Posted in History & Literature

Lo Stivale

The Italian peninsula is nicknamed “Lo Stivale” (“the boot”) because of its iconic geography. Every child who has ever seen a world map will know this iconic boot-shaped country.

But hypothetically speaking, if Italy was actually a giant boot, what shoe size would you have to be to fit it?

Shoe sizing varies across the world. In Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the Mondopoint system is used where the foot length is measured in millimetres (the width is also considered).

But if you come from an English-speaking country, there is a good chance you are more familiar with the UK and US number system, typically ranging from 3 to 13.

The UK sizing system uses the length of the last that is used to make the shoe. A last is a model of a foot that can fill the entire cavity of the shoe. Because you typically need 1-1.5cm wiggle room for your toes, the last is bigger than the foot that would eventually wear the shoe. Instead of simply using the length of the last in millimetres, UK shoe sizes use a strange unit called the barleycorn.

The barleycorn originates from the 19th century when an inch was defined as the length of three barley corns (or grains). Hence, a barleycorn is ⅓ inch. For adult shoe sizes, a size 1 is 26 barleycorns, or 8 and 2/3 inches (220mm). For every size you go up, you add one barleycorn. This means a size 11 is 12 inches, while a size 10 is 11 and ⅔ inches.

Essentially, this means that your UK shoe size is:

(3 x heel-toe length of your foot in inches) – 23 (accounting for the toe wiggle room).

It is important to note that every manufacturer takes their own liberty with sizing, so this will often be inconsistent and can vary up to an inch, especially for women’s shoes. The US system starts counting at 1 instead of 0, meaning that you just add 1 to the equivalent UK size.

Now that we know how sizes work, let us size the Italian boot.

By rough estimate, the “sole” of the peninsula is approximately 360km long. This is accounting for the bend in the middle, as the heel height is tall. To use our formula, we must convert this into inches, which equals 14,173,200 inches.

Ergo, the shoe size calculates as follows:

= (3 x 14,173,200) – 23
= 42,519,577

Whether you use the UK or US sizing, the boot is roughly a size 42.5 million. Or, if you live in Korea, the shoe size would be recorded as 360 million. Either way, that is one big shoe to fill.

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Posted in History & Literature

Maps

Think of the world map. Most of you will think of the typical map where Europe and Africa are in the middle, with Russia dominating the Eurasian landmass and Greenland easily outsizing South America.

Mercator projection

The most common world map we use nowadays is based on the Mercator projection. Because the Earth is spherical and maps are two-dimensional rectangles, complex mathematics are involved to project the former on the latter by distorting the picture. The Mercator projection was created by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. The map was extremely useful for sailors because it depicted the curvature of the Earth in straight lines, making navigation much easier.

However, the Mercator projection severely distorts the size of each continents, meaning the image of the world we have in our heads is completely misleading. According to the Mercator projection, Greenland is as large as Africa, Alaska is as large as continental USA and Antarctica dwarfs every continent.

Gall-Peters projection

To solve this problem, the Gall-Peters projection was suggested in 1974 as an alternative as it correctly displayed the continents’ respective sizes. As you can see, in reality Greenland is significantly smaller than even Australia, Europe and Russia are much smaller than expected and Africa is an extremely large continent.

Dr. Arno Peters argued that the Mercator projection was a biased, euro-centric projection that harmed the world’s perception of developing countries. This of course, led to extreme controversy over the politics of cartography.

Africa vs Greenland

There are many other distortions commonly found in maps. Maps tend to enlarge the landmass of the own country subtly and some American maps go as far as placing the USA in the middle even if it means splitting Eurasia in half. Even though landmass does not correlate in any way with how well the lives of its inhabitants are, such distortions can be seen even nowadays. This shows that not everything you see is as it seems.

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