Mr. Walker’s Island Adventure

On January 22, 2017 · 3 Comments

It didn’t take much to get me started on another obsessive-compulsive exercise. Longtime reader Rhodent commented on my observations about a stalker on St. Martin’s Island (map) in Bangladesh. That made me even more curious about the underlying situation. I knew I needed to check every image in painstaking detail to see if I could untangle the story. Fortunately the island didn’t cover a lot of ground so this actually seemed like a reasonable task, if a bit ill-advised.

Google Street View Comes to St. Martin’s Island


Antarctica: New Years Day Castle Rock Hike
Trekker: Google Street View Backpack Camera
Photo by Eli Duke on Flickr (cc)

Google Street View arrived on St. Martin’s Island in October 2015 in an unusual way. The government of Bangladesh didn’t allow motorized vehicles there. It’s too small and it doesn’t have much in the way of infrastructure anyway. People followed footpaths. Therefore Google brought its Trekker, a backpack device used more commonly to photograph mountain trails or glaciers in Antarctica or inaccessible places like that. The Trekker weighed 42 Pounds (19kg) including a vertical staff topped by 15 cameras. Google loans the Trekker to qualified individuals and organizations for those who want to add a favorite out-of-the way place to the Street View portfolio. Apparently someone wished to do that for southernmost Bangladesh.


The Main Characters

Two men dominated the narrative. One man carried the Trekker. I called him Street View Guy (or SVG). The other man accompanied him every step of the way.


Street View Shadow
Street View Guy

Evidence of SVG rarely appeared because he carried the backpack and stood beneath the photo sphere. At certain times, however, his shadowy image emerged from beneath the camera. This happened primarily as the sun began to set on a long day, when shadows extended far enough that they fell into camera range. Those were exceptions. Most of the time SVG stayed behind the scenes as he should, recording the story instead of contributing to it.


Street View Follower
Mr. Walker Reveals Himself

In the earlier article I named the other guy The Stalker. That didn’t seem appropriate anymore so I renamed him Mr. Walker because, well, he walked every corner of St. Martin’s Island. I viewed literally hundreds of distinct frames, tracking his every move. Only one showed his unobstructed face, the one that I found previously that Google forgot to blur. Who was he? I knew he wore a uniform although I didn’t know what it represented.


G4S Security
Mr. Walker’s Epaulet

Every once in awhile Mr. Walker moved next to SVG. One of those close-up images let me see his epaulet and the matching logo on his shirt in detail. It said G4S. That offered the clue I needed. G4S is a company that provides security services worldwide including Bangladesh. That solved the mystery. Mr. Walker wasn’t a policeman or a tour guide. He belonged to a private international security firm. He was hired to keep SVG safe, or maybe just Google’s expensive hardware.


Maps That Guide the Story



I needed to create a couple of maps to help me make sense of the island trek. The first one showed various points of interest that I noticed as I sorted through the multitude of images available. More than fifty shots made the cut, which I think clearly demonstrated the daunting size of the larger set. Fifty images barely made a dent. However that tiny sample provided a number of useful vignettes, little points in time. The did not provide, either singly or collectively, any fluidity of motion. I needed to create something else.


Island Path
Direction of Routes Walked

Presumably SVG and Mr. Walker moved forward, not backward. That let me determine the direction of all paths they took that day. I marked them with arrows. It revealed the two-phase strategy followed by the mapping team. They focused on the interior of the island in the morning and early afternoon, which I determined by examining the angle of the sun. Then they shifted course in the late afternoon. They walked the circumference of the island beach in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the ferry pier and continuing all the way around.


Wandering the Interior

Theoretically, I supposed, one could figure out the exact sequence of steps taken by SVG and Mr. Walker as they covered the island interior. However, even though my efforts demonstrated irrational signs of compulsion, I didn’t go far enough overboard to calculate the angle of the sun in minute detail. Nor did I attempt to calculate exact timing based upon the images that the Trekker captured once every 2.5 seconds. I’ll leave that for someone even more obsessed if so inclined. Nonetheless, I observed all sorts of interesting encounters as the team followed its journey.


Boy in Green
The Boy in Green

Many of the locals seemed amazed or amused by the site of a man hauling Trekker machinery through jungle, fields and down the narrow corridors of the marketplace. Children especially enjoyed the spectacle and expressed the most interest. Some kids, like the Boy in Green, showed even more curiousity than others. He joined Mr. Walker has he escorted SVG from the eastern beach into the deep island interior.

Mr. Walker didn’t provide much actual "security" during his walk. He seemed to get distracted regularly and fell back. Other times it looked like he needed the kindness of strangers to help him get back on the right track. Once he fell so far behind that he had to hitch a ride on a pedal-powered rickshaw. He carried a white plastic bag stuffed with goodies that whole time; I even caught him eating a snack. Mr. Walker amused me. SVG walked the whole island with a 42 pound backpack, and yet, Mr. Walker couldn’t keep up, got sidetracked by locals, glanced at his mobile phone, and seemed generally disinterested much of the time. He probably wondered what he did wrong to get stuck with this assignment.


Mysterious Mr. Bald

Say hello to Mr. Bald, first noticed by reader Rhodent in the previous comments.


Mr. Bald
Mr. Bald

Mr. Walker met-up with Mr. Bald late in the afternoon on a walk from the marketplace to the ferry pier. Mr. Bald also wore a uniform, although a different one than Mr. Walker. I drilled down on an image where he moved near the camera to see if I could find some clues about his identity.


Mr. Bald's Epaulet
Mr. Bald’s Epaulet

His epaulet seemed to have an anchor on it. I think he might have been part of the ferry crew. The image didn’t quite have enough resolution for me to read his name tag although I think it may have been in Bangali anyway. The ferryboat had a name, Keari Sindbad, that I traced to a tour company based on the mainland in Cox’s Bazar. The route took about two hours. It was quite a bargain at 800 Bangladeshi Taka (about $10 U.S.) for the best seats on the boat, on the bridge deck.

Although I found many photographs of the ship, I couldn’t find any images of the actual crew. Nonetheless, I still thought Mr. Bald probably belonged with the ship. Also I thought his appearance was coincidental. He seemed too surprised by the spectacle, taking photos with his mobile phone along the way. Several other people followed the exact same track back to the ferry. Mr. Bald stood out from the rest of them because he wore a uniform.

Then, as Mr. Walker approached the ferry, he put his tie back on. I guess he wanted to look more official.


Circling the Island

SVG and Mr. Walker began their counterclockwise loop of the island once they returned to the ferry dock. Mr. Walker forged way ahead as they walked the beach on the northwestern side of the island. Maybe he got tired of SVG’s company or maybe he wanted to get away from the ever-prying Street View camera. Mr. Walker returned soon enough when a bunch of kids surrounded SVG. Mr. Walker had to shoo them away. Finally he was able to provide some actual "security."


Mr. Local
Mr. Local

Mr. Local then approached. Like the earlier Boy in Green, Mr. Local seemed rather curious and he followed along for quite awhile on the western side of the island. Mr. Walker got sidetracked a couple more times by people selling stuff, and by a woman who caught his eye. Then he fell back once again trying to walk across the mostly barren rocky western side of the island. After proceeding a bit further, the heat of the day began to wear on Mr. Walker. He removed his tie, and reached not once but twice into his red translucent bag for a swig of water. He got really sweaty too. The heat must have been brutal. It was a long day.


An Arm in the Sand
Arm Reaches out of Sand for Water

Even SVG needed a drink. This created one of the more memorable Street View glitches I’ve seen in awhile. It looked like a zombie arm reaching out from the sand trying grab a plastic bottle instead of brains.

Mr. Walker continued to chat with the locals as they rounded the southern edge of the island and walked towards the eastern side. I’m not certain although he may have relieved himself in some bushes by the side of the beach. Eventually the duo made it back to the ferry pier safely just as the sun began to set on a long day of Google Street view trekking.

I guess the hours I spent on this exercise showed that I need to get a life. Maybe I should take a trip to St. Martin’s Island and relax for awhile.

Northern Panhandle of West Virginia

On October 13, 2016 · 9 Comments

Anyone looking at a West Virginia map would immediately notice its northern panhandle. It rose high above the rest of the state like a flagpole. This narrow splinter ran 64 miles (103 kilometres) due north, wedged tightly between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Its width also narrowed sometimes to only 4 miles (6 km).


Northern panhandle west virginia
Northern panhandle west virginia on Wikimedia Commons (cc).

Four counties occupied the space; Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall. They all aligned in a vertical sequence.


Boundary Dispute

How could such a bizarre situation develop? Certainly no rational government would create such an anomaly. The usual situation existed here, the overlapping of colonial claims. Nobody really knew what existed beyond the coast. Various Kings of England simply granted a bunch of royal charters. Virginia gained a territory that went all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The charter for Pennsylvania set its farthest extent at an unexplored longitude 5 degrees west of the Delaware River. The overlap became apparent when explorers pushed inward through the Appalachian Mountains decades later. Fort Pitt, built by the British in 1759 during the French and Indian War, fell within the disputed area. Both coveted the town that formed there, Pittsburgh.

Virginia established a county structure despite the overlap. Of course, Pennsylvania refused to accept it. The dispute even continued into the Revolutionary War. The Second Continental Congress convinced the two to settle their dispute and concentrate on fighting the British instead. Pennsylvania had settled a similar problem with Maryland previously, creating the Mason & Dixon Line. The border between Pennsylvania and Virginia would extend that same line a bit farther, to five degrees west of the Delaware River. From there, they drew a line north to the Ohio River. Both sides approved the new border in 1780.

After the war, several of the former colonies including Virginia continued to claim land west of the Ohio River. Most gave up their claims voluntarily for the good of the new nation. Virginia ceded its Northwest Territory after some cajoling, and Congress accepted its offer in 1784. Virginia’s western border became the Ohio River and created the odd panhandle. Nobody intended to form the anomaly. It was a two-step process.


Birth of West Virginia


Independence Hall - Wheeling, West Virginia
Independence Hall – Wheeling, West Virginia. Photo by Ryan Stanton on Flickr (cc)

Then came the Civil War and Virginia joined the Confederacy. Many of its western counties wanted to form their own state even before the war began. They jumped at an opportunity to remain on the Union side. The state of West Virginia was born in 1863. Interestingly the initial West Virginia capital fell within that unusual northern panhandle. They formed their new government in the Federal Custom House in Wheeling (map), now called West Virginia’s Independence Hall. Wheeling remained its capital for most of the next twenty years.


Rise of Industry


INDUSTRY MILLING IRON & STEEL Weirton West Virgina THE WEIRTON STEEL COMPANY WORKS Coke Ovens Furnace Operation and Production Areas
The Weirton Steel Company Works. Image provided byUpNorth Memories (cc)

The Northern Panhandle became a center of commerce and industry after the Civil War. It had a great location along the Ohio River. It also had more in common with industrial cities like nearby Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland. Factories rose to serve many needs. The biggest ones produced iron and steel, and Weirton Steel became the biggest of the bunch. It would operate for nearly a century until International Steel Group bought it in 2004. The area also fell onto hard times like other so-called Rust Belt cities. For example, the city of Weirton lost a third of its population starting at the middle of the 20th Century. The city of Wheeling lost more than half of its population.


Cultural Distinctiveness


Ohio River Bridges
Ohio River Bridges. Photo by cmh2315fl on Flickr (cc)

The northern panhandle mirrored the states that wedged it in place. It differed distinctly from the remainder of West Virginia.

… many people moved to Weirton and Wheeling which both had reputations for being excellent places to work. Immigrants moved into the area in the early 1900’s because of employment offered by the steel mills… By some counts, there are 50 ethnic groups in Weirton alone.

This included large communities of people from Eastern and Southern Europe like its neighbors. The U.S. Census bureau even included the two northernmost counties, Hancock and Brook, within the Pittsburgh Combined Statistical Area.

Of course, I also like this oddity because it created funny geographic names. How about the West Virginia Northern Community College?

On Canals

On September 1, 2016 · 0 Comments

In Latin, the word canna meant reed, the root of canalis meaning "water pipe, groove, [or] channel." The French language retained this term as it evolved from Latin, and the English language adopted it to describe a pipe for transporting liquid. This transformed to its modern English usage by the Seventeenth Century to represent an artificial waterway, as noted by the Online Etymology Dictionary.

I always thought that a canal resulted from someone digging a path through the ground to let a steady stream of water flow through it. That wasn’t necessarily the case according to technical jargon I stumbled upon. A canal connected two or more watersheds. Something called a navigation performed similar functions within a single watershed. Thus the Erie Canal connecting Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River counted as a canal. In contrast, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC wouldn’t be considered a canal by that definition because it ran solely along the Potomac River. It didn’t matter that it stretched 180 miles (290 kilometres). The C&O counted as a navigation, which I’m sure would have surprised the people who designed, constructed and dubbed it a canal in the 1830’s.

The distinction didn’t make much difference to me. I decided to call them all canals.


Oldest Canal


Dismal Swamp Canal
Dismal Swamp Canal. Photo by Ryan Somma on Flickr (cc)

Nobody knows exactly when or where people built the very first canal. They traced back to the earliest times of agricultural settlement. Canals served an important purpose in ancient Mesopotamia both to control flooding and to irrigate crops. Egyptian pharaohs turned canal construction into an art form in later centuries, using them for additional purposes including transportation.

Since I couldn’t find the first canal ever built, I decided to feature the oldest canal in the United States in continuous usage. Work began on the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1793 and it soon connected North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia (map). It provided convenient access to the lumbermen who harvested large cypress trees that grew in abundance in the swamp. No less than George Washington owned a 1/12 share in the venture. This resulted in George Washington Ditch, probably the least memorable features honoring him. A national capital memorialized his name. An entire state honored him. Then there was this ditch in a swamp. I’m sure his wife wouldn’t think too highly of nearby South Martha Washington Ditch either.

Today the canal provides a link in the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, giving safe passage to small vessels moving up and down the Atlantic coast.


Longest Canal


The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal. Photo by Lawrence Siu on Flickr (cc)

China’s Grand Canal (map) garnered two superlatives. No other canal extended farther and no other canal operated longer. This ancient canal stretched 1,115 miles (1,794 kilometres) and has been used continuously since the Sixth Century. UNESCO recognized the Grand Canal as a World Heritage Site, noting,

It formed the backbone of the Empire‚Äôs inland communication system, transporting grain and strategic raw materials, and supplying rice to feed the population… linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze.

The Grand Canal continues to serve a vital purpose in the Chinese economy today more than 1,500 years after its construction.


Busiest Canal


Panama Canal
Panama Canal. Photo by MT_bulli on Flickr (cc)

Scientists used Global Positioning Satellite data to track more than 16,000 ships a few years ago. They hoped to determine the busiest ports in the world empirically, and their results pointed to the Panama Canal (map) first and the Suez Canal next. I supposed gross tonnage served as a nice proxy for busiest canal too. That distinction will only increase with the Panama Canal Expansion project that "will double the Canal’s capacity."


Newest Canal


Millenium Ribble Link, Preston
Millenium Ribble Link. Photo by Chris Hills on Flickr (cc)

While the canal building era seemed to reach its peak in the Nineteenth Century, new canals continue to be built even now. I couldn’t be sure which one might be the newest worldwide although I found an answer for the United Kingdom. The Millennium Ribble Link canal located outside of Preston, England opened in 2002 (map). That was almost a century after the next younger UK canal opened. It stretched only five miles (8 km), connecting the Lancaster Canal to the River Ribble. However, the canal served no economic purpose other than tourism. It provided a few miles of pleasurable passage and, more importantly, added the formerly-isolated Lancaster Canal to the hundreds of miles in the larger English canal network.

Someday the newest canal might open in Nicaragua if its prospective builders ever get their act together.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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