In 2008, a Sarah Palin impersonator famously said, “I can see Russia from my house.” This quote has provided fodder for countless comedians and perhaps helped propel her opponent into the White House. [Edited for accuracy]

But what many people do not realize is … Yes, Sarah, you can see Russia from your house!

That is, if you own a home on Little Diomede Island, Alaska.

Map of Alaska showing Diomede Islands location

Map of Bering Strait showing Diomede Islands location

Map of Big Diomede Island and Little Diomede Island

As these maps of Alaska and Russia show, this tiny island is in the middle of the Bering Sea between Alaska (obviously part of the USA) and Russia, and is just 2.4 miles from its larger sibling, Big Diomede Island. However, the gulf between the two islands is actually much larger; the USA / Russia border runs between the two islands, and Big Diomede Island is owned by Russia.

Little Diomede Island, Alaska is home to less than 200 hardy residents, practically all in a small village on the west side in full view of the larger island 2.4 miles away. So, these American residents can literally see Russia from their house. Sarah was right after all!

Big Diomede Island as seen from Little Diomede Island

Big Diomede Island as seen from Little Diomede Island (taken by Anant Kamath via Wikipedia)

The two islands are also separated by the International Date Line. Does that mean Sarah Palin would be seeing her future each time she gazes at Big Diomede Island, and Putin his past when he looks at Little Diomede Island? Hmm.

Legend has it that the same families settled both islands and then were torn asunder when the United States claimed one island and Russia claimed the other. And, again according to legend, births and deaths were announced by shouting across the water to the other island.

However, according to reliable (?) Wikipedia, all native residents were removed from Big Diomede Island by the Soviet government. Nowadays, only a small weather base and its staff remain on Big Diomede Island.

A long time ago, I heard a joke:

What do you call someone who knows three languages?


What do you call someone who knows two languages?


What do you call someone who knows one language?

An American.

The punchline holds true when it comes to geography.  Most Americans think of Canada as cold, remote, barren.  California?  Ah, southern, verdant, sunny, palm trees …

Most Americans would be amazed to learn that Canada actually extends further south than the northern border of California!

Pelee Island, Ontario is the largest island in Lake Erie.  Although its location is close to chilly Detroit, the lake effect gives it a milder climate than nearby mainland cities.  Its climate is similar to North / South Carolina, and wine is actually grown there.  It lies south of Latitude 42° N, which serves as the northern border of California.  (Incidentally, the 42nd also serves as most of the northern border of Pennsylvania.)

Middle Island, Ontario is actually further south in Lake Erie than Pelee Island and is officially the southernmost point of Canada.  No permanent settlements are present, however, since it is a conservation area.

“Wait a minute,” you may be saying.  “These are islands.  So does that mean the Canadian mainland doesn’t extend as far south as California?”  Hold your Canadian Mounties horses, willya?

Point Pelee, Ontario and the hamlet of Colchester, Ontario are both on the Canadian mainland.  Both also lie south of Latitude 42° N.

Consider this part of the education of us Americans so that we will no longer be the punchline of (as many) jokes.  I actually didn’t know this until Guy commented on this.  Thanks, Guy.


Can you imagine crossing the street into another country just to ask for sugar? That’s what neighbors along a street in Beebe Plain, VT / Quebec can do!  The USA / Canada border literally runs along Canusa Avenue and splits a small village named Beebe Plain in two.

Residents along the south side of Canusa Avenue (get the pun in the name?  HA!) live in the USA, while residents of the north side live in Canada.  Doesn’t look like one needs to go through an International checkpoint just to cross the street, although I wonder if there’s one just south of the village.

According to the Wikipedia entry of the Quebec side, Canusa Avenue lies entirely in Canada, and the border runs through the front lawns of the houses along the south side.  So, these houses are in the USA and most of their driveways are in Canada.

The border even runs through a tool-and-die factory and at least one house.  Imagine cooking a meal in one country, walking down the hall, and serving it in another country!  Let’s hope that family doesn’t need to go through an International checkpoint just to get something from upstairs.

(Thanks to commentator Anman for this gem!)

A quick blog post to let folks know that Google Maps Mobile has been updated to version To install it, go to via your Palm Treo or Centro’s web browser and download / install it over the air.

Google Maps Mobile My LocationThe biggest change is that for Palm Centro smartphones, it supports “My Location,” a close approximation of where you are. While it’s not exact, it’s good when searching for nearby stores. However, as my poor hapless partner reports, it’s confusing to see My Location when following driving directions — he constantly thinks it’s exactly where he is, and consequently gets lost. Turn it off when following directions, honey!

There are a few more smaller changes, notably combining “Location” and “Search” into one option. When using the keypad to scroll the screen, the scrolling is done smoothly instead of jerkly – a nice touch and easier for tracking the moving screen. When a location is found, a small green arrow “drops” onto it — nice animation. And when opening a location, you can then see links for “Directions to here,” “Directions from here,” and “Search nearby.”

Just don’t forget to periodically reset Google Maps, or else your map cache will grow too large.

Very nice touches, Google! One of my favorite Palm programs has gotten even better.

Man, That’s Far

November 9, 2007

We’ve all heard of the immense distances between our star and our neighboring stars.  But like all near-infinite numbers, it’s hard to get a grip of just how far away everything is.  I regularly read Daily Kos, a political blog site, and it has a regular science writer.  He recently wrote about the discovery of a new planet that has some moons that seem to be in the correct position for inhabitable conditions.  This planet (and moons) orbit the star 55 Cancri, which is about 40 light-years away.  And then DarkSyde, the writer, goes on to say:

To get an intuitive handle on those formidable numbers, consider that if our sun was the size of the period at the end of this sentence, the earth would be a microscopic dot a mere 2 inches away. On that same scale, the two stars in the Cancri binary would be separated from one another by 50 yards, but reside a whopping 75 miles away from the earth and sun! The fastest spacecraft to date would take about half a million years to reach 55 Cancri. And it’s one of the closest stars. Most are much, much farther away.

Whoa.  Man, that’s far.

Take a moment and imagine the Canadian cities of Quebec City, Montreal, and Toronto. Does your mind conjure up images of snow, heavy winter coats, car tires spinning in heavy snow, and in general being so far north that you’re within spitting image of the Arctic Circle?

Now think of Seattle. Lots of rain, no ice, very little snow (except on gorgeous Mt. Rainer), heavy on the coffee intake, lots of bridges and very few snow tires …

Would it surprise you if I told you Seattle is located more north than Toronto, Montreal, and even Quebec City? See the red line on the map below showing where Seattle is in relation to the three Canadian cities (click on the map to enlarge):

Seattle in relation to Canadian cities

In fact, Toronto is so far south that it’s nearly on par with Detroit and Chicago. (And in fact, if you head south from Detroit, you’ll end up in Canada!)

Oh, you knew all these? Ok, grump grump, I’m not talking to YOU, I’m talking to the person behind you …

Ellis Island aerial shotFor millions of immigrants, Ellis Island was where they first stepped upon the United States, after swinging by the island upon which the Statue of Liberty stood. (Yes, the Statue of Liberty does NOT stand on Ellis Island.) And just about everyone’s grandma and grandpa knew that Ellis Island is in New York. After all, every immigrant there knew that they would be stepping into a part of New York City — onto Ellis Island — when they step off the boat.

But is Ellis Island really a part of New York? Not really.

A first look at a map shows that Ellis Island is on the New Jersey side of the border.

NY and NJ map showing Ellis Island

However, from the beginning, New York had taken possession of Ellis Island, and New Jersey allowed it. In 1834, the two states entered into a compact recognizing that New York would have exclusive jurisdiction over Ellis Island.

However, beginning around 1890, the Federal government began to expand Ellis Island through landfill on all sides so that it could operate its immigration station there. Between 1890 and 1934, the Federal government poured so much landfill that the island ended up being 9/10th artificial land. That is, the original island area was only one-tenth the size of the entire “new” Ellis Island — everything else was artificial land.

New Jersey eventually filed claim to the “new” portions of Ellis Island, claiming that all of the additions were outside the boundaries of the compact and therefore a part of New Jersey. New York disagreed, and the two states actually duked it out in front of the Supreme Court in 1998. Rudy Giuliani, then Mayor of New York City during this dispute, famously claimed that his father, an immigrant from Italy, never intended to go through New Jersey.

The end result? The Supreme Court agreed with New Jersey, and said that the new additions were all part of New Jersey. If you look at the map below, the green shaded area is where the original island boundaries were — and therefore a part of the state of New York. Just approximately 5 acres were New York’s. All other portions of the island — or approximately 31 acres — were New Jersey’s. Only the Main Building was almost wholly in New York; all the other buildings were entirely or mostly in New Jersey. The two states ended up deciding to share claims to Ellis Island.

Map of Ellis Island showing state boundaries

Since 1954, no immigrants have gone through Ellis Island. The entire island is Federal property anyway (although the land is shared by both states), and the Federal government operates the museum and maintains all of the buildings there.

Much ado over so little? Maybe not.

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