Sunday, April 24, 2011

Assorted Tidbits

I normally don't follow celebrity news, but I heard a brief passing mention about Angelina Jolie's geographically-themed tattoos. As shown in the picture, she tattooed four latitude and longitude coordinates, in degrees-minutes-seconds format, on her left arm. The coordinates represent the children she has adopted, and her first biological child.

In order, the locations are:

  • Phnom Penh, Cambodia

  • Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

  • Swakopmund, Namibia

  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The dark shadow visible beneath the tattoo is apparently the remnant of a previous tattoo, since removed. The old tattoo proclaimed her devotion to actor and ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton, illustrating why you should exercise careful consideration when deciding on a tattoo.

Another small item I wanted to mention: I've always had an interest in some of the massive structures built overseas, like the half-mile tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai (left), the new Canton Tower (1968 feet) in Guangzhou and the newer Tokyo Sky Tree (2080 feet). This summer I'll be visiting the world's largest building by volume: the Boeing assembly plant (472 million cubic feet).

None of these buildings, though, are ready for the Abraj al-Bait Towers of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which are the most ridiculously massive buildings I've ever seen in my life. Located literally across the street from the holiest site in Islam, the Kaaba, they look so big in aerial photos of the city that they seem fake. The clock face on the building is the largest clock face in the world at 151 feet in diameter. Basically, if you are in Mecca, and are late for an appointment, you have no excuse.

If I might dare to make a controversial statement, this makes me wonder what the Saudis responsible for this building worship more: Allah or money.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If Only All Flights Were This Fast

A viral video posted to YouTube two weeks ago showing a timelapse sequence of a flight from San Francisco to Paris has received over half a million hits. YouTube user "nbolt" took a photo approximately every two miles for the duration of the flight. The great circle route that this flight takes travels over Northern Canada and the southern tip of Greenland, as shown in the map below.

Cloudy conditions and flying through the night limit what can be seen and recognized on the ground, but the aurora borealis makes up for it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

48 North

I don't use this blog to plug products, but I was sitting here at my computer, sipping a Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA, and was struck by the sheer geography of the moment. The label around the neck describes how the Northern Hemisphere's "hop belt" is located around this parallel. And truly, while the 48th is quite cold if you go north from New England, elsewhere it represents some of the best grain growing areas in the world: Germany, Ukraine, North Dakota, etc.

In fact, the major beer drinking regions of the world, namely Northern Europe, are all clustered around this parallel. The Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria are all on or near it. Other regions developed their own alcohols based on the predominant crop of the area: grapes in Southern Europe, therefore wine; rice in Japan, therefore sake, agave in Mexico, therefore tequila. And in Africa, they sometimes spike their alcohol with things like gasoline to give it a little extra pep.

Much credit to Sam Adams for the geographic reference, even though this beer is a little too bitter for my taste.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fruity Maps

A California art collective calling themselves "Fallen Fruit" have created a series of interesting maps with a very specific purpose.

Fallen Fruit approaches a diversity of topics - land use, socioeconomic inequality, environmentalism - using fruit as a focus point. They organize community events and have a variety of media projects that they discuss on their site, ranging from video to audio and print.

The project that they've engaged in that interests me the most, however, is their public fruit maps. I've had to do field mapping myself, and I've given some thought about the many point sources that can be mapped. I'll be mapping stormwater infrastructure in the late winter/early spring using a mobile GIS, and while I'm out I feel like mapping everything: the fire hydrants, street signs, traffic signals, restaurants, pretty girls, and so on. One thing I never would have thought to map is the subject of these maps.

Fallen Fruit's maps are hand-sketched. No GIS for these guys. They've mapped the locations of fruit trees where fruit is available and legal for the public to pick. They cover several American and European cities - none in my neck of the woods, though. Fallen Fruit is featured in a documentary, California Dreaming, describing how their maps help those struggling to make ends meet in California's ongoing financial crisis find a free source of food. As always, it warms my heart to see people putting maps to such excellent use.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Because I Got High: The Highest Point

It has been an inexcusable length of time since I've posted on this blog, made more inexcusable by the fact that this summer I put my feet on the highest point in the Commonwealth, the fourth of seven extremes of Massachusetts, and did not report on it. This Independence Day, the lovely wife and I went on a trip to the western edge of Massachusetts. Our purpose: to reach the summit of Mount Greylock, at 3,491 feet, the highest point in the state.

Mt. Greylock is at the far opposite corner of the state from where I reside. The actual summit is within the town of Adams, with the road to the top snaking through North Adams, Williamstown, and New Ashford. Williamstown, a college town with a very classic New England look, borders New York to the west and Vermont to the north. (Incidentally, Williamstown to Provincetown, the longest drive you can take in Massachusetts, is about five hours and 250 miles.)

Mount Greylock can be summited by an auto road. The road up isn't unusually steep, but it felt like my hardy Dodge Intrepid was working hard to go uphill. The big guy is a real fighter, and he won this one, before retiring just this October with 225,348 miles to his credit. When I snapped this photo, we met some bicyclists who were even hardier. I'm not sure what's worse: biking up a 6% grade, or careening down it.

The summit is broad and flat, and it is somewhat difficult to identify the highest point. I believe the actual "point", if there be one, is beneath the massive Veteran's Memorial Tower that has been erected at the summit.
 Although Mt. Greylock is said to have the only sub-alpine forest environment in Massachusetts, the day we visited was above ninety degrees and completely calm. There was not a breath of wind, even at the summit. It has always been my luck to be at a place known for extreme weather during a time of the total opposite. I visited Seattle during a dry spell, Mount Washington on a day of unlimited visibility, and the Outer Cape during the worst thunderstorm of last summer. I look forward to the other extreme points of the state and what adventures they may bring.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Addendum to Last Post

I mentioned briefly in my last post that all the world's land is claimed by some governmental entity, with the exception of Antarctica. Even Antarctica has claims on it, but these are not internationally recognized, and have not so far had much practical value for the nations claiming them. 

There is, however, one area on Earth that is not just unclaimed, it is unwanted. The place is Bir Tawil, between Egypt and Sudan. The Egyptians claim that the rightful border is a straight line along the 22nd Parallel. In the image below from the CIA's World Factbook page, they leave Egypt holding the bag, and they take the Hala'ib Triangle from them. The history of this is, once again, how British colonialism messed up everything. 

Egypt style=

In 1899, the British drew up the borders of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, as it was called. They drew a ruler-straight line across a map at 22 degrees north latitude, and voila, created a state. Then in 1902 they tweaked it in several places. The resulting disagreement between these treaties means that whomever claims Bir Tawil is giving up the Hala'ib Triangle, and much larger area with access to the Red Sea. Both of these areas are trackless desert and not worth much to either country, so they don't go to war about it, but it is one of those pesky unresolved issues in geography.

Friday, July 2, 2010


If you're fed up with the poisonous political climate in this country, I have an idea and a half for you.

The first idea is the Seasteading Institute's project. On land, how could you build your own political utopia? Outside of Antarctica, all the world's land is claimed*. You could try to win an election. You could try to convert everyone to your way of thinking. You could try to overthrow the government of an existing state. We all can guess the likelihood of these succeeding. If only you could find a new frontier to settle! The intent of the Seasteading project is to create a new frontier - at sea. Seasteaders, a pun on homesteaders, would settle on offshore platforms like drilling rigs. Of course, I should mention, these are the non-exploding, non-sinking, non-destroying the Gulf of Mexico kind. These platforms would have cities on them, where people could live beyond the influence of the nations of the world. The people behind the Seasteading Institute seem to mostly be politically libertarian, and presumably want an unregulated free market to play around with. They don't rule out the possibility of other ideologies having their own seasteading communities; you could theoretically have a true Communist society, with only voluntary participation. Freeloaders need not apply.

If you are like me, you are thinking one thing: Bioshock. You weren't? Oh.

Well, in the video game Bioshock, an underwater city populated by a bunch of libertarians is decimated by some nano-virus or something, proving beyond a doubt that free markets do NOT work. The Seasteaders even go so far as to address the game in their FAQ:
Look, Bioshock was an awesome game, but, sorry, plasmids are eternally science fiction. An experimental Libertarian nation will not fall due to people being able to shoot lightning, or bees, or bees that crap lightning, or lightning made out of bees from their hand.

If the deep ocean blue is too far for you, there is always our dear neighbor to the north. Not Canada, New Hampshire. Having identified it as the MOST libertarian state, the Free State Project proposes that libertarians should emigrate, en masse, to NH and push it even further in this direction. They have the support of such figures as Bob Barr, 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, and the one and only Ron Paul. This idea is not without precedent: pre-Civil War Kansas was a bloody battleground between pro- and anti-slavery emigrants, fighting to decide which camp the territory would join.

*Why the asterisk? There is one tiny interesting exception to the statement that all the world's land is claimed. I'll make my next post about it.