Category Archives: Environs

MondayMap: The Feds Own 84.5 Percent of Nevada

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The Unites States government owns almost one-third (28 percent) of the entire nation. Through various agencies that include the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the total owned “by the people, for the people” comes to a staggering 640 million acres of land.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the federal owned land lies in the Rocky Mountains and to the West. In fact, the US government owns 47 percent of the land in the western states, versus just 4 percent in states east of the Rockies.

More from Frank Jacobs over at Strange Maps:

The rough beauty of the American West seems as far as you can get from the polished corridors of power in Washington DC. Until you look at the title to the land. The federal government owns large tracts of the western states: from a low of 29.9% in Montana, already more than the national average, up to a whopping 84.5% in Nevada.

What is all that federal land for? And exactly who is in charge? According to the Congressional Research Service [4], a total area of just under 610 million acres – more than twice the size of Namibia – is administered by no more than 4 federal government agencies:

* The United States Forest Service (USFS), which oversees timber harvesting, recreation, wildlife habitat protection and other sustainable uses on a total of 193 million acres – almost the size of Turkey – mainly designated as National Forests.

* The National Park Service (NPS) conserves lands and resources on 80 million acres – a Norway-sized area – in order to preserve them for the public. Any harvesting or resource removal is generally prohibited.

* the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), managing 248 million acres [5] – an area the size of Egypt – has a multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate, supporting energy development, recreation, grazing, conservation, and other uses.

* the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) manages 89 million acres – an area slightly bigger than Germany – to conserve and protect animal and plant species.

Check out the entire story here.

Image: Federal Real Property Profile. Courtesy: U.S. General Services Administration /  ‘Can the West Lead Us To A Better Place?‘ an article in Stanford Magazine.

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MondayMap: A Global Radio Roadtrip

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As a kid my radio allowed me to travel the world. I could use the dial to transport myself over border walls and across oceans to visit new cultures and discover new sounds. I’d always eagerly anticipate the next discovery as I carefully moved the dial around the Short Wave, Long Wave (and later the FM) spectrum, waiting for new music and voices to replace the soothing crackle and hiss of the intervening static.

So, what a revelation it is to stumble across Radio.Garden. It’s a glorious, app that combines the now arcane radio dial with the power of the internet enabling you to journey around the globe on a virtual radio roadtrip.

Trek to Tromsø north of the arctic circle in Norway, then hop over to Omsk in central Russia. Check out the meditative tunes in Kathmandu before heading southwest to Ruwi, Oman on the Persian Gulf. Stopover in Kuching, Malaysia, then visit Nhulunbuy in Australia’s Northern Territory. Take in a mid-Pacific talk radio show in Bairiki, in the Republic of Kiribati, then some salsa inspired tuned in Tacna, Peru, and followed by pounding Brazilian Euro-techno in João Pessoa. Journey to Kinshasa in the DRC for some refreshing African beats, then rest for the day with some lively conversation in the Italian Apennine Mountains in Parma, Italy.

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During this wonderful border free journey one thing is becomes crystal clear: we are part of one global community with much in common. History will eventually prove the racists and xenophobes among us wrong.

Images: Screenshots of Radio.Garden. Courtesy of Radio.Garden.

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MondayMap: National Superlatives

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OK, I must admit that some maps can be somewhat dubious. Or, is it all maps?

Despite their shaky foundations some maps form the basis for many centuries of human (mis-)understanding, only to be subsequently overturned by a new (and improved) chart. For instance, the geocentric models of our cosmos courtesy of Aristotle and Ptolemy were not replaced for around 1,400 years, until Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a heliocentric view of the solar system.

Thus, keep in mind the latest view of our globe, courtesy of David McCandless. He compiled this esoteric worldview, because every nation is the best at something, from a collection of global data sources.

Looks like the US is “best” at spam (not the luncheon meat). While Russia leads in, of course, dash cams.

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Asgardia

asgardia-screenshot

With all this earthbound turmoil around us perhaps it’s time to move elsewhere. Asgardia? Well, almost. You may soon be able to become an Asgardian citizen. First the project leaders must convince the United Nations that a satellite to be launched in 2017 deems legal, sovereign status. One catch, though. You’ll still have to reside on Earth.

From the Guardian:

Proposals for the “first nation state in space” have been unveiled by a team of scientists and legal experts, who say the move will foster peace, open up access to space technologies and offer protection for citizens of planet Earth.

Dubbed “Asgardia” after one of the mythical worlds inhabited by the Norse gods, the team say the “new nation” will eventually become a member of the United Nations, with its own flag and anthem devised by members of the public through a series of competitions.

According to the project website, Asgardia “will offer an independent platform
free from the constraint of a land-based country’s laws. It will become a place it in orbit which is truly ‘no man’s land’”.

Initially, it would seem, this new nation will consist of a single satellite, scheduled to be launched next year, with its citizens residing firmly on terra firma.

Speaking to the Guardian through an interpreter, the project lead Igor Ashurbeyli, said: “Physically the citizens of that nation state will be on Earth; they will be living in different countries on Earth, so they will be a citizen of their own country and at the same time they will be citizens of Asgardia.”

“When the number of those applications goes above 100,000 we can officially apply to the UN for the status of state,” he added.

Read the story here.

Image: Screenshot from Asgardia website.

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MondayMap: Red Versus Blue

1883-county-map

You may believe that colorful, graphical electoral analysis is a relatively recent phenomenon. You know, those cool red and blue maps (and now sometimes green or purple) of each state and country.

But our present day news networks and the internet did not invent this type of infographic map.

Susan Schulten, chair of the history department at the University of Denver, discovered what may be the earliest example of a US county-level electoral map. Published in 1883 it shows results from the 1880 Presidential election between Republican James Garfield and Democrat Winfield Hancock. Garfield won.

Two notable reversals in the 1880 map versus today’s counterpart: First, Democrats are in red; Republicans in blue. Second, Democrats make up the majority in much of the South and Midwest; Republicans rule in the Northeast. Interestingly, the color scheme switched numerous times over the last hundred years and did not formally become Democrat=Blue, Republican=Red until the 2000 election cycle.

For more fascinating details of our electoral maps, past and present, check out this article by Lazaro Gamio, over at the Washington Post.

Image: Plate 11 from Scribner’s Statistical Atlas of the United States, published in 1883. Courtesy: Library of Congress. Public Domain.

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Trust A Climate Scientist?

infographic-trust-in-climate-scientists-is-low-among-republicans-considerably-higher-among-liberal-democrats

If you trust a climate scientist you are more likely to be a liberal Democrat. And, if you tend to be highly skeptical of climate science, scientific consensus, climate change causes, and even ways to address climate change, then you’re more likely to be a Republican.

A fascinating study from the Pew Research Center sheds more light on the great, polarized divide between the left and the right.

For instance, 70 percent of liberal Democrats “trust climate scientists’ a lot to give full and accurate information about the causes of climate change, compared with just 15% of conservative Republicans.” Further, just over half (54 percent) of liberal Democrats “say climate scientists’ understand the causes of climate change very well”, which compares with only 11 percent of conservative Republicans.

From Pew Research Center:

Political fissures on climate issues extend far beyond beliefs about whether climate change is occurring and whether humans are playing a role, according to a new, in-depth survey by Pew Research Center. These divisions reach across every dimension of the climate debate, down to people’s basic trust in the motivations that drive climate scientists to conduct their research.

Specifically, the survey finds wide political divides in views of the potential for devastation to the Earth’s ecosystems and what might be done to address any climate impacts. There are also major divides in the way partisans interpret the current scientific discussion over climate, with the political left and right having vastly divergent perceptions of modern scientific consensus, differing levels of trust in the information they get from professional researchers, and different views as to whether it is the quest for knowledge or the quest for professional advancement that drives climate scientists in their work.

This survey extensively explores how peoples’ divergent views over climate issues tie with people’s views about climate scientists and their work. Democrats are especially likely to see scientists and their research in a positive light. Republicans are considerably more skeptical of climate scientists’ information, understanding and research findings on climate matters.

Read the entire article here.

Infographic: Trust in climate science is low among Republicans; considerably higher among liberal Democrats. Courtesy: Pew Research Center.

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MondayMap: Yes. A Magnetic, Foldable Dymaxion Map

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For a map geek [or are we nerds?] like me a foldable Dymaxion map with a 2D and 3D projection is rather cool. Buckminster Fuller and architect, collaborator Shoji Sadao created this peculiar view of our world over 60 years ago, 1954 to be more precise.

A key advantage of this map was that it was held to be the least distorted of all 2D projections of our 3D globe, and it could also be accurate in three dimensions.

For example, Fuller correctly maintained that his projection has less distortion of relative size of areas compared to the common Mercator projection. It also has less distortion of shapes of areas when compared to the Gall–Peters projection.

Now we can enjoy a magnetic globe version of Fuller and Sadao’s creation courtesy of designer Brendan Ravenhill.

From Wired:

Brendan Ravenhill reimagines the Dymaxion Map as a magnetic globe. Like Fuller’s original map, Ravenhill’s globe can exist in two or three dimensions. Laid flat, it’s a series of 20 triangles that show Fuller’s projection as a single landmass. The back of each triangle features a magnet so you can fold the map into an angular globe. “Really it’s a toy, but a toy that has a lot of resonance and importance,” Ravenhill says.

Fuller made his map endlessly reconfigurable. And while Ravenhill’s design nods to that idea with its partitioned triangles, there’s really only one way to put the puzzle together correctly. “You know you’re doing it wrong if there’s a magnet where Antarctica is supposed to be,” he says.

Read the entire article here.

Images: 1) An icosahedral net showing connected oceans surrounding Antarctica; 2) Unfolded Dymaxion map with nearly contiguous land masses. Courtesy: Wikipedia. CC BY 2.5.

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MondayMap: European Stereotypes

map-europe-google-stereotypeHot on the heels of the map of US state stereotypes I am delighted to present a second one. This time it’s a map of Google searches in the UK for various nations across Europe. It was compiled by taking the most frequent result from Google’s autocomplete function. For instance, type in, “Why is Italy…”, and Google automatically fills in the most popular result with “Why is Italy shaped like a boot”.

Highlighting just a few: Switzerland is viewed as rich; Austria is racist; Ireland is green.

Map: European nation stereotypes by British Google users. Courtesy: Independent Media.

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MondayMap: State Stereotypes

map-uk-google-stereotype

An interesting map courtesy of Google searches in the UK shows some fascinating stereotypes for each of the US fifty states. It was compiled by taking the most frequent result from Google’s autocomplete function. For instance, type in, “Why is Colorado so…”, and Google automatically fills in the most popular result with “Why is Colorado so fit”.

It’s not entirely scientific but interesting nonetheless. Highlighting just a few: Wisconsin is viewed as drunk; Louisiana as racist; Colorado as fit; and, Nevada as dangerous.

Map: US state stereotypes by British Google users. Courtesy: Independent Media.

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A Global and Imperiled Treasure

Trail Ridge Road RMNP 2

About 25 miles from where I write lies Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It’s a gorgeous part of the world — pristine forests, blue alpine lakes, frigid streams and ragged peaks. Luckily thanks to the persistent work of Enos Mills and President Woodrow Wilson’s signature RMNP has been protected from development and destruction since 1915. So too are its 411 sister regions and monuments that now make up the US National Park System.

The nationwide park system was officially founded 100 years ago today, August 25, 1916. It is a precious and priceless jewel — truly one of America’s best ideas.

On this centenary we should be reminded that each one of our parks and monuments requires our constant and vigilant protection. We must do all that we can to ensure that our children and their children can experience for themselves — over the next 100 years (and beyond) — some of nature’s true wonders.

Though keep in mind that while our parks may be protected from direct human exploitation they’re not immune to the ravages of climate change.

From the Guardian:

After a century of shooing away hunters, tending to trails and helping visitors enjoy the wonder of the natural world, the guardians of America’s most treasured places have been handed an almost unimaginable new job – slowing the all-out assault climate change is waging against national parks across the nation.

As the National Parks Service (NPS) has charted the loss of glaciers, sea level rise and increase in wildfires spurred by rising temperatures in recent years, the scale of the threat to US heritage across the 412 national parks and monuments has become starkly apparent.

As the National Parks Service turns 100 this week, their efforts to chart and stem the threat to the country’s history faces a daunting task. America’s grand symbols and painstakingly preserved archaeological sites are at risk of being winnowed away by the crashing waves, wildfires and erosion triggered by warming temperatures.

The Statue of Liberty is at “high exposure” risk from increasingly punishing storms. A national monument dedicated to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who will be enshrined on a new $20 note, could be eaten away by rising tides in Maryland. The land once walked by Pocahontas and Captain John Smith in Jamestown, the first English settlement in the US, is surrounded by waters rising at twice the global average and may be beyond rescue.

These threats are the latest in a pile of identified calamities to befall national parks and monuments due to climate change. Receding ice, extreme heat and acidifying oceans are morphing America’s landscapes and coasts at a faster pace than at any time in human history.

“Yosemite’s famous glacier, once a mile wide, is almost gone,” fretted Barack Obama during a visit to the vast park in June.

“Rising temperatures could mean no more glaciers in Glacier national park, no more Joshua trees in Joshua Tree national park.

“Rising seas can destroy vital ecosystems in the Everglades and at some point could even threaten icons like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. That’s not the America I want to pass on to the next generation.”

Change, however, is inevitable no matter how quickly greenhouse gas emissions are cut. An NPS study from 2014 found four in five of America’s national parks are now at the “extreme end” of temperature variables charted since 1901.

“We are starting to see things spiral away now,” said Gregor Schuurman, an ecologist at the NPS climate change response program. “We are going to look back at this time and actually think it was a calm period. And then people will start asking questions about what we were doing about the situation.”

Read the entire story here.

Image: Above the clouds, near the famed Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Summer 2016. Courtesy: the author.

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Another Step Closer to Artificial Photosynthesis

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Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have constructed an artificial leaf that captures sunlight and uses it to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to usable hydrocarbon fuel. Senior author on the study, Amin Salehi-Khojin assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, notes that “the new solar cell is not photovoltaic — it’s photosynthetic.” Using a combination of intricately engineered nano-membranes and unique combinations of catalytic molecules the artificial leaf takes in sunlight and CO2 and produces syngas or synthetic gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas) from the cathode, and free oxygen and hydrogen ions at the anode.

This is a remarkable breakthrough that holds real promise — not only producing energy in a sustainable way from renewable sources but also removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Read more about this pioneering work here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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The Two Percent and The Hum

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By some estimates 2 percent of the population can at some time hear a mysterious sound known as “the Hum”. It’s a low pitched, droning noise that seems to have no source, yet comes from all around. The Hum has been heard in tiny Scottish villages, in Florida, Western Canada, New Mexico and other regions around the world. Hearers of The Hum have variously blamed distant diesel engines, remote submarines on maneuvers, underground pipes, industrial generators. The sources have never been definitively identified, and so the Hum sufferers have continued to search in vain for an explanation to the maddening sound.

Various theories — mostly of the conspiracy kind — have been proposed. Some put the sound down to secretive government agencies testing ultra-low frequency mind control. Others believe the sound to come from UFOs or instruments of socialist torture.

A more mundane explanation suggests the mysterious signal to be inside the heads of its listeners — nothing more than a form of irritating tinnitus. But many have remained unconvinced and have sought rational explanations elsewhere. Recently, sufferers and researchers have honed in on a potential source — low frequency oscillations of the Earth caused by long ocean waves on the sea floor.

Read more about The Hum here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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Five Tips For Re-Learning How to Walk

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It seems that the aimless walk to clear one’s mind has become a rarity. So too the gentle stroll to ponder and think. Purposeless walking, it seems, is a dying art. Indeed many in the West are so pampered for transportation alternatives and (self-)limited in time that walking has become an indulgence — who can afford to walk any more when driving or taking the bus or the train can save so much time (and energy). Moreover, when we do walk, we’re firmly hunched over our smartphones, entranced by cyberspace and its virtual acknowledgments and affirmations, and thoroughly unaware of our surroundings.

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Yet keep in mind that many of our revered artists, photographers, authors and philosophers were great walkers. They used the walk to sense and think. In fact, studies find a link between walking and creativity.

So, without further ado I present 5 tips to help you revive an endangered pastime:

#1. Ditch the smartphone and any other mobile device.

#2. Find a treasured place to walk. Stomping to the nearest pub or 7-Eleven does not count.

#3. Pay attention to your surroundings and walk mindfully. Observe the world around you. This goes back to #1.

#4. Take off the headphones, take out the earbuds and leave your soundtrack at home. Listen to the world around you.

#5. Leave the partner, friend and dog (or other walking companion) at home. Walk alone.

From the BBC:

A number of recent books have lauded the connection between walking – just for its own sake – and thinking. But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk?

Walking is a luxury in the West. Very few people, particularly in cities, are obliged to do much of it at all. Cars, bicycles, buses, trams, and trains all beckon.

Instead, walking for any distance is usually a planned leisure activity. Or a health aid. Something to help people lose weight. Or keep their fitness. But there’s something else people get from choosing to walk. A place to think.

Wordsworth was a walker. His work is inextricably bound up with tramping in the Lake District. Drinking in the stark beauty. Getting lost in his thoughts.

Charles Dickens was a walker. He could easily rack up 20 miles, often at night. You can almost smell London’s atmosphere in his prose. Virginia Woolf walked for inspiration. She walked out from her home at Rodmell in the South Downs. She wandered through London’s parks.

Henry David Thoreau, who was both author and naturalist, walked and walked and walked. But even he couldn’t match the feat of someone like Constantin Brancusi, the sculptor who walked much of the way between his home village in Romania and Paris. Or indeed Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul at the age of 18 inspired several volumes of travel writing. George Orwell, Thomas De Quincey, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bruce Chatwin, WG Sebald and Vladimir Nabokov are just some of the others who have written about it.

Read the entire article here.

Images courtesy of Google Search: Walking with smartphone. Walking in nature (my preference).

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The Lines

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In an earlier post I wrote about Star Axis, a land art form designed by artist Charles Ross. One of its main elements is an 11-story high Solar Pyramid, which marks the daily and seasonal movements of the sun across a Shadow Field. It’s not only a naked-eye astronomical observatory, it’s a work of art — on an immense scale.

This cast my mind back to the late 1980s, when I was lucky enough to visit Peru for the first time. My trek included the Sechura Desert, also known as the Nazca Desert, about 250 miles southeast of Lima. The Nazca Desert is home to many thousands of land art forms — massive geoglyphs carved into the earth of the arid plateau.

These are the Nazca Lines.

Many of the lines form simple geometric patterns. However, around a hundred or so feature immense stylized images of animals and plants, including a monkey, spider, condor, and hummingbird. The largest of these figures is about 600 ft across.

Archeologists believe the figures were carved into the desert by the Nazca culture, dating from 500 BCE to 500 BE. The purpose of the geoglyphs is still debated today; theories include: astronomical observatory and calendar, fertility symbols and religious rituals.

Interestingly enough, many can only be best appreciated from the air — and that’s where they become works of art. This extraordinary art gallery is now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Image: Hummingbird, Nazca Lines, Nazca, Peru. Courtesy: Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.0.

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MondayMap: Beyond the Horizon

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Andy Woodruff is a cartographer, he makes maps. His most recent construction is a series of whimsical maps that visualize what many off us at least once in our lives may have pondered.

When we are at the beach looking out to sea, casting our eyes to the distant horizon, we often wonder what lies beyond. If you could set off and walk in a straight line from your small plot of sand (or rock) across the vast ocean where would you first make landfall? Andy Woodruff’s “Beyond the Sea” maps answer this question, and the results are surprising.

For instance, if you happen to be looking out from any beach on the US Eastern Seaboard — and your vision could bend and stretch over the horizon — you would see the Southern coastline of Australia. So, drop the boring atlas and Google Maps and go follow some more of Andy Woodruff’s fascinating great circles.

From NPR:

Ever stood on the coastline, gazing out over the horizon, and wondered what’s on the other side? Pondered where you’d end up if you could fly straight ahead until you hit land?

Turns out the answer might be surprising. And even if you pulled out an atlas — or, more realistically, your smartphone — you might have trouble figuring it out. Lines of latitude won’t help, and drawing a path on most maps will lead you astray.

Cartographer Andy Woodruff, who recently embarked on a project called Beyond the Sea to illustrate this puzzle, says there are two simple reasons why it’s harder than it seems to figure out which coast lies directly on the other side of the horizon.

First, coastlines are “wacky,” he writes on his blog. And second, well, the Earth is round.

The crookedness of the world’s coastlines means moving a few miles up or down the coast will leave you facing a different direction (assuming your gaze is straight out, perpendicular to the coast around you).

Read the entire story here.

Map: Beach view of Australia. Courtesy Andy Woodruff.

 

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Desert Earthworks and Cosmic Connections

Star Axis

Some timepieces are intimate, think Breitling or Rolex or your trusty Timex [does anyone wear a watch anymore?] Some timepieces are monumental — prime examples might include Big Ben in London, the astronomical clock in Prague and Munich’s Rathaus-Glockenspiel,.

But then, there are time-keeping instruments on an altogether different scale — ones that dominate a significant portion of the landscape. And, where better to find one such example than the stark, high desert of New Mexico.

From the Guardian:

Somewhere in the deserts of New Mexico, a nail is embedded into a type of flat-topped mountain known as a mesa. The positioning of this nail, shielded from the elements by a tin can, took days of trial and error, with astronomical measurements provided by the US Naval Observatory and the help of a surveyor. Finally, the correct spot was located: exactly in alignment with the axis of the Earth from the south pole to the north.

This nail – which I braved rattlesnakes to find, on a mountaintop strewn with slabs of granite – was fundamental to the success of Star Axis, an extraordinary naked-eye observatory that is the brainchild of artist Charles Ross. Only when Ross was sure he had the orientation precisely correct could he begin to build the structure he had dreamed about – an obsession that has consumed him since 1971.

Star Axis is one of the world’s defining earthworks, otherwise known as land art. In the late 60s, a generation of young, New York-based artists, inspired by the space race but also by the turmoil of Vietnam, decided that galleries weren’t big enough to house their visions. So they struck out, choosing instead to make works on an epic scale, sculpted from the elements, in the astounding desert landscapes of the US south-west.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Star Axis. Courtesy: Star Axis / Charles Ross.

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Farm in a Box

Freight-FarmsIf you’ve read my blog for a while you undoubtedly know that I have a rather jaded view of tech startup culture — particularly with Silicon Valley’s myopic obsession for discovering the next multi-billion dollar mobile-consumer-facing-peer-to-peer-gig-economy-service-sharing-buzzword-laden-dating-platform-with-integrated-messaging-and-travel-meta-search app.

So, here’s something refreshing and different. A startup focused on reimagining the production and distribution of fresh food. The company is called Freight Farms, their product: a self-contained farm straight out of a box. Actually the farm is contained inside a box — a standard, repurposed 40 ft long shipping container. Each Leafy Green Machine, as it is called, comes fully equipped with a vertically-oriented growing environment, plant-optimized LED lighting, recirculating hydroponic plumbing and finger-tip climate control.

Freight Farms may not (yet) make a significant impact on the converging and accelerating global crises of population growth, climate change, ecological destruction and natural resource depletion. But the company offers a sound solution to tackling the increasing demand for locally grown and sustainably produced food, especially as the world becomes increasingly urbanized.

Please check out Freight Farms and spread the word.

Image: Freight Farms. Courtesy: Freight Farms.

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The Story of the Default Coordinate: 38°N 97°W

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About 40 miles and 40 minutes north-east of Wichita, Kansas lies the small town of Potwin. The 2010 census put the official population of Potwin at 449.

Potwin would be an unremarkable town, situated in the Great Plains surrounded by vast farms and feedlots, if it were not for one unique fact. Potwin is home to a farmhouse with a Lat-Long location of 38°N 97°W.

You see, 38°N 97°W happens to coincide with the coordinates, incorrectly, chosen as the geographical center of the United States by a digital mapping company in 2002. Geographically the official center of the country is 39°50′ N (or 39.8333333), 98°35′ W (or -98.585522), which is a spot in northern Kansas near the Nebraska border.

But, back in 2002, a digital mapping company, called MaxMind, decided to round the actual, unwieldy Lat-Long coordinates to 38.0000, -97.0000. These coordinates would become the default point and de facto center of the United States.

Now, the internet uses a protocol (IP) to allow any device to connect with any other, via a unique IP address. This allows a message or webpage from one device, say a server, to find its way to another device, such as your computer. Every device connected to the internet has a unique IP address. Companies soon realized that having an IP address, in cyberspace, would be much more valuable — for technical maintenance or marketing purposes — if it could be tied to a physical location. So, companies like MaxMind came along to provide the digital mapping and location translation service.

However, for those IP addresses that could not be adequately resolved to a physical address, the company assigned the default coordinate — the center of the United States.

Unfortunately, there are now around 600 million IP addresses that point to this default location, 38°N 97°W, which also happens to be the farmhouse in Potwin.

This becomes rather problematic for the residents of 38°N 97°W because internet scammers, spammers,  cyber-thieves and other digitally-minded criminals typically like to hide their locations, which end up resolving to the default coordinate and the farmhouse in Potwin. As a result, the federal authorities have made quite a habit of visiting this unremarkable farmhouse in Potwin, and the residents now lead far from unremarkable lives.

Read more of this surreal story here.

Image: Potwin, Kansas. Courtesy: Google Maps.

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Peak Tech Bubble

Nelsons-Column-Great-Smog-London-1952The following story is surely a sign of the impending implosion of the next tech bubble — too much easy money flowing to too many bad and lazy ideas.

While an increasing number of people dream of a future built on renewable, clean energy, some entrepreneurs are defining ways to make gasoline (petrol) consumption even more convenient for consumers. Welcome to Uber-style, gas delivery on-demand.

This casts my mind back to the mid-1960s, recalling the deliveries of black, sooty coal to our cellar (basement) coal bunker. Thankfully, the UK’s Clean Air Acts of the 1950s and 60s finally paved the way for cleaner fuel and cleared the skies of unhealthy, mid-century London smog.

Surely, these modern day counterparts are heading in the wrong direction just to make a quick buck.

From the Guardian:

It is hard to imagine a less hospitable niche for a startup to enter than gasoline – a combustible commodity that is (one hopes) being innovated into obsolescence.

And yet, over the past 18 months, at least six startups have launched some variation on the theme of “Uber for gas” – your car’s tank gets refilled while it is parked somewhere.

The gas delivery startup founders all share similar stories of discovering the wannabe entrepreneur’s holy grail: a point of friction that can be translated into an app.

“David, one of the co-founders, basically said, ‘I hate going to the gas station’,” said Nick Alexander, the other co-founder of Yoshi, of their company’s origins. “I think he had run out of gas recently, so he said, ‘What about an idea where someone comes and fills your car up?’”

For Ale Donzis, co-founder of WeFuel, the moment came when he was trying to get gas in the middle of winter in upstate New York and realized he had forgotten his gloves. For Frank Mycroft, founder and CEO of Booster Fuels, it was during his wife’s pregnancy when he started refueling her car as well as his own.

“It wore on me,” Mycroft said. “I didn’t like doing it.”

The tales of gas station woe are the kind of first-world problems that have inspired a thousand parodies of startup culture. (A customer testimonial on the website of Purple, another gas delivery service, reads: “I live across the street from a gas station, but I don’t always have time to make the stop.”)

But delivering large quantities of a toxic and flammable liquid is significantly more complicated – and regulated – than delivering sandwiches. The companies generally source their gasoline from the same distributors that supply 10,000-gallon tankers to retail gas stations. But the app companies put the fuel into the back of pickup trucks or specially designed mini-tankers. Booster Fuels only services cars in open air, corporate parking lots on private property, but other companies offer to refill your car wherever it’s parked.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog of London, 1952. Courtesy: By N T Stobbs, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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MondayMap: Connectography

21st-century-silk-road

I have had a peculiar affinity for luscious atlases and maps since childhood. They held promises of future explorations and adventures over ancient peaks, within new cultures, beyond borders. I also have a strange fascination for data, patterns in data, trends, probabilities, statistics (though I’m no mathematician).

So when I see someone combining maps and data, especially in fundamentally new ways, I have to take notice. Enter stage left: Parag Khanna. He’s a global strategist, author and a true cartophile. His new book “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization,” uses grand cartographic visualizations to show how the world is steadily integrating.

Even for a reasonably geo-savvy person like me it’s eye-opening to see maps being used in insightful new ways — especially to draw attention to our global neighborhood and its common challenges.

One striking example shows the ties of railways, cables, pipelines and trade that further bind nations rather than the borders, often arbitrarily drawn, that once divided.

Dive into are recent interview with Parag Khanna here.

Map: The emerging silk roads of commerce interlinking 60 Asian nations. Courtesy: Parag Khanna, “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization”.

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Climate Change Equals Less Weather Predictability

NASA-Icemelt1

Severe weather often leads to human tragedy, and of course our crops, pets and property suffer too, as well as untold damage to numerous ecosystems. But whenever I see or read about a weather-induced catastrophe — local flooding or a super-typhoon halfway around the world — one thought always comes to mind: what kind of weather will my children face as long-term climate change takes hold.

Climate science offers continued predictions of doom and gloom: rising ocean levels, disappearing glaciers, stronger storms, longer droughts, more extreme weather.

But climate science also tells us that long-term climate change will make for generally less predictable weather. Our present day meteorologists armed with powerful computational climate models have become rather good at forecasting weather on local and global levels. Generally, we have a reasonably good idea of what our local weather will be tomorrow or next week or next month.

But a warming and changing climate adds much more uncertainty. William B. Gail, founder of the Global Weather Corporation and past president of the American Meteorological Society, cautions: there is a growing likelihood of increased unpredictability of our weather systems. Indeed, he predicts a new dark age, where climate change destroys our current understanding of weather patterns and undermines all our current, predictive weather models and forecasts. This is a huge problem for those of us who depend on accurate weather analytics for our livelihoods, especially farmers, fishing industries, aviation, ground transportation, and construction.

From NYT:

Imagine a future in which humanity’s accumulated wisdom about Earth — our vast experience with weather trends, fish spawning and migration patterns, plant pollination and much more — turns increasingly obsolete. As each decade passes, knowledge of Earth’s past becomes progressively less effective as a guide to the future. Civilization enters a dark age in its practical understanding of our planet.

To comprehend how this could occur, picture yourself in our grandchildren’s time, a century hence. Significant global warming has occurred, as scientists predicted. Nature’s longstanding, repeatable patterns — relied on for millenniums by humanity to plan everything from infrastructure to agriculture — are no longer so reliable. Cycles that have been largely unwavering during modern human history are disrupted by substantial changes in temperature and precipitation.

As Earth’s warming stabilizes, new patterns begin to appear. At first, they are confusing and hard to identify. Scientists note similarities to Earth’s emergence from the last ice age. These new patterns need many years — sometimes decades or more — to reveal themselves fully, even when monitored with our sophisticated observing systems. Until then, farmers will struggle to reliably predict new seasonal patterns and regularly plant the wrong crops. Early signs of major drought will go unrecognized, so costly irrigation will be built in the wrong places. Disruptive societal impacts will be widespread.

Such a dark age is a growing possibility. In a recent report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that human-caused global warming was already altering patterns of some extreme weather events. But the report did not address the broader implication — that disrupting nature’s patterns could extend well beyond extreme weather, with far more pervasive impacts.

Our foundation of Earth knowledge, largely derived from historically observed patterns, has been central to society’s progress. Early cultures kept track of nature’s ebb and flow, passing improved knowledge about hunting and agriculture to each new generation. Science has accelerated this learning process through advanced observation methods and pattern discovery techniques. These allow us to anticipate the future with a consistency unimaginable to our ancestors.

But as Earth warms, our historical understanding will turn obsolete faster than we can replace it with new knowledge. Some patterns will change significantly; others will be largely unaffected, though it will be difficult to say what will change, by how much, and when.

The list of possible disruptions is long and alarming. We could see changes to the prevalence of crop and human pests, like locust plagues set off by drought conditions; forest fire frequency; the dynamics of the predator-prey food chain; the identification and productivity of reliably arable land, and the predictability of agriculture output.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Image pair of Muir Glacier and melt, Alaska. Left photo taken in 1882, by G.D. Hazard; Right photo taken in 2005 by Bruce F. Molnia. Courtesy: Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology. NASA.

 

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MondayMap: A is Blue; B is Red

MPK1-426_Sykes_Picot_Agreement_Map_signed_8_May_1916

A hundred years ago the first two letters of the alphabet and a somewhat arbitrary line drawn on a map changed the Earth’s geopolitical axis. The ramifications continue to be felt across the globe to this day.

The waning days of WWI finally precipitated the decline of the once vast Ottoman Empire. During this period the eventual victors, the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, and Russia, began secretly planning how they would carve up the spoils, which covered much of the Middle East. With Russia then succumbing to its own revolution, Britain and France were free to delineate their own “spheres of influence”, allocating huge areas of territory (and peoples) to themselves and their appointed heirs. “A” was to be blue and would belong to France; the region covered what is now Syria, Lebanon, northern Iraq and parts of Turkey. “B” was to be red and would be administered by the British; it covered modern-day Jordan, southern Iraq and parts of what is now Israel.

The agreement and the new map were negotiated in 1915-16 by the British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, respectively. It was signed on May 16, 1916, and became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The secret deal reneged on numerous promises and assurances made to leaders in the region, and subsequently disenfranchised entire populations for generations.

Read more about the map, the secret deal and the hundred years of turbulent and bloody consequence in David Fromkin’s book, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (1989).

Map: Sykes–Picot Agreement showing Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia, and areas of control and influence agreed between the British and the French. Courtesy: Royal Geographical Society, 1910-15. Signed by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, 16 May 1916.

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Coffee Grounds, Gigs and Gentrification

Istanbul_cafe

There are around 55,000 coffee shops in the United States. Almost a quarter of this number (11,600) belongs to the Starbucks chain. That’s an awful lot of lattes and frappuccinos. My home town, Boulder, has around 250, which for a small city of 100,000 is a substantial number, and luckily, for the most part, they’re gloriously independent and funky.

Coffee shops, coffeehouses and cafés now encircle the globe like rampant dandelions. But before the increasingly homogenizing effect of chains like Starbucks (in the US) and Costa Coffee (in the UK) coffee shops played a key role in the social fabric of our urban jungles. For hundreds of years coffee shops have been places to read, meet and discuss issues of the day.

Records show the first coffeehouses appeared in Damascus and Egypt in the early-16th century. Patrons gathered there to discuss politics, to listen to their local storytellers and musicians, and, of course, to drink coffee. While coffee shops are often denigrated as symptoms of urban gentrification or as remote office locations for armies of gig economy workers, others call them home — they’re still, after all, places for refuge, conversation and real social interaction. Save me a skinny latte!

From the Guardian:

It’s a bright February morning at the Proud Archivist (now the Proud East), a coffee shop facing the canal just off Kingsland Road in London, and regular Matthew Green is greeting the manager as if they’re old friends. Their cheerful interaction rises above the low din of the subdued crowd, some of whom are chatting, most of whom are typing away on laptops.

The fact that the Proud East is one of about five similar cafes within a five-minute walk in this Dalston neighbourhood brings to mind the fact that, in the past decade or so, the words: “There are a lot of coffee shops opening up around there” has become a precursor for: “There goes the neighbourhood.”

But if Green – who as well as being a regular is also a coffee historian, earned his PhD from Oxford and leads historical coffee tours around London – had his way, coffee houses like the Proud East would help facilitate something entirely different than gentrification: meaningful interaction.

One can almost imagine Green walking into a late 17th-century London coffee house and uttering the salutation that, he says, was de rigueur: “What news have you?” Today, it’s fair to say that’s been replaced by a more modern (and loathed) version: “What’s the WiFi password?”

However, as the coffee shop has become a byword for what everyone hates about urban change and gentrification – first come the creatives and their coffee shops, then the young professionals, then the luxury high-rises and corporate chains that push out original residents – it’s worth asking if that charge is fair. As the function of the coffee house in London has evolved over time, was its early iteration so radically different than the ones many of us type and sip away in today?

To hear Green tell it, there have been three major spikes in speciality coffee culture in the UK over the past 350 years. The first began when a Greek man, Pasqua Rosée, opened the first coffee house in 1652 against the stone wall of St Michael’s churchyard near Cornhill in London. That sludge-like coffee, Green says, was in keeping with the Turkish proverb: “Black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love.”

Over the next 50 years, as the coffee house became a popular alternative to taverns and alehouses, they also became something else: a place for London’s “coffee house politicians” to air their grievances. One could argue that these intelligentsia and knowledge economy workers – Samuel Peyps and Sir Isaac Newton were regulars – were not too dissimilar to the types of freelancers and creative class workers we find in places like The Proud East today. But instead of ranting on Twitter or in the comments section of newspapers, Green says patrons of London’s early coffee houses revelled in the novelty of boisterously voicing their opinions to their (almost exclusively male) companions.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Istanbul cafe, watercolor, created 1850-1882. Courtesy: Amedeo Preziosi / Wikipedia. Public Domain.

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Climate Change Threat Grows

A_Flood_on_Java_1865-1876

Eventually science and reason does prevail. But, in the case of climate change, our global response is fast becoming irrelevant. New research shows accelerating polar ice melt, accelerating global warming and an acceleration in mean sea-level rise. James Hansen and colleagues paint a much more dire picture than previously expected.

From the Guardian:

The current rate of global warming could raise sea levels by “several meters” over the coming century, rendering most of the world’s coastal cities uninhabitable and helping unleash devastating storms, according to a paper published by James Hansen, the former Nasa scientist who is considered the father of modern climate change awareness.

The research, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, references past climatic conditions, recent observations and future models to warn the melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets will contribute to a far worse sea level increase than previously thought.

Without a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the global sea level is likely to increase “several meters over a timescale of 50 to 150 years”, the paper states, warning that the Earth’s oceans were six to nine meters higher during the Eemian period – an interglacial phase about 120,000 years ago that was less than 1C warmer than it is today.

Global warming of 2C above pre-industrial times – the world is already halfway to this mark – would be “dangerous” and risk submerging cities, the paper said. A separate study, released in February, warned that New York, London, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai will be among the cities at risk from flooding by 2100.

Hansen’s research, written with 18 international colleagues, warns that humanity would not be able to properly adapt to such changes, although the paper concedes its conclusions “differ fundamentally from existing climate change assessments”.

The IPCC has predicted a sea level rise of up to one meter by 2100, if emissions are not constrained. Hansen, and other scientists, have argued the UN body’s assessment is too conservative as it doesn’t factor in the potential disintegration of the polar ice sheets.

Hansen’s latest work has proved controversial because it was initially published in draft form last July without undergoing a peer review process. Some scientists have questioned the assumptions made by Hansen and the soaring rate of sea level rise envisioned by his research, which has now been peer-reviewed and published.

Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said the revised paper still has the same issues that initially “caused me concern”.

“Namely, the projected amounts of meltwater seem … large, and the ocean component of their model doesn’t resolve key wind-driven current systems (e.g. the Gulf Stream) which help transport heat poleward,” Mann said in an email to the Guardian.

“I’m always hesitant to ignore the findings and warnings of James Hansen; he has proven to be so very prescient when it comes to his early prediction about global warming. That having been said, I’m unconvinced that we could see melting rates over the next few decades anywhere near his exponential predictions, and everything else is contingent upon those melting rates being reasonable.”

Read the entire story here.

Image: A Flood on Java (c.1865-1876) by Raden Saleh, lithograph. Courtesy: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and the Caribbean Studies. Public Domain.

Video: Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms Video Abstract. Courtesy: Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions.

 

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Earth Day 2016: Silicon Swamp Edition

NOAA-Silicon-Valley-seal-level-rise-map

How better to mark this year’s Earth Day than to remind ourselves of the existential perils of climate change. As the Earth warms, polar ice melts, sea-levels rise. As sea-levels rise, low lying coastal lands submerge. Much of coastal Florida would disappear under a sea-level rise of a mere 6 feet.

Our tech innovation hub in Silicon Valley wouldn’t fare well either. Many of our tech giants, including Google, Facebook, Oracle, Cisco and Salesforce, have planted their roots on the bay-side of Silicon Valley. Much of this area is only a handful of feet above sea-level. Oh, and kiss goodbye to San Francisco International Airport as well — though perhaps the local VCs could re-purpose it into a sea-plane terminal.

The map above, courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), highlights the flood prone areas in shades of blue.

From the Guardian:

Technology giants including Facebook and Google face the prospect of their prestigious Silicon Valley headquarters becoming swamped by water as rising sea levels threaten to submerge much of the property development boom gripping San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Sea level forecasts by a coalition of scientists show that the Silicon Valley bases for Facebook, Google and Cisco are at risk of being cut off or even flooded, even under optimistic scenarios where rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions avoid the most severe sea level increases.

Without significant adaptation, Facebook’s new campus appears most at risk. The 430,000 sq ft complex – topped with a nine-acre garden rooftop – is an extension of its Menlo Park base and was crafted by architect Frank Gehry. Located near the San Francisco Bay shoreline, the offices are designed to house 2,800 staff.

“Facebook is very vulnerable,” said Lindy Lowe, a senior planner at California’s Bay Conservation and Development Commission. “They built on a very low site – I don’t know why they chose to build there. Facebook thinks they can pay enough to protect themselves.

“The temporary flooding within the campus can probably be addressed, but the temporary flooding onto the roadway can’t be addressed by them. I think they realize that is the weakest link for them. We’ll see how dedicated they are to that facility.”

Facebook has elevated its office to spare it from flooding, but even with a 1.6ft rise in sea levels by the end of the century – which is towards the lower end of projections – the area around it will be inundated. Much sooner, within the coming decades, the roads leading into the complex will flood so regularly that major adaptions will be required to keep the site viable. Facebook didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment on the issue.

The situation is a little better for Google, located in Mountain View and also unwilling to discuss sea level rise, and Cisco, headquartered in San Jose. But should the Antarctic ice sheet disintegrate, as outlined in a recent scientific paper, seas will be pushed up beyond 6ft and swamp both businesses.

The situation is similarly stark for Salesforce, which would see its San Francisco base submerged under the worst sea level rise scenario. Meanwhile, Airbnb, located near the vulnerable Mission Bay area, will have its headquarters gain a much closer bayside view simply by staying put.

Read the entire store here.

Image: Sea-level rise and coastal flooding impacts, San Francisco / Bay Area map. Courtesy of NOAA.

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Photography At Its Best

Wasteland with elephant - Nick Brandt

Ecological destruction, urbanization, species extinction, wildlife displacement and human poverty — a compelling and disturbing story told through a collection of eerily beautiful images. I have nothing more to say about Nick Brandt‘s latest collection of gorgeous photographs. Please take 15 minutes to visit his online exhibit titled Inherit the Dust or order the book — you’ll be moved and captivated.

Image: Wasteland with Elephant, 2015. Nick Brandt.

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April Fool!

NASA-Thwaites Glacier

The media loves to prank us with a good April Fools’ joke each year. This one is a gem — human-driven climate change will melt our glaciers and polar ice at an increasingly faster pace than previously calculated. Result: faster rising oceans leading to higher ocean levels. What a great joke!

And, to quote the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, “I think our biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons.” Or, was it “a hoax created by the Chinese“?

Care to follow more of this global joke? Check out this peer reviewed paper.

Image: Icebergs that have broken from the calving side of Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, November 2014. Courtesy Jim Yungel/NASA.

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MondayMap: House Prices via London Tube

London-Tube-house-prices

While I no longer live in London, I grew up there and still have a special affection for the city. I’m even attached to its famed Tube map (subway for my US readers). So I found this rendition rather fascinating — a map of average house prices at and around each tube station. No surprise: house prices on and inside the Central Line (red) are the highest, with the lowest hovering around £500,000 (roughly $710,000). Read more about this map here.

Map courtesy of eMoov with data provided by Zoopla.

 

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Flat Earth People’s Front or People’s Front of Flat Earth?

Orlando-Ferguson-flat-earth-map

If you follow today’s internationally accepted calendar the year is 2016. But that doesn’t stop a significant few from knowing that the Earth is flat. It also doesn’t stop the internecine wars of words between various flat-Earther factions, which subscribe to different flat-Earth creation stories. Oh well.

From the Guardian:

YouTube user TigerDan925 shocked his 26,000 followers recently by conceding a shocking point: Antarctica is a continent. It’s not, as he previously thought, an ice wall that encircles the flat disc of land and water we call earth.

For most of us, that’s not news. But TigerDan925’s followers, like Galileo’s 17th century critics, are outraged by his heresy. Welcome to the contentious universe of flat-Earthers – people who believe the notion of a globe-shaped world orbiting the sun is a myth.

Through popular YouTube videos and spiffy sites, they show how easy it is to get attention by questioning scientific consensus. Unfortunately, we don’t really know how many people believe in the movement because so many people in it accuse each other of being as fake as Santa Claus (or perhaps the moon landing).

That being said, TigerDan925’s admission was not a concession that the world is shaped like the globe. He merely said flat-Earthers need a new map. But for his community, he might as well have abandoned them altogether:

“Next he says the Antarctica is not governed and protected by the Illuminati, that somehow any group deciding to buy and invest in equipment is free to roam anywhere by plane or on land,” writes a user by the name Chris Madsen. “This is absolute rubbish … 2016 is the year it becomes common knowledge the earth is flat, just like 9/11 became common knowledge, no stopping the truth now. ”

Such schisms are commonplace in flat-Earthdom, where at least three websites are vying to be the official meeting ground for the movement to save us all from the delusion that our world is a globe. Their differences range from petty (who came up with which idea first) to shocking and offensive (whether Jewish people are to blame for suppressing flat-Earth thought). And they regard each other with deep suspicion – almost as if they can’t believe that anyone else would believe what they do.

“[The multiple sites are] just the tip of the iceberg,” said flat-Earth convert Mark Sargent, who used his two decades of work in the tech and video game industries to create the site enclosedworld.com and a YouTube series called Flat Earth Clues. “There’s dissension in the ranks all over the place.”

Sargent compares the frenzy to the Monty Python film Life of Brian, in which Brian gains a following that immediately splits over whether to gather shoes, wear one shoe, or possibly follow a gourd.

“It’s almost like the beginning of a new religion. Everyone’s trying to define it. And they’re turning on each other because there’s no unified theory.” And so, like the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front, they often spend far less time discussing what they believe than they spend attacking each other.

The Flat Earth Society revived in 2004 under the leadership of one Daniel Shenton and was opened to new members in 2009. A dissatisfied group split away in 2013 and launched its own site. A reunification proposal in 2014 has withered, and Shenton’s Twitter feed went cold after he posted a cryptic photo of the Terminator in September.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Flat Earth map, by Orlando Ferguson in 1893. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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