It’s a Free-Range Friday!

An Assortment of Odds and Ends for Your Weekend Reflections

Let’s Rummage Around a Bit

I am calling this post a Free-Range exercise, in part because that sounds better than the Messy Drawer Day. I have several short items for your review today.

Pretty well all of us have “that drawer.” You know, the one that seems to collect everything. For some reason, it seems to be a kitchen drawer most often. It has odds and ends from all over the house. You can never seem to find what you are looking for in that drawer. But while rummaging around, you find something useful you had forgotten was in there. Bet you have a drawer like that.

Well, blogging is a lot like that drawer. I jot down a ridiculously wide variety of thoughts, ideas, and articles to share with you later. Over time, it gets to be quite the collection. Every so often, I declare a Free-Range Friday or a Grab Bag Friday to share some of those little jewels. It is free-range in that the contents spring up rather spontaneously.

Today is such a day. About now you have almost finished digesting that obscenely large Thanksgiving meal you enjoyed yesterday. You likely are contemplating a fine meal of leftovers. As you enjoy your continuing feast, and the weekend, let’s take a break from the heavy dose politics all around us. We have only a couple of slight references to that arena today.

Instead, we are looking at dogs, science, people, and some other delightful diversions. I am sharing with you some items I hope you enjoy as much as I have. We will be back fighting the good fight next week. In the meantime, enjoy the following notes. They are in no particular order.

Dogs to the Rescue, Yet Again 

Most of us enjoy the companionship of dogs. But they are far more than companions. Just when you think you have heard all about what dogs do (sniff out cancer, find victims in rubble, etc.), a new role pops up. Dogs have become major crime fighters in helping to catch child pornographers. As you likely have heard, child pornography is an even bigger problem than thought. The anonymity of the dark web is illusive. The efforts of purveyors and voyeurs to stay hidden make arrests difficult. Often, when a site is located, the material is so well hidden, that investigators miss it. Enter our friend the dog.

Most electronic components are coated with a bonding material with a distinctive smell. Dogs are trained to sniff out this material in minute, hidden quantities. They are remarkably successful at finding the evidence. Who’s a good boy?! Several good articles are out about this. Here is one I liked. Read all about it:

Tim Berners- Lee Invented the World Wide Web. Now he intends to fix it 

A lot of people were involved, but Tim Berners-Lee pretty much single handedly made the World Wide Web happen. He did it as a service to humanity. To underline that intent, he refused any royalties or copyrights for his work. He open sourced everything.

You might have noticed that the internet in general has not always turned out to be a positive thing. It has often been a tool of hate, deception, and discord. Tim noticed that, too. Typical of him, he went to work on a solution. Perhaps an impossible dream, but he has laid out a pretty impressive get-well plan. It identifies roles for all, including the public, has measures of effectiveness, and transparency. Some big players and important governments have signed on. One can hope. Because if we don’t do better in all this, great and enduring harm will become the norm as far ahead as we can imagine. Check it out.

The Inspiration of Impeachment Testimony 

No matter where you stand on Trump’s impeachment, you cannot help but be impressed by the character and quality of those who testified over the last two weeks. Fox and some Republicans tried to denigrate them – they failed miserably and the public told them so.

To a person, these public servants distinguished themselves in every important way. Their professionalism, dedication, and courage were inspiring. At times, it seems we are beyond salvation as a nation. Then you see folks like this and realize they represent thousands more who are equally dedicated and talented. We are so lucky to have them. They give us hope.

The Power of Astronomy – How Small are We in the Universe(s)?

Those who know me know that astronomy and matters of space writ large are among my favorite things. A recent trip to an observatory reminded me just how vast all that space is, and how small we are in it. Here is a mental model I developed years ago to help keep things in perspective.

To give us some scale, think about our galaxy. The Milky Way is pretty large as these things go, but certainly not among the largest. It is unlikely that we will come up in a thousand years with any way to travel out of, or even across, our own galaxy. It’s just too far. We may never reach the many billions of other galaxies out there.

When you were a kid in school, the largest space on campus likely was the gym. Imagine that vast, three-dimensional space. Now imagine a single grain of sand on the floor. Now, mentally shrink that grain of sand a million times. It is still too large proportionately, but in very approximate terms, that shrunken grain represents our galaxy in the vastness of space represented by the entire gym. And that is just the known universe. We don’t know what the outer regions look like. We don’t even know if this is but one of many universes.

Get the perspective of how small this precious planet is? It’s a long way to another one. We really might want to start taking better care of this one. Here is a fun visualization of scale in space:

The Inevitable March Toward the Middle 

“Inevitable” is a strong word, but appropriate in watching the Democratic race for President. It seems that suddenly Elizabeth Warren is fading, and Mayor Pete is surging. Too soon to tell what will happen, but what seems to be happening matches much of American history.

At least as much as any country, America can run off the rails to the left or the right, and often does for short periods. But in the end, this is a middle-class country. It works its way back towards the center line of ideology and policy. Our nature seems to have a low tolerance for extremism, real or perceived.

Thus, Bernie Sanders has his passionate core, but is unlikely to go any further. Elizabeth Warren blazed to the top with her deserved reputation as the woman with a plan for everything. But she stuck too long and too hard on Medicare for All and free college for all. The electorate pretty much has been saying, “No Thanks.” She has moderated her Medicare plan with some really solid changes, but perhaps too late. Much of her support appears to have moved to Pete. It has done so at least in part because of his more moderate left of center policies.

Some of this movement may also come for a different reason. After the constant strife and belligerence of Trump, people want stability and civility. The appetite for revolution and a constant fight is not very pronounced in the body politic. People do NOT want what Trump is offering. Quite a few think Biden’s call to go back to an earlier day does not work either. Buttigieg seems to offer a midcourse that a lot of people want. Time will tell.


Another of my favorite interests. Much has been written on the potential of a new generation of airships. They could revolutionize transport and firefighting, for example. These are not your father’s Hindenburgs. Now there are reports of how they could have a major impact on the environment as well. Jet aircraft account for a lot of environmental damage.

Find at the link below a very readable article. It comes complete with a short video on new airships and hybrid vehicles. The data is impressive. Heck, this could become the new cruise ships of the future, too. I am ready to put on a tux and have an elegant dinner aloft. How about you?

That’s it for now. Enjoy your long holiday and do take some time to reflect on what you have to be thankful for. It is likely a longer list than you might assume, and you have no way to know how long you will have a hold on such a list. Celebrate it, live it, pass it on.

          Bill Clontz

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4 replies to It’s a Free-Range Friday!

  1. Good stuff for Black Friday. Thanks

  2. Well worth reading (as usual) the two stories I followed…Astronomy and advances in balloon transportation technology. Sure makes sense to me.

  3. What’s moderation? As in “waiting moderation”.

    • An excellent question! And the answer would be a moving definition, one would think. In this context, moderation would be defined as that zone that represents change the electorate at large wants, but not so far or so fast as to go outside thier comfort zones. Sound about right?

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