Wednesday, August 24, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (8/24/16): The mystery of the Hawaiian posts on the North Shore


It was a beautiful morning... 

... and I was running on a jungle path, getting my morning exercise while staying on the North Shore of Oahu.  

As I run or bicycle, I regularly discover small mysteries on the land.  In 2013 I wondered "Why is this tree here?," and in 2014 I wondered "What are these things that I see on the horizon?"  

So it should come as no surprise that I would find something even more mysterious while running in Hawai'i.  

I was jogging along the path in the middle of what seems to be just a regular forest--lots of trees, vines, well-developed understory--when I run past this: 



That seems odd and out of place.  Perhaps it's just a light pole that's been forgotten about.  

A little farther down the trail, I find this.  Another light pole?  Was there a road here that was built, but never fully completed?  


But then I started finding more and more of these poles--some just a few feet high.  The one shown below is around 6 feet (2 meters) tall.  The poles varying in height from 1 meter to 3 meters tall.  


These poles were standing by themselves, and not in any obvious pattern that I could see. They didn't seem to line up.

But then I found this collection.  


I'm not sure how many I found, but there are at least 30 poles like this of varying heights, all "lost" in the forest.  In Hawai'i, I might have thought this was the work of the menehune, the mysterious builders of Hawai'i that come and go out of human sight. But this was suspicious--someone was making something very mysterious.  

(And although I looked, there were no signs telling me what's going on here, or marks on the poles that would give us a clue.  They're just concrete poles of varying lengths.)  

By now, I'm curious, and looking all around.  I DID find a cache of them!  (See below.) 


Having once worked in a trucking company, I recognize this as a temporary cache of poles, all stacked atop a pair of poles laid sideways at right angles to the main pile.  This makes it easy for a forklift to come and pick one or two up off the pile and carry it to the next workplace.   (Yes, I know how to drive a forklift; the things you learn when working to pay for college...)  

No matter how many poles I found, whoever was doing the building clearly had to abandon the project in the middle.  

I'll save you the metadata EXIF extraction:  these photos were all taken within a 100 yard radius of 21.698574, -158.005291  

1.  What's the story with these mysterious poles in the jungle?  Why are they there? 


Fair warning:  I do NOT know the answer to this Challenge, so I'll be searching for the answer along with you.   

If you figure it out, be SURE to tell us what you did to determine the answer.  I've only spent a few minutes on this, but I suspect this will be a tough Challenge.  

Search on! 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Answer: Pulling together information about the geography of Hawai'i

You'd think these would be simple... 

... questions.  But they're not quite as easy as you might think.    

Hawai'i on Google Earth

Many simple questions have surprising complicated answers.  For instance, "how far is it to the moon?" sounds straightforward, but think about it for a second--draw a diagram if it helps.  Here's what I drew:  


  
I know the Earth is around 8K miles in diameter, and the Moon is around 2.1K miles in diameter, and that the average "distance from the Earth to the Moon" is around 238K miles.  (In other words, the Moon is about 30 Earth-diameters from the Earth, which is what I've drawn here.)  

But giving distance measurements isn't quite like measuring the size of the rug in your living room.  When you measure the length of the rug, it's clear where the edge is.  When you're measuring the distance to a moon, where do you draw the line?  

The naive interpretation is "the distance from where I'm standing to the nearest part of the moon."  If you're more sophisticated, you might say it's "between the centers" (but determining the center of a planet is tricky too).   

Keeping this in mind, let's try to answer the Challenges from this week.  



1.  When thinking about the colonization of Hawai'i, I kept reading that these islands are the "most remote" island chain in the world.  That is, they're relatively farther away from any other major population center than anyplace else.  Is that true?   
What do we need to clarify here?  As in the Moon-to-Earth example, we need to know where we're measuring from.  Luckily, the Big Island is literally the biggest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, so let's measure from there.  

Now then, what's a "major population center"?  Is it any city larger than 100,000 people?  Let's take 100K as our definition of "major population center."  

Like many research questions, it very much depends on how carefully you define your terms.  IF the Big Island is your starting point, and population centers that are > 100K people are "major population centers" then the closest such city is.... Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu (with ~300K people).  

Oh.  Maybe we meant "major population center that's NOT already in Hawai'i."  

(See what I mean?  Definitions are important.)  

If you look at Google Earth with the Big Island of Hawai'i in the center, this is what you see: 




I've added a couple of range circles centered on the Big Island so you can see how far away everything is.  Japan is off over the western horizon, and the west coast of North America (in particular, California) is near that second, larger range ring.  

So the question now becomes "Are there any large cities in Oceania?"  I did this query: 

     [ list of cities in Oceania by population ] 

which led me to this list of "Largest Cities in Australia and Oceania by Population."  Since the first 15 cities are in Australia (which is farther away from Hawai'i than California), we can ignore those.  All we have to do is to find the distance from Hawai'i to the other cities of more than 100,000 souls.  This quickly tells us that only Dili (East Timor, 234K) Hamilton (New Zealand, 224K), and Noumea (New Caledonia, 179K) are possibilities.  

Are there any other places in Oceania that are within the outer range ring and still have large cities??  Fiji is, but a quick search shows the largest city there is Suva, at 88K.

I checked Polynesia, French Tahiti, etc., all by following this query pattern.  Nothing else even comes close.  

So let's check on Dili, Hamilton, and Noumea.  

As you might recall from an earlier SRS Challenge about Great Circle distances, it's easy to find a tool to give you the direct, Great Circle Route distance from Hawai'i to any other place.  With my query [ great circle distances ] I found the FreeMapTools web page for calculating distances between named locations.  

Using this tool, here's what I found for distances between Hawai'i and... 

   Dili -- 5589 miles
   Hamilton -- 4445 miles 
   Noumea -- 3855 miles 

but when I started checking 100K+ population cities in California, I just worked my way up the coast, looking for distances.  

   San Diego -- 2611 miles
   Los Angeles -- 2562 miles
   Santa Maria -- 2452 miles 
   San Francisco - 2397 miles 

The next major population city going north is Portland, Oregon, at 2957 miles.  

Now that we've figured out the distance between the Big Island and the closest "major metropolitan area," (which is Santa Maria, California).  Now we need to look for other islands that are also remote.  What would those be?  

My query: 

     [ remote islands of the world ] 

gave me a list of a couple of interesting remote islands, but just scanning the list shows that only Tristan da Cunha (in the middle of the South Atlantic) even comes close to the remoteness of Hawai'i.  

By repeating this process (looking for the nearest land masses and 100K+ cities in those "nearby" locations) we find that the distance from Tristan da Cunha to Rio de Janiero (Brazil) is 2076 miles, and the distance to Cape Town (South Africa) is a mere 1046 miles.  Both cities are closer to Tristan da Cunha than any equivalent city is to Hawai'i.  

So... by our definition (distance from the Big Island to a city with more than 100K people living in it), Hawai'i really IS the most-remote island on the planet.  

And it's a wonderful place to visit.  Here's proof from the North Shore of Oahu...  


A big, empty North Shore beach at sunset.  You're more than 2000 miles
 from the mainland.  Don't try to swim it.

  

2.  This might seem obvious, but maybe it's more subtle than you think:  How many islands ARE in the Hawaiian islands?  
The obvious Google query would be this: 

     [ how many islands are in Hawaii ]

And that would give you this answer...



According to the official Google results, it would appear to be 8 islands.  Note that it says "eight MAIN islands"  (emphasis mine).  Whenever you see something like that, you should be cautious about accepting the answers as-is.  But let's look at Google Earth again.  That's the Big Island down in the lower right, with Maui, Kauai, etc. all lined up nicely.  





In Google Earth you can turn on the "Borders and Labels" layer and see this.  Note that the borders are drawn in bright yellow.  



You can see all 8 islands.  

But wait a second!  See that little yellow dot in the upper left?  (With the red arrow pointing to it.)  What's that?  

Zoom in, and you'll see this: 


The Hawaiian island of Nihoa.  1 mile wide by 0.5 miles tall. Looks like an island to me!

This is Nioha--a small island that's about 130 miles NW of Kauai.  If you look back at the first image of the Hawaiian archipelago, you can see that there's a long chain of islands heading off that way.  Nioha is roughly in the middle of that long chain.  

Here's a map I found at USGS.gov with the query:

     [ Hawaiian archipelago map ] 


Map of the Hawaiian Archipelago.  P/C USGS.gov

As you can see, there are at least 17 islands in Hawai'i.  But the problem of counting islands gets more complicated when you zoom in.  Here's a picture of the French Frigate Shoals (from Google Earth), located in the center of the above map.  




The biggest island in the center is around 0.8 miles long.  There are other, really tiny islands in there as well.  So, when do you stop counting?  Is a 1 square meter rock that's exposed only at low tide REALLY an island?  

For our purposes, I'll define an island as any surface that is > 1 acre, and permanently above water.  (And, to simplify things, that's part of the group that's claimed to be in the island chain.)  

So, by this definition, it's 17 islands.  (Or so....)  

FWIW, here's Kure Atoll--the last stop going NW in the islands.  Look closely and you'll see tiny Sand Island in there, which sometimes goes under the waves...  (Kure lies close to what is called the Darwin Point, that latitude at which reef growth just equals reef destruction by various physical forces. As it continues to move on the tectonic plate, it eventually will all go underwater.)  






3.  I know the waters around the island are deep--but HOW deep?  What's the deepest place within the Hawaiian archipelago?  

By this point you should see the pattern.  What do you mean by "within the Hawaiian archipelago"?  

Since the Challenge was fairly imprecise, you have to make your own determination--and then tell us what it is!  

I'm going to limit "within" to mean either between the islands, or within 10 miles of the islands.  

To begin this search, I knew I wanted to see a map of the ocean floor.  But how do I find that?  

I figured there was a special term I needed to know, so I did a search for: 

     [ map ocean depths ] 


to learn what that term was.  It's bathymetric

So my next query was: 

     [ bathymetric map Hawaii ] 


and that answered my question quickly.  I found a beautiful bathymetric map of the Hawaiian Islands that comes from USGS.gov.  It looks like this: 



Obviously, there's some seriously deep water (the area tinted in pink) to the east of the islands.  If you zoom in, you'll see these areas are called the "Maui Deep" and the "Hawaiian Deep."  

To find the depth of the Maui Deep and Hawaiian Deep, I had to do my query like this: 

     [ "Maui Deep" bathymetry ] 

Why the quotes?  Why the term "bathymetry"?  

I had to quote "Maui Deep" because there are lots and lots of web pages with the word Maui not so far from the word deep (usually vacation and tourist sites that promise "... the deep allure of Maui shores..."). 

And I included bathymetry as a context term (that is, a term you add in order to limit the results to pages that are on this particular topic). 

Even so, the web results aren't that great... until I limited my results to just Books.  THEN I found a good number of oceanographic texts (1, 2), all of which say that the Maui Deep and the Hawaiian Deep are both "in excess of 5500 meters."  That's about all they'll say.  Still, that's plenty deep, and as we can see from the map, the deepest parts of the ocean in that area.  



Search Lessons


The biggest lesson this time is easy: 

1.  Be careful of your definitions.  When a Challenge is presented, always question whether or not there might be another interpretation of the question.  What kind of variations could there be in the answer?  As we saw in the case of the Moon-to-Earth question, you literally have to look at the other side of the subject--what's the distance to the far side of the moon.  Keep these questions in mind as you do your research.  When you give your answer, be sure to include what you search for... and what you think of as a legitimate answer (what's "remote"?  what's a "population center"?  what's "in the region"?)  


Otherwise, search on!  

(One more Hawaii Challenge this week, then on to other things!) 


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Search Challenge (8/17/16): Pulling together information about the geography of Hawai'i


Now that I'm in Hawai'i... 

... I start to wonder about the geography of this island chain, this group of beautiful isles so far away from everything else.  

Hawai'i on Google Earth

Naturally, I start to wonder a few things. The Challenges this week might require pulling information together from more than one source.  Can you answer these Challenges three?  

1.  When thinking about the colonization of Hawai'i, I kept reading that these islands are the "most remote" island chain in the world.  That is, they're relatively farther away from any other major population center than anyplace else.  Is that true?   
2.  This might seem obvious, but maybe it's more subtle than you think:  How many islands ARE in the Hawaiian islands?  
3.  I know the waters around the island are deep--but HOW deep?  What's the deepest place within the Hawaiian archipelago?  

Let use know not only where you found this information, also also your chain of thought that led you to look in those place.  Did you need to learn any special terms in the process?  

Search on!  




Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Answer: Pineapples and radomes in Hawaiʻi?

As noted, I'm on vacation... 


So here's a quick summary of how I found the answers to last week's Challenges.   


1. Driving to the North Shore we passed through fields of pineapples.  Historically, pineapples (and sugar cane) have been the mainstays of Hawaiian agricultural exports. But the pineapple fields seem... small to me.  How many acres of pineapple are planted on Oahu these days? (This might sound similar to last week's Challenge, but no fancy programming needed...)  
I started with the query: 

     [  Oahu pineapple acres OR acreage planted ] 

and found lots of articles, but as I read them, I realized the numbers were all over the place.  The dates of the articles were from the 1990s up to 2015, with huge variation in the numbers depending on the year.  It's clear I needed to restrict the articles in just the past year. 


This started giving me more consistent answers:  from the  Maui news – Feb 21, 2016  "Hawaii's once-proud pineapple industry has been reduced to the rank of seventh-largest crop with 4,508 acres (1,094 acres on Maui and 3,414 acres on Oahu). Pineapple production on Lanai ended in 1992. Dole Foods had once farmed as much as 13,000 acres of pineapple on the island [of Lanai]."  And this from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. (And if you know that around 1,000 acres of pineapple are planted on the Big Island, that leaves around 3,500 acres on Oahu.)   



But the big trick here is that these numbers have to be RECENT!  (Which is why filtering to just the past year is important.)  

The most-visited tourist attraction in the state of Hawaii is the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (also known as the Pearl Harbor bombing site). The second most visited attraction is the Dole pineapple plantation near the North Shore of Oahu. It’s odd, when you know that 300 billion pineapples are produced worldwide, but only around 400 million come from Hawaii. That’s only 0.13 percent of all the pineapples sold each year in the world.  Once upon a time, Hawaii had lots of land dedicated to pineapple production, but now, pineapple production is primarily for local consumption, just as it was back in the day when James Dole first started commercial pineapple.

As an indication of how rapidly these things change, look at the agricultural map above (from 2015).  See that big band of sugar in the middle of Maui?  That's all gone.  Those 38K acres were the last vestige of sugar production in Hawaii. Alexander & Baldwin (the company that ran the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Plantation on Maui) announced that they were discontinuing all sugar operations by the end of 2016.  

Big lesson here:  Especially for things that can change rapidly (e.g., economic and agricultural variables), be sure to get the most recent data!  


2.  I know there are many different kinds of pineapples, but which variety is the most commonly planted on Oahu?  (Here's my closeup photo of a pineapple from central Oahu. Yeah, it's pretty prickly in there--you don't want a job picking pineapples!)  

My picture of a Comosus prozenas pineapple, as seen in the Dole Plantain exhibition garden
on Oahu.   This is NOT a smooth pineapple. 

An easy search for: 

     [ Oahu pineapple variety ] 

leads to an article by the Cooperative Extension Service that tells us that the fresh pineapple you find in your non-Hawaiian supermarket is the MD-2 cultivar, a hybrid developed by the Pineapple Research Institute because it’s sweet, low in acid and not susceptible to browning when refrigerated—a common problem in the Smooth Cayenne, which had been Hawaii’s industry standard variety cultivated since the 1880s.   "In Hawaii, strain selections from field populations of 'Smooth Cayenne' are grown almost exclusively."  (It's called Smooth Cayenne because the leaves are relatively free of the thorns that appear on nearly all varieties of pineapple. For contrast, see the Comosus prozenas above.)  

The Smooth Cayenne variety.  Notice the thornless leaves. 


3.  I drove past this strange collection of what look like radomes peeking out over the hilltops.  Can you figure out what's going on here? (This is at 21.685451, -158.009686) 

This image is from Google Maps (or Google Earth).  But to figure out what this site is all about, I used two different methods: (1) Wikimapia.org and (2) Google Streetview  

If you enter this lat/long into Wikimapia, you get this when you roll-over the box that shows up at this site. 


A quick search for: 

     [ Diplomatic Telecommunications Service Opana ] 

tells us that this set of domes is part of a system of telecommunications networks that supports foreign affairs agencies in Washington, D.C., and U.S. diplomatic missions abroad. It is run by the United States Department of State Diplomatic Telecommunications Service Program Office (DTSPO).   

To use Google Streetview, you just follow the road out from the site down to the major connector road in the area (Kamehameha Highway) and take a quick look via Streetview.  There, you'll find this sign at the entrance: 



Hmmm.  This sign is a bit blurry.  But what if I Search-By-Image for this?  If I JUST put in the image above, these are my search results: 


This isn't great. 

HOWEVER... remember that you can help guide the image search process by adding some information.  In this case, we know that this is at the Opana site, so I'm going to add that as the search term, and look at what I get now:



If you ignore the ads, you'll see that the first 3 hits are all exactly what we're looking for--the sign at the entrance to the facility.  The first hit is from Panoramio: 


which pretty much confirms what we're looking for in this Challenge.  This really is the Regional Relay Facility for the DTS service. 


4.  (Extra credit)  This radome site is clearly very modern, but this isn't the first radar installation near this location.  There was  a historically very famous site near here.  Can you figure out what that radar site was and why it's so famous? 
There are several ways to figure this out.  My first attempt was this: 

     [ Opana history ] 

After digging through some off-topic results, I found the Wikipedia page on the history of the Opana radar site, which tells us that: 

"[The Opana site] employed the SCR-270 radar, the first United States long-range search radar created at the Signal Corps laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey,...  
On Thanksgiving Day in 1941, the Schofield Barracks radar set was moved to the Opana Radar Site, a location 532 feet above sea level with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. The set comprised four trucks carrying the transmitter, modulator, water cooler, receiver, oscilloscope, operator, generator and antenna.   
On December 7, 1941, the Opana Radar Site was manned by Private Joseph L. Lockard and Private George Elliot, who detected approaching aircraft at 7:02 am... 
The men reported their findings to the temporary information center at Fort Shafter. The information center staff had gone to breakfast and Lt. Kermit Tyler received the report. Tyler reasoned that the activity was a flight of Army B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, and advised the radar crew not to worry. Tyler told investigators that a friend in the Bomber group advised him that whenever the radio station played Hawaiian music all night, a flight from the mainland was arriving, and using that for navigation homing. Elliot and Lockard continued plotting the incoming planes until 7:40 when contact was lost. Shortly before 8:00 am they headed to Kawailoa for breakfast and only learned about the attack when they arrived. Elliot and Lockard rushed back to Opana and operated the radar until the attack ended."  

Although it sounds like a huge error, you can scarcely blame the radar operators or the information center at Fort Shafter.  In those days, the radar images looked like this (this is a reproduction of how their radar image would have appeared): 


All the radar operators could tell was that there was a big signal out there.  By measuring the time delay, they could tell the distance, the heading, and ground speed.  (This was fairly early radar--it didn't have the sweeping line display that you usually think of for radar.)  It's easy to see how they might have thought this was the incoming flight of US B-17s.  

Incidentally, you could have found this same information via Wikimapia as well.  See that other box in the image?  When you roll over that, you'll see: 


which then leads to additional information from the IEEE about the Opana radar installation in 1943.  

Search Lessons


As I mentioned above: 

1.  Be sure to get the most recent information on your topic.  As we see here, the conditions of agriculture in Hawaii change rapidly, so your research really needs to be current.  For these kinds of research, information that's even 1 year old might be seriously out of date.  (And as we saw from the "barren zone" Challenge, interpretations change over time.  Be sure to check what you find with current data.)  


2.  Use Streetview to get additional information by "looking around" as though you were there in person.  You'd be surprised how often you can figure things out just by looking.  Streetview makes this possible!  

3.  You can guide Search-By-Image by adding in information to the query.  The ability to add in "context information" to a Search-By-Image is often incredibly powerful.  In this case, we were able to find a high-resolution, in-focus version of the sign we were looking for.  This same trick can be used to find focus in on a search topic when you're getting too many confusing results.  Adding in topic or location information can often get you exactly what you seek. 


Hope you enjoyed this Challenge!  

Aloha.  

Search on. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

More than you might want to know about "barren zones" around bushes (update with additional images)

As I mentioned last week, 

I went back up to the place where I took some of those original pics of the plant-free zone around chaparral bushes.  This place is Black Mountain (37.319795, -122.163153), a mixed oak woodland, chaparral, and grassland.

Overview of barren zone site.  Black Mountain.  Image from Google Maps.

I had speculated that small bushes couldn't provide enough cover to let small critters live within (and therefore wouldn't have a barren zone around them).

I went up there to check.  Here are a few images from my walk up there...

I went to this brush complex (#1 in the map below; just off the trail), and took the closeup photo pointing my camera in the direction of the arrow (and standing at the tip of the red arrow at 37.318673, -122.157772).  This is around 56 square meters in size, and just about the smallest brush complex I could find with a clear barren zone. 

Brush complex #1 from the air

You can see the barren zone here in the closeup, while in the satellite photo, it's only visible on the far side of the brush complex. What's interesting here is that the barren zone is hidden in shadows (in the satellite image), but obviously visible at the time of day when I took this picture.  

Closeup of Brush complex #1


Here's another image, taken just off another giant brush complex not far away.  Look carefully at the image below, you can see this one is large enough to have trees (the dark spots) growing in the center.  (This is brush complex #2 in the map below.)

Brush complex #2 (a large complex around 4 hectares in area).

As you can see, I laid out a tape measure so you can see the width of the barren zone (just over 39" or 1m).  This zone is so wide that it's also used as a deer trail (lots of hoofprints making a clear deer path here).  For some of these barren zones, it seems there's more than just herbivory by small mammals going on, at least at the larger brush complexes.


This closeup was taken on the west side of the large brush complex.  Given the mature size of the brush (a mix of coyote brush chamise and even a few small oak trees in the middle), I'm not surprised that this brush complex shelters more than just rabbits and ground squirrels.  
The above closeup was taken here, on the west side of brush complex #2




And another, this time, a smaller complex. Brush complex #3, shown below, is around 81 square meters.



Here you can see that the barren zone is a little smaller than those of other complexes. This leads me to wonder if the width of the barren zone is a function of the area of the brush complex.    


After looking at a LOT of brush complexes, I noticed that at some point, the brush complex gets too small to even shelter small mammals, and as a consequence, they do NOT have any barren zones.  (See image below.)  

A small coyote bush with no barren zone (too small). Brush complex #5. 

Here's an interactive map of the places I took these images.  (You can zoom in/out and click on a brush complex outline to see the area estimation.)  

Interactive Map of five Brush Complexes. Click on each to see the size of the complex. (The blue drop pin shows the location of complex #1.)  


Summary

My wanderings around on Black Mountain aren't really a substitute for a proper field study.  To do proper science, I'd have to do a lot of field measurements and careful tabulation of my findings.  

But I have to say that I looked at a LOT of brush complexes up there (probably 100 or so), and in NO case did I find a barren zone around a brush complex that was smaller than 10 square meters.  If the allelopathy hypothesis were correct, then you'd expect to see a tiny barren zone... but not nothing

On the other hand,  I did notice a few large brush complexes that didn't have a barren zone--but in all cases, they were on fairly steep slopes.  I hadn't anticipated that, but it fits in with the small mammal herbivory effect causing the barren zones.  Squirrels don't seem to mind a slope, but I suspect that rabbits don't want to be grazing downslope of a brush complex if a predator comes along.  Running uphill isn't a great defensive strategy.  

The big surprise was that so much of this initial work can be done through satellite photos.  The barren zones (at least of the larger brush complexes) is quite visible on Google Maps or Google Earth.  Of course, you still need to go out into the field and validate, but I'm constantly impressed by how much early phase science can be done remotely.  

As always, 

Search on!