Wednesday, July 20, 2022

SearchResearch Bonus Challenge (July 20, 2022): What's a large US city with very low population density?

 As I mentioned last week, I'm in a place with very slow WiFi... 

... so it's tricky to write up a detailed answer for you from last week. 

BUT a question came up in conversation about "what large US city has the lowest population density as of 2020?"  

There are tables one can find that will tell you one answer, but I'd like you to solve this Challenge in a more direct way--a way that will teach you how to download data directly into a table and then manipulate it yourself.  

Can you do this hands-on data manipulation Challenge? 

Here's what I want you to do:  

1.  Search for a table of the largest US cities by population.  You'll want to find a table with at least 330 entires in it.  

2. Download that table into a spreadsheet. 

3. Compute the population density (if you need to... it might be a column in the data set).  

4. Sort the table by density, and then tell us what the city name is!  

Your table should look like the one above (hint: I got it from Wikipedia, but you can find your own source if you'd like--the diversity of data sources might be interesting).  

This might feel like a bit of an odd Challenge, but it's a bit of a sensemaking exercise--can you get yourself through all the steps and get to the correct answer?  

Everything you need to know is pretty easily discoverable, and knowing how to do this will put you in good standing as a beginning data analyst--you'll know how to find data, import it, transform it (as needed), and then validate it.  

Can you do it?  

Let us know in the comments below!  

Search on!  

P.S.  My view at the moment.  Will wait to upload this post until I get close to good wifi.... 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (7/13/22): What is this rusty thing I found in the woods?

 As often happens... 

All photos P/C Dan. July 8, 2022

... I went for a run and spotted something remarkable hovering just behind the trees on the side of the road.  This time, I was jogging down a quiet country road in eastern Pennsylvania, in the middle of the Pocono mountain range, about 85 miles (136 km) due northwest of Manhattan.  It was a perfect day to run--cool, quiet, deep forest on both sides of the road.  Naturally, I had to stop for a few minutes, take a few pictures, and save my SRS for later.  

As you can see, this is a very large, very rusty, very old drilling rig that was abandoned years ago.  It's at least 60 feet (20 m) tall, and has several large wheels at the bottom. 

And, naturally, my curiosity was piqued:  What was this?  Why is it here?  How long ago?  

The pictures shown here are all of some kind of drilling rig.  These images are all from 41°16'52.9"N, 75°19'16.1"W (41.2813694, -75.323322).  

Those form the basis of the SearchResearch Challenge for this week.   

1. What kind of rig is this?  (Is it drilling for water?  Oil? Gas?)  

2. When was this drilling rig first setup?  

3. Who owns this thing?  And what's its current status?  (Obviously, it's not in operating condition--but it might still be a viable well.)  

Can you find out the answers to these mysteries?  The enquiring mind wants to know!  

It didn't take me too long to find out, but the process was--as we say here in SRS-land--really interesting!  

When you figure it out, please leave a comment in the thread below.  Let us know HOW you found out!  

Search on! 

P.S.  I'll be traveling over the next two weeks, so I might not be able to give the full and complete answer next Wednesday.  Hang on--I'll be back, and I'll return with even more interesting and exotic SRS Challenges for us!  


Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Answer: Why is there an elephant statue in this Wisconsin park?


An elephant in Delavan?

Seeing THIS in a mid-sized Wisconsin town was a huge surprise, and prompted me to look for the reason.  

(As I've said before, the most common motivator for SRS Challenges is something that doesn't quite fit in... something I didn't expect.  And I surely didn't expect a life-sized elephant and brightly painted clown in a small town parklet.)  

In any case, this scene made me look twice and take the pic, and it leads to the following SearchResearch Challenge: 

1. What's the story here?  Why is there an elephant in the middle of small-town Wisconsin?  Really?   I did a little digging and my mind is boggled.  Can any of this be true?  

I started with the obvious search: 

     [ elephant statue delavan wisconsin ] 

which gave me decent results.  But I ALSO tried a longer, more question-based query: 

     [ why is there an elephant statue in delavan wisconsin ] 

and THAT gave me rather different results.  Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two SERPs.  

In these two versions of the query, Google is trying to give you the best answers with-respect-to your underlying intent.  In the short query, Google is guessing that you're looking for information about the statues in Delavan--how to get there, nearby attractions, etc.  In the longer query (the more question-based one), Google thinks you're trying to find an answer to that question, "why is there an elephant in Delavan, Wisconsin?" and so it provides a more answer-base set of results, including an expanded snippet of information extracted from the first result (which is the same on both SERPs).  

But as you can see, the second result ("Romeo & Juliet") is pushed farther down the page, and generally, the results are rather different.  

What this means for you:  These days, Google is getting increasingly good at answering full questions, or at least trying to give you links to results that will let you answer those questions.

Note:  This doesn't let you off the hook... you still need to read and evaluate the results.  

This Challenge is a great example of why this is so.  

I opened up the top ten results in parallel in a single browser and looked at them in detail.  Fascinating.  

In #1, Statue of Romeo, we read that Romeo was just a bad elephant that killed 5 people in 15 years. He was infamous, and so the town (which had a rich circus history) decided to put up a statue commemorating Romeo and a circus clown.  

But in #2, Romeo and Juliet, we read that Juliet died one winter on the shores of Lake Delavan and was then pulled out onto the ice of the lake by Romeo, possibly explaining why he turned mean. This page goes on to say that "fishermen still pull elephant bones out of Lake Delavan..."  

#3 is a link to Wikimapia, pointing out the location of the statue.  

#4 is a story about Romeo and Juliet, claiming that "following the 1853 season, Romeo and a smaller female, Juliet, were sold to the Mabie Brothers and delivered to the show’s winter quarters at the present site of Lake Lawn Lodge..." on Lake Delavan.  (Which, coincidentally, was where I was staying while in Delavan.)  This story adds a tidbit--that Juliet died of a bowel obstruction, but repeats the claim that she was pulled onto the ice for deposition in the lake.  This article goes on to say that several elephant bones have been pulled from the lake since Juliet's death in February of 1864, during the height of the US Civil War.  There's a specific claim that "in 1931, a newspaper article documented the finding of a bone in Delavan Lake, which some thought to be from a prehistoric mastodon." 

The rest of the results are either recaps of these, or not especially useful. 

But what we've got here should be enough to figure out what the backstory is about Romeo and Juliet.  

This is obviously a job for a news archive, and my favorite of the moment is (it's fast, accurate, broad, and available in many public libraries). 

A search on for: 

     [ Juliet elephant Delavan ] 

and quickly located several articles from 1864 such as this one from the Semi-Weekly of Milwaukee, WI. On March 16, 1864, they published this short blurb about Juliet:  

P/C Semi-Weekly of Milwaukee, WI (3/16/1864)

There's no mention of her burial in the lake, nor of Romeo being forced into pulling her there.  All of the reports say the same thing: she died in February of 1864 at the site of the Lake Lawn resort (which was the Mabie circus company's overwintering site).  The ground would have been frozen in February, and I bet that a lake burial would have been the simplest solution.  

Although I tried, I couldn't find anything from those days about Juliet being dropped into the lake, nor about Romeo being forced to push her body into the waters.  

Nor was I able to find anything about the mysterious "mastodon bones" from 1931.  

So I turned to Google Books, and found several books (including the generally reliable Arcadia Publications ) about Lake Lawn which repeats the same story (Juliet died in winter, was pushed into the lake), Romeo goes on to kill 5 men, bones later found in 1931 thought to be mastodon... etc.  But, unfortunately, none of these seem to point to contemporary accounts.  It seems that the story of Juliet's burial-at-lake grew up sometime after her death.  It's certainly possible that it happened, but there's no confirmation by news reports at the time.  (At least not that i could find!) 

On the other hand, I did find a poster of the Mabie circus (there are multiple copies of this poster floating around).  

    The playbill describes "the gymnastic elephants, Romeo and Juliet..." as part of the menagerie. And, as you see, there are illustrations of them at the bottom of the page. 

The Clown:  To be honest, I didn't think much about the clown (after all, seen one clown statue, and you've seen them all).  But the comments thread was fascinating.  I'm quoting Mike's comment here (with a little editing):  

"I used to collect "First-Day Covers" ... specially decorated envelopes that contained a new stamp and was postmarked at the post office where it was issued.  

The 5-cent clown commemorative was issued BY the U.S. Post Office, of course ... but it was issued AT the Delavan Post Office.

A simple search [clown commemorative Delavan] brings up lots of info, including the philatelic industry's standard Scott Catalog ID number for this stamp (#1309) and a wide variety of versions (including First-Day Covers) for sale on eBay and other sites. Most interesting to me was the 26-page program for the first-day festivities, whose description included "It also describes Delavan's circus history, including circuses that originated or quartered in Delavan."

Also found was this article in the Linn's Stamp newspaper that said the famous clown Lou Jacobs was the inspiration for the clown used on the stamp.  

[Dan: I checked: Lou Jacobs was very clearly the model clown used for the stamp and the statue. Fascinating.]  

That led me to search for info on Lou, finding biographies on Wikipedia, and also a new "-pedia" to me: Circopedia - The Free Encyclopedia of the International Circus. 

Jacobs was in the first class (1989) inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame, which was founded in Delavan in 1987, but moved to Milwaukee in 1997, and is now located in Baraboo, Wisconsin. 

[Dan: Interestingly, I found that one of Lou's daughter's, Lou Ann, became an elephant trainer.]  

Bottom line:  Romeo was a big and bad circus elephant that was famous in the 19th century.  He led a an unhappy life, and is commemorated as perhaps the biggest (literally) star from the circus town of Delavan, Wisconsin.  Hence the statues of Romeo, a clown (Lou Jacobs), and (nearby) a giraffe.  

SearchResearch Lessons 

1. No surprise, but not everything you read is true... even in books. To be precise, by doing everything I could to find some validation for the story of Romeo and Juliet, I was able to find that Romeo was in fact a killer, and a generally bad elephant (but also that he was terribly abused during his lifetime).  I was not able to verify the story of Juliet being dropped into Lake Delavan, although it seems plausible.  

2. Once again, archival newspapers are a fantastic resource.  Check out your local library to see if you have access to  -- or, barring that, use one of the other archival news sites we've discussed (e.g., Chronicling America)  

3. Sometimes just asking the question is better than trying to guess the shortest possible query!  This is a big change from a few years ago.  When in doubt, try this first! 

Search on! 

Thanks again to Meredith Lowe, who first mentioned elephants and their bones in Wisconsin to me over coffee in Delavan. Thanks!