March 21, 2011
In 2008, a Sarah Palin impersonator famously said, “I can see Russia from my house.” This quote has provided fodder for countless comedians and perhaps helped propel her opponent into the White House. [Edited for accuracy]
But what many people do not realize is … Yes, Sarah, you can see Russia from your house!
That is, if you own a home on Little Diomede Island, Alaska.
As these maps of Alaska and Russia show, this tiny island is in the middle of the Bering Sea between Alaska (obviously part of the USA) and Russia, and is just 2.4 miles from its larger sibling, Big Diomede Island. However, the gulf between the two islands is actually much larger; the USA / Russia border runs between the two islands, and Big Diomede Island is owned by Russia.
Little Diomede Island, Alaska is home to less than 200 hardy residents, practically all in a small village on the west side in full view of the larger island 2.4 miles away. So, these American residents can literally see Russia from their house. Sarah was right after all!
The two islands are also separated by the International Date Line. Does that mean Sarah Palin would be seeing her future each time she gazes at Big Diomede Island, and Putin his past when he looks at Little Diomede Island? Hmm.
Legend has it that the same families settled both islands and then were torn asunder when the United States claimed one island and Russia claimed the other. And, again according to legend, births and deaths were announced by shouting across the water to the other island.
However, according to reliable (?) Wikipedia, all native residents were removed from Big Diomede Island by the Soviet government. Nowadays, only a small weather base and its staff remain on Big Diomede Island.
March 4, 2009
A long time ago, I heard a joke:
What do you call someone who knows three languages?
What do you call someone who knows two languages?
What do you call someone who knows one language?
The punchline holds true when it comes to geography. Most Americans think of Canada as cold, remote, barren. California? Ah, southern, verdant, sunny, palm trees …
Most Americans would be amazed to learn that Canada actually extends further south than the northern border of California!
Pelee Island, Ontario is the largest island in Lake Erie. Although its location is close to chilly Detroit, the lake effect gives it a milder climate than nearby mainland cities. Its climate is similar to North / South Carolina, and wine is actually grown there. It lies south of Latitude 42° N, which serves as the northern border of California. (Incidentally, the 42nd also serves as most of the northern border of Pennsylvania.)
Middle Island, Ontario is actually further south in Lake Erie than Pelee Island and is officially the southernmost point of Canada. No permanent settlements are present, however, since it is a conservation area.
“Wait a minute,” you may be saying. “These are islands. So does that mean the Canadian mainland doesn’t extend as far south as California?” Hold your Canadian Mounties horses, willya?
Consider this part of the education of us Americans so that we will no longer be the punchline of (as many) jokes. I actually didn’t know this until Guy commented on this. Thanks, Guy.
March 3, 2009
Can you imagine crossing the street into another country just to ask for sugar? That’s what neighbors along a street in Beebe Plain, VT / Quebec can do! The USA / Canada border literally runs along Canusa Avenue and splits a small village named Beebe Plain in two.
Residents along the south side of Canusa Avenue (get the pun in the name? HA!) live in the USA, while residents of the north side live in Canada. Doesn’t look like one needs to go through an International checkpoint just to cross the street, although I wonder if there’s one just south of the village.
According to the Wikipedia entry of the Quebec side, Canusa Avenue lies entirely in Canada, and the border runs through the front lawns of the houses along the south side. So, these houses are in the USA and most of their driveways are in Canada.
The border even runs through a tool-and-die factory and at least one house. Imagine cooking a meal in one country, walking down the hall, and serving it in another country! Let’s hope that family doesn’t need to go through an International checkpoint just to get something from upstairs.
(Thanks to commentator Anman for this gem!)
June 24, 2008
A quick blog post to let folks know that Google Maps Mobile has been updated to version 188.8.131.52. To install it, go to
via your Palm Treo or Centro’s web browser and download / install it over the air.
The biggest change is that for Palm Centro smartphones, it supports “My Location,” a close approximation of where you are. While it’s not exact, it’s good when searching for nearby stores. However, as my poor hapless partner reports, it’s confusing to see My Location when following driving directions — he constantly thinks it’s exactly where he is, and consequently gets lost. Turn it off when following directions, honey!
There are a few more smaller changes, notably combining “Location” and “Search” into one option. When using the keypad to scroll the screen, the scrolling is done smoothly instead of jerkly – a nice touch and easier for tracking the moving screen. When a location is found, a small green arrow “drops” onto it — nice animation. And when opening a location, you can then see links for “Directions to here,” “Directions from here,” and “Search nearby.”
Just don’t forget to periodically reset Google Maps, or else your map cache will grow too large.
Very nice touches, Google! One of my favorite Palm programs has gotten even better.
November 9, 2007
We’ve all heard of the immense distances between our star and our neighboring stars. But like all near-infinite numbers, it’s hard to get a grip of just how far away everything is. I regularly read Daily Kos, a political blog site, and it has a regular science writer. He recently wrote about the discovery of a new planet that has some moons that seem to be in the correct position for inhabitable conditions. This planet (and moons) orbit the star 55 Cancri, which is about 40 light-years away. And then DarkSyde, the writer, goes on to say:
To get an intuitive handle on those formidable numbers, consider that if our sun was the size of the period at the end of this sentence, the earth would be a microscopic dot a mere 2 inches away. On that same scale, the two stars in the Cancri binary would be separated from one another by 50 yards, but reside a whopping 75 miles away from the earth and sun! The fastest spacecraft to date would take about half a million years to reach 55 Cancri. And it’s one of the closest stars. Most are much, much farther away.
Whoa. Man, that’s far.
August 13, 2007
Take a moment and imagine the Canadian cities of Quebec City, Montreal, and Toronto. Does your mind conjure up images of snow, heavy winter coats, car tires spinning in heavy snow, and in general being so far north that you’re within spitting image of the Arctic Circle?
Now think of Seattle. Lots of rain, no ice, very little snow (except on gorgeous Mt. Rainer), heavy on the coffee intake, lots of bridges and very few snow tires …
Would it surprise you if I told you Seattle is located more north than Toronto, Montreal, and even Quebec City? See the red line on the map below showing where Seattle is in relation to the three Canadian cities (click on the map to enlarge):
In fact, Toronto is so far south that it’s nearly on par with Detroit and Chicago. (And in fact, if you head south from Detroit, you’ll end up in Canada!)
Oh, you knew all these? Ok, grump grump, I’m not talking to YOU, I’m talking to the person behind you …
August 9, 2007
For millions of immigrants, Ellis Island was where they first stepped upon the United States, after swinging by the island upon which the Statue of Liberty stood. (Yes, the Statue of Liberty does NOT stand on Ellis Island.) And just about everyone’s grandma and grandpa knew that Ellis Island is in New York. After all, every immigrant there knew that they would be stepping into a part of New York City — onto Ellis Island — when they step off the boat.
But is Ellis Island really a part of New York? Not really.
A first look at a map shows that Ellis Island is on the New Jersey side of the border.
However, from the beginning, New York had taken possession of Ellis Island, and New Jersey allowed it. In 1834, the two states entered into a compact recognizing that New York would have exclusive jurisdiction over Ellis Island.
However, beginning around 1890, the Federal government began to expand Ellis Island through landfill on all sides so that it could operate its immigration station there. Between 1890 and 1934, the Federal government poured so much landfill that the island ended up being 9/10th artificial land. That is, the original island area was only one-tenth the size of the entire “new” Ellis Island — everything else was artificial land.
New Jersey eventually filed claim to the “new” portions of Ellis Island, claiming that all of the additions were outside the boundaries of the compact and therefore a part of New Jersey. New York disagreed, and the two states actually duked it out in front of the Supreme Court in 1998. Rudy Giuliani, then Mayor of New York City during this dispute, famously claimed that his father, an immigrant from Italy, never intended to go through New Jersey.
The end result? The Supreme Court agreed with New Jersey, and said that the new additions were all part of New Jersey. If you look at the map below, the green shaded area is where the original island boundaries were — and therefore a part of the state of New York. Just approximately 5 acres were New York’s. All other portions of the island — or approximately 31 acres — were New Jersey’s. Only the Main Building was almost wholly in New York; all the other buildings were entirely or mostly in New Jersey. The two states ended up deciding to share claims to Ellis Island.
Since 1954, no immigrants have gone through Ellis Island. The entire island is Federal property anyway (although the land is shared by both states), and the Federal government operates the museum and maintains all of the buildings there.
Much ado over so little? Maybe not.
July 12, 2007
Good news for intrepid folks who (like me) like to navigate down city streets with their Treo’s in front of them telling them where to go: Google Maps Mobile has been significantly updated, with new features that just begs you to use them.
A while ago, I hailed Google Maps Mobile as one of the best apps ever for the Treo. It still is, and this update is pretty much icing on the cake. A quick overview of the new features added in this update — see this Treonaut blog for screenshots:
- In map view, there are now several icons across the top of the screen – find location, find nearby business, directions, show traffic, and view satellite. The last two icons change to show whether traffic / satellite is turned on or not – a nice touch.
- You can now look up and pull an address from your Treo’s contacts – another very nice feature. You can also save addresses into a new contact on your Treo. Of course, I don’t make it a habit of saving the address of just about every Starbucks I need to find and navigate to. But I’ve often found the need to copy and paste addresses of my friends. This new feature saves time and a lot of stylus-presses.
- Traffic information (when turned on) is now auto-refreshed every 60 seconds. I just wish there weren’t so much grey (signifying no information for that stretch of the freeway) sometimes.
- Some menu options have been simplified. For example, “Erase All” has been changed to “Reset Google Maps…,” “Show / Hide Traffic” is now just “Show Traffic,” “View / Hide Satellite” is now “View Satellite,” and more.
- “Directions to” and “Directions from” options have been updated to make it somewhat easier to use.
There’re still (at least!) three things I’m hoping Google will soon incorporate:
- Auto-checking for version updates (but giving the user the choice of auto-installing new updates, informing the user of new updates, or just don’t check for new updates).
- Auto-reseting Google Maps when the Google tile cache gets too large (i.e., user should be able to set it to auto-reset and erase the tile cache when it grows past 1 megabytes).
- The ability to quickly switch addresses in the “To” and “From” fields when doing directions (I often end up with the destination address in the top field instead of the bottom field; a quick “Switcheroo” button like what Google Maps has on its website would save a few stylus presses).
July 9, 2007
It’s a little-known fact that there is a 17-square-mile area of Kentucky that’s totally isolated from the rest of the state. How did this happen?
The southwestern border between Tennessee and Kentucky was set to follow latitude 36°30′ — a straight horizonal line with the Mississippi River on the western end and Kentucky Lake on the eastern end. When the border was established, surveyors had incorrectly estimated that the border would meet the Mississippi River just once. However, the Mississippi River actually flows south past latitude 36°30′, then loops back north, and then loops around again and flows down past latitude 36°30′ once again.
As you can see in the picture, the end result is that this 17-mile-square portion of Kentucky — called the Kentucky Bend — is surrounded by the Mississippi River (and the State of Missouri) on three sides, and Tennessee on the fourth side. The only way to get to this portion of Kentucky is via a small Tennessee country road. Just seventeen people live there, according to the 2000 Census.
Tennessee tried to claim this land as its own, but then eventually dropped its claim by the late 1800′s. Mark Twain wrote about this area in his book, Life on the Mississippi.
I can’t imagine feeling detached and isolated like this. Even the mailing address is in Tennessee, not Kentucky. Who knows how law enforcement is set up — is it the responsibility of the sheriff from the same Kentucky county that this Bend area is part of, or from the nearest Tennessee county? Confusing. I wish the Kentucky Bend population well!
July 6, 2007
I’ve always been fascinated by maps. Don’t know if it’s a geek thing or not. I love finding “weird” things through maps, and now with Google Maps and Yahoo Maps, the world awaits me – sort of.
A treaty sets the western half of the border between Canada and the United States at the 49th Parallel. The border follows the 49th Parallel – actually a latitude coordinate – in a straight line from roughly north of Minneapolis, MN to all the way out just past Washington State into the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Once in the Strait, the boundary loops south and then west, so that Vancouver Island stays within Canada’s boundaries. Other than that, everything north of the 49th Parallel is Canada’s, and everything south of that is the United States’.
Simple? Not really.
In several places, the ruler-straight border creates strange mapping results. At least three practical enclaves /exclaves were created — little “islands” of property belonging to the United States but almost entirely surrounded by Canada and/or accessed only through Canada. (Well, Alaska lies north of the 49th Parallel, but, well, that’s different because, well, um, it didn’t become a state till much later, um, or it wasn’t part of the United States till after …)
The first and perhaps most well-known out of these exclaves is Point Roberts. Where the USA-Canada border reaches the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Washington State, it actually crosses one more land peninsula jutting off the mainland north of Seattle before the border actually reaches the middle of the Strait.
Point Roberts, WA is a small community of just over 1,000 people a mere 22 miles south of Vancouver, BC. Over land, the only way to reach Point Roberts is through a single road from Canada. Of course, one can take a boat from Point Roberts to the rest of Washington State. There’s only one school for kindergarten through second grade students; older students must take the bus up into Canada, around the bay, and then back into Washington State. I think after 9/11 they had to take a ferry or boat to school, but then they were able to use the bus once again once border crossings were less chaotic.
Two other exclaves are caused by the razor-straight 49th Parallel, this time at the eastern end. The 49th Parallel border runs through (and actually begins its eastern end in) the Lake of the Woods, shared by the USA (Minnesota) and Canada (Manitoba and Ontario). But the 49th Parallel border actually skims two peninsulas jutting from Canada into the Lake of the Woods. As a result, a few square miles of unpopulated, forested land is owned by the USA, even though on the map it looks like it’s part of Canada. The larger one is named Elm Point; the other is unnamed.
Interestingly enough, when viewed via Google Map’s “Map” view, it looks like the 49th Parallel international border doesn’t cut through any peninsulas in the Lake of the Woods:
But switching to the “Hybrid” view shows a different story:
Ah-ha, the two enclaves (or exclaves, whatever) clearly show up in the hybrid view.
I can’t wrap this up unless I point out one more enclave / exclave: the Northwest Angle. Many years ago, the Canadian / USA border was set at the very northwestern tip of the Lake of the Woods, and then it would run due south to the 49th Parallel then directly west. Due to ignorance of geography by the early mappers and developers of the then-young United States, it was not realized till later that the border running south from the northwestern border of the lake would set apart a good-sized chunk of land from Canada. About 140 people live there, according to the 2000 Census. For a good idea of what life’s like there, read the book, In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien.
Enough for now! More later.