Archive for October, 2019

Day of the Dead

27 October 2019

We are creeping up on Halloween, so why not work with that theme this week?

The significance and timing (end October) of the observance itself has been a Christian tradition for so long, that the possibility that is was originally a non-Christian observance is now in doubt, even though a traditional Gaelic festival was observed at the same time of year.

Dia de Muertos

In Mexico, the Dia de Muertos tradition definitely began as an observance connected to Aztec tradition and beliefs. Everyone in Mexico knows this. However, it was not traditionally observed at this time of year, but rather at the beginning of summer. When the Spaniards came, this eventually got shifted so that this observance coincided with what we know as Halloween.

In most earlier religions or spiritual systems, the spirit was believed to survive death in some manner. Most religions believe that the spirit “goes somewhere,” but can return to “visit” for various reasons. Though there may have been some societal need fulfilled by this belief system, it is also possible that these ideas came from actual experience, as our best data indicates that the spirit does indeed “leave” and then “come back.”

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In the case of the Mexican tradition, it was taught that this day, or these days (two or three special days may be observed) are somehow set aside for the spirits of those you loved to come back and visit. Little (or not so little) alters of offerings would be set up for those who we hoped would come visit, to make them feel welcome and more comfortable. Note the modern Californian add-ins to this alter display from last year’s celebration in Old Town.

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The circular arrangement of little white bags and oranges (I think) depicted above is not understood by me, but was certainly quite noticeable.

The Devil’s Motorcycle

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I had to find some excuse to include an image of this impressive bike I found parked outside Folsom Winco.

In the fantastical comedy film Raising Arizona, something close to a real devil rides such a machine. I have seen several films that have used the motorcycle as a sort of symbol of approaching danger.

Spooky Butterfly

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This insect is called the “Buckeye,” and the patterns on its wings are called “eye spots.”

Kinda spooky!

Death in Popular Lore

It is surprisingly difficult for most of us to remember what happens when we die. This memory loss has advantages both for us and for the managers trying (never very successfully) to keep us all under control. For us, it means we can end a lifetime by shedding all responsibilities for what we did or didn’t do during it, and “start afresh” every time we get born. For the managers it means we are less likely to realize that we are immortal beings and should hold in contempt any effort to control us by threatening us via our bodies (with torture, death and the like).

As a result, our ideas about what it means to die and “come back” are a bit off base, kooky, and unrealistic. Some think of the departed rising from their graves as animated skeletons. Others think of returning spirits as a bit demonic, tormenting us with swirls of smoke or dust in the shape of bodies and playing tricks on us that are frightening. Some think that they can leave something around to remind you of them.

We could see “trick or treat” I suppose as sort of a dramatization of our attempts to appease the departed so that they won’t continue to bother us. That we in the U.S. use little children to play the role of the returned ones is ironic.

As a part of this whole tradition, those of us who have houses and can afford the time and expense will “dress up” their front yards in keeping with the “spirit” of the season.

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This could be seen as a playful and creative pastime, I suppose. However, the scariest front yards I remember as a kid were the ones that were actually small forests that you had to walk through (or creep through) to get to the house. Spooky!

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The bright orange pumpkin is a great way to decorate the yard as winter begins to turn it brown. Of course, in Sacramento, most of the yards never do actually turn brown…

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I can only imagine this to be the house of a doctor. How else would he have access to so many (classroom) skeletons?

The Vulture

A lurking, dark and nasty-looking bird is a great symbol for spookiness. In Poe’s famous poem, it was The Raven. Well, I didn’t find one of those, but I did find this vulture.

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The dead tree he (or she) is sitting on really adds a dramatic touch, doesn’t it? But I thought I’d try to push it a little further with the color adjustments available in my image editor.

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Now we have more of a night time scene, with the bird in silhouette on a moonlit branch.

My Halloween Project

I always try to squeeze in a project at Halloween time. Though I didn’t have as many LEDs as I really wanted, I’m going for an animated electronic jack-o-lantern.

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Hope I finish it in time!

 

 

 

 

Gone Fishin’

19 October 2019

Tired of titles that have nothing to do with my content? I can’t help it. Hopefully I’ll get over it before too long.

If this title has anything more to do with this article beyond my photo of a guy fishing while an egret looks on, it would probably be that I had to “fish” these images out of larger photos. I almost always “crop” my photos to improve composition and focus more on the central subject. All these had to be cropped quite a lot, mostly because the featured subject was not very close to me when I photographed it.

Somewhere up on the river, after the dam at Aquatic Park, but not much beyond where I saw the guy fishing, I noticed a beautiful red-breasted hawk fly into a nearby tree to rest.

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Hawk sightings are not that common along this part of the river. Vultures are very common, and tend to dominate. Most of the hawks here are smaller birds; and I have never seen an eagle in these parts.

Squirrels are very active this time of year. And a lot of squirrels in this area use burrows for living quarters, rather than build tree nests. A park such as the William Pond Park – one of the larger ones on the river – can get quite torn up with ground squirrel holes.

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These little guys like to stand upright at the entrance to a burrow or nearby. I don’t know to what extent this reflects diligence or concern for personal safety. Perhaps it just gets smelly down there and he needs to refresh himself once in a while.

I’m always looking for the deer. Today they were considerably down river from where they usually hang out. A lady on a bike even stopped and told me she’d seen another one in the area where I saw two. But I didn’t photograph them. I have so many photos now of deer right next to – or on – the trail that it seems to me I have enough.

But when one showed up across from the Cal State – Sac campus, which is very close to town, I stopped to capture the moment.

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This one appeared to be quite young. Otherwise she’d know better than to wander this far down the river. But she was staying down by the trees. The bike trail here is up on a levee.

Perhaps next week I will feel moved to address topics of greater import. Kind of felt the need to take it easy this weekend…

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People Celebrate My Birthday

6 October 2019

It was amazing how many people were out on this sunny Saturday preparing for my birthday celebration!

During my usual trip to and back from Folsom, I ran across not one, but two young bucks. The bucks tend to keep their distance from the trail more than the does do, so they must have known I was coming and wanted to see them.

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Later on, during my lunch break, I was entertained by various flying machines from an airshow someone had thoughtfully decided to put on that day at Mather Field.

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But the really big event of the day happened later that evening, when I went to see “5000 Watts” a charity event thoughtfully themed around two of my favorite subjects, electronics and art.

I arrived well before sunset, when they were still setting it all up.

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In the background of this image is Raley Field, a West Sacramento baseball stadium and event venue named after the locally notable Raley family, famous for their chain of grocery stores.

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Here we see the four symbols used by Square Root Academy, the fundraisers for this event. Earth, Air, Fire and Water if I recall correctly. This group sponsors science programs for disadvantaged youth. Prominent in the background is Eileen the “pearl” peacock, a creation of Kristen Hoard and her group of artists and makers.

Well, the sun finally set, and they let us in.

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We were greeted by Kate Marusina’s installation, featuring Ohmu (a creature that plays a major role in a Japanese anime). It seems Kate is a PhD-level researcher at UC Davis who does this as a hobby.

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As the story goes, when an ohmu’s eyes turn red it means that it is mad. This one, however, just moved its mouth feelers around a little bit.

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These flowers were made by young people participating in a school program.

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The inflatable “plants” are an invention of Stan Clark. He sells them through a company called Astro Botanicals.

In the distance we see William (Cenote) Jerome’s “Luminescent Grand,” an electric piano made of plastic that glows as you play it. The visuals of it on his own website are much better than what I could do with a still camera at night.

Also by the piano was an installation by tech company RocketLife that is marketing an app and a small piece of hardware that can help anyone add animated lighting to their creation or project.

Local electronics guru Chris Biddle also showed up with his huge 3D LED matrix (no photo) and there were several other projects on display.

How thoughtful of them to do this for my entertainment!

The open space across from where I live was recently renamed in honor of a downtown developer who died of cancer at the young age of 35. Ali Youssefi, as it turns out, was instrumental in getting the building I am living in constructed, and also a similar building over on R Street which is specially designed for artists.

Last night someone had the square fenced off for some sort of paid event involving “pro wrestling.”

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And they had failed to invite me! Well, perhaps they knew I wouldn’t be interested…

Blast from the Past – Schools

4 October 2019

Approximately 45 years ago, when I was 20, I wrote a letter to NPR about my views on the importance of improving schools. NPR (National Public Radio) was known for its interest in such topics and debates, and was always presenting little stories about education.

I also included a rather lengthy excerpt from Neil Postman’s book Teaching as a Subversive Activity, co-written with Charles Weingartner. Postman was the major theorist behind this book. He advocated a student-centered approach to education and, in this book at least, was critical of teachers for not working harder to make this happen. For all that, the book took a somewhat lighthearted approach to the whole subject, which appealed to me.

Though my own school experience was not at all negative, I realized that I wasn’t learning in school everything I needed to know. That problem was later solved when I discovered Hubbard’s work. But that does not solve the problem for everyone else going to school.

The Letter

Dear NPR people,

Whenever children are mentioned on “All Things Considered” I listen. I listen because I have a question I’m trying to find an answer to: How can we raise our children to help them survive, and thrive, in the world of the future?

Pollution, overpopulation and war could make life in the future intolerable. They could bring all social and cultural growth to a halt. Will our children be able to prevent that from happening? I am worried for them, and that is why I look for new ways to raise them that will give them a better chance.

My own particular interest is schooling. For the past 15 years, school has been a dominant part of my life. I have always been an inquisitive person, and I liked to work out problems on my own. School gave me this opportunity, and I spent long hours trying to solve every problem, dilemma, or difficult concept the teachers put before me. It was not until I got older, and the reality of making it in the world “outside” started to loom over the horizon, that I began to feel uncomfortable in school.

In junior high many questions that were becoming important to me, questions about people and society and the way they worked, were not being discussed in school. In high school I began to realize that many of my courses would not be useful to me outside of the classroom. By my senior year I was totally opposed to schools. I joined an “alternative school” and worked exclusively on problems and projects of my own choosing. Up to then, everyone around me has assumed I would go to a four-year college. But I had decided against that some time before, and chose instead a two-year electronics program at the local community college.

I have been at Washtenaw Community College for a year now. The quality of education there gave me an unusually strong incentive to look for new approaches to schooling. That inquiry led me to a book entitled Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share some of it with you, so I am including an excerpt from it that includes 16 proposals for initiating change in our schools. I am also including “Think Sheet on Learning” that I wrote for a presentation in a political science class last year. It was also inspired by this book.

The authors of the book are Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. In 1969, when they wrote the book, Neil was working at New York University and Harlem Preparatory School, and Charles was at Queens College. I hope that you will have them on your show someday.

Dr. Farsin touched on the subject of schooling, and most of what he sees happening in schools I also see. His conclusion is that obligatory schooling should be abolished. My conclusion, and that of Postman and Weingartner, is that the schools should be changed to allow much more freedom and much more learning. I guess abolishing public schools as an institution never entered our minds. The idea sounds good to me, but I can’t speak for Neil or Charles.

I must say that NPR has shown an unusual amount of interest in children and their future, and I am very thankful for that.

The Excerpt

16 Proposals to Initiate Change in Our Schools

Postman and Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, 1969, pp 137-140.

1. Declare a five-year moratorium on the use of all textbooks.
Since with two or three exceptions all texts are not only boring but based on the assumption that knowledge exists prior to, independent of, and altogether outside of the learner, they are either worthless or harmful. If it is impossible to function without textbooks, provide every student with a notebook full of blank pages, and have him compose his own text.

2. Have “English” teachers “teach” Math, Math teachers English, Social Studies teachers Science, Science teachers Art, and so on.
One of the largest obstacles to the establishment of a sound learning environment is the desire of teachers to get something they think they know into the heads of people who don’t know it. An English teacher teaching Math would hardly be in a position to fulfill this desire. Even more important, he would be forced to perceive the “subject” as a learner, not a teacher.
If this suggestion is impractical, try numbers 3 and 4.

3. Transfer all the elementary-school teachers to high school and vice-versa.

4. Require every teacher who thinks he knows his “subject” well to write a book on it.
In this way, he will be relieved of the necessity of inflicting his knowledge on other people, particularly his students.

5. Dissolve all “subjects,” “courses,” and especially “course requirements.”
This proposal, all by itself, would wreck every existing educational bureaucracy. The result would be to deprive teachers of the excuses presently given for their failures and to free them to concentrate on their learners.

6. Limit each teacher to three declarative sentences per class, and 15 interrogatives.
Every sentence above the limit would be subject to a 25-cent fine. The students can do the counting and the collecting.

7. Prohibit teachers from asking questions they already know the answers to.
The proposal would not only force teachers to perceive learning from the learner’s perspective, it would help them learn how to ask questions that produce knowledge.

8. Declare a moratorium on all tests and grades.
This would remove from the hands of teachers their major weapons of coercion and would eliminate two of the major obstacles to their students’ learning anything significant.

9. Require all teachers to undergo some form of psychotherapy as part of their in-service training.
This need not be psychoanalysis; some form of group therapy or psychological counseling will do. Its purpose: to give teachers an opportunity to gain insight into themselves, particularly into the reasons they are teachers.

10. Classify teachers according to their ability and make the lists public.
There would be a “smart” group (the Bluebirds), an “average” group (the Robins), and a “dumb” group (the Sandpipers). The lists would be published each year in the community paper. The I.Q. and reading scores of teachers would also be published, as well as the list of those who are “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” by virtue of what they know in relation to what their students know.

11. Require all teachers to take a test prepared by students on what the students know.
Only if a teacher passes this test should he be permitted to “teach.” This test could be used for “grouping” the teachers as in number 10 above.

12. Make every class an elective and withhold a teacher’s monthly check if his students do not show any interest in going to next month’s classes.
This proposal would simply put the teacher on a par with other professionals, e.g., doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc. No one forces you to go to a particular doctor unless you are a “clinical case.” In that instance, you must take what you are given. Our present system makes a “clinical case” of every student. Bureaucrats decide who shall govern your education. In this proposal, we are restoring the American philosophy: no clients, no money; lots of clients, lots of money.

13. Require every teacher to take a one-year leave of absence every fourth year to work in some “field” other than education.
Such an experience can be taken as evidence, albeit shaky, that the teacher has been in contact with reality at some point in his life. Recommended occupations: bartender, cab driver, garment worker, waiter. One of the common sources of difficulty with teachers can be found in the fact that most of them simply move from one side of the desk (as students) to the other side (as “teachers”) and they have not had much contact with the way things are outside of school rooms.

14. Require each teacher to provide some sort of evidence that he or she had a loving relationship with at least one other human being.
If the teacher can get someone to say, “I love her (or him),” she should be retained. If she can get two people to say it, she should get a raise. Spouses need not be excluded from testifying.

15. Require that all graffiti accumulated in the school toilets be reproduced on large paper and be hung in the school halls.
Graffiti that concern teachers and administrators should be chiseled into the stone at the front entrance of the school.

16. There should be a general prohibition against the use of the following words and phrases: teach, syllabus, covering ground, I.Q., makeup, test, disadvantaged, gifted, accelerated, enhancement, course, grade, score, human nature, dumb, college material, and administrative necessity.

A look back

We can detect a plentiful amount of tongue-in-cheek in the above “proposals.” But of course the authors were trying to make the point that schools seemed to exist for reasons other than a child’s desire to grow up and take his or her place in the world based on a decent understanding of it and of himself or herself.

I could see that. Many other students and parents didn’t seem to be bothered by this too much. If anyone was a bit upset about the scene, from my own personal experience it seemed to be the teachers. They knew they were failing society in some way, even if society didn’t seem to care that much.

We know now that the first and most basic answer is Hubbard’s Study Technology. That gives students the tools they need to learn by observation, with true understanding, including an ability to act on that understanding and produce results in their areas of expertise.

This has become a critical issue now. If we do not produce enough people in this society that can learn by observation rather than run on orders like little robots, we will lose our freedoms to those who think machines and slaves to operate them are more important than people.