Open Skies: Any Mouse, Anywhere.


Wide-eyed and wide open, as only a child’s mind could be; the question took me by surprise: Who is any mouse?

One of those million dollar moments that last no longer than a nose print on glass. No rush, savor the welcome into kid world.

Not sure what you mean. Can you tell me more?

You know, like when a saying is from “Any Mouse.”

Smile. Don’t let the snowflake melt. Ah, yes. Any mouse–what do you think it means?

Well I always think of all those mice running around; could be any mouse, anywhere.

So it is–really. Ah, those faceless, nameless whiskery-little scurrying creatures.

Used to be that when you flew from DFW to say, Seattle, you knew where you were going.

The route in the air was defined by points on the ground: you knew what you’d see, you knew where it was. Cleared direct Amarillo. No matter where a pilot was in the United States, you knew knew right away which way and how far that was. But no more.

Now it’s any mouse going anywhere:

Where in the wide, wide world of sports is KD45Q? Somewhere along the way to KA36W?  Where in the heck is that?

Smarter mice than me decided we now had the lightning-fast processing capability and invisible bandwidth to sever the journey from the landmarks. They redefined location, uprooting geography of place and replacing location with instance:

The airways give way to free flight; a thousand feet of vertical separation, closing speeds of a shotgun blast: honk and wave, see ya. Because now it’s about mice scrambling every which way, from one grid square to the next: any mouse, anywhere. Everywhere.

The five character identifiers are derived from a grid overlaid on the globe: “K” means USA, “D” means Denver Center’s airspace. But the other three characters, the digits? Mice scampering as they will, orchestrated by precise computers and directed by the crossroads of half a dozen satellites.

Sure, the ground references of days past are still down there–the front range of the Rockies will still bump you like railroad tracks; the Mississippi still runs a jagged course below whether you notice or not. But they’re no longer significant in what we’re doing–only in where it’s happening and that only incidentally.

In the cabin, no one realizes that their journey is unhinged from the places they know. No one could care that the brains of the journey discounts any place they ever valued–it’s just business, managing physics. Mice, midway to somewhere–never mind that the helm is set and the sails filled with anywhere. The electrons don’t care.

It’s all much cleaner now. In a way, it’s kind of what air travel’s all about, isn’t it? The journey seems to matter less, if at all; the “now” paling before the robust “next.” But like a trip to KD45Q, it means little the instant “next” becomes now–so off we scurry. Any mouse, anywhere but here; any time but now.

My little friend’s brow furrowed, face pinched. Little hands upraised. That seems so sad.

What does? What’s sad?

Anywhere. Because it’s just not home.

I think of the thousands of miles I’ve flown, the years away, bound from somewhere, halfway to anywhere.

We agree: no, it’s just not home.

And the big conundrum is not why there’s always a “next” or a somewhere else, or even how how to get back, because we do that eventually. The real question is why we ever left in the first place.

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20 Responses to “Open Skies: Any Mouse, Anywhere.”

  1. Thanks for another fun post. Ha! Can you remember the days when the DFW-SEA flight stopped at all (or most) of the enroute points cited in image #2? I can! Of one substitutets SLC for Ogden, it was a day-long flight, but that provided access to anyone who could afford the fare. Non-stops were rare, but “Direct” flights usually suggested what you now call the “Bag Drag.” The flight may have started at DFW and ended at SEA, but the much smaller planes put down along the way, dropping and adding, providing (very expensive) service to everyone, not just Big City Folks. Pilots flew a few more hours (maybe), but did a lot more flying. With virtually all ‘major’ carriers either merged or through BKY at least once, I’m not at all sure that PAX, Pilots and FAs are any better off. If you few for a major and before deregulation, you’ll understand. I think you’ve been around ‘almost’ long enough to get it. Great post and please… keep on sending them. -C.
    (I hope that the dissertation work is going well. Call me an “ABD,” ’cause it is an earned title.)

    • Actually the concept–and two of the graphics–from this post are part of my presentation set for Friday morning at a research conference in Austin. My point is the advanced ability offered by non-traditional indexing in interactive digital archiving.

      I’m in the “New Research Media” section sandwiched in between internationally renowned Laurel Brake from Oxford and Dallas Liddle from the university of Augsburg–so my presentation will be everyone’s bathroom/coffee refill break.

      • Dallas Liddle, Augsburg College Says:

        Just for the record, Chris Manno’s paper presentation was a huge success, and became the center of conversation at the session, where almost all the questions in the followup Q&A were for him. And we all liked his graphics.

      • You are too kind, Dallas; it was an honor to be on a panel with you and Laurel Brake, two renowned scholars whose work I have read and appreciated for years. I figured I’d be everyone’s bathroom/coffee break, but was gratified by the engaged discussion afterward. Thanks for being so gracious!

      • ” My point is the advanced ability offered by non-traditional indexing in interactive digital archiving.” I LOVE it when you talk dirty!!!! Easy to see why you missed the fighter pilot cut!

      • I’ve made underachieving a lifetime crusade.

        But I think these days the fighter pilot cut included a generation raised on digital graphics and gaming. The best game player wins.

  2. Eloquent, poignant, perfect.

  3. It’s all about efficiency. No matter that some of the romance is lost when real place names are exchanged for codes, it’s more efficient to fly more directly and you get more planes from here to next if they are not confined to flying the old airways system. And more efficient means more dollars make it the bottom line rather than being coverted to heat and various exhaust gases. It’s a pity it has to be that way, but when the bottom line is the final arbiter, all the rest is essentially expendable.

    Your post also solved a puzzle for me – I could never work out why US airport codes were Kxyz and Australian ones are Yxyz – now I know!

    Great post Chris, enjoyable as always.

    Mike in Perth (YPPH)

    • I agree, but it truly has confounded the natural sense of directional awareness in the cockpit and opened up the doors to errors in application: when you type in “KD210,” there’s the problem that any miss-typed digit or letter (0,O,1,l) which is a nonsense series of characters, could lead to big errors. Plus, a pilot’s sense of course and direction has been tossed by the process.

      Of course, the subtext in the essay isn’t about hardware, software and indexing at all, right?

      BTW–flying to Toronto today, and that code is “YYZ.” Canada uses the “Y” prefix; I believe Australia uses the “I” prefix?.

      • make sure you have Rush’s YYZ queued up to play…probably some really good flying music 🙂

        thanks for lots of fun posts Chris. hope to be your cargo someday.

      • Hey, I’m just a simple plane -spotter -photographer, IT guy, but I’m hoping the subtext was about sense of home and why we leave, either for a short time or a long time. I’m going to look pretty dumb if it’s not . . .

        For me it strikes a chord as a Brit migrant to Australia via Germany with a Canadian wife, who incidentally, went to college in Toronto (Hello YYZ!) and whose father lives in Manotick, near Ottawa (Hello G from YOW!) – we both feel that pull of ‘home’, even though we have lived here almost exactly 20 years, and the question of why we left in the first place pops its head up every once in a while to test us out, to see if the ‘here’ will remain ‘here’ or another waypoint on the grand journey. It’s an interesting psychological battle – which wins, the ‘home’ or the ‘here’ and should the ‘here’ actually be the ‘home’?

        By the way, I did a bit of research on the 4-letter airport codes – Australia is definitely Y and Canada is actually C, so Perth is YPPH, Sydney is YSSY and Melbourne YMML, while Toronto is CYYZ, Vancouver CYVR and Ottawa CYOW. It seems the Canadian ‘C’ and US ‘K’ prefixes were originally derived as a result of numerous commercial radio stations using those prefixes, although why Toronto’s 3-letter code is ‘YYZ’ is a mystery!

      • You are absolutely right–on the sub-text and the codes (my bad–I was wrong about the code).

        I appreciate your tumbleweed perspective, shared it as a kid and young adult: 4 grade schools, 2 junior highs, 3 high schools and after college, Germany, Japan and Hawaii till settling with the airlines–then coast to coast every week.

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Hi Mike! 🙂 G from CYOW (love Manotick…it is beautiful!)

  4. 🙂

    Thanks, any mouse, for this post.

    All the best at the conference. You will wow them, I know! 🙂

    Hope YYZ was good.

    G from YOW

    • Thanks G!

      Here’s the conference info, Austin, Texas, Friday:

      10:45-12:15 Concurrent Panels

      Panel 2, Room 107: New Approaches to Research
      Moderator: Jennifer Phegley, University of Missouri-Kansas City
      Dallas Liddle, Augsburg College, “Portable Document Formats: The Development of the Nineteenth-Century Newspaper as Information Delivery System”
      Laurel Brake, Birkbeck, University of London, “Sensation! in Reviews in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies”
      Chris Manno, Texas Christian University, “William Michael Rossetti at the Vortex of Periodical Criticism: A Digital Archive of Criticism and Rhetorical Modes”

      • Can’t wait to hear all about it! 🙂 Keep us posted!
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Oh and take time to have fun in Austin too…with DB. ❤

      • Continuing our Guy Fieri “Triple D” tour in Austin: BBQ in a tiny joint he did his show from once–awesome beef; MDB & and Little One enjoyed it too.

  5. Reading all of this is amazing! Not to get going with the ‘personal and looking for inspiration’ story but I’m currently a freshman at a large university in FL (on athletic scholarship) and I everyday go back and forth thinking about careers…My major is accounting (which I like) but I always think about the possible future of trying to get a career in aviation (which I love) … but it just doesn’t seem feasible! It seems like 80K in debt for a 20K and miserable job (regionally + ‘working’ way up)…Would you recommend the path to becoming a pilot to someone in my position??

    • The only way I recommend it is to go through your local Air National Guard unit or any of several USAF Reserve squadrons looking for college grads to put through pilot training. You graduate with the best, most saleable flight resume for an airline job. You can and probably will want to fly in both worlds, especially starting out.

      That’s the only path into the airlines I’d recommend.

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