Electronic Art – Three Circles

29 March 2020

I thought I’d try to show the latest revision of one of my art projects in video form. I had an old webcam (LifeCam VX-3000) and I plugged it into my Windows 8 computer and got it working.

It works terribly, though, halting all the time instead of providing a smooth recording – obviously too great a task for this hardware.

Latest project updates

In this rare view of some of my gear (doesn’t it look atrocious?) we see a military-green piece of equipment in the middle serving as a signal source to the display module (upper left). The gray cable carries the signal, a serial signal needing only 3 wires plus ground, with a fifth wire providing power to the display. The pattern generator creates an 7-or-8-bit-wide pattern which is monitored on its own local display, then serialized in the top part and sent through the five-wire cable. The pattern generator can also encode the 3 signals into 2 signals and send them out using four wires plus ground. This allows for very long cables.

I want to make this the standard for how my displays work, and this is the first time I have all the parts in the chain up and running.

The display looks cooler than the halting, grainy video conveys. And that’s only one set pattern. The possible variations are infinite. Now that I have all the basic pieces in place, I will be converting more of my older displays to work with a serial cable, and finding better ways to take videos of them so you can see how they really look.

The Understory Revives

28 March 2020

Today is Saturday and it’s raining again. But this was predicted, so I went shopping (again) on Friday, and this time I brought my camera.

Understory? Reminds me of a bad joke. But ecologically, it’s everything that grows below the forest canopy that isn’t actually living in the ground. And though the canopy no longer exists along many parts of this river, springtime remains the time of the understory, of the lower-growing plants, bushes and trees that thrive before the canopy leafs out and shades them.

After a dry February, the rains returned in March, giving the early plants and flowers a big chance to proliferate. And though in many places the grasses are already choking them out, in many other places they are the stars right now.

Flowers

broom

Let’s start with all the leguminous plants that like to flower at this time. Above is a broom. Brooms are very hardy and are officially considered weeds in most of the west. But they sure are showy when they flower!

lupine

Here’s a lupine. What a show! This is probably the Silver Lupine, which is native in this area, but quite possibly has been replanted in this case.

Another spring legume is the vetch, not pictured. It is very common in this area and likes to crowd in with Star Thistle and the grasses that mature later in the year. And another is the Redbud. It is not native here, but has been planted all over due to its beautiful spring flowers.

Next, some flowers that may be horticultural escapees, but are very conspicuous now in the Folsom area.

Here we see Allium, Fiddleneck, and a mustard (Rocket) all growing together. The Allium are so noticeable right now that they deserve a separate portrait.

allium closeup

Monkeyflower, which I saw blooming in the late summer, is even more prolific now. It tends to grow in bushy patches.

monkeyflower

Right next to this plant, growing under a pine tree, were a large bunch of Collinsias. I call them by their botanical name because they have so many different common names, such as “Chinese Houses.”

collinsias

We also see vetch and leaves of a buckeye in the background, along with an unidentified dried stalk with seed capsules still attached, along with a mint in the fuzzy foreground on the right.

And of course Spring here would not be complete without California Poppies.

california poppy

Way down the parkway in the William B. Pond Park lawn, I found this next plant, which I had difficulty identifying. It is a Henbit, a small-flowered member of the mint family.

henbit

Other Plants

fern fronds in the sun

I had to go back and visit the fern plants I have been keeping track of. They seem mature now, which means the “green” part of their life cycle is almost over. In a moist environment (a real understory) these fronds would persist throughout the summer. But out here among these rocks, they will probably die back.

coral lichen and mosses

The amazing lichens I photographed back when it was really wet have already died back, and the mosses they live with are well on their way to completing their life cycle for another year, too.

Drawn to the Draws

In western lingo, any gully or visible low area is called a “draw.” I have always found these areas appealing, but they are hard to photograph in a way that conveys the feeling of shelter that goes with them.

large open draw

This one is all sunlit, right next to the trail, and with a big dead tree down at the bottom.

deep shaded draw

This one is also right next to the trail, but shaded. It is quite deep, but possibly not really natural, as all the terrain in this area has been modified by the old gold mining activities that used to be the norm along this river. But that’s been over 100 years ago now, so all these places have had a lot of time to grow back into more diverse ecosystems.

poppies next to a wide draw

Here’s another wide and sunny drainage area with poppies all along its banks. This is right next to a huge pile of river rocks (mine tailings) that has not yet become overgrown.

Animals

Animals present various photographic challenges. In this first shot, though, I think I just had my camera set wrong. The fuzziness of the butterflies does, however, suggest how in motion they were.

butterflies in fiddleneck

There were a lot of these dark-winged butterflies flying around. They look like they may be Swallowtails.

male turkeys

These turkeys did not really want their picture taken. I believe these are males. There were some females not far away, but they were further off the trail.

This deer also wanted to keep its distance.

Stay At Home?

people on the trail

A lot of people seemed to agree that home was not the place to stay on a beautiful sunny day. As was true last week, there were a lot of people walking and biking this Friday afternoon. Most of the government people involved with the shutdown orders seem to recognize our need to get out for some fresh air. They are most concerned about people going out in order to gather somewhere and then infect each other.

I was on an “essential” trip, grocery shopping, and those qualify as well. “Infrastructure” work also keeps going, such as on this construction site, and at the hotel they are building across from where I live.

construction site

The businesses being hit the hardest are the gathering places. The restaurants, bars, auditoriums, schools and churches. My church decided to close so that parishioners would not find themselves in situations where they would have to explain to authorities why going to church is essential (though I think it should be considered so!).

It is such a shame that a stupid disease would convince us that we should not go out and meet with each other, hug each other, or shake hands. It can’t continue this way. Hiding inside is no way to confront a problem. We do too much of that in “normal” times. In the end it would probably be better for us to get out more, not less. It’s already become a bad habit that many of us really need to break, not find more justifications for.

smile

On Evolution

21 March 2020

Sitting at home a lot during these days of self-quarantine, I resort to the computer for something to do. I use Mozilla Firefox as my browser. And Firefox uses an app called Pocket. This is a feed of “popular” articles that a user can mark for “saving” or later review. Of course, cloud apps don’t actually save anything to the client device (the computer you own and work with) but keep everything on the server (a network of computers that you don’t own, but store all data available on a network – in this case the Internet). Although I believe Pocket provides some sort of local save feature.

At every logon, the featured articles in my Pocket feed change a bit. They include quite a wide range of writing, but mostly those offered by traditional publications that once had hard copy versions, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, New Yorker magazine, The Atlantic magazine, Harvard Business Review, and so on.

Newer content sources also appear. Quartz is a business-oriented news service. Wired is a technology-oriented magazine that has a hard copy version. Vice is a younger-adult-oriented media provider. Vox is a left-leaning provider of “exploratory journalism.” Mental Floss is another example of many newer media companies that are now online-only. The Conversation is an academically-oriented site. I may also see posts form NPR, Citylab, Aeon (an Australian educational charity) and many others.

Though there is a lot of variety provided by all these organizations and all the people who write for them, there is a tendency – certainly in the topics I follow – to not challenge too heavily the Status Quo.

Though I challenge the Status Quo for ostensibly rational reasons (that it isn’t working that well and has become exclusionary) I admit that I may harbor a more irrational bent for challenging our desire for a stable belief system.

Be that as it may, certainly one concept that has moved solidly into the position of a stable belief system, at least in the realm of academia, is Evolution. Some would argue that Evolution is one approach to the larger problems of “Origin Science.” Yet this concept has not yet received broad academic support, although there is some movement in that direction, such as the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH).

Which came first?

Without getting into all the sociopolitical ooze that accompanied science as it drove itself into the twentieth century, “modern” science seems to formally reject any idea that ideas, or a desire to create, could have actually preceded form, or the results of creation.

This was a significant divergence from the concept of Prime Mover expounded by Aristotle, and the willingness of many earlier scientists to believe in something like God. Further, the new concept contained a sort of logical riddle: How could creation ever happen, if what was created (the physical universe, for example) also created the desire to create (life, for example)? It makes more sense that the desire to create would come first, and then the creation would follow.

Eastern religious ideas began to enter the West with the colonization of India and other such areas starting in the mid-1700s. It is theorized that certain power groups in the West were concerned about the “soft” ideas of the East and sought to counter them. However that may be, we find in Darwin a desire to explain biology in terms of physical causes only, and in his half-cousin Galton, a desire to breed mankind into “better” forms (Eugenics).

What the West had on its side was that the physical was obvious, measurable, and thus knowable, while spiritual things were seen as intuitive, impossible to measure, and thus impossible to gain any certainty about. To this day many scientists, both in the East and the West, believe this basic premise either explicitly or implicitly and are only comfortable with concepts of physical causation. That does not, however, mean that “spiritual causation,” as one might call it, has not been investigated, demonstrated, and in fact found – in many ways – to be as measurable and as knowable as other forms of causation.

Ramifications of the doctrine of the Prime Mover

For Aristotle (according to what I have read about him so far), the main thing that the idea of a Prime Mover allowed into the picture was God. But in more general terms, what the concept allows into the picture is Spirit.

The simplest concept of spirit is indeed the concept of a Prime Mover. More colloquially, we could see this as a being who got something started, then sat back to watch what would happen. This being might then wander off to put its attention on something else, yet the system it had put in motion could continue to operate.

As we can measure the “age” of the entire physical universe by various methods and theories, another ramification of this concept is that Prime Mover, God, or Spirit, has existed for a LONG time, and might, for all we know, still exist. This gives some people what I might call the “Santa Claus problem.”

He sees you when you’re sleeping;

He knows when you’re awake.

He knows when you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake!

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

There are plenty of people in the world (and it seems in the West in particular) who don’t want anybody to know when they’ve been bad or good!

And this is one theory why concepts of Spirit, immortality, past life memory and similar things have been discouraged or invalidated in the West.

Secular attempts to re-establish the concept

There have been a significant number of individuals and groups who have sought to preserve spiritual concepts as religious beliefs. Far fewer have made attempts to secularize these concepts.

Hubbard’s own efforts along this line began with a secular intention. It was not until 1954 that the church was established, years after his initial breakthroughs had been communicated and applied.

However, broadly speaking, academic interest in “spiritual” phenomena has existed for a long time, and has resulted in a significant – if not broadly accepted – amount of work in the field. I always like to point out the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine as an example of this. They have documented thousands of cases of past life recall.

Another development has been the attempt to make Intelligent Design an academically acceptable research discipline. So far, per Wikipedia, this has failed. The concept attracted, and was started by, so many religious people that secularists think of it as just another attempt to re-inject religious doctrine into the classroom. For these people, it seems, Intelligent Design means Prime Mover means God. This concatenation of essentially unrelated ideas has spoiled the movement.

Evolution as an information problem

I have seen arguments that run something like this:

At every instance of procreation (or cell division in simpler organisms), there is a chance for the genetic information in the cells (or the sex cells in higher organisms) to vary from that contained in the parent cell or cells. This can result in an offspring (or daughter cell) containing different genetic material than the parent. If this offspring lives to reproduce, that genetic variation survives. If it does not live to reproduce, that genetic variation does not survive. This limits the information passed forward in time to: Yes or No, did that variation allow that organism to survive to reproduce? Thus, any other information that the organism might acquire over the course of its lifetime is meaningless from the point of view of genetic information.

This means, for example, that a person who procreates from the age of 20 to 30 can forward no useful genetic information gained after the age of 30. And that if that person had died before the age of 20, he would have forwarded no genetic information at all.

Of course, most scientists in the field believe that experiential information does not encode and so cannot be forwarded. Yet at the same time they believe that genes broadly determine not only physical appearance, but general behaviors and abilities as well. How does all that data ever get into the genes, if the only datum available is survival to procreation?

Cell differentiation is another problem, but this one has been researched into the ground. They’ve got it all figured out how, in advanced organisms, a single cell pair relying on just one copy of its genetic code eventually turns into an organism with eyes, legs, a liver, etc.

How did all this information get into the genome? Researchers don’t seem too worried about that question.

A solution to the information problem

What is the difference between a living cell or organism and a dead one? All most scientists can tell us is that something made the cell or organism unable to function, and that was that.

Well, causes of death are usually so diverse and so obvious that this explanation is difficult to argue against. We have a few “freak” cases (an accelerating phenomenon in modern hospitals) where people die and then mysteriously revive. Their own stories of what happened are discounted. But they almost universally validate the concept of the Prime Mover.

Whether people report that they were “called back” or simply decided that they really didn’t want to die just then, we see the whole concept of Spirit assert itself as a reality of (at least) human existence. And this gives us a solution to the problem of too little information to ever really successfully evolve.

To fill this role, Spirit must have some sort of mental capability, or “somatic memory” of its own, distinct from mere genetic codes. And the research finds that it does. Spirit, in fact, seems to have a lot of really interesting capabilities. It fits the requirements for a Prime Mover. It can bring physicality into existence without itself ever being physical. And so it can add something to a living organism that makes it alive, that gives it a purpose, and motion. In theory Spirit exists above the level of genetics, and probably created genetics. In sober reality Spirit helps us to do things that could never be encoded into our genes, but can easily be remembered or recreated. It can also make profoundly stupid mistakes, act crazy, and pretend to be dead. Without Spirit, real evolution would have never been possible, and the future would be a total dead end. With Spirit, we possibly have another chance.

…like the day before Christmas

20 March 2020

As more pronouncements occured regarding how best to “flatten the curve,” I thought it might be wise for me to go out and do my weekly shopping a day early. The day was forecast to be sunny (it was at least partly sunny all day) and of moderate temperature after a series of long rains.

I brought my bike with me in a quite sparsely-populated train. The first thing I realized was that I had forgotten my camera, and so this post is unillustrated. I was wondering if anyone would try to enforce the six-feet rule on the train. It wasn’t until we reached the first station in Folsom that a security person got on and checked for evidence of paid fares. And though she didn’t mention the six-feet rule (there being only two passengers in the whole car), I noted that she just looked to see that I had a CONNECT card, but didn’t take it from me and hold it under her scanner as she normally would have.

Folsom Winco was, thank goodness, not overly crowded. There were a lot of older people there, many a good deal older than my 65 years. Winco was keeping its bulk bins open (I wondered if they would), but had run out of certain items, such as dry roasted peanuts to make fresh-ground peanut butter. They were also out of organic rolled oats. Sometimes I think they could just switch to totally organic and probably only suffer a minor loss of customers!

The lady running the self-serve checkout machines had to help me with an item that didn’t register the same weight when I weighed it as it did when I bagged it. She commented on the flourishes I used to enter the product codes and swipe the bar codes, saying she found them entertaining!

I packed everything into my panniers, and placed a little zipper bag (found at Goodwill) inscribed with the message “see you at the barre” on the top of the rear rack using a couple of bungee cords. It contained some water, a couple of odd items that didn’t fit easily in the side bags, and a fig bar. And I was off.

In the first field I bike through to get to the river, I found the Miner’s Lettuce now overgrown with grasses, the blue allium blooming all over the place, and a lovely yellow borage (probably what’s known as “fiddleneck”) popping up in places. Then I spied a small raptor in a short tree just ahead. It flew off as I approached and tried to catch something on the ground but was apparently unsuccessful. Eventually it flew back and sat on a post not far away and let me look at it. It had a lovely mottled brown plumage and bright yellow feet.

I then joined the main trail. It was quite busy! At first it seemed like the usual crowd of Saturday fitness bikers, then I started seeing families and older people. I realized that with school cancelled and many jobs suspended, this first sunny day of the week was the perfect time for families to leave their dreary homes and enjoy the out-of-doors. I heard one guy comment as he passed, “The park’s just like the day before Christmas!”

Importances

In these days where touching someone or going out for a frivolous social event – or work – runs the risk of “unflattening the curve,” our leaders have had to wrestle with the question: “What’s too important to close down?”

Here in California the “winners” have been: hospitals and other health care facilities, core infrastructure services that most of us never think about, food distribution businesses, food growing businesses – even breweries, homeless shelters and the like, news media, gas stations and auto repair shops, banks and credit unions, hardware stores, home repair workers, mailing and shipping companies, educational institutions if they can find ways to do their work without having people touch each other, laundry services, restaurants but like schools – take-out only, office supply stores and similar supply businesses, delivery services, transportation that supports essential activities, care-givers, professions needed to support essential activities, childcare as modified by certain guidelines, and employees needed to maintain essential operations in business (like security guards and whatever).

When I was a lot younger I would have looked at this list and felt that it made sense. But back then I would have wondered, well, why do people do all those other things besides these things? Now I have a better idea of why they do. But that doesn’t change the fact that the above-listed activities are some of the most core activities in any human community. If any one of these goes bad – like health care, or food – those affected are in some deep doo-doo. And yet in our society these days, many of these activities are operated as for-profit businesses.

In theory, if some human activity ceased to be profitable, it could not attract investors, would go unfunded and eventually collapse. But that can’t happen to any of these essential activities, can it?

And although there may be some wiggle room in the grey areas of moral choices, the basic answer is, no, that can’t happen to essential activities.

My thought on this is that if you try to force any essential human activity into a situation where it can’t survive unless it can pay investors interest, then you are going to run into some major problems sooner or later.

One scenario is that the investors – normally represented by the Board of Directors – force managers to do whatever is deemed necessary to keep the activity profitable. In other words, managers are pushed towards throwing moral values and humanitarian values – which is why most of these ARE the essential activities – out the window in favor of a value system based on whether the activity can make money or not. We know that this has happened to many human activities. A vivid though imperfect example is the field of mental health.

The other scenario is that the activity somehow manages to make the necessary financial adjustments in a way that preserves both the core values of the activity and its financial attractiveness. We know this doesn’t always happen, and that we have lost or risk losing some of these core activities simply because they can’t figure out how to make themselves viable.

My more recent realizations about all this stem from Hubbard’s assertion that money is basically just a form of energy. That led to the understanding that every activity must inflow more energy than it uses just to operate at all. In a purely physical system this excess energy is often referred to as “waste.” In a business it is often called “profit.” And in a non-profit it may be known as “reserves” or some similar concept.

In a physical system, the ratio of energy output to energy input is called “efficiency.” However, attempts to apply this concept to human systems have not always been that successful. One reason is that the economists don’t always factor in the costs (or energy use) of all those essential services needed because we are human. If this mistake is committed and the result is a recommendation that new hires be paid less (or some similar move), then that mistake may contribute to what we call “poverty” for some workers; they can’t make a “profit” on their own labor!

The complications resulting from the various pressures of life and less-than-rational human responses to those pressures are many and varied. One example which I looked into a while back is public transportation. I don’t know about other places, but in the Sacramento area, customer (rider) revenues only account for about 20% of the operating costs of the system. If the Sac Regional Transit District couldn’t get state and federal money (support from taxpayers who don’t use the system) then it couldn’t provide the services it does now. I don’t know if it could even operate.

Another I have been looking into recently is the mental health system in California. It’s problem is that not enough people want to be mental health workers, and a lot of communities don’t want anything to do with having a mental health facility in their area, or otherwise have a bad image of the subject. In this case, the activity is currently over-funded but is unable to provide the services demanded of it. In short, it’s a criminal system. It wastes almost all the energy poured into it, so everyone’s getting tired of it, even though everyone knows that better mental health would help society in so many ways.

So this is one of the huge shortcomings of “modern” society: It has real problems drawing the line between brag and fact, and forcing essential activities to get good products instead of resorting to criminality. Just today I read an article on the history of coffee production. It gave me chills! The amount of inhuman treatment of workers that had to be undertaken to make coffee profitable was utterly despicable. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that coffee is basically just a legal street drug and only masks the true problems people are having in being alert and productive with a temporary “high.”

I hope this latest challenge gives some who care about such things reason to pause. Over and above all the gory details about how this outbreak actually came about, we have the irritating fact that the medical knowledge – even the spiritual knowledge – that, if used, would have made this attack much less serious than it has been, has been with us for decades now, neglected and unused. We can’t just blame our ills on “profit motive.” We all need what sometimes gets called a “profit.” There are more basic failings at work here. We have known about them for some time now. But we have only begun to properly handle them. Not in time for this challenge. What about the next one?

I return to The Lands

18 March 2020
dead trees along american river

About two years ago I started a blog called “The Lands” about a fictional global event that changed the planet forever, and how it was handled.

It is set, maybe, 50 years in the future.

It was an exercise for me in how things I had learned could be applied in the real world. But of course, the global emergency I depicted was entirely fictional…

I wanted to turn that blog – or at least that idea – into a work of fiction. But I didn’t particularly want to write a novel. I was getting pictures of how the story might go, so I thought: Why not write a screenplay?

I am still working on a version that could actually last an hour or longer on film. Meanwhile, I wrote some other stories to get some practice on how to use Trelby, an open-source tool for writing screenplays.

But today I found myself home for a day, because I had some sniffles. My church wants to play it very safe. They know what’s being reported about this global event…

So I thought, why not publish here the part of the story that I consider basically finished? Maybe it could provide a few of you with something to do if you, too, are stranded at home. And maybe it could point out that there might still be some hope left in this world. So here it is:

More Spring Rain

15 March 2020
willow catkins in folsom

It was with some exasperation that I looked out upon the morning scene this Saturday and found it raining, again.

It’s not that I don’t like rain or that we don’t need rain. But this was Saturday, the one day I allow myself to go out and enjoy the out-of-doors!

And so once again, as I did last week, I packed my shopping bags, umbrella, and a book of short stories to pass the time, into my backpack and walked, without my bicycle, to the train stop to go to Folsom.

I’m glad I brought my umbrella this time, as it was still raining pretty hard when I got to Folsom. But it was tapering off a bit, so taking a few pictures was quite possible. How about this little snail skating across the walkway? I don’t see this much in these parts. Animals like this have to spend most of their time in the shadows under plants that get watered frequently, or they will just shrivel up.

snail on sidewalk with flower petals

I found this snail on the walkway up to Winco. I had checked their website and there the company assured customers that they would stay open (so that we can eat!) while also doing everything they could to comply with government regulations regarding crowd situations.

Thus, it was not a total surprise when I found a line outside the store, and employees there to inform us that they were limiting the number of people in the store to 250, letting us in ten at a time as shoppers exited.

It didn’t take long.

Much less of an inconvenience, I would imagine, than allowing thousands to come down to DOCO for a Kings (basketball) game, just to be turned away as one of the players had tested positive for the latest virus, resulting in the need to postpone the game.

Virus

I have gotten used to the word in its now-popular usage as a cybersecurity term. I had never really studied it that much as a biological phenomenon.

Some of the articles I read about it were so obfuscated by the heavy use of terms only commonly used in the arcane world of molecular biology that I could not make myself get all the way through them.

Articles “dumbed down” for the general public tended to anthropomorphize virus, as they seem to act in ways that are distinctly intelligent.

This tendency to portray virus as living thinking creatures might not be all that misguided, but is similar to what we have done with computers, and intentionally with AI programs like “Siri” and “Alexa.”

From my point of view, the probability that virus have a higher-level intelligence behind their structure and behavior is close to 100%. Chances are they have been around since the early days of biology, and perhaps were even a “mistake” or “security breach” from that era – totally lost now in the dimly-recalled and long-gone past.

An interesting game that virus play with higher-level organisms is that they mutate fairly rapidly, enabling them to re-infect organisms that have already developed immunity to previous versions. The only way for organisms to keep up with this game is to somehow face the consequences of getting re-infected, and then through that experience building up new immunity to the new strains.

Our medical people have attempted to simulate this process using vaccines. However, this has created a vaccine industry that depends for its cash flow on the constant development and sale of new vaccines, leading to ethically questionable practices. I sometimes think that all medical activities should be required to go forward only on a not-for-profit basis, thus discouraging bad behavior at the expense of our lives and our health.

The obvious priority in playing this vaccine game is to be as physically healthy as possible. This seems to be part of the impetus behind the pushing of “keto,” as the biggest advocates of it seem to be students of nutrition and physical exercise.

However, my training has taught me that there are mental and spiritual aspects to body health that cannot be overlooked. The brightest among us balance all these factors and tend to be very successful. The rest of us just try to keep up, or else have given up and wait quietly for their time to come.

I recommend the most proactive approach that you can manage given your resources. There is a certain clarity that comes with taking one’s personal health seriously in all of its aspects that is really worth having. I think it has something to do with certainty about one’s own future.

Here is a final image from my Saturday visit to Folsom:

oak tree new growth

Help and Happiness

1 March 2020

I was recently encouraged by a Scientologist to write something on the subject of help.

My main reluctance in doing concept articles is that I don’t have many, or any, photos to illustrate them with. So, sorry for the lack of pictures in this first draft. Perhaps that will be rectified later.

In this little piece on the subject of help, I thought I’d structure it around The Way To Happiness, one of my favorite informational books written by LRH for the general public. This book is unique in our literature, as it doesn’t mention Dianetics or Scientology anywhere in it, yet we use it a lot and distribute it widely. The contents of the book itself are best communicated by this video: https://www.scientology.tv/documentaries/the-way-to-happiness.html

Help

Help is a word for the basic exchanges that occur among people in any society. Many forms of help are considered valuable enough to pay for, and all economies are based on the idea that the products and services offered for sale by businesses will help the people who buy them.

Other forms of help are embedded into society and its biological nature and are considered basically required forms of charity or selfless assistance. Some forms of these activities, like education, lie on the border between social necessities and social niceties and may cost money to those helped under some circumstances.

In any case, a society can’t run properly if it can’t generate enough economic support to help people, at least in the most basic ways, who can’t afford to pay.

Take Care of Yourself

This is the first precept in The Way to Happiness and is obviously a basic. If you aren’t well-fed, well-rested and basically healthy, you will be in no position to help anyone else, whether that be in the role of parent, teacher, or worker. Therefore, taking care of yourself helps everyone who you normally interact with.

This basic continues to show up throughout the book. Be Temperate is precept 2. Don’t be Promiscuous is precept 3. Set a Good Example is precept 6. Seek to Live with The Truth is precept 7. Do Not Murder is precept 8. Don’t Do Anything Illegal is precept 9. Do Not Steal is precept 13. Be Worthy of Trust is precept 14. Fulfill Your Obligations is precept 15. Be Industrious is precept 16. Be Competent is precept 17. Try Not to Do Things to Others That You Would Not Like Them to Do to You is precept 19. Try to Treat Others as You Would Want Them to Treat You is precept 20. And Flourish and Prosper is Precept 21.

If you can take care of yourself well enough, then you can create a stable platform in your own life that will enable you to help others abide by the above precepts.

Love and Help Children

This is precept 4. It is one of the most important acts of charity that most of us take upon ourselves early on in the course of our own adult lives. It is incredibly important in the activity of putting the future there. Of course it embraces many activities, but the essential concept is that those you help as your own children are not obligated to pay you back.

But the other point about this whole subject of charitable help is that those you help will tend to feel obligated to you for the help you have provided. Thus, a part of helping anyone selflessly is the action of accepting whatever they may have to offer in return as their help to you.

Honor and Help Your Parents

This is precept 5. Although many parents of the previous generation strove to remain totally financially independent into their older years, this is becoming less and less possible now, and in some places has never been possible. Their obvious first resource for help when they get old is and should be their own children. This, essentially, completes the cycle of exchange that starts when we are children. It is a necessity in a biology-based society, whether we rely totally on children to handle their own parents or dream up some sort of collective scheme (like Social Security) for accomplishing this.

Be Industrious, Be Competent

In order to accomplish the help of children and old people that we must do to sustain our society, we must earn more during our working years than we need merely to take care of ourselves. I consider this to be the foremost principle behind the concept of “profit” (economists might disagree).

This can only be accomplished through the exercise of industry and competence. In the confusion of growing up in this modern world, these basics can easily get overlooked. The grim philosophy of “every man for himself” can creep into the picture and cloud the fact that the game we are playing here on Earth consists essentially of helping each other, and that if we stop doing that, we will soon have no Earth.

As I look back on my own life now, I am amazed at how long it took for me to realize that the main reason I was working was to help my company (or similar group) be successful so that it could continue to exist and help others with its products and services. Actions that contribute to this are the ones that most likely lead to pay increases and promotions (in a sane group). And at their core they consist of industriousness and competence.

The formula for competence, by the way, is: Look, Learn and Practice. Thus all these activities are also forms of help, and are some of the most important activities to help others accomplish.

Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others

More generally, this could be seen as just learning to get along with others. The focus here is on religion because we have had so much trouble with it down through the ages. Today we have groups like “Interfaith Councils” whose sole purpose is to smooth things out between the various churches and promote an atmosphere of cooperation, especially in our charity work.

Spirit, and concepts of spirit, are also important parts of life for most people. The idea that such concepts are somehow superfluous is terribly cynical and, by observation, simply untrue.

Look at the value people place on art, beauty, and entertainment for example. These activities could be considered totally non-productive from a purely biological point of view. I often wondered about this when I was younger. Do animals need art? Then why to we need art? The answer is that most of us are aware of our spiritual nature and value it highly. Art and storytelling validates this awareness and therefore becomes a potent form of help.

Support a Government Designed and Run for All the People

This is an important precept (10) that I almost missed because it didn’t at first seem to connect with the concept of help. But there it is in the first word of the precept, “support.” To be part of a scene where Government is slowly going crazy can be a very stressful experience. This has been the case in many countries over history and seems to be creeping up on us now here in America. Luckily we have our founding documents which are very clear on the point of Happiness and what government is supposed to do. Though these documents may seem terribly outdated in many ways, they remain conceptually sound, and are worth supporting (I think) over and above any actions which mere humans may implement in their name.

The current scene here in the U.S. is a very confused scene. We have too many in government acting like criminals, listening to advice from people acting like criminals, or simply acting confused or incompetent. It is our job to put this damaged structure back together into something that will work better and be more effective than it ever has been before. I think that now that we have tools like The Way To Happiness, we could be successful at this.

Flourish and Prosper

The last two precepts in The Way To Happiness go over who the “real heroes” in society are, and why they deserve to prosper, and quite often (but not always) do. To lead a helpful, even charitable, life, does not bar one from happiness and prosperity, but rather opens the door to those valuable rewards. Though some may build temporary empires on forms of “help” that actually only harm (such as illegal drugs, human trafficking) they are often short-lived and frantic versions of real prosperity, and can never lead to real happiness.

Thus, we must measure a “help” activity not by the PR put forward to justify or defend it (or criticize it), but by the actual results it obtains. We are living though a time where these contrasts are very much in our faces. Just last night I was reminded of how “vapes” were marketed as a way to “help” people stop smoking cigarettes. Instead, they have become a more sophisticated, more easily hidden, and more readily accessible way of consuming dangerous drugs, including not only nicotine, but also THC, drugs intended for medical use, and hard drugs. So here we have an example of a technology that sold itself as “helpful” yet has exploded into one of our worst drug use epidemics in history.

True help will assist us to flourish and prosper. Value it!

I left out one of the precepts that is also key:

Do Not Harm a Person of Good Will

Such people unfailingly try to help, and are the backbone of any society.

Reader feedback on this topic will be valued and is highly encouraged!

I visit Ventura

23 February 2020

I went to Ventura yesterday with a group of Scientologists to attend the Grand Opening of Ventura Organization. That event is pictured below, in a photo provided to journalists for publicity purposes, and is otherwise covered at this church website: https://www.scientology.org/scientology-today/church-openings/grand-opening-ventura.html

ventura org grand opening

Needing to wait in line for a bathroom, I got there a bit late, and watched the proceedings from the side of this main area, located at the far right in the above photo.

Riding through the Central Valley

Wanting to get there in a minimum of time, but by car (a rented Dodge minivan), we naturally chose to rocket down the I-5. A typical stop along this freeway is pictured below.

freeway-side stop, central valley

This is a down-to-business freeway. Almost no major cities lie along this road. Fresno is to the east, on the older Route 99. To the distant west are the coastal ranges. Just before Los Angeles, these low mountain ridges turn inland, requiring a drive through a pass. The I-5 goes through Tejon Pass. The highest elevation on that pass is about 4 thousand feet, so not quite the same as crossing the Rockies!

This road is for people and goods that want a fast drive from southern California to northern California. And it really looks it. It’s an ugly road, unadorned by trees or flowers, or even many billboards. It goes “nowhere” except to the L.A. basin to the south and the Bay Area/Sacramento to the north. Of course it continues on further north; I’m just covering this section of it.

The ride south (and back, of course) takes a long time, several hours. And that is in good traffic (which we had). So we had to stop more than once in the valley. Our first stop was around 8:30 in the morning, at a little place about as far down the valley as Fresno.

fruit orchards

This area is dominated by fruit orchards, which I believe are mostly almonds (a fruit harvested for its nut, or pit). We also saw many citrus trees.

westside country store

The Westside Country Store is a somewhat famous business on I-5. But I didn’t know this at the time we stopped there, so didn’t go in.

Two hours later we were very near the Grapevine. We stopped again and I got this image of the electric transmission towers that help power Los Angeles.

electric transmission lines near Grapevine.

Right next to our parking space I spied the movement of a small animal. It turns out that this is a real gopher.

pocket gopher

We raced through the mountains, as we still had many miles to go to get out to the coast. Part of the road between I-5 and the coast is NOT freeway.

We arrive!

But the traffic was not bad, and we got to our destination around 11:30.

ventura org setting

The parking lot in this picture was reserved for special guests and event personnel. Some came in on big tour buses, which unloaded just a block away. The rest of us had to park at the fair grounds, which is up the road a bit.

I shared my spot during the proceedings with an interesting bush which I later learned is commonly called Desert Cassia. It was mad with flowers, so of course I had to take a photo.

desert cassia

As you might be able to tell from the top photo, there were a lot of people there. I met many people who I knew when I worked in Los Angeles, and recognized many more. I met Yoshikawa Wright, a stone sculptor who has an episode on our new TV channel, here: https://www.scientology.tv/series/meet-a-scientologist/yoshikawa-wright.html. We spoke briefly, as I had made a few stone pieces (alabaster) in art class in high school.

The area had been rainy, but this lifted during the event itself, then returned.

freeway daisies

Being right next to Highway 101, the stands of “freeway daisies” were much in evidence. These are more formally known as Trailing African Daisies.

trailing african daisies

We left around 4:30 in the afternoon. It took us about 5-1/2 hours to get back. That’s a lot of car riding! The sun set as we were on the pass.

Changes

16 February 2020

Springtime is a period when things change a little faster than normal. If you don’t pay attention, those changes might whiz on by unnoticed and uninspected.

Flowers

But most of us at least notice the flowers. Last week the flowering trees were just beginning to pop. This week they are all over the place.

Corporate flowering trees in Folsom last week.
Flowering tree on the bike path this week.

The slightly unusual greenery that always greets me at the beginning of my ride back to Sacramento has now been identified! It’s known as “Miners’ Lettuce” and apparently is edible when it is young like this.

Last week’s Miners’ Lettuce.
This week’s Miners’ Lettuce.

The ferns continue to develop and will probably enjoy a complete reproductive cycle before the summer heat causes them to die back.

Visitor-planted daffodils are growing better in some places than in others. Perhaps the big stand is being helped out with watering…

Daffodils last week.
Daffodils this week.

There is a unique species along the path, the “wattle” that is native to Australia. It blooms early and very brightly. It’s an acacia; there are many different varieties.

The wattle last week.
The wattle this week.

Another spring flower is oxalis. I don’t see much growing naturally in the woods, but it is in gardens everywhere, and at Pond Park there is a little hill totally covered with it.

oxalis (wood sorrell)

Animals

I haven’t spotted any pregnant deer but there might be one or two.

There are always a few egrets by the river.

Here’s another try at capturing an image of the elusive woodpeckers.

New Growth

Of all the photos I took of branches leafing out, this one of catkins (willow, probably) is the only one that came out.

catkins

Time and Change

If you inspect the situation carefully, you might realize that the only time you have actually directly experienced is present time. The past can only be experienced through memory, and the future through imagination.

The changes we make to present time are all that make it appear that time is passing. We can count the changes that appear to be cyclic (rotation of heavenly bodies, vibration of atoms) and thus “measure time.” The physical universe changes in such predictable ways that this works for us.

Yet all of existence actually only exists in this instant. This fact has been used in our spiritual work to help us understand how to gain more control over our present time, and thus, the future.

29 February update

It’s not often I get to write a post on the 29th of February!

We have basically had zero rainfall this whole month, which is a little unusual. The plants which rely heavily on surface water are suffering under these conditions.

wilting ferns

The ferns I have been following are obviously now wilting, even as their spore sacks are almost mature.

The daffodils planted by park lovers are doing better, but they are bulb plants so have a mechanism to store some reserve moisture. Even so, you can see some wilting in these flowers.

daffodils

A new flower has appeared, also a bulb plant. These are almost certainly Allium (onion family) though the flowers are a bit showy, suggesting the possibility that these are horticultural escapees.

allium - onion - new flower
allium fully open flower

The low rain levels also showed up at this holding pond next to a newer development. This is usually full this time of year.

Meanwhile, the early-leafing trees continue to green out. This is a buckeye, which I tried to photograph earlier but failed to get my focus right.

buckeye new leaves

The Miner’s Lettuce I have been following is still going strong, probably due to the shaded locations and thicker soils it seems to prefer. I tried a little bite this time and it is very palatable.

The fruit trees continue to flower. The earliest ones were very showy, but now many more have appeared. I was interested in how many of them appeared in the understory of the wooded area along the trail. These reminded me of the flowering dogwood I used to see in Michigan forests in the spring. These trees get sunlight until the canopy leafs out, though in this particular forest the summer canopy is less dense than it can get in a Midwestern deciduous forest. I don’t think fruit trees are the normal thing in mature forests, so these could be escapees from cultivation.

fruit trees flowering in a riparian forest near a population center

7 March update

Some rain finally came today. I didn’t believe it would be much when I got the news on my weather app, so I didn’t take my umbrella, but went without my bike.

The rain wasn’t hard, but it was persistent. I got wet enough that I decided to go into Goodwill and get an umbrella. Or, maybe, an umbrellita. It was a kid’s umbrella, but I thought it was kinda cool. Dory from Finding Nemo.

Dory from Finding Nemo

First of February

2 February 2020

In California, February often marks a warming period before the rains of March hit. In a place like Sacramento, where the winters are mild, you may even spot an occasional fruit tree blooming in February.

After missing my usual bike trip last week so I could have time to volunteer at the Pig Bowl (Police versus Firefighters charity event), I again cycled the 18 or so miles down the American River from Folsom to downtown Sac this Saturday.

Pig Bowl

signing the pledge

At the Pig Bowl we push living drug-free during the little pregame “Kids Safety Fair” for people who come early.

Various law enforcement and first responder groups have booths and encourage young people to think about joining up. Even the FBI was there. I caught this moment where the California Highway Patrol’s “Chipper” is posing with a girl. It’s possible they know each other.

Chipper and friends

Last year the Star Wars people (Rebel Legion Endor Base, a “Star Wars costuming group”) entered right through the booths area, but this year they came in some other way. I did see them exit, though.

Rebel Legion Endor Base

Spring begins on the American River

With the assistance of wet weather, new growth for this year’s regrowth of all the various perennial plants has started. Some young leaves look good enough to eat, and possibly are.

new growth

I revisited the ferns, but they seem only a little more mature than they did the last time.

fern fronds

Fishermen were back out in the salmon spawning grounds. It’s possible fishing is not allowed during spawning season, but the regulations I found were too complex for me to know for sure. Note the heron in the distance, also fishing or looking for frogs.

fishermen below the dam

Next I went by a place where I’d seen a young buck before. “Wonder if he’ll show up today…” Sure enough he did. He was wary of me, but when I knelt down he came up and crossed the bike path.

Somebody has planted a few garden flowers along the path. My closeup lens didn’t work perfectly, but this little daffodil protected by a circle of rocks really caught my eye.

narcissus variety