Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Online Interest in Geography Declines

Google Trends is a great way to gauge the worlds relative interest in a topic. Why not check out where geography really ranks among the priorities of the world? While Google Trends does not provide the actual or estimated number of searches, it allows you to compare relative popularity over time and between search terms. The Trends data I used is ranked by Geography which means the various numbers relate to the frequency of geography searches as 1. So, if Batman had twice as many searches as Geography, Geography would rate a 1 and Batman a 2. Get it? Good!

Before comparing geography to other topics I looked at the five and a half year history of searches for "geography". I was surprised to see that between 2004 and 2010 there have been fewer and fewer searches for geography. The relative decline can be seen in the chart below.

Geography Trends

So "the world" is searching for geography about one-quarter as often as in 2004.

Lets compare search frequency to that of a successful company with geographic right in their name, National Geographic.

National Geographic

I was a bit surprised to see a magazine have more searches than a core academic discipline. The next chart shows the highs and lows for searches throughout the course of the year in the US alone. It is clear that searches lull in the summer months and peak dramatically in the fall-no doubt related to the traditional academic year.

USA Geography

The Philippines rank as the country with the highest search frequency relative to all other content. Interestingly enough, the peaks in the Philippines are inverted from the US and we see the peaks in the summer months.

Philippines Geography

A quick check of wikipedia, which has no good reason to lie about this, reveals a fascinating tid-bit: the academic year in the Philippines begins in June!

Just for fun, let's go ahead and compare searches for geography with that of a celebrity who has faded fast from the lime light- Paris Hilton. While Paris has command over geography when it comes to google searches, the gap, she's narrowing!

Paris Hilton

So get out there, do some google searches and spread the word about geography!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Where Three Powers Meet - Image of the Week

Without careful inspection one might not realize that Russia, China and North Korea actually share a common border. In addition to the three countries coming together there is a small stretch of land where the borders run near each other in a fascinating way.

I think this area would be a great candidate for Google to update their borders, something they have begun to do in
other areas, as these border delineations could use some serious work. No sense having to involve Bill Clinton in negotiations to release a geography blogger from North Korea if we don't have to!

Below is a blow up of the area and more detail on the point where the three countries come together, at least, according to Google.

You can find this area by navigating to 42º 25' 50" N 130º 36' 58" E. Once again for your reference and my own, you can type the degree symbol on the iPad by holding the O key and waiting for a small window to pop up. Give it a try!

Google Adds to Virgin Experience with Maps

Most international air carriers offer digital maps as one of the view options with seat back television screens. Google announced last week that a partnership with Virgin America will up the digital map ante by using upgraded terrain based Google Earth maps in their fleet .

I find digital maps on planes to be enjoyable and they actually help me pass the time on long flights. My first experience was on a USA 3000 flight to Jamaica in 2004. The ability to track, in real time, the plane's location was pretty cool. It also beat the heck out of the in-flight movie, Fat Albert.

A Delta flight from Detroit to London in 2009 was my first experience with an interactive flight map. I could zoom in and out as well as toggle between the flight track and flight data such as speed, distance traveled and time remaining until landing. Being able to track the plane's progress made the flight not only seem faster, but more enjoyable as I would think to myself things like "You are directly over the mid-atlantic ridge."

Most recently I flew about 15000 miles with South African Airlines. While they had seat back maps, which most international fleets now do, they weren't interactive. In fact, the map would rotate to another screen of some doofus telling me to do calf raises and toe raises about every 15 seconds. It was a tease. I certainly don't want to get deep vein thrombosis but I don't need to be reminded constantly when stuck on a plane for, during one stint, more than 18 hours. I longed for the ability to zoom in and out at the press of a button and to tell myself things like "You are entering Liberian airspace". Virgin America passengers will no longer have to endure the pain of substandard seat back maps. It's just too bad I don't live near a Virgin America hub.

Since I brought up South African Airlines, I would be remiss if I didn't show you the safety video. Anyone who flies SAA will remember this little guy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

LOST Geography, Tunisia and Membata

LOST is my favorite drama tv-series, one that incorporates some great geography- both real and fictional. As I await the release of the Season 6 DVD I started to think about MY unanswered questions.

If I could have one question answered it would probably be about the importance of Tunisia. The Tunisian desert was the place where Ben and Locke ended up after turning the frozen donkey wheel in the well. It is supposedly the one-way exit off the island. Tunisia was also where Charlotte came across polar bear remains and a Dharma Initiative symbol. While there was plenty of discussion about pockets of energy in various places on the earth, one being the island, (the fictional Membata off the coast of Sumba in Indonesia) the significance of Tunisia was never revealed. I've searched LOSTpedia- which is a great source by the way, blogs, and the only thought seems to be that Tunisia is a near antipode of Membata. The problem with that theory is that it simply isn't true- I find the antipode to be the coast of Venezuela, almost 5,000 miles from Tunisia. I checked it using the sandwich tool and took a screen shot.

So for any of you GEO-LOSTies out there - Why do you think Tunisia was used? What is its significance?

And for your reference, the presumed location of Membata using "the numbers" is 10°48'15.16"S / 117°23'42.01"E If you use that in Google Earth you'll be flown right to the islands mythical location :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Will Kosovo's Quest Pave the Way for Somaliland?

Another exciting piece of political and geographic history occurred today as the International Court of Justice ruled the independence of Kosovo was not a violation of international law. This is another critical step in Kosovo's path towards international recognition. It's natural to think that this is a step in the right direction for other States seeking to have their independence recognized like Abkhazia and Somaliland but this will not end up helping their cause in the slightest. It's all political BS.

This is good news for the Kosovoan people (I should probalby say those seeking independence) but this ruling does little to change my negative view on the international community's shunning of Somaliland.

Vice President Biden just reiterated the United States' "unwavering commitment to Kosovo's sovereignty and territorial integrity." KOSOVO's territorial integrity! Are you kidding, Joe? Does that mean we invoke the Monroe Doctrine only when it is convenient? If we're going to site territorial integrity, we can't HIDE behind it when LEGITIMATE claims surface.

Feel free to argue with me the legitimacy of Somaliland's claim! Prove me wrong! This has nothing to do with the Organization of African Unity trying to keep the borders as they exist. Somaliland is breaking away from Somalia, NOT Italian Somaliland.

The US has spent BILLIONS of dollars working to form effective democracies overseas. However, when one emerges organically, despite little monetary support and being located next to (or part of) arguably the most unstable place on earth, the US refuses to recognize it. Africa has suffered from colonial borders and disinvestment for decades. Why can we not support a success story in such a strategic area? Let's get passed the Monroe Doctrine already! Oh wait, I forgot, Biden already said we get to pick and choose when we follow that Doctrine!

So while we've always hated Slobodan, we love our pirates and could care less about the growing presence of Al-Shabab in the horn of Africa!

Update: I came across a Serb Kosovo blog I thought I'd share with you. One great thing about the interweb is the ability to find other sides of a story!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kayaking Just Got Better

The first time I ever used the search engine for flights, I found a flight for 700 dollars less than I was prepared to pay. Since then it has been THE place I look for the best flight and vacation prices.

Naturally I got the app for the iPhone and iPad and most recently for my HTC EVO.

After learning about Google's planned take over of ITA who is the data provider Kayak uses, I became worried that Google would push the upstart kayak right out of the market but kayak has outdone themselves with the most recent update to both the mobile apps (iPad in particular) and the full website.

The iPad app was completely redone to take advantage of the large screen. While the mobile app is nice, it feels

The large screen on the iPad also allows for quick searches, a must when you are searching for more than just a single date or location. The history of searches, located in the center provides easy access to recent searches.

Search Screen

But it's the new Explore feature in Kayak which has not only raised, but redefined the bar for travel websites. Explore lets kayak help you find a destination based on cost, flight characteristics, timing and cost. I have been waiting for a feature that would allow me to ask "where can I go given these parameters?" has delivered. With the broadest set of search criteria, travel is possible nearly everywhere. This makes it simple to find deals, like 410 dollars to Bogota or 580 to Amsterdam.

World Map with Explore Dots

Once you zoom in on the map (a dream using multi-touch) the dots turn into the best available fare and you are on your way to a great vacation!


Thanks again to the folks at and happy travels!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Google Earth Image of the Week - July 19

I use Google Earth every single day. Its ever-changing wealth of information is intriguing and captivating. Today I'm launching the first weekly blog feature I've ever done, the Google Earth Image of the Week. Check back each Monday for a new image and discussion from around the world.

Today's image comes from a place I have been thinking (and talking) about a lot lately, Somaliland.


The highlighted area shows the location of a MiG jet in Freedom Square, Hargeisa. I know Somalia used its Air Force to bomb Hargeisa and areas of Somaliland, but I haven't found anything definitively identifying the jet in Freedom Square as a Somali jet shot down during the Civil War- which seems to be the most widely accepted rumor. If anyone has any info on the origins of the jet in Hargeisa, I'd appreciate you letting me know.

For reference, you can locate this area in Google Earth at 9° 33'41" N, 44° 3'55" E. Also for your reference (and my own) you can type the degrees symbol on a windows based computer by holding the alt key and typing 0176.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Fight for International Recognition by Forgotten Countries

I think most people believe statehood is granted by some divine authoritative body, or perhaps by a pencil-pushing bureaucrat on the third floor of some office building in New York. The question "What makes a country a country?" is a fascinating one with a wide variety of vague and non-specific answers.

We toss around terms like international community, sovereignty, constitutive and declarative theories of statehood and recognition to help us define country status, but these terms are vague themselves. Even recognition and inclusion by the UN can't be used as a determining factor for statehood, unless it is being used to validate the actions of it's own members as those who can "grant" that status.

The Montevideo Convention put forth basic criteria for country status but many will tell you the Montevideo Convention is virtually useless by itself and promotes absurd claims of statehood. These people subscribe to the more declarative theory, relying on the diplomatic action of the big boys. It's hard to think of promoting independence, sovereignty or statehood as a bad thing. However, the international community seems hesitant to recognize new countries, despite many having met (arguably) all criteria set forth by deterministic conventions (I'm using the other definition of convention here) with the exception of multilateral diplomatic relations.

Countries who, to this point have legitimized each other, seem to have a greater desire to keep the group exclusive than to stick to the more common considerations for country status i.e. Matt Rosenburg's list and the Montevideo Convention, external recognition excepted. When you think of it that way, external recognition, in reality, is the only criteria that really matters.

I don't like to think that way.

Why does the international community stonewall legitimate claims to independence, such as Somaliland, Kosovo and Taiwan? I recently asked's Geography editor, Matt Rosenberg WHY Somaliland and other countries in waiting are having so much difficulty. He is scheduled to have a blog post answering the question later this week.

The point is that there is so much gray area for places like, Israel, Palestine, Somaliland, Kosovo, Tibet, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, North Korea, South Korea, etcetera that perhaps there is a need to consider a different source for country status. For most of us the biggest consideration in whether or not a country is a country is if we can find it on a map. As a whole, we don't care about Pakistan's refusal to recognize Armenia; We care if Armenia is on a map.

Who better to entrust country status than the a-political map geniuses at the National Geographic Society? Nat Geo takes this issue very seriously, citing several sources in their Maps Policy including "the United Nations, the European Community (apparently Nat Geo needs to UPDATE it's map policy as the EC has been disbanded), as well as the policies of individual governmental entities; the Board on Geographic Names; recognized reference books such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, geographical dictionaries, atlases, independent academic texts and other similar sources".

At least their process feels analytical and not quantitative or arbitrary. However, Nat Geo has also shown their ability to quickly adapt (or bend), exemplified by the Map Committee's recent ruling on the Paracell "Don't call me China" Islands, following an online petition signed by more than 10,000.

David Miller, a map editor for National Geographic Maps provides a more simplistic explanation: "for independence bids to ultimately succeed, the government must control its territory, have the support of the people, and show stability over a certain period of time." Of course, if we went by THAT definition we wouldn't have many countries to map!

Citing the Kosovo example, Mr. Miller goes on to say in the National Geographic News article "We're preparing our digital maps and databases … to start showing [Kosovo] as an independent country..." However, that change has yet to show up on their maps.

Interestingly enough, National Geographic seems to be wavering on the Somaliland issue. On continent maps Somaliland is delineated but not given a standard color, making clear the distinction that the "world" still sees Somaliland as an autonomous region of Somalia and not an independent country. On world maps, however, Somaliland is not delineated, only displayed similar to other states, such as Fezzan and Cyrenaica in Libya.


The discussion of country status is circular AT BEST. Really, when it comes down to it, there is no "official list", only opinions. A state's independence is real to anyone or anything who gives credence to it's existence.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Imagining Somaliland

I've been watching a lot of the show Pawn Stars on the History Channel lately. My favorite guest expert on the show is Sean Rich, who specializes in antique arms and armor. He eloquently discusses his interest in antique arms in terms of imagining who it was to have held a gun or what someone must have been thinking when striking a blade to another blade in combat during the Civil War. Sean says that each weapon has a story to tell. That same thought, wonder and imagination is one of the reasons I'm so fascinated by maps. Each little tiny dot with a name next to it represents not just a city, but a place - with residents, history, landmarks and a story to tell. A world map is of particular interest because one can view the spatial relationship of all of these places at one time.

A place with an intriguing story to tell is Somalia, which, on July 1st celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence. Strife has plagued the young country for much of its existence following its independence from Britain. Today it is arguably the most unstable place on earth. Despite its strategic location on the horn of Africa, the gulf of Aden and serving as the entry point to the red sea and the Suez canal, the country ranks 224th in per capita GDP.

The northern reaches of what is recognizes internationally as Somalia, Somaliland, declared independence from Somalia in 1991. In an effort to build an economy and gain international recognition as an independent State, they began printing their own currency in 1994, the Somaliland Shilling. The release of the currency coincided with the elimination of the Somali Shilling as an accepted currency in Somaliland.

After a little research I became interested in obtaining some Somaliland currency. To my surprise I was able to find Somaliland shillings for sale. I used what the transformers use to find rare artifacts...ebay. I purchased a 500 shilling note from Robert at If you're looking to purchase foreign currency check out Robert's site. He has a wonderful collection of uncirculated currency. He also is a very kind salesman and is one of the very few who has been able to successfully blend hobby and business.

Here is an example of the 500 Somaliland Shilling note. They really are beautiful and one wonders how they are able to print something of such quality with a value of less than a dime.

Despite the lack of international recognition as a State, Somaliland appears to be a beautiful place in its own right. Check out a great collection of images from Somaliland.

More to come on Somaliland's quest for recognition.