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Globes are fascinating

I've never considered myself an expert on geography, whatever that means, but part of my childhood was my father throwing out unexpected geographical facts or questions. Like, "does the Panama canal go east to west?" (Nope: Atlantic to Pacific is NW to SE, given how Panama twists. Not that the canal is that much of a straight line, as I just learned.) The relative latitudes of the US and Europe are fairly well known (Newfoundland, Paris) I never did buy his claim that Nevada was west of California, since some points of Nevada are west of many points in CA (including LA); my counter was that every point in Nevada has a point in CA to its west.

South American being east of North America is my favorite personal discovery. Came about when a friend in Berkeley said she was flying to Chile via Miami, which seemed bizarre, until I looked and traced down the latitude lines. Miami barely clips Ecuador. Boston is basically due north of Chile. Which isn't how the flights go... right, because I've never flown that direct, it's always been Dallas or Toronto or Miami connecting. I also like my Portland-Minneapolis-Lyon latitude line, and the realization that Seattle is thereby north of Minneapolis. Doesn't feel like it!

OTOH, I somehow grew up thinking Toronto was basically north of Chicago, Ottawa a bit NE from there, and Quebec some vague distance off to the east. Later I thought Toronto was near Detroit, as opposed to being near Buffalo like it is.

There's a miscellaneious transit and antique map store near me, and I popped in today and walked out with a tiny -- size of a grapefruit -- globe for $15. "Antique style" where antique might mean 1950. It's fairly up to date, though it doesn't have South Sudan. (I'd bet good money not all my readers know there's an independent South Sudan. I wouldn't be surprised if Eritrea had missed a few brain cells as well.) It's tiny and missing a lot of detail compared to a normal sized globe -- no Quebec City, though it does have La Serena to my surprise, but no Valparaiso which seems rather arbitrary -- but it's big enough to spin around and find countries and marvel at geographical facts, those I'm familiar with and those I know but don't feel and those I didn't know at all, without taking up a lot of space.

Tonight I wondered if there were flights over the North Pole as great circle routes would indicate. (yes) I've recently seen a graphic on the true size of Africa, but there's an extra visceral impact of paying attention on a globe, free from any projection distortions. Harder to tell exactly how many large countries fit into Africa, but very clear that the US and China do, while India is like half or 2/3 of non-Russian Europe.

It's also pretty impressive to look at India, or eastern (old Han) China, and realize that about 1/5 of the world population lives and always has lived in each of those fairly small areas. I'm also realizing that India isn't that much bigger than Kazakhstan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or old Sudan, to list relatively nearby countries with much smaller populations.

I'd always thought of Australia as pretty isolated, and I guess it kind of is, but on the globe it look right next door to Indonesia. I measured it on Google Earth, and it's 200 km to Indonesian New Guinea, about 700 km from Darwin to Indonesian Timor. Pretty far on a rowboat, but a few days on a rather slow ship. Of course, most Indonesians live a lot further away.

Then a double weirdness. "Oh, there's Fiji and Samoa, way to the south Pacific." "Hey, someone in LA had debated Caribbean vs. Fiji vacation plans, saying Fiji wasn't that much farther. That's nuts." "Wait, right, he lives in LA, not Boston. And if I measure it out... huh, Fiji's maybe less than twice the distance to Barbados." "Huh, from west Cuba to Barbados is like 1600 miles."

Google Earth is awesome, BTW, and definitely better for measuring things than a globe that doesn't even indicate the scale, and it tries to cope with projection problems. But I still like playing with a real globe more, partly because Google's not so good at keeping useful labels around while zoomed out, and you have to switch scales to move around easily.

Greenland looks *so tiny*. That's in the "I know it, but seeing it is always a shock" category. A lifetime of Mercator projections really messes you up. South America is rather large, mostly due to Brazil. Antarctica, pretty small compared to Africa or South America, though menacing Australia for its lunch money.

Of course my babbling about this probably doesn't have a 1/10th the impact it would if we were looking at a globe together. I could spend the effort linking to maps, but that would seem to miss the point.

Nice not having to fend off a preschooler who wants to just spin the globe a lot, as was the case for the last globe I played with. :)

ETA 15 June: Crossposting from DW to LJ failed due to password changes, which is why you're seeing this post I made June 6 today in your LJ RSS feeds or friends pages.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/324098.html#comments



Damien Sullivan

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