Odds and Ends 8

I have a slew of short topics not befitting an entire article on their own. That means it’s time for another installment of Odds and Ends.

Non-Native English Readers of 12MC

Due East from Eastern Time into Central Time
Breakdown of 12MC’s Audience from Non-English Speaking Nations

The Twelve Mile Circle receives a robust amount of website traffic from readers in nations where English is neither a predominant nor an official language. It doesn’t come close to the number of visitors from the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia and the like, however it’s more than I’d generally expect. I have a hard enough time writing for an English-speaking audience so people from other nations have a double handicap — my trouble stringing together an intelligible sentence along with reading my gibberish in a foreign language.

I examined statistics generated by readers since the beginning of 2013 and recorded the following Top 10 non-English language reader nations: Germany, France, Russia, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Japan. Those ten comprised a little more than half of the set with another 150-or-so nations taking up the rest. I don’t have a point to make with this compilation, I just found it interesting. That’s all.

Loyal reader "January First-of-May" probably pushes Russia up as high as it is. Russia would still be in the Top 10 although a few slots lower, otherwise.

Metropolitan Area Pattern Game

Metro Area Web Traffic
U.S. Metro Areas with 12MC visitors on August 10, 2013

I based the article "Room to Grow" on the metropolitan area tab in Google Analytics, last November. I mentioned at the time that I hadn’t used that tab much before. I’ve kind-of grown fond of it since then. It doesn’t tell me anything useful that I don’t already know, however I’ve turned it into a little game. Each day I check to see if I can trace a route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean following a contiguous trail of 12MC readers. I award myself double points if I can also connect to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. I completed a route and nearly won double points from yesterday’s example.

No, I don’t actually track the points or anything like that. It’s a fun little mindless activity when I open Analytics each morning, like pulling the lever on a slot machine. I can’t trace a path as often as one might think.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court in Gaithersburg Maryland
Photo by Brandon M.; used by permission

I’m not sure how many readers went back and noticed the comment from "Brandon M." or saw my recent tweet (a good reason to subscribe to the 12MC Twitter feed) so I’ll repost his photo. Brandon read Order in the Court and noticed he’d be near one of the streets called Supreme Court, this one located in Gaithersburg, Maryland (map). He also said he checks the 12MC Complete Index Map for local geo-oddities when he travels. I thought I was the only one who did that so it’s nice to hear the index provided a useful purpose for someone other than myself.

Tripoint House for Sale

DEMDPA Tripoint

Wouldn’t you like to own a state tripoint? Longtime reader Bill forwarded an article link recently: "Delaware Spaces: Three states in the backyard, near Newark." It talked about homeowners who generously allow people to access the Delaware-Maryland-Pennsylvania (DEMDPA) tripoint, even though it’s located on private property. The article included an additional surprise, though. The property is for sale and can be yours for only $525,000!

I thought briefly about snapping it up and doing like Joe Biden used to do when he served in the U.S. Senate: commute daily from Wilmington, DE to Washington’s Union Station by Amtrak train. I certainly knew the route. I guess it was probably after the third or fourth time I mentioned this to my wife, ignoring her eye-rolls and icy glares, when she finally said, "It’s a good thing I love you." My tripoint dreams were dashed. That’s good news for the rest of you, though. You’ll have one less person to outbid if you want to own DEMDPA.

Great Captain Island

Great Captain Island

The same correspondence that inspired my Tombolo(s) of Connecticut article the other day also inspired Steve of Connecticut Museum Quest to finally complete his Southernmost Point in Connecticut page (subtitled "Then Things Really Went South"). This is the true, untold story of our visit to the island last summer with a modicum of embellishment for amusement’s sake. Visit Steve’s page — you’ll find it entertaining.

Great Taste of the Midwest

Founders at Great Taste of the Midwest
12MC Visits Madison, Wisconsin

Saturday was my annual pilgrimage to Madison, Wisconsin for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival. This is one of the best beer events in the nation in my opinion, which I know is a bold claim. It’s casual although exceptionally well-run, and it’s hard to beat the lineup of breweries represented. I’ll mark my calendar and hope to return again. 12MC readers in the Midwest should feel free to let me know if they’re one of the lucky few to get their hands on tickets next year.

International Latitude Observatories

I came across an interesting building while researching the Gaithersburg Doughnut Hole a few months ago. It’s just to the east of the hole by a couple of streets, so more accurately it’s just barely on the doughnut, perhaps a coconut sprinkle. Here’s how it appears in a public domain photograph:

Gaithersburg latitude observatory 1

It looks rather utilitarian, like a shed for the electric company or some other utility. One would hardly think that it justifies placement on the National Register of Historic Places, and yet that’s exactly the recognition it’s received. The unremarkable appearance hides a much more unusual purpose: this was one of the original locations for a constellation of International Latitude Observatories.

I’m no scientist, certainly no astrophysicist, so I’m likely to mangle the purpose of these observatories. Maybe someone with a background in such things can provide a more cogent description. Very simplistically, the observatories measured "variations in latitude caused by the earth’s wobble on its polar axis." Astronomers at each location measured common groups of stars at predetermined times and compared variations to determine the wobble. Scientists then factored these calculations into various other measurements to increase their accuracy.

There were four and soon six stations initially. Some closed during wars and economic downturns. Some were replaced entirely. Amazingly, the program that began in 1899 continued in various forms until 1987 when satellites and computers replaced manual observations. That’s quite a streak.

I’ve created a map of several stations that operated during various eras.

View International Latitude Observatory in a larger map

If you noticed that they all seem to fall along the same line of latitude then you would be absolutely correct. They all fall on or very near 39°08′ North. A common latitude simplified the calculations. An astronomer in charge of the Mizusawa station in Japan directed the star study regimen. Does that mean the latitude was selected because it ran through Mizusawa? On the other hand the Gaithersburg location sits right next to the facility that evolved into current National Institute of Standards of Technology. Was that the impetus for the latitude? I don’t know. I found a publication online that seemed to be a history of the program but it was behind a paywall. Unfortunately for the readers of the Twelve Mile Circle, I am more cheap than I am curious. The answer might be known but not if I have to pay for it.

Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA

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The City of Gaithersburg explains,

The Gaithersburg Observatory was constructed with a double wall of Georgia and Virginia pine to provide optimal temperatures for the heat-sensitive telescope. The roof was designed in two parts which move east and west on iron wheels operated manually by a rope pulley system within the building. The six-foot, six-inch full opening was always used at Gaithersburg to accommodate the large Zenith telescope. The small size of the building and the esoteric character of the work that took place within speak modestly of the international importance of this landmark. The research provided all data used in polar motion studies for decades, and fostered international cooperation which transcended the differences between man during times of war and international strain.

More information is also provided by the National Park Service.

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

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The Cincinnati facility remained in operation only until the First World War. There are still observatories in Cincinnati however, as apparent from this nice Street View image along Observatory Place. They just didn’t participate in the program for long.

Ukiah, California, USA

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Ukiah was part of the original constellation, and like Gathersburg there’s quite a lot of information about it available on various Internet sites. It still stands today. It’s the little shed immediately to the right of the house which served as the original astronomer’s home. Today it’s the centerpiece for a city park. Ukiah decided to restore the old observatory in 2001 with the assistance of a volunteer organization known as the Friends of Observatory Park. Renovations should be complete or nearly complete by now according to resources I found online.

Mizusawa, Japan; Charjui, Turkmenistan; and Kitab, Uzbekistan

I uncovered much less information on these three locations. Mizusawa served other astronomical purposes so it continued to function after the dissolution of the program as part of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. The program was important enough in Japan to warrant a 1949 postage stamp. Charjui apparently ceased operations during the Russian Revolution and is now located in Turkmenistan. Kitab was established nearby during the Soviet era and is now part of Uzbekistan.

Carloforte, Italy

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Carloforte would have been my location of choice if I had been around during its heyday. It’s a small island located off the southwestern coast of Sardinia. There’s actually Street View coverage here, which surprised me, but trees obscure the actual site. Nonetheless you can open the page and and zoom in on the sign for the observatory on the post in the foreground.

Gaithersburg Doughnut Hole

I’ve noted my appreciation for reader comments, suggestions and input, on many occasions. The quality of what people contribute is nothing short of miraculous. Sometimes an example lodges in my brain to the exclusion of all the rest. That’s what happened with the Gaithersburg Doughnut Hole and I don’t know why. It’s not any more elaborate or unusual than other geo-oddities contributed by viewers. I’m fixated though and I can’t resist it. I needed to learn more.

Reader "Matt" submitted a comment on the recent Arapahoe Exclaves in Denver article. He focused on Ohio but then he said, almost as an aside, "Also, Gaithersburg, Maryland, looks like a doughnut with a big hole in it."

I set-aside thoughts of Ohio for some future article and focused my energies on Maryland. Maybe it’s because I like doughnuts, or is it spelled donuts? I think both variations are supposedly acceptable. Or maybe because it’s just around the corner from where I live? Either one is equally likely.

Gaithersburg, Maryland is a suburb of about 60,000 people located towards the northwest of Washington, DC, outside the Beltway along Interstate 270.

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The various online maps do not provide decent municipal boundaries so other sources had to be consulted in order to appreciate Gaithersburg’s remarkable doughnut-shaped configuration. I never doubted its existence — the readers of the Twelve Mile Circle demonstrate my woeful ignorance daily — instead I wanted to determine its exact shape and reason for being. The City of Gaithersburg’s official zoning map provided plenty of plausible explanations for both… well, mostly.

Gaithersburg Doughnut
SOURCE: City of Gaithersburg

The preponderance of excluded interior territory has a single owner, the United States federal government. It’s the sprawling headquarters campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST. Wikipedia thinks that NIST is headquartered in Gaithersburg but they’re wrong. It’s a sham. Gaithersburg gets all the prestige of NIST but it’s actually within an unincorporated area of Montgomery County completely surrounded by the city. In their defense it does have a Gaithersburg mailing address.

I’m not an expert on taxes but I believe it would be difficult if not impossible for a city to impose a real estate tax on a federal government entity. Keeping NIST "outside" of Gaithersburg would seem to make good economic sense if that’s the case. The city wouldn’t have to serve a group that doesn’t pay them taxes in return. It wouldn’t be logical for them to give their services away for free.

There is another area of the doughnut hole that isn’t part of NIST, however. It’s a small triangle of land defined by I-270, Muddy Branch Road, and West Diamond Avenue.

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The triangle seems to include a number of large apartment buildings with a few single-family residential units on the periphery. Businesses contribute more to the tax base than residents. Excluding a few high-density dwellings collocated with the NIST tract would benefit the remainder of the city. Apparently that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Mmm… donuts. Apparently that IS the fixation. My apologies to Homer Simpson — it’s not the only trait we share in common.