Sunday, March 31, 2013

There ARE other blogs about search out there -- here's a new one

And now, out of the Pacific Northwest... 

My friend Jaime Teevan (a fellow researcher in the world of how-people-search) has just started up a new blog:  

Jaime has done some great research on how people search (including her fantastic papers about how often people redo searches for things they've previously searched for).  We've worked together a bit on a couple of things--most notably teaching a "logs analysis" tutorial at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference and then turning this into a book chapter (forthcoming).  

If you read this blog, I suspect you'll enjoy hers as well! 

Search on... for more great search/research blogs! 

Sample of some papers by Jaime 

 Susan Dumais, Robin Jeffries, Daniel M. Russell, Diane Tang and Jaime Teevan. "Understanding User Behavior through Log Data and Analysis." In Judith S. Olson and Wendy Kellogg (Eds.), Human Computer Interaction Ways of Knowing. New York: Springer, 2013. (in pre-press production)  

How People Recall, Recognize and Reuse Search Results. ACM Transactions on Information Systems (TOIS) special issue on Keeping, Refinding, and Sharing Personal Information, 26(4), September 2008. [(official) pdf, (local) pdf]

Jaime Teevan, Amy Karlson, Shahriyar Amini, A.J. Bernheim Brush and John Krumm. Understanding the Importance of Location, Time, and People in Mobile Local Search Behavior. In Proceedings of 13th Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI 2011), Stockholm, Sweden, August 2011. [pdf]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Answer: Where can I find a blueblossom in Montaña De Oro?

This was a legitimately tough problem.  It’s not hard to KNOW that blueblossoms grow in Montaña De Oro, but it’s very difficult to know how to locate a specific one somewhere in the park.

To start this problem, it’s often really useful to convert the informal name of the plant (“blueblossom”) to its formal name (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus).  Yes, I know that many varieties of ceanothus are also called “blueblossoms,” but all of the credible resources say that “blueblossom” refers only to the thyrsilorus variety.  From this we learn it’s also called “California lilac,” “ceanothus” and/or “blue blossom ceanothus.”  (And, luckily for us, there aren’t 10 common names… just a couple.) 

In this case, after searching for a while for maps of Montaña De Oro with plant locations indicated (I was hoping for a trail map with a trailer marker than said “blueblossom here”  or something something thyrsiflorus.  But after 20 minutes of looking, I wasn’t finding much.  A few pictures here and there in Panoramio, but nothing with a  good location marker. 

So I changed my strategy. 

Here’s a big, important lesson about this kind of problem:
When you can’t solve the problem directly with search, search for a tool that can do it for you!   
What would such a tool be like?  I stepped back for a second to think about this.  What kind of person or organization would be interested in tracking the location of flowers, their habitat and where the grow?

This led me to make my next search:

[ California wildflower finder tool ]

As you can see, the first and third results seem linked to the Santa Monica Mountains in southern California.  I know that Montaña De Oro State Park is really in central California along the coast, and nowhere near Santa Monica (which is in LA). 

I checked out the CalFlora site (number 2 in the above list). 

And with this, I think I’ve struck paydirt at the website  When you visit the site, you’ll see the following search interface:

It’s not hard to figure out that Montaña De Oro is in San Luis Obispo county.  So if you then just drop the Latin name into the search box, then select San Luis Obispo in the county field (on the right side) and click search, you find:

I clicked on the entry in the first row, and found this page. 

Now… Note the “Distribution Grid” link in the center of the page.  

That looks promising as a way to locate a specific bush of our desired flowers.  Click on that to find:

This is fantastic!  Now, I just zoom in to our State Park location on the Central California coast, and click on "Show individual observations."  

Which, when you drill down, leads you to this… which has the lat/long in the center of the page:  35.26393,  -120.84469  

That places this individual shrub of our desired flower on the banks of the Islay Creek, just inside the eastern boundary of Montaña De Oro State Park. 

So you can see what we’ve done…  Mission accomplished. Found the plant and the location.  

Search lessons:  
(1) When searching for a particular plant (or flower, or anything, really), be sure you know all the ways it can be named.  “Blueblossom” is really a fairly generic term.  It’s also a common name for a common plant.  But the Latin binomial name (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus) really is unique.  Be aware that searches can show the result in many different names.
 (2)  When you’re not having much luck using regular web search (and in particular when the results just aren’t showing much of anything), think about searching for a tool that can do the same thing.  In this example, we found the CalFlora geographic distribution search tool, which fit our need precisely. 

Search on!


After poking around in the CalFlora site, I found an even more wonderful tool:  The CalFlora map-search tool “What Grows Here?”  It’s at and looks like this:

If you fill out the location, you can then jump to an interface that lets you draw a polygon.  (In this case, I drew one to outline the State Park.)  Then selected the Scientific Name and hit search. 

 The beautiful thing about this web page is that you can filter on all KINDS of metadata--status (endangered, etc.); the month it blooms; whether it's a monocot or dicot (yes.. really!).  

A marvelous resource!  And I'm still exploring it.  Highly recommended.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday search challenge (3/27/13): Where can I find a blueblossom in Montaña De Oro?

Blueblossom image from Wikipedia.

One of the joys of living in Silicon Valley is the closeness of nature.  Yes, I live and work in an urban setting, surrounded by tilt-up buildings, swarmed by software engineers, venture capitalists, and startups.  But nearby—very nearby—one can disappear into the hills and trails of the Santa Cruz mountains.  You also don’t need to travel very far to see some truly spectacular scenery. 

One of the glories of springtime are the springtime flowers that erupt everywhere.  (Yes, another flower question!  But this time there’s an interesting twist.) 

I’m especially fond of a flowering bush that’s called “blueblossom.”  It’s also called the “California lilac” because it looks a little like a regular lilac (which is in the family Syringa) and smells a LOT like a lilac.  The scent is positively heady when you walk through large stands of the blueblossom. 

Not far from Mountain View is a state park known as Montaña De Oro.  It’s near the college town of San Luis Obispo on the central California coast.  It’s absolutely one of my favorite places to visit (both the town and the state park). 

But I wonder:
Where can I find blueblossoms blossoming in Montaña De Oro State Park?  
(I want to see this specific species of blueblossom in bloom.  I don’t need the lat/long, although that would be good.  Just a general location in the park.)  
I warn you—this can be a tricky problem.  Probably more difficult than last week’s.  So don’t spend more than 20 minutes or so on it.  Once you figure out the method, you’ll be able to answer this question quickly. (And you’ll know instantly that this is the way to solve all such challenges.) 

As always, please write your proposed answer in the comments field below, noting HOW you found the answer AND how long it took you to figure it out. 

Search on! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More searches on that mine--the value of sticking with it

The blue arrow is the location of the Tunnel Rock quarry; the red arrow is the reported location of the Kaiser Sand & Gravel quarry.  The pink camera icon is where I actually took the photo.
First off, let me congratulate the searchers!  Ramón, Rosemary, Maca… you’re doing great work! 

Like Hans, I also wrote to Steve Edwards—he also told me that he wasn’t really a historian.  A great guy, but he didn’t really know when the quarries operated. 

As several people pointed out (I think Ramón was first)—there is a great collection of the papers of Henry J. Kaiser at the Online Archive of California (

If you search, you’ll find that Kaiser Sand & Gravel began in 1923, but they had sites in many locations (Santa Barbara,Radum near Livermore, Clayton, Hetch Hetchy (near Yosemite) 
And so on…

But then Ramón found  with his query:  

["tunnel rock"]

In this document from 1956, the Tunnel Rock quarry was explicitly mentioned as having opened “near the east end of the Broadway Tunnel” which is exactly in the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve.  This document says it was operating in 1954, and that “for the past few years, crushed rock has been produced from the volcanic rocks of the Moraga formation (Pliocene) at the Tunnel Rock quarry in the hills southeast of the Broadway tunnel.”  (What we now call the Caldecott Tunnel was once called the “Broadway tunnel” since Broadway ran into the tunnel.) 

This makes it sound as though Tunnel Rock opened around 1951 and the Kaiser Sand & Gravel pit opened in January 1954.   The text (which I read carefully several times through) makes it implicit that the Kaiser quarry opened then.  

As several people pointed out, the tunnel construction started much earlier (1934) and completed in 1937.  But the approach to the tunnels needed major improvement, and THAT started in the 1950s.  That’s when the Division of Highways started to improve the road leading to the tunnels (Highway 75), upgrading it to a freeway.  That would have required a good deal of crushed rock… and that’s when the quarries were opened to provide crushed volcanic rock for road construction.    (See: )

And I still haven’t made it over to Stanford library to check out that book by Steve Edwards.  But if his email is any indication, I bet there’s not much in it to answer our questions. 

Search lessons:  First off, the willingness to stick-with-it and learn from other people's searches... that's a key lesson.  The idea to search at was a great idea.  

Also, sometimes a social network is what you really need.  Thanks for pitching in and making this a great search problem!  (And solution.)  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Answer: What came from the mine?

Sorry about taking an extra day to give you the answer.  These days are busy, and sometimes things get slightly out of hand. 
The real reason... I’m busy reshooting videos for the refresh of our “Power Searching with Google” MOOC (online class).  If you missed it on the earlier passes, there will be another chance for you to take it beginning around mid-April.  Stay tuned—I’ll be sure to let you know exactly when it is.  (But in the meantime, that’s what’s consuming all of my time these days.)
On to our search challenge…  

Recall that the questions were (1) When did the mine open?  And, (2) What was mined here?

First, you have to realize that the GPS data wasn’t quite right.  Once you’ve extracted the lat/long from the EXIF data, you’ll quickly see that there’s no labyrinth exactly at that location.  The quarry hole and labyrinth are actually at: 37.853058, -122.190440 (I assume you figured that out and just panned around the location in Maps for a minute before finding the actual location).  

By looking at the map I could easily tell that this location is part of the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, which is a beautiful open-space preserve run by East Bay Regional Park District.  

So I started with the obvious query: 

[ Sibley Volcanic Regional Park history ]

I then did:

[ "round top" intext:quarry sibley ]

and found an article in BayNature (a local natural history magazine) that mentions the quarry was “Kaiser Sand and Gravel.”    (I later watched a video that was posted on the Sibley Parks page where naturalist Steve Edwards says the same thing.  See: )

Now we have our first clue:  The quarry was the “Kaiser Sand and Gravel” company. 

I know that counties often track industrial sites and mines are often described (for historical reasons) as being in a particular county.  So after looking at my map to see what county the Sibley Preserve was in (A: Contra Costa) my next query was: 

[ Kaiser quarry Contra Costa ]

Which led me to a remarkable map at  (a site that compiles information about mines—who knew there would be such a resource!) 

A quick look at the map, however, tells me there are TWO mines/quarries in that immediate vincinity.  The “Henry J Kaiser Company Mine” (aka “Kaiser Sand and Gravel) AND the “Tunnel Rock” mine.  Let's check out these alternate lead.  

A search for: 

 [ “Tunnel Rock” mine Contra Costa ] 

leads me to, which gives me the lat/log (37.855202, -122.201851) for the Tunnel Rock min and a description of what they mined (“construction sand and gravel; broken stone”) 

Well… THAT’s interesting!  Is it really the same mine by two different names?  Doing the same thing for: 

 [ “Kaiser * mine”  Contra Costa gravel ]

show a few additional results.  (Since there are SO many Kaiser mines, I had to add in “gravel” to limit my search to something managable).

Looking at the content, I see much of the data comes from the book: "Mines and mineral resources of Contra Costa County"  (1958) – alas, it’s not available on the web.  (I discover later that this book is an extract from “California Journal of Mines and Geology, volume 47 (1951)”… also not available on the web.) 

BUT I can find a copy in the library!   (And I’ll head over to Stanford later this week to see if I can find it in the stacks.) 

I still haven’t figured out if this is a different mine, or the same mine.  Searching for 

[ “henry j Kaiser company mine” ]

(a variant phrase I picked up from reading), I find another resource that gives me the lat/long for this mine:  37°51'36", -122°12'1"

Continuing my search, I find another good hit at that repeats what we saw earlier—that the quarry was used for broken rock, sand, and gravel. 

So… after much looking around, I discover that there are actually TWO mines near that location.  There’s a great page on that shows the distance between the mines:  (shows that Tunnel Rock and Henry J Kaiser Company mines are within 1700 feet of each other).   Their map shows it like this:

And the Kaiser mine: 

Here’s my Google Maps version of the two mines.

The Kaiser mine is the red arrow, and the Tunnel Rock mine is in blue.  

So now… when did they open? 

Like other readers, I’ve only been able to find a few clues here and there.   I found a couple of hiking guide books that claim the mines were opened in the 1930s… but they don’t say where THEY found that information, so I’m worried that the reliability might not be very high. 

And when I look at this location with Google Earth (using the Time Slider), I see the following images—from 1939, 1993, and 2002.

So… I’m a little stuck here.  I think we’ll have to find an additional source of information.  Were these mines REALLY active between sometime between 1993 and 2002?  OR… is the Google Earth image for 1993 just mislabeled??  

More research is required!  Ideally, we'd like to find a different aerial archive image with dates in the 1930s and '40s; or maybe someone's first-person account of mining in this area.  

The labyrinth: By the way, the labyrinth is the work of Helena Mazzariello:  see her page on the labyrinths at

Result:  Still searching!