Duck

Several years ago, and I don’t recall exactly when, I wrote an entire Twelve Mile Circle article without using a single Google tool. I found it incredibly frustrating, nearly impossible. The article got buried somewhere in the archive and I don’t remember the title. Just trust me. I didn’t enjoy it. Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson that first time so I decided to try it again.

I don’t mind Google in general and I’m not trying to bash it. However, my 12MC investigations do produce some rather mistargeted advertisements because of my unusual search patterns. As an example, I’m currently getting lots of ads for "Official Detroit Red Wings Apparel," no doubt because of King Boring and the Detroit Gems. I’ll never purchase any of that stuff. Those advertisements are completely wasted on me. Google’s all-knowing algorithm thinks differently.

Well, as I considered the situation further, the DuckDuckGo search engine seemed to be improving. It also famously didn’t track its users. Maybe I could repeat my "Google avoidance" experiment. Let’s give it a try, shall we?

Duck


Duck, North Carolina - 2010 - 09
Duck, North Carolina – 2010. Photo by sugargliding on Flickr (cc)

The Town of Duck in North Carolina sat at the northern end of the Outer Banks, snuggled up against Virginia (map). Lots of people I know owned vacation homes there. Middle class people could afford these homes by renting them out for most of the summer. They’d enjoyed their beach homes for a couple of weeks during prime season and then anytime at all during the off-season. That model didn’t really work for me though. I liked to wander and count counties. Even so I drove to the Outer Banks in 2012 and enjoyed it just fine. I could see why people might want a second home in Duck if they preferred to relax on a beach.

Duck didn’t have much of a history because it’s only existed as a town since 2002. Prior to that it wasn’t much more than a strand of houses along the ocean. The population ebbed and flowed in the predictable manner too. A few hundred people lived there year round, to be joined by twenty thousand other folks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Some of us living on the eastern side of the United States might have heard about Duck for another reason. A little shop called Duck Donuts began there and has been spreading regionally. It’s always funny to see a Duck Donuts shop when it’s disconnected from the geographic source of its name. I imagined a donut literally made from a duck. Nonetheless, the shop simply carried the name of its hometown on the Outer Banks as it expanded.


Duck


Duck, West Virginia 25063
Duck, West Virginia 25063. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Duck also existed considerably inland, in the rugged interior of West Virginia (map). Wikipedia considered the origin of the name "obscure." Come on, someone saw a duck and named the town. Mystery solved.

Whoever founded the hamlet chose a scenic spot along the Elk River on the border between Clay and Braxton Counties. In this place, "rugged, laurel-covered hollows dart back from the narrow river valley, and level land is at a premium." It didn’t have much else in the way of significance although it qualified for its own post office. That counted for something. The Elk River continued onward past Duck on its way to the Kanawha River, then into the Ohio and Mississippi, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Elk and Duck. They liked animals and they kept it simple.

Duck had a better name than another community nearby called Booger Hole. On the other hand, Booger Hole had a better story, considering the murder spree that happened there about a hundred years ago.


Go



Go, Ghana

I found only a single Go, a small village in Ghana. GeoNames provided its exact location and offered multiple name variations: "Go, Gogo, Goo Abokobisi." The spot fell at the very northern extreme of Ghana, nearly all the way up to Burkina Faso. Other than that, Go seemed to leave behind few digital traces anywhere on the Intertubes. I ran it through DuckDuckGo and the first two recommendations involved the band Goo Goo Dolls. It also suggested its rival, Google. D’oh!

Vietnam provided some possibilities albeit not for Go as a standalone name. Go appeared frequently either as a prefix or as a suffix, with various accent marks above the letter "o." None of them seemed particularly remarkable.


Panaji, Goa , India
Panaji, Goa, India. Photo by Dan Searle on Flickr (cc)

Results improved dramatically with the addition of a single letter, creating Goa (map). Nearly 1.5 million people lived in this smallest and wealthiest of Indian states. The Portuguese ruled Goa for four and a half centuries. Then an independent India siezed Goa with force in 1961. Later Goa became its own Indian state in 1987. Its economy depended on tourism, especially for its Portuguese influences and its amazing beaches on the Arabian Sea.


The Verdict

I found it a lot easier to research a 12MC article without using Google this time. DuckDuckGo could probably substitute for Google’s search capabilities. It came surprisingly close to replicating its functionality. However I found it difficult to replace many of Google’s other services. There were parts of this article where I desperately wanted to turn to Google Maps, Books, and Translate. Google’s YouTube video capability would have come in handy too.

I guess I’ll live with Detroit Red Wing advertisements for awhile longer.

Five Years of Searching

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
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.

States Based on Closest State Capital

Twelve Mile Circle receives a fair amount of reader mail and suggestions. Usually it leads to pleasant surprises and sometimes even an article. That was the case recently with a map generated by Steve Spivey who graciously granted permission for me to share it with the 12MC audience.

Steve had been combing through the very earliest days of the site and came across Remote Southwestern Virginia, an article first published in November 2007. It demonstrated that Lee County in Virginia, the southwesternmost corner of the state, was closer to eight state capital cities (and possibly nine depending on measurement) than it was to its own state capital of Richmond. This also fascinated me at the time and spawned the Worst State Capital Location along with various other capital-related articles.

However Steve took a completely different angle by creating a Voronoi diagram(¹) with each state capitol building serving as a generating point. What if states were reshuffled based upon the closest existing state capital? Forget about geographical barriers, history, culture, politics and maybe hundreds of other practical considerations by reducing the problem to a purely mathematical process. As an example, the 12MC headquarters is based in Arlington, Virginia. It’s 106 miles (170 km) from Richmond and only 39 miles (63 km) from Maryland’s capital in Annapolis. Mathematically a reconstituted Maryland might be a better state for me if distance was the only consideration and nothing else mattered.

Let’s take a look at the resulting Voronoi diagram, and of course feel free to open the image in another tab to experience the effect in full-sized glory.


States Based on Closest State Capital

Some states would become winners, other losers and some like Maine and Washington would remain largely unchanged. Alaska and Hawaii would be unaffected because of their remoteness so they were excluded. Chicago would become part of Wisconsin, New York City would be absorbed into New Jersey, and the Los Angeles metropolitan area would split between California and Arizona. Parts of Texas would be cleaved into four neighboring states.

The smallest states, Rhode Island and Delaware, would become major beneficiaries. They would retain their existing geographic integrity while picking-up surrounding territory. Rhode Island and Connecticut would encroach on Massachusetts to such an extreme that Massachusetts would transform into the new Rhode Island (i.e., the new smallest state). Virginia would get squeezed considerably although why would I care? I’d live in Maryland. Meanwhile, neighboring West Virginia would grow to become the unquestionable king of Appalachia.

Many of the states farther west would continue as territorial behemoths although their familiar shapes might soften or erode entirely. North Dakota would maintain it familiar rectangle although larger. Idaho, on the other hand, would transform into an unrecognizable diamond.

Anyway it was a fun diversion although otherwise kind-of meaningless. That made it a perfect balance of intellectual silliness that sent me along a mental tangent for awhile. I loved examining the map, each time finding something different as I imagined the new world order.


States Based on Closest State Capital with DC

Steve took the game one step farther. What if we considered the District of Columbia as a state-equivalent and included it within the calculation? That of course would require us to set aside even more practical considerations including an obvious Constitutional question(²) although none of those mattered for this exercise. It would impact only the Mid-Atlantic region as pictured above. My residence would become part of the new, larger Washington, DC, while Maryland would reduce to a narrow strip hugging the rim of the northern Chesapeake Bay anchored by Baltimore.

Steve was thinking about producing similar maps for Canadian provinces as well as a worldwide version. We should encourage him in those pursuits. Thanks Steve!

(¹) A Voronoi Diagram is "The partitioning of a plane with n points into convex polygons such that each polygon contains exactly one generating point and every point in a given polygon is closer to its generating point than to any other. A Voronoi diagram is sometimes also known as a Dirichlet tessellation. The cells are called Dirichlet regions, Thiessen polytopes, or Voronoi polygons."
(²) Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the District shall "not exceed ten Miles square. So we’d need to amend the Constitution. No problem.