Michigan, the Hands-On State

Very handy cartography

Michigan, the Hands-On State

Mitte is German for middle or mid, as in Midwest, the geographical designation for 12 US states (1), one of which is Michigan. The Great Lakes State’s Lower (i.e. southern) Peninsula is often called the Mitten, not because of any German connection, but for its similarity to the fingerless glove type of that name (2). Imagine a right hand glove facing you, and Saginaw Bay is where the fingers diverge from the thumb.

The Mitten then becomes a Rudimentary Positioning System for any location in the Lower Peninsula (LP). If you live in Detroit, for example, you could point to the area below the thumb to indicate your location. For Grand Rapids, touch a spot just inwards from the middle of the Mitten’s left side... But it would be geographically more precise to ditch the mitten simile – take it off, as it were – and go two steps further.

Comparing the LP to an actual, uncovered hand allows for a much more detailed topography. Also using the other hand (3) adds the Upper Peninsula (UP). We now have the entire state laid out before us. Annoyingly, the only thing missing is a third hand, to point to all the locations this impromptu double mains map unlocks. This picture might help.

In the Upper Peninsula:

  • The little finger represents the Keweenaw Peninsula, jutting out northeastwards into Lake Superior. The peninsula, Michigan’s northernmost point, is the result of the oldest known lava flow on Earth, consisting largely of almost pure recoverable copper, and was the site of a copper boom from the middle of the 19th century onwards. Copper Harbor (“Tops in Michigan!”) sits at the top of the pinkie.
  • The thumb represents where the Upper Peninsula tapers off in the south, squeezed from the east by Green Bay (4), an arm of Lake Michigan, and from the west by the Menominee River, which forms the border with Wisconsin. Where the river flows into Green Bay, the town of Menominee (5) forms the tip of the thumb (and the Upper Peninsula’s southernmost town).
  • The middle finger can be equated with the UP’s easternmost protuberance (which is actually not on the UP mainland): Drummond Island in Lake Huron – next stop Cockburn Island, Ontario.
  • With a bit of fantasy, the tip of the ring finger stands for Whitefish Point, which juts out of the northern side of the UP, and the tip middle (6) of the index finger stands for St Ignace, which connects the Upper with the Lower Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge.
  • In the Lower Peninsula:

  • The pinkie’s tip is Northport, on the Leelanau Peninsula. Northport has a knack of attracting rich and famous residents, among whom the comedian Tim Allen, and the father of Madonna, a well-known Michigan actress and singer.
  • The tip of the ring finger could then be identified with the part of the Lower Peninsula washed by Little Traverse Bay, from Charlevoix in the west (squeezed between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix) to Petoskey in the east.
  • The middle finger’ tip corresponds with the Lower Peninsula’s northernmost point, at Mackinaw City (also the southern terminus of the Mackinac Bridge). Although less a city than a town (with under a thousand permanent residents), this is Michigan’s most popular tourist destination.
  • The Lower Michigan shore east of Mackinac City meanders off without any promontory that could easily be identified with the index finger, except maybe Rogers City, by virtue of its being the biggest town on this stretch of the Lake Huron shoreline. Or maybe Alpena, located after the Lower Peninsula shoreline bends due south. Alpena has the distinction of being the birthplace of Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of president McKinley (+1901) and a location in Die Hard 2.
  • The area of the thumb, separated from the other fingers by Saginaw Bay, is actually known as… The Thumb. The extent of the area thus described varies, but always included are Huron county (on the thumb’s tip, in the middle of this which is the intriguingly named town of Bad Axe, after a faulty implement of that type found on the site), and Sanilac and Tuscola counties, directly to the south of Huron county. At the bottomest part of the bay, corresponding with the webby part of your hand between your thumb and index finger (there must be a more professional anatomical description) is Bay City, home of the aforementioned entertainer Madonna, and of Howard Avis, founder of the Avis Rent-A-Car company.
  • This handy map of Michigan was sent in by Krishna Kumar, who “was telling this girl about [the Strange Maps] website. Probably not the best chat-up line, but I had a reason. She uses the strangest map I’ve ever seen – her hand – to explain where she is from: Michigan [...] What is truly bizarre is it seems a lot of people use this secret code to explain things.” The Michigan Hand map (this one found here) is a rare example of hand-based cartography – rare, because few cartographic entities lend themselves to hand-mapping. It is, however, not unique. Another example, detailing the Bay Area, was treated earlier on this blog (7). Should you know of further examples, whether mono- or ambidextrous, your notificiation is eagerly awaited.

     Strange Maps #454 

     Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.


    (1) The US Census Bureau divides America into 4 geographical Regions (Northeast, Midwest, South and West), and those into a total of 9 Divisions. The Midwest consists of Division 3 (East North Central), i.e. Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio; and Division 4 (West North Central), being Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Iowa.

    (2) Should it ever come up in conversation, the German for Mitten is Fäustling, its hypernym glove is Handschuh. You have to take off either to experience what the German language so succinctly calls Fingerspitzengefühl. This literally means finger tip feeling, and figuratively a delicate, almost intuitive sense of control. It appropriately applies here, as this Hands-On map pinpoints many more of Michigan’s shoreside communities, often well-known holiday resorts, than the rather blunt and frankly incomplete Mitten could.

    (3) Hovering above the first one, dorsal side facing out, thumb down but hugging the palm, little finger pointing up but the middle three fingers bunched together. As on this map.

    (4) Also known, in a remarkable case of circular topography, as the Bay of Green Bay, after the Wisconsin city that sits at the southernmost point of the bay it was named after.

    (5) Menominee has the distinction of having been America’s #1 lumber producing town, of being located exactly on the 45th parallel North (halfway between the Equator and the North Pole), and of being the hometown of the last US soldier to die in the Vietnam War.

    (6) You are right, commenter #2. Correction should sufficiently amend location. Also: does anyone have the official name for the main joint on the index finger? Trigger joint?

    (7) A Handy Map of San Francisco (#313).

    This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

    A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

    Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
    Surprising Science
    • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
    • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
    • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

    First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

    Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

    All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


    Image source: European Space Agency

    The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

    Into and out of Earth's shadow

    In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

    The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

    In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

    When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

    Magentosphere melody

    The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

    BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

    MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

    Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

    Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

    Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

    • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
    • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
    • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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