Friday, October 24, 2014

Answer: Where are these places?

Once again, I'm impressed with the search savvy of the SearchResearch Irregulars!  Nice job.  

Obviously, I'm here, looking at these places in real time, but here's what I would have done, if I'd been somewhere else...  

1.  What is this strange obviously artificial waterway?  Did it serve any particular function?  If so, what?  

The lat/long is 55.913090, -3.258981    Link to full-size photo.

I would have just dropped this coordinate into Google Maps; that shows this.... 

If you've seen enough maps, you'll recognize this as a flume (or mill race) that's diverting water from the river (in this case, the poetically named "Water of Leith") to turn the wheel of a mill.  Another clue can be seen in the name of the road at the top right--"Katesmill Rd"--I'm willing to bet there's a mill here.  

If you switch to Satellite mode view, you can see something even more telling.  Scan up-river from that point on the flume, and you can just barely see the suggestion of a weir (that is, a low-dam used to hold back water to feed the flume).  

By switching to Google Earth, I was able to go back in time and get a clearer view of the weir. (You can see the riffles in the water below the weird.)  

Another way to check would be to search for: 

     [ mill Water of Leith Katesmill Edinburgh ] 

And you'll quickly find an official City of Edinburgh map that shows the flume at that location, along with a few history sites that tell us there are actually a couple of mills there--Kate's mill, originally a waulk (or fulling) mill was converted to a paper mill in 1653. It was remodelled in 1787 and then renamed Kate's Mill. 1832 it was owned by Alex Cowan and Son and there is now a private house on the mill site.) Redhall Mill, on the same flume started operation in 1718 making paper for banknotes. In 1742 the mill changed to the production of barley and later became a plastics factory. In 1970 Redhall Mill was converted into flats. (All this information is from the Sapphire project to collect Scottish mill history.)  

Here are a couple more images to show you the ground truth at this site. 

Here you can see an old mill wheel on the flume.  A date engraved on the bridge (from which I took this picture) is 1839.  

And just so you can correlate the above aerial image with a view of the weir from the ground, here's the weir.  

Water of Leith weir that feeds Redhall and Kate's mills.  

2.  The church shown below is associated with a famous writer.  Who is the writer, and what's the connection?  (If you're feeling on top of your game, what's the tree on the right of the image got to do with the right?) 

Link to full-size photo.
Again, for this I'd turn to maps.  Since you know I didn't run very far from the flume (all the pictures were taken within a few minutes of each other), the simplest way to track this down is to check out the map and search for churches.  

All I did was zoom out a bit and look for the church symbol.  The Colinton Parish church shows up at the bottom of the map, only a few hundred yards away. 

See the church icon in the lower right?
Alternatively, you could zoom out just a bit and do a search for: 

     [ church ] 

then click on the "List View" option and see this: 

Clearly, the Colinton church is closest.  

The association with a writer? 

     [ Colinton Parish church author ] 

leads us to many articles linking the famous novelist Robert Louis Stevenson with Colinton and this church in particular, since he spent many summers in Colinton when his grandfather was the parish minister.  What's more, reading a bit farther down in the SERP, you'll find that a statue of RLS was set up just outside the parish church gate.  

This is also available on SteetView, BTW. 

And the tree?  It's a yew treet (which the sign behind RLS says).  

A query for: 

     [ robert louis stevenson yew tree church ] 

quickly shows us the web page for "The Swing" which is the cafe in the courtyard of the church.  So named, as their web page says,  

"The name The Swing Café was inspired by a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson whose grandfather had been the minister at Colinton.  Stevenson wrote the poem about the swing in the manse garden where he had played as a child.  The location of the swing can be seen, outside the Dell Room window, in the old yewtree."  

3.  How long is this tunnel? 

Link to full-size photo.

By now you can tell that a search for: 

     [ Colinton tunnel ] 

will tell you everything you need, including links to Flickr pages with photos of the tunnel (not taken by me) that describe it as being 153 yards long.  I double-sourced that just to check, and yes, all of the other pages describe it as between 153-154 yards (140.8 meters).  This railway was central to the expansion of Edinburgh out into what is now the suburbs.  (And FWIW, gave easy access to the mills along the Water of Leith.)  

Search lessons:  

Hope you found this an interesting Challenge.  There are a couple of insights here as well. 

1.  Learning how to recognize features on maps is still a useful skill.  That thin blue line next to a river is a dead giveaway of a flume.  (See if you can spot some others in places you might know about!)  

2.  Remember to check the satellite views AND the archival Google Earth images.  Only one of the images actually shows the weir.  It's a fairly deep gorge, and Edinburgh is pretty far north so many of the pictures only show shadow.  Check other sources.  

3.  The Maps list view is sometimes a very handy way to see a large number of hits on a single map.  Check out this view of the coffee shops of downtown Boulder, CO.  Where would YOU go for coffee?? 

And... because I know you're wondering, here's the poem that was inspired by the yew tree in the courtyard of the Colinton Parish church.  

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!

- Robert Louis Stevenson 

Source: A Child's Garden of Verses (1999)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Search Challenge (10/22/14): Where are these places?

I'm traveling again, and took a few photos on my run this morning. They were all taken within 15 minutes of each other on an overcast morning.  

I need your expert help in getting a bit of information about the scenes and locations they depict.  For each photo, a link to the full image is given by the link in the caption.  
(I did it this way so you can easily get to the full resolution of the image, without making this page gigantic and slow to download.)   

1.  What is this strange obviously artificial waterway?  Did it serve any particular function?  If so, what?  

I'll save you a step: the lat/long is 55.913090, -3.258981    Link to full-size photo.

2.  The church shown below is associated with a famous writer.  Who is the writer, and what's the connection?  (If you're feeling on top of your game, what's the tree on the right of the image got to do with the right?) 

Link to full-size photo.

3.  How long is this tunnel? 

Link to full-size photo.

 I ran through the tunnel, so I have a good idea.  But here's picture from roughly the middle.  

Can you help me out with my research?  

Search on!  (And be sure to tell us HOW you figured these Challenges!)  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Answer: A few musical questions

These questions weren't that hard, but they're definitely interesting.  Let's answer them one-by-one, then wrap up with an observation.  

1.  What's a plagal cadence?  What does it sound like?  Where might I have heard one before?   

That's a funny phrase, "plagal cadence," so the obvious thing to do is first get the definition and work from there.  

     [ define plagal cadence ] 

 quickly tells us that:  "...A Plagal Cadence refers to the chord progression of IV to I or Subdominant to Tonic. As such, it is the cadence most often used at the end of hymns for the final "A-MEN."  

Ah.  It's at the end of many hymns--that's where you might have heard it before.  In the key of C, it's a shift from an F chord to a C chord.  Interestingly, as the "Amen" tag, it's really a separate kind of little "coda" to the main body of the hymn.  You know, you sing the entire hymn, and then you sing, "Amen."  

As the Wikipedia article points out (correctly) in quoting William Caplin's text [1], "...Most examples of plagal cadences given in textbooks actually represent a postcadential codetta function: that is, the IV-I progression follows an authentic cadence but does not itself create genuine cadential closure."

Yeah.  What I said, except clearer.  

If you scroll down a bit in the SERP for [ define plagal cadence ] you'll see a YouTube video.  That suggests checking out YouTube for examples.  Sure enough, if you do a search on YouTube for [ plagal cadence ] you can find a LOT of examples.  Depending on how much music theory you know, you might want to click around in that list until you find an example that makes sense to you.  (Unfortunately, there's not a good way to find "beginner" vs. "expert" videos.  I happen to like the video by Duane Shinn that illustrates different cadences in their musical context.  (A surprising number of short videos are purely chalk talks, which is great if you already know a lot!)  

2.  What's a Steely Dan chord?  Can you find an example of one that I can hear?  (That is, in isolation.  I know I can find lots of Steely Dan music online.)  

Following along in the same pattern, I did a: 

     [ define "Steely Dan chord" ] 

 Which leads directly to a nice page by Howard Wright all about the "Steely Dan chord," aka "mu major chord."  (Turns out that Howard Wright is a major Steely Dan / Joni Mitchell fan who has a nice collection of transcriptions and analysis of their sounds.)  

On that page is an MP3 collage of "mu major" samples from various Steely Dan tunes.   You can hear the chord there.  

As many of you pointed out in the comments, it's just a regular major chord with an added second.  (A regular C major triad would be C-E-G.  If you add a D in there, it's Steely Dan.)  This chord is characteristic of Steely Dan recordings.  As is true with many other musicians, they often adopt particular chords, chord voicings (the order of the notes in the chord top-to-bottom), or little idiomatic phrases to define their "sound."   (If you have a couple of minutes, you might listen to this class by James Taylor where he talks about some of his idiomatic licks that make his guitar-playing sound so much like "James Taylor.")   

3.  Is there any connection between trumpet playing and getting hemorrhoids? There are lots of anecdotes, but can you find reliable data on this?  

To tell you the truth, this is a common thing you hear musicians say.  (As are comments about the intelligence of viola players...)  So I was curious what we could find out.  

To quickly scan the published scholarly literature I turned to with the query: 

     [ trumpet player OR playing hemorrhoids ] 

and fairly quickly found the Master's thesis of M.R. Dyk (1991) about the physical and psychological disabilities of professional musicians.  In that thesis she repeats the association of hernias and hemorrhoids with trumpet performance, but gives no citations or data. 

I then went to PubMed (the medical literature search service of the National Library of Medicine) and did a simpler search,  just [ trumpet hemorrhoids ] and found... nothing.  

As Debbie G pointed out, there IS a Google Group that started as a support group for trumpet players with this issue, but it only went for 10 messages before petering out.  

After chasing a few other leads like this (which all ended up without any citations), I'm going to conclude that this is a musical urban legend (unless someone finds a study or a longer set of discussions about this).  FWIW, people have been saying this about oboe players as well... 

4.  I love listening to the music of folk singer Jez Lowe.  In his lyrics he keeps mentioning Durham (such as "Back in the Durham Jail").  Problem is there're a lot of Durhams in the world.  Which Durham is he talking about?  
This sounds like another question for YouTube.  A search for [ Jez Lowe ] to get an overview.  The SERP shows "Back in Durham Jail"  (also, "Back in Durham Gaol").  That's interesting and great.  Lots of great songs, but little biographical information.  But a simple web search tells me that Jez Lowe was born in County Durham in the northeast of the UK.  When I go back and look at the lyrics, it's pretty clear Durham County, not far from Northumbria and Scotland, the former coal mining region, is the place he's referring to.  (And it explains his accent. Example of County Durham accent. Notice the way she says "water.")   

Search Lesson:  As I said, these weren't that difficult, but I wanted to highlight the value of YouTube as a resource (for plagal cadences and "Steely Dan chord" examples).  
On the other hand, finding a lack of resources suggests an urban myth or a fable.  I wasn't able to find anything definitive about the hypothetical trumpet-playing/hemorrhoids connection. While this doesn't rule it out, it definitely suggests a non-connection... 

Hope you enjoyed the searches and what we discovered in the process! 

[1] Caplin, William E. (1998). Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Oxford University Press. pp. 43–45. ISBN 0-19-510480-3.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

5 reasons you should have a library card

Graz University library. Source: Wikimedia.

One of the more powerful research tools
you can have is a library card.

      A library card is instant access to a world of resources. Both offline AND online.  

That might surprise you, but here are 5 reasons why you want a library card to be a great researcher. 

1.  Access to online paywall content.  My local library gives paywall access to, Morningstar, online journals, and more.  It also provides Hoopla video ( for downloads, and many free music downloads (lots of popular music, some of which really surprised me—this is free?  Yes!).  It also provides many different database services:  a small listing includes, Academic Onefile (journals, magazines, books, audio – great subject browser), InfoTrac (news and periodical.Updated daily.)  Can filter by type, sort by date.  General One File  and MasterFile Complete (EBSCO).  Many libraries have all this, and more. 

2.  eBooks.  Yes, just like physical books, many libraries support borrowing ebooks and e-magazines, typically with time restrictions on how long you can keep them, and sometimes twitchy software, but free’s free—I’ve read many books that I knew I only wanted for a short time. 

3.  Local archives. Many libraries have archival content that’s never going to make it online (at least in our lifetimes).  If you’re doing research on a particular location, visiting physically is often the best thing to do.  But if you can’t get there, checking out the online library can often lead to content that you won’t be able to find via search engines.  (Go figure.  For some reason, many local libraries have put great content online, but then set it up so the search engines can’t index it, making it effectively offline.  On the other hand, if you connect via the library, you can often browse that content.) 

4.  Classes. I teach at libraries. So do lots of other people with great skills.  Local libraries are especially good on local history, genealogy classes, general internet skill tutorials, and basic computer skills (such as the common applications).  Sometimes libraries put these classes (at least the lecture parts) up on YouTube.  

5.  Reference Librarians.  They’re excellent resources of information and a source of research skills.  When you go to your public library, be sure to chat with the reference librarians.  They are, in essence, professional SearchReseachers.  They know all kinds of things that are key to finding information (both online and offline) in places and in ways you might not have thought about.  (Better yet:  Many of them are available via IMs and email.  Remember the superb “Ask-A-Librarian” service is always available.  They might take a day to get back to you, but they’re very, very good.)  

How to get a library card:  In the US it's easy--just go there and fill out a simple application form.  Generally, they want you to be somewhat local, but that's not always the case.  (I have a Los Angeles County library card because I used to live in LA County--that was good enough.)   I make it a habit to check out the libraries at different places I visit because you never know what's possible or what they have.  Libraries are very different from each other.  When you visit, ask to see their list of online resources, and if you can get a card that will allow remote access. You'll be surprised how often they'll say yes.  

College and University library cards.  Note that college or university library cards often come with even deeper research databases than public libraries.  Alumni can often get a library card that will allow access to their paywall access databases.  I have a couple of these (from different places where I've attended or taught.)  If you can get one, get it. Check out the alumni web pages at your university or college.  Again, the libraries vary tremendously.  See what your college offers.  

Virtual library card:   You can get a "virtual library card" from a number of places.  The Internet Archive has one that seems to be accepted at a surprising number of places.  But a quick search for [ "virtual library card" ] will show you a number of real libraries that hand out virtual cards to anyone who applies.  With these virtual cards, you will have access to a large number of resources, including most of those listed above.  

(And if you have great research experiences with your local library, write in and let us know.  I'm especially interested in the online library card experiences of people not in the US!)  

Search on, with your library card!  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Search Challenge (Oct 15, 2014): A few musical questions

Playing a little slack key guitar at Burning Man 2010

As you probably know, I'm a musician by avocation and play something nearly every day.  My piano is in the living room, my guitar and synth are in my home office, and I just acquired a new ukelele for those moments of singing in the back yard or at the beach!  

So as you'd expect, I often come across questions in my day-to-day that require a bit of search.  Here are a few fun searches I've done recently.  I don't think they're all that hard, but solving them led me to realize a few things about the changing nature of information on the web.  

Here, for your musical education are three questions I looked up recently. Can you also find the answers?  

1.  What's a plagal cadence?  What does it sound like?  Where might I have heard one before?   
2.  What's a Steely Dan chord?  Can you find an example of one that I can hear?  (That is, in isolation.  I know I can find lots of Steely Dan music online.)  
3.  Is there any connection between trumpet playing and getting hemorrhoids?  There are lots of anecdotes, but can you find reliable data on this?  
4.  I love listening to the music of folk singer Jez Lowe.  In his lyrics he keeps mentioning Durham (such as "Back in the Durham Jail").  Problem is there're a lot of Durhams in the world.  Which Durham is he talking about?  

Enjoy the music of the search while searching on! 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Answer: Three little language questions...

Don't write notes like this. Make sure you can read them later. 

Because of a note written in haste, I found myself having to do research on my own note.  (Comment to self: Write clearly in the future!)  

In any event, this rapid scrawl gave rise to some interesting questions.  It's actually just three little questions I found myself researching this week.  Can you solve these questions too? 

1.  As I mentioned, I'm getting better from my illness rather slowly.  Little by little, I'm getting back to my normal self.  Now, as I write to you, I realize that there doesn't seem to be an English word to describe this... or is there?  Can you find a single English word that describe the process of a long, slow, restoration to normal health?  What's that word?  
2.  Can you help me figure out what the name of this fish really is?  While lying in bed, I was looking over my scribbled notes from the Fiji trip.  One of my notes captured something one of my dive buddies said.  (See image above.) My handwritten memo says, "Check out the NeoclXXXX YYYYYYY when you get home. Cool fish."  It doesn't actually say XXXX YYYYY, but those are the characters I can't read in my scrawl. It's clearly the Latin name of the fish, it's just that the second half of the first word and the entire second word is illegible.   My dive buddy said it has a truly memorable common name, if only I could figure it out.  What is it? 
3.  As I was thinking about these things, I started to worry about the future of the corals all around the planet.  As you know, they're under some environmental stresses that are causing worldwide declines.  I wanted to read something about them, and thought that what I should do is to search for an article that talks about coral in the "future perfect" tense.  (That is, a sentence that describes an action that will be completed in the future.)  Can you find a sentence that is in the "future perfect" tense that's all about the state of coral? (HINT:  Don't just search for coral and then start scanning.  Remember what I've told you about problems like this--when it seems crazy hard, look for WHAT first?)  


1.  "A single English word that describes the process of a long, slow, restoration to normal health?"  

In this particular case I turned to an expert, my friend Erin McKean (a dictionary evangelist who is a  dressmaking, roller skating lexicographer of enormous wit, style, and wisdom).  She wrote back that the word I was seeking is 


which she found by "...doing a reverse dictionary search on the Historical Thesaurus of English (which is paywalled as part of the OED) and looked for the word 'recovery' there." 

That was a brilliant move.  

The word she found,  lysis, has two meanings.  Here's the definition from Google, which you get by doing the query [ define lysis ]

I didn't want to spend any money doing this search, but I went to the HTE site and discovered that that have a subscription service.  Curious, I clicked on the link and found that you can use your library card to login.  (Assuming that your library subscribes.)  Just on a lark, I tried my local library card number (for the Palo Alto library system) and it just worked!  Amazingly enough, I have complete access to the OED subscription service, including their reverse dictionary application, just as Erin described.  

Of course, you could also use our regular standard, the OneLook reverse dictionary (which I always get to with a quick [ reverse dictionary] search:  

OneLook reverse dictionary output

Here you can see that I did a query for [ gradual recovery ] in OneLook reverse dictionary, and found that the first word was "lysis."  

As several people noted in the comments, "convalescence" is also a good word to describe a slow recovery, but the definition of the word doesn't actually include a sense of lengthy and slow (you can have a rapid convalescence), whereas lysis actually does have a slightly deeper sense of slow and gradual.  

On the other hand, lysis is such a rare word that few people will understand your clever and subtle semantics, so maybe "convalescence" is actually better for the majority of cases.  

2.  Can you help me figure out what the name of this fish really is?  While lying in bed, I was looking over my scribbled notes from the Fiji trip.  One of my notes captured something one of my dive buddies said.  (See image above.) My handwritten memo says, "Check out the NeoclXXXX YYYYYYY when you get home. Cool fish." 

One of the important skills of answering questions like this one is to understand exactly what's being said, and what's being asked.  

Lots of commenters kept looking for fishes from the area around Fiji.  But if you read carefully, I was lying in my bed at home, looking at my notes from the Fiji trip.  Clearly, the note was written while in Fiji. BUT the unstated bit of background information is that we had been talking about fish in general, not necessarily those from Fijian waters.  (And in truth, in this particular case, we'd been talking about fish that live in the sea off the California coast. But you couldn't know that unless you were there.)  

In any case, the challenge is to find a Latin name of a fish that's shaped like this:  NeoclXXXX YYYYYYY  That's all we know about it.  (Oh.. and the common name for it is pretty interesting.)  

In this case, I don't know of any search engine method that would work (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Alpha... it doesn't matter, none of them do this kind of within-the-word analysis).  

We need something that has tools for doing wildcards within the word.  

A wildcard is just a way of specifying a pattern that the tool should match.  

There are two common kinds of wildcards:  

*  - the asterisk is used to match many characters.
       Example: dog* will match dogs, doggerel, doggy, etc.  

?  - the question mark is usually used to match a single character.
       Example:  d?g will match dog, dig, dag, etc.  

Now we need to know (or search out) a tool that does this kind of wildcarding within the word.  

Once again, I turned to the OneLook dictionary service, because they have exactly this kind of thing.  (For dyed-in-the-wool SearchResearchers, I suggest you read their FAQ page which tells you all of the wonderful things they support.)  

To solve this Challenge I went to OneLook and did this:  

My query is: 

    [ Neocl*  * ] 

The first asterisk after "Neocl" means to "show all completions of that word."  

The second asterisk means to show "all words that follow any completion of 'Neocl*'."  

When I run the query, I get this as the SERP:  

As you scan this list, you'll see that phrases 50 - 53 look like Latin names of animals.  A few quick clicks show you that Neoclaviceps is a kind of fungus, Neocleptria is kind of Australian moth, and Neoclinus blanchardi is a "is a small but ferocious fish which has a large mouth and aggressive territorial behavior..."  And it has the remarkable name, Sarcastic Fringehead.  

That's it!  This really is a remarkable animal.  Here's a YouTube video that gives a great look at this Californian fish. 

Here's an example of using the ? wildcard in Onelook.  My query is 

     [ catal??? ] 

which means "show me all of the words that start with 'catal' and then have exactly 3 letters following that prefix."  Here's the answer: 

(That funny diamond/question-mark at number 34 is an improperly rendered ñ character.)  

You might be wondering why I didn't do a query like: 

     [  Neocl?????   ???????  ]

the answer is that I wasn't sure of exactly how many characters there were following the "Neocl" nor how many characters were in the second word.  If you use the * symbol, it will match any number of characters.  But if you guess wrong with the number of ? marks in your query, you'll never find it.  So I went for the more general query that would certainly include the results, rather than going with the hyperspecific ? query symbols.  

3.   Can you find a sentence that is in the "future perfect" tense that's all about the state of coral? 

My hint was to "search for a tool" that can do this.  I searched for a bit and found 

Fraze is described as a "search engine for sentences."  It really is a collection of sentences that have been parsed for part-of-speech (such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.) and the tense of the verb.  

If you go to their page and check out one of the examples, it's pretty clear to see how to find sentences written in the future perfect tense, and then it's clear how to do a query like this: 

They use a fairly sophisticated sentence analysis and tagging tool that you can query using the query-building tool on the left hand side of the display.  

If you're at all interested in language, this is worth spending some time learning.  

Note that also works over corpora in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.  

Search Lessons: 

I hope these questions made it clear that there are tools (OED, OneLook, Fraze.IT) that are much better at dealing with language details than the major search engines.  

So why don't Google (et al.) offer these kinds of operations?  Because it's really expensive to do this for the entire web content.  Dictionary services and "phrase services" (like Fraze.IT) can do this kind of detailed analysis because they operate over a relatively small amount of content.  They build very sophisticated indicies of their content--tagging each word in a sentence with its part-of-speech, for example--and then provide search interfaces that let you search-inside the structure of the dictionary entires, or the syntactic structure of sentences in their collections.  

And to return to our first question and its framing.. One of the most important skills to develop is a sense of what is being asked.  Lots of people got stuck on finding the fish that lives in Fiji, when I never said that was a constraint.  

This kind of determination is obviously best done in person.  That's what a librarian does when doing the "references interview."  It's that sometimes subtle back-and-forth to determine what the question asker really means, and what kind of an answer they're really looking for.  

This is a skill that's discussed in great depth in the book Reference and Information Services: An Introduction  by  Richard E Bopp, Linda C. Smith (eds.)  (2011) 

Search on!