That’s a Wrap

On January 1, 2017 · 2 Comments

Finally, 2016 ended. That’s a wrap.

Then I went down a little tangent wondering about that particular expression. Fortunately there were sources such as the late William Safire who explored That’s/It’s a Wrap in 2005. It did refer to the movie industry as I believed although of more recent vintage than I imagined, perhaps dating back only as far as the 1950’s. Some sources considered it an acronym for "Wind, Reel and Print" the film; others considered that explanation a contrivance created after the fact.

Either way, with the year so recently concluded, it seemed like a good opportunity to take stock of my most recent efforts. The Twelve Mile Circle put another year in the books. How did 2016 perform?


Most Read Articles


Braniff International Airways
Braniff International Airways. Image provided by Boston Public Library on Flickr (cc)

I’ve posted 1,320 articles so far, which is crazy. I didn’t really think about that total much, considering it a testament to small actions taken over long periods. The drip-drip of my incremental efforts eventually filled a large bucket. Articles served two very distinct audiences actually, regular readers like you and the ephemeral search engine crowd. It pleased me that the main 12MC page registered the most views again this year. The freshest content rolled through there, the logical place where regular readers naturally congregated.

The one-and-done readers would land, so I figured, directly atop a specific article page as directed by Google or whatever. This naturally skewed page views to older articles that the algorithms already knew about. Sure enough, Chesapeake Bay Car Ferries from 2010 continued its historic domination. It got steady hits all year long, many from people who wanted to ride the ferry. Too bad the last one sailed across the Bay more than a half century ago.

If I looked solely at articles posted in 2016, the award for most readers went to Residual Braniff posted fairly recently in October. That caught me by surprise. I didn’t think many people would care about an extinct airline that couldn’t survive deregulation. I’ll repeat the old mantra once again — I have no idea what interests the 12MC audience. It always seemed to be the most unexpected articles that attracted the most eyeballs.


Most Comments


Counties with Interstate Highways

WordPress powers 12MC and I couldn’t find an easy way to generate statistics about comments so I followed a bit of a manual method. I wasn’t about to go through all 5,245 of them, that’s for sure. The previously-mentioned Chesapeake Bay Car Ferries probably still retained the all-time lead with 27. I turned my attention solely to articles published in 2016.

Interstate Highway Counties grabbed the lead with 13 comments. That one took some effort. I had to create a map and everything. What a pain. A lot of the comments said something like, "you missed such-and-such." Even so, I appreciated the input because of the time I put into it. Second place went to Odds and Ends 12, my occasional series where I talk about topics that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. It’s been awhile. I think I may be due for another one soon.

Next came a bunch of articles with 9 comments each.


Most Viewed Map

I created a map on Google Maps in 2014 that generated more than 1.3 million page views. It continues to grow at a healthy clip. The map illustrated an article about Interstate Highway Time Zone Crossings.



View Interstate Highway Time Zone Changes in a larger map

To be completely candid, I designed the map for my own selfish purposes. I drive long distances on some of my county counting adventures and I like to know when I need to change my watch. It didn’t bother me one way or the other if anyone else found it useful. Apparently no other utility quite like this existed elsewhere on the Intertubes. As of this morning Google ranked it as the #1 search result for interstate highway time zone map. It gets steady hits with spikes clustered near 3-day weekends and during holidays periods such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, popular times for road trips.

Eventually I added a little note on the map hoping to persuade viewers to jump over to 12MC and give it a try. Maybe 20-30 people per day do that, just a tiny fraction of those who view the map on Google. Perhaps one or two may have become regular readers as a result? Who knows. It’s a bit frustrating that something like twice as many people view this single map I created on Google on any given day than every single page on my humble 12MC combined.


Push Pin Progress


The Fairfax Stone

Everyone knows that I’ve mapped every location ever mentioned in a Twelve Mile Circle article, right? Sometimes I wonder. They’re all included in the Complete Index. I mention that because the tally now stands at 3,350 places. I always check it when I plan my routes. That’s how I remembered to go to the Fairfax Stone on a trip to West Virginia last October.


Happy New Year



Happy New Year Creek, Alaska

Maybe I should include some real content today instead of just rehashing all of my old material?

I found quite a number of geographic places in the United States and beyond named for the New Year. This included various foreign language equivalents like Año Nuevo. However only a single place on the planet — as far as I could tell — bore the name Happy New Year. The US Geological Survey listed a Happy New Year Creek in Alaska:

Prospectors’ name shown on a 1902 manuscript map by E. J. Chamberlain, U.S. Deputy Surveyor… flows N to Slate Creek, 40 mi. SW of Eagle, Yukon-Tanana High. 5 miles long.

Hopefully that will be considered geo-odd enough to jump-start another successful year of Twelve Mile Circle exploration. I have big plans. Thanks for riding along.

Trap Streets

On November 24, 2013 · 9 Comments

I’ve wanted to feature Trap Streets on 12MC for the longest while. I began the initial research and started writing an opening paragraph probably a half-dozen times over the last five years. It remained on my topic list, surviving various purges in the vague hope that someday I might find an opportunity to discuss it. Inherently, how does a geo-oddity site dependent upon visual imagery begin to approach something that by definition does not exist?

Let me recap recent developments. I posted another installment of Odds and Ends a couple of days ago, mentioning reader Nigel’s curious discovery of Heterodox View Avenue in various locations throughout the United States. I conducted a basic search and I couldn’t provide an explanation. At the time I observed, "Heterodox View Avenue — and it was always Heterodox View Avenue; not street, not drive, not boulevard, only avenue" and I couldn’t understand why. Neither could I fathom a reasonable explanation for any avenue named "heterodox" in general, a term defined roughly as an unconventional opinion. It all seemed odd and vaguely out of sorts.

Three 12MC readers, Wangi, Craig, and Rhodent each posted comments in quick succession independently. Perhaps, they suggested, multiple appearance of Heterodox View Avenue were meant to serve as trap streets.

Trap streets don’t serve as literal traps — although those in fact do exist (primarily in Canada) — instead they serve as traps for copyright violators. Cartographers historically drew minor, insignificant errors into their maps to deter others from stealing their works. Often errors took the form of small, fictional one-block streets. Access roads through shopping center parking lots, as with several Google Maps’ appearances of Heterodox View Avenue, seemed to fit that definition rather nicely on a theoretical level.

Two of the comments focused specifically on Heterodox View Avenue in Lenexa, Kansas. That was the only example where one could clearly read actual signage in Street View, and cross-reference it to the underlying map. I took a screen print of the image:


Heterodox View Kansas
Heterodox View Avenue, Lenexa/Olathe, KS
via Google Street View, May 2012

Don’t be too concerned about the address being listed as Olathe in the image. The spot was Olathe albeit by about 500 feet from the border with Lenexa, so either may be possible from a postal service perspective. More importantly, compare the confluence of street names with the (blurry) image. Notice W. 112th Terrace.



Heterodox View Ave. – Google

Meanwhile, Google Maps displayed that exact same street as Heterodox View Avenue. Ground images completely contradicted that claim. It was not Heterodox View Avenue. Google Maps also got the western cross-street wrong. It’s actually W. 113th Street.

I compared the location with a couple of other online mapping tools.



W. 112th Ter. – Open Street Map

OpenStreeMap labeled W. 112th Terrace correctly, although paradoxically it also whiffed on the western cross-street.

Only Bing got it right, with W. 112th Terrace to the east, W. 113th Street to the west, and no sign of Heterodox View Avenue anywhere.

I turned to an overview of trap streets presented on OpenStreetMap where they were called Copyright Easter Eggs. OSM viewed them as unnecessary because the site incorporated "a very unique and distinct fingerprint evident in the data coverage and details included." Thus, for example, OSM was able to determine that Apple had lifted data without attribution in 2012 without having to resort to "introduced errors." Trap streets once had meaning in the paper mapping era although they’ve become quaint anachronisms in the digital age.

One must also consider that map inaccuracies can derive from many sources. Trap streets likely form an inconsequential percentage. I’ve noticed frequent innocent errors in every online mapping tool with nothing suspicious intended by the authors. Mistakes happen. I’ve also observed numerous cases of "paper streets," including entire subdivisions, which were planned at one time and never constructed. Let’s also not discount the possibility of pranks intended as harmless insertions by bored or playful cartographers.

Were the appearances of various Heterodox View Avenues sufficient evidence of genuine trap streets in Google Maps? It seemed more plausible than finding several unrelated, unintentional errors having the same exact name, or paper streets overlaid upon actual streets, or a not particularly clever prank. I doubt Google would ever admit to the existence of trap streets even if they were true so we will never know. It will be interesting to watch what happens now that Heterodox View Avenue has been outed.


Trap Street is also a movie!



Coca-Cola Plaza, Tallinn, Estonia

Search on trap street, and behold, one will stumble upon a 2013 Chinese movie with that title in its English version. The Internet Movie Database provided a brief description that sounded intriguing from a geo-geek perspective:

In a southern city of China, a digital mapping surveyor encounters a mysterious woman on an unmappable street… He learns that the data he collected of the street will not register in the mapping system. The street has disappeared as if it never existed. Desperate to reconnect with the mysterious woman he continues his investigation of the unmappable street only to discover something that will change his life forever.

While the movie has screened in Canada, Russia and the UK, it does not have a US release date as of the time I write this (Nov. 24, 2013). It will debut next at Coca-Cola Plaza in Tallinn, Estonia as part of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, on November 26. Tickets were still available this morning. I’m half-tempted to buy one even though I’ll never be able to attend (road trip to Estonia, anyone?). Maybe the director, Vivian Qu, will stumble across this page while Googling herself and invite me to the US premier.

I guess I should start learning Mandarin. I hate subtitles.

Longest Routes for Smaller Areas

On November 3, 2013 · 13 Comments

Knowing how much the Twelve Mile Circle audience loves little puzzles, I thought I might try to fold a couple of related ideas that have fascinated lately into a single entry. I looked back to one of the more popular 12MC concepts, the Longest Google Maps Routes from about eighteen months ago. It continues to be a popular page with various social media and aggregator sites "rediscovering" it from time-to-time, giving it new life. It’s quieted down a bit since the comments period closed after a year, a duration I’ve had to specify reluctantly for all articles to try to tame a never-ending torrent of comment spam.

The second related page focused on my journey to Kentucky last summer, specifically the tremendous amount of time and distance I covered before I ever left the Commonwealth of Virginia. The drive was a bit exaggerated because I took a small detour to capture the independent city of Norton which counted as a county-equivalent for county counting purposes, although the journey was impressive even discounting the jog. I knew about all of that ahead of time of course, however understanding something and experiencing it in person were two different concepts entirely as far as I was concerned.

With all that in mind, I’d begun to wonder about the longest Google Maps default drives in layers of geography that mattered to me, specifically my home county, state and nation. I made the rules simple. It had to be the primary default point-to-point route suggested by Google and it could not cross the borders of the home jurisdiction. I couldn’t add intermediate points manually and I had to remain within the lines. Bridges were fine. Ferries were not. I couldn’t use the Alaska Marine Highway System to link Alaska to the Lower 48, as an example. Those were completely arbitrary rules designed to create some focus and structure.

County – Arlington



View Larger Map

One shouldn’t expect remarkably long distances in the smallest self-governing county in the United States (25.98 sq miles or 67.3 square kilometres) and that was the obvious result. I managed to eke out an 11.5 mile (18.5 km) route entirely within Arlington. Google offered 12.4 miles (20 km) as a second option which I discarded because it wasn’t the initial suggestion. Flipping the route didn’t help either; it produced a longer result although it also detoured the path into neighboring Alexandria and thus violated one of my arbitrary rules. The odd thing I’ve learned from Google Maps over the years is that some other person submitting the same endpoints might get the second option as the first one, or that the recommended route could change over time. I can say only that the solution I found this morning worked, and it could be completely different for you either today or if you came back in six months.

These county estimates were difficult to determine because county lines in Google Maps disappear at a critical point as one drills-down. One has to have a pretty good mastery of the boundaries before starting and then go through a bit of trial and error.


State – Virginia



View Larger Map

It turned out that my lengthy drive completely within Virginia’s borders was impressive, although nowhere near as long as theoretically possible. For that, one would need to start from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (my visit) on the Atlantic Ocean, on Virginia’s eastern shore, to some random point west of Big Stone Gap near the Kentucky border, or vice versa. The distance going either direction came to 576 miles (927 km).


Nation – United States



View Larger Map

I felt considerably less confident in my result for the United States. I found a decent distance and I think 12MC readers should be able to improve upon it, perhaps considerably. The route from Key West, Florida to a very westerly point on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula near Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuge stretched to 3,661 miles (5,892 km), a smidgen longer than the reverse of those same directions. One should be able to finish that journey by automobile with 55 hours of continuous driving. I wouldn’t recommend it.

This exercise could be expanded to other geographic territories, perhaps ones meaningful to individual 12MC readers. I played around with Canada a bit. The biggest challenge was Google’s bias towards U.S. highways to route Canadians around various Great Lakes. I also took things to a somewhat ridiculous extreme by examining Luxembourg, where I uncovered a 119 km (74 mi) route. I even went Down Under to New South Wales, Australia where my best find stretched to 1,797 km (1,117 mi).

Have fun!

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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