Sunday, July 27, 2008

Now here's an idea...

Fakeisthenewreal, the same online presence who crunched the data to figure out the most- and least-densely-populated block groups, has redrawn the U.S. map into 50 equally-populated states:Unfortunately he didn't show how he did his calculations*, nor did he make available any more detailed maps showing exactly where the boundaries are. But it is kind of fun to play with maps this way.

* If you don't want to crawl through too much data, you could approximate things by creating clusters of eight and two-thirds congressional districts. Counting the District of Columbia as a congressional district to get 436 districts, you'd have eight remaining thirds of districts to distribute after you divide that total by 8 2/3. You could even things up well by tacking them onto the clusters in states with smaller districts**. The annoying thing there is that the boundaries of congressional districts are so gerrymandered in most states that they don't represent any coherent geographical concepts.

** Congressional districts represent an average of about 650,000 people each, but differ slightly from state to state, as each state has an integer number of representatives.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nine Orders of Magnitude

Forgive all the attributions here; I'm just giving credit where credit is due:

Sullivan guest-blogger Patrick Appel directs us (via Kottke) toward a post from the "God Plays Dice" blog (using facts originally crunched by fakeisthenewreal) on how if you look at Census block groups (essentially the smallest units you can do any kind of reasonable statistics on), population density in the United States varies over nine orders of magnitude.
In case you're wondering, the most densely populated block group is one in New York County, New York -- 3,240 people in 0.0097 square miles, for about 330,000 per square mile. The least dense is in the North Slope Borough of Alaska -- 3 people in 3,246 square miles, or one per 1,082 square miles. The Manhattan block group I mention here is 360 million times more dense than the Alaska one; population densities vary over a huge range.
Wow! That's a huge difference.

I wondered where the two block groups in question were. I figured that a New York City block group that covered a little less than a hundredth of a square mile and contained more than 3,000 people would have to have a bunch of tall residential towers in it. Fakeisthenewreal identifies the b.g. in question as b.g. 1 of tract 279 in New York County (i.e., the borough of Manhattan). The easiest way to find this is to go to the American FactFinder's detailed tables for the 2000 Census, selecting "block group" under "geographic type," selecting the b.g. in question from the list, and then clicking "Map It."

You'll see that the b.g. in question is way up at the northern tip of Manhattan, in Washington Heights. It's the area bounded by 189th St., Wadsworth Terrace, Fairview Ave., Fort George Hill, St. Nicholas Ave., and Wadsworth Ave., which you can see on Google Maps here.

View Larger Map
If you then use Google's Street View function, you can take a look at how the area looks from the ground:The buildings aren't actually that tall. They look to be between six and eight stories. What they are, though, are very tightly packed. While there is a park across the street, within the block group there is almost no open space. There are no short buildings, and they're all apartments. Essentially, tenements. It's surrounded by a lot of similar development, but this particular b.g. is distinguished by having nothing else within its limits to add area without population or with lower population. The household size is pretty high, too, an average of 3.53, which you can see by checking table P17 for this b.g. on the FactFinder. It's pretty remarkable that this is more dense than areas with taller buildings.

The Alaskan block group is a big area on the Arctic Ocean west of Prudhoe Bay.

CORRECTION: I looked into the Alaskan block group in question a little more and determined that it is instead a big area on the Arctic Ocean that contains Prudhoe Bay. It seems that as of the last census, Prudhoe Bay only had a population of 5 persons. There are a lot more people there at any given time, but since they're mostly temporary oil workers and support personnel, they don't count in the census totals. I'll poke around and try to see if I can find the least-densely-populated block group that isn't overrun with temporary workers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Space Chimps

Hey, so we finally got an internet hookup in our new apartment. I'm back to blogging!

So, let's begin with an observation on Space Chimps. If I knew there was a movie called Space Chimps and it was live-action with actual chimps in spacesuit costumes, then I would consider it a must-see. Live-action chimps in costumes is cinematic gold. But computer-animated chimps? Bah! What's the point? If you animate them, you remove the key to ape-related comedy: the chaos, the dissonance caused by an animal making an attempt to act human and falling far short. Instead, all indications are that the makers of Space Chimps make the mistake of having the chimps succeed in acting like people, with a few banana-eating references thrown in. Let me tell you, it's a heck of a lot funnier to watch an actual chimp spaz out than to watch the chimp version of Andy Samberg pretend to spaz out.

I have no intention of watching this movie. Bring back live chimps in costumes! Man, I'm peeved that I missed Speed Racer.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Where Am I?

I am in Alaska. I have been on a cruise ship for the last week, so I haven't had internet access, and then before that I was busy with a wedding, and before that I was busy moving to Woodland Hills (next door to a Fry's Electronics!) I'll be back home next weekend, but I don't yet have internet access set up at the new place, so I'll still be sort of intermittently uncontactable via internet for a while.

Anyway, Alaska is a blast and the cruise was lots of fun. We saw a whole bunch of glaciers, which are truly awesome. Also some wildlife (otters, harbor seals, mountain goats, mosquitos, bald eagles, puffins, distant humpback whales), though we hope to see more when we go up to Denali National Park. Right now I'm at an internet cafe in Anchorage, but tonight I'll be in Talkeetna.

UPDATE (07-13-08): I'm back at home in Southern California. It feels kinda odd to see what night looks like again; I hadn't seen natural darkness in about a week. In Denali National Park, we saw a bunch of wildlife, including five grizzly bears, two moose, a dozen caribou, two foxes, etc. Using Talkeetna Air Taxi, we went flightseeing up the Kahiltna Glacier in the Alaska Range, and landed on a glacier up at the base camp for Mt. McKinley climbers. That was amazing! Ah, well, back to work tomorrow.