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 September 24, 2014 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Skewed Perspective”

  1. Michael says:

    There’s always Texas. From El Paso it’s about 800 miles east to Texarkana, on the Arkansas line, and about 800 miles west to Los Angeles.

    • RSN says:

      Or Montana. Standing in the southeast corner of the state, it’s about 600 miles to the northwest corner. About the same as to Santa Fe.

  2. January First-of-May says:

    As far as Vladivostok and Moscow go, there’s not really much to report on; about the most counterintuitive thing I noticed was that Vladivostok is actually closer to Moscow than it is to Vancouver. It is slightly closer to Darwin (Australia) and all of Indonesia than it is to Moscow, however.
    Moscow and Vladivostok are both slightly closer to Jaffna, Sri Lanka, than to each other.

  3. Mike Lowe says:

    I love this. Memphis is closer to the southern fringes of Chicagoland than Bristol. Memphis is closer to the northeastern fringes of the Houston metropolitan area than a part of its own state.

    Extending the radius 20 miles to Mountain City, Tennessee brings the circles well into those large metropolitan areas. Wow. I thought the drive from Memphis to Nashville was long enough. Extending the circle to the northeast-most part on TN (~481 miles) gets you deeper in Chicago. It also gets you within 7-8 miles of my house in western League City, Texas. Cool.

  4. Fritz Keppler says:

    Going by road mileage only (IH-10, to use the TX abbreviation), it was well advertised when I lived in Texas that Orange TX is closer to Jacksonville FL than to El Paso, and El Paso closer to Los Angeles than to Orange.

  5. RSN says:

    A guy on another site I follow just touched on this. He’s heading to Madagascar, and his family are worried about him getting ebola. He pointed out that Madagascar is almost as far from Sierra Leone and Liberia as his sister’s house is in Virginia.

    http://www.commutebybike.com/2014/09/24/ebola-and-its-rival-killer-cars/

  6. Peter says:

    Your remark on how parts of Africa are farther north than parts of Virginia reminds me of something that puzzled me when I went to London during the winter. It seemed to be getting dark quite early, and only after a day or two did I figure out that London is farther north than anywhere in the United States outside Alaska.

  7. Greg says:

    Nate Silver from 538 tweeted once, “Portland, Maine, is the Portland of Maine.”

  8. Scott Surgent says:

    I enjoy these counter-intuitive observations. A few I have heard: Reno NV is farther west than Los Angeles CA … Head due south 2000 miles from Houston TX places one in the Pacific Ocean … More than half of the states in the USA have lands farther north than the southernmost point of Canada … and so on.

    The southernmost point on mainland Africa would equate to about central Arizona if reflected across the equator. The southern tip of South America would cut across the southern provinces of Canada. Most of these continents lie north of the equator, which at some point in the past surprised me.

    I am still amused by the fact that most of the UK as as far north as Alaska. I’ve been to Europe twice in my life and it was there that I set my personal record for most northerly latitude reached, being about 52.5 degrees N in Berlin. I have been to Canada, and would have naively assumed that was farther north, but I did not go that for north into Canada.

    I think these misconceptions stem from our tendency to oversimplify geography when mentally conjuring a map. I know I do, even if I consciously try not to.

  9. Rhodent says:

    Thurso, Scotland (near the northern tip) is roughly the same distance to Oslo as it is to London, and is closer to the coast of Iceland than the southwestern tip of England.

    Kashgar, in western Tibet, is closer to Moscow, Baghdad, and Riyadh than Beijing.

    Turning attention away from circles and to lines (of Longitude and Latitude): Cleveland OH is due north of Jacksonville FL, Rome is farther north than New York, and Antofagasta, Chile (on the west coast of South America) is farther east than Boston.

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