Archive for the ‘Life Force Learning Center’ Category

Drips and Other Shapes

31 January 2021

When life begins to get boring or frustrating, I can find interest in odd places.

To wit, a dripping fountain. The flow was turned almost all the way off, but not quite. It was still going, drip, drip, drip, drip. I photographed several of the drips and then used slow motion videos on YouTube to try to piece together what phase of the drip each photo depicts.

In several photos, there were two bike riders going by in the background. But my study of the expected sequence of the drip does not match their progress down the street. I wasn’t paying attention to them at the time, so I’m not sure. It could be these aren’t in the correct order.

Per the videos I watched, the big drip of water hits the surface and creates a “corona.” The water then cavitates, or craters, before shooting a smaller drip (or more than one) back up, which then fall back of course. The process may repeat in an oscillating pattern, the “bouncing” drips getting smaller and smaller with each subsequent cycle of oscillation (called a “damped oscillation” in electronics).

Droplet emerges from cavity.
Subsequent smaller droplets.
Central mound as part of oscillations.
Still surface between drips. Or???


I was fascinated by this young girl’s hair, but the interposing clear partitions made my images somewhat less than magical.

Other forms

Sorry guys, but I am really missing my honey! Shapes like this, of course, catch the eye of almost anyone, young or old. Mother, lover, playmate, athlete. The image of a young and healthy body will endure!

I Visit The Museum

10 December 2020

For my birthday in 1971 I got a camera. It wasn’t a cool SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, it was a snapshot camera. I bought some “pan” film (panchromatic – black and white film that responds evenly to all colors) and went out that winter and took some shots around downtown and the university.

I used this camera quite a lot until the battery corroded some 20 or so years later.

But on that winter day in 1971, the image I remember best is this one from the Natural History Museum:

Their mineral display always impressed me! Then I went to look at the dinosaur bones.

Now, technically, a mammoth is not a dinosaur. But since they had a mammoth skeleton, they put that one in there, too.

Some years earlier I had taken a summer art class in this place. This painting was inspired by a visit there:

…as was this drawing of a mammoth leg:

To prove it really was winter, here is an outside shot taken from my bedroom:

But Larry, what does all this have to do with anything?

Right! Like, wouldn’t I like to know the answer to that, too!

These past few weeks have been so emotional!

And I guess these feelings tend to push experiences from my past back up into my awareness.

I kept thinking about the beautiful rock crystals I’d seen at the museum, and since I had a photo of them, I thought I’d get up (at 2AM!) and write a little post including that photo. It is that same longing for beauty, perhaps, that figures so strongly in my new friendship.

The previous two posts were that way, too. What do you do with emotions that make you just want to scream and laugh and cry like a baby?

Adult life is set up to be so calm, so rational. I didn’t sit around most of my adult life with almost all of my attention fixed on the next time I would hear from or see my friend. But when I was a kid, I was more like that.

I guess it could be looked at as a case of unbalanced flows. The isolation caused by these closures likely contributes to it. There is a longing for inflow (that’s our word for experiencing things from others, like receiving a smile or getting to touch something beautiful) which is normally balanced with the opportunity or requirement to give my attention to others, to interact with them.

Now all those opportunities to interact have been taken away from me. Those contacts were also the source of most of my inflow (so sought after) like hugs and conversation and smiles from pretty girls. Without all that interaction I go into a state of extreme longing, reminding me of great losses, such as losing my friend Linda and all the others I played with before we left California. And that longing compels me to outflow (such as in this writing) in an attempt to relieve that tension, to restore some balance.

When I finally get to see my friend again, it is such a relief!!!

What would usually be seen as routine human contact is made too precious by its (enforced) scarcity.

But… couldn’t I have married and had a family and so afforded myself some protection from situations like this? Well, who was wise enough to counsel me in that direction when I was younger? I certainly wasn’t wise enough to see it myself. I have also noticed that people my age tend to take their marriages and families for granted and can’t easily see life from the viewpoint of a single person.

But I had also to some degree rejected the whole marriage and family game as a poor and second-rate option. Playing music together, dancing or performing together, these were ways to bring us as adults closer to how we used to interact as children which was so intense compared to most adult interactions. Can you remember how intensely you interacted with your friends and playmates when you were little? And even that dwarfs what a spiritual being is capable of.

I think we need to fix this.

To Bee or Not to Bee

12 July 2020

The bees were really out in force during my last trip through the Parkway, so I decided to write about them

Bee on a berry, from my sister.

When I was a little kid, a big guy like this would have scared the crap out of me. We were never taught about pollination in school as far as I can remember. It wasn’t an issue back then. Bees just did their thing.

Bee on a blackberry flower.

I had some issues with bees when I was a kid. One time, a bee landed on my girlfriend’s leg and tried to sting her (or so it seemed) through her pants. Its stinger got stuck in the fabric and we had to brush it off.

Bee in Sumatra, from nephew.

In another incident, a bee, crazed after almost getting stuck in a spider’s web, flew into my shirt. As I was taking my shirt off, the bee flew back out.

Bees in lavender, Folsom.

Bees operate on a whole different level from humans. They are a study in how life can animate little physical bodies to behave collectively towards shared survival goals. Yet, bees die easily, as do most insects. They depend on their ability to reproduce to sustain their numbers. If other factors in their environments change too much, their numbers can drop sharply.

Bees in danger means agriculture in danger

Pollinators — including bees, butterflies, moths, bats, birds, beetles and other insects — contribute roughly $500 billion a year to global food production, said Reed Johnson, a researcher in Ohio State’s Department of Entomology.

Ohio State Insights website.

Honey bee colony losses have increased from an historical rate of 15% to twice that. That’s the percentage of commercial colonies that don’t recover after wintering over.

A lot has to do with declining bee habitats. This is related to the declining deer habitats that are forcing more wild deer into suburban areas. Both species prefer meadows next to forests. The meadows provide forage while the forests provide shelter.

Bee on wild fennel.

Agriculture isn’t helping

While orchards and fields of vegetables can provide ample nectar supplies, many agricultural fields do not function well as “meadows.” They are too large and harsh, and there may be no stand of trees nearby.

Last year, the planet saw its fourth-highest level of tropical tree loss since the early 2000s—about 30 million acres, according to a new analysis published Thursday.

24 April 2019 article, Inside Climate News website.

“Farmers” – now mostly agriculture companies – continue to clear land for growing food (including grazing land). Though we are seeing huge losses in tropical zones, it is still happening in temperate areas, such as the US state of Iowa.

The other big factor seems to be agricultural chemicals. Glyphosate, known to cause cancer in animals, is the least toxic of 42 agricultural chemicals, according to one study. But other studies show it causes bee death by other, slower means. Of course, pesticides are more likely to kill bees – and do – as they are designed to fight insects.

Profit today, or survival tomorrow?

Bee on St. John’s wort.

The classic problem caused by human activities that pollute is that they are so difficult to change even after it has been demonstrated that continuing those activities will only kill us in the long run.

It’s an ethics problem. And societies down through the millennia have demonstrated how difficult it is to get ethics in on groups that are providing products that people want. The producers can always threaten to stop production or raise prices, and so a standoff results. There is no known remedy to this situation outside of making the leaders (at least) on both sides more sane. Political solutions have never stood the test of time.

Permaculture advocates promote the myriad advantages of abandoning monoculture in favor of “polyculture.” Not only are diversely-planted spaces more sustainable, they also, it seems, provide higher and more resilient yields than do conventional methods. Seems amazing, but those are the reports. Of course, you get a different mix of crops from a food forest. Annuals become less favored, perennials more favored. Harvesting is more difficult to mechanize. But many smaller farmers are trying this, because their experience with monoculture turned out so poorly. Many areas also need the microclimate benefits that also come with more trees.

Do we need to return to “softer” agricultural methods to save the bees and save ourselves? Undoubtedly there will be a group that insists on the industrial approach and looks forward to a tech-centered future that perhaps takes us off planet. Many others like good food and this planet. Which group will prevail? Can the two co-exist?

The New Barbarians

8 July 2020

This began with the question, “What happened in the 1800s?” You can see a timeline of events on my other blog, if you wish to familiarize yourself with the period.

The featured image is of my 1980 girlfriend wearing an Indian costume for Halloween. Sorry, sweetheart, it was the best illustration I could come up with!


Certain themes stand out for the period, also known as the “19th century.”

  1. Empire
  2. Technology
  3. War
  4. Genocide
  5. Exploitation

If our only problems were Empire and Technology, I would be relatively happy. However, they always seem to be accompanied by the other three. Always…always.


While the concept of Empire was slowly dying out in Europe, it was slowly growing in the United States.

In Europe, the most notable players were the Germans, Austrians and Prussians. Britain (the “United Kingdom”) of course actually maintained the grandest empire throughout this period. But you could see that it had grown weary of the endless struggle that seemed to be involved in maintaining unquestioned domination.

Not so, the Americans! While Europe consumed itself in seemingly endless conflict, starting with the Napoleonic Wars, America looked westward with the utmost enthusiasm.

The concept of “manifest destiny” was concocted to convince the power-happy overseers and the power-hopeful underlings that they were all on exactly the right track. While the aboriginal peoples looked on, shook their heads, or fought against it, and died.


Though we like to think of our electronic age as the quintessence of technical innovation, it does not match the amount of pure force leveled against the environment by the inventors, industrialists and armies of the 19th century.

Ushered in by the Age of Steam, gasoline power was already well on its way to dominance by the end of the 1800s.

Dynamite was invented. The use of structural steel, replacing wrought iron (Eiffel Tower), became more and more common in civil engineering.

Several agricultural machines were invented and put into use during this period, as well as the typewriter, the sewing machine, photographic film and camera, the phonograph, electric lights, and finally, motion pictures.

Psychology also took its modern form – a sort of behavior modification technology – towards the end of this period.

Still, most Americans were using the good old fashioned firearm to get people to do what was requested of them. Major bank and train robberies began to show up in this period.


Europe seemed constantly embroiled in war during this period. If it wasn’t Napoleon, it was the Turks (Ottoman Empire) or the Germans, or Austrians, or Prussians. Or maybe, sometimes, the Russians (Crimea).

In the U.S., there was the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, the Civil War, and the war with Mexico over (mainly) Texas, and the Spanish-American War. It seems our Army, Navy and Marines were constantly busy.

Troops also helped capture Hawaii for the United States, so that Dole could sell his pineapples in America duty-free. And if you think there is any other reason Hawaii is a U.S. State, look again!

We also wanted the Philippines and Cuba, but we only got Puerto Rico and Panama, as well as Florida. California, etc, had been captured earlier from Mexico.


Empire, it seems, has never been averse to genocide. In the U.S. this meant, at first, the Native Americans, then later, black slaves – now freed. There were also other ethnic minorities involved, like the Chinese. Meanwhile, the Irish kept having problems with the British, presumably because they wanted to remain Catholic.

This was also happening to indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in South America, Australia, Africa, and Europe.


Though much of what happened along these lines is covered under Genocide, we can often see beneath the killing the lust for resources that seemed to be inspiring it.

During the 1800s, this was still expressing itself mostly through agricultural commodities. According to Wikipedia, forest cover in the U.S. dropped from 990 million acres (estimated) before westward expansion to about 700 million acres at present. This was mostly in the form of clearing the land for monoculture (a newish term for one-crop industrial agriculture).

We also have a lot of mining going on in the 1800s (copper, iron, coal) which has always been a very polluting activity.

The 1800s also saw the rise of the “modern” labor movement (now entrenched in some areas and threatened in others). In those days, leading a labor protest was considered a treasonous act.

On top of that, all of the Americas used black slaves. It is difficult for me to decide exactly how much black slavery was driven by economic incentives, and how much by some deeper, uglier need for an ultimate “underdog.” The Hindus of India had their “untouchables” for thousands of years before Europeans figured out how to steal Africans for enslavement in the Americas. Why didn’t the white upper classes just work harder to enslave the white lower classes? I am guessing that someone decided that using Africans would be a better plan.

Now that that’s legally over, other forms of enslavement, such as debt slavery, are having a comeback. We also have “newer” forms of exploitation now, based on the “pioneering” work of Wundt and his “psychologists” which began towards the end of the 1800s. Now the powers that be can replace blatant lying and blunt force with “more refined” techniques of persuasion. Doesn’t make it any less criminal, from my point of view; maybe even more criminal. If someone pointed a gun at you, you could at least shoot back.

What of the Arts, Literature, Theater, Academia, the Civil Rights movement?

The best way for a wolf to hide is by donning sheep’s clothing.

People, left to their own devices, would include plenty of enjoyable activities in their lives, if history is any guide. The ruling classes have always appropriated the arts as a kind of escape, or cover, from what must be their raging consciences. After all, leadership is necessary. (I actually agree with that.) If it becomes difficult or unbearable, well, too bad – it still must be done.

In my brief search into the 1800s, I found that Jefferson had hoped that slavery could be abolished in the United States by the beginning of that century. The beginning! Slavery was a huge issue from the very beginning of the Union of States! Lincoln tried to handle it, but then he got shot. And, by force of social pressure, slavery was replaced by its somewhat obvious precursor, racism.

Racism was already a “science” by the beginning of the 19th century. But that – it seems to me – was only done to give racists better talking points. Even Jefferson, apparently, was oblivious to the fact that blacks had totally identical capabilities to whites, until he made the acquaintance of an educated black man in 1791. He marveled at this as some sort of revelation!

And so (need I mention it) it continues to this day. Some sort of seething madness remains alive in the population, seemingly incurable, seemingly impossible to wipe out.

The new barbarians

But when all is said and done, the United States became the home of the new barbarians. The United States now spends more to defend its political position in the world using military might than the next ten largest nations combined.

defense spending comparison courtesy Peter G. Peterson Foundation

And that’s only the military expenditures! What about propaganda, and other technologies of control? The “mental health” system in the U.S. makes over $200 billion a year. Could that be one of the newer methods? Total annual “health” expenses in the U.S., by the way, are over $3 trillion.

“Barbarian” comes from a Greek word imitative of unintelligible speech. The Greeks originally applied the term to the Persians, a culture of roughly equal stature to theirs (if not higher). The Romans, as their culture decayed, applied the term to the various tribes trying to move in on their lands. The great cultures of history (after they stopped being so great) have always been swept away by “barbarians” who in turn developed the next “great” culture. Is modern Western culture really that superior to that of the ancient Persians? Certainly, for most of us, it is more comfortable. There is something to be said for that. But will that comfort alone get us to where we need to go? Of course not!

The challenge

The chance we had – made possible in part by our new-found level of comfort – was to reach beyond the old hackneyed attitudes and expressions of our predecessors to find a new understanding of the human condition which would lead, for once, to a real improvement of the human condition. That chance – I fear – is quickly running out. I, for one, hope we make it. And if that makes me a “barbarian,” so be it.


In viewing a newly-released report from the Commission on Unalienable Rights (established last year by Secretary of State Pompeo), I became interested in the distinction between the words “inalienable” and “unalienable.” I was reassured by that the words have identical meanings, and the different prefix reflects a change in English that occurred – are you ready for this? – in the 1800s. The article about this referred me to the nGram for these words:

What Happened in the 1980s?

25 June 2020
prime rate historical graph
Prime Bank Loan Rate – historical

I hope the sites I took these images from don’t mind me using them.

The above graph is the one I looked at, years ago, that made be ask the question that is the title of this post.

Now, I know people have secrets. And I know people can “conveniently ignore” certain facts. So, I figured that I might never find out for sure why this graph looks like this.

This graph is not just a peak that temporarily interrupts a trend. This graph is a mountain that has never been repeated – and looks like it never will repeat – in a time span amounting to approximately one hundred years.

Sci Fi break

I will start by telling you what I think happened. So you don’t need to read the rest if you don’t want to.

I think the greatest superpower on Earth decided that it had to do something about E.T. So it opened the money floodgates and secretly funded the biggest joint military research project this planet has ever seen. And possibly, something came of it. But probably all it managed to achieve was a kind of standoff. And so our leaders still can’t tell us about it, because they don’t yet feel very much in control of the situation.

That’s what I think happened.

Financial explanations

What the graph itself shows is that the Fed (Federal Reserve System) was trying to stave off inflation from an economy that was growing too fast. They did this by raising the prime rate to encourage savings and discourage borrowing. That is a standard method for reducing the money supply.

However, this policy strained the Savings & Loan system to its breaking point. It couldn’t pay higher interest on savings without getting higher interest payments on the mortgages it held. But those were fixed-rate mortgages. So the S&L system broke down and a lot of banks went out of business – at least a thousand by the time it was all over. Now you can’t earn any interest by saving money, not even at a Credit Union.

The Fed gave up on this policy and opened the floodgates to easy money and no savings. People who could afford it became investors instead of savers, and people who couldn’t afford it lost their assets. The average “poor” person today has about $4,000 worth of assets. The average “wealthy” person today has at least 1/2 a million. And the economy runs, basically, on debt.

U.S. Farm real estate values.

Here is a graph that shows the ’80s as a blip in a trend. Many financial graphs look like this. The price, or “value” of many assets has gone through the roof. This is an indication of the wealthier players jockeying to own more and more. To an extent, it may reflect population pressures. The amount of agricultural land hasn’t changed that much, yet prices indicate it is getting “scarcer and scarcer.”

U.S. income tax rates, historical.

The government, for its part, had expanded incredibly through the war years with very high tax rates until the end of the Vietnam War. The the wealthy started pushing for a decrease at the high end. And finally Reagan got in and pushed the high end way down. You see how these two lines follow each other most of the time. One is the highest income tax rate, the other the lowest. But you can see there’s a place where they don’t. The high side falls while the low side increases. That’s 1985 to 1987. Reagan had practically equalized tax rates over the entire range of taxable incomes. And they have stayed that way ever since, indicating that the wealthy have managed to have their way.

And so, growth or no growth, money has stayed cheap since the 1980s. The only ones who can really afford to borrow are the wealthy. But almost everyone else has to borrow anyway, just to keep going, or to “maintain the lifestyle they are accustomed to.”

Does this tell us any more beyond the fact that there was some sort of basic shift in monetary policy because the old policy wasn’t working? No, that’s about all it tells us.


Can a timeline of events give us any insight into this? (The answer is not much, as there are likely secret events that will never see the light of day.) Let’s see:

I used a lot of sites to obtain this list. It’s not complete of course. I tried to include the more significant events of the period, along with some cultural and tech milestones to help keep readers oriented.

Dates are written yyyymmdd as is customary in databases.

1980 Rubik’s Cube widely released as a toy. Ronald Reagan elected president later in the year.

19800331 President Carter signs act to “deregulate” Savings & Loans.

19800518 Mount St. Helens erupts.

19800522 Pac-Man video game released in arcades.

19800601 launch of CNN, the first 24-hour cable news network.

19801208 John Lennon killed.

19801224-28 Rendlesham Forest incident. This was a UFO sighting incident.

19801229 Cash-Landrum incident. Another UFO incident, similar to the one depicted in Close Encounters.

19810202 CIA Director says, “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

I am the source for this quote, which was indeed said by CIA Director William Casey at an early February 1981 meeting of the newly elected President Reagan with his new cabinet secretaries to report to him on what they had learned about their agencies in the first couple of weeks of the administration.

Barbara Honegger, Nov 25, 2014.

19810330 John Hinckley Jr. attacks President Reagan, almost killing him.

19810518 First cases of HIV/AIDS reported.

19810812 First IBM PC released, running the first personal operating system, DOS.

19811006 Anwar Sadat (Egypt) assassinated.

1982 L.Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth is published.

19820402 Faulklands War starts…

19820502 The Argentinian ship Belgrano is sunk.

sinking of ARA General Belgrano

19820611 Spielberg’s E.T. premieres.

1983 to 1985 Famine in Ethiopia.

19830101 Internet is born on ARPAnet.

19830120 MIDI is demonstrated at the NAMM show in Anaheim.

MIDI demonstration at NAMM in January 1983.

19830228 TV show “MASH” ends.

19830307 Time magazine reports on Senate hearing on military over-spending. This became a big issue and continues to be.

19830618 Second Challenger flight carries first female astronaut.

19830901 Soviet fighter jet accidentally shoots down KAL-007 passenger jet.

19830926 Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported that a missile had been launched from the United States, followed by up to five more. Petrov judged the reports to be a false alarm, and decided to disobey orders (against Soviet military protocol). This action is credited with preventing an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that could have resulted in a large-scale nuclear war.

19831023 US barracks in Beirut Lebanon bombed, killing 241 soldiers.

19831114 Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video released.

19840101 Bell System telephone network broken up.

19840503 Columnist Jack Anderson exposes CIA’s remote viewing project.

19840815 Lake Monoun outgassing kills 37 in the Cameroon.

19841031 Indira Gandhi (India) assassinated.

19841203 Poison gas leaks from a pesticide plant in Bhopal. It affected over 1/2 million people. Overall death toll about 20,000.

19850128 “We Are The World” is released to raise money for starving Africans.

19850311 Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of U.S.S.R.

19850623 Terrorists destroy Air India Flight 847.

19851119 Reagan and Gorbachev meet in Geneva.

1986 to 1988 One hundred B1 bombers are built by Boeing and delivered to the Air Force at a cost of $415million (2018 dollars) per plane. New ballistic missiles were also developed during this time, at a similar cost per missile, but never really deployed.

B-1B-bomber over pacific - USAF - public domain
U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III

1986 to 1989 Three hundred Savings & Loans were closed.

19860124 L.Ron Hubbard dies.

19860128 Challenger explodes soon after takeoff.

19860314 Microsoft goes public.

19860426 Chernobyl disaster occurs in Ukraine.

19860821 Lake Nyos outgassing kills 1,746 in the Cameroon.

19860908 Oprah Winfrey Show goes national.

19861117 JAL flight 1628 incident. A UFO sighting.

19870511 Ex-Nazi Klaus Barbie tried in Lyon France.

19870817 Ex-Nazi Rudolph Hess commits suicide in prison.

19871208 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed. This was a treaty between the U.S. and Russia limiting nuclear missiles.

19880703 Iran Airlines 655 shot down by accident by US Navy.

19881108 George H.W. Bush elected President.

19881221 Pan Am flight 103 explodes over Scotland, killing all aboard.

19890324 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

19890418 Tienanmen Square protests take place.

19891109 Berlin Wall opened, later torn down.

19891202 Bush and Gorbachev “bury” Cold War at Malta Summit.

Bush and Gorbachev in Malta
Courtesy RIA Novosti via Wikimedia Commons

Notice anything?

It’s not really easy to see any particular patterns here. Obviously, a lot was going on, considering the U.S. was not participating in any hot wars at the time. Reagan felt the need to cut taxes while building up military spending, then made peace with the U.S.S.R. and saw many of his Cold War weapon systems dismantled. So…why the military buildup?

Meanwhile, many major technical mishaps occur – one almost leading to World War III. We are learning that our technologies have limitations, but doing little with those lessons.

The U.S. and really the whole planet was sliding into a “post-industrial” era, when computer networks and surveillance would become more and more important, while hot wars became more and more unthinkable and limited. Manufacturing begins moving offshore to Asia, and more Asians are able to afford high-tech gadgets that were originally all exported to the West. The internet started and expanded enormously. Real computer music got started and the “great bands” of the ’60s and ’70s faded away, replaced by disco, electronica and hip-hop.

The drug epidemic in the West got worse. And society – as people – became more and more out of touch with the realities of life on Earth. Environmental problems were set aside, as if something else was more important. But what was more important? Well, what about those UFO sightings?

We have confirmation from several fairly good quality, and rather unpretentious, sources that the E.T. problem was considered real by many world leaders. I see the 1980s as a kind of retreat in the face of a superior power that no one knew how to handle, and that no one except “conspiracy theorists” wanted to talk about.

Your considered opinions, or additional data, are appreciated.


13 June 2020

In my trip home from Folsom this Saturday, the only thing that caught my eye enough to stop and photograph it was a solitary milkweed plant growing under a lone oak tree.

milkweed plant

Monarch Butterflies

What may be the most-known thing about the milkweed is that it is the sole food source of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. Most species of milkweed are full of a poisonous substance which this caterpillar (and a few other animals) has learned to incorporate into its biology as a survival strategy. The plant itself uses the same strategy: If eating you makes the eater so sick that it nearly dies or does die, then that kind of eater might learn to avoid eating things that look like you.

People who want Monarchs in their neighborhoods or gardens will often plant milkweeds to attract them.

Monarchs are not good at pollinating milkweeds, but the plant is a good source of nectar for butterflies and many other insects, many of which are much better pollinators.


milkweed flowers

The milkweed has one of the most bizarre flowers in the plant kingdom, along with plants like orchids.

I had to rely on Helen Smith’s notes in her book Michigan Wildflowers to inform me that most plants in this family are tropical (as are orchids).

This flower does not emit pollen the way most flowers do. Instead, an insect feeding on the nectar must stumble into the spaces between the five pointed nectar wells and accidentally get hooked onto a pair of pollination sacs which it then pulls out of the flower when in moves to another flower.

The insect must then accidentally step into another similar place on another plant and be lucky enough to insert one or two pollination sacs into their proper position. Only then can the ovaries further down in the flower be pollinated. Those pollinated ovaries then might turn into a seed pod.

This means that of all the flowers you see in these photos, it will be lucky if one or two end up bearing seed.

This plant was growing alone under a tree. It must have been brought there by a bird or squirrel – maybe the wind. But from where? Perhaps from a garden. I have seen no other wild milkweeds in all my trips down this trail.

Seed Pods

In botany, the seed pods are called “follicles.” I saw many when I used to roam across Michigan. I have never seen one in California.

According to articles I read about this plant, the germination rate of the seeds is very low. This is partly because North American milkweed seeds need to get cold (winter over) before they will germinate. Other articles talk about other uses for the seed pods, such as using the thread-like tufts for cushioning or to make certain kinds of absorbent materials.

Whatever ends up happening to the pods, they are quite a site while they are still on the plant. They normally manage to grow upright instead of hanging as so many heavier fruit must do. And once mature and dry, they can burst open in most unusual ways.

I had to rely again on Helen Smith, this time through the Michigan Botanical Club which she worked hard to keep going while she was alive. They published a little book in 1973 called Winter Wildflowers, containing numerous black-and-white photos of plants as they look in winter. Here, the milkweed:

milkweed pods bursting open

2021 Update!

The milkweed plant depicted above is gone this year. But…I found another one much further up the bike trail near Folsom. And this plant has some pods on it! Though autofocus got the best of me in this shot, those yellow blobs on the pod are aphids. Will this plant survive to see another summer? Only time will tell.

By late June, the entire area had already endured days of extremely hot weather and a few small grass fires.

The milkweed plant featured in the main article returned, but in a much diminished form:

Early June.

Within a month, it was covered with aphids and its few flowers had wilted:

Early July.

Fun with LED arrays

24 May 2020

I have been playing around with simple ways to make patterns on LED arrays.

Here’s one demonstration of how the same numeric pattern looks on a regular “square” array (cartesian coordinates) and on a circular or radial array (polar coordinates, you could say).

The circular array is quite suited to my work, because I am working with repetitive patterns and polar coordinates are usually used for things that repeat, like rotating planets or the sine wave that comes out of your wall socket.

Here we have a demonstration first of what x=y (cartesian) looks like on square and circular arrays. On the square array it’s just a diagonal line from the lower left corner to the upper right corner. On the circular array it’s a spiral.

When I flip the switch to take the x and y signals out of synchronization, where (in this case) x and y are different by about a ratio of 2 to 3, we get a slowly moving slanted line on the square array and a pulsing pattern – basically a set of spirals – on the circular array. So this condition looks more interesting. Many patterns are possible using this sort of system, and this is one thing I’m working on while stuck at home.

Circular arrays

Circular arrays that use base-2 numbers (8 or 16 for instance) are, as far as I can tell, non-existent as manufactured items. That means I have to make them myself. Here’s what my recently-constructed 8-by-8 array looks like in the back:

circular array rear view

Without going into laborious detail, you can see this took a bit of work.

I continue to look for pre-fab boards with circular patterns, but so far have only found ones used for clocks (12 points in the circle, or some multiple of 12). Digital ICs (old school CMOS) almost all use binary counting. As the standard IC has 16 pins, the most places you can pull out of one is 8. The binary number comes in as 3 bits (up to 8 places) or 4 bits (up to 16 places) and can be resolved to 8 places with one IC, or 16 with two, etc.

I may learn how to design my own boards for this purpose. We’ll see about that.

Hyperbaric Medicine

19 May 2020
hyperbaric chamber single patient
James Heilman, MD at en.wikipedia / CC BY-SA (

Recently Dr. (Joseph) Mercola has brought up the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to treat blood oxygenation (breathing) difficulties in COVID-19 patients. He linked to a presentation done by Dr. Kelly Thibodeaux about his experience with HBOT at his hospital in Louisiana.

I listened to the one hour presentation (which was done with the help of the Association for the Advancement of Wound Care – AAWC). What struck me the most about the presentation was the doctors’ use of diving terminology.

Diving and Hyperbaric Chambers

Water pressure increases at a rate of 1 atmosphere (or 1 bar) per 10 meters (33 feet) of depth.

Thus, if you are diving without the protection of a pressure chamber (such as in a bathyscaphe or submarine) then you must breath pressurized air in order to prevent your body by being crushed by the surrounding water.

Breathing air under pressure means that the dissolved gasses in your blood are being kept in a dissolved state by that pressure, not just chemical factors. Thus, if the pressure around you goes down (back towards 1 atmosphere, surface air pressure), the gasses in the blood can undissolve, creating bubbles in your blood and tissues. These bubbles can cause anything from pain to death.

The original development of hyperbaric medicine was for the purpose of saving divers who had surfaced too rapidly, and were experiencing “decompression sickness” (formerly known as “the bends”). They would be thrown into a pressure chamber and the air inside pressurized (usually to not much more that 2 atmospheres) to help their bodies handle the gas bubbles.

Thus, a session in a chamber is called a “dive.” And the target air pressure is described as “at depth.” So, if someone is given a “dive with one hour at a depth of 1.6 atmospheres” it means he was kept in the chamber while the inside pressure was gradually increased to 1.6 times sea level air pressure, then maintained there for an hour, then gradually reduced back to normal air pressure.

In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the gas inside the chamber is often close to pure (100%) oxygen. This is for no other reason than its therapeutic effects. Other gas mixtures may, or sometimes must, be used for other types of treatments.

Mercola states that HBOT has been shown to be widely therapeutic. It increases availability of oxygen in the blood, in spite of any breathing difficulties the patient may be experiencing. And oxygen in the blood, within certain limits, is a very good thing.

The Louisiana doctor that gave the presentation took us through five case histories of patients who had COVID-19 with blood oxygenation complications (which is very common in severe cases). Several of these patients were hospital employees. They all benefited tremendously from their treatments and recovered from the disease. Of course, they were getting other treatments besides the HBOT. Most patients with severe symptoms are given antibiotics and a blood thinner. Some hospitals also administer nutrients like Vitamin C.

Availability and use of chambers

For this to work, hyperbaric chambers must exist in the hospital and be located relatively close to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). This may not always be the case, as many doctors and hospitals are relatively unaware of hyperbaric medicine and the benefits of HBOT.

Special disinfectant procedures must be used when the chambers are used for ill patients. They are more commonly used on people who are otherwise not contagious with anything.

Treating multiple people at once is possible with some chambers. However, all the chambers (six) in the Louisiana hospital were single-person chambers very similar to the one pictured at the top of this post.

hyperbaric chamber - multi-person
ד”ר יהודה מלמד עין הוד / CC BY-SA (

The above image is from the Elisha Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

In multi-person chambers (or rooms) the concentrated oxygen is delivered locally to each patient, so that the entire space does not have to be filled with it. This assumes that most absorption will be through the nose and mouth, which is normally the case except in the treating of wounds or burns that aren’t healing properly.

Mayo Clinic has a good page on HBOT, although it is characteristically conservative concerning what conditions may benefit from the therapy.

Mercola is less conservative in his communication, so gets into trouble with “the authorities” regularly about things he says or reports on his site. But besides the Louisiana experience (up to 11 patients treated last I heard) there is also a Chinese paper on treatment results on a small number of COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms. Beyond that, a Kansas City doctor treated Spanish Flu patients with HBOT, though apparently failed to fully document his results. And of course HBOT is routinely used for all sorts of other medical conditions. As a procedure, it is routine, relatively safe, and relatively non-invasive. No drugs are involved with it at all.

I agree with Mercola that it should be more widely used.

Ferns and other unusual plants

28 December 2019
maidenhair fern
Photographed with a Pentax SLR camera on color slide film.

Last week I noted that ferns were springing up along the American River, even though it’s winter. I thought I’d go a little deeper into ferns and other odd plants in this post.

The beautiful symmetry of the maidenhair fern pictured above is unusual even for fern plants. I have always treasured this photo, taken in Ann Arbor when I was in high school, simply for the dramatic pattern displayed by this plant.


I was studying botany at the time, not as a passion exactly, but mostly as a way into the world of living systems and the exhaustive naming and categorization procedures of the life sciences. It had started with a penchant for taking long hikes in then-nearby Bird Hills. I wanted to know what the plants were, so I got into field botany (plant identification). I even did a science project based on it! This park (Nature Area) continues to be maintained by the city and its ecology is probably not that much different than when I lived there in the 1970s.

I found many old books on the subject; most were filled with drawings of plants, which interested me much more than all the theory in the text.

Asa Gray's fern illustrations
Asa Gray’s fern illustrations.

The thing about ferns is that they don’t have flowers and seeds. The leaves hold the reproductive parts, and reproduction is accomplished either on the leaf or on the soil, in the presence of moisture. Once a new plant has started to grow and established itself, the need for moisture may be much reduced, though moist environments are still favored.

And so it is that new fern leaves are sprouting up now, in “winter,” because it is the rainy season.

Typical bracken fern habitat along American River.

These ferns (the “weedy” type known as bracken fern) seem to favor the old rock piles left by the gold miners. These piles of rocks are now 100 to 150 years old, and in the parkland areas have remained largely undisturbed for most of that time.

sun shining through a fern frond, showing the "dots" that can bear spores.
The dots seen on these leaves may develop into spore sacs.

I wanted to get a fern leaf (or frond) with the sun shining through it to emphasize the pattern of spore sacs. By inspection, these have not yet matured on these plants.

Ferns in other places

The common bracken fern lives everywhere around the world, and is the archetypal “fern.” But there are many other ferns. The maidenhair is only one example of how amazing the fronds can look.

My nephew took a trip to Indonesia several years ago and provided the following photos via his blog:

fern of Harau Valley Sumatra
Harau Valley, Sumatra
Fern near Telaga Warna, Indonesia
Near Telaga Warna, Indonesia

There is so much possible variation in this group of plants, as is true of so much of life.

Other interesting plants

pitcher plants
Pitcher plants, Harau Valley

Andy got some great photos on his trip to Indonesia. Pitcher plants grow in many boggy places all over the world, but these are a great example. They are a “carnivorous” plant; they feed on insects that fall into their specialized leaves and get trapped.

Andy with Rafflesia
Rafflesia, plant with largest flower.

Rafflesia, however, is much less common. Andy made an extra effort to find and photograph this specimen is its native habitat. This plant attaches itself to certain vines, then grows this monster flower. It has no stems or leaves.

Another plant that uses other plants to settle on is Spanish Moss. However, it is neither a moss or particularly Spanish. It is a seed plant that grows on trees, probably to obtain more sunlight and avoid getting drowned by floods.

Spanish Moss, Florida
A Spanish Moss growing in Panama City, Florida.

I got this photo while I was visiting Florida as a Volunteer Minister to help with emergency supplies and clean-up after Hurricane Michael.

But for sheer lushness of undergrowth, there is nothing like a young forest’s floor during the warm moist days of a Midwest summer, such as we always experienced in Michigan.

Michigan forest floor
Typical Michigan forest floor, summer.

There are about six different plants in this photo, including the kidney-shaped leaves of Wild Ginger. I’ve never seen a habitat like this in California. Perhaps there are some coastal areas that get close.


24 May 2019

One of my interests is creating projects that demonstrate physics concepts. This is particularly true for physics concepts that are mentioned by Mr. Hubbard in has writings or lectures. One such concept is harmonics.


The above representation, obtained from an educational website, illustrates the basic idea here. “Hz” stands for Hertz, the chosen name for a unit of measure of frequency, previously known as Cycles Per Second.

These terms, as far as I know, are borrowed from the world of music, where they have been in use at least since the time of the Greeks, who liked to play around with the mathematics of vibrating strings.

One way of looking at harmonics is the idea that they can be derived by taking a string and dividing it into different numbers of parts that add up to the total length. That gives you a series of whole fractions for different string lengths (periods), and a series of whole number multiples for frequency (or tone). In audio, we usually refer to frequencies rather than wavelengths or periods.  In radio and light, you are more likely to see wavelengths referred to.

The harmonic series illustrated above contains two octaves. An octave is a frequency exactly two times another frequency. In music, octaves are given the same note letter, as they indeed sound like the “same” note.

Traditional musical scales

Traditional music scales are based on whole fractions. It was possible to determine relationships between notes using fractions before we had electronic means to measure frequency. Thus, a traditional musical scale would be made up of a fundamental tone and then a series of chosen higher tones relating to the fundamental by whole fractions of a value between one and two. The most common notes used were sub-octaves of the harmonics of the fundamental tone. Thus: 3/2, 5/4 and 7/4, 9/8, 11/8, 13/8 and 15/8. Many other tones are possible, but it was found – or considered – that these sounded the most musical when played together. Modern tuning systems approximate these notes while creating a scale that makes transposition between keys (scales starting with different fundamentals) much easier.

My project

With my project, I just wanted to demonstrate what several harmonics of a fundamental sound like.

The biggest challenge in generating such tones electronically is to get a pure tone (sine wave). Sine is the name of the function that describes a pure tone. It is a term taken from trigonometry (the study of the properties of angles and circles).

I wanted six sine waves that were exact mathematical multiples of the fundamental. The only practical way to achieve this is starting with digital signals. Those signals can then be built into sine waves using various processes. I was a little nervous about how well this would work, and how easy or difficult it would be to create good sine waves. But it worked out OK. In this design, most of the sine waves are constructed from 16 voltage steps. For the fundamental tone, I made knobs to control the size of the voltage steps. For all the other tones, I used fixed resistors. The basic idea was taken from a magazine article from the 1980s that I had saved in my digital library.

This project works fairly well. The power supply was a little complicated, because I needed four different voltage rails: +10V, +5V, (ground = 0V), -5V and -10V. My fixed-resistor sine wave generators work quite well. The one using variable resistors is a little flaky, but does an acceptable job. I get seven harmonics from this equipment, including the fundamental, and I can mix them in different ratios to get richer sounds.

I built this into a cabinet that was already occupied by an old multimeter I purchased years ago. I decided there would be enough space for it without removing that old meter, so it remains a part of the project. I can even use it to measure the amplitude of the output signal!