Thursday, May 24, 2018

SearchResearch -- Delay of game for 2 weeks


Normally... 

... we'd have a SearchResearch Challenge this week.  BUT... as you know, I'm working on a book about the SearchResearch experience.  It's not about SearchResearch per se, but about what we learn here--how to frame questions and how to use our research skills to answer those questions.  

Well, the update is that I'm nearing the end of Draft 1.  So, for the next 7 days, I'm working on a deadline to get everything done and turned in for first round of editing.  

This has been a tremendously exciting project, and I hope you'll all recognize some of the chapters!  Our blog has been incredibly influential, and as I'm wrapping up the first round of writing, I'm constantly re-finding ideas that we've shared over the past few years--and I appreciate all of your comments.  Thanks for all the ideas and support over the past 8 years!

(Yes, SRS started in May of 2010 with 1032 posts and 2.995M reads.)

PowerSearchingWithGoogle.com logo--almost 4M students have taken the class.
PowerSearching SearchResearch for all!  

So I'm going to take this week off and give you an update next Wednesday.  (But I'll be working harder than ever on SRS!)  

Don't go away.  I'll keep updating you with progress as the book goes forward... and there will be another Challenge next week.  

In the meantime, Keep Searching! 

-- Dan 




Thursday, May 17, 2018

Answer: Swiss Mysteries

This was supposed to be a fun Challenge... 
... but perhaps it was more complex than I'd thought it would be.   

Let's go through each, one at a time... 


1.  When in Switzerland, one naturally eats a lot of chocolate.  (I certainly did.)  But as I was munching on a bar of Lindt milk chocolate, I realized that the image on the bar of chocolate made no sense to me.  WHAT is going on with this cup?  Why is the handle so strange?  (Did Dali do this illustration for them, or what?)  





If you don't know that this is called a "dipper," then it's a lot harder to figure out.  Luckily, I knew that word, and doing an Image search for: 


     [ milk dipper -constellation ] 

pretty quickly finds similar contraptions.  Note that I added in the -constellation to get rid of all the "Big Dipper" constellation images.  



And once you see these "cups with odd handles," you'll learn that they're called dippers.  

Unfortunately, I couldn't find an exact match to the white cup shown on the label... but close enough.  

By the way, I tried doing a subimage search by cropping the logo to just the cup shown, but that only found more bars of chocolate, much to my surprise. Apparently, there ARE no images of the Lindt white milk dipper cup.  (If you find one, let me know!)  

Of course, if English isn't your first language (or if you just can't think of what that word might be), remember that you can always use a reverse dictionary to help find synonyms or a word that fits your semantic notion of what you seek.  

For instance, you can use the OneLook reverse dictionary function like this: 


Here I searched for the phrase "cup used to..." (in the sense of "an X cup is used to...").  I don't know quite what X is, but as you can see, a bunch of great terms show up, most of which you can ignore safely.  (Acetabulum?  Acorn?  Agate?  Probably not.)  But when you get to dipper (number 64), you can do that search with that, and you're on your way.  

And you'll learn that the handle of the dipper is intended both to make it simple to hang onto the edge of a milk pail (or bucket), and the angle keeps it tilted away from touching possible contaminating surfaces.  



2.  One day I walked into a bakery in central Zürich and spying this delectable pastry, I ordered a croissant.  I was very surprised when the clerk said, "I'm sorry, we don't have any croissants."  But this is what I saw in the display case:  





Obviously, I successfully ordered this item. What SHOULD I have called this thing that looks-like-a-croissant?  When in Switzerland, what are these called?  
  
This surprised me when I first saw them in Zürich, but a quick search for: 

     [ Switzerland croissant ] 

taught me that they're called gipfeli in Switzerland, and as you probably found, there's quite a bit of back-and-forth about whether they're worse (or better) than traditional French croissants.  But then again, there's a fair bit of debate about the origins of the croissant as well.  When in Switzerland... 

3.  I understand more German than I speak, but every so often I would hear someone say something odd.  One construct I heard that seemed odd always involved people's names.  For instance, "Wo ist der Hans?"  Can you figure out why that sounds odd to me (a native English speaker), and why the word "der" is in that sentence? 

When I did this research, I knew that the word "der" is the definite article, so my first search was for: 

     [ definite article German names ] 

which took me to this fascinating article on StackExchange (which is often a very high-quality source for information about technical topics, including language).  The nice thing about the StackExchange is that you can read multiple comments with different perspectives.  This article points out that using the definite article before a proper name is a southern German-speakers convention.  It's a pattern that's clearly used in places like Bavaria, and down south into Switzerland and Austria.  


4.  Speaking of understanding German... One Saturday evening I was attending a concert at one of the local churches, which are often venue for chamber groups.  The director stood up at the beginning of the concert and started speaking in German.  "No problem," I thought, "I can understand this!"  I listened happily for a couple of minutes until suddenly, everything changed:  He was still speaking, and it sounded like German, but I couldn't understand anything!  Can you explain what happened in my few minutes of non-understanding?  

For this Challenge, I started simply with the query: 

     [ language in Switzerland sounds like German ] 

where I quickly learned about Swiss German.  I guess I'd learned about it before, but I'd never noticed it in a public forum, and read several articles--here's one from Quora--about how it really IS different than standard "High German" (Hochdeutsch).  Here's another article about the differences, but the differences are substantial, which explains why it would be unintelligible to a German-speaking neophyte like me.  

Search Lessons


1. Reading in a topic area after a simple query can often answer questions.  Although my initial query about the milk dipper didn't initially answer my question, after skimming through images to find near look-alikes, it became clear what was going on.  

2.  When searching for a difficult topic, consider the possibility that you don't have the right query terms!  In particular, remember to think about using an alternative way to say something.  Using a reverse dictionary can often give you insights into other terms.  As you saw in the above example, you can suss out other works that you can't think of by trying out phrases you think would be in a plausible definition. (That's what I did with the phrase [ "cup used to"] on OneLook's reverse dictionary.)   
Search skills don't make cultural differences vanish, but they definitely make the world more intelligible!  

Search on! 


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Search Research Challenge (5/10/18): Swiss mysteries?


I've spent a fair bit of time in Switzerland... 

... over the past couple of years.  Partly it's because I go there for work, but part of my work last year was teaching a semester-long class in Social Computing at the University of Zürich.  

But as with any place where you're the new guy, there are certain mysteries that crop.  Here are a few that came up for me.  I figured them out, but can you figure out as these little trans-cultural mysteries as well?  (Of course, if you're Swiss, you'll have a huge advantage here..)  


1.  When in Switzerland, one naturally eats a lot of chocolate.  (I certainly did.)  But as I was munching on a bar of Lindt milk chocolate, I realized that the image on the bar of chocolate made no sense to me.  WHAT is going on with this cup?  Why is the handle so strange?  (Did Dali do this illustration for them, or what?)  




2.  One day I walked into a bakery in central Zürich and spying this delectable pastry, I ordered a croissant.  I was very surprised when the clerk said, "I'm sorry, we don't have any croissants."  But this is what I saw in the display case:  



Obviously, I successfully ordered this item. What SHOULD I have called this thing that looks-like-a-croissant?  When in Switzerland, what are these called?  
  

3.  I understand more German than I speak, but every so often I would hear someone say something odd.  One construct I heard that seemed odd always involved people's names.  For instance, "Wo ist der Hans?"  Can you figure out why that sounds odd to me (a native English speaker), and why the word "der" is in that sentence? 


4.  Speaking of understanding German... One Saturday evening I was attending a concert at one of the local churches, which are often venue for chamber groups.  The director stood up at the beginning of the concert and started speaking in German.  "No problem," I thought, "I can understand this!"  I listened happily for a couple of minutes until suddenly, everything changed:  He was still speaking, and it sounded like German, but I couldn't understand anything!  Can you explain what happened in my few minutes of non-understanding?  



I suspect that Regular SRS readers will make short work of these questions.  But knowing how to search for these small cultural questions as they arise was a great source of comfort to me as I was navigating throughout central Europe.  Search skills don't make cultural differences vanish, but they definitely make the world more intelligible!  

Let us know how you found the answers!  

Viel Glück!  

Search on... 


Friday, May 4, 2018

Answer: What do these symbols mean?

Symbols are SUPPOSED to be easy...  

But as we found out this week, if you don't already know what a symbol means, it's sometimes difficult to figure it out.   
For instance, this symbol means biohazard.    

And this one is easy to search for:  A search-by-image of the above symbol quickly leads you to the best guess for this image, "Biohazard symbol."  You can click on the Wikipedia link, which takes you to an Internet Archive page with the history of this symbol's development.  (Interestingly, the symbol's designer, is quoted as saying that "...".)  You can hear a great 99%-invisible article, but NOT a podcast, on this topic at their Biohazard.  

  

1.  This blue cross (it really IS blue) with a stick and a snake that I found on an inside wall:  What does it mean?  Where would you normally see this?  How important is this to me?  Here's a photo I found in a building:  



Interestingly, the search-by-image method doesn't work on this picture.  If you modify the query by adding the term "medical"  (which you could guess at because this is clearly some kind of medical symbol with the Rod of Asclepius--an easy search with [ rod snake symbol ])


As you can see, there's a hit in the "Visually similar images."  When you visit that page, you learn that it's called an "Emergency star"  (although notice that this hit has a caduceus, with 2 snakes, a symbol we've talked about before).  
Next I did a search for: 
     [ emergency star blue snake symbol ] 
and found this: 
It's easy to find that this is the "Star of Life," originally designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and trademarked in 1977.  Since then, it’s become the general symbol for emergency medical services. At the middle is the Rod of Asclepius, whose name in invoked in the original Hippocratic Oath. 

Around the staff and snake are the six points of the Star of Life, each point signifying the stages of EMS care: detection ; reporting (e.g. dialing 911); response; on-scene care; care in transit (the ambulance); and transfer to definitive care (a hospital, typically).

And, in particular, I found this symbol on the wall of an elevator where it means that the elevator is big enough to hold a stretcher. 


2.  Here's another symbol--a box with arrow.  The only clue I have about this is that it was in a parking lot... on the ground, shown on top of a plastic traffic dot that's cemented to the ground.  What does this mean? 

This turned out to be a bit tricky.  
The obvious image search trick doesn't work, and even the subimaging trick we've used before doesn't work, primarily because the image is too small.  (When you clip the image to just the symbol, it's less than 100 X 100 pixels, which is hard to search.)  
I re-drew this using Google Drawings and created an image that looked like this: 
And THEN did a search-by-image.  
Didn't work. It got close, but nothing exactly right... 
So I kept modifying the query after the Search-by-image until I tried:  [ box arrow logo ] and found this as the Visually similar images: 

This is great, but there are lots of near misses, and nothing exactly like what I was looking for.  Here's the nearest miss I found, at a site called IconFinder!  
I fooled around a lot like this, and ended up trying many different combinations, all to no avail.  Finally, I took the image into Photoshop and did a bunch of filtering to extract a version of the image that looks like this:  
I searched for this, and found (on page 2) a link to the page I was seeking.  
When I saw Luís Miguel's solution in the comments, I thought I'd give him the floor here and describe more-or-less the same solution (but without Photoshop).  
Regular Reader Luís Miguel Viterbo writes: 

1. Zooming on image, on Chrome. I'm using an installed extension for this: Enhanced Image Viewer.
2. Grabbing and free-hand clipping the image with an installed app I use quite often: PicPick (this does screen captures of all kinds, but it's also a color picker, a pixel ruler, a protractor and more). 
3. Finding some online tool that stencils an image. My first Google Search result of [ image stencil generator ] is Rapid Resizer. I had to play with the different options to get a good result: I found "Thin", very "Dark" and totally "Sharp" yielded the best results. (The following image is worse than the one I go in my first try, which is the one I used for the next manipulation, but I didn't save it.)  [DMR: Note that Miguel made this a 621 X 587 pixel image; larger than the original clipped image.]  
4. Opening this image in Paint and cleaning (erasing) all that is not the outline.
5. Still in Paint, I tried to first fill the interior spaces using the Paint Bucket but it didn't work because edges are not continuous. So I had to draw thick lines over those that were already there. Straight lines and small curves at the corners. Finally, I filled the interior with black color to give me this: 
I find GIMP and Photoshop too unfriendly and their learning curve is terrible, so that's why I don't use anything other than these basic tools whenever I need. And I don't need them very often anyway.

6.  The unproductive "symbol" and "icon" search descriptions may very well have happened in my first search a week ago. I probably tried "parking", because it was in your description. I doubt remember having tried "traffic", which it's the only other word in your description that might be relevant. So my guess / half recollection is that my manipulated image, together with the descriptor "parking", yielded the OttoQ symbol. 
All of this finally gets you to this page by designer Nitin Prakash, which has the intriguing logo design: 

Ah ha!  This looks a lot like the logo we see on the traffic dot.  A quick search for: 
     [ "OttoQ" ] 
tells us that was a company that did real time parking data collection via OttoQ’s proprietary detection hardware (the dot seen above).  

And then, if you click on Image search, you'll see more of the answer: 

As Regular Reader Remmij pointed out, Ottoq seems to be out-of-business these days.  

Let me show you another photo I took that day: 

With this additional bit of context (there's one dot per parking space), it's clear this is a traffic management solution.  

3.  And lastly, a symbol that I've found on the side of a few walls in the city.  What could this possibly mean? 

Here a Search-by-image works pretty well, leading us to several sites (here's one) telling us that this is a Siamese Connection marker.  (And what is a Siamese Connection?  Easy: [define Siamese Connection] to find that it's "...a pipe fitting that allows two or more fire hoses to be connected to a single standpipe riser at the same general location. It is so-called due to the visual similarity to Siamese twins."  They can also be used by a fire truck to increase the water pressure of the automatic sprinkler system of the building.  
Here's what the connection below this sign looks like:  

That's what it looks like (next to a sprinkler alarm bell).  As noted by several Regular Readers, this seems to be primarily a Canadian symbol.  I found this one in Montreal, Canada, where having a sign like this would be incredibly handy during a snowy winter, when the connector might well be hidden below a snow drift. 

Search Lessons 

There are a couple I want to point out: 
1.  Sometimes you have to make a sketch (or Shop the image) to get to a version of the picture that Search-by-Image will recognize.  In this case, Luís Miguel walked us through how he transformed the image using freely available tools to create a sketch that works well.  
2.  It's worth looking up symbols when you notice them--they might be useful (especially if you're trying to get a stretcher down that elevator)!  

This was a tough one this week.  Next week.. something simpler, and just for fun! 


Search on!  

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

SearchResearch Challenge (4/25/18): What do these symbols mean?

Symbols are supposed to be easy.  

The idea, after all, is that a symbol works across languages and let you glance at it, immediately understand what it means, in order to rapidly understand what's going on.  
In general, it's good to be able to know what the symbols mean (in case you really need to take action).  It's good to know that this means biohazard:  


But in my experience, I see all KINDS of symbols that I don't understand.  So, here are a few symbols I've found in my travels this past week.  Can you tell me what they mean?  I don't know if they're important or not... which kind of defeats the purpose!  

1.  This blue cross (it really IS blue) with a stick and a snake that I found on an inside wall:  What does it mean?  Where would you normally see this?  How important is this to me?  Here's a photo I found in a building:  



2.  Here's another symbol--a box with arrow.  The only clue I have about this is that it was in a parking lot... on the ground, shown on top of a plastic traffic dot that's cemented to the ground.  What does this mean? 



3.  And lastly, a symbol that I've found on the side of a few walls in the city.  What could this possibly mean? 




As always, tell us HOW you found out the meaning of each.  Are they important symbols?  (Meaning, do *I* need to know about them in the course of my daily life?)  

Search on!  


Friday, April 20, 2018

Answer: A few typographic questions?

The naming of parts... 

... can be tricky, but figuring out WHAT the parts of different things are called is an important SearchResearch skill.  

Let's jump right into it (especially since this post is a couple of days late--see at the end for details)... 

1.  What's this part of the numeral 1 called? (That is, the thing sticking like a flange off the front.  Here I've circled it with a yellow dotted oval.) 
       

Short answer:  It's call an arm, but you could be forgiven for calling it a serif, an ear, or a leg, since they're all close in meaning.  

Here's what I did to search for this. 

My go-to method for looking for the names of parts-of-things is to do an image search with the context term "diagram" -- like this: 
     [ typography parts of a numeral diagram ] 
I admit that I rapidly went through a bunch of queries kind of like this: 
     [ typography font parts diagram ] 
     [ typography font number diagram ] 
and so on until I found that first one which gave me a bunch of diagrams with all of the parts of different characters with neat labels on them.  There are MANY such diagrams, and they're not all consistent, but here's one that I like from Carson Park Design, Sans and Serif.  This is just the relevant bit of their beautiful diagram: 

Their PDF has a nice set of examples of different parts of characters, including the definition of an arm (or leg) as a "..a horizontal stroke that is free on one end."  
This is different than a serif which is a stroke added as a stop to the beginning and end of the main strokes of a character.  Historically it comes from the way characters were chiseled into stone in Roman typography.  


And of course, variations in typeface design can sometimes make it difficult to tell if it's a serif or an arm / leg / ear.  

And, confusingly, some numeral 1s don't have anything!  This is a Gill Sans number 1, which is terrible (in my opinion), especially when its used for part numbers or codes (e.g., I11i)  

Odd thing, I love Gill Sans in general, just not the choice about the I's and the 1s.  

2.  What this line that connects these two characters called? 
Can we use that same context term trick here?  
Yes, you can, and it works fine.  But I found that the query: 
     [ typography connected characters examples ] 
actually works better.  Why? Because here I'm looking for a definition, and not so much a diagram that labels the parts.  
In any case, the Sans and Serif diagram we saw before actually has a nice example of what connected characters are called:  

Just to check if this is a ligature for S and T, I did the query: 
     [ ligature "s t" ] 
and found a bunch of examples:  

On the other hand, if you dig deeply enough (and Miguel Luís clearly pointed out in the comments), you'll find that this connecting line is called a gadzook, and that the pair of letters + the gadzook is collectively called a ligature. 

But as we've discussed before, sometimes the language changes even during your own lifetime.  
This image is from Chris Do's beautiful animated video about many typographic terms.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=45&v=WzVl_ATHUQ0  -- check out the swash at 2:00 and the gadzook at 2:56 

3.  You often see elaborate / decorative characters in type.  Collectively, what are these kinds of characters called?  (This is handy to know if you want to search for them.) 


I admit that this was a bit of an open-ended question.  What I was trying to convey was the idea of the extended strokes--the decorative tail on the A and Z, and the little decorative serif-looking thing at the top of the A.  
I initially did this search by using a Reverse Dictionary, and searching for: 
     [ decorative fonts ] 
and found a lot of terms, but the first one I didn't know in the list was "swash."  What does that mean in the context of typography?  
I did a define: 
     [ define swash ] 
and found that the second definition is what I was looking for: 

This makes sense.  Now, armed with "swash" as a new term, I could do a search for: 
    [ swash typography example ] 
and find all kinds of interesting examples, like this one in Zapfino: 
It's a very calligraphic look, which is what swash is all about.  

4.  Every so often I want to use a character that I KNOW exists, but I don't know the name, so it's hard to find and I'm reduced to manual search.  Here are a couple of such characters.  What are they?  More importantly, how did you find out their names? 


There are many ways to find these characters.  Here's what I did for each: 
1.  What's that upside down A character?  I tried the obvious search: 
     [ upside down A character ] 
and found that "...The upside-down A symbol is the universal quantifier from predicate logic." 
It just means "for all"  as in the expression, "for all values of X, this statement is true..."  For example: 
        ∀ SRS topics X, Remmij will post something on Imgur.com 
2. For the ß character, I did a draw-special-character in Google Docs. 
As you remember, if you create a new doc in Google Docs, you can "Insert Special Character," and draw it in the box on the side, like this: 

Notice that it tells you what this character is ("Latin Small Letter Sharp S"), although it does note that it also looks like a Greek Beta symbol.  
But if I search for: 
     [ sharp s ] 
I land on the Wikipedia page about "Sharp S" (aka Eszett, or Sharfe S).  

3.  I did the same trick with the 3rd character, and found that it's called a thorn character.  The thorn (more properly, the þorn character) is a letter in the Old English, Gothic, Old Norse and modern Icelandic alphabets.   Capital:  Þ, Miniscule form: þ
As Luís and Remmij both pointed out, the web site Shapecatcher does exactly this--you draw in the character, and it identifies it for you.  


Search Lessons 


1. You can search for characters by using the insert special character method in Google Docs.  Easy, and it opens up the world's orthography to you.  

2. Context terms can be really useful, especially when looking to labeled diagrams of things that you don't know.  "Diagram" is my favorite, but note that these context terms vary from language to language.  You'd use schema in German to find more-or-less the same thing. 

What's your favorite context term in your language?

Or, what's your favorite context term in English?  (I'm always finding new ones.  Are there ones you know about that you'd like to share with us?) 

Search on!  

--- 

Why is this post delayed?  

Well, it's the conference time of year, and this year I'm in Montreal for the Computer-Human Interaction conference in Montréal, Canada.  Just before coming here, I was visiting Dalhousie University in Halifax, just a 90 minute flight away from Montréal.  

To make things more complicated, I'm finishing up work on my book... so THAT's taking time as well.  

But I'll be back next week, on Wednesday, with a new Challenge.  

Stay tuned for even more searching...