New: Link: USA Census Tract Data

I want to travel somewhere, but where? I like the places that I've been. I could keep going back to them. Then again, one reason to travel is to see new things. How do I keep from falling into a rut? How do I decide to travel to someplace that I wouldn't necessarily think of on my own?

I could throw darts at a map. This idea has a few problems. One, it makes holes in my map. Two, I don't actually have any darts. Three, maybe that dart lands in North Dakota. There's nothing in North Dakota. Well, I'm exaggerating. (Or undera-ggerating. Obviously, there is stuff in North Dakota.) And yet, if my dart landed in North Dakota, I'd be disappointed.

OK, suppose that people tend to congregate in interesting places. New York City is pretty interesting, and plenty of people live around there. So maybe I shouldn't throw darts at a map.

Instead, I'll try slicing my map into pieces so that each piece contains about the same number of people. Then I'll cross cut each of those slices, again, so that each piece has the same number of people. That sounds like something my computer could do, if only I had fine-grained population data.

Those lovely lovely people at the US Census provide USA census data in an easy-to-parse form. So crank crank crank through the data, spew out some rectangles in a KML file, feed that to Google Earth, and I have the USA in slices. Making four slices in each dimension, I see that I haven't visited four major pieces of the country.

[Map of USA mostly grayed out, but with some middle states highlighted]

Four pieces, all contiguous. Why, I could take care of all four of those in just two trips: I could visit Dallas and Pittsburgh. Each of those is on/near the border between pieces. That seems kind of silly, though. Once I visit those places, I'll probably feel obliged to slice my map more finely and keep going--and then I might be sorry I went all the way to Texas and just visited Dallas.

[Map of USA more finely sliced]

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Posted 2008-12-22

 Darcy said...

Anyway, there are much more interesting parts of Texas than Dallas (e.g., Austin). Though I don't know if you've been to some of them already.

22 December, 2008 09:26