Curiosity-Colored Glasses

Looking at life’s little mysteries through the same lens that killed the cat, and living to tell the tale.

How do place names differ across America?

by Lia Prins

I used to travel to the East coast occasionally for work, and was always struck by how different the names of the towns there were compared to where I grew up in Washington state. Whereas the nomenclature of the Northwest seemed to be based on Native American languages (if not their Anglicized, Latin-character-converted equivalents), most monikers in the East sounded purely English to my ear. Now, after living in the San Francisco Bay Area — the naming practices of which seem to have been heavily (though unwittingly) influenced by several Spanish saints — I often wonder about the various pockets of American place-name patterns: How heterogeneous are the names of our nation’s locations, and on what dimensions? What stories are behind these toponyms, and how do they speak to the places they represent?   Read more

How are Martian mountains measured?

by Lia Prins

On maps, a mountain’s height is always shown solely as its peak’s elevation above sea level. This seems like a bit of a cop-out to me: is the mountain itself really that tall? Or is it just standing on the shoulders of a very tall plateau, so to speak? Then again, determining the base from which to measure any mountain seems like quite the slippery slope once you get down to it, so I do understand and sympathize with the sea level approach adopted by us Earthlings. But what about pinnacle-peppered planets and oceanless asteroids — (how) do we measure their mountains?   Read more