Monday, February 29, 2016

Answer: How to find compound concepts

Really well done, SRS team! 

This Challenge was fascinating.  There were more comments in the stream than usual (the ordinary run-rate is around 7 comments / week), all of which are great.  What's more, you found some solutions that I hadn't anticipated--which I always think of as a great outcome.  It tells me that the question is richer and more interesting than I'd thought.  

Let's jump into the answers. 

1.  A friend's child came down with a rare disease that involved an extended period of high fever.  She told me what it was, but I forgot the exact name.  Can you help me find it?  All I remember is that it's called_______ Disease, and the first word is a Japanese name that begins with either an "H" or a "K."  What IS the name of this disease?   
Hans, Luís, and Claire all did a smart thing:  They used the facts given in the description (rare disease, high fever, childhood), did a search, and scanned the snippets for Japanese-seeming names starting with H or K.  

Their queries were some version of: 

      [ child extended period high fever disease ] 

A quick scan of the snippets quickly shows us "Kawasaki Disease" in a couple of the snippet. 

A confirmation search of [ Kawasaki disease ] gives us the following Knowledge Panel, which has a great age-range graph at the bottom. 

2.  I remember reading a book awhile back, that was something like  _________  Oranges.  All I remember about the forgotten term is that it's the name of someone out of Moby Dick (it's like "Ahab," but that's not it).  What IS the name of this book?  
In this case, the simplest search is to search in Google Books and to use a fill-in-the-blank search, like: 

      [ "* "Oranges" " ] 

This query looks odd with an extra set of quote (marked by the extra red quotes), but here's what's going on.  

I started this Challenge by searching for a phrase with an asterisk match like this (that is, without the quotes):   

     [ "* Oranges" ] 

But I noticed that there were a few not quite useful hits in the Search Results Page (SERP). See this odd result at the bottom of this list? 

What's going on here?  

In this case, the book (The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet) has enough hits that match the query, [ "* Oranges"].  What could be happening is that synonyms could be registering as well.  So... I put an additional set of quotes around the term "Oranges" to ensure that ONLY phrases with ONLY the word "oranges" would match. In other words, I'm quoting a single term inside of a quoted phrase. 

Hence, this search now shows: 

In this case, I recognized Ishmael as a character from Moby Dick, but if you didn't recall all of the characters, a quick search for: 

     [ list of characters in Moby Dick ] 

will show you a short list of some of the best-known characters in Moby Dick at the top of the page (but be careful:  this is NOT guaranteed to be a complete list).  On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry does look to be pretty complete.  If you scan through this list and then return to the Books search, you'll quickly find the book by Claire Hajaj called Ishmael's Oranges.  

3.  Somewhere in Europe there's a region of the Alps that has an odd, very distinctive name.  It's something like  M________ Alps.  (That is, the first term starts with an "M.")  It's not Mont Blanc, or anything like that.  It's just a single word that starts with "M." And as I remember, it's a kind of odd term to associate with the mountains.    What's the full name of this Alpine region?  
As Ramon pointed out, using an online dictionary service like OneLook (which has a strong partial match capability) is really effective.  

In this case, I just went immediately to OneLook with the query: 

     [ M* Alps ] 

And here's what you see: 

 You can see there are three plausible hits ("Maritime Alps," "Minami Alps," and "Mürzsteg Alps").  A quick couple of clicks tells us that the Minami Alps can be found in Japan, but both the Maritime AND Mürzsteg Alps exist in Central Europe.  

The point of this Challenge is really to bring out methods for doing these kinds of otherwise difficult searches.  I think we've done that... 

Search Lessons  

1. Searching for general topics + visual scanning can be effective.  As we see in #1, the search for the specific topic (an unusual childhood disease), with a quick visual scanning step at the end while looking at the SERP can be effective--especially for properties that are difficult to specify (e.g. a "Japanese-sounding name that starts with H or K").  

2.  The * operator can be useful, especially in constrained searches.  Looking for a book entitled +Oranges can be crazy-making, but is fairly simple if you (a) look in the books collection, (b) use a pattern to specify the compound concept you seek, and (c) use the double-quote to prevent any synonym matching!  

3.  Sometimes the best search for a compound concept is in a computationally enhanced dictionary!  In the Alps example, I turned to the OneLook dictionary and specified a pattern, looking for anything that matched--which includes all (most!) of the mountain ranges of the world.  

For Teachers 

If you're a teacher who's creating as assignment that would use one of these methods, my usual "search lesson" caution applies:  pre-test everything!  

It's also worth exploring the space of possible search options for the online dictionaries.  OneLook's capabilities are fairly extensive--it's not web search, but search in a dictionary, which can be really powerful... especially when you're searching for specific terms / specific concepts.  (For instance, remember our discussion about the "Egg of Columbus"?  Here's the query on OneLook [ "egg of * "] )  

Some nice questions that link concepts to queries might be: 
(1) what kind of choice is a forced choice?  (What name is associated with that?),  
(2) what's the hypothetical universal solvent that was sought by alchemists?
(3) you once went to a place that's called "Big " in Texas.  What is the name of that place?  

Search on!  

(P.S.  I REALLY  haven't forgotten about the immigration / emmigration data Challenge from last week.  I'll write it up today and post my answer tomorrow. Really really really.)  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Search Challenge (2/17/16): How to find compound concepts

When you have the one perfect search term... 

... your searching is basically done.  Searching for ideas that have a single, uncommon term that captures the essence isn't hard.  Once you get that term--e.g., zymurgy, Sisyphean, or even boogie-woogie--your search is simple, accurate and fast. 

But I often find myself trying to remember both terms of a compound concept.  That is, two words that would be perfect together as a search query, except I can't remember one of the two words!  

The other day, I was writing something about traveling in the Caribbean and visiting the: 

     ______   Antilles 

I couldn't remember what the first word was!  I had a blank where I know I needed a search term.  

I knew it was the name of a country, but it took me 20 minutes to remember that the word I was looking for the word is "Netherlands," as in: 

     Netherlands Antilles

These are the Caribbean islands that belonged to the Netherlands; Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Saba, and Sint Eustatius. Once I got that term, the rest of my search was a piece of cake.  

This is a fairly common problem--you can get half of the concept, but have trouble recalling the second part. You often know a bit about what the second term in the compound should be, but can't quite dredge it up out of memory.  

That's what this week's Challenge is about: methods for using Google to help you find that second term.  

Can you solve these following Challenges?  (No fair if you just knew the answer off the top of your head.  But I'll be surprised if you know the answer to all three!)  

1.  A friend's child came down with a rare disease that involved an extended period of high fever.  She told me what it was, but I forgot the exact name.  Can you help me find it?  All I remember is that it's called _______ Disease, and the first word is a Japanese name that begins with either an "H" or a "K."  What IS the name of this disease?   

2.  I remember reading a book awhile back, that was something like  _________  Oranges.  All I remember about the forgotten term is that it's the name of someone out of Moby Dick (it's like "Ahab," but that's not it).  What IS the name of this book?  

3.  Somewhere in Europe there's a region of the Alps that has an odd, very distinctive name.  It's something like  M________ Alps.  (That is, the first term starts with an "M.")  It's not Mont Blanc, or anything like that.  It's just a single word that starts with "M." And as I remember, it's a kind of odd term to associate with the mountains.    What's the full name of this Alpine region?  

The point of this Challenge is really to bring out methods for doing these kinds of otherwise difficult searches.  Once you get the name, everything is pretty straightforward--the Challenge is to figure out HOW to get to the right name in the first place!  

So when you find the answers, be SURE to say what you did to find the first time in the compound!  

Search on!  

(P.S.  I haven't forgotten about the immigration / emmigration data Challenge from last week.  I'll write it up today and post my answer tomorrow.)  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Slight delay today...

I'm traveling again,

.. so I'll be answered this past week's Challenge a little later than usual.  Don't panic.  This was a really interesting SRS Challenge, so I want to devote enough time to writing it up. 

Will be back online late tomorrow, Tuesday.... 

Keep searching today! 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Skills we don’t know we don’t know…

The first time I ran across this behavior in a field study I was deeply surprised:  How could a literate person who goes web browsing and searching on a daily basis NOT know how to do a Find on the page? 

It was as if someone could read and knew the alphabet, but didn’t understand that you could use the alphabetic sequence to locate a word in the dictionary.  It just seems like a giant lacuna in their skill set, something that I just couldn’t imagine.  How could you use a computer on a daily basis, reading and writing, and NOT be able to instantly do Control-F (or CMD-F, for Macheads; or more slowly, Edit>Find ) to locate a word or phrase on the page? 

Even more staggering was learning how pervasive this gap is—my best guess is that somewhat less than 20% of the adult, internet-using population know about Control-F, the FIND command, in the browser. 

I’ve asked this question many times, “do you know how to quickly locate a single word on a web page?”  And an incredible number of people say “no… what are you talking about?”  I then describe a common situation—you’ve searched for something and landed on a longish web page that you know has the thing you’re looking for, but you can’t manage to spot it. 
That always brings a grunt of recognition.  Everyone has had this happen to them.  They go to the race results page for the 10K they ran last week, and can’t manage to find their name on the list of 1029 runners.  Scrolling slowly through the (very long) page is painful, but they know their name is on the list. 

So when I ask “what do you do in this situation?” many people say, “I just look very carefully…” not realizing that a single Control-F would take them to their name in a split-second.  

I’ve asked this question many, many times.  I’ve asked a room full of librarians—80% would know.  I’ve asked friends who are physicists, counselors, professors at universities you’d recognize… and even among this elite, technologically savvy group, the hit rate is roughly 50%.  And when I ask just-plain-folks who use the internet, the rate drops below 20%, and in the public at large, it's around 10% of internet users who know this.  

But the thing I find most amazing is that people who don’t know about Control-F don’t know they don’t know.  They run across the problem often, but it somehow never occurred to them that there would be a quick, simple, easy fix.

Many of the people I tell about this are annoyed:  “How was I supposed to learn this?”  They quickly realize that this is a tiny skill that will save them a huge amount of time in the future.  But it’s unclear what the “right” way they should have picked it up.  

Truth is, I don’t know.  When do you learn all of those fundamental skills?  I don’t know.  
The rise of “life-hacking” is one response.  If you haven’t heard about it, “life-hacking” is a new theme of informal learning about the skills needed to operate your life.  Generally, it’s about how to use tools, re-organize your work, analyze your work-life balance, get a better calendaring system… all that kind of stuff.  But the life-hackers are on to something: they’re out to capture the informal knowledge that’s not really taught anywhere else.  The little tricks (and sometimes big tricks) that can make your life smoother, faster, simpler, and maybe more effective.

And perhaps this Control-F find command is one of those small memes that otherwise gets lost in the day-to-day fray.  

The bigger questions is this: How many other things like this are there?  How many more skills do you have that would be incredibly handy for me to have as well?  And… how can I find out about them? 

I’m reminded of the young woman at a local junior college who didn’t know about the Save command in MS Word.  She would write her papers in Word, then print out the paper as her way of saving the text.  Of course, if she wanted to edit the text, she’d have to type it all back in again.  

One of the little life heuristics I read about many years ago was this: “When something is a hassle, try to figure out a way to make it easier on you.”  

You’d think that having to re-type an entire paper would classify as a major hassle.  Yet she never thought to spend time looking for a way to avoid the problem.

Sounds dumb, right?  But think about all the people who never learned Control-F.  They never noticed the hassle either.  Say this slowly: they never noticed the hassle...  

WHY this happens has a great deal to do with framing (that is, the way you think about a problem in the world).   A problem can be seen as a problem ONLY when you can also see some way to deal with it.  If you don’t have any way to alter the situation, then you don’t see a problem, you see that this is the way the world IS.  

This is the point of teaching—to learn to see the world in other ways, to see different parsings of reality, and to understand the kinds of things that can be done.  Usually, the best way to do that is to watch a master at work, observe what he does and pick up the tricks of practice over the shoulder.

Lest we think that our intellect and skills are so highly refined and honed, remember the Control-F story… we are all blind to problems, and the skills you need to overcome the problems.  This is especially true when you can’t see the hassles in the world, and don’t have any way to figure out what skills you need that you don’t even know you need.  If only we had a Control-F for skills that we lack, but don’t know we’re missing. 

And if you didn’t know about Control-F / CMD-F, let me know.  I’d like to talk with you for a bit and understand how you managed to miss this particular skill…. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Search Challenge (2/17/16): Where are people moving to and where are they moving from?

Where is everybody moving to? 

It's a big political year in the US, with the presidential race heating up, preparing for the election this coming November.  

And, as usual, the candidates are debating this and that, mostly without much data to support their various assertions. You might hear a number or two, but are these numbers real?  Or do they just make them up?  

Our SearchResearch blog is all about data and getting to the bottom of things--we're here to help find data and answers to complex questions!  

One of the big debating points is whether or not there's a mass immigration into the US across the border with Mexico.  (People never seem to worry about the much bigger, much less defended border with Canada... but I digress.)  

And, more broadly, there is a human tide of people fleeing Syria and many part of the Middle East.  

The big Challenge for this week is to get some kind of data handle on all of these mass movements of people.  Where do they start?  Where are they going?  And perhaps most importantly, how do you know?  

Our Challenge this week is straightforward to express, but not so straightforward to solve: 

1.  During the past year, what have been the large movements of people across the world?  (We're interested here in people who are moving from one place to another for economic, political, or safety reasons--not people going home temporarily for the New Year's or Thanksgiving Day celebrations.)  

In particular, can you: 

A. Find data sources that tell us how many people moved from location X to location Y in 2015? 
B. Is there a good way to visualize that data?  (Giant tables of numbers aren't all that descriptive, there must be a better way. Can you find a good one?)  
C. How do you know that these numbers are right?  And to what extent can you believe them?  Why?  

Obviously, there's a whole world full of people moving.  If you want to focus on just one area, the most important for the US is the movement of people from Mexico into the US (and from the US into Mexico!).  If you want to understand the Middle East, look into movements of people from Syria (where are they going?), and Turkey (where are they coming from?).  Or, if you're from India, what outflows and inflows of people are moving from India?  

This time, we're really interested in HOW you found your data sources, and a bit about WHY you believe this particular source(s).  During the political silly season, you'll hear all kinds of crazy numbers--which ones are reasonable estimates, and which are just beyond belief?? 

Search on!  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Answer: Why an arc of lakes?

Why a giant arc of lakes??  
Last week's question was "Why is there an arc of lakes stretching across North America in a gentle arc?"  Here's that motivating picture (drawn from Google Earth with my annotation on top):  

What's going on here? Is there some kind of causal story here?  

And, to our point in SearchResearch, how would you search for something like this?  

My search behavior was a bit like Jon's--I started with a list of lakes, and added the word formation at the start.  I wanted pages that would talk about ALL of the lakes and about any mechanism that would have caused their formation.  

     formation great bear lake great slave lake athabasca superior huron ontario ] 

And after scrolling down a bit through a bunch of obviously not-perfect pages, I found a book from 1917 (G. C. Fry, "A Text-book of Geography," 1917) which notes: "The larger lakes lie along a curved line, convex towards the west, extending from Lake Ontario to Great Bear Lake on the Arctic Circle."  And attributes the plethora of lakes to "...the great icesheet which once covered almost all the continent from the middle Mississippi northwards." 

This gave me my first clue that this might be due to massive glaciation.  

I also found a Reddit thread asking this exact question (are these lakes formed by the same processes?).  Although I don't know who answered the question (someone called In_Media_Res), but it also gives a hint about how to frame this question with her response: 

"After the last glacial maximum, North America began to experience post-glacial rebound, meaning that land which had been pressed down by the massive weight of the glaciers expanded and shifted, forming rifts. The glacial meltwater initially had settled into pre-glacial canyons and valleys to form large proglacial lakes, but as the ground swelled the geography changed and those huge lakes drained into smaller ones. This is what happened to Lake Agassiz, which became Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipegosis, Lake of the Woods, and Cedar Lake; and Lake McConnell which became Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, and Lake Athabasca."  

She then goes on to point out that the Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, etc.) have longer histories, but were also filled by glacial melt. 

This sounds plausible, but I want to check this story from another couple of sources.  How can I do that?  

What this writeup suggests is to start looking into the geological story of each of the lakes, paying particular attention to the glacial part of the story. 

Great Slave Lake / Great Bear Lake:  Originally part of Glacial Lake McConnell; the pre-glacial valleys reshaped by erosional ice during the Pleistocene.  Ice sheets began to retreat about 12,000 years ago, and 1,500 years later the Glacial Lake McConnell had formed, covering the areas of the present Great Slave Lake, and Great Bear Lake...  ["Great Bear Lake: Its place in history" U. Calgary]

Lake Athabascan:  The lakebed formed as a result of glacial erosion, and sits on old precambrian rocks on the Laurentian Plateau. [Lakepedia

I kept looking, and finding more-or-less the same text in every lake writeup.  I see a pattern here.  

Reading all of this motivated me to ask a more general query: 

     [ Canada arc of lakes ] 

And THAT is when I struck gold with  Another Reddit thread about the arc of lakes across North America, but this one has many more threads to follow, and is in the AskScience/ Reddit area (which has pretty decent science content).  

"... [the lakes ] are along a line where the Canadian Shield meets softer bedrock that is more easily eroded and deformed through glaciation than the Shield is.  (Taken from bartonlong's response)..."  

This post then led me to this map:  

From Wikipedia map of Canadian rocks. Lakes in in white.  

In essence, the Redditor dmyurych and Barton Long argue that the Canadian Shield is a large zone of tougher rock.  When the glaciers retreated, they ended up scouring out larger lakes along the edge of the Shield rock.  

This suggests that the pattern of lakes on the Shield should be much different than lakes on the earth in the green & purple regions.  

If you zoom in on that map, you'll see this is what Great Bear and Great Slave lakes look like (here, the black areas are water): 

And if you compare it with a Google Earth image, you'll see that the lakes in the east are very different than ones in the western part of this region. 

In fact, you can see the line of lakes right along the edge of the Canadian Shield running south from Great Bear Lake into Great Slave Lake.

I was curious about what kind of rocks these were, so I did a Search-By-Image for the map (so I could get the rock-type legend), and found that it is from a USGS called "North American Tapestry of Time and Terrain."  The legend from that map is partly shown below.  As you can see, the rocks in the Shield are very old. 

Looking up the rocks:  

     [ Canadian Shield ]

I found that the rock is exposed Precambrian igneous and high-grade metamorphic rocks forming the ancient geological core of the North American continent. The Shield stretches north from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean, and along the line of large lakes that formed at its margin.  

Now this is getting interesting.  Clearly the Canadian Shield plays an important part--both from what we've read and what we can see in the maps and Earth imagery.  

So I tried one last query:
     [ Canadian shield lake arc ] 

Guess what?  I found several nice documents that discuss the arc of large lakes that formed at the edge of the Canadian Shield.  A nice one is The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene (Pyne & Pyne, 2012): 

"The Laurentide ice sheet left a watery echo of itself in the soggy landscape of the Candian Shield and that arc of freshwater lakes along the Shield’s edge, altogether almost 10 percent of the Earth’s fresh water."

I think we've figured it out.  That arc of large (and small) lakes marks the edge of the Shield with a tracery of watery regions that were carved out and filled-in by glaciers melting during the last Ice Age.  

Search Lessons 

Second source everything:  As you know, I always second source things I learn..  but I also pay attention to the first things I learn.  In this case, that Reddit thread turned out to be fairly accurate.  But more importantly, I picked up some key terms and ideas that led to even better queries.  Key idea:  Pay attention to terms and concepts, even when you see them in not-quite-reliable sources... they can be incredibly useful in leading you to subsequent queries!  (Pick up those key vocabulary terms!)  

Triangulate: As you see above, the maps AND the Google Earth images are really nice corroboration for each other--they're definitely something interesting going on along the arc-line that extends from Great Bear down to the Great Lakes... By zooming in, we can see the sudden change in the texture of the lakes; finding the USGS map with the different terrain rock types just confirms that new understanding.  

For Teachers

When you're teaching a unit like this, it's important to pre-research these kinds of things.  There are LOTS of geological features that look like they're volcanic, or meteoric, or manmade... but which in fact are none of those things.  (Great example:  Carolina Bays -- formed by meteors, or formed by more ordinary geological processes?)  

For instance, there's some argument that Hudson Bay is part of a large impact zone, but the preponderance of evidence is that this isn't the case

But for a great research topic, there are many fascinating geology topics to follow-up.  A few examples:  slickensides, Lake Agassiz (historic lake bigger than all of the Great Lakes combined), or Doggerland.  

Hope you enjoyed this little SearchResearch task.  I certainly learned a lot!  

Search on!  

Friday, February 12, 2016

A syntopical style of online reading

Where did the morning go?  

I ask myself that question at least twice a week, wondering where a couple hours of my day has gone.

I finally have the answer: I think I’m doing something that’s different, and a little unexpected… I’m “syntopically reading.”   

And I mean that in a very particular way.   “Syntopical reading” isn’t just reading (I’m not just reading the latest John Le Carre novel, although I’d like to), and I’m not just hunting around searching for interesting / cool stuff on the net.  Instead, what seems to be happening is a kind of combined semi-directed investigation on topics of interest.

This is probably one of the biggest surprises from my omphaloskepsis into the depths of my time management. 

As you probably know, I carefully write up what I do each day.  The record has around a 5 minute accuracy and is pretty complete (and before you ask, no, I don’t write all THAT down—there are some categories that show up as *personal* with no further breakdown required). 

Yet, on a typical morning, I’d see:

     4:30 – 5:30 – writing (work, conference paper)
     5:30 – 7:00 -- ?
     7 – 8:15 – prep kids for school; breakfast

…and I’d wonder what happened in that gap.  Why couldn’t I remember?  Don’t worry: I’m not suffering from early onset dementia.  But these breaks are very dream-like gaps in my memory—these episodes are times of nearly continuous activity, but difficult to reconstruct what the point of that time was after the fact. What WAS I doing?  

So I finally broke down and started interrupting myself at 5 minute intervals and writing down exactly what I was doing during those otherwise unaccountable times. 

Found out that it’s a whacked combination of web surfing, reading (online and offline), moving data around, web searches, writing tiny programs to transform text from one format to another, etc etc etc.  

It was all just a ton of apparently arbitrary activities.  Hmmm. What's up with that?  

So then I started writing down the goal I was working on at each 5-minute interruption, not just what I was doing.  The goal timeline looked a bit like this: 

      7:00 - 7:05 - looking up what "Baidarka" is 
     7:05 - 7:10 - looking up "chines" are on kayaks 
     7:10 - 7:15 - checking a map for a nearby ravine 
     7:15 - 7:25 - reading an online book describing
                   traditional Inuit hunting practices in Alaska
     7:25 - 7:35 - looking for and scanning scholarly articles about Inuktitut

That’s when it hit me: I was doing something that I didn’t have a name for.  This wasn't just me skipping around without a point, instead it was a kind of intense, focused behavior that I couldn’t recall because I didn’t recognize it: it was un-nameable.  

My friend Tom Erickson mentioned to me that Mortimer Adler’s notion of “syntopicalreading” is exactly this (although he meant it about ordinary print on crushed-trees kind of books). 

It's a way of reading on a topic that is both broad and deep, covering many different kinds of resources and content types, that leads to an understanding of a topic that is synthesized from all of the materials just read.  

Well, now I have a good description of what I was doing, and a name for it.  Syntopical reading is what I find myself doing in those time gaps.  I read one web page, then do a search to understand more about it--I switch media types, the kinds of things I'm reading, and topics all swirling around.  That often branches to another topic, and another, and another.  

What I find interesting is that it’s NOT all just time-wasting link-following indulgence; instead syntopical-time is when I find myself going deeply into a topic (yesterday’s topic, I discovered from my notes) was trying to understand the connections between French chansons, Gypsy melodies and Balkan scales.   Sure, I sometimes get side-tracked onto YouTube videos, but even they turned out to be important resources for concepts like “Gypsy melody” or “Balkan wedding music.” 

This mini-syntopical-time started as a search to get background information about a band I was about to hear (“Rupa and the April Fishes,” if you’re curious), which led to chansons, and I was off on thematically linked sequence of readings and searches. 

Oddly enough, even for this inveterate notetaker, I find syntopic behavior to be so engaging that I completely forget to take notes.  If I find an extraordinary thing, I might write that down… but the process is wholly absorbing as I switch from reading something, to looking up something I didn’t understand, which often leads to yet another thing. 

If the topic is work-related, the syntopical reading also often involves picking up data from one place and changing it into something else (an activity that takes up a big fraction of all my analysis time)… but when I’m in syntopic-mode, this is all in service of working towards a larger understanding.  I’m not just plugging away on a tiny nit of a problem, but really working the edges of perception to see if I can grok an entire picture at once. 

These syntopic times are, like regular reading, both absorbing and illuminating.  I wonder if this isn’t what 21st century reading is really all about.  I think of monks who spend lifetimes working slowly through manuscripts to gain a deeper knowledge.  That’s one kind of knowing, one way of looking at knowledge over time.

My sense is that syntopic time is qualitatively different: when I’m engaged like this, it's a flow experience and I feel as though I’m moving fast, kayaking over the knowledge stream, looking to pull all of the things I read and data I have into a single, unified cohering understanding.  It doesn’t always work out the way I expect, but when it does, it’s creates the sense of being in the flow, swept away into the river of ideas, and not of this earth.  

This syntopic blend of online reading and search gives a kind of reading-in-depth that hasn’t been possible before.  

No wonder I lose track of time. And what glorious time it is!