Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say

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Want some bread?

Midway Island, where the airport is named after Chicago

Does Switzerland have Google Streetview ? Do they ever use KPH on street signs in the United States, or is MPH like, federally dictated? Even in Oregon? Is there any good way to tell the difference between highways in South Africa versus Australia?

These are the kind of questions raised by Geoguessr, an excellent new distraction from the whiz kids who brought us ‘heroin.’ Well, not really, but it’s almost as addictive but with few of the negative side effects. The basic idea is that it randomly drops you somewhere in the world in Google Streetview but with no map. The goal is to figure out where you are. You can move around, but going too far is tedious because you only have the little clicky arrows, and can’t drag your yellow person to somewhere else—so you’re really forced to rely on your wits. Street signs, area codes on ads, anything out of the ordinary.

Midway Posers

Midway Posers, posing in the weirdest place on Earth

It gives you a good sense of how most places in the world look essentially the same, and then just a general idea of what distant places are actually like. The best place I’ve gotten so far though was Midway Atoll, (where Google evidently sent a camera a few years ago in some kind of “look at the weird places you can use Streetview! A submarine? No way!). Midway is completely covered in seabirds (there are hundreds in every direction), has no regular cars (only golf carts), pre-fab housing and satellite dishes everywhere, and about 40 Midwayans posed for the camera in a group—staring through the GoogleMaps page like an episode of the Twilight Zone.

You gradually get a sense of certain things about the parts of the world that currently have streetview images. Canada and the Western US are universally annoying, because it is usually possible to get them…but only after scrolling down the highway for 5 minutes until you see a sign. As are the empty parts of South Africa and Australia….and they look similar and both drive on the wrong side of the road, so if you guess on one that you think is one of those, it is always the other. Japan and Russia are completely unsolvable—only by landing next to a monument to some Soviet general was I able to locate myself in Russia. I popped up near a tourist attraction in Japan once…and still got it wrong. You need real letters, not those squiggly ones they use in those places. Also, there are a lot of places in Brazil, and they are always full of people. Isn’t geography fun? In any case, well done Geoguessr, you have so much to teach us.



Overly Harsh and Pedantic Takedown of This Shower Curtain Map

Doesn't look good under harsh bathroom lighting either

The World, from the same people who brought you liquid body soap

Allow me to get this out of the way right off the bat: I am not a cartographer. Sure, I may have a particular affection for the “Geography” section of Sporcle. And yes, I can spell Kyrgyzstan and know that Toronto isn’t the capital of Canada (even though it obviously should be). And I may have even drawn a map of the world from memory (along with everyone else in my class) as an end-of-year project in 7th grade. But those days are long past, and I have something significantly more important to tell you about: the bathroom users of this country are getting puzzling and inaccurate geographic information from one of the most popular shower curtains on the novelty shower curtain scene.

Sentimental views of crushing poverty have never been this geographic!

I am referring to the curtain available here which is well known enough that I had already seen it once or twice before picking it up last year. It even featured in a few episodes of the US version of Shameless alongside Emmy Rossum’s boobs (no, that link isn’t to her boobs, pervert). If they ever reboot Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiago? as some kind of edgy, morally-ambiguous, heist drama on AMC it’ll be in their bathroom as well.¹

Unlike Amazon reviewer “E. Foster” whose primary complaint was “Really Smelly!” most of my criticisms are based on the bounty of geographical oddities contained upon its rubber surface. Sure, it’s just a shower curtain, but it is one of the most massively influential shower curtains on the market right now! Here are some of the things that are strange about it:

  1. The Mercator Projection. Widely considered the wrongest of all preposterously wrong map projections. It’s a wild distortion of the relative sizes of various parts of the world that says to your typical mid-17th century colonialist “Why OF COURSE it would make sense for Norway to rule over the southern half of Africa.” Continue reading