PHIL WIELAND: Population map shows dots all, folks

2013-04-26T00:00:00Z PHIL WIELAND: Population map shows dots all, folksPhil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

Everyone in North America is more than a number. Thanks to an MIT grad student, apparently with lots of time on his hands, everyone in the United States, Canada and Mexico now is also a dot.

The student, Brandon Martin-Anderson, who apparently is seeking his master's in the type of mildly interesting but ultimately useless sort of projects the government spends actual money on while ignoring the country's real problems, has translated the latest census information for the three  countries into what resembles the results of a convention for paper-trained flies.

Martin-Anderson drew a dot on the map for all 454,064,098 people the census showed were living in the three countries in 2010 (U.S. and Mexico) or 2011 (Canada). If you want to find out if you're one of the flyspecks, you can see the map and all its dots at http://bmander.com/dotmap/index.html.

That's a lot of dots. If you were to draw them by hand doing one each second without stopping even for a bathroom break, the authorities would probably drag you away for mental evaluation within a few days. If not, it would take you about 11 years to draw that many dots. By that time, a new census would be done and you'd have to start all over.

Martin-Anderson did not do it by hand. He explains on the page with the map that he "wrote a Python script to generate the points from U.S. Census block-level counts and generated the tiles with Processing." I have no idea what that means, but you can call up additional information on how he did it if you are interested. I wasn't.

Of more interest to me was why he did it, other than not having a girlfriend/boyfriend or the realization it was more interesting than anything currently showing on TV.

"I wanted an image of human settlement patterns unmediated by proxies like city boundaries, arterial roads, state lines, etc.," he explains. "It was an interesting challenge."

Just finding "human settlements" around Washington, D.C., would have been challenge enough for some people. The map does show dots in the middle of public parks and even lakes, but Martin-Anderson said that's what the census blocks showed. Still, that isn't as odd as "humans" being found in Congress.

As a snapshot of settlement patterns, it presents a fairly accurate picture with its population clusters along the coasts and the Great Lakes along with the vast open spaces west of the Mississippi River. I checked it out to try to find my own dot, and I couldn't help but notice something.

I think he missed a few dots.

The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached at phil.wieland@nwi.com or (219) 548-4352.

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