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Pony Express: Not all scientific advances are rocket science

Nobody has ever said about me that, "that guy can fix anything and really understand how things work." I greatly admire the talent and patience of such people, but there is no way I have ever been one or will ever become one. For this reason, I have great awe and appreciation for what scientists, engineers and computer people are able to accomplish.

Three days ago I took our dirty, salty car to a touchless car wash. On the outside I pushed a button selecting a wash package and ran my credit card through. Nobody was there running the operation. Then, the door opened and I drove in, turned off the engine and sat through the entire scrub. What I got was an undercarriage wash, a two-pass pre-soap, a tire wash, an under-panel blast, a high pressure wash, a triple shine conditioning, a clear coat protectorate and a spot free rinse.

Sealed in my car, I sat and watched the very complicated (in my mind) machinery repeatedly move up and around the car, squirting soap, water, protectorate and rinse, then giving it a blow dry finish. When I was a kid, then young man, there was no such thing as a touchless car wash. To wash a car, I got a bucket of water, some dishwashing soap, a scrub rag and a towel to dry the car. That same formula still works very well on a warm summer day.

In those days, years ago, there weren't any credit cards, any doors that opened automatically when you walked up to them, no escalators, ATM machines and no bar-code scanners in grocery stores to add up your grocery bill. And of course, there were no computers, no internet, no GPS with signals from satellites, smart phones, i-Pads, no tractors programmed to plant and harvest crops, not even cruise control in autos.

That short list is only a fraction of what we didn't have. The point of this reflection is not to point out how old I am, but to marvel at the advances in science and technology that have come about in a span of a single lifetime.

None of the list above is rocket science, of course, it is day to day commonplace technology operating even in the small towns and farms dotting our countryside. Everybody has it.

The really complicated stuff is on the French-Swiss border, where Fabiola Gianotti and her team of 3,000 research physicists who discovered the Higgs boson, (don't ask me what that is) which they study on an instrument known as the ATLAS detector that weighs 7,000 tons and measures 151 feet long and 82 feet high and is equipped with a massive magnet system that bends "charged particles." Another machine there is a CERN collider that weighs 12,500 tons and produces a magnetic field that is 100,000 times as great as the earth's. If you visit there, please don't push any buttons.

What does all this mean? There is a whole world of scientific and technical knowledge at work out there that is beyond the understanding of most of us, but, in big and little ways, serves each of us every day. And it grows with every sunrise.

For a guy who can't fix anything, even a simple car wash is a awesome eye-opener at what my creative and talented brothers and sisters are able to do.