The “Average” US Population Density

I started doing a bit of a thought experiment – according to the Census Bureau, the US land area is 3,531,905.43 square miles and with a 2010 population of 308,745,538 there are 87.4 persons per square mile.  There were 46,792,300 people living in the 50 most populous cities in the United States in 2010, or a little more than 15% of the population (15.15%).

Those 15% of the population live in just over 11,000 square miles (11,006 to be more or less exact) or 0.312% of the US land mass, for a population density of 4251.5 per square mile.  Clearly, because these are the 50 largest cities, they do not represent “average.”  So, I decided to remove those 46,792,300 people in their 11,006 square miles from the US population density to see how that changes things for those of us who do not live in the largest 50 cities.

If you do not live in one of the 50 largest cities, on average you live in a population density of 74.4 persons per square mile.

So then I increased the scope to the largest 100 cities.  That covers 19.4% of the US population – 59,847,102 – and .488% of the land mass who live in a population density of 3470.75 per square mile.

I then brought the list to the top 275 most populous cities in the US, places with names such as Temecula, California (population just over 100,000) and a little place called Green Bay, Wisconsin (104,000).  27% of the US population lives in .76% of the landmass with a population density of 3127 per square mile.   The other 73% of us living in 99.24% of the rest of the country live 64 to a square mile.  But it’s much more complicated than that.

According to the National League of Cities, there were 19,492 municipal governments in the US in 2007.  In 2007, 257 of them reached over 100,000, currently there are 275 so these numbers are somewhat out of date, but still point to the idea that the “Average” American does not live 87.4 per square mile.  The question is though, how much of that landmass is actually inhabited at all.

In “Fooled by Randomness,” Nassim Taleb talks about this idea – that we’re easily fooled by statistics and that there are plenty of examples where 90% of a given population can be above average.  His example: A village of 10 people – 9 of whom earn a salary of $30,000 and one desperately poor chap who earns $1000 yearly for an average yearly salary of $27,100.

There are 50 states and when their individual population densities are compared, 27 have an average population density greater than average.   Consider this for a moment:  New York State has the 7th highest population density in the country – 412.3 persons per square mile.  But the “average” New Yorker does not live in even that great a population density.  Remove NYC’s 42% of the state’s population – remembering that because it’s the largest city in the country, by definition it is not average – and its 303 square miles, and what you’ve got a density of 239.26 per square mile.

And here’s something else to consider, the 23 states with lower than “average” population densities account for only 19.1% of the country’s population, meaning the 27 states with higher population densities are where 80.9% of the population live.

In 2003, the Census Bureau classified 94.6% of the country as rural open space.   So, if we multiply the 3,531,905.43 square miles by the remaining 5.4% we come up with 1,907,228.93 square miles and a population density of 161.88.  If we go back to the beginning of this post by subtracting the populations and landmasses of the 275 largest cities in the US, the average population density decreases to 119.34.

Now after having done this analysis over a few hours, I came across the Thoreau Institute’s website detailing much of my own exploration – with an XLS download no less.    Their agenda is different than mine – theirs is to explore the environment, mine was to explore numbers – but their data was helpful in that pursuit.

The real US population density would seem to be about twice what the official numbers show.  But I’ve wiped out 94.6% where people “don’t live” from the landmass calculation, how come it only affected the population density by 100%?  Because where people do live, we live in clusters, in areas where the land is largely developed.  If you remove from consideration areas where few people live  the actual density in which we live isn’t affected.  If no one lived in those areas, the real density wouldn’t have changed, so clearly some people are living there.  By removing cities with populations over 100,000 from the mix, the density number rises by about 36%.

The numbers are skewed and the “average” does not tell the true story of how close together we live.

The SS Norway

In April 2001, my new bride and I honeymooned aboard the SS Norway for a Western Caribbean cruise.  It was an enormous hulk of a ship – the largest passenger ship in existence at the time, surpassed in 2004 by the HMS Queen Mary 2.  As not only the largest, but also the oldest, It stood as a reminder of the not so distant transatlantic past of passenger vessels transporting passengers from Europe to New York and back over a period of weeks.

It served as a Caribbean cruiser – repurposed from its previous duties – among the specially built Carnival liners.  Its refined nature contrasted against the newer and far more garish ships set it even further apart.  Because it was built to withstand the pounding of the open Atlantic, it was a peculiar choice to cruise the shallower and more docile Caribbean sea.  Its hull was far too deep to dock along the shorts in most ports of call, so tender boats were called to duty to transport its cruising passengers to shore.   The trappings of the ship were clearly from another, more refined age with accents of real brass.  The cabins had been retrofitted – the interior largely renovated – and therefore had sometimes peculiar shapes and sizes about them.  Where there had once been a swimming pool in its life as the SS France, there was now a disco.

The existence of such a ship was a puzzlement.  It first sailed in 1962, a bold statement of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantic to create what happened to be the last of the year-round transatlantic superships.   When first conceived in 1956, it was to compete with Cunard and the United States Lines ships – and while built in competitive spirit, it was short sighted;  As the ship was being built in the late 1950s, air travel began to overtake transatlantic shipping as the preferred means of intercontinental travel.    It began life as a bit of a white elephant and sailed for a mere 12 years before being hulked in 1974 when oil prices soared and government subsidies for the running of the ship dried up.

It was then resurrected by the Norwegian Cruise Line in 1979 and rechristened, and renovated in 1980, into the SS Norway.  By the time we took our honeymoon, NCL had been purchased by Star Cruises and plans had already begun to circulate about plans to bring the Norway to Malaysia for Pacific cruising.   Even as the ship received facelifts, maintenance had been cut back and by the late 1990s it had experienced several incidents and breakdowns.  By 2001, NCL had introduced “Freestyle Cruising” on all of its ships except for the Norway – her repurposing showing as the design would not support the open concept of the more modern ship.

We cruised on the Norway one more time in January 2003 – well after the point at which we understood would be her final cruising before being recommissioned in the Pacific.  After having cruised on a Carnival vessel, we came to more fully appreciate the ship for what she had once been.   A few months later in May, the ships boiler exploded in the port of Miami killing several crew members and injuring others.   Upon hearing the news, we could not help but to wonder if any of those hurt or dead would’ve been someone who had served us a few months before.

While sad and shocking, it was not a surprise given the maintenance cut backs and other not-wholly dissimilar incidents in the past: in 1999 it was out of commission for three weeks after a fire in Barcelona.  And so it was that the SS Norway came to its end on an Indian beach after having been towed there for demolition.  It was a ship that seemed to be born just a little too late, never quite fitting in; but it was a beautiful ship, a destination in and of itself.

This is a video I put together  from smaller clips I had of a ride on one of the tenders back to the Norway from Great Stirrup Cay during a rather unsettled weather pattern on that January 2003 cruise:

An Open Letter to My Daughter

You’re becoming your own woman and watching you grow up has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.  You’re ever more the student than I was.  You’re beautiful, bright, and your own person.  I am very proud of the things you are and the things you are not.

You have situated yourself to be able to accomplish whatever you want to accomplish, and in a less than a year you will be start making the first decisions of your adult life and in a little more than a year you will accept what I hope is your first diploma.  It seems not that long ago I brought you home from the hospital, that I visited your Kindergarten classroom, that I walked with you on your first communion and now you’re on the cusp of some of your first adult milestones.

I say I hope your high school diploma is but your first diploma.  I want college for you, but I want for you to want that – and I think you do.  I don’t want you to decide to go to college because I want it for you, I want you to make that decision because you want it.  I want you to choose it because based on knowledge and belief, earning a college degree will provide you the best opportunity to follow your interests and passions.  Simply earning a degree will not get you a job or a career you love, but it will best position you to do so.

I want you to choose a college and a course of study based on your interests and passions, not what is the most cost effective or what has the most cache, or what has the potential to earn you the most money long term.  You have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life, and it’s an unfair thing we do to young people asking them to know what they want to do with their lives.  If you don’t know what you want to major in, that’s fine – there’s plenty of time for such things.  You should know something about what you want, though.  If not a course of study, then a location where you think you want to study, what you want to spend, or what you want to pursue in sport.  Maybe that means taking time away from school and exploring the world.  Something, anything.  Without one anchor, you will have too many opportunities and choices to make.  Allow yourself to make decisions that make the most sense, and the more anchors you can put down, the easier your decisions are to make.

You’re coming up to one of the most exciting and scary times of your life.  I am here for you to give you as much guidance and love as you need – I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure you have the opportunities, but at the end of the day it will be your choice.  Whatever you decide, it will be the first decision of your adult life.  I am so proud of the young woman you have become and I love you.

What Are We Doing Here

I wonder sometimes about what we’re doing here.  Not really in that eternal existential sort of way, but more in terms of what is real.  How much of our wants, desires, needs are prepackaged and sold to us.  Apple has become the largest company in the world, with the largest market capitalization by selling us things we didn’t know we “needed.”  I remember when the first video iPod came out, my first reaction was, “who wants to watch a video on a 3” screen?”  The same is true of camera phones, and indeed cell phones before that.

Our “needs” are analyzed, packaged and sold.  We’re willing to pay more for something familiar, so we’ll spend $1.75 for a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke over the $0.88 for a generic store brand.  Car manufacturers don’t really manufacture anything – they assemble parts sourced from other companies stamped from their specs.  They’re really engineering companies, or perhaps not even that given that a substantial amount of the engineering work is outsourced too.

We choose one box restaurant over another even though they sell the same food sourced from the same place.  Want a McDonalds Chicken McNugget?  It’s the same Tyson nugget you can buy at the supermarket.  Tyson is just a marketing company selling variously sourced chickens.  McDonalds is nothing more than a marketing company promoting franchised restaurants selling cooked, variously sourced food stuffs.  We’re given food, made to taste more “real” with artificial flavors and processing.

You can go to Ikea in Connecticut and buy the same particle board television stand you can buy in Stockholm.  Buy a Chevy in the United States that’s sold as a Holden in Australia.  We come up with neologisms to elicit a feeling or to avoid negative connotations – “Infiniti” to elicit that sense of infinite possibilities or “glicee” to avoid the stigma of “computer generated print.”

We have made ourselves nothing more than small, economic units.  Where we’re not used to earn money through acquiring products and services, we are used for the information we create which is then used for the purpose of selling us products and services.  Despite the variously viral rumors Facebook will begin charging for use of the site, the fact is its not the use of their site that costs money – the use of the site MAKES money.  The user is not the consumer, but is the product.  The same with Google.  Our relationships and interests have been monetized, in fact it is difficult to think of something that hasn’t been.

It just makes me wonder why we spend our lives earning money doing things we don’t like that we then spend on things we’re told we want at prices made higher by the cost of telling us that we want them.  I criticize DisneyWorld and frankly most of Central Florida for being nothing but a facade and a fake, but in a way it’s honest – it doesn’t try to pretend its anything but fake.  Which is more than what most of what we consume can say.

Zen and the Art of Lawn Maintenance

So here’s my thing. It’s a little off the beaten path, I admit it, but you know how when you mow your lawn you follow the same path all the time? You know you do. It’s a thing of beauty, a masterstroke, true art.

I used to have this thing down pat. One part of the yard was straight back and forth, in long stripes. Then the other part I had this cool yin/yang thing rocking with the flower bed and the big-ass fir tree making up opposite sides of the symbol. It looked pretty cool. I would sometimes finish, and go to the second floor of the house to look out the window at it, just to make sure it looked right.

Then I get this idea to plant some arborvitae by the street — I call them the “Original Six” as I’ve since expanded the lot by another group, the expansion shrubs. So that threw off my juju by a little bit. I had to now go around something and mess with the pattern. This wasn’t too onerous, but then I decided to build a shed. Now I’ve got this big square box right in the middle of my long stripes. What to do with that? Now I’ve got this Utah shape I have to deal with. Add into this mess a swing set, a bunch of trees cut down, and a new stockade fence and I have completely ruined my mowing-mojo . There’s a regular and normal pattern in every yard, and it is up to us to bring it out. It’s doing Gods work.

Its not like I have ballpark quality turf — I have grass where I don’t want it, and clover, Bermuda grass, and other weeds where I do want grass — its just that I’ve always appreciated a well mowed lawn. If you go to Fenway Park, you’ll see these intersecting patterns or the hanging Sox logo. What I wouldn’t give to have that action. Instead, I own a postage stamp of crab grass that looks moderately manicured when freshly mowed.

I know you think about it. You do the same freaking thing, and don’t deny it. You’re out there walking around planning out your path, what it will look like and making sure you hit everything. It’s an unspoken truth, unspoken until I break the silence. Sure, we can advertise feminine hygiene and family planning products on prime time television, but we just can’t have this conversation about our lawns. And I don’t mean about grubs, or the pros and cons of Round Up Ready turf. I mean the artistic, right brained stuff — the artist in each one of us, because it is art. Your significant other wants to take you to the Guggenheim, you just want the front lawn to look good, and she tells you that you just don’t appreciate art. A well executed double play — THAT’S art. A linebacker blitz to the quarterback — THAT’S ART. A quality mowing pattern in your front yard — THAT’S art. A crucifix in a jar of urine? Um, no. Not art. Yeah, and it’s me that just doesn’t get art. No, we appreciate art — it’s YOU that doesn’t get it. I don’t need to spend $45 plus cab fare to go to a building with a bunch of paintings within it.

Most of us don’t have “a guy” doing our lawn for us: fact is if you’ve got someone mowing your lawn for you, then you’re probably getting your nails done too. I think it’s a guy thing to want to get out there — we’ll rationalize how much a riding mower would save over having someone else to do the lawn before we’d allow someone else to do it for us: “as long as I have this for 20 years and mow 25 times a year, it’ll completely pay for itself…”

We spend that time and money because it’s a contribution to the arts. We spread chemicals because our yard demands it. Art demands it. We demand it.

Longest Names in Sport

According to the Social Security Administration, over the last 100-some odd years, the average first name has been 6-letters long. The top 500-websites have URL’s (the domain name) averaging 6-characters. 6, it would seem, is the magnetic north of what we consider the optimal length of name (although the average domain is 11-characters). So what is the average length of last name? Interestingly enough, despite having Social Security information since the 1930’s, an explosion of data captured from IT departments from registered users, and the hyperactive data collection of our search engines, there does not seem to be any official statistics on the US average of last name length.

According to a website that specializes in such information, the longest personal full name ever used “Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff,” which tops out at some 746-letters. It seems Mr. “Wolfe+585” was most notable for having had that name.

Sport is really my interest, not onomastics, and so after watching Clay Buccholz of the Boston Red Sox pitch to his catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and deciding that was likely one of the longest pairing of names between pitcher/catcher batteries, the question had to be asked — “What are the longest names in sport?”

“Salty,” as he is called, and William Van Landingham, former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, share the record for the longest names in Major League Baseball (NHL) history at 20-characters. Imagine a battery of Van Landingham and Saltalamacchia. In addition to the length of his full name, Van Landingham also has the distinction of being one half of the longest pairing of combined names of two starting pitchers in history with his opponent on May 29, 1996 Jason Isringhausen. Note Saltalamacchia’s first name is 6-letters: dead average. As an aside, the shortest name in MLB history is Ed Ott of the Pittsburgh Pirates and California Angels. Ott’s name is not a shortened form of “Edward,’ his given name is actually “Ed.’

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond of the New Jersey Devils holds the record for the longest name in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL) with 26-characters, also likely holding the record for the number of hyphens in one name as well. The National Football League’s (NFL) record holder also has 26-characters, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie of the Arizona Cardinals.

By far, the longest name belonging to a professional athlete is 49-characters. Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo. The giant from the Congo is 7’2” and when last he played National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball, he was also the oldest player at the time as well as the holder of the longest name. When one wonders if his name-length record will be broken, the answer is as clear as the pronouncement of the Denver Nuggets public address system – “Not in the house of Mutombo.” In other words, not very likely anytime soon.

Reference Material:

As of this publishing, there’s no answer for the question of average last name length on Quora:

Baby Names Length Stats:

Domain URL Length stats: and

Wikipedia Family Name:

Longest full name,_Senior and

Randomness vs. Luck

Randomness. It’s the concept that allows for the possibility “000000” will come up in a random number generator, or that your older iPod would play the same song twice in a row  (Apple has since modified the “shuffle” feature so it’s actually a little LESS random). It’s the 1 in 195,249,054 chance your PowerBall ticket will have all 5-numbers plus the powerball. In the entirety of baseball history, only one record has been set that couldn’t be predicted by randomness — Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, this according to Leonard Mlodinow in The Drunkards Walk.

In Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin, it becomes clear that intelligence is not the major driving force behind success, and in Outliers Malcolm Gladwell makes clear that what makes an outlier is positioning oneself within one’s time to take advantage of opportunities. In retrospect, success appears guaranteed. In reality, it’s all in the positioning to best take advantage of opportunities — in essence to place yourself in position to be that 1 in 195,249,054, to make the most of your randomly chosen opportunity.

We cannot control randomness. We can position ourselves to take advantage of those random opportunities which present themselves to take us to where we want to go. I was a college undergraduate and an underclassman at that, struggling to put together a full time schedule when I enrolled in a 300-level course without having taken the prerequisite. On the first day of class, I arrived with my add/drop slip in hand, hoping that I could get signed into a course I had to take and get signed out of this course. From the first moments of that course, I was captivated by the professor and his enthusiasm for the course material. I not only put the add/drop slip away, I decided that I was going to take this course regardless of obstacles because it was interesting as hell, and thus set forth the direction of my undergraduate education, graduate education, and my career path.

My entire adult life was shaped by my scheduling this class in which I was presumably over my head, but by which I was completely captivated. But for my need to build a full time course load for the semester, I may still be wondering what I want to do with my life some 20-odd years later.

I was attending this school because I didn’t get into my first choice, and since I was paying my own way through school, I needed a state college. I applied to this school because my friend, whom I met because we both happened to be working in the same shopping mall while I was in high school, was going there.

Because I had done well in my undergraduate courses, and because I happened to stumble upon a recruitment brochure for a graduate program hanging in the psychology department offices, I applied to a school with which none of my professors was acquainted and was granted what was tantamount to a free ride. A completely random chain of events, and without any one of these myriad things happening, my life would certainly have been different.

There’s no good luck or bad luck. Things happen more or less on a predictable basis. Sooner or later, someone will buy that 1 in 195,249,054 lottery ticket. It’s not luck, it’s probability no matter how remote that event will happen, and the person to whom it happens is completely random. And guess what? The odds that it will happen to you specifically are even longer than that it will happen to someone in general.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Because they’re random events, and sooner or later it has to happen to someone. There’s only one way to weigh the odds more heavily in your favor and that is to best position yourself to take advantage of opportunities. You cannot be the 1 in 195,249,954 if you have not even bought a ticket.