Monday, May 22, 2017

Answer: Finding cartoons despite their descriptions


This is a common problem. 

In fact, we've talked about the problem of mis-remembered names of books and songs before.    

The problem is that our human memories are chock full of errors.  Even memories that seem absolutely true and correct can be really, really wrong.  (See this Guardian article for a short simple test of how bad your memory is.)  




The big problem with remembering cartoons (or movies, or books, or short stories) is that we often get the details all wrong.  


The Challenge this week was to figure out the cartoons from just the descriptions below. Some people are chronologically gifted enough to just recognize them from their own experience.  But most people actually had to search them out.  

Given these descriptions, can you figure out what these two cartoons are?  How would you seek out such things?   


1. This cartoon features a character that's playing with (or fighting with) the frame of the cartoon.  It collapses, and he’s given a stick to prop it up.  Then the frame has a vertical hold problem, and keeps slipping down.  Of course, the end title (“The End”) comes in too soon and he ends up pushing it out of the frame.  Very funny—very meta-cartoonish.  Who is the main character in the cartoon, and what is the title of the cartoon? 
When faced with something like this, I'll often try a quick search with the description as the query, like this: 

      [ cartoon where character pushed "the end" out of the frame ] 

Frankly, I was impressed with how well this worked. 

The first result is the Wikipedia entry for the cartoon "Duck Amuck."  This surreal cartoon was directed by Chuck Jones and released in early 1953 by The Vitaphone Corporation as part of the Merrie Melodies series. In the cartoon, Daffy Duck is tormented by the unseen animator.  Daffy's locations, clothing, voice, and shape keep shifting during the cartoon. Of course, this outrages Daffy who attempts to steer the action back to some kind of normality, only for the animator to ignore him or, more frequently, to over-literally interpret his demands. At the very end, the big reveal is that the master animator is none other than Bugs Bunny.  (Of course.)  



I wasn't able to find a full-length version of the cartoon online, but here's a clip with the essential "pushing The End out of the frame" segment.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLcqUyMTM6Q


2.  This cartoon series is set in International Falls, Minnesota, with two animal characters who talk (naturally).  There are also two Russian characters whose names are puns.  What is the name of this cartoon series?   (And, for extra credit, what university did these two characters attend?) 
Since the method of just describing the result worked so well last time, I thought I'd try it again using the information I have at hand. 

     [ cartoon International Falls ] 

This time, unsurprisingly, it shows lots of results for the actual town of International Falls, Minnesota. 

But notice that snippet (I've highlighted the interesting bits in yellow below): 


Ah ha!  

Clearly, we misremembered the town of "Frostbite Falls" as the actual town name of International Falls.  (This is an obvious kind of memory mistake, substituting the actual name for the intentionally similar true name.)  

If we now do the obvious search for:

     [ Rocky Bullwinkle ] 

We'll find a lot of information about these two animated characters, including that the cartoon series had multiple names.  

     The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show 
    Rocky & His Friends (ABC)
    The Bullwinkle Show (NBC)
    The Rocky Show (Syndication)
    The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends (DVDs, international broadcast)
    Bullwinkle's Moose-A-Rama (Nickelodeon)

Rocky and Bullwinkle near Moosylvania

Their adversaries in most episodes are the two Russian spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.  (As you might have picked up, the series was rife with puns.)  

For the extra credit, I did searches for: 

     [ Rocky Squirrel university ] 

and 

     [ Bullwinkle university ] 

Both of these led me to learn that they attended Wottsamatta U?  (A clever mondegreen of "What's the matter with you?")  This was revealed in the ninth story arc from the fifth season (1963 - 1964).  

The episode with Wottsamatta U in it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSVq7X7OPeQ  



Search Lessons 


There are two big takeaways this week... 

1.  Memory is fallible, but search can help out.  In the case of "remembering" that the characters were from International Falls, I made an understandable error, replacing the name of "Frostbite Falls" with the actual name of the city.  This kind of substitution happens more than you'd think.  When you get stuck like this, remember that there's a subreddit just for you:  https://www.reddit.com/r/tipofmytongue/  (It crowdsources answers to questions like "I remember a book that was something like Travels With Charles... I think it was by Hemingway..." which is actually "Travels with Charley," by Steinbeck.) 

2.  Try the most basic description.  As we see, even near misses will often work, primarily because you're probably not the first person to make this slip of memory.  People will often document their near misses, and if you find the near miss, the link back is often simple enough to find.  


What a fun trip down memory lane!  Thanks for all the comments this week. 

Back on Wednesday with another Challenge.  

Search on! 






Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (4/17/17): Finding cartoons despite their descriptions

The other day... 

... I was chatting with some friends and we started to talk about the great cartoons from back in the day when we were kids.  

Naturally, the conversation went something like this:  "You remember that cartoon where... the rabbit did that weird thing with the edge of the film?"  Or "I'm sure you recall that one cartoon series with Russian characters... what were their names?"  



The big problem with remembering cartoons (or movies, or books, or short stories) is that we often get the details all wrong.  Doing our SearchResearch thing means that we can figure out the names and titles despite having almost all of the details be incorrect.  It's search in spite of the data... 

Here are two cartoon descriptions that we had a bit of trouble with, but I was able to figure out in the end with just the information provided here.  Until I did the searches, these "facts" were all we could remember.  

Given these descriptions, can you figure out what these two cartoons are?  

1. This cartoon features a character that's playing with (or fighting with) the frame of the cartoon.  It collapses, and he’s given a stick to prop it up.  Then the frame has a vertical hold problem, and keeps slipping down.  Of course, the end title (“The End”) comes in too soon and he ends up pushing it out of the frame.  Very funny—very meta-cartoonish.  Who is the main character in the cartoon, and what is the title of the cartoon? 
2.  This cartoon series is set in International Falls, Minnesota, with two animal characters who talk (naturally).  There are also two Russian characters whose names are puns.  What is the name of this cartoon series?   (And, for extra credit, what university did these two characters attend?) 

This is a bit outside of the normal SearchResearch Challenges, but it's an important category of research skill... finding something where the description is fairly inaccurate... but you've got enough information to find it anyway.  

Let us know how YOU found the answers to this week's Challenge!  

Search on! 


Monday, May 15, 2017

Answer: Things I had to look up this week

Fun time!  




Last week I posted my personal SearchResearch Challenges from the past week as the Challenge for you.  As I mentioned, these have fairly simple answers... but as usual, there's more depth here than you might have expected.  


1.  What's a placket (This might be obvious to you, but it's a word I've only ever heard before, so I had to look it up.  In the book I was reading, it seems to refer to both shirts AND petticoats, which doesn't seem to make any sense.  Can you tell me what it is and what the shirt / petticoat connection is?) 
I began by just looking up the definition with: 

     [ define placket ] 

which tells me that a placket is: 


So... it's a slit or opening in a garment covering fastenings (such as buttons or a zipper) OR it's the flap of fabric that's under such an opening.  

That's fine, but what do they look like? 

I clicked on the Images tab to see this: 


Clicking on the first image (upper left) took me to the Wikipedia entry on placket.  Really?  There's an entry on that?  Yes... and it's pretty good.  It told me that: 

 "...In modern usage, the term placket often refers to the double layers of fabric that hold the buttons and buttonholes in a shirt. Plackets can also be found at the neckline of a shirt, the cuff of a sleeve, or at the waist of a skirt or pair of trousers. 
Plackets are almost always made of more than one layer of fabric, and often have interfacing in between the fabric layers. This is done to give support and strength to the placket fabric because the placket and the fasteners on it are often subjected to stress when the garment is worn. The two sides of the placket often overlap. This is done to protect the wearer from fasteners rubbing against their skin and to hide underlying clothing or undergarments..." 

Alright then. Now I know.  

What about the petticoat connection?  Wikipedia to the rescue again.  In the "historical use" section of the article, we find that as placket was also considered to be: 

   1. A decorative panel or "forepart" attached to a woman's petticoat.
   2. An opening or slit in a skirt or petticoat to access a separate hanging pocket.
   3. A petticoat or skirt pocket.

All of which make sense--they're all slits in the garment intended to give access (or to allow buttons to connect two parts of the garment to connect).  


2.  Speaking of clothing, what's that little loop on the back of a man's shirts called? And WHY is it there?  
The obvious query works pretty well: 


Although the results are all from hobbyist or somewhat informal sources.  

The first result (from LifeBuzz) claims that they're called "locker loops," and are intended to hangup shirts on a hook in a locker, thereby NOT requiring lockers to have shirt hangers.  

Could be, but I wanted to be sure, so I kept checking around.  I checked the next three results, and they all provide the same answer, but with slightly different sources, which is good--they're not all just copying each other. 

The consensus is that a Locker Loop is an extra fabric ring located on the high center back of men's shirts, often associated with a particular brand (such as Gant, or Brooks Brothers).   

Most sources point to this little loop originally being used by East Coast sailors, who would hang their shirts on ship hooks when changing in a locker room. These loops became part of the Ivy league clothing style of the 1950s and 60s.  By the early 1960s, then had become known as ‘Fruit loops’ within some school settings (especially the Ivy League and many high schools).

Locker loops were still being used to hang shirts in locker rooms but were now also used to denote your relationship status or to show your interest. Young ladies would rip the locker/fruit loops on the shirts of boys they took a liking to. More than one male student removed his loop completely to show that he was taken, well before Tinder and Facebook's relationship status .  


3.  At the local pond, red-winged blackbirds  (Agelaius phoeniceus) are out in force. But this year, their songs seem slightly different.  Can you find out if their songs change from year-to-year? 

When I looked up this topic, I did almost exactly what Ramon did: 

     [ Agelaius phoeniceus song change ]

I started with the scientific name because I didn't want any confusion between different kinds of blackbirds (there are several).  
One of the first hits I found was a large collection of Agelaius phoencius songs.  If you listen to the different songs, you'll see they vary from place to place. The red-winged blackbirds in Florida don't sound exactly the same as the same species in California. (I hadn't thought about this.  I might have been noticing a regional variation, rather than a variation from year-to-year!)  
The second article in the SERP ("Song-related brain regions in the red-winged blackbird are affected by sex and season but not repertoire size") reminded me that bird songs also change seasonally (calls during mating are not the same as during other times of the year).  
So that's another possible explanation: seasonality effects could be causing the difference.  
On the All About Birds website, there's a nice page about the Red-winged Blackbird songs and call with a recording of 5 different calls.  (They're all very different, and perform different functions.  Territory identification, mating, alarm, etc.)  
In this same vein, the EarBirding page about red-wing blackbird calls mentions regional variations as well.  (Interestingly, they also cite a 1986 paper "Communication by Changing Signals: Call Switching in Red-Winged Blackbirds" that points out that signaling alarm, such as when a predator hawk appears, would cause a switch in the call they made.  But, "...which call type they switched to didn’t matter. That’s because it was not the call itself but the change in calls that sent the alarm signal.  
This is fascinating stuff, but what about changes over time?  
Ramón's query was:

 
   [red-winged blackbirds song OR call changes over years]

while mine was: 
     [ Agelaius phoeniceus song changes over time ]
These queries led both of us to the paper, Eastern Bluebirds Alter their Song in Response to Anthropogenic Changes in the Acoustic Environment (Integr Comp Biol (2015) 55 (3): 418-431) 
Doing a text search (CTL+F) for  “red-wing” shows that this behavior (that is, changing the song based on what man-made sounds are in the area and in response to other acoustic environment changes) also happens for red-winged blackbirds.  
What a result!  
This means that not only do red-winged blackbirds have regional variation, and time-of-year variation, and changes in calls by function... but they ALSO change in response to the local sounds!  
So, in the end, I don't know if the change I hear is actually year-to-year, or the result of time-of-year or changes in the local acoustic environment.  

My very last query was a generalization of this specific query.  This one was: 

     [ bird song changes over time ] 

and I found that indeed, several studies have show how a single species bird song in one location can change over the years.  Researchers at the University of Guelph published a paper showing how the Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichiensis) song had changed over 30 years of recordings in their paper, "Three decades of cultural evolution in Savannah sparrow songs." (PDF) Since they "know the identity of every single sparrow in the study," it's pretty clear that this is a long-term change.  
We know bird song can change by season, by reason, and by location, sometimes due to external factors such as man-made sounds or changes in the acoustical environment.  Now we see that there can be a cultural, long-term change as well.  
So... it's possible that I am hearing long-term change in my local pond's red-wing blackbird songs.  I just need to start recording for the next 30 years to find out!  

Search Lessons


1. When searching for fairly common items (that you don't know), be sure to check multiple sources--especially when the top hits are of popular blogs.  If you see a consensus, then it's probably correct.  (But remember to always double check!) 

2. Try a generalization of your query--you might find really useful information there.  As you saw above, when I tried searching for the more general "bird" rather than "red-winged blackbird" or Agelaius phoeniceus, I found some results that gave me insight into the song behavior that I would have otherwise been able to find.  This is a great strategy to remember when you're doing your research. 

Search on! 


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (5/10/17): Things I had to look up this week


After that last Challenge, it's time for some fun.  



As I read and write and wander about, I often come across things that I have to look up.  This week's Challenge questions aren't especially hard, but as always, be sure to verify that you found the correct answer.  (You'll almost always want to do at least two searches to make sure.)  

Here are my personal SearchResearch Challenges from the past week.  

1.  What's placket?  (This might be obvious to you, but it's a word I've only ever heard before, so I had to look it up.  In the book I was reading, it seems to refer to both shirts AND petticoats, which doesn't seem to make any sense.  Can you tell me what it is and what the shirt / petticoat connection is?) 
2.  Speaking of clothing, what's that little loop on the back of a man's shirts called? And WHY is it there?  
3.  At the local pond, red-winged blackbirds  (Agelaius phoeniceus) are out in force. But this year, their songs seem slightly different.  Can you find out if their songs change from year-to-year? 

Let us know what you find out!  Be sure to show your work.  HOW did you figure out the answers?  

I'll be back on Monday with what I found.  

Search on! 


Friday, May 5, 2017

An update to the "Island Viewing Challenge"!


Many thanks to Remmij...

... who in a comment earlier this week correctly pointed out that GeoGebras ARE embeddable in regular web pages.  

The links Remmij gave in the comments to Wednesday's post were exactly what we need to let us embed a GeoGebra interactive animation widget in your web page.  

UNFORTUNATELY, because Blogger won't let me edit the header of this post, I can't embed it here in the regular SearchResearch post.  

HOWEVER... I can embed it in an Interactive Distance to the Horizon page  I'm hosting on my own website!  Bummer that I can't put it into a blog post (but perhaps someone will show me how to do that as well).  

When you click on that link, it will take you to this web page (illustration below) that's on my server, showing that you can in fact download the HTML and then edit it for whatever purposes you'd like.  



Full credit where it's due: This interactive GeoGebra animation was created by Paul and is almost exactly what I was looking for.  (He also did two more, including this Distance to Horizon, new and improved version which is really beautifully done.)  

One of the nice things about GeoGebra is that you can see exactly how the animation was built, and can then change things to suit your own problem.  

If you're a teacher (or just someone interested in understanding how things like this work), it might well be worth your time to built a simulation or two.   

Back to our regularly schedule program next week.  

Search on! 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Answer: Can you build an interactive widget for the island viewing problem?


Okay... it's NOT May 1!


Sorry about not posting on Monday, but it's been a hectic week. Besides, I've enjoyed reading everyone's comments on the Challenge.   Not only is work busy (and I have a strange cold), but this Challenge is proving to be waaay to much fun.  


The SearchResearch Challenge this past week was to figure out how to make an interactive widget that can interactively show the relationship between height and visible distance in the "island viewing" problem.  That is:  

1.  Can you make an interactive widget that illustrates "how far out to sea can you see" without going into full-developer mode and writing a bunch of HTML, CSS, and Javascript?  

Interestingly, and oddly, before the world-wide web, modern browsers, and Google, this USED to be fairly straightforward.  


There were a number of simple animation tools that would let you (the teacher) create an interactive animation to demonstrate basic physics principles.  In particular, Hypercard (the simple scripting system) was perfect for people who wanted to build such a thing.  (Here's a nice article with the history of Hypercard and Hypertalk, the programming language.)  


But that was back in the 1980s and 1990s.  Yes, it was a LONG time ago.  


Now let me tell you what I found:  Not a lot.  I was looking for a Hypercard-level (i.e., simple) animation tool that would let me do a simple graph + interactive slider + animation.  It's not that hard... But after trying about 15 different charting and animation packages, I didn't find much of anything, despite lots of time wasting explorations. 


I DID find several very nice interactive charting packages: I know how to make interactive bar charts and the like, but not a slightly different chart like the one we wanted to make.  


Luckily... SearchResearchers rose to the Challenge and found some wonderful packages that come really close to our goal.  


Ramón was the first to find systems that are really close to the original statement of the problem.  


Waltis Blog has a great article about Finding the Curvature of the Earth.  This page has all the right concepts, but not quite the interaction we're looking for. 


On the other hand, Cactus2000 has a nice "Distance of the horizon" calculator, which is really close. You can type in the numbers and it calculates the distance.




   And another one at Rechneronline.de, which ALSO includes atmospheric refraction (which is more than I was looking for, but nice to see--notice how it gives a slightly different answer when you account for refraction).  





Fred found a collection of tools for making interactive widgets, but I wasn't able to get any of them to do exactly what I was looking for.  This collection is called "Exploreable Explanations," a term I really like, but didn't quite get me the diagram I was seeking.

Leia was the first to find GeoGebra and the tools you can create there, including this "Height Obscured by the Horizon" example.  (See below.)  Note that the camera elevation is baked into this interactive animation.  (Bravo to everyone else who found GeoGebra as well.  Nicely done.)  






But this other GeoGebra animation has even more stuff built-in.  This is just about right:  You can grab the camera (the blue diamond) or the target (the blue X) and move it up and down to figure out exactly what you need.  This is beautifully done.  



 GeoGebra interactive animation by Rocketman, Mick West (you can click on their links to see their portfolios)

So for this category of interactive widgets, this looks like the right solution.  


GeoGebra bills themselves as the "The Graphing Calculator for Functions, Geometry, Algebra, Calculus, Statistics and 3D math."  


They certainly seem to have solved this problem nicely.  


Dolphin explained that they found the GeoGebra site by realizing that this was a math/trig problem, and then searching for graphing calculators.  After trying a few, GeoGebra was clearly the best in the class.  


Another solution was also found by Ramón: the Horizon Finder,  which gives a circle of the visible horizon from a spot on the map.  Here I dropped the pin on the beach on the western edge of San Francisco, and found with a camera height of 0.5 meters, the visible horizon is about what you'd expect.  The Farallons are well outside of the visible circle.  




But if you drop the pin on the top of Twin Peaks (that is, near the Radio Tower, at 282 meters), you'll see that from that altitude, the Farallons are easily visible.  






Bottom line:  Although it took some time, by using a search method of looking for the tools we were able to solve this SearchResearch Challenge.  
The one part that's missing, though, is the ability to export the interactive widget to your own web pages.  I wish they had a nice "export widget" function, as that would make all of our lives as teachers / students / developers much simpler.  

Thanks for hanging in there over the past couple of weeks.  
I'll post a new (and easier!) Challenge tomorrow. 

Search on! 


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge CONTINUED AGAIN! (Can you build an interactive widget for the island viewing problem?)

Since there's so much interest... 

... and since we seem to be making progress (see the comments in the last two posts), I'm going to continue this Challenge until next week.  My answer / analysis will be posted on Monday, May 1st.  

(We're so close.  Keep on trying!) 

Remember that the SearchResearch Challenge this week is to figure out how to make an interactive widget that can interactively show the relationship between height and visible distance in the "island viewing" problem.  That is:  

1.  Can you make an interactive widget that illustrates "how far out to sea can you see" without going into full-developer mode and writing a bunch of HTML, CSS, and Javascript?  

The comments from the last week have been pretty helpful, but nobody's got a solution yet.  It's possible that there isn't a good solution (that is, without going fully into HTML/Javascript), but we're tantalizingly close!  



Keep searching!  

 


----- 

I'm repeating the statement of what the widget should look like below... 


To get you started, here's a side-by-side sketch of what such a widget might look like.  In the first image, the observer's eye is 1.7 meters above the beach, which lets the observer see 4.7 km out to the visible horizon.  



The interaction is simple:  As you drag the red dot up, the value of the "height above the beach" changes.  In this image, it's 100m.  You can drag it down to 0, or up to a much higher number.   As you drag, the widget updates the "visible distance" number as you drag, and redraws the red line to touch a point on the circle (in this case, one that is 36 km out). 

In this next image, I've dragged it down a bit.  Here it's just 1.7 meters above the beach, and the red dotted line only goes out 4.7 km. As I drag the dot, the numbers should update, the line to the dot should move up and down, and the line to the point on the circumference of the circle should slide along to show the distance.  




NOTE:  These are sketches of what the widget might look like. They're NOT images from a working widget.  

The formula connecting these two variables look like this: 

     distance = 3.7 * (height ^ 0.5)  

where height is in meters, and distance is in kilometers.  (In the top example, since the height is 100m, the  square root of 100 is 10. Hence,  10 * 3.7 = 37 km.)  

Monday, April 24, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge CONTINUED! (Can you build an interactive widget for the island viewing problem?

Let's work on this a bit longer... 

Remember that the SearchResearch Challenge this week is to figure out how to make an interactive widget that can interactively show the relationship between height and visible distance in the "island viewing" problem.  That is:  

1.  Can you make an interactive widget that illustrates "how far out to sea can you see" without going into full-developer mode and writing a bunch of HTML, CSS, and Javascript?  

The comments from the last week have been pretty helpful, but nobody's got a solution yet.  It's possible that there isn't a good solution (that is, without going fully into HTML/Javascript), but we're tantalizingly close!  


One thing I found that helped was to use somewhat different search terms.  

I found a lot of interesting tools by searching like this: 

     [ interactive animation tools ] 

or 

     [ interactive tool for physics animations ] 

How did I come up with these search terms?  Easy.  I just described what I was looking for to a friend.  As I "translated" what was in the SRS post into everyday speech, I realized that I wasn't searching for a way to "build a widget," but I was looking to find a way to build an interactive animation.  

You know, it's funny to think about this because... once upon a time... this was simple to do in Apple's now-defunct scripting tool, Hypercard.  (Here's a longish demo of Hypercard.)  Of course, this was in pre-WWW days, but thousands of teachers were able to easily create content -- including interactive animations to illustrate physics.  

In any case, let's keep on this task for the rest of this week.  

I'll pop back in on Wednesday with an update on how I'm doing.  

Keep searching!  

  




----- 

I'm repeating the statement of what the widget should look like below... 


To get you started, here's a side-by-side sketch of what such a widget might look like.  In the first image, the observer's eye is 1.7 meters above the beach, which lets the observer see 4.7 km out to the visible horizon.  



The interaction is simple:  As you drag the red dot up, the value of the "height above the beach" changes.  In this image, it's 100m.  You can drag it down to 0, or up to a much higher number.   As you drag, the widget updates the "visible distance" number as you drag, and redraws the red line to touch a point on the circle (in this case, one that is 36 km out). 

In this next image, I've dragged it down a bit.  Here it's just 1.7 meters above the beach, and the red dotted line only goes out 4.7 km. As I drag the dot, the numbers should update, the line to the dot should move up and down, and the line to the point on the circumference of the circle should slide along to show the distance.  




NOTE:  These are sketches of what the widget might look like. They're NOT images from a working widget.  

The formula connecting these two variables look like this: 

     distance = 3.7 * (height ^ 0.5)  

where height is in meters, and distance is in kilometers.  (In the top example, since the height is 100m, the  square root of 100 is 10. Hence,  10 * 3.7 = 37 km.)  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (4/19/17): Can you build (or find) an interactive widget for the island viewing problem?


I found myself trying to explain... 

... the "how high you have to be above the shore to see the Farallons" SRS Challenge to a friend.  



You remember the original Challenge about seeing the Farallons.  The question there was "can you see the Farallon Islands from the western shoreline of San Francisco?"  

There was an interesting observation in that post.  It turns out that you can see them from the bluff over the shore, but not when you're standing on the shore itself.  

We figured out that the explanation (ignoring atmospheric refraction effects) was that you have to be some distance above the sand in order to see the islands.  The question was really how high do you need to be to see the base of the islands?  

I told my friend about the math involved, waved my hands a lot, and drew a few diagrams on a piece of paper.  But sometimes, that's a bit, well... handwavy.  What I really wanted was a simple interactive graphic.  You know, the kind where you move the slider up and down, and it shows you how far out to sea you can see.  

An example of such a widget can be seen at the Physics Classroom Interactive Lens web page.  Here's an example: 

Side-by-side images from Physics Classroom, an interactive lens tool.
If you slide the focus slider (f) and the height slider (H), the image above changes in real-time
to show the relationships between focal length and the height of the original image.  

In this widget, when you slide the f and H sliders to the left or right, the paths of the lines change as you wiggle the variable values around.  

The Challenge this week is to figure out how to make such a thing to interactively show the relationship between height and visible distance.  

1.  Can you make an interactive widget that illustrates "how far out to sea can you see" without going into full-developer mode and writing a bunch of HTML, CSS, and Javascript?  

This Challenge is really for the teachers out there, who might like to make such a widget to help illustrate and teach a particular point.  But I suspect that having the ability to make these little instructive interactables would be a handy sensemaking tool in general.  

The REAL Challenge is to find a tool that will help you make such a thing. Once you find that tool, use it to make a simple interactive widget that illustrates this height-over-the-sand to visible-distance relationship.  



To get you started, here's a side-by-side sketch of what such a widget might look like.  In the first image, the observer's eye is 1.7 meters above the beach, which lets the observer see 4.7 km out to the visible horizon.  


The interaction is simple:  As you drag the red dot up, the value of the "height above the beach" changes.  In this image, it's 100m.  You can drag it down to 0, or up to a much higher number.   As you drag, the widget updates the "visible distance" number as you drag, and redraws the red line to touch a point on the circle (in this case, one that is 36 km out). 

In this next image, I've dragged it down a bit.  Here it's just 1.7 meters above the beach, and the red dotted line only goes out 4.7 km. As I drag the dot, the numbers should update, the line to the dot should move up and down, and the line to the point on the circumference of the circle should slide along to show the distance.  



NOTE:  These are sketches of what the widget might look like. They're NOT images from a working widget.  

The formula connecting these two variables look like this: 

     distance = 3.7 * (height ^ 0.5)  

where height is in meters, and distance is in kilometers.  (In the top example, since the height is 100m, the  square root of 100 is 10. Hence,  10 * 3.7 = 37 km.)  

To start off, see if you can find a toolkit that will let you make a simple widget--that is, one that lets you slide a slider.  (Don't worry about drawing the diagram on your first pass.)  Then, once you get that working, try to add in the diagram. 

Fair warning:  I don't know how hard this Challenge will be--I haven't solved it yet (or really started it).  On the other hand, this is much more like the SearchResearch Challenges analysts solve in their day-to-day work.  

I'll be fascinated to see what we can come up with.  

When you get something working, put it into a web page and post your URL to the comments section.  I'll collect them (along with your comments about how to answer the Challenge) next week. 

If it's going slowly, I'll give some hints over the next few days (and maybe extend the Challenge for a second week).  

As always, let us know what you're thinking about as you search.  What queries did you do?  What were your experiences in finding a tool to help build this thing?  How did you figure it all out? 


Search on!