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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: April 25, 2019

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



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I recently sent some friends a lovely picture I took in my yard of the sun highlighting seven jet contrails overhead. The conditions of temperatures and winds aloft must have been perfect to sustain these ephemeral records of jets passing high over my central Wisconsin home. I pondered in my accompanying message that it was surprising that so many jets fly overhead here at this time of day, and I wondered where they were all going.

One of the friends, who travels almost constantly, informed me the answer to my questions was as close as the cell phone in the pocket of my jeans at a free web site called "Planes Live."

This site is a map of the continent with a blue dot representing my location. As I write this on Sunday evening I know that the aircraft aloft closest to my house is Republic Airlines RW 36521 service from Newark, New Jersey to Minneapolis on aircraft N704YX. It departed at 5:45 p.m. EST and is scheduled to arrive at 6:50 p.m. CST. I also know the jet departed 10 minutes behind schedule. I know this by making one click on an icon of the jet approaching my location at home on an interactive map. In the time it took to type this paragraph, that jet sped to the west and a different jet became the "closest" to my house, an Alaskan Airlines flight headed to Seattle, where our daughter lives.

Most mornings the flights are long haul trips to the west coast or Alaska from cities like New York. Afternoons find more intriguing flights " private and charter jets. I wonder why a Lear jet left Antigo, WI for Dallas on Wednesday. A wealthy investor? A worldly native daughter home to visit her Antigo-area parents for a few days? Or does someone in the Antigo area own and operate a Lear out of that tiny airport? And why is a Challenger, a very expensive light jet, headed to Duluth from Nashville? If I wanted to, I could look up the "N" number (unique registration number) on the Federal Aviation Administration website and see what or who is the registered owner of any of these aircraft.

Perhaps all this aircraft activity in the sky overhead is the reason some call our state "flyover" country, and it not a derogatory inference that there is nothing worth seeing or doing here. (And for those who make fun of our "empty wasted land," keep flying. I don't want you here anyway.)

Since I am an airplane nut, this tracking tool fascinates me. But even if that doesn't interest you, you have to admit the information I can get from my phone in seconds with one click is remarkable. My guess is this system runs off aircraft transponders, so very small planes may or may not be so equipped. That means you may not be able to track the guy who flies his Piper Cub off his private grass strip for "$100 hamburgers" on weekends. But a little Cirrus 22, a single engine plane headed to La Crosse this Easter, has one, and I can see what they are up to.

But what will be really fascinating is using some of this technology, along with other tools, to someday create a sky-based version of a "fish finder." Imagine being able to point your phone's camera at the tiny dot of a high-flying bird over your house and learning it is a juvenile Red Tailed hawk, flying at 500 feet at 20 miles an hour. Scrambling for the binoculars and bird book and hazarding a guess would be a thing of the past.

I can imagine someday having access to an interactive map of bird activity over my house, which right now is looking like O'Hare airport on a Friday at 6 p.m. There are Sandhill cranes, Canadian geese, Mallards and Goldeneyes; hawks, and songbirds of all sizes. But I can't figure out what all of them are; someday it will be no problem, I'll just take out my phone and the mystery will be solved.

I will have to wait for this bird tracking tool " in the meantime, I watch the big metal sky walkers I can now "spy" on, and marvel at the miracle of their flight.

A "shout out" of support for all nurses. I know you are not playing cards at work, and I doubt politicians have no time to eat lunch or get to the bathroom. There are times when I just can't help but ask myself "Is this the best we can do?" I am relieved this politician isn't someone elected by Wisconsonites.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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