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Agloe: How a Completely Made Up New York Town Became Real

Truth is stranger than fiction. Especially if that truth is caused by fiction. Consider the strange case of Agloe, a place name that started appearing on maps of New York State in the 1930s. 

Truth is stranger than fiction. Especially if that truth is caused by fiction. Consider the strange case of Agloe, a place name that started appearing on maps of New York State in the 1930s. 


An insignificant little fleck, Agloe was shown somewhere in the Catskills, at the junction of an unnamed country road with NY 206, just about where that state route crosses Beaver Kill. Both the stream and the route are tributaries of larger arteries: just to the south in Roscoe, they meet the Willowemoc Creek and New York State Route 17, respectively.

But Agloe was fake – a deliberate fake. The toponym was scrambled from the initials of Otto G. Lindberg, the director of the General Drafting Company, and his assistant Ernest Alpers. The mapmaking company was putting together a road map of New York State, and wanted to make sure that all its hard work wouldn't just be copied over by its competitors.

Mapmakers had been wrestling with this issue for centuries, but the problem had grown more acute as cartographic precision increased: How do you prove someone stole your map, if that map accurately reflects reality? The answer: add fantasy! Mapmakers had been able to take their competitors to court by pointing out fake places (a.k.a. paper towns) on their maps that were copied from their original work! For this reason, fictitious roads are often called trap streets: because they entrap the company copying them onto their own maps.

Of course, the mapmaker won't invent busy thoroughfares or large towns. Not only would this be more easily discovered by the competition, it would also confuse the unsuspecting map-reader. Better to use tiny dead-end streets for these phony map entries, or small, out-of-the-way hamlets. Like Agloe. 

A few years after publishing its New York State map, the General Drafting Company spotted Agloe on a map by Rand McNally, one of its main competitors. Aha, thought Lindberg: caught red-handed! Except that Rand McNally protested its innocence in a very convincing way: it had obtained the coordinates for Agloe from county records. Those records showed that on the once empty spot marked Agloe by the General Drafting Company now stood... the Agloe General Store. A real one!

It soon turned out that the store had taken its name from a map by Esso, one of GDC's clients. In an absurd circularity, the fake toponym inserted onto the map to catch cribbing competitors had become real, thereby stripping it of its only function. On the other hand, by becoming an actual location, Agloe made sure that the map was entirely truthful again – even more correct than the mapmakers had intended.

Turn to Google Maps, and type in Agloe: an arrow still lands in the spot where Messrs. Lindberg and Alpers placed it, long after the general store there has gone. And long after the General Drafting Company itself has gone. Once one of the 'Big Three' in road map publishing, the company was absorbed into the American Map Company in 1992 and its state maps amalgamated with that company's catalogue. Ironically, its only lasting legacy is that intentional, sneaky, but ultimately self-perpetuating mistake – Agloe.

A persistent, and persistently unsubstantiated rumour has it that there is a trap street on every page of the London A-Z. I once thought I found one, but upon inspection, it turned out there really is an Elvis Road in Willesden (right behind Willesden Green tube station, just off Lennon Road and Marley Walk). Does anyone know of any examples?

--

Strange Maps #643

Many thanks to Santiago Sippa, who sent a link to a story about Agloe on Futility Closet.Banner map taken from that article. The larger map taken from this page at Pretty Vacant Pirate.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

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Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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