Wednesday, July 20, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (7/20/16): Finding connections between people

Connections between artists... 

... thinkers, do-ers, builders, writers, composers, and makers is important.  

If you know that Mr. X somehow influenced Ms. Y, or that Organization A is somehow connected with Place B, you're a leg up on understanding how history proceeds.  

(For teachers:  This is the kind of thing we expect our students to do all the time.  This Challenge is a neat example of the kind of connection-making we want in their research papers.)

This past week I was struck by several connections that I discovered.  These were so striking that I couldn't help but think of them as Challenges for the brilliant researchers in SRS.  

Here are three clues to surprising connections that I found this week.  Can you find the connections as well?  To make this a bit more like what I was doing in my reading process, I'll give you the starting points for the search.  Note that I wasn't searching for a connection between these, but I found them, and was delighted.  I hope you are too.  

1.  What's the connection between these two people?  

2.  What's the connection between this company and this house? 

3.  What's the connection between these two people?  

My answers (with a bit of colorful background on each of the connections) next week!  

I thought you might find the Challenge useful because research often involves the process of searching out the possible linkages between people, ideas, and their work.    

Search on! 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Answer: Tools!

Tools adapt to fit the task... 

... so it's no surprise that there are some really interesting tools to fit to unusual work tasks.  

1.  A tool that's been used by stained glass workers since medieval times is a  fid.  What IS a fid?  And how would you use it? 

I thought this would be harder than it was.  A quick search for 

     [ define fid ] 

reveals that its primary definition is as "a stout bar of wood or metal placed across a lower spar so as to support a higher one" (such as between the topmast and a lower mast).  

Is there any connection to stained glass?  Not yet.  We must go deeper.  

A secondary definition is as a "conical tool used for splicing rope."  But what does this have to do with glazier work?  

I modified my query to be: 

     [ fid use stained glass ] 

and found that this is also the name of a simple tool used by stained glass artisans.  (You can tell it's a specialized too because I got a couple of ads for fids!)  

It's a little widget that's used to it open up the lead channels in the "came" (the lead channels between pieces of glass), then used to push them back down.  It's also used to clean off excess cement, and to "burnish" (or push down) copper foil.  

Here's a video talking about the use of a fid (which is also sometimes called a lathekin): 

While (stained glass) fids can be beautiful and elegant (as in the above images), I just whittled one out of an old clothespin I had lying around.  

My daughter and I working on her first stained glass project.
My fid is just to the right of my right hand.
I'm using an Xacto knife to trim the copper foil.

2.  What's this tool?  What would you use it for?  For scale, it's about 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide.

Once again, easier than I thought: Search-by-Image is the way to go here.  Most people very quickly discovered that this is a freewheel removal tool.  Different bike makers have slightly different versions of this.  An excellent tutorial (with a good video) can be found at The Bike Tube site.   You can watch him put this kind of tool over the freewheel and rotate it to pull it off the wheel.  (Which you'll need to do when repairs are necessary.)  

3.  What is a languid depressor, and how do you use it?  (And why is does it have such a strange name?)  
With such a strange name, this isn't hard to find either, but it's a bit tricky to determine exactly what it is.  

The query: 

     [ languid depressor ] 

is pretty clearly a term of art for pipe organ building, but once you've figured that out, you need to refine your search to get to a clear idea of what this tool might be. My next query was: 

     [ languid organ ] 

Why this query?  Because I figured that a "depressor" was a generic term--that is, like a "tongue depressor" and the "languid" was the thing being depressed.  

Aha!  With that query, it's easy to see that the languid is an interior component of a pipe (in a pipe organ), and that a depressor would be used to adjust the height of the languid.  I did a search for [ languid organ ] on YouTube, and (a little bit to my amazement) found the following video (which is the same one that Regular Reader Remmij found), showing a languid depressor in use.  


4.  When, why, and where would you use a kelp iron?  Can you find a picture of one? 

As everyone discovered, this was a much more difficult Challenge than the others.  No surprise, as it's a tool used for an unusual job in a far-off and distant land.  

My first query: 

     [ kelp iron ] 

This turns out to be useless for our goal (of kelp iron as a tool), but very useful if you're trying to figure out how much iron is in your daily serving of kelp. 

The next page or two of results are all like this.  What now? 

Remember that what we're trying to do is to find what a kelp iron is and how it's used.   So I modified my query to include words that would be in an article about how it's used.  (And, just as importantly, NOT in any articles about kelp as a source of nutritional iron.)  

This is simple, but works: 

     [ "kelp iron" use ] 

I did a phrase search using double quotes (so the words kelp and iron wouldn't be separated) AND I added in the word use.  This turned out to give me some great results fairly far down on the SERP. 

The fact that these results are all in Books suggests that I repeat this query in  I did that, and found these three same results.  By reading these three works, I learned that the kelp iron it is a long, thin pole round 10 feet (3 meters) long with a 3 foot (1 meter) iron rod with a hook on the end.  It's used to stir up kelp as it is burned to produce a kind of brittle, bluish slag that is rich in the chemicals used for creating soap and glass. Burning kelp become an important industry along the coastlines of Scotland, Ireland, and the islands all around the northern parts of Britain.  

The kelp-iron is used for working the ash as the kelp burns, in order to make the burning ash of consistent consistency, leaving a high quality product without unburned chunks of kelp.  

In one of the  books in our hit-list,  Agricultural Surveys: Inverness (1808) by the Great Britain Board of Agriculture, we read that "This instrument [the kelp iron] consists of a wooden handle, similar to that of a spear or a hayrake, and of such a length, that a man can work it, standing upright: the shaft is fixed into the socket of an iron head which is six-inches (12 cm) long"  and that "the kelp is thus wrought into a liquid mass without intermission, until it become stiff, which is very hard labour..."  

This is great, but continued searching with "kelp iron" isn't especially productive, there just aren't that many books with this term in it. How can we expand our search terms to find more about this difficult topic? We need to find another term that's more common, but just as precise, to find more content about the kelp burning process.  

If you read just a bit around the description of the kelp-iron in this book, we find several other unique terms we can use, the most likely of which is: 

     [ "kelp kiln"]

 which is where the kelp was burned.  

If we repeat our search using this new term, we find:  

These results are starting to look promising, surely the kelp kilns were worked with a kelp iron!  

By doing a bit of reading through these results, I learned a bit more (including the promise of an image of a kelp iron in the book "Highland Folk Ways" by Isabel Grant on page 115), and found many more descriptions of the process, including many (many!) photos of kelp kilns, where the kelp was burned, and lots of pictures of people working the kelp kilns with shovels and pitchforks... (another photo of kelp workers with shovels)...  but NOT the kelp irons.  

But so far, I haven't been able to locate an online copy of "Highland Folk Ways."  (I've requested it via inter-library loan, but that will take more than 1 week.  Will report back when I get it.)  

Like Regular Reader Jon the Unknown, I managed (after a couple hours of browsing the results from the [ "kelp kiln"] query) to find the book General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides, Or Western Isles of Scotland, With Observations on the Means of their improvement... by James McDonald (1811).  In that text we find (p. 801) this description of the process and a tiny sketch: 

And this seems to be the best image (so far) of a kelp iron from Celtic lands.  

Interestingly enough, Regular Reader Kathe Guste found some remarkable images from a Norwegian digital history museum site: 

P/C DigitalMuseum.no
 CC by attribution

The hand-tinted photo and the black-and-white both look a lot like a kelp iron, but they seem to being used to harvest the kelp (not to stir it up in the kiln).  So I suspect these are staged photos, but even so, they certainly give an impression of what a kelp iron might be. 

I was just about to give up on this search when I tried one last thing... 

At this point, after a couple of hours of low-quality reading through search results, I was thinking to myself "How can I search through just museum websites?"  

This is when the INURL: operator becomes useful.  Not all museums have the word "museum" in their title (think of the Smithsonian, a great museum that's found at SI.ORG), but enough do that it's worth the effort.  

My last query in this search was:  

     [ inurl:museum "kelp burning" ] 

(Another variation on the "kelp" + frequent word association.)  

Lo and behold, this query has two results (!), yet this is how I found the Shetland Museum site: 

This site has it's own internal search tool (see the upper right corner).  So, I dropped in the term "kelp" to see what general kinds of things they had.  This is what I found

By this point, I'd read enough about kelp irons to know what one should look like (especially with the helpful sketch from McDonald's book. Here's the closeup of their image

P/C Shetland Museum Archives.
Obviously, this is just the iron part of the kelp iron--you'd attach a 9 foot (3 meter) pole onto this. Also notice that the Shetland Museum calls this a "kelp rake."  

Odd thing worth knowing: if you do a query like this:
[ kelp ] you WILL NOT find this kelp iron.  This is why you sometimes want to use the on-site search tool--most, but obviously not all, pages on a site are indexed by Google.  

Search Lessons

There are several things to pick up here.

1. Some searches require additional context terms in order to focus in on the target.  The fid example required that we add in use and stained glass in order to get good high quality results.  Sometimes context terms are needed to clarify the particular meaning.  

2. The right context term is sometimes the general area.  This was the case with the languid depressor.  To get decent results, I had to eliminate the word depressor and add in the word organ, once I figured out that a languid depressor is part of an organ pipe.  

3.  Remember to check other media types.  The best way to learn about how to use a languid depressor is to watch the video. 

4. Finding your goal often means figuring out the other ways people talk about your target.  In the kelp iron case, the query evolved from
     ["kelp iron"] to ["kelp iron" use] to
     ["kelp kiln"] to ["kelp burning"] to
     [inurl:museum "kelp burning"] 

5. The INURL: operator can be used (imperfectly) to limit your search to a specific kind of location (e.g., museums).  This doesn't always work, but in this case, it was exactly the right thing to try. 

This was a difficult last Challenge--but completely fun!  Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  

Search on! 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (7/13/16): Tools!

The world is full of fascinating tools... 

... and I love to find out what they are and what they're used for.  So, for this week, here are a few Challenges about some really odd, interesting, and unusual tools.  

1.  A tool that's been used by stained glass workers since medieval times is a  fid.  What IS a fid?  And how would you use it? 

2.  What's this tool?  What would you use it for?  For scale, it's about 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide.

3.  What is a languid depressor, and how do you use it?  (And why is does it have such a strange name?)  

4.  When, why, and where would you use a kelp iron?  Can you find a picture of one? 

These searches aren't hard (except for one of them...), but it's a lot of fun.

Next week we'll have something a bit more challenging, so this week is just to have a good time.  Enjoy.

Search on!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Answer: Where's the ship in the pic?

A photo can have lots of information in (and around) it, if only you seek beyond the surface... 

In last week's Challenge I asked "where's the ship in this pic?" and for some information about it.  

A mystery at a beach in an undisclosed location.  If you want the original photo, here's a link to it.

In particular the questions were: 
1. In the above photo, where's the ship?  More specifically, what's the name of the ship? 
2. Were other ships made of concrete by the same outfit that made this ship?  If so, what are their names and where are they now? 
3.  I DO know that this area is popular with sharks.  What kind of sharks would be here?  Any recent sightings?  (I ask because I was thinking about going for a quick dive here.  Should I?)  
4.  (Extra credit)  Not only are sharks somewhere nearby now, but apparently they've been in this area for a loong time.  What evidence can you find that sharks have been near here for a long time? 

To start with, I did the obvious thing and clicked on the original photo link, then zoomed in a bit just to do a bit of visual hunting in the image.  That quickly showed me where the ship is in the above image:  

It's not just any ship, it's a shipwreck.  (A bit like an earlier SRS Challenge to identify a wreck in the Carquinez Straits.)  
It's not hard to pull out the EXIF metadata and figure out that this shipwreck is at (36.969169, -121.905956).  A quick peek in Google Maps shows us this: 

The red map pin is the location where I stood to take the photo.  If you go to StreetView at this place, and then rotate until you've closely aligned the image, you see: 

Note that the compass needle is pointing directly to the right.  That means north is to the right, and that this photo is looking due west. 
If you refer back to the map image above, you can see that the SS Palo Alto seems to be moored at the end of that long pier, directly west of where the photo was taken. 
If you now click on the blue link "S.S. Palo Alto" you'll get more information about that ship: 

Including a link on the bottom of the panel to "95 Photos."  Clicking on that gives you a wealth of information, including the observation that this is clearly (another) ship wreck.  
Closeup of the SS Palo Alto.  Note the photo credit to Joe G in the upper left corner, in the attribution panel.  
As we've learned before, other resources can be useful in these searches, including the ever-popular Wikimapia.  When you enter the lat/long to Wikimapia, this is what you see: 

Well.. THIS is fascinating.  But how reliable is the information given in the left panel?  

It's odd because the reference for this information is given as the Wikipedia article about the SS Palo Alto, but most of this information doesn't appear in the Wiki article.  The Wikipedia entry is nice, but it's not nearly as detailed as that info given here. What's going on? 

Since the Wiki article wasn't giving me this information, where did it come from? 

To find out, I selected a phrase from the Wikimapia text that I thought would be pretty rare (also called "low frequency").  I chose the phrase "The S.S. Palo Alto's concrete recipe" and did a search like this: 

     [ "The S.S. Palo Alto's concrete recipe" ] 

and found that it comes from Sandy Lyman's "Central Coast Secrets" web site.  Okay, so who is Sandy Lyman?  

if you read to the bottom of that web page, you'll learn that the information on this page comes from the book Forever Facing South: The Story of the S.S. Palo Alto, (published in 1991 by David W. Heron).  That sounds like a great resource... and then I noticed that the forward to that book was written by Sandy Lyman!  (Searching for Sandy's bio page tells me that he's been a news weatherman, a high school teacher, and on the faculty at Cabrillo College, not far from the S.S. Palo Alto. He's a local historian of the Central Coast of California.)  

Unfortunately, I can't find an online version of this book.  (It's not in Google Books, and it's not searchable in Amazon or Hathi Trust.)  

On the other hand, by searching for the book title, I DID find an article in a local newspaper that drew upon this book as a resource.  

"The ship was towed to Seacliff State Beach in 1930, 11 years after it was built. And for two short glorious years, it was a party boat, complete with swimming pool, dance floor and café. In 1932, in the teeth of the Great Depression, winter storms did their damage to the ship, rupturing the hull, and the company operating it went belly up.
Eventually, the front half of the ship was again made accessible, after the state of California purchased it for $1, according to David W. Heron's book on the Cement Ship, "Forever Facing South." But conditions deteriorated enough to close the ship entirely to the public in the late 1950s.
In the 1980s, said John Hibble, the director of the Aptos History Museum, a local effort spearheaded by local resident Rose Costa resulted in a refurbishing on the ship, with asphalt structural reinforcement and hand rails, allowing people to again venture out onto the front half of the boat. Several years later, after more damage, the ship was closed for good." 

In the process of reading the background on the S.S. Palo Alto, I learned that the ship was made by the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company in Alameda, CA (part of the larger Oakland port area).  In looking for information about this company, I found that there were several ships made of concrete by this company--including the S.S. Peralta, also made by the SF Shipbuilding Company. 

My query was: 

     [ San Francisco Shipbuilding Company concrete ship ] 

which led me to, which has a great compilation of the concrete ships built.  Twelve were built for WW1, and another 24 for WW2.  Most surprising, concrete ships were made all around the world--it wasn't just a Californian thing.  

S. S. Palo Alto shortly after it arrived at the dock where it now resides.

What about the sharks? 

This isn't hard.  The query:  

     [ sharks near S.S. Palo Alto ] 

told me that a better search would be to include the local place name, Aptos, or the name of the beach, Seacliff.  A search like this: 

     [ sharks Seacliff ] 

-- with a time restriction to "Past year" -- returns all kinds of news stories about sharks near the concrete ship.  Group of great white sharks spotted at Seacliff Beach (May 17, 2016... with a photo of the concrete ship in the article.)  Or Great white sharks return to Aptos cement ship (May 16, 2016).  And so on... including Dozens of great white sharks spotted at Seacliff beach  (July 3, 2016, just a couple of days before I wrote the Challenge, again with pictures of the concrete ship in the background).  

Okay... I won't go diving there this weekend! 

And to figure out the history of sharks in the area, I did a search for: 

     [ shark history Seacliff ]  and I did another one with the other local city name... 
     [ shark history Aptos ] 

only to discover that both of them tell me that there were shark teeth fossils embedded in the cliffs along the shore

Okay, I modified my query to be: 

     [ shark fossil teeth Aptos ] 

and discovered that there are many fossil teeth in the area, including ones found in the nearby cliffs, just around the corner from the concrete ship.  

Search Lessons

As I said at the start, a photo often has lots more information in it than you'd expect, especially if you did a bit.  What did we do to answer this Challege? 

1.  Zoom in on photos.  When I took the picture, I really didn't see the concrete ship in the distance.  Only by zooming in could I actually notice that there was something odd in the image.  

2.  Look at Google Maps and Wikimapia.  Both have lots of geo-located information, and seems to work especially well for wrecks!  

3.  Check on information that seems misattributed. Sometimes you'll find mistakes, but in this case, we found the information is correct... but from another source.  THAT source turned out to be incredibly useful, once we'd run down the proper reference (and in this case, found the book).  

4.  Keep growing the information sources you seek.  In our case, we're looking for multiple sources of information that mutually confirm what the other has said... and NOT by re-using the same old sources over again.  

Hope you found this interesting.  Look for a new Challenge this coming Wednesday! 

Search on! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (7/6/16): Where's the ship in the pic?

Sometimes a photo doesn't just give up its secrets. 

In this week's Challenge, I heard a great story about a nearby place, and went to visit it.  Somehow, I missed the thing I was sent to find.  As you know, sometimes you have to search a bit to learn what all is going on. 

Here's a photo I took on June 30th.  I took it because I'd heard there was a concrete ship somewhere near here... and that surprised me.  A ship made out of concrete?  How would that ever work?  

But I drove to the designated place, and didn't understand.  Where's the ship in this image? 

A mystery at a beach in an undisclosed location.  If you want the original photo, here's a link to it.

The story I heard about this ship was (A) it's somewhere near here, (B) it's made of concrete, and (C) it wasn't the only ship made out of concrete!  Really? Let's turn these questions into this week's SearchResearch Challenge! 

1. In the above photo, where's the ship?  More specifically, what's the name of the ship? 
2. Were other ships made of concrete by the same outfit that made this ship?  If so, what are their names and where are they now? 
3.  I DO know that this area is popular with sharks.  What kind of sharks would be here?  Any recent sightings?  (I ask because I was thinking about going for a quick dive here.  Should I?)  

(and... an extra credit Challenge) 

4.  Not only are sharks somewhere nearby now, but apparently they've been in this area for a loong time.  What evidence can you find that sharks have been near here for a long time? 

This is a fun Search Challenge.  (Let's put it this way, I had way too much fun answering these Challenge questions.  I suspect you will too.)  

Search on! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Answer: Finding out what hats, badges, and patterns mean...

Hats, Badges, Cloth... 

... are all signifiers -- that is, they all connote much more than you'd think, with meaning and symbolism dripping all over.  

Knowing the backstory is crucial for these kinds of things.  As in my story about the appearance of the   Regimental Band and Pipes from the Citadel their Confederate gray dress uniforms--the hats, the badges, the cloth--all carry a great deal of meaning.    In the Citadel's plaid pattern, the official registry of tartan patterns says that it's "... A variation of the Earl of St. Andrew's ... with an alternate gold and red over check to suggest bravery and excellence..."   

The search for this bit of information was straightforward: 

     [ Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes tartan ]

... note that you need to know that tartan is the name of that particular cloth pattern.  

Once you know that items of clothing are signifiers, what else can you learn from them?  Let's dive in.  

1.  Once upon a time, everyone wore hats.  But in this famous movie, what kind of hat is being worn by the man on the far left?  What's the name of that hat?  And what kind of person would wear such a thing?  

In this case, I know this scene is from the movie Casablanca, I even know that the actor is Claude Rains.  (This is FMOK.  But a simple search-by-image would have told you this much.)  So my quick initial search was for: 

     [ hats worn in casablanca claude rains ] 

but that proved to be too broad.  Lots of great results, lots of great images, but it wasn't precise enough.  So I changed it to: 

     [ Casablanca police hats ] 

and found some good results.. including ones that (when you click through to the landing page) tell you that this hat is called a kepi, a kind of circular hat with a flat brim, sometimes decorated with various kinds of insignia denoting rank.  The word is a loanword from the French term, képi.  

In the US, the kepi is most often associated with the American Civil War. Union Officers were generally issued kepis for fatigue use. A close copy of the contemporary French kepi, it had a sunken top and squared visor. It was often called a "McClellan cap," after the Union (northern) commander of the Army of the Potomac, G.B. McClellan.

2.  Hats vary a LOT from place to place.  Can you figure out the name of this hat?  Where would this hat wearer be from?  

Closeup of this kind of hat... 

Trust me, there's no lat/long information here, and the pineapple is just a distraction.

Well... drat.  I thought I'd cropped the top photo enough that Search-By-Image wouldn't work.  But the good news is that it does work.  It takes you to the complete image and the web page, which tells us that the hats they're wearing are called "lemon squeezers" (so named after the indented shape, which looks a good deal like a traditional lemon juicer device):  

an actual lemon squeezer

Digging a bit deeper, one learns that this distinctive hat shape was worn by the New Zealand’s soldiers and was designed by William George Malone. Originally created for his Taranaki Rifles Regiment, the hat was designed to mirror the outline of Mount Taranaki (giving the men some needed connection with home)... and also to allow water to easily run off in the rain. The hat went on to be adopted first by Malone’s Wellington Regiment and later by the rest of the New Zealand Infantry Division in January, 1916.
3.  What's the name for the kind of badge shown below?  What kind of job does a person wearing these shoulder badges have?  (Hint:  Even though this is an archival photo, people with this job STILL wear these badges today.)  

Once again, Seach-By-Image works for this (although, once again, I tried to alter enough so that it wouldn't!)....  If you search-by-image, you land on a German Colonial Uniforms page, which has this image, and the explanation that his shoulder badges are "musician's swallows' nests," which is a common badge designating a musician in many European military bands.  (As contrasted with epaulettes, which are a shoulder board worn as an insignia of rank on many military uniforms.)  

A search for images with that search term: 

     [ musician swallow's nest ] 

shows all kinds of variations on that theme. 

And, if you search for: 

     [ military musicians ] 

you'll find all kinds of Scottish pipe bands, many of them with uniforms that look like this (though I will note that these are musicians from trumpet section): 

(If you're interested, the hats these guys are wearing are pretty specialized and meaningful as well.  Can you figure out what they're made of?  And.. for extra credit, what country are these musicians from?) 

4.  The pattern of plaid tells you a lot about the place where the wearer (or his military outfit) is from, and with it comes a whole lot of history.  What region of the world is THIS kind of cloth from?

This is a little bit of a trick question.  All along, I've been talking about Scottish tartans and plaids.  But if you spend your time looking through books of plaid patterns, you'll be disappointed.  This is a pretty tropical color scheme.  

ONCE AGAIN... search-by-image is your friend.  You'll quickly learn that these mango, red, and greens might look like a tropical tartan, but in fact it's madras cloth from Madras, India.  Yes, it's a plaid pattern, but note that a tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. Tartan is often called plaid in North America, but in Scotland, a plaid is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket such as one would have on a bed.  In the military band context, A full plaid is a long piece of tartan fabric (about 12 yards), traditionally worn as part of a full Highland dress uniform.  A full plaid is pleated the whole way, with half of its length sewn shut (so that the pleats cannot open). Its length is almost twice the height of the wearer. As a military garment the plaid served a practical purpose as a kind of blanket and overcoat in the 18th century. It also provided protection from the constant rains for the soldier's musket and powder.

Search Lessons 

Although I hadn't intended it this way, one of the big lessons for this week is: 

1.  Search-by-image works more often that you'd think.  As you can see from the above examples, it even works when the image is cropped or edited!  

2. As usual, knowing a couple of specific terms really helps focus your search.  In this week's Challenge, the key word was tartan.  

Another Search Challenge tomorrow!  

Search on!