Friday, October 31, 2014

Answer: Notice anything odd about these sites?

This week's Challenge was to say what's odd about these three really interesting sites.  For each site, the question is the same:  What strikes you as odd about this web site?  If you run across this site, what triggers you to dig a little more deeply into what's going on here?  

This kind of thing happens all the time whey you're doing your research.  You see a site and almost instantly make a kind of provisional credibility assessment. (See ref [1] below: TL;DR--you have less than 1 second to make a good first impression. Your mom was right: first impressions count.)  

See anything odd about these sites?  

RYT Hospital
1.  RYT Hospital  A new hospital describes its services.
Is this a real hospital?  How can you tell one way or the other?
What tells you that it's real?  Does anything make you suspicious?

When I first found the RYT Hospital site, I was very impressed. It's got gorgeous graphics and a slick interaction style.  Someone clearly spent a lot of time crafting this site to make it have a high gloss, high-tech feel to it. 
I was frankly impressed... until I saw the section on "male pregnancy."  THAT seemed pretty suspicious.  (As a scuba diver, I know that male seahorses carry their young, but humans?  Really?)  
That extraordinary claim required some extraordinary support.  So my first move was to check on the RYT Hospital from some independent source.  I did the obvious search to second-source something about RYT Hospital: 
     [ RYT Hospital ] 
and quickly found that it's prominently featured in lists of online hoaxes.  

And if you just watch the suggestions that pop-up as you search, there's a bit of a hint right there: 

and the fact that I couldn't find a legit street address for them made me suspicious.  ("Avenue of the Americas" is AKA 6th Avenue in NYC.  A quick check shows no hospitals actually on 6th Ave.)  
If you keep digging, pretty quickly you'll find that "Elizabeth Preatner" is the only MD whose name you'll find on the site.  Checking into her (which is a great credibility checking step) reveals that she's pretty sketchy as well.  
Unfortunately, she also appears in the book "Case Studies in Biomedical Research Ethics," a serious text from MIT Press--a publisher that doesn't usually condone hoaxes.  So what's going on?  
Answer:  Keep digging.  
On the other hand, Elizabeth Preatner also appears in the book "Teaching Information Fluency:  How to teach students to be efficient, ethical and critical information consumers," a book all about debunking such misleading sites.  (If you're interested in this kind of critical analysis, this book is well worth checking out.)  
Conclusion: Pretty bogus.  But it is beautifully done. 

2.  Ann Kirkpatrick runs for re-election.
Does anything strike you as odd about this site?
What can you do to verify that it's an accurate site?
Is it?
The first thing that tipped me off here was the dissonance between the appearance of the site (looks like a fundraising site) and the language of the site.  Everything is fine until you read the negative language that's in play here:  " Pelosi's back pocket.." or "Kirkpatrick is a huge embarassment.." or "..she doesn't even do her job.."  
This all sounded really out of joint.  
So I did a WHOIS search on the site name and found this: 

It doesn't take long to find out that this site was created by  Look them up and you'll find:  "The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is a political committee devoted to increasing the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives." 
This is classic political dirty tricks: Setting up a bogus website that spreads negative information about the competition.  (It helps to notice that Ann Kirkpatrick is a Democrat.)  
If you actually click on the big DONATE button, you're immediately taken to a web page that clearly says what their goal is.  

Conclusion:  Bogus, and a bit of political trickery besides.  

3.  Dihydrogen Monoxide  Some chemical compounds are deadly.
Is dihydrogen monoxide inherently dangerous?
How would you know? 

 When I first saw this I was surprised that there was something that sounded toxic, but that I'd never heard of before.  How could this be?  

I have to admit that I picked up on the questionable nature of this site pretty quickly.  I thought "So what IS dihydrogen monoxide?"  And picked the nomenclature apart: 2 hydrogens with one oxygen atom.  That's H2O!  

That's what I did.  But suppose you didn't notice that right off the bat.  What would you do to check this? 

I scanned the pages, clicking around a bit to just check things out.  That's when I started to notice some things that were a bit off.  

Klein bottles for sale?  (You could look them up: it's a mathematical construction that you can't actually make in the real world, although you can buy representations of them.  Regardless, it's incompatible with the point of the web site.) 

Then there's the statement at the bottom of the page:  "Content veracity not implied."  

Finally, I clicked through the press kit information.  (Login: press, Password: press.)  

And there, the author, Tom Way, fesses up.  He created the site in late 1997 as a way to vent steam about the ways in which reporting about chemistry was being mishandled.  He made the site to point out a bit of critical thinking skills.  It's a hoax site with a message:  Read these things carefully.  

In a nice mini-essay, Preston MacDougall writes about how this site nearly took in the Aliso Viejo city council:  Chemical Eye on Scientific Literacy 

Conclusion:  Bogus, but done with an eye towards teaching us about overblown language, and the value of careful reading.  

Search Lessons:  

You've probably heard these before, but they bear repeating.  

1.  If something sounds too good (or amazing) to be true, it probably isn't.  Check your facts.  Look up the person.  Verify the address.  Male pregnancy?  Amazing.  Check it out before you check it into your brain. 

2.  Dig a little deeper.   We've talked about using WHOIS before.  It's a basic skill whenever you run into a site that you don't know about.  Make sure you know who's posting that content.  (Quick summary:  [ whois ] click on one of the links offering this service, then enter the web site address to find out who's running the site.  

3.  You can learn a lot by looking around.  .. as Yogi Berra said.  In the DHMO case, there's lots of things to be learned by discovery.  When you see a site like the one for Ann Kirkpatrick, dig a little bit.  If you click through the "Donation" button, you're immediately taken to a clearly identified site that's from the opposition.  (Just don't give them your credit card, and careful with those autofill form things.)

And I'm happy to repeat Fred's link here:  The Google post about "How not to get tricked online"  (It's not really about searching, but generally good advice about online good practices.)  

Or.. this poster I saw in the train station in Edinburgh last week.  More good advice. 

Search on!  

[1]  Lindgaard, Gitte, et al. "Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!." Behaviour & information technology 25.2 (2006): 115-126.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Search Challenge (10/29/14): See anything odd about these sites?

YOU have to stay ALERT.  

The internet is full of amazing, fascinating, incredible stuff.  And that's the question for today: credible?  Or incredible?  

Watch your step.  There are dragons in the world.  

Here, for your contemplation, are three really interesting sites.  For each site, the question is the same:  What strikes you as odd about this web site?  If you run across this site, what triggers you to dig a little more deeply into what's going on here?  

See anything odd about these sites?  

RYT Hospital
1.  RYT Hospital  A new hospital describes its services.
Is this a real hospital?  How can you tell one way or the other?
What tells you that it's real?  Does anything make you suspicious?

2.  Ann Kirkpatrick runs for re-election.
Does anything strike you as odd about this site?
What can you do to verify that it's an accurate site?
Is it? 

3.  Dihydrogen Monoxide  Some chemical compounds are deadly.
Is dihydrogen monoxide inherently dangerous?
How would you know? 

Please leave your analysis in the comments below.  Don't just say "it's obviously bogus" or "it's obviously correct."  Say WHY you think that, and what research steps you took to validate / invalidate the claims of the site.  

And say what--if anything other than being on the "Search Challenge" page--led you to question its authority!  

Search on... credibly! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Update on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

If you enjoyed the Search Challenge about Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, you'll enjoy looking at this collection of images that are coming from the Philae orbiter.  Check out the full set of pics at Imgur "This is what the surface of a comet looks like" or see the Comet Watch blog.  

Here are a couple of images from ESA to get your imagination going.  

Stop looking at silly cat tricks on YouTube, and take a look at what's going on in deep space... 


Friday, October 24, 2014

Answer: Where are these places?

Once again, I'm impressed with the search savvy of the SearchResearch Irregulars!  Nice job.  

Obviously, I'm here, looking at these places in real time, but here's what I would have done, if I'd been somewhere else...  

1.  What is this strange obviously artificial waterway?  Did it serve any particular function?  If so, what?  

The lat/long is 55.913090, -3.258981    Link to full-size photo.

I would have just dropped this coordinate into Google Maps; that shows this.... 

If you've seen enough maps, you'll recognize this as a flume (or mill race) that's diverting water from the river (in this case, the poetically named "Water of Leith") to turn the wheel of a mill.  Another clue can be seen in the name of the road at the top right--"Katesmill Rd"--I'm willing to bet there's a mill here.  

If you switch to Satellite mode view, you can see something even more telling.  Scan up-river from that point on the flume, and you can just barely see the suggestion of a weir (that is, a low-dam used to hold back water to feed the flume).  

By switching to Google Earth, I was able to go back in time and get a clearer view of the weir. (You can see the riffles in the water below the weird.)  

Another way to check would be to search for: 

     [ mill Water of Leith Katesmill Edinburgh ] 

And you'll quickly find an official City of Edinburgh map that shows the flume at that location, along with a few history sites that tell us there are actually a couple of mills there--Kate's mill, originally a waulk (or fulling) mill was converted to a paper mill in 1653. It was remodelled in 1787 and then renamed Kate's Mill. 1832 it was owned by Alex Cowan and Son and there is now a private house on the mill site.) Redhall Mill, on the same flume started operation in 1718 making paper for banknotes. In 1742 the mill changed to the production of barley and later became a plastics factory. In 1970 Redhall Mill was converted into flats. (All this information is from the Sapphire project to collect Scottish mill history.)  

Here are a couple more images to show you the ground truth at this site. 

Here you can see an old mill wheel on the flume.  A date engraved on the bridge (from which I took this picture) is 1839.  

And just so you can correlate the above aerial image with a view of the weir from the ground, here's the weir.  

Water of Leith weir that feeds Redhall and Kate's mills.  

2.  The church shown below is associated with a famous writer.  Who is the writer, and what's the connection?  (If you're feeling on top of your game, what's the tree on the right of the image got to do with the right?) 

Link to full-size photo.
Again, for this I'd turn to maps.  Since you know I didn't run very far from the flume (all the pictures were taken within a few minutes of each other), the simplest way to track this down is to check out the map and search for churches.  

All I did was zoom out a bit and look for the church symbol.  The Colinton Parish church shows up at the bottom of the map, only a few hundred yards away. 

See the church icon in the lower right?
Alternatively, you could zoom out just a bit and do a search for: 

     [ church ] 

then click on the "List View" option and see this: 

Clearly, the Colinton church is closest.  

The association with a writer? 

     [ Colinton Parish church author ] 

leads us to many articles linking the famous novelist Robert Louis Stevenson with Colinton and this church in particular, since he spent many summers in Colinton when his grandfather was the parish minister.  What's more, reading a bit farther down in the SERP, you'll find that a statue of RLS was set up just outside the parish church gate.  

This is also available on SteetView, BTW. 

And the tree?  It's a yew treet (which the sign behind RLS says).  

A query for: 

     [ robert louis stevenson yew tree church ] 

quickly shows us the web page for "The Swing" which is the cafe in the courtyard of the church.  So named, as their web page says,  

"The name The Swing CafĂ© was inspired by a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson whose grandfather had been the minister at Colinton.  Stevenson wrote the poem about the swing in the manse garden where he had played as a child.  The location of the swing can be seen, outside the Dell Room window, in the old yewtree."  

3.  How long is this tunnel? 

Link to full-size photo.

By now you can tell that a search for: 

     [ Colinton tunnel ] 

will tell you everything you need, including links to Flickr pages with photos of the tunnel (not taken by me) that describe it as being 153 yards long.  I double-sourced that just to check, and yes, all of the other pages describe it as between 153-154 yards (140.8 meters).  This railway was central to the expansion of Edinburgh out into what is now the suburbs.  (And FWIW, gave easy access to the mills along the Water of Leith.)  

Search lessons:  

Hope you found this an interesting Challenge.  There are a couple of insights here as well. 

1.  Learning how to recognize features on maps is still a useful skill.  That thin blue line next to a river is a dead giveaway of a flume.  (See if you can spot some others in places you might know about!)  

2.  Remember to check the satellite views AND the archival Google Earth images.  Only one of the images actually shows the weir.  It's a fairly deep gorge, and Edinburgh is pretty far north so many of the pictures only show shadow.  Check other sources.  

3.  The Maps list view is sometimes a very handy way to see a large number of hits on a single map.  Check out this view of the coffee shops of downtown Boulder, CO.  Where would YOU go for coffee?? 

And... because I know you're wondering, here's the poem that was inspired by the yew tree in the courtyard of the Colinton Parish church.  

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!

- Robert Louis Stevenson 

Source: A Child's Garden of Verses (1999)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Search Challenge (10/22/14): Where are these places?

I'm traveling again, and took a few photos on my run this morning. They were all taken within 15 minutes of each other on an overcast morning.  

I need your expert help in getting a bit of information about the scenes and locations they depict.  For each photo, a link to the full image is given by the link in the caption.  
(I did it this way so you can easily get to the full resolution of the image, without making this page gigantic and slow to download.)   

1.  What is this strange obviously artificial waterway?  Did it serve any particular function?  If so, what?  

I'll save you a step: the lat/long is 55.913090, -3.258981    Link to full-size photo.

2.  The church shown below is associated with a famous writer.  Who is the writer, and what's the connection?  (If you're feeling on top of your game, what's the tree on the right of the image got to do with the right?) 

Link to full-size photo.

3.  How long is this tunnel? 

Link to full-size photo.

 I ran through the tunnel, so I have a good idea.  But here's picture from roughly the middle.  

Can you help me out with my research?  

Search on!  (And be sure to tell us HOW you figured these Challenges!)  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Answer: A few musical questions

These questions weren't that hard, but they're definitely interesting.  Let's answer them one-by-one, then wrap up with an observation.  

1.  What's a plagal cadence?  What does it sound like?  Where might I have heard one before?   

That's a funny phrase, "plagal cadence," so the obvious thing to do is first get the definition and work from there.  

     [ define plagal cadence ] 

 quickly tells us that:  "...A Plagal Cadence refers to the chord progression of IV to I or Subdominant to Tonic. As such, it is the cadence most often used at the end of hymns for the final "A-MEN."  

Ah.  It's at the end of many hymns--that's where you might have heard it before.  In the key of C, it's a shift from an F chord to a C chord.  Interestingly, as the "Amen" tag, it's really a separate kind of little "coda" to the main body of the hymn.  You know, you sing the entire hymn, and then you sing, "Amen."  

As the Wikipedia article points out (correctly) in quoting William Caplin's text [1], "...Most examples of plagal cadences given in textbooks actually represent a postcadential codetta function: that is, the IV-I progression follows an authentic cadence but does not itself create genuine cadential closure."

Yeah.  What I said, except clearer.  

If you scroll down a bit in the SERP for [ define plagal cadence ] you'll see a YouTube video.  That suggests checking out YouTube for examples.  Sure enough, if you do a search on YouTube for [ plagal cadence ] you can find a LOT of examples.  Depending on how much music theory you know, you might want to click around in that list until you find an example that makes sense to you.  (Unfortunately, there's not a good way to find "beginner" vs. "expert" videos.  I happen to like the video by Duane Shinn that illustrates different cadences in their musical context.  (A surprising number of short videos are purely chalk talks, which is great if you already know a lot!)  

2.  What's a Steely Dan chord?  Can you find an example of one that I can hear?  (That is, in isolation.  I know I can find lots of Steely Dan music online.)  

Following along in the same pattern, I did a: 

     [ define "Steely Dan chord" ] 

 Which leads directly to a nice page by Howard Wright all about the "Steely Dan chord," aka "mu major chord."  (Turns out that Howard Wright is a major Steely Dan / Joni Mitchell fan who has a nice collection of transcriptions and analysis of their sounds.)  

On that page is an MP3 collage of "mu major" samples from various Steely Dan tunes.   You can hear the chord there.  

As many of you pointed out in the comments, it's just a regular major chord with an added second.  (A regular C major triad would be C-E-G.  If you add a D in there, it's Steely Dan.)  This chord is characteristic of Steely Dan recordings.  As is true with many other musicians, they often adopt particular chords, chord voicings (the order of the notes in the chord top-to-bottom), or little idiomatic phrases to define their "sound."   (If you have a couple of minutes, you might listen to this class by James Taylor where he talks about some of his idiomatic licks that make his guitar-playing sound so much like "James Taylor.")   

3.  Is there any connection between trumpet playing and getting hemorrhoids? There are lots of anecdotes, but can you find reliable data on this?  

To tell you the truth, this is a common thing you hear musicians say.  (As are comments about the intelligence of viola players...)  So I was curious what we could find out.  

To quickly scan the published scholarly literature I turned to with the query: 

     [ trumpet player OR playing hemorrhoids ] 

and fairly quickly found the Master's thesis of M.R. Dyk (1991) about the physical and psychological disabilities of professional musicians.  In that thesis she repeats the association of hernias and hemorrhoids with trumpet performance, but gives no citations or data. 

I then went to PubMed (the medical literature search service of the National Library of Medicine) and did a simpler search,  just [ trumpet hemorrhoids ] and found... nothing.  

As Debbie G pointed out, there IS a Google Group that started as a support group for trumpet players with this issue, but it only went for 10 messages before petering out.  

After chasing a few other leads like this (which all ended up without any citations), I'm going to conclude that this is a musical urban legend (unless someone finds a study or a longer set of discussions about this).  FWIW, people have been saying this about oboe players as well... 

4.  I love listening to the music of folk singer Jez Lowe.  In his lyrics he keeps mentioning Durham (such as "Back in the Durham Jail").  Problem is there're a lot of Durhams in the world.  Which Durham is he talking about?  
This sounds like another question for YouTube.  A search for [ Jez Lowe ] to get an overview.  The SERP shows "Back in Durham Jail"  (also, "Back in Durham Gaol").  That's interesting and great.  Lots of great songs, but little biographical information.  But a simple web search tells me that Jez Lowe was born in County Durham in the northeast of the UK.  When I go back and look at the lyrics, it's pretty clear Durham County, not far from Northumbria and Scotland, the former coal mining region, is the place he's referring to.  (And it explains his accent. Example of County Durham accent. Notice the way she says "water.")   

Search Lesson:  As I said, these weren't that difficult, but I wanted to highlight the value of YouTube as a resource (for plagal cadences and "Steely Dan chord" examples).  
On the other hand, finding a lack of resources suggests an urban myth or a fable.  I wasn't able to find anything definitive about the hypothetical trumpet-playing/hemorrhoids connection. While this doesn't rule it out, it definitely suggests a non-connection... 

Hope you enjoyed the searches and what we discovered in the process! 

[1] Caplin, William E. (1998). Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Oxford University Press. pp. 43–45. ISBN 0-19-510480-3.