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XKCD’s latest comic caught my interest.  They decided to round up some random “Americans” and draw a map of the world as they saw it.  The map, it turns out, is not so bad:

World According to Americans

As a result, I decided I would test my own knowledge by looking for some obvious errors (looking beyond some of the gross simplifications, of course), without looking at Wikipedia or any other source outside my brain.  Here goes, feel free to join in;

1) China is the wrong shape, there should be another bit extending up beside the western border of Mongolia.

2) On a related issue, Tibet is actually much further south.  the area depicted looks to be a portion of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (aka Xinjiang), the other part being the missing bit I mentioned above.

3) OK, yes this is a simplification, but they pointed out Ireland without highlighting the region of Northern Ireland (which is actually part of the UK).

4) Hawai’i (and pretty much the entire Pacific Ocean) is omitted, probably because the artist failed to provide space on the paper for it.

5) I think Algeria has a coast, meaning that it would be wrong on this map.  Unfortunately, Africa is about as much a black hole for me as it is for these guys, so I can’t be sure on that one.

6) Russia seems a bit too large, maybe some of those borders reflect former Soviet territory that is not part of the Russian Federation.  Not entirely sure on this one, though.

… going further would get into nitpicking about regions I know fairly well and redrawing some of the vaguely hashed-out regions, and quibbling about some scale issues (I think Japan’s island chain is longer than that), and a couple nomenclature issues (Taiwan and the Republic of China “complications”, many scholars would have the “Middle East” include more of northern Africa).  On my own, I could probably fill in the South American map with a good degree of importance (and maybe a *little* finer detail on language by naming some major American Indian languages), and I would probably be able to hash in several more countries in the other regions, and probably work in several provinces, autonomous regions, and major cities of China.  If I blew up the map big I could roughly fill in the autonomous communities of Spain as well, but that’s just going too far for this excercise.

I think the big thing to take away from this would be: Unless you make world maps for a living, you probably can’t possibly draw a perfect map of the world with every country in place.  Most of the places I could improve here are regions or countries I have studied fairly in-depth and/or travelled to.   All told it seems that at least this group of Americans, as XKCD mentioned, is pretty good at world geography, coming right off the top of their heads.  That said, feel free to geek out explaining how they totally screwed up your favorite country/region 😛

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Every so often you have one of those dreams that you wish to share with people immediately.  Last night I had a dream that I was going to see an old friend from China.  Oddly, though within the dream this friend, a woman in her fifties or sixties who had endured several divorces and moves around China, was very familiar to me, when I woke up I realized that she and her family were entirely fictional.  Not that uncommon in a dream, I guess, but it was surprising.

Getting on with the story, when I arrived to meet her I found her standing outside a room where a wedding was going on.  Apparently her daughter was getting married and with her father unavailable, I was asked to escort her.  Everything proceeded as normal, with an appropriate nervousness on my part, until the question “Who gives away this bride?” (or however it was phrased) was asked (in English).  For some reason, I had three responses in mind, in Chinese: “她妈妈” (“Her mother.” Would’ve worked I guess), “她妈妈和我” (“Her mother and I.” Translation of a familiar usage, but awkward in context.), and finally “我” (“I/me.”  Extremely awkward under the circumstances.)  Only after I woke up did I realize that it would probably be best not to say anything in that situation, letting the mother take that particular formality.

Luckily, that was apparently not the actual wedding, just a rehersal, so I wasn’t entirely put on the spot.  I guess my subconscious was trying to save itself some embarrassment.  In any case, I had a conversation with a few people that I was feeling uncomfortable with the responsibility and wanted to bow out, but my own mother (my whole family was suddenly there) convinced me to go ahead with it, citing that one relative had already addressed the groom as “princess” and there’s no possibility that I could cause any more embarrassment than that.  I have no idea where such a “princess” comment would come from, by the way.  If it happened in real life, I’m sure Alzheimer’s would be involved.

I never saw the conclusion to the story, as I woke up before the actual wedding started.  Maybe it’s better that way, as although the pastor was one from my past church, I am sure that there would be some parts of the ceremony in Chinese, and since I’m not familiar with Chinese weddings, any lines my subconscious would generate would almost certainly be flawed or even entirely wrong.  I’m sure the story would have turned out alright, though.  In any case, that was my dream, and if you read all the way through, thank you for your indulgence… and your boredom.

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I was going through some podcasts that I hadn’t had a chance to listen too, and I picked up on this episode of The World Science Podcast, which devoted the first half of the podcast to interesting solutions to the problem of organ shortages: a law in Israel that gives preference to organ donors if they should happen to be on an organ donation list, and a program in Iran that compensates live kidney donors.

Organ donation is an important topic to me because around a decade ago my father was lucky enough to recieve a heart transplant.  I know a little bit about the waiting and the stress organ recipients and their families feel (my siblings and my mother, who remember the start of my father’s illness, know this better).  Personally, I prefer solutions that would eliminate organ donors, such as artificial organs, xenotransplantation, or cloning/stem cell solutions, but all those technologies are still far from being fully viable, so it’s interesting to hear these solutions, though I feel ambivalent about them.

I can’t really go on about this at length, but it made me think to remind people to think about organ donation.  A good resource if you have questions about it is the website of the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (www.core.org).  Someday I might make a longer post about my position on organ donation, but for now I’ll boil my position down as simply as possible:  I am listed as an organ donor because after I die, I know I won’t have any use for those parts of my body, so why not give them to someone who needs them, to save as many lives as I can as mine fades.

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