Tag Archives: geography

Land and Ocean Sunset (Geography Geekery)

Saturday night we went out to the Redondo Beach pier just in time to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. One thing that I found a bit odd was that it appeared to be setting behind a line of distant mountains. While the coast does curve westward at Santa Monica, I was pretty sure that due west of us was nothing but sea, though I figured it could have been the Channel Islands, or a very sharply-defined cloud bank.

So I did what any geek would do: looked up the angle at which the sun had set that evening.

I found two tools: The NOAA solar position calculator let me figure out, given latitude, longitude and time, the sun’s declination. Then I found another tool that let me enter the latitude, longitude, and compass bearing and see a line drawn on a map.

It turned out that the sun was setting roughly 21° north of due west, putting it roughly in line with the coast from Malibu toward Ventura…on the seaward side. The line finally connected with land out toward Point Conception, roughly 120 miles away. That’s probably too far away to be visible from near sea level, depending on how high the mountains are out there, but if the angle was off just a little bit (I did estimate the time), it could easily have be the Santa Monica mountains above Malibu (more like 20 miles).

So yes, I did watch the sun set over the ocean and over land at the same time!

Waitaminute

Listening to “Into the West” (end credits song from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). Lyric, “Across the sea a pale moon rises.”

It’s all about crossing the sea into the west to go to elf heaven. Presumably the speaker is standing at the Grey Havens, waiting for the ships to arrive and carry her off to the Undying Lands, looking across the sea…to the west.

So since when does the moon rise in the west?

Admittedly, it’s a fantasy setting, but Middle Earth is set up to be a mythical past for the real world, so I’m fairly certain the sun and moon still rise in the east…

East/West, TV & Sudafed

  • XKCD: The East/West terminology always bugged me too. But then, living in California, I figure we’re also Pacific Rim. #
  • What makes people think it’s OK to post insults/threats just because your old blog post isn’t what they wanted to find on Google? # It was on the one about using the disarmed emergency exit as a shortcut during construction…5 years ago. WTF?
  • You know, it would be nice if ABC would SAY things like “In 3 weeks” when they’re going to preempt Pushing Daisies 2 weeks in a row. #
  • I like having (nearly) full movement in my arm again. #
  • End of an era: Our last box of real Sudafed has expired. #

Geographical Knowledge (Vacuum)

I heard an NPR report that 83% of Americans 18-24 cannot find Afghanistan on a map. Following it up on their website, I found a link to the National Geographic survey they used.

Of course, what the report neglected to mention is that nobody had a good rate at finding Afghanistan. The only country where a majority of respondents could identify it was Germany, and they only made 55%. In fact, many people think Sweden’s pretty obscure (although Swedes scored 97%). Across the board, more people could locate Argentina than Sweden or Afghanistan.

It’s all in what you’re looking for. National Geographic was looking to see how well American youth stacked up against those in other countries, and most of us aren’t doing that well. But the fact is, they aren’t doing much better. (NG’s summary page notes that Mexico, Canada, and Great Britain scored almost as poorly.) What the results really show is that people everywhere have an astounding lack of geographical knowledge.

(Still wondering about the 3% of Swedes who couldn’t find Sweden.)