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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There was a time in the early days of Twelve Mile Circle when I used to devote entire articles to differences in distances that didn’t seem plausible, although of course the actual measurements didn’t lie. For example, sticking with the Twelve theme, the twelfth article I ever posted on 12MC all the way back in November 2007 dealt with a whole list of state capitals located closer to southwestern Virginia than to its own capital in Richmond. I loved those little counterintuitive notions although I haven’t posted any in a long time probably because they’re kind-of mindless.
I recalled some of my Riverboat Adventures the other day while speaking with some friends and remarked how crazy-long it took to drive across the entire length of Tennessee. We drove through only two states on the way back, Tennessee and Virginia, and it took something like thirteen hours. That prompted me to hit the maps and resurrect the long-neglected genre.
Driving from Memphis
Memphis. My own photo.
The Tennessee leg of our return followed Interstate highways from Memphis to Bristol, specifically I-40 and I-81. I used one of my favorite mapping tools to create a circle around Memphis that extended to Bristol. That’s where the fun began. Memphis was closer to Oklahoma City, Dallas, New Orleans or Kansas City than it was to Bristol. It was even closer to Davenport, Iowa!
Two could play at that game so I created a similar circle around Bristol extending to Memphis. Bristol was closer to Detroit and Jacksonville than it was to Memphis, and about the same distance to Chicago or Philadelphia.
Back in Virginia
Casbah, Algiers by Nick Brooks, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I then drew some latitudes, returning my focus to the Commonwealth of Virginia. I noticed that there were parts of Africa farther north than parts of Virginia. I let that rattle around in by brain for awhile. Sure the overlap wasn’t much although definitely factual. Algiers and Tunis on the African continent were farther north than Danville and Suffolk in Virginia.
Keep Portland Weird by Christopher Porter, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Again with the latitudes, I compared Portland, Oregon with Portland, Maine. It reminded me of a quote in a guest post that Marc Alifanz contributed to 12MC in March 2011, Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon:
Portland was originally founded by Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts and Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. Each wanted to name the new town after their place of origin. They flipped a coin, and Portland won. It’s probably a good thing it worked out that way, because two Bostons of very large size would have created more confusion than big Portland, OR and littler Portland, ME do now.
That was an interesting aside, although referring back to the latitudes, Portland in Oregon is actually farther north than Portland in Maine. That seemed odd because Maine bordered Canada and Oregon had an entire state (Washington) between it and Canada. Yet, that’s what the line revealed.
And speaking of Portland, Maine, I drew another circle and examined the results. Portland Maine was closer to Caracas, Venezuela than to Portland, Oregon.
A Canadian Example
old cayenne 6 by Nicholas Laughlin, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
All of the results seemed astonishing to me although I recognized that a lot of this had to do with my very specific geographic perspective. I doubt the measurements and observations had anywhere near the same impact for people living elsewhere. So I tried an example in Canada. St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador was closer to: Bratislava Slovakia; Murmansk, Russia; Cayenne, French Guiana; or anywhere in Western Sahara as it turned out than it was to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Similar observations could be made about the distance between Vladivostok and Moscow, Russia, I supposed. Ditto for Sydney and Perth, Australia. Have fun and let me know the most counterintuitive observation you discover.