Five Years of Searching

On March 15, 2015 · 1 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle featured an article with the curious title Search for Search and Other Tales about two years ago. This effort examined a year’s worth of search queries that people entered into the website. To be clear as before, these weren’t random searches from Google or other sources, these were actual words or phrases typed individually into the little search bar on the top-right corner of the 12MC homepage. I was curious to see if conditions had changed in the intervening period. Because it was raining yesterday and because I was bored and didn’t have anything better to do, I reexamined the data for a five year period. I’m nothing if not obsessed.

Cornfield by Daniel_Bauer, on Flickr (cc)

I compiled the results and made them available in a shared spreadsheet. Feel free to see what hidden gems you can uncover in the 1000+ distinct search terms entered by readers, ranging from Time Zone (214 occurrences) to a plethora of single instances ending with Zipper. I did my best to combine entries that were variations on a theme, for example counting Exclave and Exclaves as the same item. I’m sure there were many typos in the list although don’t blame me, blame the people who typed them into the search box originally. I corrected some of the blatantly obvious ones although I didn’t go down the list line-by-line.

Mathematically, at a rough order of magnitude, it came out to about three queries per day. The Top-15 changed a bit using the longer time period, with "Search" bumping down to the second position:

  • 214 Time Zone
  • 196 Search
  • 134 Exclave/s
  • 107 Canada
  • 105 Emanating
  • 103 Cornfield
  • 72 Recede
  • 66 Tombolo/s
  • 60 Cartography
  • 49 County/ies
  • 47 Iowa
  • 32 Ferry/ies
  • 32 Smallest
  • 31 Capital/ol/s
  • 31 Minnesota

Cornfield still surprised me. I couldn’t understand the fascination with cornfields, and I suspected it might have related to cornfield mazes? It didn’t represent a spike or surge either. The term popped-up regularly year-after-year from many different readers, places and sources. OK, I got it. Expect a 12MC article on cornfields.

I noticed a handful of entertaining and sometimes baffling entries as I combed through the data.

  • Toilet. Several people apparently appreciated bathroom humor. I had an article for that: Lowest Public Restroom in North America.
  • 12 Mile Radius Around Yateley: This was an example of a type of query I’ve called "oddly specific" in previous instances. For this query to be effective, not only would 12MC have needed an article on Yateley (a small town in Hampshire, England – map), it would have also needed to discussed a very specific radius around it, like the purpose of 12MC was literally about nothing but drawing twelve mile circles.
  • Difference Between Lettuce and Lattice. Seriously?

An interesting Easter Egg appeared in the query log after I discussed this topic the last time: "Why is he obsessed with what people search?"

I’m afraid I don’t have an answer.

Completely Unrelated

Topics for 12MC drop into my brain from many different places. Still, they don’t generally derive from dreams. I had that happen for the first time a few nights ago. I thought of an absolutely amazing article topic while I was dreaming, and in the dream I actually had the wherewithal to understand that I needed to write it down before I forgot. Half awake, I put pen to paper and went back to sleep.

It was about a map. Maps have become insanely popular on the Intertubes. I can write 12MC for years and gather a handful of faithful readers. Anyone with a collection of pretty maps will gain thousands of readers almost instantaneously. As I recall I was excited about the possibilities during my dream. My enthusiasm waned once I examined my note in the light of day. My brilliant idea? A map of places where people use chopsticks.

Maybe dreams aren’t the best source for article topics.

2015 Travel Plans

On January 28, 2015 · 7 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has some bold travel plans for 2015 if I do say so myself. I’ll keep it domestic this year unlike 2014 although I might cross the border into Canada briefly during one of the trips. As always, I welcome assistance as I begin my initial planning. Please feel free to offer comments or suggestions if any of my upcoming targets match your vast travel experiences. You all know what I like: weird geography; obscure parks; quirky roadside attractions; unusual boundaries and easy highpoints. The usual stuff. I’ve been able to visit several places suggested by users that I didn’t know about previously (e.g., Capulin Volcano National Monument) and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Great Allegheny Passage

My travel season will begin with the Great Allegheny Passage. This trail was cobbled together from several abandoned railroad lines formerly operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway. Now the GAP is a 150 mile (240 kilometre) hiking and biking trail between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland. I plan to bike the length of the GAP on a long weekend sometime in mid/late April with a friend, the exact date depending on when the Big Savage Tunnel opens for the season.

The GAP should offer riverside passages, amazing tunnels and bridges, and wonderful scenery. I also hope to stop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater as well as the town of Confluence, which was featured on 12MC awhile ago.

Cape Cod

Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 05/08/07)
Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 05/08/07)
by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr (cc)

Cape Cod will happen in mid-May. I’ve never been to the cape before so that’s sufficient justification right there. It will also coincide with a significant wedding anniversary so that actually provides the real impetus. With luck, I might also be able to pick up Dukes and/or Nantucket Counties. Those are two difficult pickups and I’d love to add them to my county counting list. I also hope to add to my lighthouse and ferry lists.

Thousand Islands

Zavikon Island by Sergio, on Flickr (cc)

This one is less definite than the others. We’re thinking seriously about touring the Thousand Islands region between New York and Ontario, sometime in mid-July. The early plan was to find a spot within a day’s drive of Washington, DC and this seemed like an interesting place that I’d never explored before. This trip could just as easily switch to New York’s Lake Erie coastline or perhaps to one of the Finger Lakes we’ve not seen before, instead. It depends on what we find during our research and what seems most interesting.

Center of the Nation

This trip will follow the path designated by Mainly Marathons, specifically their Center of the Nation Series in September. Previously 12MC covered my adventures during their Dust Bowl series and their Riverboat series, plus two races at their Appalachian series. Once again I will stress that I am not a runner, I am the driver who transports a runner from one location to another. I would never imply or pretend that I had the stamina for something this extreme. However, rumor has it that I might partake in the 5K option each day during the series this time. That way I won’t feel guilty about snacking on all of their goodies at the start/finish line like I’ve been doing at previous races.

This time it’s six races in six states in six days. My driving duties will add an entire raft of new counties in some rather obscure areas of the United States to my lifetime list. The races will be held at,

  • Day 1 (Sept. 14): Baker, Montana
  • Day 2 (Sept. 15): Bowman, North Dakota
  • Day 3 (Sept. 16): Belle Fourche, South Dakota
  • Day 4 (Sept. 17): Sundance, Wyoming
  • Day 5 (Sept. 18): Chadron, Nebraska
  • Day 6 (Sept. 19): Sterling, Colorado

I can’t say enough good things about Mainly Marathons or its participants. It’s a great group of people albeit with one very unusual hobby.

Anyway that’s what I have planned over the next several months. Let me know if there are sights along the way I shouldn’t miss.

Questions from the Swarm

On May 29, 2014 · Comments Off on Questions from the Swarm

Regular visitors to Twelve Mile Circle may want to skip the article today. I don’t discuss anything geographic. Also there’s nothing mentioned that hasn’t been revealed within these pages previously, the only difference being that every item has now been collected into a single spot. See you in a couple of days.

For the rest of you:

I get questions about the site from curious people spread throughout the Intertubes. Lots of visitors arrive at 12MC unexpectedly as a result of some esoteric query entered into a search website. They’re surprised that someone has actually written an article on their curious topic. I know! Crazy. Who would write an article about Pre-Nazi Swastika Architectural Details?

Admittedly, my About 12MC page isn’t very helpful. Viewers want to know more and I do my best to oblige when they contact me by email. I’ve collected some of the more common questions and made up some others, so now I can both add a link to "About 12MC" and send people here directly instead of answering each question individually. I hope to update this post over time, too.

Let’s begin.

Why haven’t I heard of this site before? Topics here appeal to a small niche of dedicated people. Chances are, those who have an interest in weird geography discovered this site a long time ago. Seriously, I might select almost any other topic in the world and it would have a larger audience. Major search engines work on popularity and send more visitors to popular pages. It’s a vicious cycle. Popularity breeds greater popularity. Obscurity breeds greater obscurity. New readers won’t encounter 12MC unless they happen to hit an exact combination of words or phrases in their search query. I imagine more regular readers (vs. one-and-done readers) probably got here originally through referrals; those rare occasions when 12MC happened to earn a mention on a more popular website.

Why aren’t you trying harder to make 12MC more popular? I don’t need it to be more popular. I write Twelve Mile Circle for myself, about topics that interest me. I’m glad that others seem to enjoy things I feature and I appreciate the collegial, interactive dialog in the comments. I could write about celebrity gossip or cuddly kittens if it were all about the numbers.

U.S. Counties Larger than Rhode Island
Frequently Stolen Without Attribution

Well, maps are really popular on the Internet and they seem to fit the 12MC subject matter, right? Why not focus there? That’s true. They get lots of retweets. Aggregator websites love them. Sometimes they even make the mainstream press. In fact, I have made maps and some of them went (quite mildly) viral. The dirty little secret is that aggregators use these maps as free content, often avoiding even the barest veneer of attribution, and then reap the results. The person who created the map gets crumbs if he’s lucky.

How do you come up with topics? I keep an eye out for things that seem like they might be interesting as I go about my day and I record them on a spreadsheet. It’s that simple. Oftentimes I’ll write an article that leads to two or three additional topics I hadn’t considered before. Readers make a lot of suggestions, too. Inspiration come from a variety of sources.

Such as stories that are big in the news?. No, not really. Plenty of sites do that already. I don’t like writing something unless I think I can add value to the conversation. Anybody can regurgitate the latest "fascinating" map or geographic feature making the rounds on the Intertubes that day.

Why aren’t there more genuinely unusual geographic oddities on the site anymore? Honestly, there are a limited number of quality oddities. I’m above a thousand articles into this now. I’ve noticed a shift in my writing over the years. Articles used to be brief and focused specifically on geographic features, and the more the unusual the better. Now articles are much longer and go into greater detail, generally with an historical context along with the geographical. They take longer to research and write, and I learn a lot more from them (which is a major reason why I publish this site to begin with). My undergraduate degree was in history, another great interest of mine, so that probably explains part of the gradually changing emphasis too.

Kentucky Bend

You don’t have an article on {a glaringly obvious Geo-Oddity}. Why not? I’ve become very selective as I’ve drawn-down on the list of noteworthy geo-oddities. I’m probably waiting for my opportunity to visit the feature in person. For example, Kentucky Bend / Bubbleland remained mostly unmentioned on 12MC for several years until I visited it in person during my Riverboat Adventure. I was well aware of its existence and I chose to ignore it on these pages it until the appropriate moment.

When will you run out of ideas? I don’t know. My spreadsheet always seems to have about a hundred topics on it, year-after-year. I’m not in any danger of hitting the end of the list anytime soon. I’ll keep writing as long as I’m learning new things and I’m continuing to enjoy the process.

Are you from Delaware? Ah, you made the connection between the Twelve Mile Circle and Delaware. Actually no, I’m not from Delaware nor have I ever lived there although I do travel there fairly regularly. I simply liked the idea of an arc as a border. Also I think Delaware may have more geo-oddities per square mile than just about any other place. Something like West Cornerstone may have been a more appropriate name geographically, now that I think about it. Then the site would have to be abbreviate as WC instead of 12MC and that wouldn’t be good.

Why are comments moderated? Because of blog spam. The beauty of a niche website like 12MC is that I can institute 100% comment moderation and never get overwhelmed by the workload. A comment won’t sit in the queue for more than a few hours at most.

I’m working on {a puzzle, an Internet contest, homework, etc…}. Can you help me? Probably not. I might reply if I know the answer immediately and it requires a sentence or less. Otherwise I’ll hit delete and move on with my life. Researching my own questions takes up enough of my free time.

Can I offer topic suggestions? Of course. Many of them will end up as short topics on my occasional "Odds and Ends" articles, with credit to the submitter. Some suggestions are particularly outstanding and end-up worthy of an entire article.

Do you accept guest posts?. I’ve featured a handful of guest posts on exceptional topics from longtime, loyal readers. They’ve been fantastic. I’d be reluctant to accept guest posts that didn’t rise to that very stringent standard. I would never accept a post from a marketing company.

Why does 12MC have advertisements. To pay for web hosting. Anything extra goes towards further geo-oddity adventures.

What if I have other questions? Please submit a comment. I’ll update the page if I like it.


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