like a rose. You admired the color, you admired the fragrance, and you picked it without much emotional reaction."

Audubon pinned his specimens to a wooden grid, arranging their wings, tails, and heads in lifelike positions. Using a duplicate grid, he sketched the birds exactly to scale, reproducing each feather to the smallest detail.

And that's what I did to find the Carolina Parakeet (aka Parrot, aka Parrakeet, depending on the source).  

Again, thanks to everyone who wrote in with their solution paths.  

SearchResearch Lessons 

1.  "From life" wasn't such a great search term.  I didn't know that Audubon (and others) said "from nature"!  And, more generally... 

2.  Sometimes you need an exact match of the search term!  Luckily, I noticed that some writers referred to "Carolina Parrot" and I was able to use that term to search in Google Books (and other sources).  

3. Looking around (and reading widely) is the best way to zero in on your search target.  Search skills are great, but reading broadly, often using lateral browsing, is a great way to find what you see by learning a bit about the topic area.  

Search on!