Better research using Google’s lesser-known search tools

Research is so boring.

Except when you find amazing stuff that totally elevates your work. Then it’s actually cool. People like learning new things, gaining new insights, pulling back the curtain to see who’s really pulling the levers behind the scenes.

(Couldn’t resist. I love that movie 🙂 )

I first encountered Google’s searchable datasets at the Modern Language Association’s annual conference in Chicago in January. The leader at one of the workshops I attended showed us all these cool online datasets she used in her research, and then other people started talking about how they used them in class. Meanwhile I sat there feeling like a very unhip outsider, like everyone else already knew this exceptionally cool new tool and I was late to the party.

Except guess what? I actually wasn’t very late at all. In fact, most people in the workshop were probably secretly feeling as woefully out of the loop as I was.

Google’s Dataset Search tool was launched on September 5, 2018, according to this article in The Verge. Maybe it’s not fully “launched” yet, though, because I see the word “Beta” on the Datasearch page, and also, if you look for it on the basic Google search page (the way you’d look for “images” or “video”), it’s not there. Not even under “More.”

Hmm. It’s kind of like you need to know it’s there to find it. Like, I don’t think a lot of people know about Google Trends, either, which is a super interesting tool I have my students use for their research in my political science class. It reminds me of the secret handshake you once needed to get a Gmail account. Remember that? Many years ago, at least 10 to 15, I was able to get a Gmail account only because a hip student (who eventually went on to work for Google) sent me an invitation, making me briefly way more cool than my peers. Which didn’t last long, and now Gmail is basically everyone’s default backup email account.

But I digress 🙂

Another cool subset of Google’s Dataset Search is its Public Data Explorer, a directory of public datasets collected by governments, NGOs, etc. An amazing treasure trove of info that I would be unlikely to find otherwise.

What inspired me to write this blogpost today was my discovery this morning of a public dataset (or would that be database? I get those terms confused!) of articles on AI algorithms put together by MIT’s Technology Review. Link here to take a look. So fabulous! I’m developing a new course for MSOE ( Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach), called “Digital Society,” and this dataset gives me lots of good articles to explore.

Finding the dataset this morning was a happy accident because I’d totally forgotten about Google’s Dataset Search. Well, not really forgotten. It had just fallen away from the first, second, probably even third tiers of my most easily-recalled bits of knowledge.

So I don’t know, maybe you already know about all these tools? If you didn’t, I’m glad I could share them with you. Maybe you’ll find a way to do some really cool work with them? Let me know if you do!

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PA ST

Abandoned for years, the old Pabst Brewing complex on the west end of downtown Milwaukee was redeveloped over the past decade by the Zilber Property Group. The area contains many of the brewery’s original buildings, with their signature crenallated rooftop “battlements,” standing alongside new buildings that have a distinctly contemporary appearance even as they also complement the century-old Cream City brick structures.

The developers wisely kept the vintage neon “PABST” sign that spans the complex’s west entrance—although you can no longer actually approach from the west since the freeway reconstruction at the Marquette Interchange took down the Juneau Avenue bridge. You can still see the sign from Juneau across the way, though. Over at Juneau and 13th the street is on a level with where it starts up again on the other side of the freeway. In fact, from that vantage point you hardly even notice where the sunken freeway cuts through in between. Standing there you can sort of get a sense of what workers might have seen as they walked to the plant from the neighbood just west of the brewery.

The “PABST” sign can also be seen from the east, all along the northern edge of Fiserv Forum. As Juneau sweeps west across 6th Street and ascends the hill to the narrow, crooked streets winding among the old brewery buildings, that giant neon sign looms watchfully over the complex below.

Kind of like the giant eyeglasses of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg gazing down from that billboard in The Great Gatsby 🙂

Driving west on Juneau last night, I noticed that the sign’s letter “B” had burned out, adding a layer of commentary to the scene that seems somehow rather worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

(Update: Zilber is fast! Drove by tonight and the “B” was already fixed.)

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Peaceful country evening

Looking through my camera roll and doing some housekeeping (because I take far more photos than I want to keep), I found this picture taken in August while visiting my parents. This is the view from their patio. It’s such a calming scene, isn’t it? Wish this was what I saw outside my back door every day.

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Groovy Windows

Taken yesterday near the corner of Water and State in downtown Milwaukee.

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Best Quality Furniture Co. SALE SALE

I don’t know why this store caught my eye as I was driving home from work last week. Stores of this sort are ubiquitous in the central city. Each has such a strong personality, such a distinctly individual character, especially compared with the chain furniture stores found in suburban shopping districts. There’s harmony in the sameness of the suburbs, but also emptiness. At the same time, the exuberance I find so attractive in these mom-and-pop stores starts to feel messy and chaotic, even claustrophobic, within the crowded century-old neighborhoods of the city where they’re found.

Contradictory, I know. I’m the town mouse and the country mouse all rolled up into one package. Except the “town” mouse of Aesop’s fable is elegant and sophisticated. Maybe the part of me that loves these stores is more of an “urban” mouse?

But looking strictly at the photo in addition to the subject itself, and I know this is a small and somewhat ridiculous thing, I love how when I cropped the image to leave out a useless swath of asphalt marred by reflections from my car window, it turned out that the little patch of sky in the upper right-hand corner is so pale it looks white, as though I’d decided to clip out the sky. I love the resulting “jog” in the frame. It kind of pairs nicely with the store’s haphazard presentation in real life😀

 

 

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What You Can Learn About The Danger Of Assumption From The Original Woodstock Festival …

Great post from Rob Campbell, a British advertising executive. I love his blog, which is wide ranging and both very funny and very insightful. Read on to learn at least one reason Tommy James & the Shondells didn’t endure as a rock act.

Sometimes FOMO is a good thing. At the very least we should be sure we have all the info needed to make good decisions!

The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Where we can make the biggest and most interesting difference.

Changing something.

Pushing something.

Destroying something.

However the reality is that in many briefs, this isn’t always clear – mainly because so many are written from quite a transactional perspective, designed for an agency to ‘answer it’, rather than use it as a springboard for bigger, more powerful and more sustainable impact.

And that’s why the best thing you can do is ask questions.

Explore.

Prod.

Challenge.

Not just in terms of who authored the brief, but the people who are responsible for what comes out of it.

There are some people who think this approach has the potential of alienating clients, but in my experience it has quite the opposite effect. People in power regard this as a demonstration of someone who gives a shit … someone who wants to help them achieve the best outcome in ways that…

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LIttle Free Library – There’s a book!

Actually there are THREE books!

The Little Free Library Book (2015) tells the official story of the Little Free Library movement and contains a forward by Todd Bol, the founder of Little Free Libraries, who built the first one in his front yard as a memorial to his mother. This book tells the history of Little Free Libraries, and is a nice resource/reference for anyone who would like to build and install their own Little Free Library. Believe it or not, people have occasionally run afoul of city ordinances when they’ve put these sweet little boxes of free books in their front yards, so it’s good to be prepared.

 

Little Free Libraries & Tiny Sheds came out this past March. If you want to build and install a Little Free Library of your own, this book seems to give you all the practical info you need to get the project done!

 

And last but not least, the most recent book is for children and was just released two weeks ago, on September 3rd. Little Libraries, Big Heroes tells the story of Todd Bol and his mom as literacy superheroes.

 

I’ve written about Little Free Libraries before. Pretty often, in fact. If you’d like to read some of those posts, you can click on the “Little Free Library” bullet point in the list of “Categories” down the right-hand side of this page. Enjoy 🙂

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