Where swallows fly North for the winter

It can be hard for us Northerners1 to really get a handle on the geography of the Southern Hemisphere, where the Moon is upside down, it snows in July, and birds fly north for the winter. Understanding geography can be particularly confusing in Chile, which is fairly narrow from east to west but loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong from north to south, so that latitude plays and important part in how the country understands itself.

Here is a map of Chile, marking major cities from Arica (close to the equator) to Punta Arenas (far from the equator). Notice that I give the latitudes relative to the equator rather than north or south, because that will make the next step easier to understand. Click on the map for a larger version.

Map of Chile
Map of Chile (click for a larger version)

The next step? Well, it’s not a perfect analogy, but one way to understand Chile’s southern hemisphere geography is to compare it to equivalent geographies in the northern hemisphere, again giving latitudes relative to the equator. So, two cities at similar distances from the equator should have similar weather patterns and similar feels.

That’s what I’ve done here, by comparing the major cities of Chile to equivalent cities on the west coast of North America. For every city from Arica in to Punta Arenas in the south, I chose a city (or region, or several of each) in the northern hemisphere at a similar latitude away from the equator, and with a similar population2.

First, substituting cities in Chile with cities on the west coast of North America:

Latitude/population equivalent map of Chile (click for a larger version)

From nearest to the equator to farthest from the equator:

  • Arica is at roughly the same latitude south, and population, as Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico
  • Iquique is equivalent to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Antofagasta is equivalent to Matatlán, Mexico
  • Valparaiso is equivalent to the average latitude and combined population of Ventura and Santa Barbara, California
  • Santiago is equivalent to the average latitude and combined population of Los Angeles, San Diego, and another copy of San Diego
  • Concepción is equivalent to Oakland, California
  • Puerto Montt is equivalent to the average latitude and combined population of Chico, Redding, and Eureka, California
  • Puerto Aisen is equivalent to Walla Walla, Washington
  • Punta Arenas was tricky – its latitude is equivalent to Prince George, British Columbia – but Punta Arenas is much bigger. To get to the actual population of Punta Arenas, add in the population of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, which is a bit closer to the equator.

Two observations on this comparison:

  1. Santiago is absurdly huge compared to every other city in Chile
  2. The cities aren’t all that far south, except of course for Punta Arenas

But maybe you’re not familiar with cities on the west coast of North America, and you’d like another comparison? More comparisons coming soon.


  1. Imma start referring to us northerners as “Global Yankees”^
  2. Latitudes are accurate to within five degrees (about 350 miles) and populations are accurate to within 25 percent^

Greetings from Chile

This was the view from my hotel room window in Antofagasta, Chile this morning:

I shared this on Facebook this morning, but this version is much better

It was a work slowdown by truckers, and also a parade for solidarity with the protests going on around Chile. It spent about 15 minutes driving past, then continued around the city for about an hour. Everything was and continues to be calm, and it appears that people are now going on with their day as normal.

Map of Chile
It’s a

First things first, a message for family and friends: don’t worry, seriously. I’m here with some awesome colleagues to represent SDSS at the Sharing One Sky meeting, which ended yesterday, and was AMAZING (more on that later). While you may have seen on the news that here have been some clashes between police and protestors, those have been entirely in Santiago 900 miles south of here (about the same distance as from Baltimore to Orlando). Everything is calm here in Antofagasta. Even if clashes happen here, which they won’t, I’ll be safe in the hotel. I appreciate your concern, and I’ll still be flying home tomorrow as scheduled.

Second things second, keep in mind that while I always try to stay informed about world events, I’m still a foreigner, and I still don’t have a perfect understanding of WTF I’m talking about. Everything I say here is my own reading of the situation, and all opinions are my own.

So what’s going on here? First, some context. Chile is a moderately wealthy country with some major advantages – it’s the best place in the world to do astronomy (which is the reason I’m here), and they are by far the world’s largest producer of copper. Chile has the world’s 40th largest economy (GDP US$298 million), despite having fewer people than Florida (Chile: 18 million, Florida: 21 million).

The problem is that the wealth is spread very unequally. Demographers measure wealth inequality by a measure called the Gini coefficient percentage, which varies between 0% and 100%. If a country is desperately poor, the Gini coefficient is low, because no one has very much in the first place. If a country has a successful social democracy, the Gini coefficient is fairly low, because everyone shares the wealth. If a country has a few rich people and many poor people, the Gini coefficient is high. Chile’s is 50.5%, fifteenth in the world – higher than some famously unequal countries like Brazil (49.0%), Mexico (47.1%), and China (46.5%).footnote

It doesn’t help that Chile has a history of repression and murder during the iron fist of dictator Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. And although the country has had free elections and a positive human rights record ever since, a history of such large-scale trauma to so many is difficult to emerge from.

The proximate cause of this year’s protests was raising the cost of peak travel (commuting to and from work) on the Santiago metro system from 800 Chilean pesos to 830 Chilean pesos (official announcement, in Spanish). The fact that a cost increase that converts to four U.S. cents has triggered widespread protests should give you an idea of the desperate straits that poor Chileans find themselves in.

Protests began on October 7th when high school students began a loosely organized campaign to avoid paying by jumping fare gates all over the metro system. The metro authority asked police to post at some stations to monitor and enforce fare paying. On October 14th, clashes between police and protestors resulted in three stations closing (news coverage, in Spanish – and yes, one of the closed stations is called Cumming, write your own jokes). Violence escalated from there, and eventually 80 of the metro’s 136 stations were damaged, with 17 being literally burned down. Nineteen people have died, and more than 2,000 have been arrested. On Friday, October 25th, more than 1.2 million people joined a massive protest in Santiago – 7% of the entire population of the country.

The focus of much of the anger has been President Sebastián Piñera. Here’s a photo I took earlier near my hotel, on a wall near the local theater. I don’t know what all these words mean, but I think I can guess what the graffiti artist thinks of the President:

Graffiti spray-painted in red on a wall: "Piñera chupala que cuelga"
I looked it up, this is a popular and quite offensive Chilean insult. “Chupa” means “to suck,” and you can probably figure out the rest from context.

So what’s next for Chile? The good news is that Piñera seems to be taking the protests seriously – he fired eight members of his cabinet, including Interior Minister Andres Chadwick, who had been a vocal supporter of Pinochet as a university student in the late 1980s. But the protests will likely continue, at least intermittently, until Chile addresses the underlying problems that led to the protests.

I still believe in the power of democracy, and I still believe in this wonderful country. Chileans love displaying their flag almost as much as Americans do – as they should, it’s an awesome flag. So I leave you with the flag, and ¡Que Viva Chile!

The Chilean flag flying proudly over Antofagasta

Footnote on Gini Coefficients

Footnote: here is the full list of countries by Gini coefficient, from the CIA World Factbook. It can be tempting to say that 0% means “totally equal” and 100% means “totally unequal” and put all other values on the same scale, but that’s not really how it works. Gini coefficients make sense only in comparison to other countries. For comparison:

  • Sweden’s is 24.9%, one of the lowest in the world
  • Ethiopia’s is 33.0%
  • The highest in western Europe is Spain with 35.9%, 92nd highest out of 157 countries reported
  • The United States is 45.0%, the 39th highest
  • The two highest Gini Coefficients are South Africa (62.5%) and Lesotho (63.2%)

Extra footnote for nerds: the Gini Coefficient is calculated and usually reported as between 0 and 1, the CIA and I just multiplied that by 100 for convenience. The math is pretty interesting, I might do a full post about it sometime if you’re interested.

The spirits of blogposts past and future

Hello, Internet! Thanks to those of you who joined for this year’s Best Sexy [Thing That Is Inherently Not Sexy] Halloween Costume Contest! I hope you’ll stick around. Here is a quick guide to who I am, what has happened so far on this blog, and what is coming soon!

I am the coordinator of Education and Outreach activities at the Institute for Data-Intensive Engineering and Science (IDIES) at Johns Hopkins University. Our group is doing some amazing work at the intersection of computational science and nearly every field of science, and my job is to share it with the world.

Part of our research: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s
map of the Universe (not actual size)

My job includes working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which is now in its 21st year of making a map of the Universe. I coordinate the project press coverage, develop educational activities, and maintain the project’s web site at www.sdss.org.

My real passion is in citizen science, an approach to both research and education in which volunteers who are not professional scientists participate along with professionals to conduct a research project. This approach is not new, of course, but an exciting new development has been creating citizen science opportunities online for volunteers all over the world. I am a founding member of the Galaxy Zoo project, in which volunteers classify galaxies by shape – and which has so far led to more than 60 peer-reviewed publications.

The Zooniverse logo - the word "Zooniverse" with an elliptical galaxy for the second O, with tagline "Real Science Online"

Galaxy Zoo has expanded into Zooniverse.org, an online citizen science portal that supports more than 100 citizen science projects in field ranging from astronomy to medicine to archaeology. My particular interest has been in the impact of citizen science on volunteers – why do they participate, and what is the impact on their understanding of science? I have written papers on these questions of motivation and learning in citizen science.

I haven’t only written one post so far about my professional life, but that will be changing soon, as I have some posts planned about the studies I linked above. The blog has been primarily about all the things that I think make the universe so fascinating, such as:

How we know there is water on Mars – a map of the Martian south pole, and the path of the Mars Express orbiter that found it
  • Sharing quick experiments in data science: I passionately believe that anyone can do science using tools they already use or are freely available online. And so I enjoy demonstrating this, for example by calculating the number of people alive today who have seen a Major League Baseball perfect game, or finding times when Russians pretended to be Americans on Twitter.
  • Fascinating oddities of geography: Asking the seemingly-obvious question “what’s north of South Dakota,” and getting an unexpected answer.
South: South Dakota
North: Montana?!?!
  • Stories from the people of our world: I’m fascinated by stories of people who are not what they seem, like Old Hollywood’s most famous American Indian actor who wasn’t actually American Indian – and other stories from the past and present that can be tragic or stupid or funny.
The famous “crying Indian” environmental PSA of the 1970s
Not pictured: Indians
  • Guest posts from my amazing friends: One of the greatest benefits of being alive is having awesome friends willing to share their knowledge about, say, presidential executive orders or the 2020 Democratic primaries. If you’d like to write a guest post, email me at jordan.raddick@gmail.com or reach out on your favorite social media platform.

Once again, I welcome you, new reader, and I encourage to look back at what I’ve said using the links above or the full index below (which I’m still in the process of writing).

So what’s next?

As mentioned, I’m planning a few posts about various aspects of my work life. And I’ll continue sharing stories that fascinate me about the world, answering questions like these:

  • Why is math, which is a game we play in our heads, so incredibly useful in describing the real world?
  • What happens when a country builds a scientific research base in literally the stupidest place in the world for a scientific research base?
  • If you survive the world’s most insane plane crash, how might you feel about flying?

And many more.

Thanks for reading!