Tag: new york times

Internet Service, the New York Times and Choice in the World of Mono-Duo-poly Capitalism

What Planet is the Times Orbiting?

Today’s New York Times editorial page included a piece titled “How Fast Is Your Broadband?“. It provides a reasonable review of the sad performance of the Internet service providers in the US. It is widely known that Internet service providers like Comcast, Time-Warner and locally Mid-Hudson Cable chronically provide significantly less than their advertising claims. Here in Hudson, NY Mid-Hudson claims “blazing speeds” of 5 MB/sec (download). Repeated measurements, now numbering over 280 in the last six months prove that they provide speeds 30% less than this mark. Service technicians from M-H have acknowledged that this is the typical service they provide.

Worse is that the latency frequently reaches 2 seconds instead of being under the 100 milliseconds that is commonly accepted as OK latency on the Internet.. This means that after your click your mouse on a link in a browser, you can literally count “1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi” before you get any response to your query. This latency disables common communications tools like VOIP telephone services and audio and video services via Skype or Google.

Michael Crichton’s Congo and the Transformation of the Western Mind

Original Book Review/Essay  2/971

(REVISED 1/29/02 – MAPS ADDED AT BOTTOM) (REVISED 6/25/03 – MAP OF ANGOLA SUPERIMPOSED ON THE US)

Michael Crichton’s 1980 pulp novel Congo opens with an introduction that is truly arresting . I quote here the first two paragraphs in their entirety.

 

“Only prejudice, and a trick of the Mercator projection, prevents us from recognizing the enormity of the African continent.

Covering nearly twelve million square miles, Africa is almost as large as North America and Europe combined. It is nearly twice the size of South America. As we mistake its dimensions, we also mistake its essential nature: the Dark Continent is mostly hot desert and open grassy plains.

In fact, Africa is called the Dark Continent for one reason only: the vast equatorial rain forests of its central region. This is the drainage basin of the Congo River, and one-tenth of the continent is given over to it – a million and a half square miles of silent, damp, dark forest, a single uniform geographical feature nearly half the size of the continental United States. This primeval forest has stood, unchanged and unchallenged, for more than sixty million years.”

This reader was gripped by his own ignorance of the facts and yet skeptical.  He could recall all those geography lessons of grade school. He had traveled a bit. But none of this brought enough confidence to bear for these first two paragraphs in this pulp novel not to send him off to his maps, atlases, encyclopedias, even the internet.

Mercator. Yes, that is the projection so familiar from grade school. It even sticks in the mind that one of its key features is that the latitude and longitude lines are straight lines.  This is convenient for rectangular pieces of paper, but it creates great distortions of area. This rectangular display of the surface of the nearly spherical surface of the earth produces a Greenland that appears almost as large as the US. The farther away you go north or south from the equator the larger this error becomes.

So, OK this Mercator, who on investigation in the ‘97 Grolier CD Encyclopedia, turns out to be a Flemish cartographer, Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), produced cylindrical projections of a spherical surface.  This of course lead to this readers present state of misapprehension.

Well, let’s take a closer look at this matter. A few simple comparisons of territories that he has driven across will put this into better perspective (this reader does have a bit of trouble with abstractions).

So here is a chart neatly drawn up in tabular form (again courtesy of the above referenced CD encyclopedia). The data on Africa seems to hold up Crichton’s assertions. Hopefully the American reader (obviously of the East Coast persuasion) will find some suitable reference point to investigate the data for themselves. The India entry is just for fun and effect.

   
Area (sq. miles)
Population
 
Texas
267,277
18,378,000
 
New England
71,929
13,239,000
 
New England, NY,PA,OH,IL
274,423
66,244,000
 
United States (continental)
3,106,231
261,429,000
 
Africa
11,710,500
720,000,000
 
Nigeria (most populous in Africa)
357,000
98,100,000
 
Zaire
905,567
41,200,000
 
South Africa
471,445
43,500,000
 
India
1,269,345
911,600,00
 
Wisconsin
65,503
5,038.000
 
Illinois
57,918
11,697,000
 
Vietnam
127,242
71,800,000

What strikes this parochial mind is that the Mercator effect is at work even in our views of the United States.

Let’s investigate this a bit.

First a couple of numbers to illustrate my thesis. Texas is 801 miles north to south and 773 miles east to west.

By contrast, think of a car trip from Boston to Chicago. The American Automobile Association preferred yellow-line triptych calls this out at 925 miles. Boston to Washington DC is approximately 600 miles. Do these numbers and our mental images on the map jive?

Let me close this bit of geography with a historical note about Vietnam. During the Vietnam War I found it useful in political discussions, during my college days in Wisconsin, to point out that Vietnam is very close to the combined land area of the states of Wisconsin and Illinois . In this area the US government dropped as much munitions as consumed during all of World War II in all theaters.

mercator Mercator Projection (circa 1596)
robinson Robinson Projection(most widely used by National Geographic and others during the 20th centuryh until 1980’s)
Both maps borrowed without permission from geography.about.com  

6/25/3

Yesterday I was scanning through the New York Times and saw an article, “Latest Peace Hopes Thwarted on Africa’s Battlefields” by Somini Sengupta. It was accompanied by a series of maps, including this one: (text added by me)Congo_over_US_map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the balance of the 314 pages of this pulp novel, it’s entertaining…lots of gorillas and other beasts ………a page turner.

  1. originally published on markorton.com []