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MARTHA SEZ: The vastness of space, and of the world of data

October 15, 2013
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

The Internet certainly is a wonder. It used to be, when I wanted to research a subject, I would have to go to a university library. Once, when I was writing a book for hire about con games, the publisher signed me up to a clipping service. Every Wednesday I would receive a fat envelope full of newspaper clippings about scams that had been perpetrated around the world during the week. I imagined workers sitting around big tables on metal folding chairs, scissoring articles out of the papers that were stacked high all around them. Probably most of the workers were women, and probably some of them were smoking cigarettes, stubbing them out in aluminum ashtrays. People often used to smoke at work in those days.

"Nothing in this one I can use, Midge, but here's something about bigtop elephants. Aren't you clipping elephants today?" one of them might ask, folding the paper and handing it across the table. On the whole, the clipping service seemed to me to be a very efficient system.

Now, of course, the world of research is different. I wonder what the clipping service girls are doing for work these days.

I liked the university libraries and the clipping service, but I don't miss them. Now I can look something up simply on a whim, without having to make a special trip away from my desk. Here's an example.

It was getting so every time I turned on the news and heard a Tea Party politician speak about obstructing or shutting down the government, which was often, I was reminded of the antics of the Yippies back in the Sixties and Seventies. What makes the Tea Partiers any different from the dang Yippies? I was apt to ask Jupiter and Orangey, my cats, as I set out their breakfast. Jupiter clearly took little interest in the question-politics isn't his bag-but Orangey looked thoughtful, as if considering it.

Think how Tea Party folk would hate to be compared to Yippies! I told Orangey, which I admit was silly, since Orangey wasn't even around during the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius, also known as the Greening of America.

Does the Tea Party, in fact, resemble the old Youth International Party? I googled YIP.

The answer, of course, is no. While both groups have shown a predilection for flamboyantly protesting the establishment, they are light years apart, style-wise.

I was reminded that famous Yippie Abbie Hoffman, during a Vietnam War-era protest of the Military-Industrial Complex in Washington, D.C., told the crowd that he was going to use mind control to make the Pentagon turn orange and levitate. Allen Ginsberg, the poet, helped him by leading a chant. I still find this hilariously funny and subversive, even though they didn't stop the war or make the Pentagon change color or rise into the air.

The Tea Party probably won't defund Obama Care or shut down the government, either, but their attempts to do so just aren't amusing enough to suit me. At least the Yippies had a sense of humor.

What else have I researched on line recently? Voyager I.

NASA launched this space probe in September of 1977 to explore and send back information on the outer solar system. In case the probe happened to be retrieved by individuals of some other intelligent life form along the way-Voyager is due to approach another star system in 40,000 years-scientists packed Voyager with gold phonograph records featuring samples of earthly culture for their listening pleasure.

Scientist Carl Sagan commented, "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this 'bottle' into the cosmic 'ocean' says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

In a "Saturday Night Live" skit, a comedian reported that an advanced space-faring civilization had made a request to earth for "more Chuck Berry."

Voyager has left our solar system, silently speeding at 38,610 miles per hour through interstellar space, still, even now, 36 years out, phoning home information to NASA scientists.

The vastness of space.

The strangeness of learning that Voyager could orbit the Milky Way Galaxy forever. Whatever forever is. Billions and billions of years.

Wouldn't you think that we humans in our miniscule world here and now might recognize our common bond and join in peace to solve the problems of mankind and life on our planet?

Not happening. Have a good week.



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