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A Town Named Migrate, KY

In a Wall Street Journal article about winning the American green card lottery due to a computer error, there’s a great anecdote:

In the days when the lottery was paper-based, the State Department’s Kentucky Consular Center, which handles the program, created a post-office address with a fictitious city named Migrate, Ky., putting the address on applications. Applicants mailed their forms to the city and lottery winners who eventually settled in the U.S. would sometimes search in vain for Migrate on the U.S. map.

Connecticut’s Panhandle and New York’s Oblong

Connecticut, like a number of other states, has its own panhandle. However, due to circumstances surrounding its creation, it created a mysterious region in New York State, known as the Oblong. Here is the story of the creation of both, in brief:

Under a new agreement of November 28, 1683 the boundary between Connecticut and New York was generally recognized as a line parallel to and twenty miles from the Hudson River north to the Massachusetts line. However, New York, acknowledging most of Connecticut’s settlements in Fairfield County, gave up a claims to a 61,660 acre rectangle east of the Byram River, which became the area sometimes referred to as Connecticut’s “panhandle” or the “handle of the cleaver”. In return, Connecticut gave up its claims to Rye and ceded to New York a strip of land 580 rods (1.81 miles) wide “equivalent” to the area of the panhandle that extended north from Ridgefield along Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester Counties, New York, to the Massachusetts line.

While this strange region of New York is no longer particularly relevant (aside from the marker pictured below, indicating its existence), it is primarily known about within genealogical circles, as families that hail from the Oblong find it to be a genealogical black hole. Apparently, families from this region are ignored by both states, leading to some family tree dead ends.

The International Dateline in Jewish Law

There are many examples where geekiness meets Judaism. Sierpinski Hamantaschen, for example. Well, here’s one case where geography nerdiness combines with Jewish Law: the International Dateline.

When Jewish laws were first being debated and discussed, the spherical nature of the Earth was not on many rabbis’ minds. And crossing the Pacific? Even less so. But in the last few centuries, and especially in the last few decades, these questions have become more important.

First of all, where is the International Dateline according to Jewish Law? And more practically, if you time things correctly, can you skip the Jewish Sabbath? One need never worry about rolling on Shabbos ever again!

Enter the vast compendium of Jewish Law. And of course, there are many opinions of where the International Dateline falls (the above map is a visualization of these opinions). Here’s a sampling of the discussion:

Therefore, the halachic Dateline of the Chazon Ish avoids going through land by gerrymandering along the Russian and Korean coasts, then along the 125.2°E longitude line, through the East China Sea, Philippine Sea, and Indonesia. Finally, the line cuts eastward, around most of the Australian coast, and south towards Antarctica. According to the Chazon Ish, Japan, New Zealand, and Fiji are on the same side of the Dateline as the United States. When the Japanese and New Zealand residents say it is Saturday, halacha says it is Friday. When they say it is Sunday, it is halachically Shabbos.

And more:

Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, the author of the Gesher Hachaim, in Sefer Hayoman B’Kadur Ha’aretz, bases his ruling on Chazal’s Judaic principle that Yerushalayim is “the center of the world.” If so, the Earth “starts and ends” (i.e. the dateline) on the exact opposite side of the Earth, halfway around the globe at 144.8°W (line E). This line runs from the Gulf of Alaska through the Pacific Ocean east of Hawaii, placing Hawaii on the “other side of the Dateline” from the United States. Hawaii would then be nineteen hours ahead of Baltimore, rather than five hours behind, as it is on the same side of the Dateline as Asia. The day Hawaiians call Friday is halachically Shabbos, and the day they call Saturday is halachically Sunday.

It turns out that in the end, most opinions follow common sense (in general, whatever day the locals say it is, Jewish Law agrees), but it is quite intriguing to see how this conclusion is arrived at.

The City-States of America

We do not really think much about city-states anymore. With the exceptions of such places as Singapore and Hong Kong, the term “city-state” often conjures up the image of Athens or Sparta.

However, through a bit of number-crunching of data from the United States Census, I have found a new way to think of city-states when it comes the United States: those states where the majority of their populations lie within a single metropolitan area. For example, the state of Illinois is a city-state because, despite its large physical area, two-thirds of its population lies within the counties that make up the Chicago metropolitan area.

With that, I present The City-States of America:

downloadable as a high-resolution PDF

These are the fourteen states (plus the District of Columbia) where over the half the population of that individual state lies within a single metropolitan area (the state-by-state population fractions in largest metropolitan area at the end of the post). And there’s not much of a pattern to this. For example, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all grew out of single large population centers that were colonized early on, and this might appear to be a reason for being a city-state. However, Georgia does not have a similar history and is a city-state. On the other hand, Utah was also primarily colonized in a single city, yet is not a city-state.

More generally, these city-states don’t fit a single category in my mind: they are on both coasts as well as being landlocked, and encompass the non-contiguous states of Alaska and Hawaii.

However, there may be a great explanation for the distribution of city-states. Please put any theories for what is going on in the comments.

Scientific Background

This concept, The City-States of America, is similar to that of the primate city, a term coined by Mark Jefferson in 1939. A primate city refers to a city that is disproportionately larger than the other cities in that country or region. This idea is related to the Zipf distribution, a scale-free or power law distribution that often describes the ranks of the city sizes within a single country. In these distributions there many small cities dominated by a small number of extremely large cities, whose sizes are described by the exponent of the fit of the power law.

An explanation for how such an even distribution can occur is that of Gibrat’s Law, which posits the idea of proportionate growth — larger cities grow proportionally faster — can lead to this long tail of city sizes. A recent scientific paper that explores cities and Gibrat’s law is found here.

How Did I Make This?

I downloaded the United States Census data for the metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas (MSA’s), using the 2009 estimated values. I calculated the populations for each of these areas within each state by county. For example, the New York City metropolitan area spans multiple states. I included a separate NYC MSA in each of these states, with populations made up of only those counties within the state. So the Connecticut NYC MSA only included Connecticut counties in the calculation of the population of that MSA.

Examining the largest MSA population for each state, I then compared that to the estimated population of the entire state, also as of 2009. Those states that had over 50% of their populations within a single MSA were classified as city-states.

State-by-State Population Fractions

Below are the percentages of the state populations (plus DC) that live within the largest metropolitan statistical areas, in decreasing order:

  1. District of Columbia: 100%
  2. Rhode Island: 100%
  3. New Jersey: 73.3%
  4. Nevada: 72.0%
  5. Hawaii: 70.1%
  6. Illinois: 67.5%
  7. Arizona: 66.2%
  8. New York: 64.6%
  9. Massachusetts: 63.2%
  10. Delaware: 60.4%
  11. Minnesota: 59.7%
  12. Georgia: 55.7%
  13. Alaska: 53.6%
  14. Washington: 51.1%
  15. Colorado: 50.8%
  16. Maryland: 47.2%
  17. Oregon: 47.0%
  18. Michigan: 44.2%
  19. New Mexico: 42.7%
  20. Utah: 40.6%
  21. Nebraska: 40.6%
  22. Idaho: 39.2%
  23. Maine: 39.2%
  24. Missouri: 35.6%
  25. California: 34.8%
  26. Connecticut: 34.0%
  27. Vermont: 33.5%
  28. Oklahoma: 33.3%
  29. Virginia: 32.5%
  30. New Hampshire: 31.9%
  31. Pennsylvania: 31.8%
  32. Florida: 29.9%
  33. Kansas: 29.8%
  34. South Dakota: 29.3%
  35. Wisconsin: 27.6%
  36. Indiana: 27.1%
  37. Louisiana: 26.5%
  38. Texas: 26.0%
  39. Tennessee: 25.1%
  40. Alabama: 24.0%
  41. Arkansas: 23.7%
  42. Kentucky: 23.4%
  43. North Dakota: 22.2%
  44. Iowa: 18.7%
  45. Mississippi: 18.3%
  46. Ohio: 18.1%
  47. West Virginia: 16.7%
  48. South Carolina: 16.3%
  49. Wyoming: 16.3%
  50. North Carolina: 16.2%
  51. Montana: 15.9%

Frumination: a blog with lots of public transit info

Michael Frumin has a great blog, Frumination, chock full of information about public transportation, mainly the NYC Subway. There are graphs, maps, pictures, and much more, with lots of data and links to data. A few interesting posts:

NYC Subway capacity analysis

Urban GPS and congestion pricing

Sources of NYC Traffic Data

Enjoy playing.

Visual Complexity: complex system visualizations

Visual Complexity is a collection and clearinghouse for hundreds of depictions of complex networks, from all over the Internet. Among the many categories, there is one devoted entirely to transportation networks. Here is the goal of the site, in their own words: intends to be a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks. The project’s main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web. I truly hope this space can inspire, motivate and enlighten any person doing research on this field.

Not all projects shown here are genuine complex networks, in the sense that they aren’t necessarily at the edge of chaos, or show an irregular and systematic degree of connectivity. However, the projects that apparently skip this class were chosen for two important reasons. They either provide advancement in terms of visual depiction techniques/methods or show conceptual uniqueness and originality in the choice of a subject. Nevertheless, all projects have one trait in common: the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.

They clearly have an understanding of the scientific nature of complex networks, which is heartening (especially when social networks and such have become simple buzzwords). Enjoy browsing the site; there is a lot of beautiful information here.