States Based on Closest State Capital

On November 2, 2014 · 8 Comments

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.

Skewed Perspective

On September 24, 2014 · 10 Comments

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

Mud Island
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
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.

Dueling Portlands

Keep Portland Weird
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
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.


On August 3, 2014 · 2 Comments

I noticed a tweet from a Twelve Mile Circle reader a few months ago that mentioned Mapillary. I can’t recall who that was although he or she deserves my appreciation. Since then I’ve been watching Mapillary from a distance and I’ve become increasingly intrigued by its possibilities. 12MC almost never features individual websites. This is a rare exception.

For the uninitiated, Mapillary was founded about a year ago as a crowdsourced alternative to Google Street View. Mapillary intends to do it differently. It doesn’t have a huge fleet of vehicles at its disposal to scour the planet like Google or other large companies that provide similar services. However its effort is no less ambitious as described quite succinctly in its Manifesto: "At Mapillary we want to create a photo representation of the world, a map with photos of every place on Earth."

Street View cars can’t travel everywhere, so goes the theory, nor can Google refresh its images more than once every couple of years if not longer even with its massive resources. Crowdsourcing would be one way to get around those limitations, and that’s where Mapillary saw its niche. It would need to generate a critical mass to do that though. Perhaps that’s attainable. OpenStreetMap began with a similar premise and it’s now approaching its 10th anniversary.

Mapillary sounded a lot like the word capillary, and I think that’s the idea. Just as capillaries provide a network to deliver blood throughout the body, Mapillary would reach to every corner of the globe photographically.

The concept seemed to be picking up steam. Last February Mapillary had only about a hundred thousand photos. It hit two million a couple of weeks ago. The site is still in its infancy though. There’s great coverage of Malmö, Sweden for example — the company headquarters — and scattered places where particularly active early adopters happen to live. Other places, even major cities, still remain sparsely covered. This was an example from my little corner of the woods:

Mapillary Sample from the Washington, DC Area
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC-BY-SA)

However, that provides exceptional opportunities for any viewer to be the first person to cover a favorite area. If someone didn’t like the coverage of his hometown, well, he could do something about it. I’ve not created an account so far although I think I may when things calm down and I get a little more free time. There are places near me that need better coverage than some random bicycle guy’s arm.

I’m kicking myself because my on-again-off-again project, "Bike Every Street in Arlington" is about a quarter done now and all I have to show for it is the world’s lamest Flickr tag composed primarily of neighborhood signs and historical markers, with an odd monument or boundary stone thrown in for good measure. Imagine if I’d snapped a photo automatically every two seconds with the Mapillary app for Android as I rode along, and then uploaded the results to the site. The whole world would have been able to share complete coverage of those areas, including miles of dedicated bike paths where cars cannot travel.

I had another motive. Someday this could serve as a genuine alternative to Google Street View. 12MC once relied heavily upon Google. I’ve started moving away from it especially since the release of the new Maps version about a year ago, and began favoring OpenStreetMap. Potentially, Mapillary could fill the Street View portion of that same gap if it succeeds. Currently it does not generate code that allow users to embed images in a blog (that I know of) although maybe that would be a feature they could add as it grows. I’d much prefer a crowdsourced alternative.

I need to decide how to mount a camera to the handlebars of my bicycle. I may go with the Do It Yourself cheap version with a phone. I may get a Garmin VIRB someday if I decide it’s worth the investment. Initially I’ll probably start with Mapillary’s panorama option with my phone and simply record a few noteworthy Washington, DC sites not yet covered.

Stick around. I’ll probably have a follow-up report once I have an opportunity to play around with Mapillary for real.

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