Larry’s Adventure Crossing The Suburbs Where Cars Rule

19 October 2021

On Monday I decided to go shopping on my bike. On my usual grocery shopping trip, I take my bike up to Folsom, shop at Winco, then bike back along the American River until I get to Sac State, where I switch to city streets.

But I wanted this trip to be a “combo” trip. I wanted to buy vitamins at Trader Joe’s, which is at 48th. Then I wanted to get a haircut at Great Clips, which is at 59th. Then I wanted to go up to Folsom, and then I wanted to go over to TAP Plastics on Auburn Blvd. and get some plastic pieces to make enclosures with.

The trip from Folsom to TAP Plastics would be almost due west, along an old street called Winding Way. I’d never taken this route before. Winding Way follows a little drainage channel (creek?) that turns south and empties into the American River just before Fair Oaks. After that, it becomes a straight-as-an-arrow suburban street until it hits Arcade Creek, at American River College, just shy of my destination. The distance is approximately ten miles. I planned to take the light rail back into town.

Nimbus Dam at Hazel

It was a bright but cloudy day, with a temperature of around 70. Hazel has a bike lane along it, but it was an up-grade, so a bit of a challenge. The first part of Winding Way had no bike lane.

Winding Way, looking back towards Folsom

But the traffic was not too bad. A lot of delivery trucks. As I got closer to Fair Oaks, something resembling a bike lane appeared.

But first: Via Palagio. Behind the gate at Via Palagio sit approximately three large estates. They each currently sell for roughly 2 million dollars. I consider this rather cheap, considering the one recently sold boasts over 7,000 square feet on an acre of land.

Via Palagio Estates

Via Palagio is officially part of Fair Oaks. As you might guess, this is considered a rather wealthy community. It is known for its summer festival and “wild” roaming chickens. However, the first wild animal to greet me as I continued down Winding Way was a turkey.

Turkey grazing by some dilapidated land

Further along, some residents were preparing for Halloween.

Ghosts spotted along Winding Way

And finally downtown Fair Oaks and the chickens.

Chickens in Fair Oaks
Close-up

Technical note on my camera: For this trip I was using the camera on my new phone. Though it takes a roughly 5 Mega pixel image, as compared to my older camera which takes roughly 2 Mega pixel images (though it is labeled as 5), it appears to apply compression in a way that blurs the image a bit more than my older camera does. These details are, however, largely unnoticeable on a computer screen.

Following Fair Oaks, Winding Way heads on a bee line through older suburbs of Sacramento.

Mature trees are plentiful in the older suburbs.

My last picture on this trip was taken in the parking lot of American River College. “ARC” is one of the larger local community colleges. It is part of the Los Rios College system, and this system is not planning to fully reopen until next year. The building in the background is a parking structure, so this place can accommodate a LOT of cars. Being a Monday, this should have been a school day. Yet the place looked rather desolate. Most classes, apparently, are still being held online.

American River College

The visit to TAP went well, though they have reduced their scrap bin to an orderly collection of 7-inch by 8-inch pieces for a buck each. My special order cost a little under $80, which seemed a little steep. But it is the perfect material for my electronics enclosures.

The weight of the groceries and plastic made reboarding the light rail with my bike a bit difficult. There are plans to switch all the cars and stations to “low-floor” vehicles. These are made by Siemens (a European company) in a plant in south Sacramento. They have two articulations and 8 doors. The middle “bogie” is unpowered, so can be of a low-height design. The low floor extends to all the doors, and there are powered bogies at each end, with more seats on top of them, where the floor is higher. This means that in the future no special ramps will be needed for anyone to board the train, and any wheeled vehicle can be rolled in, over a little ramp that bridges the gap between the platform and the train.

Sacramento Regional Transit has ordered 20 cars so far and will eventually replace all 100 of their cars. The passenger platforms will need to be raised by approximately 8 inches, and until that happens the new cars will be boarded with one step up, or with a special ramp for wheelchairs and strollers.

Sunday

In the park at Old Sacramento, I met an aging squirrel. This squirrel is a female and appears to (again) be pregnant. Her tail is getting straggly and I believe she is nearing the end of her life. She sat in a tree for quite a long time and let me talk to her and photograph her.

Puppeteer

25 September 2021

I couldn’t resist posting these, from my walk in Old Sacramento today.

Miniature piano player!
Lots more musicians backstage…
The guy running the show!

Old Sacramento seemed exceedingly “chill” today!

A good little jazz trio was playing in DOCO…

… and the people seemed happy and relaxed, the kids cheerful and playful.

Where else is it 90 at the end of September? But I hope something bigger than that is going on…

I talked with some people I often just pass by or exchange a few words with. A good walk.

Flight Simulator – Basic Flight

25 September 2021

My previous recent article on this project is here.

This is an old fascination for me, ever since I learned that space flight was not a joke and people used to do it all the time.

One of the first QBasic programs I tried to write (if I recall correctly) was a 3D space flight simulation.

Though the Arduino Uno is a capable platform, it is not recommended for calculation-intense applications like space flight – though many hobbyists like to try it. But I have given it a shot, anyway.

Space Flight Basics

Space flight is fundamentally different than near-surface flight.

Though similar-looking craft may be used for both, as space jockeys do need to be able to land on surfaces, space travel is a whole new ball game.

While near-surface flight involves factors like altitude, compass direction, pitch and so forth, skipping between galactic-scale targets mainly involves determining exactly where you want to go, and then “jumping” there. The jump may be through some sort of spacial discontinuity, or by more normal means, through the use of reaction engines.

Positions of space objects

Here on Earth there are two main systems for locating stellar objects and similar things. Both are Earth (or Sun) centric. One reference plane is usually the local planetary plane. And “north” is usually in the general direction of Earth north, etc.

One system uses spherical coordinates (directions using angles, then a direct distance measure). And the other uses Cartesian coordinates (X,Y,Z) with X and Y normally on the planetary plane and Z being perpendicular to it. I picked the Cartesian system for my project.

I found some lists of space objects, mostly stars, where their Cartesian coordinates were given, and I used these to make a short list of stars near the sun. I could have made them up.

Coordinate distances are usually given in Light Years. For near objects, these numbers are usually less than 20 with a bunch of decimal places.

Calculating distance

The distance between two points in 3D space is found using the formula for finding the hypotenuse of a right triangle (square root of x squared plus y squared). In code it would look something like d = SQRT(SQ(x)+SQ(y)). For three dimensions you just add another element: d = SQRT(SQ(x)+SQ(y)+SQ(z)). X, Y and Z have to be the difference between the two points. d (distance) is always a positive number.

Pointing to the target

In the simplest flight scenario, the ship occupies one position, and the target object occupies the other. In theory, you could have a computer point the ship in the direction of the target. The pilot could also do this visually, as they sometimes do for near-surface flight. But it is difficult to imagine space flight without the assistance of a sophisticated computational machine.

In my simulation, selecting the target coordinates “points” the ship at it. How travel towards the target would actually be computed would be to update the position of the ship along the line between it and the target according to how fast it is traveling. My simulation took a simplified approach to this problem.

Distances to 4 targets are shown in the upper display while target coordinates are in the lower display.

Arduino limitations

The Arduino family of controllers are not computationally powerful. Though they have trigonometric functions, and a square root function, using these slows down the Arduino. They can also do “floating point” (scientific notation) arithmetic, but that is similarly slow. The largest ordinary (integer) number allowed is 32 bits long, which allows you to count up to a little over plus or minus 2 billion.

Thus, any sort of simulated flight system using the Arduino is going to be an approximation. With one light year being 9.46 trillion kilometers, you can’t get down to kilometer accuracy with an Arduino without dividing the travel into very short steps.

Crucially, for the distance calculation involving squaring (multiplying a number by itself) the coordinate distances, the result must not exceed about 2 billion (unless you use floating point math), which limits distances to about 46,000. As most astronomical distances are measured in light years (LY), it made sense for my distances to be expressed in milli-LY. That gives my system a maximum distance of only 46 light years.

Adding active flight to the system

Before I could continue, I had to solve some control panel problems.

I added electronics to make the rotary encoders work better. They are used for selecting travel targets.

The toggling pushbuttons also needed work; I would have implemented them using hardware. I finally worked out a fairly decent software toggle, and after locating a related mistake in my code, the control panel output seems very stable.

Using the FLAPS switch on the control panel, which has “up” “app” and “ldg” positions, I renamed it the “FLight APplication System” switch. The “up” position is for interstellar travel, the “app” position is for near-surface travel, and the “ldg” position is for when the craft is stationary.

I then used a latching pushbutton labeled “MKR” to enable and disable movement. Rate of motion is controlled by one or more “throttles” (sliders on the control panel).

Currently, “ldg” resets the trip and enables one to change the target object. I need to expand this so that I can change targets on the fly. I have 4 targets defined by the control panel: “N1” is the primary target, where the ship is headed. “N2” is a secondary target or moving target. “DF” (direction finder) is a target only used for navigation purposes. And “AP” (auto pilot) is a near-surface target that could be approached and landed on automatically.

Using long integers

Most of the travel variables use “long” integers, which contain 32 binary places.

After simulating the calculations on a spreadsheet, I decided to store object coordinates in micro-light-years. Then when I square the difference between two points, I divide the difference by 1000 so that the result will be less than 2 billion. The calculated distances between objects, then, are stored in milli-light-years. All interstellar distances and coordinates are displayed in milli-light-years. But the position of the spacecraft in the near-surface display is in micro-light-years.

To simulate travel, I compute a minimum increment of travel by dividing each coordinate of the target by the distance to the target. When the coordinates and distances were in the same units, I was getting fractions that evaluated to 0 in integer math, so no travel was occurring. With the the coordinate numbers 1000 times larger than the distance numbers, I get useful intervals of, usually, 2 or 3 digits. Using these increments does not result in the ship “arriving” exactly on target. So I need to add a way to tweak the position of the ship as it approaches its target to that it can actually arrive!

Future additions

I need to be able to communicate with manned targets by voice and telemetry (digital) and with the unmanned beacons, if needed. Without extensive display upgrades, this means the displays will have to adapt to different combinations of control switch positions.

“Live” scenarios are also a possibility, but probably not using just Arduinos.

Basic spacecraft monitoring should also exist, and even possibly voice communication with other crew members.

The current setup includes no weapons, although it might be possible to implement a last-resort defensive weapon. This is not Star Wars!

The purpose here was to recreate some of the most basic elements of space flight in an Earth-bound setting. We have actually learned a lot about how actual spacecraft work, and real ET pilots would laugh at this simulation! But they have to do basically the same thing: Decide where they want to go, then tell the ship to take them there. Needless to say, their flight computers are undoubtedly more sophisticated than the ones I am using!

Tale of Two Festivals

22 September 2021

Last weekend there were two festivals in Sacramento for me to attend.

One was the Farm-To-Fork Festival, just around the corner from where I live. This is a major annual urban event that showcases local food, wine, beer, produce and entertainment. For some reason, the major healthcare providers also show up.

The other was a little Carnaval (the Brazilian spelling) celebration put on by a local non-profit, the Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange of Sacramento (Brazilian Center). It promised several hours of music, food, and vendors on Saturday evening (the 18th).

Several Brazilian cities decided to move their Carnaval celebrations to July this year, which is one of the colder months there (southern hemisphere). I follow a Brazilian musician, Carlinhos Brown, and he was posting carnaval-related pictures and videos a few weeks ago, so I guess he was involved (he usually is). So I wasn’t that surprised to hear about this local celebration happening in the late summer, even though Easter time is the traditional time for Carnaval, and all related festivals such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Farm To Fork

The Farm-To-Fork Festival this year decided to require proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test. So I didn’t try to get in when I visited the site late Friday afternoon. A testing tent was set up conveniently outside the entrance.

The entrance was heavily guarded, and everyone was getting checked.

This contributed to the urban feel of this event. It’s the same for most events that happen at the arena at DOCO.

From my position on the sidewalk, I could see the usual signage and booths set up. To the right in the above shot is a produce market. To the left are healthcare information booths.

Further down the street they were selling wine and beer. Healthy foods, right?

There was a “hospitality” area near the music stage. I think the music shows are what a lot of people come to see. There were also hot food vendors located there.

Carnaval

On Saturday night I waited for my Bay Area friend to arrive, then we went together to the Brazilian Center. It is located at a re-purposed public school (Fremont School) with several other performing arts and educational organizations. Its location is considered “midtown” Sacramento.

When we arrived it was already dark, and the vendors who had started at 5PM were beginning to close down, as everything was outdoors and no special lighting had been added. But the music was well underway, and we enjoyed a band (SambaDa – hailing from south of the Bay Area) and a street samba drum corps along with a bunch of dancers.

Though the light, and thus my photography, was terrible, and the audio not much better, it was an evening of good times and dancing. The food was good and we enjoyed ourselves very much. Of course, this all reminded me of my days in Berkeley, where I was originally introduced to street samba, Capoeira, and the sights and sounds of Brazil.

Most attendees knew little or nothing about street samba, but the band provided a “fusion,” or blending, of Brazilian sounds with other Latin and Caribbean sounds, as well as some funk and jazz, and most found it quite danceable.

The band played on a low stage, with dancers in front at ground level.
Traditional Carnaval costumes include lots of feathers!

So, the low-budget local event, with all its technical imperfections, ended up the winner in my book. It is not necessarily funding that makes a group effort succeed or fail, but the intent of its organizers and participants. The people who put on this event were obviously good people.

Art Fair Sacramento Style

8 September 2021

This park is on my way to Safeway, if I walk. I don’t go to Safeway that often, but in the summer when it is really hot, sometimes it is easier than going to my more favorite place in Folsom (which is also less expensive).

I knew that this event was going to be happening, and I went there on Saturday afternoon. I actually needed to shop at Safeway, so I walked to this park and took a bunch of pictures, then returned later and took a bunch more pictures.

That they let all these artists draw (or paint) on the sidewalk is a little amazing to me. In a little while their works will be rubbed out. But that is the hallmark of modern life; everything is transient.

Music

There was a music stage, a seating area, and behind that a beer garden. When I arrived, these guys were still playing. Dixieland style jazz.

They were then replaced by a rock (grunge?) band. And when I returned, a country band complete with fiddle set up and started to play.

The chalk art

There were artists all the way around the park working on their paintings. All the paintings faced out toward the street. But sometimes I photographed them upside down. Some of these photos look a bit odd because I have flipped them upside down to give you the “proper” orientation. I revisited this painting of guys playing basketball. Here’s how it looked a couple hours later:

A few artists were right there working and others had finished, or were taking a break.

Designs ranged from sublime to… less sublime.

Some art promoted businesses or organizations.

This one referred to a Bible verse:

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.

Revelation 21:23-24

Vendors

I did not see as much original art as I would expect at a “real” art fair. These were mostly vendors of others’ creations, though some were probably locally made and being sold by the artists. There were also some produce and eats being sold there.

I was desperate for a new phone case, as my old holster, which I originally got for my camera, was too small for my new (free!) phone. I didn’t find exactly what I wanted but settled on a little oversized wallet-purse that can be worn on the belt. It has a Starfleet Command emblem on it; very cool!

Urban junk

On my way back I took this photo. I regularly take photos of manmade objects that are interesting but not very pretty. It is amazing to me what sometimes turns up next to the street. As if it really had to be there. As if there was no concern of this pipe being burglarized or run into be a car or truck!

Flight Simulator Returns!

31 August 2021

It has been ages since I wrote an article about electronics and coding, and in particular about this project, my flight simulation control panel.

This is not a coding blog particularly, but I did include a lot of code in the earlier article. In this article I plan to stick to basic concepts for the most part.

The Panel

I bought this panel years ago as a used piece of electronics equipment.

All knobs removed for easy removal from chassis.

It was part of a Cessna flight training system marketed as FS-100. I just wanted a nice-looking panel with a bunch of buttons.

What I got was a “smart” panel with a built-in microprocessor, serial port, etc.

In the first iteration of this project I replaced the installed MPU (socketed, fortunately) with a unit from Digilent. The only problem with that one is that it operates at 3.3 volts, while this panel operates on 5V.

When it came time to try again – this time with no computer interface – I opted to use an Arduino (Uno – clone made by SparkFun) operating at 5V.

The panel includes latching pushbutton switches, momentary pushbuttons, including some rocker switches, potentiometers (“ENGINE”) and rotary encoders. Since there was room on board, I replaced one set of rotary encoders with a potentiometer.

There are several Arduinos involved in this project. That was one of the challenges of it – to get them to work together. Rather than mount each Arduino in the housing of the peripheral, I put them all together in a separate mini-rack. This was not efficient wiring-wise (or aesthetically), but I wanted to leave the peripherals as generic as possible.

The panel is set up electrically as a small bit of addressable memory. It contains six octal latches with tri-state outputs, configured as buffers. In addition there was special circuitry for the rotary encoders. Though I did my best to figure it out, I could not get full functionality from the encoders this time around. The pots are simply buffered with a quad op amp.

I added two extra latches on a daughter board (as there were 8 possible channels wired into the board.) But so far only one has proven very useful. It stores which encoder was moved last.

In the current design the panel is polled about once every millisecond. The encoder data is definitely the trickiest to capture, but the momentary pushbuttons also prove interesting.

The problem with pushbuttons – any switch actually – is that they can produce multiple false on/off signals as they open and close. These can be suppressed by capacitors, which is what was done with this design. But you don’t want the electronics to think the button was pushed multiple times when it was really only pushed once.

On this board, latching devices (flip-flops) were used with the rotary encoders, but not with the rest of the switches. The best way to make sure one push is not miscounted as more is to introduce a time delay between when the switches are sampled.

Panel interface code

Most projects used to demonstrate coding concepts on the web are not as involved as this one. And thus, some concepts are not well-covered.

If you plan to poll a large array of switches or other sensors from an Arduino, you are pretty much on your own. I hope the following conceptual information is helpful in this regard.

I could afford to use four Arduino pins as my polling (channel select) outputs, giving a possible 16 channels. As the panel only has 8 channels, and the most significant bit (MSB) on the channel selector is a positive logic enable pin, the panel actually corresponds to channels 8 through 15 (starting with zero) in this system.

There is no simple way with an Arduino (as far as I know) to select a set of pins and treat them as the digits of a binary number. So I wrote a SWITCH statement (inside a void function) to list out all 16 possible combinations of pin outputs and choose the right one for each channel number.

Similarly, there is no super easy way to collect binary data from a set of pins acting together as a data bus. But there is the bitWrite(variableName,place,value) function to make this easier. A typical line of code for turning logic states on a data bus into a number (in this case an 8-bit byte) looks like this:

bitWrite(targetByte,binaryPlace,digitalRead(busPin));

Once the 8 bytes of data from the panel are captured, more work can be done with it.

I want the data being sent to the display Arduino to be fairly stable and actionable.

The analog values are fed to the analog pins and converted to byte values.

The states of the latching pushbuttons can be forwarded as they are.

But I wanted to convert the momentary pushbuttons to more stable toggled values (push it once, it changes; push it again, it changes back). One of the channels on the panel board was giving me unusable encoder data, to I created my own byte of data containing 8 separate toggled states, and this was what was sent along to the other Arduino.

Solving encoder direction

Try as I may, I could not recover direction of rotation from the rotary encoders as they were wired into this board. If I had designed the board from scratch, I would have done it differently.

So I had to live with the sorry reality of only having pulse data from the encoders. I decided that the momentary pushbuttons could be put to best use to switch the direction of the encoders they were related to.

I first wrote some code that I hoped would prevent the direction data from switching back and forth too quickly or erratically. I did this by including a variable to count the number of loop cycles, and only updating the pushbutton data after a certain number of loops. As there are 12 pushbuttons, I had to store their states in an unsigned integer 12 bits in length (4,096 different combinations). I used the exact same bitWrite() function, but this time combined with bitRead() like so:

bitWrite(result,binaryPlace,bitRead(byteFromPanel,binaryPlace));

I then test the value of this number to see if any of the pushbuttons have been depressed. Appropriate logic was included to switch the bit of the target byte if the pushbutton had been depressed, otherwise leaving it as it was. The assumption was made that only one pushbutton would be pushed at any one time, leaving only 12 possible values for the number if one of its digits was low (zero). This again uses the SWITCH function. Both of these little routines were written as local functions that are called by the code inside the main loop.

There are five encoders, so five out of the 8 bits of the “toggles” byte record encoder direction, and the three others have other meanings.

I also process the encoder values on this board, and so send actual byte values (0 to 255) for each of the encoders for use by the display board. Again, the assumption is made that only one encoder will change position at one time.

Serial communication with the other Arduino

As is somewhat obvious from the most popular internet articles on this topic, very few hobbyists explain online how to successfully send 17 (in this case) bytes from one Arduino to another beyond the obvious admonition that they both have to run at the same baud rate.

I used the SoftwareSerial library on the panel Arduino, and the built-in Serial function on the display Arduino. But that detail is not important. I also decided to use a handshake line (sometimes called a “hard handshake”) rather than using a character sent on the serial line. It is difficult for me to judge how well the handshaking actually works, but I only got the receiving board to duplicate the full message by writing this code:

digitalWrite(readyPin, HIGH); // This is the handshake line.
delay(1); // Needed?
while(Serial.Available<17){} // Wait for buffer to fill up.
bytesReceived = Serial.readBytes(panelData,17); 
// panelData is the received data. bytesRec'd is for debug purposes.
digitalWrite(readyPin, LOW); // Lets the other board know that this board is busy with other things.

The individual bytes sent are then pulled out of the array they were read into.

This is lot like sending and receiving a character string, but with binary number values only.

The sending board, for its part, waits for the READY signal before sending its data:

serialPort.write(messageArray,17); 
// This uses Serial.write() so that the proper numeric values are preserved.
// messageArray is an array of bytes.

I also use empty WHILE loops to wait for the ready pin to go high before transmission, and low after. This code is working for me, so I am not interested in playing around with it further.

Driving the displays

All the displays are backlit character LCDs, but there are five of them!

The displays on the right were too bright, so their contents were edited into this image.

I had originally wanted to use a graphic display on the right, but I couldn’t get the one I had to work. It uses serial commands. I then tried replacing it with I2C (two wire) displays, but it turns out that you can’t drive regular LCDs and I2C LCDs from the same code. At least not in a Uno. So, I wired ALL of the displays the “normal” way: Five data lines, plus an enable line for each display. The data lines can be bused. This gives us 10 lines in all, out of the 14 possible on an ordinary Arduino. Close! A line driver is included for the data lines (and three of the enable lines). This does not cause any timing problems, I am glad to say.

The ribbon cable

I know. It’s really ugly. But I’m glad I did it this way, as I can take out each part without reaching around to the back or anything like that. It is bothersome enough to unplug and re-plug the ribbon cable. I think I might try some sort of fast serial connection if I had to do this over (which I may!).

It’s a 34-pin cable, just enough for this project. They are all over the place because they were used in old computers, but no more.

However, finding boards that accept ribbon cable headers is not fun. I used a special little board from SchmartBoard for this purpose, but there are a few other options out there.

I have yet to add code to the display board to bring the simulation to life. Another day!

Socialism: The Gateway Drug of Politics

28 August 2021

Many think of Karl Marx as the “father” of Socialism.

But I think of it in its modern form as starting in France in the early 1800s. Marx wasn’t even born until 1818.

Most forms of Socialism were a reaction to the effects of industrialization on cities, transforming them from refined habitats for the well-to-do into grimy places full of slums where the workers lived. In my brief exposure to socialist-type writings (such as Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward) I did not detect any great awareness of rural society and how it compared (for the poor) to urban life. Though urbanization eventually became a path to upward mobility for many economically disadvantaged people, in the early 1800s it was not clear that any such thing would ever occur.

The actual phenomenon that troubled many thinking people of those times (and earlier) was what seemed like conscious attempts by members of the elite classes to maintain a disadvantaged class that they could take advantage of. In those years, the European world was just beginning to realize that slavery was wrong, but also arising were new theories about human nature that would justify the mistreatment of people in new and “more scientific” ways.

Opium of the people

Marx famously described organized religion as the “opium of the people.” It is clear from this statement – and many others of course – that Marx had problems with all elements of the “status quo,” not just the behavior of the wealthier capitalists. Marx himself was a sickly person who had trouble holding down a job and doing right by his family. So, besides trying to explain why so many workers were so willing to live in poverty, he was also trying to explain why he, an educated person originating from the upper classes, was also having so much trouble.

Following in the line of many earlier troubled thinkers, he was unable to become self-aware enough to notice his own complicity in his problems and chose instead to blame them on “the system.” He called this system “capitalism” and blamed it – or so it seemed – for all evil in the world, including his own psychological problems.

I hope you can see that this is a ridiculous claim. Though many churches, businesses and government institutions were run by very short-sighted, if not vicious, men, they were following patterns that seemed to work for them and to some extent for society at large. It was their own spiritual weaknesses, I contend, and not “the system” or “capitalism” that was responsible for the results they were getting.

If anything, religious study, whether that be the Bible, Buddhism, or Lao Tzu, would have assisted them to rule with more humanity and humility. They, on the other hand, were being taunted by the allure of materialism, which they were helping to strengthen with their manufacturing efforts, their marketing to the public, their support of the hard sciences and engineering over the humanities, and their own conspicuous consumption.

And Marx was also a materialist!

Damned lies, and more damned lies

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This is a quote from Mark Twain (1835-1910, for reference) which he attributed to a politician of his age, though we cannot find any evidence that the particular politician in question ever said it.

But Twain was often cursing popular leaders for how deceptive they were, and in this he was, I am sure, quite astute.

It is just that he wasn’t really saying anything new. Some of the most cherished narratives of this planet are based on lies. Everything from biblical Genesis, to the Vedas, to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Big Bang and New Age “ascension.” Someone’s been doing a real good job here on Earth of hiding the truth from us.

Marx in his turn promised that all we had to do was replace Capitalism with Socialism and everything would be fine. On this planet? Really? But people believed it. Marx advocated for violent (if necessary) “revolution” to destroy the “status quo.” And we got a classic example of this in Russia in 1918. China worked a little differently but resulted in the most enduring Communist regime so far. Western democracies also played around with Socialist and “welfare state” ideas to deal with the collapse of older safety net systems in the face of — what?

If you ask a psychologist what sort of personality lies the most, they should answer you “the psychopath.” And if you then ask them what we can do about it, they would normally answer “it’s incurable.” If you ask a Scientologist the same question they will tell you, “the Suppressive Person; keep them out of positions of power, they are pure poison.” It’s basically the same answer with slightly different concepts.

Was Marx a psychopath? I can’t answer that question. He acted a lot like one. Was Hitler one? Most of us think so. Who else? We know several psychiatrists who have been caught behaving like psychopaths. Undoubtedly there are many more like this in positions of power, as they are attracted to such positions. There are also the millions who operate at lower levels in society. They cause plenty of havoc, too. So, why all this talk of changing political systems? Why don’t we attack the correct target?

A problem of responsibility

If you fell sick, would you be willing to take total responsibility for the illness, rather than blame germs, or something else, for “making me sick?” If you could, I guarantee you would get well faster.

We have similar problems in many other areas of life, including especially politics. We want our governments to be as strong as the criminal organizations they oppose. But expecting our governments to fight criminals is the perfect way to transform governments into criminal organizations. Because the criminals will feel threatened and thus plot to take over. And they are often successful. And that’s when you get a “status quo” which is totally intolerable!

If you got sick and were knowledgeable enough to look around and find the psychopath in your environment that wanted you to be sick, and then competently handled your connection to that person, you would be on your way to staying permanently well. But that takes a lot of responsibility on your part. You have to face the fact that you must have been willingly involved in a toxic relationship.

It is similar in politics. If we don’t take sufficient responsibility for our own condition and the choices we made to get into them, we’ll never get out of them. Though the first step is to handle the suppressive connections, after that you have to go ahead and take responsibility for handing the reasons you agreed to those connections. It’s not always easy to do. Anyone who says it is is lying. But if you want to really improve your life and the lives of those around you, you have to take that much responsibility. It’s not easy for me, either. And I’m the one trying to remind you of this!

Temptations versus real answers

Most of us wish that we could do better, that life could be easier, that we could be as secure in life as the rich guy who lives on the hill. And so when something happens that threatens our income or our health or our children, we tend to curse the situation, blame it on others, and look for someone else to rescue us from something we obviously weren’t to blame for.

It’s probably true that some of those rich guys out there didn’t really earn their riches honestly or under their own steam. But some of them did. And if they have managed to remain in good shape for a long period of time, chances are they are very able beings. You have the choice to simply resent them and their “privilege” or to do something to strengthen your own life, and confront and handle your own toxic connections.

Are there “systemic” problems in this society that unfairly support those who are already successful? Undoubtedly.

Will a “new socialist (progressive or ?) revolution” solve those problems? No!!! The best you’re going to get is a band-aid.

Will a thorough study of the psychopathic personality and how to deal with it solve those problems? It would be a good start.

And after that, we need to follow through and strengthen ourselves spiritually. That’s the permanent answer. At least it is in theory! We won’t know for sure until more people actually try it. But for sure, no “system” no matter how tempting or well thought out will solve life on Earth. Our problems didn’t even originate on Earth! And if you haven’t discovered that yet, you still have a long way to go!

Could all this talk of a way out just be a “higher level” delusion? I suppose it could. But it has worked for some people. Why not give it a try? What do you have to lose? Your problems? Don’t worry; there are plenty more where those came from!

Return to San Francisco

18 August 2021

Yesterday I had the opportunity to return to San Francisco. I last visited there in 2016.

My friend had an appointment at Pier 39, so we rushed there without any stops for picture-taking.

We used a streetcar (an electrified bus running on railroad tracks) to get from the Ferry Building to Pier 39. The city has acquired several old streetcars from other cites and fully renovated them. The one we took was marked “Chicago” and was beautiful inside and out.

Pier 39

Pier 39 is basically an outdoor mall specializing in restaurants but also having other shops. There is a marina located there, and in recent years it has also become famous for being the camping grounds for sea lions.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and Pier 39 was crowded.

The diversity of the crowd was amazing. I did not take any time exploring the shops, but you can see just from the above photo how much is going on there.

Out at the water we are first confronted by a view of Alcatraz Island.

There are sea birds all over the place, and the gulls will come right up to the railing and stand on it.

I saw a pelican land and preen itself.

The sea lions are of course the main attraction. They make a lot of racket, as the males like to assert their territory with loud barking, and the younger males like to fight with each other.

After going around to look at the marina, I found the end of Stockton Street and started walking up it.

This north end of Stockton is full of low apartment buildings and includes several schools. I never lived in an environment this urban while I was growing up. Can you imagine doing so?

Francisco Middle School

The next hill over is probably similar but has more big apartment buildings. Here is a view down Chestnut:

Telegraph Hill, with Coit Tower, is quite close by. Here is a view of it from Stockton and Lombard:

Near Columbus is a little urban park, Washington Square:

Next up, an area full of local restaurants:

Chinatown

And then we are into the food shops of Chinatown. I took this same route in 2016 and remembered many of these stores.

This shop has a completely open front.
All kinds of seafoods.
Dried foods.
Another open shop.

The place was very crowded this afternoon!

Then we get to the tunnel at Sacramento, which is where I usually decide to turn down Sacramento.

View from just above Willie Wong Playground.
Grant Street.

Grant Street is the center of old Chinatown (at least the tourist part). I don’t recall seeing these lantern decorations before, though.

Down the hill is the business district, starting roughly at Montgomery.

The roman numerals say “1902.”

In downtown, BART is deep underground, as the local streetcars also run underground on this part of Market Street.

A train to Richmond arrived shortly after this shot (made at 4:47 PM). I was able to get to Richmond it time to catch the 5:30 train back to Sacramento.

The ride on the commuter train (Amtraks’ Capitol Corridor) is normally quite smooth and quiet; in stark contrast to the singing electric motors and screeching wheels of BART trains. Though the train must give a whistle call at each crossing (long-long-short-long) and the conductor’s announcements can be annoying, or amusing, the “big” train is my favorite way to make longer trips.

I Visit Downtown Berkeley

9 August 2021

I have been neglecting my blog!

Here are photos from a trip I took on the 28th of July (2021) which included a late afternoon visit to the downtown area of my hometown, which includes the entrance to the UC Berkeley campus.

I have previously mentioned the corporate takeover of the city, which includes downtown of course. With corporate interest comes corporate dollars, and new construction and renovation projects. The downtown area is full of them!

Main entrance to BART.
An extensive public gathering area has been modernized.
View from Allston Way towards the south looks familiar.
The library, where I often visited 40 years ago, is still there.
Some storefronts have been modernized…
…while others maintain the traditional look.
Shattuck Square has received numerous upgrades since I lived there.
But many traditional buildings remain.
Here we have a mix of newer and older facades.
Snoopy’s was an ice cream parlor, though I don’t remember it by that name.
Here is one of the newest and tallest buildings.
Here is a great example of the “funky corporate” look.
The campus entrance has retained its traditional look.
But the view from the front lawn includes modern buildings.
Inside it looks the same.
The Lawrence Berkeley Lab can be seen on the hill in the distance.
This view includes the Campanile.
Here a modern building has been added…
…and some art.
I return past a stand of colorful rental bikes…
…and a busker, a young woman, and an ancient telephone kiosk.

Bluebirds

14 July 2021
22 June.

I get over to the park in Old Sacramento whenever I can. It gives me a nice walk, and I am usually able to stop for a while at the picnic tables set up next to the lawn.

As I have mentioned before, birds will sometimes come over to “visit” me. Now, I could tell you that I invite them and express my happiness to see them when they show up. But that would seem like a big ho-hum to most of you, right?

I already knew that animals can communicate with people (and with each other, of course) but only on a telepathic level. So if a person can raise their telepathic abilities, they can “talk” to animals. The leading light in the field is a South African woman named Anna Breytenbach. Well, I personally don’t particularly aspire to that, but I know that “being more present” will assist to make this possible

In Old Sacramento, the first bird I noticed was a hummingbird. That was many months ago. Later, a young blue jay would follow the hummingbird over to visit me. Then more recently, this bluebird showed up. In the above photo, he has been attracted by a spilled bit of mac-and-cheese. But he stayed around for some time and let me snap his photo.

Now (the below photos were taken on the 12th of July) the bluebird chicks have also visited me. I only assume that they are the children of the male shown above.

There are about five sycamores growing at the side of the lawn where the picnic tables are. Three of them are losing their leaves, and one looks a bit dead. It could be that the early-summer high temperatures have forced them into dormancy, or possibly even killed them.

But down to a brown patch of lawn under these trees came these three juvenile bluebirds, two females and a male. I had my “real” camera with me, so the photos aren’t bad. The birds hopped around on the ground for several minutes and I took over a dozen shots.

Animals are funny when they are trying to communicate. All my information about this is from videos Anna has made. They won’t walk up to you and look you in the eye like a human will do. They’ll just stand nearby and act like they are doing something else. Of course, because I’m not telepathic, I have no idea if these animals were really trying to communicate, or what they might be interested in. I just thanked them out loud for stopping by and letting me photograph them.

In other news…

I have accumulated many more images in recent weeks. The above one is cropped from a photo I took with my phone while riding back home from shopping. This is probably the same heron that has been visiting the dog run areas at Hagan Park for a year or more. I usually don’t catch it in flight. Herons are quite large birds (in wing span) so seeing one fly is pretty special.

Perhaps I will eventually post some other pictures, but they are pretty random, so I might not bother.

Here are some other topics that are currently floating around in my universe:

  1. Critical Theory: What would happen if we applied Critical Theory to the “constructs” that it itself assumes are correct or workable, such as evolutionary theory, materialism, or the desirability of freedom?
  2. Socialism: Does the appeal of socialism have to do with the fact that most governments today include elected representatives and are seen as there to serve the people? Are communal-oriented businesses (like Spain’s Mondragon Corp.) perceived differently? If more people saw businesses as serving them rather than shareholders, would a population be more likely to embrace fascism?
  3. Psychedelics: Who is pushing for the use of psychedelics in mental health treatment and why? Is there any substantive difference between this current campaign and earlier pushes to medicalize mental health treatment?