Monday, August 14, 2017

Detecting photo manipulation--the classic way

Before I write up the answer about the Yucatán.... 

I want to tell you about something fascinating I heard over the weekend. 

RadioLab is one of the best podcasts going.  It covers a broad range of topics in science, education, environment, health, and life-in-general.  Their podcasts are incredibly well written and produced.  To my mind, they set the standard for what a great podcast can be.  

Usually I listen to their casts as I'm running errands on the weekend. On Sunday, I listened to a RadioLab podcast about a search process that's of real interest to SRS readers.  

Truth and Cannonballs (22 mins) is about the quest of documentary filmmaker Errol Morris to understand how a famous pair of images from the Crimean War (by 19th century photographer Roger Fenton) were manipulated.

Here's the pair of photos side-by-side:  

It's pretty clear that at least one of these pictures was manipulated by moving the cannonballs around.  The question that consumed Morris was "which of these was first?"  

That is, did Fenton first photograph the road WITH the cannonballs, and then move them away--OR--was the road empty, and he placed the cannonballs there for photographic effect?  

The podcast has a great discussion about what motivates someone to pursue a SearchResearch question like this, and then what he did in order to figure it out.  

tl;dr -- a colleague used a version of the blink comparator (that we discussed a few weeks ago) to find some stones that moved between the two different versions.  That was enough to say with high confidence that clear-road version was first.  (The insight was to realize that the stones all moved downhill, suggesting that they were accidentally kicked as the photographer moved the cannonballs into place.  After all, it's very unlikely that all of the stones would move uphill!)  

Listen, and enjoy. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (8/9/17): Questions about the Yucatán? (#1000)


Yes, this is SearchResearch post #1000.  Remarkably enough, we've been talking about search, sensemaking, and how to be better at this for just over 7 years, since January 31, 2010.  In that first post, I wrote about a method for monitoring a web page on a topic.  (Of course, the method I describe there no longer works as written... which is why this blog has been ongoing for so long!)  

In my next post, I'll write a bit about the process of writing SRS, and where it's going.  There may be a thousand posts under our collective belts, but there's still so much more to do!  


Onward... to this week's Challenge... 

Last week I was in Cancun, Mexico, attending a friend's wedding, enjoying the beaches, and (naturally) slipping in a quick dive trip on the side.  

This is a picture from our dive at one of the Dos Ojos cenotes

As you can see, a cenote is a sinkhole exposing groundwater below. Cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings, but we were there to explore the caves.  There were four of us, following the yellow trail marker line into the heart of the cenote, swimming through impossibly clear water.  At times, it seemed we were flying through a fantastic vast cavern, rather than swimming along well underground.  

Naturally, all of this made me very curious about cenotes, the Yucatán, and the whole place in general.  Here are a few of the questions I had (and answered!) this week.  

Can you answer them as well? 

1.  Cenotes seem to appear all over the Yucatán peninsula.  If you look at a map of the area, it seems they all line up just inland from the Riviera Maya coastline.  But I know there are cenotes in the north of the peninsula as well. Is there a larger pattern of cenotes at work here?  If so, what caused that particular pattern of cenotes to form? 
2.  As you know, Cancun is on the eastern side of the Yucatán, in the state of Quintana Roo.  That name--Quintana Roo--has always struck me as slightly odd. Where's this name from, and why does it sound so non-Spanish?  (Extra credit:  How do you pronounce "Quintana Roo"?  While there, I learned I've been saying it wrong all these years!)  
3.  Speaking of Quintana Roo, when did it become a full-fledged state of the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos)?  
4.  While walking around, I found a tree (apparently native) that is said to have been the basis for chewing gum.  Really?  What kind of tree is this? What's the story here?   

As you search, take note of HOW you found the answers, and let us know in the comment thread!  

¡Sigue buscando! 

(Search on!)  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The difficulty of searching for something dimly remembered...

I saw it, but only briefly.... 

Now I want to refind it.  But how? 

A true story:  A few days ago I saw an interesting article in my Facebook feed.  It was one that I distinctly remember as something I wanted to find and read in detail later. But I was busy, so I skipped over it, and figured that I’d be able to find it easily later. Maybe you've done this as well.  

But then....  it took me 90 minutes to RE-find it.  What happened? 

What I remembered about the article:  I recalled that it was a post by The Atlantic magazine (which I follow on FB), and that it was about how millennials (or Gen Z, I forget which) now believe that “there is a great deal of information that cannot be found on the internet.”   That was the phrase I read and remembered. I thought my memory was pretty good, so searching on Facebook should just work, right? 

But the obvious search doesn't turn up anything.   (This is true even if I limit the search to a particular source, in this case, "The Atlantic" stream by entering the name of the publication in the "Posted by" option.)  

However, I did a LOT of searches, limiting the time scope to the past month, site searching the magazine, searching FB… couldn’t find it. 

What was going wrong?  

Short answer:  I was trying too hard with long queries.  I should have known better... 

To actually find the article, I went back through my feed MANUALLY, one post at a time working my way back in time.  Of course,  I finally found it, and here’s what the post actually looked like:

Now, WHY couldn't I find it except by brute force? 

Because my searches were close, but not precise enough.  They were all variations on this Facebook search:

     On Facebook:  [ students “important information” not on the internet ] 

 ... and all obvious variations don’t work.  Note that all of these words appear in the post. 

 Hmm.  This search should have worked.  

Insight #1: Search on Facebook is picky.  You have to give it exactly what you know is there, and nothing more. 
Insight #2: You need to have a fairly precise search to find a specific article that you’re looking for on Facebook.  

Ultimately, when I found the story (by repetitively clicking), it linked to "Millenials are Out-Reading Older Generations," which is well worth reading.  

After I found it, I spent some time backing up and trying to use regular Google searches that would work to find this article by searching just The Atlantic site.  Here are the Google searches that worked for me:

    [ students “important information” “not available on the internet” ] – 1 result

     [ students “important information” “not * on the internet” ] – 1 result

     [ “important information” “not * on the internet” ]  - 1 result

     [  important information “not * on the internet” ] – result #2

     [“important information” not on the internet ] result #3

     [  information “not * on the internet” ] – result #5

     [ “not * on the internet” ] – result #8

Notice that a lot of variations on this theme worked just fine.  With quotes, without quotes, using the * operator.  

The important thing to notice here is that what works on Google might not work on Facebook search.  

Another thing worth noticing, the shorter queries work just fine.  Keep this in mind.  

In the interest of fairness, I went back to Facebook search with the article in hand and re-did my search with an exact quote.  Naturally, it was the first (and only) hit: 

How is it possible that I didn't try THIS particular variation of the query?  Methinks it's because I was trying with too many terms... I was working too hard.  

The Facebook query I SHOULD have tried at first is just with the single term that I was really sure was in the article--the relatively rare term "millennials."  

This is a much better search strategy.  It's doesn't give me the result I want in position 1... but it's at position 5 in the Facebook search results, which is pretty good.  This strategy would have given me the result in less than 1 minute, rather than the 90 minutes I actually spent!  

... scroll down to the next page to see result #5 


There are a few Search Lessons here: 

1.  Different sites have different search behaviors.  Facebook's search works rather differently than Google.  You have to understand the limits (and capabilities) of each.  (For instance, Google can't search the posts on Facebook.)  

2. Being persistent means trying variations on a theme... and trying different resources.  I should have followed my own advice--advice I've given many times before... 

3.  Start as simple as possible, then add keywords as you discover what's not working.  

4.  Sometimes, the best way to search on a site is by using Google. As you can see, the Google queries are pretty robust--many of the query variations return exactly what you're looking for.  (This is a general comment: it's not just limited to Facebook.)  

Keep searching!  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Answer: Milking the milk topic...


... is an incredibly complex fluid that's produced by the mammary glands of mammals shortly after pregnancy. It's 
an emulsion of butterfat globules in a water-based fluid filled with dissolved carbohydrates, protein aggregates, and minerals.  Milk that's produced early in the milk production cycle contains colostrum, with lots of antibodies, protein and fat to help the infant thrive early on.  

(A generic Wisconsin dairy--not my family's farm.)  
But I was primarily interested in how milk made it from dairies to the home.  

Usually, the milkman would drive up in a milk truck to leave it on the doorstep, but the really nice houses had a kind of built-in receptacle to hold the milk and keep it out of the sun.  

It's clear that milk trucks weren't the only way for milk to be delivered.  I'd had this dog-cart image in my files for a while, and that begins this week's Challenge.    

Then there's the matter of how milk is contained for shipment.  

1.  These milk containers:  Do they have a specific name?  If I want to buy one, what term or name would I search for?  Is it possible to buy new ones?  

What IS the term for this?  

I did an image search for this picture, and found that it brought up a lot of "antique" and "collectable" objects, most of which were called "milk jugs."  Here's the SERP for the Search-By-Image result: 

Notice that the proposed "best query" is [ old metal milk jug ] That's fine, but when you look at the results, they're ALL in the "antique" and "collectable" genre.  

I was curious what's they'd be called when they're NOT collectable items.  

To find this out, I started with a general text query for: 

     [ milk container ] 

I knew this would be pretty generic.  It has cream containers for coffee shops, gallon plastic milk jugs, etc.  But this SERP also has an image of what I'm looking for (far left, second row of images).  

AND it has a link to the Wikipedia page about Category: Milk containers.  When you see a "Category" page on Wikipedia, it's a sign that there's a collection of items that are all different terms for the same thing.  That is, it's a "Category" of things with that description.  (For example: the Category:Philosophy page groups together different kinds of philosophy and philosophical topics.) 

The interesting thing about the Category: Milk containers page is that it lists several terms for things-that-contain-milk.  In particular, "milk bag" "milk bottle" and "milk churn."   

I know what a milk bag is, and I know what a milk bottle is.  I thought I knew what a "milk churn" was (that is, a device for making butter by "churning" it through extended manual labor), so having it show up here is a bit odd.  WHY is a "churn" considered to be a "container"?  

Naturally, my curiosity drove me to click on this link about milk churns, the first line of which is this definition: 

A milk churn is a tall, conical or cylindrical container for the transportation of milk. It is sometimes referred to as a milk can.

The article goes on to point out that milk was originally shipped in regular milk churns (in the butter-making sense), but by the 1850s, they were replaced with similarly-shaped metal containers that held 17 gallons of milk.

I tested these definitions with the queries:  

     [ milk churn ]   and   [ milk can ] 

which gives results like this:  

If you look at the Images page, you'll see this, including some very new, shiny, stainless steel (and purchasable) milk churns:  

Now we know the exact term for these milk containers:  it's a milk churn or a milk can.  (And it seems that in the antique business, they're known as jugs.)  

2. As I said above, some houses had a kind of mini-closet into which the milkman would put the day's delivery:  What was that mini-closet called?

This is a bit tricky.  I started with the query: 

     [ home milk delivery closet ] 

and found that some people call this a "milk door."  But I kept looking around a bit more after finding that first result.  Why?  It just seemed too... obvious.  

I modified my query to be: 

     [ home milk delivery closet history ] 

and that query led me to a number of different sources, including this May-June 1999 issue of Old House magazine (which is indexed in Google Books), where it's called a "milk chute."  

Okay, which is it?  Milk door?  Or Milk chute? 

Both show good results: 

Yes, I see that there are 90K results for "milk chute" vs. 193K for "milk door."  But both terms are in frequent use.  (And most of the "milk door" results point out that they're also called "milk chutes.")  In any case, it's not called a "closet!"  

3.  Milk delivery by dog?  Seems odd to me--why use dogs to deliver the milk?  In particular, can you figure out where that image of the dog-cart milk delivery came from?  What other kinds of animals were (or are) used to deliver milk to the customer?  

Search by Image for the dog-cart above, and you'll find it's an illustration of "Holiday Sketches" of Bruges, Belgium (specifically, Illustrated London News, September 25, 1875).  

But why did they use dogs to pull tiny carts? 

     [ dog cart milk delivery ] 

If you check Images, you'll find a bunch of dog carts with milk: 

But... why? 

The Wikipedia page on dog carts (found with this query) tells us that they "...were historically used in Belgium and The Netherlands for delivering milk, bread, and other trades. In early Victorian Britain, dogcarts were associated with bakers..."  

That same article also uses some interesting language:  "Dogs were used as draught animals during the First World War to pull small field guns. Dogs were used by Soviet Army in World War II to pull carts containing a stretcher for wounded soldiers..."  

That sounds crazy, but notice the term "draught"  (also sometimes spelled "draft").  That means "to pull a cart or wagon," as in the term draft horses.  What if we did a search for "draft dogs"?  

     [ draft dogs ] 

Reading through these results reminded me that sled dogs are basically pulling a sled (which is a lot like a cart), and in the Americas, Indians would have dogs pull a travois (a kind of sled for no-snow conditions).  So there's a long tradition of using dogs as small cart draft animals--which is just the thing you want when you need to deliver small quantities of milk, as produced by artisanal dairies... 

Sampler of Indian dog travois

What about other kinds of animals pulling milk carts?  

With the query: 

     [ milk cart "pulled by *" ] 

I found search results for milk carts pulled by horses, donkeys, mules, and dogs.  But in the search results, I also spotted a camel pulling a milk cart, a zebra, and a pair of pigs in Pullman, WA.  

P/C:  Modern Mechanix, July 1931

Pigs pulling a milk cart. P/C: Washington State Creamery
So... why dogs?  There's a long tradition of having dogs pull carts (and sleds), especially for small loads... like milk.  

4.  Milk generally comes from cows, and we have a lot of them in Wisconsin and California.  But what other animals produce milk that's widely used as human food?  That is, I know whales produce milk too, but it's not really a common food item.  Which kinds of animal milk is used as a food product?  (Extra credit just for fun and a surprise: Which four states are the top milk producers in the US?)  

     [ animal milk human drink ] 

Leads to a number of articles about different kinds of milks that humans drink. An interesting article from Slate lists:  cow, buffalo, goat, sheep, llamas, reindeer, horse, camel, and yak.  Of course, people have tried milk from many different animals, but some are a bit impractical (milking a pig is really, really hard) or just plain unpalatable (such as milk from the Orca, which tastes very fishy).  

Finally, figuring out what states produce what amount of milk isn't too hard: 

     [ US states milk production ] 

gives the dairy-production (by state) data.  Answer:  California (40B pounds); ] Wisconsin (30B pounds); New York (14B); Idaho (14B).  (Note:  They get their data from the USDA Statistics Service, so I tend to believe their data.) 

Search Lessons 

1.  Terms vary for the same thing!  As we found out, the steel "milk container" of our first Challenge is commonly called  a "milk jug" by the antiquing community.  (This is slightly confusing, as "milk jug" also refers to ceramic creamers and pitchers designed for milk.  The cylindrical/conical steel container is (as we found) usually called a "milk churn" or "milk can."  Be aware of the differences in terminology.

2.  Test your understanding by comparing different definitions.  When we were working on the milk cans, we compared the difference between:     [ milk churn ]   and   [ milk can ] to verify that they were the same thing.  

3. Use what you find to hone in on what you really seek.  In the "milk door" vs. "milk chute" example, we started broadly, and used terms that we found along the way to refine our next searches.  This is a really important point: Even mistakes on the search path can be helpful. 

4.  Don't forget that the * operator (fill in the blank) is incredibly useful to find things for which you don't know the name.  In our search  [ milk cart "pulled by *" ], we found a lot of different animals that pull milk carts.  I don't know how else you would do this (without testing every animal you can think of)!  

We'll be back on a regular schedule starting next week. See you then.  
Search on! 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (7/26/17): Milking the milk topic...

Not many weeks ago... 

... I was visiting some family in Wisconsin, land of the dairy farm. 

(A generic Wisconsin dairy--not my family's farm.)  
That made me start thinking about milk and a few related topics came to mind.  

The first thing I remembered was my experience with milk as a child.  I grew up in Los Angeles in a gilded age when the milk was delivered to your home by the milkman.  You'd leave a note for the milkman--say, "2 quarts whole; 1 pint cream"--and then the next morning, the order would appear. The milkman and his truck were a common early morning sight in the US, back in the day.    

Usually, the milkman would leave it on the doorstep, but the really nice houses had a kind of built-in receptacle to hold the milk and keep it out of the sun.  

But in earlier days, milk seems to have been delivered in a totally different way.  Here's an image I've had in my files for a while--from an era even earlier than the days when I was a kid in LA.  

Seeing the Belgian woman pouring the milk into a bowl reminded me of a visit to my sister's house where she had a traditional milk container.  You've seen them before--they look like this: 

All of this recent milk sightings has made me wonder a few things--great SRS Challenges for us to work on this week!  

1.  Those milk containers (as seen in the previous image):  Do they have a specific name?  If I want to buy one, what term or name would I search for?  Is it possible to buy new ones?  

2. As I said above, some houses had a kind of mini-closet into which the milkman would put the day's delivery:  What was that mini-closet called?

3.  Milk delivery by dog?  Seems odd to me--why use dogs to deliver the milk?  In particular, can you figure out where that image of the dog-cart milk delivery came from?  What other kinds of animals were (or are) used to deliver milk to the customer?  

4.  Milk generally comes from cows, and we have a lot of them in Wisconsin and California.  But what other animals produce milk that's widely used as human food?  That is, I know whales produce milk too, but it's not really a common food item.  Which kinds of animal milk is used as a food product?  (Extra credit just for fun and a surprise: Which four states are the top milk producers in the US?)  

Hope you find this dairy-focused Challenge to be as fascinating as I did!  

(Remember:  I'll come back again in a week, August 2, to give my solution to this Challenge.  I'm off to Mexico to do a bit of research for future SRS Challenges!)  

Search on!