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February 06, 2021


At the time the US could have been on the moon. People who came there and met Da Ponte told him that they had believed he had died a long time ago and were extremly surprised to find him alive in that place.

That apparently sloths are much less . . . slothful in the wild, and that bonobos hump much less in the wild, continue to strike me both as unfortunate examples of the distortive effects of captivity on the lives and spirits of animals, and as examples of our kinship with them, considering how us humans also may react to captivity or other limits on our freedom.

Silly example, but once my kids were off to college I took some linguistics classes and got tempted to go to the Memorial University of Newfoundland to get a PhD in linguistics.

The tuition was astonishingly low, even for non-Canadians. The program was good -- they do a lot of work with First Nations languages, and that was intriguing, all the more since my field methods class had focused on the Passamaquoddy language, so I had already had a taste.

And hey, the Maritimes are right next door to Maine, so I could travel back and forth easily enough.

Turns out St. John's is roughly as far away from where I live as St. Louis -- more than 1300 miles. Airplane flights aren't frequent, cheap, or direct (to say the least), and driving there involves an 8 hour ferry ride besides the actual driving time.


Oh, also, Newfoundland isn't actually part of the Maritimes. But it's right next door to them, and they're right next door to me.......

Oh well.

I would like to visit Newfoundland someday. Friends of mind have, and they say it's beautiful.

The Maritimes are the part of Canada still on my to-do list. Guess I ought to fold in Newfoundland while I'm at it.

i hear it's all boredom and chowder.

And really big dogs.

Newfies** everywhere!

But then, I'm really fond of chowder....

** Not the dogs

I worked with a guy who was a Newfie. Not a dog, just a guy, but from Newfoundland.

He had pictures from home. Icebergs were sailing by.

Doorway to the Arctic!!

On the time stuff, a few years ago I got interested in the question of how/when we got to the point we could make relatively precise gears. Basically, you start with a crude screw (as in carved by hand out of wood), use that to make a gear that's somewhat more precise, use the gear to make a screw that's somewhat more precise, back and forth. By the 1790s Jesse Ramsden was making accurate 125 threads per inch screws and putting them into micrometers that were accurate to better than a thousandth of inch. Also in surveying instruments used to map England accurately enough that the maps were considered a security risk.

How Texas got to be even bigger than intended.

"The line makes a jog to the left. It goes 2.3 miles left before heading straight south. That jog is the result of a survey error that some have called the worst survey error in U.S. history. But it isn’t just a two-mile error – that error gets bigger as it continues south, 310 miles to the bottom Texas-New Mexico corner, where it turns west and heads for El Paso. All totaled, the mistake amounts to a 942 square mile error, a landmass bigger than Houston, though long and skinny, like a gerrymandered voting district."
How A Bad Survey And Powerful Connections Added 1,000 Square Miles To Texas’ Lands: Land that should, by rights, have been part of New Mexico ended up remaining in the Lone Star State, thanks to presidential intervention.

How Texas got to be even bigger than intended.

The official treaty definition for Colorado's boundaries consists of two lines of latitude and two lines of longitude. Due to assorted surveying errors over the years, Colorado actually has 697 "sides". For example, the surveyors marking the border between Colorado and Utah set a marker every mile. Those markers became the official border, but wander back and forth across the treaty's specified 32 degrees west of the Washington, DC meridian.

In recent years I have been vastly entertained by the State of Georgia's attempts to get a surveying error in their border corrected so that they will be able to legally divert water from the Tennessee River.

In recent years I have been vastly entertained by the State of Georgia's attempts to get a surveying error in their border corrected so that they will be able to legally divert water from the Tennessee River.

Mostly, surveying errors are interesting only to geographers. (And those looking for obscure factoids for Trivial Pursuits.) But as soon as access to scarce natural resources gets involved....

And if we're going to do odd state borders... East of the Mississippi River rivers tend to have cut deeply and stay in their place. Accordingly, as new western states were admitted, it was not uncommon to use rivers to define the border. The problem with those plains rivers is that they're not fixed. Where there's a bend, the banks on the outside of the bend will erode faster than the banks on the inside, shifting the river bed in that direction. When bends get big enough -- look at any satellite picture of the lower Mississippi -- in a big flood year the bend will get cut off and the river bed may move many miles in less than a year.

There are Supreme Court decisions that say that in the first case, the border moves with the river -- see the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma for examples. In the second case, the border stays put and no longer follows the river -- see the case of Carter Lake, Iowa.

Funny how how those ever-moving fake borders decide whether someone gets Medicaid or other health coverage or not.

Not ha ha funny.

Comanche funny.

Bad enough when rivers change their course. But what will a bunch of constitutional lawyers decide to do when a fault line shifts a whole chunk of land somewhere new? And what weird rationalization will they come up with to justify it? (Geology being, no doubt, too arcane for a lawyer to consider.)

there is a story that the boundary between LA and MS down by the Pearl River was decided by a whisky barrel that was released at the mouth of the river. When trying to find a map to confirm that, I found this blog


Fun stuff.

A friend on facebook just wrote 'I don't procrastinate, I just reschedule!'

On the subjects of desert sands and river boundaries...

Exclusive: Hedge funds eye water markets that could net billions, as levels drop in Lake Powell

There's an original Mason-Dixon marker that I've been to a number of times, on the border between PA and MD.

(Most of the other such markers have disappeared over the years. This one is in an out-of-the-way spot, and fenced)

Modern surveying says it's off by about 2cm.
I guess not surprising, given the pains that Mason & Dixon took: setting up an observatory to determine longitudes. Their 'Stargazer's Stone' bench mark still exists, in the front yard of a historic house, at one square foot, the smallest "National Monument".

Not to say that there weren't mistakes, but they came from ignorant politicians, which is why the border between MD, PA, and DE had a 'gap' (lines on two sides, circular arc on the third) that was outside the legal definition of all three states. Used as a haven by fugitives and bootleggers until borders readjusted in the ~1920's or so.


The border between NJ and DE is along the "eastern" edge of the Delaware River, rather than down the middle of the river like the border between NJ and PA.

A bit of Delaware land was created during the construction of a nuclear power station in southern NJ.


I still might take a crack at selling cigarettes with no sales tax in one of those spots. ;^)

Speaking of Mason and Dixon, I only recently heard for the first time the rather lovely song by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor - cannot link because on phone, but oh the romance of

A geordie and a baker's boy
In the forests of the Iroquois


Thanks cleek!

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