Thursday, October 12, 2017

About those fish...

A couple of weeks ago...

I posted a few fishy pictures with the cryptic question "Have any ideas where these are, or where I am?" 

The SearchResearchers rose to the Challenge and were able to identify my location pretty well!  

Regular Reader Chris wrote in that: 

Picture 1 looks like some sort of Serranid- I'm guessing an Anthias which are widespread in the South Pacific, but it doesn't look like the endemic species for Fiji, but comparing google image searches for [anthias fiji] and [antihas vanuatu] tends to lean towards Fiji as the location 
Picture 2 is a Clown fish- once again could be anywhere in South Pacific- The yellow colour is different to what I normally see in Australia 
Picture 3 I don't recognise- maybe a clown fish again - I'm guessing this is the one that identifies the island group 
Picture 4 is a yellow tail fusilier - very common in both Vanuatu and Fiji

While Remmij and Ramón both identified the fish and the geography those fish cover.  They also figured it out as Fiji, but Remmij went on to check species co-occurence by trying to figure out what kind of anemone that particular anemone-fish was living with.  

That's a great strategy, and if I'd thought about it, I would have included a better picture of the anemone (which would have helped identify it).  

Alas, this particular anemonefish, Clark's Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) happens to be pretty undiscriminating:  "Clark's anemonefish is the least host specific anemonefish, living in association with all ten species of sea anemones that host anemonefish..."  

The SearchResearchers are superb.  Excellent job. 

But here's what I would have done:  I would have saved all of the images to my desktop and noticed that they look like this: 

Truthfully, I'd forgotten that I'd left all of the filenames on the images, so that when you saved them, you'd see all of the identifying information.  

You correctly identified the Anthius in pic #1, and the Clark's anemonefish in #2.  The anemonefish in #3 is a "Fiji anemonefish" (Amphiprion barberi), although in this case the color is a bit off, so it's difficult to tell.  

The "fusiliers on parade" are, in fact, Blue and Yellow Fusiliers (Caesio teres). 

And, when you look at all of these different fish geographical range, it's pretty much narrowed down to Fiji.  

Remmij is correct--we were on the island of Taveuni, which is a very well-known dive location, home to the Somosomo Strait, and one of the world's best locations to see soft corals, which I didn't include in this set of images--I thought it would be too much of a give-away!

But here's a bit of video from our dives that gives a great sense of what it was like.  Listen carefully--you'll hear humpback whales singing in the background! 

Great job, SearchResearchers! 


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (10/11/17): How many people die each year in the US?

I don't mean to be macabre,

..but it's nearly both Halloween and the Día de los muertos. They're coming up fast during this time of the year.  Naturally, that makes me think about those souls that have passed on before us, and being a naturally inquisitive person, I wonder about how it is that people die... in general.  Do you know off-hand?  I don't.  

Before you answer that question, give it a thought:  What's your intuition about this?  In the US, what fraction of people die from car accidents?  It is as much as 10% of all deaths in a year?  15%?  Or is it as low as 2%?  How many people die from other kinds of accidents, like falls from a high ladder or slipping on a banana peel?  Is that a significant fraction, or is it less than 1%?  

What of different medical conditions?  What fraction of people die from heart attacks vs. cancer vs. infections?  Which is a higher proportion of all deaths--medical causes or accidental causes?  I realize I don't know the answers to these questions, even though it's an important piece of data to know.   

This week we have just two questions: 

1. How many people die (from all causes) each year in the United States?  

2. What are the top 5 causes of death in the United States?  (As a fraction of the whole.)  

The real SearchResearch question here is going to be a somewhat tricky data source problem: Where do you get your data from, and why do you believe it's accurate?  

For instance, if you do this query on different search platforms, you get very different answers: 
Google: 2.47 million 
Wolfram Alpha:  2.67 million
Bing: 2.65 million (they don't answer it directly, but I did the math based on the data they show)

That's a difference of 200,000 between Alpha and Google, which is slightly more than the population of Akron, Ohio!  How's that possible? What's going on?   

(An interesting contrast: Google says that there are approximately 4M births / year in the US; Bing gives the same answer, while Alpha claims there are 4.24M births each year.  240,000 birthdays is a big variation!)  

Let us know what you find out... and just as important, HOW you figured out the answer.  What sources do you seek out?  Do you trust them?  How much do you know about the methods they used to collect the data?  

Search on!  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Answer: The story behind these bodies of water? (Part 2)

And now, the exciting conclusion!  

4.  There's a story about the lake below that predates its existence.  Before the lake was formed by building a dam, what was here?  And why would they build a lake on top of it?
To solve this one, you need to first do a Search-By-Image (a search method we've covered before), and you'll find that this is the Altus reservoir (aka Lake Altus-Lugert near King Mountain, Oklahoma.  A quick search for: 
     [ underwater town lake Altus ] 
tells us that under the water lies the former town of Lugert.  Founded in 1902, Lugert (named for German immigrant Frank Lugert) was destroyed by a tornado on April 27, 1912.  When the reservoir runs dry, you can can see the old foundations of the houses which used to stand in the area. 
In 1926, the nearby city of Altus passed a bond measure to build a dam across the North Fork of the Red River as a source of city water, flooding the town of Lugert. The dam was completed in 1947. Not one to quit, Frank Lugert rebuilt his buildings and moved his General Store next to the lake and ran it until a few years before his death in 1958.
There are several interesting videos documenting the town of Lugert.  Here's one (with a lot of wind noise), but it's a fascinating walkthrough of the site: 

5.  Same question as before:  What WAS here... but now you have to cast your search skills back 10,000 years.  What was in this location 10,000 years ago, and why is that interesting?   (This is at lat/long 54.83333333,  2.333333333)

This is a bit of an odd question:  What WOULD have been in the middle of the North Sea 10,000 years ago?  Luckily, more than a few people have written about this topic.  My query was: 
     [ North sea 10000 years ago ] 
This query leads quickly to a bunch of articles about Doggerland, an area now beneath the southern North Sea that connected Great Britain to continental Europe during and after the last glacial period.
It was flooded by rising sea levels around 6,500–6,200 BCE. Geological surveys have suggested that it stretched from Britain's east coast to the Netherlands, western Germany, and Denmark. Most likely, it was an area with extensive habitation in the Mesolithic period. Rising sea levels gradually reduced it to low-lying islands before its final submergence, possibly following a tsunami caused by the Storegga Slides
This area would have been a region of fairly flat lowlands, maybe with ponds, and certainly with people and wildlife.  To this day, fishing trawlers still pull up bits of human artifacts and pieces of wood from the forests that were drowned back then.  

Search Lessons 

1. Zooming around a map can find all kinds of things.  In the first Challenge, just zooming out a bit and looking around let us figure out that the strange vertically aligned ponds were all cooling ponds at Turkey Point.  Don't underestimate the value of just looking around.  As Yankee's catcher Yogi Berra famously said, "You can observe a lot by watching."  (His book.)  But remember... 

2.  Different zoom levels will show different layers of information.  If you zoom out too far, the label of the nuclear plant won't show up (but you'll see the name of the state).  If you zoom in too far, the state name information will be hidden, but you'll see the name of the local watery features (e.g., the name of the nearby bay, "Card Bay").  

3. Validate, validate, validate!  As we learned in the Nutrex spirulina pond example, there can be multiple owners (and multiple reasons) for long, narrow ponds.  In this case, we had to look carefully at the map, then search for other sources of information about what each of the nearby companies did. In this example, finding a YouTube video that was a guided tour of the Nutrex facility gave us enough visual information to confirm that what we saw actually were Nutrex bacteria-growing ponds.  

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the fish images a bit, and pose a new Challenge!  

Search on! 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Answer: The story behind these bodies of water... (Part 1)

Water sometimes hides many details. 

... and sometimes it hides a story as well.   As you remember from the SRS Challenge of 2 weeks ago: Why are each of these locations very interesting? 
1.  What's going on with all of these blue lines in the image below?  You can find this oddly arranged water/earth combination at Google Maps link.  There are several stories to discover here, but first--What is this? Why the strange water shapes? 

This one's not hard:  Just open Google Maps and zoom out a bit and switch to Satellite view:  

You'll see an obvious structure at the northeast corner of the long stripes of water.  If you zoom in a bit on that, you'll get the answer quickly.  It's the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant. 

Then, when you do the obvious search on Google, you'll see a few likely query completions as you enter your query.  PAY ATTENTION to these as you type--they're often great clues as to what you're searching.  In this case, we see that they're probably canals. 

If you go to the Wikipedia article, you'll see that they're "cooling canals," that is, where the hot water goes after it's been through the reactor.  This makes sense: they need some way to cool all of that hot water coming out of the heat exchangers.  The hot water wends its way through the canals to cool enough so it can be discharged into the ocean nearby.  

2.  Just below is picture of another oddly shaped and oddly colored bodies of water.  Why are these giant oval things such different colors? Maps link

I have to admit that this was a bit harder than I thought it would be. The simple and obvious SRS method is to just look this up in Google Maps.  When you do, you get this maps image: 

But it's a little hard to tell--are these long, oval ponds part of Nutrex or Cellana?  
I thought I'd check by searching for information about each company (the both produce algae as food and health supplements)--but most of the web content about both companies is marketing information.  That's fine, but how do I tell which ponds belong to which company?  
Zooming in helps.  If you zoom in on the Cellana facility, you'll see this: 

Notice that fence that surrounds the Cellana site?  (It's that dark line that goes all the way around.)  They have a nice 5-sided fence that encloses a bunch of nice light-brown production ponds.  
Interestingly, the home page for Cellana has a great photo of their production ponds. 
P/C Cellana home page

If you go to Google Maps and use the 3D controls, you can almost exactly match the point-of-view for this photo. 
P/C Google Maps. 
But that's not where the arrow is located: it's a bit farther south. 
By contrast, if you zoom in on the Nutrex facility, you'll see that the gate is clearly the entrance to this entire (and much larger) facility.  

Still, is it possible that Nutrex does something else?  I wanted a bit more confirmation that Nutrex (the company) actually operated the big oval ponds.  
After a number of attempts to find images of the Nutrex production facilities, I FINALLY thought about searching for a video that visited the facility.  My query was: 
     [ Nutrex production facility ] 
and I found a lovely video on Youtube with an interview at the Nutrex facility. In this video, a health columnist visits the place where spirulina (a particular kind of dietary supplement) is grown by Nutrex.  The video has two great frames.  Here's one frame showing an overview of the location: 

  And there's also this view of the large, white stirring paddles used at the end of each pond to keep the contents in motion. 

If you look carefully at the previous image, you'll actually see the large white paddles extending across the ponds.  This lines up with the previous image labeled as Nutrex by Google Maps.  
I'd say these ponds are owned and operated by Nutrex.  
Why the different colors?  It all depends on what's growing in each of the oval ponds.  Nutrex has two major products: Spirulina and astaxanthin.  Spirulina is a cyanobacteria that's rich green, and since it's their majority product, it takes up most of the space in the ponds (see all that green?).  Astaxanthin is a  keto-carotenoid that acts as an antioxidant, and comes from microalgae. It's dark red in color, hence the shades of red.  As the company website points out, some of the ponds at Nutrex with astaxanthin are a deep red.  

3. While we're in the odd-shapes-and-colors mode, what's going on here?  Why is the water so... red in some places and green in others?  What causes the color changes?  (Like the radio tower Challenge from last week, this is something I see nearly every time I fly into San Francisco.  Big hint: This body of water is never the same color twice...)   

From the text of the Challenge, it's clear that this is an area on the flight path into SFO. I know where the flight path is, but if you don't, a quick Google Image query will show you dozens of flight paths into the airport: 
      [ flight path landing SFO
Another Google Maps view of SFO shows a clearly very red/green path in the southeast corner of San Francisco Bay. 
I added an arrow to show the typical landing approach into SFO.
A simple query gives a bunch of good results: 
     [ red ponds San Francisco bay ] 

All of these tell us the same thing:  The large red and green-colored ponds in the Bay are salt ponds operated by the Cargill Company. 
The red and green ponds are caused by the organisms or algae living within them, not unlike the Hawaiian ponds. The microorganisms in each pond are determined by their tolerance to salinity, and the colors are reactions to the salinity level. Sea water is let into the ponds, and then they dehydrate over time, leaving sea salt, most of which is then used for chemical purposes (and not human consumption). 
The evaporation ponds vary from bright green (where low salinity encourages green algae, not unlike spirulina), to a deep coral pink or red hue that is caused by the algae Dunaliella at high salinity levels. A large number of brine shrimp give an orange color to mid-salinity ponds. 
Since 1854, salt has been one of San Francisco Bay's largest industries, with over 80% of its wetlands developed for salt mining. At one point, salt ponds covered over 16,500 acres, most of which was owned by Cargill, Inc. 
So now you know.  When you land at San Francisco and you see bright colors on the salt flats below, you're actually seeing billions upon billions of tiny animals... 

We're not done with this Challenge:  there are two more to go, but I want to get something out before this week ends, so I'm going to post this as Part 1, with a promise to give you the answer (and the Search Lessons) on Monday of next week as Part 2.  
(Why so busy, Dan?  Answer:  I flew back from the South Pacific on Saturday, then went immediately to teach a week-long class on Pragmatics of Ethnography at UC San Diego.  While it's a huge amount of fun to do, it also takes a lot of time.  Today (Friday, October 6) is the day when all of the research teams report their results... so it's a busy kind of day for me.  I'll be back at work on Monday, which means I'll have more time to write.)  
Until then, bula!  (And kudos to everyone who searched out what bula means...)  

Search on! 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Delay for 1 week...

Hi Regular Readers!  

As mentioned, I'm in a fairly remote place in the South Pacific, where the weather is warm, the scuba diving is magnificent, and the wifi is extraordinarily flakey.  

Since it's so tough to do any online research for this week's SRS Challenge, I'm going to delay my reply until I get back next Wednesday.

In the meantime, here are a few photos of things I've seen in the past couple of days.  Have any ideas what these are, or where I am?  (There are enough clues in these photos to narrow it down to a particular island group!) 

Search on! 

Notice that this next fish is a little different... 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (9/20/17): The story behind these bodies of water?

Water covers 75% of our planet... 

... and sometimes it hides a story as well.  In this week's Challenge, we have several locations that are covered in water, and hide their stories.  In each case below, can you figure out what's going on?  Why are each of these locations very interesting? 
1.  What's going on with all of these blue lines in the image below?  You can find this oddly arranged water/earth combination at Google Maps link.  There are several stories to discover here, but first--What is this? Why the strange water shapes? 

2.  Just below is picture of another oddly shaped and oddly colored bodies of water.  Why are these giant oval things such different colors? Maps link

3. While we're in the odd-shapes-and-colors mode, what's going on here?  Why is the water so... red in some places and green in others?  What causes the color changes?  (Like the radio tower Challenge from last week, this is something I see nearly every time I fly into San Francisco.  Big hint: This body of water is never the same color twice...)   

4.  There's a story about the lake below that predates its existence.  Before the lake was formed by building a dam, what was here?  And why would they build a lake on top of it?

5.  Same question as before:  What WAS here... but now you have to cast your search skills back 10,000 years.  What was in this location 10,000 years ago, and why is that interesting?   (This is at lat/long 54.83333333,  2.333333333)

As always, the Challenge is really to find the answer AND tell us HOW you did it!  Did you know the answer off the top of your head?  Or did you have to do a special kind of maps search to figure it out?  

Speaking of stories, starting tomorrow I'll be in an off-the-grid kind of place, doing a bit of research for future SRS Challenges.  I HOPE to be back on September 27th, but it's possible I'll still be off-the-grid.  If so, Don't Panic.  I'll be back to an internet connection soon. 

Until then, bula!  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Answer: What's that thing on the ground?

We see strange / odd / interesting  things every day...  

... but often we don't think to ask "Hey.. what is that thing?"  And it's corresponding Challenge:  "How can I find out about this??"  

One of my secret missions with SRS is to help all of us develop a working sense of curiosity... and more than that, to figure out ways to satisfy that curious twinge.

This is one such story.  

As I mentioned last week, I see this very strange antenna every time I fly into San Francisco airport.  This antenna is at 37.5469956,-122.2338807.   The big question I have every time is what is this thing??  

Here's an aerial view:  

It's a little hard to see in this image, but it's an strange beast of an antenna, with a large plate-like thing at the top of the mast.  Here's the side view:  

Can you see the hexagonal thing at the very top?  (Click on the image to zoom in. Or if you want to, download the image and you can zoom as much as you'd like.)  

At the fence I also found this, in case it helps: 

This is one of those everyday mysteries--things you see all the time without understanding what it is. But that's NOT what SRS is about!  When we see mysteries, we try to understand what's happening.  So.. .

Can you figure out the story here? In particular: 

1.  What IS the story behind this antenna?  (A bit of history, please.)   
Searching for the antenna numbers: 

     [ tower registration 1016438 ] 
     [ tower registration 1016439 ] 

 With both of these queries, we quickly learn from the FCC's site "Antenna Structure Registration" (ASR) program exists to keep track of any antenna structure that might be a potential flight hazard. In general, this includes structures that are taller than 200 feet above ground level or that may interfere with the flight path of a nearby airport.  SFO's runway is only 7.9 miles (12.7 km) away, and practically on the final approach path.  

Using Google Maps "Measure distance" feature, I found that the antenna is pretty much right on the flight path, which is why passengers on the left side of a landing plane will usually see the antenna.  
 The ASR program lets the FCC require painting and lighting of antenna structures that may pose a hazard to air navigation.  If the owner changes the antenna, they have to post an update (and get the FCC to agree to the change).  

The second result is the ASR database, which lets us look up these antenna registration numbers. That looks like this: 

This database shows the owner as Susquehanna Radio Corp. 

By clicking on the Registration Number link, I land on this page, which has lots of information about the tower, including who owns it...

As Regular Reader Jon pointed out, searching for: 

     [ Susquehanna radio corp antenna San  Francisco airport ] 

found a really nice posting about this antenna.  This site also tells us that this is an AM transmitter, and explains that the hexagonal frame at the top of the antenna is a 'top-hat' is an electrical height extender, which increases the boost for distance signal that couldn't be done because it's too close to the airport.  More generally, this kind of antenna is called a "mast radiator" antenna.  (With a really nice Wikipedia page on this topic.)  

2.  Why does it have that funny plate plate at the top?
We know part of the answer to this from our previous searches.  But doing a bit of background checking, the search:  

     [hexagon AM radio transmitting antenna] 

leads us to several pages with images.  (Where we quickly learn that the top-hat need not be a hexagon!  Squares seem to do just fine as well.)  The top-hat atop the mast can be see in the Wikipedia Category:Antenna masts with capacitive top hats  These "top hats" are sometimes used on the antennas used for AM broadcasting on the MF (medium frequency) and LF (long frequency)  bands, to increase the current in the top of the antenna, thereby increasing radiated power, allowing a shorter antenna to be used.

And by the way, if you zoom in enough on Google Maps, you can clearly read the red "HAZ" letters on the ground (required by the FCC, as specified in their ASR bulletins).  

3.  Who uses this antenna now, and for what purpose? 
This antenna obviously linked to the radio station KNBR/KNBC (Depending on era), transmitting on 680 AM. With the FCC ASR site showing the owner as Susquehanna Radio Corp.

Who are they? When you search for: 

     [ Susquehanna Radio Corporation ] 

you learn that this entity is now defunct, taken over a company called Cumulus.  (Interestingly, the ASR form says it's owned by Susquehanna--but the CONTACT information tells us that it's really owned by Cumulus.  Good to know their data is up-to-date, although the title isn't quite right.) 

"KNBR is an AM radio station licensed to San Francisco, broadcasting on a clear channel at 680 kHz from transmitting facilities near Belmont, California. KNBR's non-directional 50,000-watt class-A signal can be heard throughout much of the western United States and as far west as the Hawaiian Islands at night. For several decades, KNBR enjoyed a long history as the flagship station of NBC's West Coast radio operations."   
Finishing up with: 
"KNBR carried programs from ESPN Radio and KTCT aired shows from both ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio until 2013, when both stations switched to the Cumulus-distributed CBS Sports Radio. 
In 2015, KNBR's studios were relocated from 55 Hawthorne Street to 750 Battery Street after parent Cumulus Media consolidated its San Francisco radio stations in one building." 

Which is where things stand today.  The office is in San Francisco, but the old antennas (top hat and all) still stand and serve, red lights blinking, just about 8 miles from the airport.  

Search Lessons 

The biggest lesson is this: 

1.  Be curious about the world--spend a couple of minutes each day scratching that curiosity itch.  This blog is all about those tools and methods to search things out.  You've got the tools to do it!  

2.  Searching for the Tower Registration Numbers was a great place to start.  It's an obvious place to start, and I'm sure we would have found them by searching for the antennas from th place name, but given the numbers on the signs, that was wonderful.  It led us straight to the FCC ASR database, and the rest just fell out easily.  

Search on!