25 Maps That Describe America

Despite being just one country, anyone who lives in the United States knows that no two states are alike. Here are 25 maps that show some of these regional differences.

1. The Second-Largest Religion in Each State

Reid Wilson/Washington Post

This map from the Washington Post's GovBeat uses data from the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies to pinpoint the second-most practiced religion in each state. (Christianity is first in each state.)


2. The Most Commonly Spoken Language in Each State Besides English and Spanish

Ben Blatt/Slate

Slate's Ben Blatt used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. He created several other language maps, too, including each state's top Native American, Scandinavian, and African language.


3. The Most Famous Brand From Every State

Steve Lovelace tried to determine the corporation or brand that best represents each state. (He sells a poster version of this map.)


4. The Most Popular TV Show Set in Each State

Geography professor Andrew Shears has made a couple versions of this map.


5. The Most Popular TV Show Set in Each State [Rebuttal]

Mike Nudelman/Business Insider 

And this version, from Business Insider, cuts out most of the reality shows.


6. The Most Iconic Food Chain in Each State

This map from Thrillist shows "the most noteworthy restaurant chain (with an emphasis on fast food where possible) associated with each state."


7. What Do You Call Sweetened Carbonated Beverages?

One of many maps examining regional dialect variation created by Joshua Katz.


8. The Greatest Sports Figure From Each State

In December 1999, Sports Illustrated ranked the 50 all-time greatest sports figures from every state. Here's a look at each state's best.


9. The Most Popular Baseball Team by County

In honor of 2014 Opening Day, Facebook released data on the most popular team in every county, based on the number of likes of team pages. As Darren Everson of The Wall Street Journal noted, three teams don't have a plurality of (Facebook) fans in any U.S. county: the New York Mets, Oakland A's, and Toronto Blue Jays. Here's a closer look at that key:


10. The Most Popular NFL Team by County

And here's a similar map for the NFL.


11. Do You Live in a Cat State or a Dog State?

Over at Wonkblog, Roberto A. Ferdman and Christopher Ingraham set out to see where cats are more popular than dogs. The purplish states are dog country, while cats inhabit the greenish spaces.


12. The U.S. Map Distorted by Population

The folks at social networking site MyLife created this map, which resizes the states based on their population. Look at poor Wyoming squeezed in there.


13. The Parts of the U.S. Where Nobody Lives

Using 2010 U.S. Census data, Nik Freeman highlighted the 47% of the country that remains unoccupied.


14. Half the Country Lives in These Counties

Walter Hickey and Joe Weisenthal/Business Insider 

This map used Census data to determine that half the people in the United States live in these 146 shaded counties. You can see a list of those counties on the original Business Insider post.


15. The Most Famous Book Set in Each State

Melissa Stanger, Melia Robinson & Mike Nudelman/Business Insider


16. The Most Popular Girls' Names in Each State

Using Social Security Administration data on the top baby names of 2013.


17. The Most Popular Boys' Names in Each State

The boy version.


18. The Largest Immigrant Population in Each State

Jens Manuel Krogstad and Michael Keegan at Pew Research Center

You can see the changing immigration patterns on Krogstad and Keegan's animated map.


19. The Most Common Cause of Death in Each State Besides Heart Disease and Cancer

Ben Blatt/Slate

One more from Ben Blatt. (Here's what the map looks like when you leave in heart disease and cancer, which lead to more deaths than the next eight causes of death combined.)


20. The Map With Only 38 States

In 1973, California State University geography professor George Etzel Pearcy suggested that the U.S. redraw its antiquated state boundaries and narrow the overall number of states to 38.


21. The Most Iconic Soft Drink in Each State

One more from Thrillist.


22. The Richest Person in Each State

Real estate site Movoto used data from Forbes to find the richest American in each state (see larger).


23. How Much Is $100 Really Worth in Each State?

How far does $100 go? This map, which comes from the Tax Foundation and uses data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, answers that question state by state.


24. The Best-Selling Vehicle in Each State

Mike Nudelman and Alex Davies/Business Insider 


25. Which Job Is Most Unique to Your State?

Click to enlarge

We teamed up with CareerBuilder to find the "most unique" job in each state, using a measurement called location quotient (LQ).

The Afternoon Map is a semi-regular feature in which we post maps and infographics. In the afternoon. Semi-regularly. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]