Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (9/14/16): What IS that below?

I'm about to go flying again... 

... and you know what happens...  I tend to look out the window and gaze at the land and sea passing by below.  I often end up wondering--What IS that thing I see below me?

This week I present a few mysteries--things I've seen, things I've heard about that are visible from the air, things I've wondered about as I travel.  Can you help me figure out what's going on with each of these?  

1.  The Farallon Islands lie just west of San Francisco. They're a few miles out from shore.  Can I see them from San Francisco?  (When would be the best time of year to look?  And where should I stand?) 

The Farallons up close. Can you see them from the mainland? 

2. I've heard stories about a series of large, strange arrows that are on the ground.  Apparently, they're made of concrete, or cement, or stone.  In fact, I've seen one (and had no idea what I was looking at) while flying in the southwest of the US.  Do these things really exist?  Can you find a picture of one?  Who would make these things, and why?  What's the story here? 

3.  Speaking of islands, while I was in Hawai'i a few weeks ago, I also heard about a Hawaiian canoe that is traveling around the world to demonstrate Hawaiian traditions of canoe building and navigation.  What's the name of this canoe, and where is it now?  (And is true that they don't have any GPS onboard?)  

4.  The Caribbean seems to be full of islands that are just slightly off the map.  While flying there a few years ago, I remember seeing an island just east of Jamaica and west of Haiti. From the air, it looked like a perfect pirate hangout place--remote and mysterious.  What is the name of this island?  It also looked like a great place to put a lighthouse--is there one there?  Where is it on the island? 

These are fun Challenges that will doubtlessly lead you onto doing a bit more research on travel-related topics.  Have fun with these, and let us know what you find (and HOW you found the answers).  

I'm about to head off for a couple weeks of travel myself.  As you might guess, some of what I find will probably end up here in a future SearchResearch Challenge or two.  

I'll be back here on October 3rd with a few answers and a pile of new Challenges.  See you next month!  

Search on!  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Philae's landing spot revealed / Getting ready for a short break

Remember Philae? 

You might recall the Challenge we had in April  2014 about  Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Philae and Rosetta.  

Back then we wondered about how hard the comet was, and how difficult it would be to land Philae, the descent-lander on the surface.  

We found out that it was harder than we thought.  ESA's (European Space Agency) Philae lander touched down Nov. 12, 2014 and then bounced a couple of times before landing and attaching itself to the comet's surface.  But its final location was uncertain.  

P/C infographic by Karl Tate

But it finally landed and stuck... but in a crevice without much light.  It ran on batteries for about 60 hours, sending back data (via the mothership Rosetta, orbiting above) before going into sleep mode. 

Seven months later, it woke up again (having apparently gotten some sunlight on it's photocells) and sent back more data.  It wasn't quite as much as we'd hoped, but the thing actually worked.  (Except for the harpoons... )  

Still, without visual verification (and no handy EXIF metadata giving us the lat/long on the comet), nobody knew quite where Philae sat on the surface. 

On September 4, Rosetta managed to get a good image of Philae... and yes, it's wedged in a shadowy crack on the surface. 

Click to see at full-res. P/C ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team

Like Philae... 

I'm also going to be taking a short break--an actual vacation that will be (mostly) internet and Wifi-free.  My goal for the next two weeks is to NOT spend time searching for much of anything other than clear blue water and sandy beaches.  

Note: I'll post a SearchResearch Challenge tomorrow, but you'll have 2.5 weeks to work on it before I return on Oct 3rd.  Go wild in your research!  (And if you don't see your post appearing in the comment thread, don't panic.  I have to approve each one by hand to eliminate the spammy posts. A delay just means I haven't been connected in a day or two, and that my vacation is being successful.)  

In full Philae mode, I'm taking a bit of time off, and will be looking for sunshine to recharge my batteries.  

Searching (for azure seas) on! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Answer: How do you make sense of obscure technobabble?

As you might imagine...  

I'm interested in how much people understand the world around them, and in particular, how much they understand about what they read.  How do we learn about how the world works?    

One important way is by incidental learning, or by things you pick up along-the-way, not while engaged in any focused educational activity.  

Here's an example of what I mean: 

Sign in  a local gym.  
First off, this is a complex bit of prose--too complicated for what it's trying to tell you (which is, basically, "chocolate milk helps you recover after a workout"), but it also is cast in a very technobabblish sort of way ("2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio" and "branched amino acids").  

As I said, I think I'm a fairly literate person, and yet when I read this, I have no idea if it's true, or just bafflegab.  

The thing is, we all see texts like this all the time: sales pitches that are trying to convince us of ideas ("drink chocolate milk, it will help you after your workout"). 

The thing is, you're ALSO implicitly learning that there ARE such things as "branched chain amino acids" and that they're somehow good for post-workout recovery.   

You know that 99 people out of 100 will read this and start to believe that "chocolate milk really does accelerate recovery" and that a "2:1 ratio of carbos to protein is an ideal ratio."  

So this week's Challenge was in two parts:  

1.  What does that sign really mean?  (Is a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio really good?  If so, for what?  What do "branched chain amino acids" have to do with accelerating recovery? And are they really something special in chocolate milk?  Would it be the same if I ate a chocolate bar and drank a glass of milk??)   
2.  Do you have any examples of signs like this?  (That is, ones that make grand claims, but are not understandable without a Master's degree in chemistry, or biology, or some other field?  If so, share them with us!) 
To answer these questions, I did a bit of background research so I'd know what these terms are: 

     [ carbohydrate to protein ratio ] 

Here I'm trying to see if anything has been written on what ratios have been studied (or at least written about).  Note that I purposefully did NOT include the 2:1 (or "2 to 1" or "two to one ratio") in my search--doing so would bias the results towards results that discuss exactly that ratio.  For all I know at this point, maybe the ratio is unimportant, or that a 10:1 ratio would be even better... so I just left it out, hoping to learn something from what I read. 

The first search [ carbohydrate to protein ratio ] gives lots of results, but mostly having to do with ordinary day-to-day diet recommendations.  This one is too open-ended.  So next I try: 

     [ carbohydrate to protein ratio athletic performance ] 

These results are better, especially since they're all about athletic performance, but still, they're mostly about how to set up your (athletic) diet.  

Another search, this time explicitly about recovery:  

     [ carbohydrate to protein ration post workout recovery ] 

(Notice how I keep adding more specific terms to hone in more precisely on the kinds of results I find useful.) 

These results are much better, but now I'm seeing stories claiming that ideal ratios from 2:1 to 3:1 to 4:1, depending on which source you believe.  (In my results I'm seeing primarily articles from running, bodybuilding, and healthy living magazines. There seems to be some variation and serious disputes about what the "ideal" ratio should be.  Here's an example of the range:  
Men's Fitness -- 5:1Hammer Nutrition -- 3:1 (but goes on to say that 10:1 might be needed!)  Arizona Central -- 1:1 (for strength athletes), 4:1 (for endurance athletes)  Breaking Muscle and Bayesian Body Building -- both say  that no particular ratio needed

I'm starting to think this is pretty much the subject of opinion.  Maybe a better approach would be to try and figure out where the chocolate milk story (as post-workout recovery drink) started.  To do this, I did a search for: 

     [ "chocolate milk" after workout recovery ] 

In order to figure out the  original article on this topic.  (Here I quoted the "chocolate milk" just to find that as a phrase, and then I wanted only articles about AFTER the workout and mentioning recovery.)  

A few clicks in this SERP, and I found that the original article was in  International Journal of Sports Nutrition.  Now we're getting somewhere!  Let's try to find the original report about the chocolate milk effect.  How can I do that?  Since it's a scholarly journal, I'm going to turn to Scholar.  

Doing this same search in Google Scholar led quickly to a 2006 paper, "Chocolate Milk as a Post-Exercise Recovery Aid" published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2006, 16, 78-91).  This seems to be the original article linking chocolate milk with improved post-workout recovery.  (I haven't found anything published earlier. Or, more precisely, nothing earlier about chocolate milk as a recovery drink.)  

The abstract of this study tells you a lot: 
Nine male, endurance-trained cyclists performed an interval workout followed by 4 h of recovery, and a subsequent endurance trial to exhaustion at 70% VO2 max, on three separate days. Immediately following the first exercise bout and 2 hours of recovery, subjects drank isovolumic amounts of chocolate milk, fluid replacement drink (FR), or carbohydrate replacement drink (CR), in a single-blind, randomized design. Carbohydrate content was equivalent for chocolate milk and CR. Time to exhaustion (TTE), average heart rate (HR), rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and total work (WT) for the endurance exercise were compared between trials. TTE and WT were significantly greater for chocolate milk and FR trials compared to CR trial. The results of this study suggest that chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid between two exhausting exercise bouts.

First off, this is a tough study for the poor cyclists.  

They tested the athletes by first having them workout  to exhaustion, wait for four hours while drinking various fluids, then workout again to exhaustion.  

This isn't just "I'm tired," but is exhaustion, which is when you're literally unable to do any more work.  It's fairly unpleasant, but these 20-something year-old (all male) Indiana University students did in the service of science.  

The good news:  The results are pretty positive.  

The athletes who drank chocolate milk did better (in duration and heart rate) during the second workout than ones who drank only the carbohydrate replacement drink (Endurox 4) or the fluid replacement drink (Gatorade).  Interestingly, the athletes worked-to-exhaustion about the same for chocolate milk OR Gatorade, but the carbohydrate drink (Endurox) significantly reduced their performance during the second workout trial!  (The carbo-drink guys took gave up 10 minutes earlier than their choc-milk or Gatorade buddies.)  

Bottom line:  By this study, chocolate milk works just ever-so-slightly better than Gatorade, and a lot better than a carbo-replacement fluid.  

You can read the paper (and all of the ones that follow-up on this) to figure out why, but now we know where this story began--with a study about chocolate milk vs. Gatorade vs. a carbo-drink.  

It's interesting, and I believe the results.  But it's also worth noting that, in a small note on page 90, that the study was supported by the Dairy and Nutrition Council, Inc. whose mission is to "...leadership in nutrition research and education by encouraging food selection patterns that include dairy foods..."   (Which probably why they don't really go to much trouble to point that that Gatorade works just about as well as chocolate milk.  This study wasn't funded by Gatorade.)  

NOW, let's pop back to our topic:  What about those "branched-chain amino acids"?  

Wikipedia tells us that: "A branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) is an amino acid having aliphatic side-chains with a branch (a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms). Among the proteinogenic amino acids, there are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine and valine..."  

The word proteinogenic just means that these amino acids are precursors to making proteins for muscle tissue.  That's probably a great idea for post-workout recovery since a hard workout tears down proteins.  I did a quick check to see what I could learn: 

     [ BCAA workout recovery ] 

and found a few articles, e.g., this one on "Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system."  (J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008 Sep;48(3):347-51)  that suggests that BCAA actually DOES aid in post-workout muscle recovery.  

If you think about it for a minute, plain old milk has the BCAAs that work to improve post-workout recovery, while the chocolate provides the carbohydrates.  

In other words, if you drop a teaspoon of regular sugar into the glass of milk, you'll get the amino acids from the milk, and the carbs from the sugar.  (That's the entire contribution of the chocolate--there's nothing magical about chocolate, other than that it tastes really good.)  
Or, if you don't want regular old sugar, eat a small banana and you'll get the same effect.  

Bottom Line:  The bafflegab seems to be correct, if a little difficult to read.  

I think I'd write something like this: 

Chocolate milk has been shown to improve your recovery after a hard workout.  The amino acids in the milk, and the carbohydrates from the chocolate help your muscles regenerate after a hard workout.  (And it tastes great!)  

Or something like that.  

But the really good news is that it's true that the amino acids from milk are proteingenic, and do help your muscles recover.  And getting that little bit of carbos into your system right after working out DOES help your whole system recover more quickly.  

Personally, I think I'll just drink a glass of milk and a bit of chocolate.  It's a bit cheaper, and fun as well!  

Search Lessons  

There are several here.  Let's start at the top: 

1.  Just because it's poorly written (or bafflegabby in style), doesn't mean it's wrong!  When I read the sign, I was very skeptical of the claims.  But the sign is right, if somewhat more complicated than need be.  

2.  Look at multiple articles to see what the consensus is (or the lack of consensus).  The "ideal ratio" claim is very much open for dispute.  With just a little looking, I could find arguments for every ratio from 1:1 to 10:1... and articles that say "it doesn't matter..."  

3.  Use Scholar to backtrack to the original article.  Strong claims like this (especially those with a scientific sounding backstory) can usually be backtracked to the original author's work in Google Scholar.  In this case, it was pretty straightforward.  

4. Take note of who supported the original work.  It often lets you interpret what's going on in the document.   In this case, the study seems to be accurate and well done (although the writeup is slightly biased in favor of the sponsoring organization).  

5. More generally, be aware of what incidental learning you're doing--and CHECK when something seems fishy.  Even if it checks out, you'll now know you can trust what you would otherwise have just accepted.  

I hope you enjoyed this background search Challenge.  Obviously, if I was going to study this in depth, I would have read more articles in greater depth--but this was a pretty quick way to understand what's going on in this area--and shows how to check out some otherwise difficult to understand claims.  

P.S.  FWIW, I went to the gym today, eager to do a workout and try this magical chocolate milk. But I was too late--it was all gone by 5PM.  Ah well, try again tomorrow! 

Search on! 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (9/1/16): How do you make sense of obscure technobabble?

Generally speaking,
I'm fairly easy-to-get-along kind of guy... 

Not much really irritates me.  

But one thing that DOES irritate me is when people needlessly make something simple into something that's purposefully obfuscated and hard to understand.  This is technobabble at its worst.  

Here's an example of what I mean: 

Sign in  a local gym.  
Why do they write like that?  

The idea here is simple--the gym now stocks chocolate milk in the fridge.  Great!  That's fine, and maybe even a good idea. What look what happens next... 

"It offers an ideal 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio and includes branched chain amino acids that accelerate recovery."  

I think I'm a fairly literate person, and yet when I read this, I have no idea if it's true, or just bafflegab.  

What makes a "2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio" ideal?  Ideal for what?  Why does including "branched chain amino acids" accelerate recovery?  

The thing is, we all see texts like this all the time. We see them in advertising, in op-ed pieces in the news media, we hear people saying stuff that sounds wonderfully technical ("branched chain amino acids") but that we have no way to evaluate it.  

You know that 99 people out of 100 will read this and start to believe that "chocolate milk really does accelerate recovery" and that a "2:1 ratio of carbos to protein is an ideal ratio."  

But of course, SearchResearch readers are not just anyone--we tend to check these things out, we try to dig into the topic and understand what's really going on. This is what reporters, scholars, and people-who-read-critically do all the time.  Here's a chance for us to dig behind the scenes and understand the background.  

So this week's Challenge is in two parts:  

1.  What does that sign really mean?  (Is a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio really good?  If so, for what?  What do "branched chain amino acids" have to do with accelerating recovery? And are they really something special in chocolate milk?  Would it be the same if I ate a chocolate bar and drank a glass of milk??)   
2.  Do you have any examples of signs like this?  (That is, ones that make grand claims, but are not understandable without a Master's degree in chemistry, or biology, or some other field?  If so, share them with us!) 

I suspect that you'll start seeing examples of signage like this everywhere (now that you're attuned to it).  I hope I won't make you continuously irritated by these signs!  

On the other hand, it's totally possible that this makes complete sense.  This is what we want to determine.  Is all of this sign true?  (And I just didn't have enough background to understand it?)  Or is this just plan technobabble?   

As always, tell us the path you used to figure out the carbs/protein ratio goodness factor, and what you did to understand the relationship between branched amino acids and chocolate milk!  

Share and enjoy. 

Search on! 

P.S.  Gentle Readers:  This month, (September, 2016) is a time when I'll be in and out of internet connectivity.  I know I'll be offline next Monday, so expect my answer next Wednesday or so.  The next several weeks will be like this--don't panic--it's just vacation travel in Wifi-free zones.    

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Answer: The mystery of the Hawaiian posts on the North Shore

This was an interesting Challenge. 

Last week I posted a few images of concrete poles standing in a somewhat mysterious forest/jungle on the North Shore of Oahu.  Here are those photos again:  

As I mentioned, these things are scattered all over the place in this forest:  

The poles varying in height from 1 meter to 3 meters tall.  Here's a relatively short one (but I found some that are just barely sticking up out of the ground).  


The Challenge was: 

I'll save you the metadata EXIF extraction:  these photos were all taken within a 100 yard radius of 21.698574, -158.005291  

1.  What's the story with these mysterious poles in the jungle?  Why are they there? 

I started with the obvious aerial image check, looking for any particular pattern I could see from the air.  Using Google Maps (in Earth view mode) I see: 

Now I know a few place names to use in my searching.  It's Kawela Bay Beach Park, with Kakipili Place and Hanopu Street nearby, with the Kamehameha Highway running along the southern edge of the park.  

Zooming in a bit at the place marked with the lat/long you can see the tops (white dots) and shadows (of varying lengths) of the poles.  Just by poking around in the Earth view I could find 12; here I've marked 7. 

I found the posts, but WHY are they here? 

I'll spare you all of the searches I did--but things that don't work include: 

     [ Kawela Bay concrete poles ] 
     [ Kawela Bay concrete posts ] 
     [ Kawela Bay Hawaii cement poles ] 

etc etc etc.  

After about 30 minutes of trying all kinds of searches (including Wikimapia, Wikipedia, etc) all without any luck, I changed tactics.  

I thought that maybe I should try using a search term that was higher profile--something that might appear in the local news or in planning documents.  My next search was to use the resort name Turtle Bay (which is the big resort just a little to the east):  

     [ Turtle Bay Hawaii concrete posts ] 

THAT did it.  With this search I found the Hawai'i Environmental Supplemental Impact Statement for the Turtle Bay expansion from 2011.  This looked promising, so I did a quick Control-F search for concrete in the body of that document and found: 

"...In the early 1970s, the Kuilima Resort opened and the SEIS Lands were transformed once  again with the development of the original hotel, residential condominiums, an 18‐hole golf  course and a wastewater treatment plant.
In the late‐1980s, the residential cottages along Kawela Point and the eastern half of Kawela Bay were demolished, structural fill was brought in, and construction of the foundations for a new multi‐story hotel structure began. 
The structure was never completed, but underground utilities and numerous concrete piles remain today..."
This looked really promising, and it gives me a bunch of new search terms to use in follow-up searches.  (Kuilima Resort  and concrete piles in particular).  

Just to check, I searched for a few images of concrete piles and confirmed that they were what I thought.  Not only are they clearly the same thing, they're even driven into the ground at varying heights.  See this image of a construction site with lots of concrete piles: 

At the end of this report are a couple of useful maps that show the location of the "abandoned hotel construction" where "...numerous concrete piles remain today."  This lines up exactly with the satellite image shown above.  

So it seems pretty clear that an expansion resort hotel was planned, and construction started, but then abandoned after a bunch of the pilings were driven into the ground (at varying heights).  

But, as usual, I want to check around a bit more.  (Always double check!)  

So my next query was:  

     [  Kuilima resort Hawaii pillars ] 

which found a few more mentions of bloggers writing about touring this forested area, and finding this blog post:  "...The guide on my group expedition identified some of the lush foliage, including a spooky banyan tree used in an episode of Lost. Spookier still were some concrete pillars from the long-dead casino project."  (Emphasis mine.) 

A casino is often part of a hotel, but another query: 

     [ Oahu casino Turtle Bay ] 

led to an LA Times article (from 1988) that told the story of a planned hotel/casino development by Del Webb (a famous Las Vegas casino developer) that failed.  But a bit of checking into Del Webb told me that HE was the guy who built the original hotel, the one originally called Kuilima Hotel but now called Turtle Bay.  

Fascinating.  But I thought I should do a bit more checking (I'm a sucker for running down these things).  

During my reading about Turtle Bay, I noticed that they offer horseback riding on the beach and through the Kawela woods.  It was easy to find YouTube videos showing this, so a brilliant idea popped into my head--what if I just called the stables? 

That was a simple search, and just a few minutes later I ended up talking to one of the wranglers about the mysterious concrete pillars in the forest near his stables.  "What are they?" I asked.  This is what he told me:  

"...They're leftover construction from a casino--or a hotel, I don't remember which--that the previous owners were going to build... back in the '80s, if I remember right..."  

I think we've got this one figured out.  It was the beginning of work on a casino/hotel complex that was abandoned, leaving some pillars in the ground, and others in a pile, where they will wait forever to be employed.  

Search Lessons  

1.  Don't get hung up on just one search term--be flexible!  It turned out that "pillars" was a better word than "post" or "pole."  Likewise, I had a hard time finding anything until I switched my geolocation search term from Kawela Bay to Turtle Bay and Kuilima Point.  

2.  Search broadly to find multiple confirmations of the story you find.  Double check.  (Let me say that again:  Double check!)  

 Thanks to everyone who contributed in the comments section.  You folks are amazing!  Great work by Ed, Rosemary, Remmij, Ramón, and Niebyski.  

I also want to highlight something that Ed pointed out in his comments:  After the hotel development was stopped, a huge amount of work went into preserving the Kawela Bay area as an open-space with free public access (and state ownership).  It was a great victory for people who want to keep their shorelines and oceans free for all.  (See this great map that documents what is now in public trust. Let's hope it stays this way.)  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (8/24/16): The mystery of the Hawaiian posts on the North Shore

It was a beautiful morning... 

... and I was running on a jungle path, getting my morning exercise while staying on the North Shore of Oahu.  

As I run or bicycle, I regularly discover small mysteries on the land.  In 2013 I wondered "Why is this tree here?," and in 2014 I wondered "What are these things that I see on the horizon?"  

So it should come as no surprise that I would find something even more mysterious while running in Hawai'i.  

I was jogging along the path in the middle of what seems to be just a regular forest--lots of trees, vines, well-developed understory--when I run past this: 

That seems odd and out of place.  Perhaps it's just a light pole that's been forgotten about.  

A little farther down the trail, I find this.  Another light pole?  Was there a road here that was built, but never fully completed?  

But then I started finding more and more of these poles--some just a few feet high.  The one shown below is around 6 feet (2 meters) tall.  The poles varying in height from 1 meter to 3 meters tall.  

These poles were standing by themselves, and not in any obvious pattern that I could see. They didn't seem to line up.

But then I found this collection.  

I'm not sure how many I found, but there are at least 30 poles like this of varying heights, all "lost" in the forest.  In Hawai'i, I might have thought this was the work of the menehune, the mysterious builders of Hawai'i that come and go out of human sight. But this was suspicious--someone was making something very mysterious.  

(And although I looked, there were no signs telling me what's going on here, or marks on the poles that would give us a clue.  They're just concrete poles of varying lengths.)  

By now, I'm curious, and looking all around.  I DID find a cache of them!  (See below.) 

Having once worked in a trucking company, I recognize this as a temporary cache of poles, all stacked atop a pair of poles laid sideways at right angles to the main pile.  This makes it easy for a forklift to come and pick one or two up off the pile and carry it to the next workplace.   (Yes, I know how to drive a forklift; the things you learn when working to pay for college...)  

No matter how many poles I found, whoever was doing the building clearly had to abandon the project in the middle.  

I'll save you the metadata EXIF extraction:  these photos were all taken within a 100 yard radius of 21.698574, -158.005291  

1.  What's the story with these mysterious poles in the jungle?  Why are they there? 

Fair warning:  I do NOT know the answer to this Challenge, so I'll be searching for the answer along with you.   

If you figure it out, be SURE to tell us what you did to determine the answer.  I've only spent a few minutes on this, but I suspect this will be a tough Challenge.  

Search on! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Answer: Pulling together information about the geography of Hawai'i

You'd think these would be simple... 

... questions.  But they're not quite as easy as you might think.    

Hawai'i on Google Earth

Many simple questions have surprising complicated answers.  For instance, "how far is it to the moon?" sounds straightforward, but think about it for a second--draw a diagram if it helps.  Here's what I drew:  

I know the Earth is around 8K miles in diameter, and the Moon is around 2.1K miles in diameter, and that the average "distance from the Earth to the Moon" is around 238K miles.  (In other words, the Moon is about 30 Earth-diameters from the Earth, which is what I've drawn here.)  

But giving distance measurements isn't quite like measuring the size of the rug in your living room.  When you measure the length of the rug, it's clear where the edge is.  When you're measuring the distance to a moon, where do you draw the line?  

The naive interpretation is "the distance from where I'm standing to the nearest part of the moon."  If you're more sophisticated, you might say it's "between the centers" (but determining the center of a planet is tricky too).   

Keeping this in mind, let's try to answer the Challenges from this week.  

1.  When thinking about the colonization of Hawai'i, I kept reading that these islands are the "most remote" island chain in the world.  That is, they're relatively farther away from any other major population center than anyplace else.  Is that true?   
What do we need to clarify here?  As in the Moon-to-Earth example, we need to know where we're measuring from.  Luckily, the Big Island is literally the biggest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, so let's measure from there.  

Now then, what's a "major population center"?  Is it any city larger than 100,000 people?  Let's take 100K as our definition of "major population center."  

Like many research questions, it very much depends on how carefully you define your terms.  IF the Big Island is your starting point, and population centers that are > 100K people are "major population centers" then the closest such city is.... Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu (with ~300K people).  

Oh.  Maybe we meant "major population center that's NOT already in Hawai'i."  

(See what I mean?  Definitions are important.)  

If you look at Google Earth with the Big Island of Hawai'i in the center, this is what you see: 

I've added a couple of range circles centered on the Big Island so you can see how far away everything is.  Japan is off over the western horizon, and the west coast of North America (in particular, California) is near that second, larger range ring.  

So the question now becomes "Are there any large cities in Oceania?"  I did this query: 

     [ list of cities in Oceania by population ] 

which led me to this list of "Largest Cities in Australia and Oceania by Population."  Since the first 15 cities are in Australia (which is farther away from Hawai'i than California), we can ignore those.  All we have to do is to find the distance from Hawai'i to the other cities of more than 100,000 souls.  This quickly tells us that only Dili (East Timor, 234K) Hamilton (New Zealand, 224K), and Noumea (New Caledonia, 179K) are possibilities.  

Are there any other places in Oceania that are within the outer range ring and still have large cities??  Fiji is, but a quick search shows the largest city there is Suva, at 88K.

I checked Polynesia, French Tahiti, etc., all by following this query pattern.  Nothing else even comes close.  

So let's check on Dili, Hamilton, and Noumea.  

As you might recall from an earlier SRS Challenge about Great Circle distances, it's easy to find a tool to give you the direct, Great Circle Route distance from Hawai'i to any other place.  With my query [ great circle distances ] I found the FreeMapTools web page for calculating distances between named locations.  

Using this tool, here's what I found for distances between Hawai'i and... 

   Dili -- 5589 miles
   Hamilton -- 4445 miles 
   Noumea -- 3855 miles 

but when I started checking 100K+ population cities in California, I just worked my way up the coast, looking for distances.  

   San Diego -- 2611 miles
   Los Angeles -- 2562 miles
   Santa Maria -- 2452 miles 
   San Francisco - 2397 miles 

The next major population city going north is Portland, Oregon, at 2957 miles.  

Now that we've figured out the distance between the Big Island and the closest "major metropolitan area," (which is Santa Maria, California).  Now we need to look for other islands that are also remote.  What would those be?  

My query: 

     [ remote islands of the world ] 

gave me a list of a couple of interesting remote islands, but just scanning the list shows that only Tristan da Cunha (in the middle of the South Atlantic) even comes close to the remoteness of Hawai'i.  

By repeating this process (looking for the nearest land masses and 100K+ cities in those "nearby" locations) we find that the distance from Tristan da Cunha to Rio de Janiero (Brazil) is 2076 miles, and the distance to Cape Town (South Africa) is a mere 1046 miles.  Both cities are closer to Tristan da Cunha than any equivalent city is to Hawai'i.  

So... by our definition (distance from the Big Island to a city with more than 100K people living in it), Hawai'i really IS the most-remote island on the planet.  

And it's a wonderful place to visit.  Here's proof from the North Shore of Oahu...  

A big, empty North Shore beach at sunset.  You're more than 2000 miles
 from the mainland.  Don't try to swim it.


2.  This might seem obvious, but maybe it's more subtle than you think:  How many islands ARE in the Hawaiian islands?  
The obvious Google query would be this: 

     [ how many islands are in Hawaii ]

And that would give you this answer...

According to the official Google results, it would appear to be 8 islands.  Note that it says "eight MAIN islands"  (emphasis mine).  Whenever you see something like that, you should be cautious about accepting the answers as-is.  But let's look at Google Earth again.  That's the Big Island down in the lower right, with Maui, Kauai, etc. all lined up nicely.  

In Google Earth you can turn on the "Borders and Labels" layer and see this.  Note that the borders are drawn in bright yellow.  

You can see all 8 islands.  

But wait a second!  See that little yellow dot in the upper left?  (With the red arrow pointing to it.)  What's that?  

Zoom in, and you'll see this: 

The Hawaiian island of Nihoa.  1 mile wide by 0.5 miles tall. Looks like an island to me!

This is Nioha--a small island that's about 130 miles NW of Kauai.  If you look back at the first image of the Hawaiian archipelago, you can see that there's a long chain of islands heading off that way.  Nioha is roughly in the middle of that long chain.  

Here's a map I found at with the query:

     [ Hawaiian archipelago map ] 

Map of the Hawaiian Archipelago.  P/C

As you can see, there are at least 17 islands in Hawai'i.  But the problem of counting islands gets more complicated when you zoom in.  Here's a picture of the French Frigate Shoals (from Google Earth), located in the center of the above map.  

The biggest island in the center is around 0.8 miles long.  There are other, really tiny islands in there as well.  So, when do you stop counting?  Is a 1 square meter rock that's exposed only at low tide REALLY an island?  

For our purposes, I'll define an island as any surface that is > 1 acre, and permanently above water.  (And, to simplify things, that's part of the group that's claimed to be in the island chain.)  

So, by this definition, it's 17 islands.  (Or so....)  

FWIW, here's Kure Atoll--the last stop going NW in the islands.  Look closely and you'll see tiny Sand Island in there, which sometimes goes under the waves...  (Kure lies close to what is called the Darwin Point, that latitude at which reef growth just equals reef destruction by various physical forces. As it continues to move on the tectonic plate, it eventually will all go underwater.)  

3.  I know the waters around the island are deep--but HOW deep?  What's the deepest place within the Hawaiian archipelago?  

By this point you should see the pattern.  What do you mean by "within the Hawaiian archipelago"?  

Since the Challenge was fairly imprecise, you have to make your own determination--and then tell us what it is!  

I'm going to limit "within" to mean either between the islands, or within 10 miles of the islands.  

To begin this search, I knew I wanted to see a map of the ocean floor.  But how do I find that?  

I figured there was a special term I needed to know, so I did a search for: 

     [ map ocean depths ] 

to learn what that term was.  It's bathymetric

So my next query was: 

     [ bathymetric map Hawaii ] 

and that answered my question quickly.  I found a beautiful bathymetric map of the Hawaiian Islands that comes from  It looks like this: 

Obviously, there's some seriously deep water (the area tinted in pink) to the east of the islands.  If you zoom in, you'll see these areas are called the "Maui Deep" and the "Hawaiian Deep."  

To find the depth of the Maui Deep and Hawaiian Deep, I had to do my query like this: 

     [ "Maui Deep" bathymetry ] 

Why the quotes?  Why the term "bathymetry"?  

I had to quote "Maui Deep" because there are lots and lots of web pages with the word Maui not so far from the word deep (usually vacation and tourist sites that promise "... the deep allure of Maui shores..."). 

And I included bathymetry as a context term (that is, a term you add in order to limit the results to pages that are on this particular topic). 

Even so, the web results aren't that great... until I limited my results to just Books.  THEN I found a good number of oceanographic texts (1, 2), all of which say that the Maui Deep and the Hawaiian Deep are both "in excess of 5500 meters."  That's about all they'll say.  Still, that's plenty deep, and as we can see from the map, the deepest parts of the ocean in that area.  

Search Lessons

The biggest lesson this time is easy: 

1.  Be careful of your definitions.  When a Challenge is presented, always question whether or not there might be another interpretation of the question.  What kind of variations could there be in the answer?  As we saw in the case of the Moon-to-Earth question, you literally have to look at the other side of the subject--what's the distance to the far side of the moon.  Keep these questions in mind as you do your research.  When you give your answer, be sure to include what you search for... and what you think of as a legitimate answer (what's "remote"?  what's a "population center"?  what's "in the region"?)  

Otherwise, search on!  

(One more Hawaii Challenge this week, then on to other things!)