Help Wanted
The Big Here

Point north

1) Point north.

Posted on September 09, 2005 at 06:55 PM


In England all you need to do is look at a church. Old English churches are always aligned along an East-West axis with the tower in the west. It is very rare to see an exception to this.

If you look at the church yard surrounding the church you will often see the ground level is lower on the north side. The cold north side is less popular for burials and successive centuries of interments have raised the ground level on the other three sides.

PS Really liked the Out of Control book

Posted by Anon on December 14, 2005 at 09:07 AM

>Go outside at night and look for the big dipper
>(or the Southern Cross, if you're in the
>southern hemisphere).
>Posted by John S. Quarterman on September 18,
>2005 at 04:36 AM

To supplement this comment, the two outermost stars of the bowl in the Big Dipper point upwards toward the North Star. Take the distance between these two stars and extend out approximately five lengths to find the moderately-bright North Star (Polaris), which is less than one degree from True North (direction of the northern rotational axis of the earth). Not sure if this is northern-hemisphere specific. See

Posted by Gary Van Cott on December 05, 2005 at 04:44 PM

Face the East China Sea from my front yard. North is to my right.

Posted by Jayne Schilke on November 06, 2005 at 12:44 AM

The two tricks mentioned below that I did not know and seem great techniques to remember:

1) The reverse satellite dish direction.
2) The analog watch technique.


Posted by Kevin Kelly on October 03, 2005 at 05:38 PM

Step outside, look at all the satellite dishes, point in opposite direction (cause here in Germany all S.D. point almost exactly south)

Posted by Stefan on October 01, 2005 at 04:09 PM

In an urban environment, I recognize north by its relationship to local landmarks, like freeways or buildings. I have a lot of maps around and just learn the relationship. I also have a good "sense" for north when I am in a unfamiliar place. I once watched a program about some students that wore hats, some of which had magnets in them, and then were driven around the countryside in a windowless van on an overcast day. The were let out in a forest and ask where north was. The ones with magnets performed worse. Maybe we have compases in our heads.

Posted by Tim on September 23, 2005 at 09:04 PM

Knowing sunset without having to look it up
is a bit complex, except if you do it the easy way
which is remember what it was yesterday.

Figuring it out exactly just by thinking hard seems
like a bit of a time-waster, but if you want to,
it's pretty elementary 3-d geometry, left as an
exercise for the reader.

Ignoring DST for now (add it to the result when in),
on the equinox the sun rises and sets around 6pm.
On the solstice, it sets at 8:30 in the summer,
and around 4:20 in the winter. In between,
it's a sinusoid, but straight linear interpolation
yeilds a surprisingly small error (less than 10 minutes).

So then you have to take the result and add an hour
for DST if in force.

Those times are of course not accurate unless you
happen to be near 42 degrees latitude.

Posted by John on September 21, 2005 at 06:31 PM

Go outside at night and look for the big dipper (or the Southern Cross, if you're in the southern hemisphere).

Posted by John S. Quarterman on September 18, 2005 at 04:36 AM


Look at your own shadow. That will show you the east-west axis. Sun gets out from the east, so knowing it's morning or afternoon you just have to "spin" yourself until the sun is on your right. And you're looking north.

Posted by Sansara on September 16, 2005 at 11:40 AM

Point first where the sun rises and sets in your area. Adjust your finger accordingly.

Posted by jean poole on September 16, 2005 at 05:18 AM

Google Earth

Posted by DeputyHeadmistress on September 15, 2005 at 07:25 AM

Kevin, I can answer the 30 questions with great ease because:
*I live in a very small settlement (less than 50 residents) which has our own purpose built water supply, and each homeowner has their own septic tank system.
*I live in a large South Pacific island which has a total population of one million (or thereabouts) in a Polynesian country (Aotearoa-NZ) with a total pop. of just over 4m. And I am both Maori & Pakeha, have a great love of fishing (tides & moons are more a clock for me than a watch), and am keenly interested in all living beings that share this archipelago. I am also deeply interested and involved in traditional matters, and environmental matters. As well, we live 20k as the tui flies from the *major* ANZ fault-line- all the questions are basically
*normal life & ordinary knowledge.*

Posted by Keri Hulme on September 15, 2005 at 05:21 AM

I grew up in the big agricultural valley in California, where streets and avenues are laid out on a north/south east/west grid, so pointing north is pretty instinctive. Also, it's still possible to find the Pole Star at night from here.

(I guess this is what you expect?)

Posted by path on September 15, 2005 at 01:17 AM

hey i just wanted to say that first i enjoyed your sight. there is still much to wander through and am looking forward to killing more time here.

i took the quiz and got a 26. i only kind of cheated cause i remodel homes right here in my community and so i knew about the depth of the water table and where the solid waste goes etc.

at any rate, i am down here in scotts valley (near santa cruz) so maybe if i can get my old truck up to par i will stop by for those free lectures.

oh, and thanks for founding wired. i am a technologically challanged individual and so i didn't think the zine would be appealing, but to be honest i can't get enough of it.

i am going to put a link to your sight on my little blog - hope that is ok.

Posted by mike murrow on September 14, 2005 at 05:21 AM

To find North: Usuing an analogue watch, rotate it so that 12 points toward the sun. North is half way between 12 and the hour hand. e.g. at 3pm with 12 pointing at the sun, north is the direction the hour hand would be in the 1.30 position. Limitations: This works in the southern hemisphere, assumes that you are reasonably close to you timezone's longitude and remember to allow for daylight saving time

Posted by Joseph Lindsay on September 13, 2005 at 08:34 PM

For me this is a matter of retaining spacial orientation. I have made a semi-conscious habit of orienting to North in any place I spend more than a few minutes. The easiest cues are map and knowledge based if you can't manage using the sun. So right now I know I am in Oakland, I can see the Bay and know that North is at about ten o'clock to the way I am sitting.

To do it right you need to know about where the sun rises and sets at different times of year where you live and about what time it is. At night the big dipper and pole star are pretty easy to use.

I usually find that I can point North without really consciously thinking about it now though - but as I said, it is something I try to work on.

The only places I fail are in unfamiliar windowless office buildings. By two or three visits even in those I have oriented the building itself and can figure it out.

Posted by Owen on September 13, 2005 at 08:13 PM

Find North:
1. Buy a cheap compass
2. Use the moon
3. use the Sun

Posted by Cath Perry on September 13, 2005 at 11:24 AM

I'm an old Boy Scout, so I was taught from an early point to worry about orientation. It's why I can find my way around any place without a map, because I understand how the land flows.

However, a good tip for non-Scouts is to remember how you got to work today. If you took the Garden State Parkway South, then you (generally) know which direction is north.

Alternately, iIf you remember where the sun rose today, pretend you're facing it and your left is north (likewise, sunset means north is on your right). This is usually good most days of the year for most hemispheres, some tweaking for extreme north or south (and those people have an excellent idea of where north/ south is).

Posted by Christopher Wanko on September 12, 2005 at 07:24 PM

Standing with my right shoulder to the sunrise. I raise my hand in front of me to point north.

Posted by kevin on September 12, 2005 at 06:12 PM

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
Then recall Never Eat See Weed.
The sun rise is right of you and you are facing north.

Posted by nibaq on September 12, 2005 at 06:06 PM

Not Fair... I can answer about 15 of the 30 questions. Considering I've moved 1/3 of the way around the earth just under six years ago, I think that this is pretty good going. I can probably answer more questions (I didn't try) about my former home, but some of them are difficult to answer about other locations (Point North for instance). The questions I can answer I have learned the answers to because I am inquisitive and will read almost any plaque or sign when I am out. If someone put the sign up, they probably had some information to impart.


Posted by Adam Morris on September 12, 2005 at 04:24 PM

why is it important to know the answer to these particular questions? Perhaps to be a responsible user of resources? or to live a "better" life?
Life is extremely complicated in urban America, there are so many things one must know (life and death issues like what are 'non-safe' areas of town and at what times, etc.). For many, computers are an essential appliance--does/should one know about firewalls, viruses, etc.? How about basic legal knowledge--is it OK to trap a pest animal? "Government" is supposed to make our water safe, dispose of the trash, etc. Whether we want to get behind those activities and find out what's "really" going on seems not that important given everything else that is going on.

Posted by Daniel Messing on September 12, 2005 at 03:55 PM

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