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Flying Corpses and Buried Fiber Optics: Two Beautifully Similar Paths

Maybe you've seen this photo that's been spinning around the Internet for a few years purporting to show the uncanny similarity between individual mouse-brain neurons and a model image of the universe. Here it is: !{width:584px}http://www.viceland...
August 2, 2012, 5:30pm

Maybe you’ve seen this photo that’s been spinning around the Internet for a few years purporting to show the uncanny similarity between individual mouse-brain neurons and a model image of the universe. Here it is:

(via)

It’s a sublime side-by-side. A real “Wow,” you know? But set aside entropy for a minute and suddenly it’s just another, albeit grand, reminder of how literally every thing right this second is adhering to some sort of shared pattern or rhythm. You can see stuff just shaking out to various degrees of uniformity all over the place. Just look at airborne corpses and underground fiber optics.

As its name suggests, America Revealed, a new series from PBS, brings this natural order of things to bear on something maybe (?) a bit more digestible: The continental United States. Together with UK-based data visualizers 422 South, the America Revealed project “explores the hidden patterns and rhythms that make America work” – from early electricity to mobile phone connectivity to the laying of fiber optics.

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But then there’s how the dead move among us. That’s what the map at the very top of this page depicts. Turns out a good deal of in-flight air traffic shuttles the cold and dead from point-of-death to final resting places, flying in plain sight among passenger flights.

“Although we have a strong notion of what travels by air through our skies,” the program’s executive producer Tony Tackaberry tells The Atlantic Wire, “we seldom think about the transport of other items such as prisoners or cadavers.” And so it is for the American Internet backbone.

(via Scott Eaton)

This technical sketch is what that looks like. It was created by Scott Eaton, who says on his website that he wrote a custom Python app to parse a bunch of publicly available datasets to pull out the Internet backbone autonomous systems’ (AS) node-to-node connectivity. Eaton then used another program to assign these AS data latitude and longitude coordinates. The rest was just a matter of skewing all the resulting data to trace RenderMan RiCurves.

I’m not saying it perfectly overlays onto the map of dead flights. One gives us the curvature of the Earth while the other lays flat, for one. For another, America Revealed did actually cover the fiber optic story, but chose to focus in on a single town, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. So to get a comparable bird’s eye I had to look elsewhere.

Still, there are those shared patterns, those shared rhythms, shaking out. From out of Florida, for example, you can see both the cadaver- (see: retiree-) loaded planes and Internet traffic either scuttling up the Eastern Seaboard, to relatives or 60 Hudson, say, or fanning out to the Northwest, to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport or its massive, hidden data hub. From there the common paths break apart, somewhat, either airlifted or shot off at the speed of light across the rest of the country or the globe, the memory fixed back into a single brain-cell universe. And there’s something almost beautiful about that.

Reach this writer at brian@motherboard.tv. @thebanderson

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