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.

Mapillary

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
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.

Presidential Distances

On July 8, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle talked about birthplaces and death locations of the Presidents of the United States. Now let’s finish this off with a comparison of distances between those two points. This involved a rather simple process of dropping the lat/long coordinates for each president into a great circle distance calculator and recording the results. Then I plotted the distances between birth and death onto a chart.


Distance between Birth and Death of US Presidents

Don’t get too hung up on the lack of presidential names. Readers can always cross reference the numbers to each administration on the shared spreadsheet if curious. Also, don’t be concerned that it’s not scaled to time, either. Administrations lasted from a single month (William Henry Harrison) to just north of twelve years (Franklin Roosevelt). The more important point was to confirm in graphical form that distances between birthplaces and death locations increased quite remarkably for latter administrations. This wasn’t entirely unexpected as it tracked nicely with growth and settlement patterns in the United States.


Shortest


LBJ's Birthplace
LBJ's Birthplace by Jim Bowen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Four presidents came to this earth and shuffled off this mortal coil at spots less than two miles (3.2 kilometres) apart. It didn’t surprise me to see this happen for some of the earliest presidents. Travel was more problematic and the landed gentry tended to stick close to their ancestral estates for multiple generations. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren all passed away within extreme proximity to their birthplaces.

The shortest distance, less than a single mile, caught me off-guard completely. Lyndon Johnson? He didn’t serve until the middle of the 20th Century, and died in 1973. By no means did it seem logical for Johnson to be lumped into the same category as presidents born during the colonial era. And yet, not only was he there, he led the pack.

Johnson was an anomaly of course and a throwback to an earlier time. Paraphrasing from the Handbook of Texas, Lyndon Johnson’s grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., built a home near Stonewall, Texas in the 1880’s. Lyndon’s father, Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr., occupied the home in 1907 and Lyndon was born there in 1908. The adjacent ranch was purchased by a relative of the Johnson family. Lyndon purchased that 438 acre ranch in 1951.

Johnson united the properties. Then, as the National Park Service explained,

Lyndon Johnson took great pride in his heritage and his roots here in the Hill Country of Texas. In order to share that heritage with interested visitors, President Johnson hired architect J. Roy White of Austin, Texas in 1964 to reconstruct the birthplace home. President Johnson and Roy White relied on old photographs of the original birthplace house as well as family members’ memories to guide the project.

Thus, Johnson consciously and explicitly chose to move near his extended family and then later in life he focused on preserving his legacy.


Median


President William McKinely Birthplace
President William McKinley Birthplace by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I used median rather than average because outliers threw the average way off. The median distance from birthplace to death location equated to about 130 miles (210 km), while the average came in closer to 430 miles (690 km). Three presidents scored very close to the median; Woodrow Wilson, Millard Fillmore, and William McKinley.


Longest



Ronald Reagan Estate, Bel Air, California

Then there were presidents who found themselves a long way from their birthplaces — more than 1,500 miles (2,400 km) — when they passed away, some unexpectedly and some at a ripe old age. John Kennedy and Warren Harding both died in office. Kennedy and Nixon died in hospitals. The vast majority of the 12MC audience would already be familiar with Kennedy’s story so I won’t dwell on it other than to mention that I visited the Grassy Knoll in 2008. Warren Harding died in the Presidential Suite of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, probably from a stroke or congestive heart failure. His wife’s refusal to allow an autopsy led to conspiracy theories the continued to persist even through the present.

I guess I have to use Ronald Reagan’s estate to illustrate this section since he was the only member of the 1,500 mile club who died at home.

The president who died farthest from his birthplace was Richard Nixon. He was born in Yorba Linda, California and died in New York City, a great circle distance of 2,436 miles.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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