The Connected States of America
Are our borders really the edges of our communities? The “internet guy” in me says “of course not” but that doesn’t really take into account how much of our day-to-day interaction takes place in geographical meatspace. But on the other hand, many of America’s state borders are very arbitrary delineations of latitude or since-bridged rivers, so how meaningful are they in 2013, really?
What would our borders and communities look like if we looked at other data, like phone calls? At Krulwich Wonders…, Robert Krulwich has taken a look at a couple of alternate “neighborhoods”.
The photo above was assembled from anonymous mobile phone data by MIT’s Xiaoji Chen, and it which regions call each other the most often. Anyone who’s been to my neck of the woods in Austin knows that Texans don’t call people in Oklahoma much (or College Station, for that matter), and the NorCal/SoCal split shows that the differences there go beyond suntans and dotcoms. And people in the Plains apparently just want to call anyone they can that doesn’t live in the Plains.
“What’s it like out there? Just grass here.”
Check out the rest of Robert’s post for more phone fun, plus a little look at how (not) far our money travels (and what that says about us).
A Visual History of Nobel Prizes and Notable Laureates, 1901-2012
Brain Pickings has an exclusive English translation of this beautiful visualization. It represents more than a century’s worth of Nobel Laureates, what schools produced the most Nobels, dates, hometowns, and some notable accomplishments of a few along the way.
Check out this truly wonderful map of genius in hi-res here.
Previously: Is there a secret formula to winning the Nobel Prize?
Using Chaos to Visualize DNA Sequences
DNA sequences can be written out, just like the words on this page, using strings of A, C, G, and T. That works fine in principle, but when you want to write out something huge, like the sequence of an entire human genome, you realize that you need a better way. Otherwise you’d have a book 3.2 billion letters long.
Comparing two enormous sequences is very difficult too. Say you want to see the patterns or differences that exist between the human and chimpanzee genomes. Some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers are required in order to meaningfully align such long strings of DNA bases, letter by letter, piece by piece.
What you’re looking at is a way to use a technique called “Chaos Game Representation” to make images from DNA sequences. You can read how it works here, although it’s a bit technical. In essence, you take the first letter of any sequence and you start halfway between the middle of the square and that letter’s corner. Then for the next DNA letter, you go halfway between the first point and the next corner. So on and so on … until you create the ordered, yet chaotic patterns seen above.
Could these actually be used to compare DNA sequences? Is this remotely useful? I really have no idea. But it’s certainly a cool idea. You can play with it yourself using this tool.
Numbers, and more numbers, oooooh there’s a prime number, more numbers …
Seriously, check out this animated visualization of number factorization. I think it might go on forever. How far did you get?
Aerosols, clouds of microscopic particles suspended in air, are key players in the health of our atmosphere and climate. They also happen to make really pretty sunsets. Aerosols can scatter sunlight back into space, which can cool the planet, or seed dangerous chemical reactions like those that destroy ozone. Understanding how different types of aerosols move and react in our atmosphere is crucial to smart climate science.
The image above is a NASA supercomputer simulation of different aerosols moving around Earth. It sort of looks like someone painted Earth and then swirled the colors around before they dried, doesn’t it?
Dust is red (remember that half the Amazon gets its nutrients from African aerosols!), smoke from fires is green, volcanic eruptions are white, and sea salt is blue.
See the beautiful hi-res version of the image here. Phil Plait has more explanation at Bad Astronomy (now at Slate!)
If you loved this visualization, revisit NASA’s Van Gogh-esque Perpetual Ocean current simulation. Beautiful stuff.
Stars, Stars, Everywhere Stars!
A stunning and beautiful in-browser visualization of over 100,000 stars nearby Earth, from Google Chrome labs. It uses actual star location data to draw a 3D map of our Milky Way ‘hood.
The video above is a demo, which is amazing on its own. The full visualization can be found here for those with enough computing horsepower to run it. We may not have warp drive, but we can travel the cosmos from right here in our own browser windows!
Billions and billions!!! Whooooooaaa!!!
Here’s a website you’ll want to keep an eye on for the next few days: Visualizing America’s Wind Patterns.
I’ve always thought the live, animated wind maps there were beautiful, one of my favorite science visualizations. But Sandy’s swirling, massive footprint of stormy chaos (in that map view I just captured) is turning the whole eastern half of the country into “Starry Night”!
Radical (Customized) Cartography
Bill Rankin’s Radical Cartography is a map geek’s dream. You may have seen his work before, when he took world population data and organized it by latitude and longitude?
Over at his site (under “The Universe”), in addition to maps of cities, planets and beyond, you can create a custom calendar of astronomical phenomena where you live. I put one together above for Austin, where I call home, featuring everything from hourly planetary visibility and moon phase to sunrise/sunset and the dates of major meteor showers. All you need to do is enter your latitude and longitude, choose your options and click go (the hi-res versions can take a while) and voilà!
It’s almost poster-worthy, eh?