Monday, July 23, 2007

Name three countries larger in area than the United States

I occasionally look at the analytics for my blog to see how people are getting here. About a quarter of my traffic comes from search engines. It's amusing to see what search terms people are using when they find my blog. Most of the top ones are people searching for my blog either by my name or by the name of the blog, although quite a lot of people got here by searching for "wikimedia election" or some similar variant. Not all that surprising.

However, some of the lower-frequency terms are more amusing. I"ve gotten 9 hits on "caramel bugles" (and 2 more for "bugles caramel") after I blogged about them a few weeks ago. Quite a few come from searches for "Jayjg", "SlimVirgin", or "CharlotteWeb"; obviously there's a few people out there cruising for drama that pass through here. "Kat martin porn" is also responsible for five hits; I'm a bit creeped out by that. Three people got here by searching for "sorry for the delay"; I'm curious just who would search for that phrase. There's been a few for things similar to "disease from chewing too much", which has to do with some MMORPG gaming clan that apparently coined a nonsense definition and goes around stuffing it in places that don't really want it. But the one that made me write this article was the person who searched for "name three countries larger in size than the united states".

Wikipedia actually has the answer to this one, although you have to process the data a bit. It turns out that there may or may not be three countries larger in area than the United States, depending mainly on your attitudes toward India's government. If you live in India, or favor India's territorial claims, there are only two countries larger than the United States: Russia and Canada. Otherwise, there's three: Russia, Canada, and China. It seems that China is only larger than the United States if you include some territories that are generally counted as part of China but which India claims as Indian territory; excluding those territories makes China slightly smaller than the United States. As a result, the Wikipedia list I linked to above has a joint entry for 3rd and 4th place, listing both China and the United States for that position.

I can only assume the individual doing that search was using Google to do her homework. I wonder if they discovered that the answer to her question was more complicated than she probably expected. And I wonder how her teacher would have reacted to being told "it depends on what position you take in world political affairs". It definitely goes to show that even apparently simple questions are often not nearly as simple as they appear.

I also noticed, looking at that list, that Canada is much less larger than the United States than I always thought. I suppose that's the impact of the Mercator projection; the Mercator projection distorts land masses that are close to the poles, making them appear larger. This tends to make Canada (and Russia) appear larger than they really are.