Archive for September, 2017

Electronics Design Case Study – ADSR

23 September 2017

ADSR module homemade

This is a technical article and if you have no particular interest in electronics design feel free to skip it. It will get into some terminology that won’t all be explained in the text…

Music Synthesis

My interest in synthesizers goes back to my early days studying electronics. I always wanted to make my own synth.

But by 1983, MIDI had come out, and I was in the Sea Org.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Musical instruments were an early target for embedded controllers (software-controlled electronic circuits) for many reasons. This ended (mostly) the era when synthesizers were controlled by analog (continuous) signals. Voltage sources were terrible when it came to keeping all the electronic instruments in an ensemble in tune with each other. So tuning was an obvious feature to turn over to the digital world, where crystal-controlled oscillators could stabilize pitch to within a few parts in a million.

The advent of digital signal processing meant things like voltage-controlled filters and unusual effects like ring modulation could be implemented with algorithms instead of hardware.

Voltage-controlled amplitude, however, is so straightforward in the hardware realm that it remains somewhat popular. A basic part of synthesizing a real-world note or sound is approximating its amplitude envelope. This envelope has long been analyzed by acoustics engineers into four parts: Attack; Decay; Sustain and Release. If you play a note on a stringed instrument you can easily see each of these parts in action. How hard and fast you hit (or pluck) the string determines the initial attack and to some extent how that attack decays. Then if you don’t damp the string it will continue to ring until it is damped or played over. This is sustain. And when it is damped, the sound will die out, which is the release phase.

There are many many possible ways to imitate this amplitude envelope with electronics. The most common methods use parts that I had run out of (1 Meg-ohm potentiometers) so I decided to try an alternative design of my own creation.

Design Requirements

Most traditional ADSRs take a “gate” signal from a keyboard which tells the electronics how long the key is being held down (“note on” in MIDI). My electronic art projects use sensors, not keyboards, so I couldn’t rely on a gate signal to determine how much sustain the sound would have. I also kind of wanted a circuit that could be adapted so that each part of the envelope could be controlled by a separate sensor. That means it couldn’t just use pots, like the super-simple designs do. I also wanted to try straight-line segments rather than the traditional curved segments you get using just resistors and capacitors, even though this is less “realistic” for decay slopes.

I had a front panel I was reusing from an earlier project, and originally loaded it with just three pots – all that seemed to fit – which is two less than you need to control the five main parameters of the envelope. But I thought I could skip setting a sustain level, and use one pot to control both decay and release slopes. This panel had to fit into a eurorack-style chassis I had put together earlier, with power coming in the front.

The unit was also to include the voltage-controlled amplifiers, using an IC I had never worked with before.

First Try

I decided to use an op amp integrator at the core of the design, as it would give straight-line slopes and could be dependably controlled. However, I wasn’t sure how to set up my 100K pots to imitate a wider range of resistance. I used three comparators and a couple of flip-flops to detect voltage levels and turn the various slopes on and off.

Mounted at the bottom of the front panel was a backplane board that has become standard in most of my designs. Circuit boards then plug into this backplane, which ideally handles all the interconnects. Front panel parts that could not be mounted directly on the backplane board would be wired down to the backplane using jumpers.

I made the envelope generator board first and then the VCA board. The VCA datasheet was confusing at first, but by wiring an actual circuit I was able to figure out what was going on. This VCA could accept a wide range of control voltages (0 to 30 roughly), but they were referenced to the negative voltage rail! So I needed both an amplifier and offset for my envelope, as it would go from 0 to 5V only, my standard range for control voltages. I realized at this point that I would need a sound source to test this with, and it would also be nice to monitor the envelope waveform on an analog meter. I then spent about a day creating an oscillator and a meter for these purposes.

An incomplete design with too many questions about “will it work this way?” resulted in my running out of room on my envelope module. To solve this I piggybacked an extra module onto the main one. I got some sort of envelope out of this design, but the pots worked only over an extremely narrow range of their total rotation. I had to decide whether to stick with these pots and basic design, or start over.

Second Try

I looked around at what my alternatives were. I had a nice set of six quite small 5K pots from an old piece of audio equipment. They would all fit into the panel if I drilled new holes for them. So I decided to go for it. Five of these pots went onto a new backplane board. I modified this board to hold circuitry and figured the majority of my new design would fit on this board, with the rest put on a new plug-in module on the original backplane.

Now that I was beginning to recognize that this was a challenging project, I went to a build a section and test it approach to my work. 5K pots could only yield 1:100 output variations (comparable to using a 1Meg pot in series with a 10K resistor) by using the turn-on “knee” of transistors to stretch out the transfer curve. I have used this before so didn’t bother to work it out in complete detail, or plot the curves graphically, but below gives you a graphical idea of what I’m referring to:

transistor turn-on graph

Using a curve found on the internet, note that a 0.1 change in input voltage produces a ten-fold change in output current. Extend this input range a little more and you can squeeze out a 1:100 input/output ratio, or even more.

I built my current sources and sinks using discrete transistors. This gives worse consistency and stability than using matched pairs or some specialized IC, but usable for my purposes. I built one and tested it. I gave me a range of 50 to roughly 1500 microamps. This was good enough. I put the rest on the board, then added a dual timer (LM556) and some inverters and connected it up to run continuously (astable mode). I powered up and checked with my oscilloscope. This part of the design worked fine. The timers have two comparators and a flip-flop inside each of them, so this decreased my parts count.

I thought that I could get the timers to stop after just one cycle using some sort of edge detection scheme. But it didn’t work. I was using two timers so that the attack-decay and sustain-release cycles were separate and could be put in sequence. But my difficulties in making the circuit cycle just once and stop caused me to rethink this approach.

The next day I rewired the timers for one-shot (monostable mode) operation. Now the timers could be triggered by my sensor, fire – producing the envelope waveforms – and would then stop, waiting for a new trigger. I used two control flip-flops with NAND gates (CD4093B) to lock out new trigger signals until the current envelope had finished. I really needed only one flip-flop, but the package (CD4013B) has two in it, so I used one for each of the timers.

Next I had to get all the analog levels of the envelope right. I put this circuitry on the new module board. I only needed 8 wires to connect the new envelope module to this analog module. It has six opamps and a comparator. The comparator detects when the envelope signal goes to zero, and resets the flip-flops so they can allow in another trigger signal. This circuit wasn’t working at first. What was wrong? The envelope waveforms were only going down to 0.5 volts, not to ground. I had the comparator set below this, so it was never firing. I was powering my envelope generator with only ground and +12V. The current sinks (set up as mirrors for my current sources) could only pull the load capacitors down to 1/2 a volt. I compensated for this by adding some offset to my summing opamp. I set the output to go a little below ground so the comparator would for sure fire. I had to find a missing wire on the envelope board before I got the unit totally working. It’s not perfect, but it now works as it was designed to work, and will serve it purpose in helping me develop electronic art that uses sounds.

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Answers to Drugs

22 September 2017

Yesterday I attended a public information session concerning the increasing use of marijuana and other drugs. This session was organized by Bishop Ron Allen who heads the International Faith Based Coalition. This is an anti-drug-abuse group. (Not an anti-drug group, though.) He had this session video-taped for use in his outreach work.

Two of the presenters were with the Colorado National Marijuana Initiative. They were there representing the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

From official websites:

A component of the Executive Office of the President, ONDCP was created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [which extended an act by the same name passed 2 years earlier]. The ONDCP Director is the principal advisor to the President on drug control issues. ONDCP coordinates the drug control activities and related funding of 16 Federal Departments and Agencies.

ONDCP also administers two grant programs: the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Drug-Free Communities (DFC).

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.

The National Marijuana Initiative (NMI) is one of three national initiatives within the HIDTA program.

Other presenters

Another presenter was with the California Dept. of Justice Advanced Training Center.

The first presenter, who did not sit on the panel, was the ED of Omni Youth Programs, a non-profit, non-governmental “agency” operating in Sacramento County. She is college-trained with a background in both traditional and non-traditional therapies. She is assisted at Omni by a trained Family Therapist.

She explained to the audience that Omni’s approach to drug abuse is to target correlated factors such as child and family violence. These factors are linked to drug abuse (alcohol abuse in particular) by many studies (I assume mostly done by sociologists). These factors are addressed through group training programs. Omni trains the trainers who then go out and train groups. If this training is like other methods I have heard about, it focuses on changing “undesirable” behaviors into more desirable ones. We can assume that this work is moderately beneficial, but it uses technologies that can also be applied to more sinister forms of social control, and involves no real therapy on a personal level. Measures of the effectiveness of this work were not stressed in her short talk, but the website indicates positive results in 6- and 12-month follow-up studies.

Criminalize it

The federal approach to the drug problem is to criminalize drug production (where possible), trafficking, and use. About half of all Federal prisoners are there on drug trafficking charges. This is about 100,000 people. There are only about 250 people in federal prisons for possession only, but in state prisons there are roughly 50,000 more. There were roughly 160,000 drug traffickers in state prisons in recent years.

These figures must not include many major in-country producers, as drug production figures show no sign of heading downwards. However, many of these drugs, even Meth and LSD, have significant non-US sources, and most illegal drugs are majorly produced outside of the US.

The law-based approach to drug abuse control gives a lot of people a lot of things to do, but gives no particular sign of being effective. As is the case with most lawmaking, anti-drug laws are on the books because they are demanded by popular opinion, or give the government the feeling they are “doing something,” not because they are effective at dealing with social problems.

The federal people at this event argued for a continued legal and regulatory approach to the problem, bolstered by information campaigns, which have shown some effectiveness.

If marketing is effective, why bother with criminalization?

My take would be to trash the legal approach and continue the information campaigns. This might seem hypocritical to some, but passing laws about things just doesn’t seem to work. Private corporations, which have no direct ability to make law (though they do lobby abundantly, per all reports), have grown strong on marketing alone. Marketing and propaganda can breath life into a failed idea or kill a successful one. I think the effectiveness of marketing stems from its stress on giving people reasons to do things rather than reasons to stop doing things. Starting remains more popular than stopping in this society and probably always will. The stoppers are doomed to a minority status, even if they gain control of government or industry for a time. One of the greatest paradoxes we live with today has been our success at starting wars. Wars have always been seen primarily as stops because of their destructive results, but we have become convinced that they have “constructive” purposes in society, so they are now broadly supported (at least in the US).

That wars are constructive is of course a lie. So what we have in the US is a situation where the public is being lied to broadly and believing most of it. This is a sad situation, and is the road to a totally out-ethics (self-destructive) nation, which we are rapidly becoming. Drug use is a part of this greater overall picture.

Hubbard’s approach

What LRH has discovered about drug use is summarized in the informational booklet, “Answers to Drugs.” This booklet is part of both the Volunteer Ministers program and the Scientology Online Courses program.

Hubbard believed that the only way to ultimately solve the huge social issues of our times was to take individuals and bring them up to a point where they would become willing and able to take effective actions at a social level. He saw no way to accomplish this only at the level of the group. Individuals were the building blocks of all groups, so individuals are the target of Hubbard’s work. Scientology organizations are dedicated to handling individuals. However, when individuals get to the point where they feel ready to take action on the group level, they may do so through several programs sponsored by church members, but designed to operate independently of church organizations:

Narconon handles the drug abuse problem by operating rehabilitation facilities across the planet.

The Truth About Drugs program backs up this work with drug education materials and activities.

United for Human Rights seeks to empower victims of criminal abuses by informing them of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Way to Happiness program distributes a secular moral code across the planet in about 100 languages.

That booklet is also used by Criminon, which is a criminal rehabilitation program.

Applied Scholastics seeks to improve study skills, as laid out in LRH’s Study Technology, through its international teacher training center and in schools across the planet.

Hubbard College of Administration similarly teaches Hubbard’s management technology.

The Volunteer Ministers are organized to assist in disaster relief, often working alongside the Red Cross and government groups. Volunteer Ministers can also get trained in all facets of Scientology so they can help friends, neighbors and strangers more effectively.

And the Citizens Commission on Human Rights seeks to put ethics in on the psychiatrist-lead mental health system.

Here are some excerpts from the Answers to Drugs booklet used to train Volunteer Ministers and anyone else interested in this subject:

The hard, solid fact is that until now there has been no effective psychotherapy in broad practice. The result is a drug-dependent population.

Drug addiction has been shrugged off by psychiatry as “unimportant” and the social problem of drug-taking has received no attention from psychiatrists–rather the contrary, since they themselves introduced and popularized LSD. And many are pushers.

Drugs essentially are poisons.

The mind is not a brain.

You can see from this short selection that Scientologists face real challenges in convincing non-Scientologists who have been educated in other “solutions” that our approaches are worth taking a hard look at. They are going to have to change some of their basic stable data about the problem and about society at large.

Drugs and Psychotherapy

The connection between drugs and psychotherapy might not be apparent to some, so let me clarify: People seek therapy usually due to experiencing some “mental problem.” They quite often don’t make this move until they are acutely suffering. Traditionally the therapist talks to the person (now often called “talk therapy”) in the hopes of giving the person some helpful realizations. This sort of therapy is no longer popular; it is not covered by many forms of medical insurance, and it takes a lot of time. So if the talk therapy doesn’t work or is unavailable, drugs are resorted to. Usually some drug can be found that will alleviate the symptoms. It will do nothing about the underlying cause. That means that drugs can “hook” people, because the symptoms return if drug use stops.

So we see drug use as a result of ineffective psychotherapies, as well as lack of access to any therapy other than drugs. Drugs are seen by beginning users as therapeutic, and in the past have often been sold that way. For instance, laudanum – a strong opioid drug – started as a pain relief medicine. So did the modern forms of opium, morphine (still used), heroin and cocaine. To that list add “legitimate” drugs prescribed by psychiatrists, and we see that whole profession falling into the pit of hiding symptoms behind a drug fog, rather than treating root cause. And: As long as they continue to believe that the mind is the brain – a widely disproved misconception – they will continue to fail in their assigned role in society, if they even care what that is.

The result of the failure of psychotherapy to deliver relief where it is most desired has resulted in the current drug situation. The only real solution is to start providing a psychotherapy (or whatever you choose to call it) that really works.

None of the panelists at the event I attended suggested this.

Intelligence and Social Experience

10 September 2017

The lower the IQ, the more the individual is shut off from the fruits of observation.
– LRH
(HCOPL 7 Feb 1965, KSW)

It was determined at some point when I was young that I was “smart.”

I didn’t think much about this in my younger years. I did not feel that I was getting pushed in any particular direction (because of my intelligence) by anyone exterior to myself. And no one ever brought it up with me.

Yet, I had an abiding sense of being “different.” Not a lot different, but different to some degree. And though I explained this to myself in various ways over the years, it never particularly occurred to me that intelligence had anything to do with it. Until one day a senior of mine who was in a position to know such data told me that by test I was one of the more intelligent people in our group. Though I made no particular connection at the time this comment was made, it intrigued me in light of the above quote, and in the light of my social experience.

Electronics

I took up a study of electronics around my last year of high school. I had always enjoyed my work in the arts throughout my younger days in school, but it occurred to me that I had no idea how to make a living as an artist. Beyond that, I had not figured out what art was “good for” outside of keeping myself and others involved in the field amused. I thought I’d better sort these points out before I committed myself to a life in the arts, so I chose a fall-back study, electronics, as I was already running into it through my interest in music and audio equipment.

my electronics bench

My electronics bench in its beginning form, 1972.

Practical electronics is basically an engineering study involving multiple subjects. To build equipment you must be able to make design drawings, construct objects from wood, plastic, or metal, choose, purchase and assemble parts that include hardware, passive electronic parts, and active parts like transistors or ICs. These days you also have to know how to write code (computing software). Electronics design further involves a knowledge of physics, mathematics, and materials sciences.

As I moved along in my study of electronics, I occasionally noticed that many people around me had no clue about any of these subjects. My father, for example, having studied mainly in the humanities, did not really know physics, chemistry or engineering – though he had used a computer to help him compile data for his doctoral thesis. I was living in a society full of people who did not know that much about the technologies they were using every day.

As I bought and read engineering and hobby books covering these various subjects (as well as studying the basic science and math in high school) I knew that a technically-savvy community existed and that I had become a part of it. It didn’t really occur to me that there might be large numbers of persons who were not up to this level. After all, I had been introduced to the basics in high school.

This subject, by the way, extends deeply into the subject that has been the center of my attention for some time, Scientology. Besides the fact that auditors use an electronic device in their work, electronics has been a repeated – if somewhat esoteric – aspect of the research path starting right out of the gate when LRH chose “bank,” a computer engineering term, to help him describe the mind. According to the more esoteric research conducted by LRH in the early years, electronics has been an important human technology for a very long time. Among the most famous stories to treat “high” technology as a thing of the past is Star Wars. But this has been borne out by research done by numerous persons, not just Hubbard.

Blank Stares

However, when I got into social situations and people would ask me, “What do you do?” (which is a crazy question, by the way), when I would answer “electronics” I would often get a blank stare. The more socially adept would recover quickly, acknowledge my answer, maybe say something like “That sounds really interesting!” and then change the subject.

But, as I have since come to recognize it, I had given them a Misunderstood Word, basically cutting the communication line.

Could other words I was using be causing similar effects?

Per even an average understanding of what it means to be “smart,” a higher-than-normal vocabulary is one agreed-upon characteristic. The subject is mentioned here http://thecommonroomblog.com/2013/02/vocabulary-and-intelligence.html in relation to childhood education. There are some IQ tests based entirely on vocabulary (knowing the meaning of words, and knowing when you don’t know their meaning).
The LRH study method is based on gaining conceptual understandings of the meanings of words. For some words, you might have to go out into the world and find the object or experience the action referred to by the word in order to get a really good conceptual understanding of it.

IQ

The term IQ comes to us from the field of psychology and is intended to be a measure of relative intelligence. In other words, the 100% score (or “average”) could mean a different intelligence – in either quality or quantity – now than it did 100 years ago. However, measuring intelligence this way has only been done for a relatively short amount of time compared to how long intelligent people have been writing down their ideas and experiences in the hopes that others might benefit from it. So we might imagine that a baseline measure of intelligence would be valid and comparable whether it was done today or 50 years ago.

A simple and well-agreed definition for intelligence is: mental ability. How best to measure mental ability depends to some extent on what we think the mind is for. If it is seen mainly as a storage device, then testing it might consist mostly of testing one’s ability to remember with speed and accuracy. If it is considered a thinking device – the more common belief – then it would be tested by posing problems for it to solve. This is the ordinary approach of most intelligence tests.

The fact that many studies have shown that IQ scores correlate with our ideas of what mental ability should be able to do for a person indicates that we have at least some grasp of the subject of human intelligence and how to measure it.

Experience of Others

I found relatively few articles on the internet addressing this subject directly, and none of them scholarly articles. However, some of them did refer to studies that had been done by psychologists or sociologists. Some articles I saw dealt with how to improve your intelligence, while others focused more on advice about how to cope socially if you are extra-smart.

To summarize:

  • Being smart has a certain isolating effect on people. They know and use more words, they can do very well at certain jobs – and are therefore sought-after for such positions, they tend to feel that the help they provide is vital – even if not well reimbursed – and so are willing to work extra hours, and they tend to have so many interests that it may be hard for them to stay focused on the activities of any particular group.
  • Their curiosity may “get them into trouble” on occasion.
  • Similarly, they may notice things – including flaws in data or logic – that others miss and therefore be seen as “picky” or disagreeable.
  • They may develop interests that others can’t grasp or fully participate in due to the breadth of knowledge required to be involved with that subject.
  • They may inadvertently say things or do things that make others feel “stupid.”

My Own Experience

Though my own experience aligns well with many of the above points, I am particularly interested in certain aspects that have been amplified by my Scientology studies:

  • Misunderstood Words. It is hoped that a person, through study alone, would be able to acquire enough conceptual understanding of most unusual (or even common) words or symbols that these would fully become a part of their working vocabulary. But I have found – particularly in the case of engineering subjects (including math), or other specialized vocabularies (botany, biology, law, medicine) that this is not always that easy to attain. Though people are generally “excused” for not knowing technical words, when these words are constantly used in their environment (such as computing terminologies are in this day and age) a mental dullness could result that could only be resolved with a dedicated study of the subject. I may not do well at limiting technical terms in my own writing and conversation, but when these things extend into general marketing – such as the list of side effects that drug advertisers are required to include in their ads – things have gone too far. I don’t see any good reason why “homicidal ideation” (thoughts of killing others) needs to be a household phrase in this world.
  • The need for multidisciplinary understandings. A common term for this sort of person is the “polymath.” He has always been considered to be someone a bit special, but anyone who wants to be an electronics engineer has to become a polymath of sorts, just to learn that subject well. Hubbard has made the point that if a person wishes to live well and fully, there are 27 different “hats” he must learn to wear, at a minimum. With the introduction of so many “advanced” technologies in recent years, this becomes even more essential. A very smart scientist can fail utterly as a human being if he has not learned the basics of Ethics and Public Relations. And who is teaching that to scientists? (My church is!) So the challenge of the brighter ones among us these days is in persuading others to join them. We face a very dire future indeed if too many insist on remaining ignorant of subjects they MUST know!
  • Tone level. I have mentioned this subject before. Its basics are here: http://www.scientologyhandbook.org/tone-scale/SH4_1.HTM . Though one can learn to move around more on the tone scale, the only known way to fully free a person on this scale is through auditing. Hubbard designated 2.0 as the make-break point on this scale. Above it, one seeks to survive, below it one seeks to succumb. If a person can’t get above 2.0 on this scale and stay on that side of life most of the time, it doesn’t matter how smart he is: He won’t make ethical decisions.
  • Recall and its control. Ron has discovered that the mind basically functions as a storage device. But it doesn’t just store data – though that can be important in more contemplative moments – it stores complete actions or what could be called “learned behaviors.” Such a behavior can be brought into action by various mental processes and will immediately manifest as either a body reaction or an actual body action. Though some of those mental processes are analytical or “intentional,” many others are not, and most people do not understand how they work or how to control them. This is very much linked to Tone level above, and has a similar resolution. Further, auditing can assist a being to access past-life data. Though this is not its emphasis, we could sure use that ability these days, as current circumstances are quite similar to past circumstances we have only experienced in past lives. It would be great to have more of that data available to help us resolve many of our current situations.

Beyond Intelligence

I did not totally expect this “musing” to turn out this long. It remains to be known what really makes some people seem smarter “out of the gate” (so to speak) than others. But in the context of my comments on past lives above, it could well be that some of us have a keener awareness, as soon as we arrive on this planet (no matter how many times we have been here before) that there is an urgent need for positive action on Earth. And this could be what drives them to push for a higher level of intelligence. That this push then tends to isolate them socially is an unfortunate result. But it points out that the solution lies beyond the subject of mere intelligence. Above mental ability lies spiritual ability. If I did not know this I would be very despondent indeed. Knowing this gives me reason to hope. Yes, it’s “good” to be smart. But in the long that’s not enough. I’m glad I was “smart” enough to at least find that out.

American River Parkway Introduction

7 September 2017
american river parkway map

Parkway on-site map

The American River is the waterway that flows down from California gold country and joins the Sacramento River at Sacramento.

Due to the fact that flood protection is necessary in these areas, levees have been erected on both sides of the American River. I would guess they are maybe 25 feet high. Anyway, on the river side of the levees you just can’t have houses (not normal ones, anyway) so it is all parkland. There are paved bike trails that extend from the Sacramento River up to Folsom.

I have been spending a lot of time on a particular section of this bike way, as it is on the way to downtown, which I visit often. I get on at Watt Ave, and exit to the north and east at Fair Oaks Blvd. Between Watt and Howe – the next big street before Fair Oaks – is an old oak grove that the trail goes through.

parkway grove evening

Oak grove illuminated by the evening sun.

At first for me this was just a picturesque spot. Then one morning at about 11AM, two deer (bucks with three-point antlers) showed up along the trail, nibbling on underbrush. Later that day I saw them again. The next day I saw a doe with one of them, as well as three turkey hens at another spot. This got me more interested.

These were very tame “wild” animals. Humans don’t bother them that much. A lot of squirrels are the same way. The turkey may even be escapees from a domestic flock. But the point was that these animals were showing up in what otherwise is considered a very urban area.

deer buck

Buck wanders through his temporary home.

I can only guess that the hot weather extending out for many weeks has been pushing some animals towards waterways, and a few ended up in the parkway. So I started looking at this section of the park more closely, as it seemed to be providing adequate shelter for these larger animals as well as countless other smaller ones. I spent most of my time on the north side of the river, where I spotted the deer.

elderberries

Elderberries are seen everywhere along this trail.

The land itself in this area is of some interest. On the north side of the bike trail, undergrowth consists mostly of dry grasses, not counting small trees like elderberry. Something on that side is preventing other plants from taking over there. On the levee itself the grass is being mowed, but not down here. Maybe the soil is just very poor.

forest understory

River-side forest and understory.

On the other side of the trail, the land is “foresting out” as I call it. The grasses that dry as the summer progresses are being replaced by plants that are staying green. It is more or less obvious that the soil is more moist there. Tree cover, presence of mulch and its thickness, understory plants, as well as the structure of the soil layers themselves all contribute to soil water content.

forest floor mulch

Forest floor mulch; this found right by the trail.

In any case, plant diversity and greenness increase as one gets closer to the water, but seeing it so starkly just across the width of a bike trail was a bit unusual for me. Seeing rushes growing is evidence of much wetter soil. I noticed these in only a few places.

parway rushes by trail

Rushes indicate a spot with wetter soil.

The area is also undergoing a “second flowering” at this time (early September) which sometimes happens when the weather has been a bit unusual, and seems to be up to individual plants or even individual buds. I saw a huge lily plant reflowering, plus some of the elderberries – which I know of as spring-only bloomers – and possibly some of the asters, which are known as late summer bloomers (think sunflowers), but I was seeing evidence on some of them for one bloom cycle already done this year.

asters in a field

Aster family plants grow tall in this field; very sun-tolerant.

There are a few other plants in this area that are persistent bloomers, such as the Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) and a few others with very good heat tolerance. Jimsonweed is native to Mexico and is dangerously toxic, though has been used for a long time for medicinal purposes. It is related to tobacco, nightshade, tomatoes and potatoes.

jimsonweed flower

A jimsonweed flower beginning to wilt.

Sharing the canopy with the oaks in this region are the walnuts. California black walnuts are native in this area, but do not produce nuts as edible as the cultivated English walnut. I have also seen some cottonwoods, but not many sycamores, which are widely planted along the streets and in parks.

walnuts fruit and nut

Walnuts look like fruit; the nut is inside the husk.

There are also areas of the park “infested” by grape vines. The grapes seem to the casual observer to be a problem, as they grow over and seem to smother other plants and trees. But ecologists are hesitant to control them as a weed, because they do produce food for the animals. Humans could eat these grapes, too (I tried one), but I don’t think many do.

grapes

Grapes hide under the shade of their leaves.

blackberries

Blackberries dry out quickly in the summer heat.

peas drying in the sun

The weather is too hot and dry for these peas; they bloomed in the spring.

Blackberries are also widely seen in open areas and in the understory, and I even saw some pea vines which came from goodness knows where. So animals that venture here can be quite well fed. I have managed to photograph some of them.

turkey hens

These turkeys seem happy here.

rabbit

I found this rabbit further up the trail.

quail

Quail are more skittish than some of the other animals, so a bit harder to photograph.

rose hips

We know rose hips as a source of vitamin C. I have not seen them eaten much by animals, though.

Though this section of the parkway is an important commute route for me (and for many others), it has also developed into quite a rich habitat that supports a lot of different life forms.