Archive for September, 2019

Odds and Ends

28 September 2019

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This weekend the high temperatures fell below 70 (F). But I got on the train for my usual ride up to Folsom. They were getting the streets ready for the annual Farm-to-Fork Festival, featuring food, drink, and entertainment on the Capitol Mall, just blocks from where I live.

At some point in the ride, a young lady – very cute and wearing short shorts – boarded the train and sat down sideways in a seat a few yards in front of me. I couldn’t resist getting a photo of her feet sticking out into the aisle.

American River Parkway

As the Parkway goes into autumn mode, the scenes there are mostly predictable, but with little variations due to the season. The geese are flying around more and gathering on park lawns more. In this shot I also caught a ground squirrel standing at his burrow.

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The four does I had noticed earlier were split into two pairs today. One pair was right at the bike trail. I am surprised they come that close, but they must be a bit acclimated to humans nearby.

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The late-flowering yellow asters are about the only flowers left in these woods now. The big-flowered ones are particularly showy, but their range is very limited – that is, I only see them in a few places.

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The taller plants with all the flowers near the top are more ubiquitous. One field where they predominate is very bright with them right now. And I saw many more on my short walk over to West Sac.

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A new yellow flower joined these usual ones today. It is called Sundrops, or sometimes Evening Primrose. This one may have escaped from cultivation, as it is rare in the wild here. But it is a perennial, so once established it should continue to grow.

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The Festival

I have been out of this scene for so long, it is a bit difficult for me to understand why these events attract so many people. It’s as if these people are constantly looking for “things to do” and ways to spend money. I don’t have to look for things to do or ways to spend money. My various interests keep me totally occupied. But that does not seem to be the case with most of these folks.

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In this typical scene, we have beer being served in the background, and a street entertainer making balloon shapes for kids. The glass of beer in the hand of the woman in the foreground is typical, if anything, a bit small.

On stage at the bridge end of the Mall (nearest the river) a blues-rock act named Samantha Fish was performing.

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This stage – and I suppose the performers using it – was underwritten by Bank of America. The festival is free to get in, so it must make back its operating costs from the sale of alcoholic beverages. Beer is extremely popular in this area. It probably is everywhere and I just have never paid that much attention.

Drake’s Barn

And thus another activity quickly becoming popular in this area – Drake’s Barn. This place has only been open for about a year now. Drake’s makes beer in San Leandro and has another taproom (bar) in Oakland. The Barn is located across the street from a housing development aimed at up-and-coming young people. I am guessing most of them work in Sacramento, as it’s very close to the main bridge that connects Sac and West Sac.

The Barn will be hosting a show of “electric art” next weekend, mostly light-oriented I think, and I plan to go over and check that out. So this weekend I walked over to the location to see exactly where it is and how long it takes to get there (about 20 minutes).

The place was full of kids playing – I guess that’s just part of the amenities there – while parents sipped their cold ones. I wondered what sort of lives these people lead, and what their futures will be like.

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Above you can see “The Barn” in the background. It is an odd-shaped flowing building made of numerous wood planks. Here’s a closer look, from the rear:

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I was keeping track of the time by taking pictures of my phone. However, I had my camera set wrong on this one, and the phone instead worked like a mirror.

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On my walk back, I glanced over the side of the bridge at the bank below and saw two cats there. I’m guessing they are feral cats. The one I caught licking itself in particular looks a bit scary.

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World Peace Day

An event earlier in the week at my church was a small presentation commemorating the International Day of Peace, officially observed each year on 21 September. This was started in 1981. Costa Rica had a lot to do with getting the U.N. resolution written.

The guest speaker at our church event was Edrine Ddungu, formerly of Uganda. He personally witnessed the terrorism in Uganda instigated (apparently) by Idi Amin. His own father was brutally murdered, at which point he was quietly sent to live in Kenya and finally made it to the U.S. where he wanted to study at Sacramento City College.

He told us that his desire to play a leadership role in promoting interfaith cooperation and non-violence comes mostly from his desire to continue the work of his father. He is currently president of the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento.

The situation in Africa

Uganda could be considered to be at the center of a very bad scene in Central Africa. I don’t understand it well, but it probably has partly to do with a breakdown of civilization in Africa that occurred in ancient times which has been followed by criminal meddling from outside players ever since. The Portuguese were the first to arrive on the Atlantic coast. They almost immediately started slave operations there. But slave operations on the eastern coast of Central Africa (Indian Ocean) had already been active for hundreds of years, and these were non-European operations.

There seemed to have been an almost world-wide agreement that Africa offered resources that could be freely taken advantage of by any group that had sufficient organization and weapons. And that has been the pattern ever since.

All Mr. Ddungu can do now is return yearly to his home country with a bit of money and educational assistance. The general situation in the region is still largely out of control.

The continuing violence in Africa seems to be fueled both by a complete lack of moral compass on the part of any of the major players in the region, and by increasing demand from the rest of the planet for the various commodities that are produced there.

Of the handful of people who attended the event, several were not particularly aware of how brutal and desperate the situation in Africa has been. We saw the great advances made in South Africa and thought that perhaps the rest of the continent was on a similar path. Though this may some day come to pass, it certainly is not the current situation.

However, getting reliable data on what has really been going on in the region has been nearly impossible. So my characterizations of the current scene are guesses based on reports I have been able scrape up or ran into. I am not a student of African politics or economics. But to say that part of the world is in definite need of sanity would be an understatement.

Earlier in the year, Scientologist Tim Bowles had visited us to talk about his work in Africa. He described the experience of meeting with the leader of one of the many African extremist groups. The man was at the emotional level of a teenager, mainly interested to know if Tim had met any famous Hollywood personalities. These people have stars in their eyes. They think they can become rich off the world’s dependence on various strategic minerals found in Africa. My guess is that they care about little else.

While Tim has had some success at starting real human rights education in Central Africa, it seems to me that until the companies that deal with African suppliers demand compliance with basic standards of human decency, people there will continue to suffer.

It’s our job, then, to get to those companies and change their minds about how they deal with Africa. That racism has nothing to do with this is very hard to imagine. Yet racism is just another manifestation of the insanity we are confronted with on this planet. We must make the people we can reach saner. If we don’t, this planet will be lost.

Equinox

22 September 2019

A few days ago we had our first rain in at least six months. I was wondering if any of the plants in the American River Parkway would respond to this. Of course, we are also just a day or two away from the fall equinox, the official beginning of autumn, and the plants could be responding to that, too.

But I really only saw one big change along the trail, and that was a renewed flowering of the mysterious yellow asters that I haven’t yet identified. While the tarweed that was so visible in a Folsom field has decided to stop flowering, these other yellow flowers decided the opposite.

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The other yellow flowers that I mentioned in a previous post are also blooming more strongly now. I think this may also be triggered by soil moisture.

This is also a time when flocking behavior and migration starts to occur for some birds. This was very evident on the river, with large groups of gulls appearing. I hardly ever see gulls on the river during the summer.

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Some of the larger aquatic birds will also begin to move around more this time of year. This egret is stopping at a man-made water control pond in Folsom. I hardly ever see egrets at this pond.

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The “ARP deer” were camped out at their usual place along the trail. For some reason, though, most of them were lying down – almost hiding – in the dry grass.

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The parties associated with the end of summer – and of the summer school break – are mostly at an end. But I missed including this shot in my last post, and I wanted to mention it because I had never seen something like this before. It was part of a party at Hagan Park last week.

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A child (or even an adult, I suppose) can climb into this clear inflated sphere through one of two ports and then walk or crawl around inside it. I found the somewhat bizarre structure of the object most intriguing.

On my way back home, I usually stop at this little mini-park in midtown to get a drink from the water fountain (the one in the foreground, not the cute one).

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And in the same neighborhood – a quite posh part of town – I happened upon this restored vintage car. This appears to be a 1937 Cadillac.

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The equinox symbolizes a momentary balance that our universe oscillates around. May your balance move towards perfection and your oscillations be interesting and instructive.

 

 

Untitled

14 September 2019

That’s what a painter calls a painting when he can’t figure out what it’s about, right? Or just doesn’t know what it’s about?

This is a short post touching on a diverse, perhaps unrelated, set of topics.

Miniature Steam Trains

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I pass by the park pictured above every Saturday on my way home from Folsom. I have noticed the miniature train tracks many times. But last week – I believe as a special event – the miniature train enthusiasts who use these tracks brought out some of their trains and rode them around. The group is called the Sacramento Valley Live Steamers Railroad Museum. It is a non-profit hobbyist group and they create all the trains and tracks, as well as maintain them.

Electronics

I wanted a sound-sensitive signal for my “Dial” series of electronic art pieces. Last week I started building a board that would give me such a signal. I have all the basic circuitry in place now. I seldom photograph my “development environment” so thought I would this time. The two odd things sticking out of the board are oscilloscope probes. I really needed an oscilloscope for this project, as timing is very important.

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Wildflowers and Acorns

While most plants in this area are dying back from the lasting heat of late summer, a few hardy composites (a huge family of plants including sunflower, goldenrod, daisies, dandelions, etc.) continue to flower or are just now beginning to flower. The first is a “tarweed.” I have shown it before. I am amazed that it continues to bloom, and in what seems to be a very dry field.

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The next is another flower I have shown before. For some reason I have had difficulty getting my camera to focus on this flower in closeup mode. Every week it’s still there, and I try taking a few more photos of it.

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This next one is just starting to bloom in some places along the trail. This photograph was taken at the site of a creek bed restoration project. These plants may get a little extra water in the summer. They are certainly growing vigorously at this site.

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Evergreen oaks dominate the forests and fields in this area, and they are producing acorns. I believe this is a blue oak. It looks similar to a live oak, but with less glossy leaves. These long acorns are sweeter than those produced by red oaks or black oaks. They were a huge food resource for the natives of the past, but very few people use them now. Acorn flour is commercially available, but very expensive. That may change some day.

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Sustainability versus the 2045 initiative

One way to “beat” climate change would be to bypass the need for biology on this planet. As batty as that may seem, there is a team of people – it seems to be a joint Russian and American project – working on doing just that.

I thought I might revisit this issue to see if anyone is still taking it seriously. This could be one reason that some sectors of society just don’t seem to be playing the sustainability game; they think they have another answer.

The problem is that it is actually a possible answer, but these guys don’t have it right. As long as they continue to not have it right, it’s basically just a con game to give a bunch of irresponsible researchers and engineers something to do while the planet falls apart around them.

In the West Ray Kurzweil is the project’s main spokesperson. And Oh Shit: He has been Google’s “director of engineering” since 2012. In Russia, Dmitry Itskov is the founder and key proponent of the movement. He has made billions in Russia with his media businesses. As of 2013 they had the Dalai Lama on board. But they have received no press since 2016, which was a thumbs down from the BBC. It is also reported that the late Jeffrey Epstein, accused of numerous sex crimes, also believed in transhumanism. That wasn’t exactly good press, either! Perhaps these boys have retreated to a safer position behind the secrecy which their non-governmental status affords them.

And as I said, right now they are no more than silver-tongued con men. The human personality already is immortal. Only the body is not. The body is currently a biological machine. It could be re-designed to be a non-biological machine. I suppose some of us, if not eventually all of us, could learn to live in a non-biological machine instead of a biological one. But it seems to me that before any of that happens, we need to get the basics of life correctly understood, and we need to rehabilitate our ability to be ethical. Machines could learn to fight and “kill” each other just like humans have. Maybe it would be fun. However, that’s not how we currently experience war and terrorism. I think we first need to learn how to live properly with the bodies we have before trying to move into new ones. And we need to learn to take care of planets, too.

However, given the data above, there may be something to my idea that some sector on this planet has an “alternative” to sustainability that they think will pull them through.

 

 

View From The Forest

6 September 2019

I have written a short screenplay in an app called Trelby. All the app really does is make sure the document is formatted according to industry standards. This is my first finished story created in the form of a screenplay.

It is not a long story, perhaps 20 minutes or less. It involves two trees “talking” with each other, and their interaction with a few other creatures, including a man. The man takes a liking to these trees and keeps returning to visit them.

It turns out he has some sway in the field of ecological upgrades, so a part of the story shows him pitching his ideas in some sort of academic setting, and then follows an upgrade project put in right next to where the trees live. The man visits one last time as an old man, and then we follow the trees a bit into the future, and see their environment change for the better.

The story could be visualized using real trees, but more likely as an animation. How do you show two trees in conversation? I am leaving that to the imagination of anyone interested in turning the story into an actual short film.

Though there are many, perhaps, who have spent much more time in forests than I have, these huge living systems need more human voices to stand in their support, and so this story.

I have three more screenplay ideas I am working on. If you want to read the actual story, let me know.

Here are some of the biggest trees in one of the best-developed forests along the American River that I have access to through bike trails. They are large, tall beautiful trees, yet this forest is only a tiny patch along the river. Very few forests like this exist anywhere anymore. Yet they are vital to our biological future on this planet.

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A Short Walk in Aruba

1 September 2019

Aruba lies on a diagonal (per conventional maps) in the south Caribbean Sea. On its sheltered southwest side live most of its people. A city called Oranjestad serves as its capital and main port. This is where I walked during my recent visit.

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For family and others that might have a sense of this, Aruba is just a bit larger than Beaver Island (largest island in Lake Michigan).

The climate in Aruba is similar to Sacramento. Average annual rainfall is just 19 inches, though this can vary considerably. Average temperature is in the 80s, and because it is so close to the equator, this varies little year round. Thus, the plants there do not really experience seasons, and I found many with new flowers, wilted flowers, and fruit all on the same plant at the same time. The island is at about 12 degrees north, compared to 38 degrees north for Sacramento and 32 degrees north for San Diego.

As mentioned earlier, it has a mixed Spanish/Dutch heritage (not including the original inhabitants who came from South America). Most islanders speak Papiamento as their first language, a Portuguese-based Creole brought in from Portuguese Africa. It also uses a lot of Spanish words and some Dutch words. And so we see the buildings that are typical of these towns have a Dutch-European flare:

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The above building is near the center of the shopping district, and the ones shown below are just a few blocks away.

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The shopping streets have the “nice” trees of this area, acacia and various others. Here is a typical acacia:

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Notice the pods, marking this plant as a legume. Legumes are known in the plant world as being “nitrogen fixing.” This means that they can serve as hosts to a kind of bacterium capable of removing nitrogen from air in the soil. The plant then uses this nitrogen in its leaves and seeds, also leaving much of it in nodules on its roots. When any of these plant parts die, they fertilize the soil, assuming the dead parts are left on (or in) the ground.

Here we have the flowers for this tree. You see here almost no petals. Unlike their cousins the locusts that grow farther north, the acacias are adapted to dry weather and that means different flowers.

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Here is another tree seen on the shopping streets. I have not been able to identify it.

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There was a persistent chirping coming from many of these trees, but it was difficult to identify its source. That is because the bird responsible for the noise is quite small and prefers to stay inside tree foliage. It is known as the bananaquit and is very common in these regions. I finally saw one sitting out on a palm across the street and did my best to get a picture of it.

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I walked out towards the edge of the shopping district, where buildings and plants changed a bit. The buildings got more run-down, and the plants became more indigenous. I don’t know about the animals, though!

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It seems these free-running chickens know to stay out of the shopping areas. This rooster is sitting in a tree that is very common in this area, and which I have identified as a tropical mesquite. Mesquites do well in arid regions. They are causing ranchers considerable trouble in the southern United States because they crowd out grazing grasses which feed cattle better and also hold soil better. But, that is a different issue.

Here the mesquite don’t seem to be causing any particular problems. And as they are also leguminous, we again have nitrogen fixing happening where they grow.

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Given the opportunity, mesquite will “lay down” and shade a considerable area. Notice also the traffic barriers, or bollards, which are seen all over these islands. Variations of these are used in many cities to deter vehicles from entering certain areas.

A closer look at these trees reveals the characteristic pinnately-compound leaf (arranged like a feather; pinna = feather) and seed pods.

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On photographing more of these trees, I came upon this odd image, mostly a shadow from my viewpoint. I brought out a little detail by running auto-color-correct on the image.

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As I continued my walk, I saw many more of these lizards, which all look basically like iguana to me.

I walked back into town along a sort of drainage ditch. It was well-kept but definitely had the appearance of a drain. Along the way I ran across several more showy plants and a few animals. I have not identified this tree with lovely yellow flowers:

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This, however, is a cordia. It has some other common names. According to articles, the fruit is edible but not tasty.

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Right at the water I found this bush, a seagrape.

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And hanging above my head, coconuts:

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In a park near the harbor for small boats, I saw this lizard. It did not seem too concerned about me being there, and was quite patient while I photographed it.

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Likewise, a brown pelican, sitting just a few feet away. The pelicans are just one of many sea birds that frequent the coast. Another one – more difficult to photograph – is the frigate bird, constantly soaring near shore.

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The harbor and similar tourist amenities weren’t stressed in this post, but here is a view of it:

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I found the area for the most part quiet and unchallenging. A nice place to go to “get away from it all.” It is not particularly pricey, though the cost of flying there can be several hundred dollars. For some, it is their favorite vacation destination.