Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Signs of the Times

16 May 2020
state parks flatten curve sign

…being a collection of images of local signage, mostly recently posted….

Older Signs

I think the first time I got an idea that I should take pictures of signs was the first time I saw this one in Folsom. It’s cute, sort of witty, right?

attentions dogs!

This next one is everywhere on the bike paths. I thought I should include it because of how confusing it could be if you didn’t know the context. Some people don’t know why this should be done and/or don’t do it.

walk left, ride right

And please limit your bicycling speed to 15 MPH! If I could go that fast, I could get home in less than an hour and a half. It usually takes me close to 3 hours. I figure I ride at about 6 MPH. The “racers” maybe go 10.

bikes stay below 15 MPH!

COVID-19

“Social distancing” (whatever that is) was one of the earliest concepts introducing into the pandemic “handling.” (Sorry about the quotes, but several sources including my gut call BS on a lot of this stuff.)

social distancing (winco)

Instruction signs were also posted along the bike path, but I haven’t seen them recently. Here’s another one in town:

keep US safe

Later on, WinCo put this one up…

leave your bags in the car

…then stopped charging for plastic bags. Here we have a huge plastic conservation initiative defeated by a microscopic RNA fragment!

And worse than that, the playgrounds are closed. This breaks my heart.

closed playground

I don’t know how the kids can stand these limitations on their movement.

I know a lot of them are learning how to ride bikes.

shelter in pace virtual run

I’m not sure what a “virtual run” is, but I guess these guys have it all figured out.

Closed restaurants

restaurant open for take-out

There are lots of signs like this around town. This restaurant is a very upscale place (across from the light rail station near downtown) so the sign had to look good.

There are roughly 1,400 restaurants in and around Sacramento (California Restaurant Association figure). The street I return on (L Street) is full of them. A cluster of rather chic ones occupies the ‘teens streets area.

thank you for supporting local businesses

Heroes

Suddenly health care workers are “heroes.” Are they getting hazard pay?

Heroes work here - Sutter

This sign is at the Sutter Health center. Sutter is a not-for-profit health care company that operates numerous hospitals.

health care heroes and home for sale

Kaiser gets to toot its own horn, I guess. It is the biggest health care provider of its type in the country. The Plan is strictly non-profit, but doctors can form for-profit groups within the structure.

Though I included a “home for sale” sign, the housing market does not seem to be particularly involved with what is going on right now.

Enjoying the early summer

party at a park - with social distancing

People who want to have an outing in the park usually try to pay their respects to the current restrictions.

people rafting on the American River

Rafters? Maybe not so much.

Medicine

At this time, perhaps more than ever before, the world of medicine has intersected with the world of public life. The result has been – from my viewpoint – a disaster.

learn pharmacy ad on train

The world of medicine is attached at the hip to the world of pharmacy. This is not because drugs have been found to be the best way to treat illnesses. But they are certainly the most simple-minded way to treat illnesses. So everyone agrees. And pharmacy has become big business.

Birds and Flowers

What would my weekly post be without some bird and flower photos?

brodiaea

This flower looks a lot like the ones I identified as allium (wild onion) earlier, but this new one is brodiaea.

asters

These asters appeared “out of nowhere.” Flowers really change a plant’s character and visual impact.

bluebird feeding young

The bluebird is now busy feeding its young. I can hear them tweeting inside their box whenever more food arrives.

And the geese at Hagan Community Park have been very productive this year!

Geese with many goslings

Vacant Urban Land

6 May 2020

Every time I go down the stairs to get the mail, I have to look out on this scene across the street.

This used to be the location of the “Clunie Hotel.” I believe it was burned down about ten years ago. This lot appears to have been vacant for quite some time.

This scene keeps hitting me in the face as “wrong.” So I wanted to write about it.

Other unused land

There are several pieces of land close to city center that have been marked for redevelopment but so far stand empty and unused.

One such area in Sacramento is the “railyards” area just to the north of downtown. It was established around the time of the Civil War as a major maintenance depot for local and transcontinental trains. A plan to make this area into a living part of the city has been on the table for years.

sacramento railyards looking into the city

If you get up on that overpass (which goes over the existing rail line) and look to the north and east, you see how large this area is.

railyards area looking away from the city

As was obvious from the previous photo, the city has already put in a road grid with street lights and storm drains. Nothing else has really happened, though, since that time.

Vacant land in the “old days”

In the mid-1800s, as California opened up to immigration from the Midwest and East, people who could afford to would go in and buy large quantities of land and then sit on it until the people came, and sell it to them at a big profit. This has been called “land speculation.” This made a few folks very rich and started a popular trend of “investing in land.”

Well, back then there was a lot of open land and most U.S. cities were still quite small. The money was thought to be in agriculture until industry started to build up in cities.

In the late 1800’s land speculation was a big problem in cities, too. It kept urban land out of production and forced workers to seek cheaper lots further away from where they worked. A thinker of that time, Henry George, proposed that communities should force more urban land into productive use by taxing only the value of the land, rather than land plus improvements. He argued that communities owned their land and gave it value by their very presence, and that land “owners” really only owned the improvements they added to the land to make it productive. A “land tax” would provide incentive to someone holding title to land to make it and keep it productive.

Various modifications to this scheme were tried in a few places, sometimes with good results. But most areas stuck with the traditional way of valuing land, which meant that the owner was basically penalized for improving the land to make it more productive. There was pressure from land owners to keep property taxes low, and cities started relying more on other forms of tax, like sales tax. Investing in land continued to be a “thing to do.”

Vacant land now

Today there is still a problem with unused/undeveloped land in or near cities. The problem these days tends to be that the original owner cannot afford to continue to use the land. They have experienced some economic setback that prevents them from repairing or replacing structures, keeping up mortgage payments, or even paying property taxes. When taxes go into arrears, the county or city government usually gains control of that land. If one defaults on mortgages, the lender will foreclose. But most lenders are not prepared to be land owners and will try to get the land resold as soon as possible. There is still room for land price speculation in these scenarios.

The most common solutions I have found for getting land into use are to either tax it more heavily until it goes into use, or get it into the local “land bank” where it can then be sold cheaply to someone who promises to actually use it for something productive.

Per reports I have read, penalizing vacant land owners does not seem to work that well. They just find sham ways to get the land to appear on paper like it is in use. I suppose such people are speculators, or they would just sell the land and rid themselves of the problem.

Land Values and Property Tax

Most land is assessed for tax purposes by an “Assessor” who follows certain guidelines of good practice, along with whatever the law in his state dictates. It is usually assessed at some percentage of what he thinks it would sell for if put on the market for sale. He compares the land to similar land that has recently been sold to estimate this value.

This is a problem for most municipalities when there is an economic downturn, because the sale price of unused land tends to decrease, and so their tax revenues. If they don’t have a land bank system set up, they can’t do that much when an owner defaults on his taxes except to hope that a new owner will come along who can afford to pay the taxes.

City (urban) planning

The problem of how communities could get more control over their land and how it is used has been a big issue for quite some time. Most communities do not want to challenge the “free market” aspect of land ownership and use, yet have made various attempts through “zoning” and other urban planning strategies to increase their control. Sometimes this process just results in stalemates, because existing residents will pile up against some new idea for using land in their area in fear that it will result in reduced property values (their “investment”).

There is also a push for more open space among some sectors of the urban population. This usually means turning a lot into a park, which the community will then have to maintain at its own expense.

However, none of these dynamics are very evident in downtown Sacramento. The residents here are mostly not land owners and not organized. The land owners are mostly governments, developers, and some big corporations. They normally have buildings on their land (which may include nice park-like areas) which are there for commercial (or governmental) purposes. If a major player wants to build a skyscraper next to my apartment building, they’d probably get their way, though the parcel is currently part of a “special planning district.” Special districts offer incentives to developers to provide certain types of business and residential spaces in their areas. The city planners want K Street to be a “multi-use” type of street, which means more people and less cars. The overall idea is to reduce the costs of commuting by allowing more people to live near where they work and/or near public transit (although public transit isn’t currently less costly than cars, just more compact).

How all this has impacted the plans for the vacant lot next to my building is hard to say. I don’t know how to find out what the current owner is planning to do with the property. And then there is the issue of the economy….

Criminals create poor economic conditions

If a criminal element or operation is bleeding the economy generally, everyone suffers and regular expenses, like taxes, mortgages, and construction loans, become more difficult for everyone to afford.

Criminals find their way into communities by various means. Some (like psychiatrists) pose as “experts” who know how to handle some sort of problem plaguing the community. This can also be done on a “protection racket” basis. In this operation, the criminals create a problem in the community, then offer themselves as the solution to that problem. This has happened in some places in Central and South America where criminals now “run” whole neighborhoods or towns, because they caused so much trouble for the existing honest managers that they gave up and left.

Crime is no minor concern in today’s world, and there are lots of pressures in the direction of increasing use of criminal methods instead of honest methods in handling situations in life. Such is our current condition in this “COVID Crisis” per my best estimates.

It should be noted that the Nazis started in Germany as a more-or-less popular political party and ran the government there for many years. This is even though they openly supported Eugenics and other racist ideas. Eugenics was also widely supported in the United States (and many other places) back then.

Any concentration of power is attractive to criminal elements because if they can gain some control of it, it gives them more “freedom” to commit more crime. This should serve as a warning to anyone who seeks to concentrate or centralize power and authority to “solve” local or world problems. It won’t work if criminals take over, so you need an active and working protection against their incursions. We already have the IRS in the U.S. It has only been kept somewhat in line by good sense and constant oversight. It has had many criminal episodes, and is based on a basically criminal idea.

Remedies

If the lot across from my building is vacant because of unfavorable economic pressures, then Sacramento is still dealing with a criminal scene somewhere in its midst. I’ve spotted psychiatry as one for sure. It is strong here for some reason, but just as ineffective as always, and so should really be fired from its current position controlling “mental health” in the city. For now we can use psychologists who are a little more ethical.

Major drug trafficking lanes run through the city, so there is some criminal attention on letting their traffic pass through on the freeways. They probably also traffic people (slaves) on the same routes. There are probably a variety of other unseen forces at work, as this is, after all, the capital city of one of the largest states on the planet.

Remedies in terms of law, policy, and “community development” are often discussed on the internet. Getting the bleeding to stop by kicking out the criminal elements in a community or society in general is less commonly mentioned, but I think is obviously a more key action to take. Not only will criminal activity ruin a community financially, it will ruin it spiritually, too. And then reviving it will become that much more difficult, because somewhere along the line it started to decide that it was easier to give up and die.

This is, in essence, what had been happening to various communities – including the global community – over the years as the pressure from criminal interests and activities has increased. They are, individual by individual, beginning to give up.

This is an old pattern. It has caved in – if not entirely erased – many civilizations on this planet (to say nothing of other planets). We now have technology to remedy this problem, but it goes up against an attitude of defeatism that actually runs quite deep.

However, if we don’t take the needed steps to revive ourselves, we could all end up living like this guy:

tent of a homeless person.

And the whole city will look not much different than these vacant areas he looks down upon. If buildings remain, they will be unusable – no electricity or water – and probably guarded by armed gangs as superior shelter. This is what we get if we give up!

Tidbits

26 April 2020

…consisting of somewhat random notes.

The Arboretum

It was warm this weekend! And when it gets hot – which means I get hotter on my ride home – I usually stop at the arboretum (UC Sac State) along the way.

butterfly bush flowers

Here is the butterfly bush mentioned on the marker above. Exotic!

And an iris.

iris

Nearby were some calla lilies.

calla

This is quite a peaceful place. And popular as a way to take in a short walk.

There were a lot of people out Saturday. The regular bike racers, plus a ton of families with kids.

The weather, predicted to be partly cloudy, turned out mostly sunny, and I got burned.

eArt Projects

At home I have been working – almost feverishly – on putting together some systems that will allow me to continue to develop more electronic art.

I worked a lot on an oscillator made from an old IC known as “XR2206.” This IC is considered very outdated, yet it continues to have popularity among hobbyists and can still be obtained from electronics surplus stores. One wonders, though, why these parts are surplus. Could it be they were rejected by the original manufacturers due to being out-of-specification?

What I know about this IC is that it has been hard for me to work with in that it does not deliver the full functionality it was specified for. In theory, you can get a 2000:1 frequency range out of this part, but this is difficult to achieve because at higher current levels it begins to go unstable or stop oscillating.

Still it is a great way to get a sine wave for testing purposes with just the turn of one knob. And that’s all I needed it for.

XR2206 oscillator

This is an important part of my “analog” rack. This rack is for developing different ways to process sound and turn it into signals that can control light (LED) displays.

Below the oscillator is an open section where boards can be inserted for testing. That part isn’t finished yet.

analog rack

The whole thing looks like this right now.

The mounting rails with all the little screw holes in them are taken from the “eurorack” system. This system was developed as a metric standard that imitates the old U.S. standard 19-inch wide equipment racks. This rack size has continued to be popular for computer equipment and for professional audio equipment. The eurorack has become the default standard for modern modular equipment, especially analog (old-school) synthesizers. The “new breed” of “analog” synths can be computer-aided, which helps to overcome some of their old problems with tuning stability, amount of space required, and similar issues.

I note that vinyl as a recording medium is also back in vogue. Some people really think it sounds better.

I use these racks for projects that need to be modular – built in functional sections. They are a great substitute for older rack equipment which tends to be way too deep for this sort of application. Lots of professional synth modules are less than 1 inch deep behind the panel! My racks are about 4 inches deep. That was not quite deep enough, however, for the power supply module I found (at a very good price) so I had to make a hole in its panel so it could stick out 1/2 an inch in the front. That meant putting a thick plastic cover over it so it would be electrically safe.

I also have an analog meter in this rack, as I sometimes want to see the slower changes in a signal, and digital meters aren’t good for that.

digital rack

My digital rack is very similar, except it all works on 5 volts. Its purpose is to help me design digital pattern generators that will respond (usually) to one or more analog signals taken from the environment.

Here is another open section where boards may be inserted to try them out. That still needs more work.

Deliveries

I wanted a better webcam in case I had reason to use one over this period or later. So I ordered one and asked for it to be delivered by the second business day (Fedex). The driver, however, could not get into my building because the managers have not been unlocking the door when they’re in the office, like they usually do. For some reason he didn’t think to (or couldn’t) call me so I could let him in, so it’s the third business day and the camera remained undelivered.

I decided to go out to the Fedex facility and pick it up. It wasn’t hard, though it took about two hours by bus. Right now the bus drivers have to wear masks and all the passengers have to enter and exit via the back door (unless they are wheelchair types). Most people are taking it pretty well, but I think it’s crazy.

My electronics parts orders have been coming through pretty well, though. The USPS has no problem delivering the mail, and orders from California only take two days to get here, so that’s working for me.

Is the way out the way through?

This is an old saying used in Scientology, but actually broadly applicable. It means that if you have something hanging around that’s bothering you, it’s only there because you didn’t confront it well enough the first time you ran into it. The only way to get rid of it is to confront it more thoroughly.

While some doctors, including that Fauci dude, remain almost studiously ambivalent about this particular disease, the fact is that we wouldn’t be alive on Earth today if we didn’t have some natural way to build up immunity against all the pathogens floating around in the environment. And so, while it takes its toll on us to one degree or another, we will build up our immunity to this one, the next one, and a few more after that (I hope).

The doctors who do talk about immunity and the immune system as the way through this thing are oddly ignored by some of the others who want drugs or a vaccine to handle it. This has led some of them to wonder out loud if the medical establishment has some “agenda” it’s trying to push forward (to make more money and gain more control), and from all I’ve heard and read, this is quite possible.

What I know for sure is: This disease needs to run its course, and people need to get back to what they were doing to earn money and make things go right. You can’t put the world on hold forever without killing it. Is that what those doctors want?

Here’s another photo of flowers. They don’t seem to be aware that there’s anything wrong.

yellow flowers

Toilet Paper – A Note

16 April 2020
toilet paper roll

There was a big thing a while back – and it still vibrates around the internet – involving all the extra toilet paper people were buying.

I was aware there was a problem with TP in the stores after this whole thing started. But I didn’t bother to read about it until later.

On 2 April a writer named Will Oremus (who seems like a very competent writer, by the way, and quite prolific) got an article published on “Marker” (a website featuring various stories) which quickly got pushed into my browser feed. This article sought to explain the TP problem.

First, he listed all the people and organizations who were making a big thing out of this being some sort of irrational hoarding behavior:

  • U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar
  • the president of a paper manufacturer
  • psychologists
  • the BBC
  • the Mises Institute
  • The Atlantic

Then he brings out the person who probably got it right: Jim Luke, a professor of economics at Lansing Community College, who once worked as head of planning for a wholesale paper distributor.

In the following week (April 10), NPR interviewed professor Luke on the same subject.

Our intrepid writer also contacted a person from Georgia-Pacific to confirm this theory.

The theory is: More people are staying a home. Thus, more toilet paper is needed at home. Less is needed in schools and businesses, and they get their TP from totally different sources (usually) than home dwellers. People were just preparing for more bathroom use in their houses, and this pushed the whole supply chain out of adjustment, because it is built on the assumption that demand for TP at home remains very constant.

Irrational behavior? I think not! Just a new (temporary) need not artfully handled. End of story!

On Evolution

21 March 2020

Sitting at home a lot during these days of self-quarantine, I resort to the computer for something to do. I use Mozilla Firefox as my browser. And Firefox uses an app called Pocket. This is a feed of “popular” articles that a user can mark for “saving” or later review. Of course, cloud apps don’t actually save anything to the client device (the computer you own and work with) but keep everything on the server (a network of computers that you don’t own, but store all data available on a network – in this case the Internet). Although I believe Pocket provides some sort of local save feature.

At every logon, the featured articles in my Pocket feed change a bit. They include quite a wide range of writing, but mostly those offered by traditional publications that once had hard copy versions, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, New Yorker magazine, The Atlantic magazine, Harvard Business Review, and so on.

Newer content sources also appear. Quartz is a business-oriented news service. Wired is a technology-oriented magazine that has a hard copy version. Vice is a younger-adult-oriented media provider. Vox is a left-leaning provider of “exploratory journalism.” Mental Floss is another example of many newer media companies that are now online-only. The Conversation is an academically-oriented site. I may also see posts form NPR, Citylab, Aeon (an Australian educational charity) and many others.

Though there is a lot of variety provided by all these organizations and all the people who write for them, there is a tendency – certainly in the topics I follow – to not challenge too heavily the Status Quo.

Though I challenge the Status Quo for ostensibly rational reasons (that it isn’t working that well and has become exclusionary) I admit that I may harbor a more irrational bent for challenging our desire for a stable belief system.

Be that as it may, certainly one concept that has moved solidly into the position of a stable belief system, at least in the realm of academia, is Evolution. Some would argue that Evolution is one approach to the larger problems of “Origin Science.” Yet this concept has not yet received broad academic support, although there is some movement in that direction, such as the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH).

Which came first?

Without getting into all the sociopolitical ooze that accompanied science as it drove itself into the twentieth century, “modern” science seems to formally reject any idea that ideas, or a desire to create, could have actually preceded form, or the results of creation.

This was a significant divergence from the concept of Prime Mover expounded by Aristotle, and the willingness of many earlier scientists to believe in something like God. Further, the new concept contained a sort of logical riddle: How could creation ever happen, if what was created (the physical universe, for example) also created the desire to create (life, for example)? It makes more sense that the desire to create would come first, and then the creation would follow.

Eastern religious ideas began to enter the West with the colonization of India and other such areas starting in the mid-1700s. It is theorized that certain power groups in the West were concerned about the “soft” ideas of the East and sought to counter them. However that may be, we find in Darwin a desire to explain biology in terms of physical causes only, and in his half-cousin Galton, a desire to breed mankind into “better” forms (Eugenics).

What the West had on its side was that the physical was obvious, measurable, and thus knowable, while spiritual things were seen as intuitive, impossible to measure, and thus impossible to gain any certainty about. To this day many scientists, both in the East and the West, believe this basic premise either explicitly or implicitly and are only comfortable with concepts of physical causation. That does not, however, mean that “spiritual causation,” as one might call it, has not been investigated, demonstrated, and in fact found – in many ways – to be as measurable and as knowable as other forms of causation.

Ramifications of the doctrine of the Prime Mover

For Aristotle (according to what I have read about him so far), the main thing that the idea of a Prime Mover allowed into the picture was God. But in more general terms, what the concept allows into the picture is Spirit.

The simplest concept of spirit is indeed the concept of a Prime Mover. More colloquially, we could see this as a being who got something started, then sat back to watch what would happen. This being might then wander off to put its attention on something else, yet the system it had put in motion could continue to operate.

As we can measure the “age” of the entire physical universe by various methods and theories, another ramification of this concept is that Prime Mover, God, or Spirit, has existed for a LONG time, and might, for all we know, still exist. This gives some people what I might call the “Santa Claus problem.”

He sees you when you’re sleeping;

He knows when you’re awake.

He knows when you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake!

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

There are plenty of people in the world (and it seems in the West in particular) who don’t want anybody to know when they’ve been bad or good!

And this is one theory why concepts of Spirit, immortality, past life memory and similar things have been discouraged or invalidated in the West.

Secular attempts to re-establish the concept

There have been a significant number of individuals and groups who have sought to preserve spiritual concepts as religious beliefs. Far fewer have made attempts to secularize these concepts.

Hubbard’s own efforts along this line began with a secular intention. It was not until 1954 that the church was established, years after his initial breakthroughs had been communicated and applied.

However, broadly speaking, academic interest in “spiritual” phenomena has existed for a long time, and has resulted in a significant – if not broadly accepted – amount of work in the field. I always like to point out the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine as an example of this. They have documented thousands of cases of past life recall.

Another development has been the attempt to make Intelligent Design an academically acceptable research discipline. So far, per Wikipedia, this has failed. The concept attracted, and was started by, so many religious people that secularists think of it as just another attempt to re-inject religious doctrine into the classroom. For these people, it seems, Intelligent Design means Prime Mover means God. This concatenation of essentially unrelated ideas has spoiled the movement.

Evolution as an information problem

I have seen arguments that run something like this:

At every instance of procreation (or cell division in simpler organisms), there is a chance for the genetic information in the cells (or the sex cells in higher organisms) to vary from that contained in the parent cell or cells. This can result in an offspring (or daughter cell) containing different genetic material than the parent. If this offspring lives to reproduce, that genetic variation survives. If it does not live to reproduce, that genetic variation does not survive. This limits the information passed forward in time to: Yes or No, did that variation allow that organism to survive to reproduce? Thus, any other information that the organism might acquire over the course of its lifetime is meaningless from the point of view of genetic information.

This means, for example, that a person who procreates from the age of 20 to 30 can forward no useful genetic information gained after the age of 30. And that if that person had died before the age of 20, he would have forwarded no genetic information at all.

Of course, most scientists in the field believe that experiential information does not encode and so cannot be forwarded. Yet at the same time they believe that genes broadly determine not only physical appearance, but general behaviors and abilities as well. How does all that data ever get into the genes, if the only datum available is survival to procreation?

Cell differentiation is another problem, but this one has been researched into the ground. They’ve got it all figured out how, in advanced organisms, a single cell pair relying on just one copy of its genetic code eventually turns into an organism with eyes, legs, a liver, etc.

How did all this information get into the genome? Researchers don’t seem too worried about that question.

A solution to the information problem

What is the difference between a living cell or organism and a dead one? All most scientists can tell us is that something made the cell or organism unable to function, and that was that.

Well, causes of death are usually so diverse and so obvious that this explanation is difficult to argue against. We have a few “freak” cases (an accelerating phenomenon in modern hospitals) where people die and then mysteriously revive. Their own stories of what happened are discounted. But they almost universally validate the concept of the Prime Mover.

Whether people report that they were “called back” or simply decided that they really didn’t want to die just then, we see the whole concept of Spirit assert itself as a reality of (at least) human existence. And this gives us a solution to the problem of too little information to ever really successfully evolve.

To fill this role, Spirit must have some sort of mental capability, or “somatic memory” of its own, distinct from mere genetic codes. And the research finds that it does. Spirit, in fact, seems to have a lot of really interesting capabilities. It fits the requirements for a Prime Mover. It can bring physicality into existence without itself ever being physical. And so it can add something to a living organism that makes it alive, that gives it a purpose, and motion. In theory Spirit exists above the level of genetics, and probably created genetics. In sober reality Spirit helps us to do things that could never be encoded into our genes, but can easily be remembered or recreated. It can also make profoundly stupid mistakes, act crazy, and pretend to be dead. Without Spirit, real evolution would have never been possible, and the future would be a total dead end. With Spirit, we possibly have another chance.

I return to The Lands

18 March 2020
dead trees along american river

About two years ago I started a blog called “The Lands” about a fictional global event that changed the planet forever, and how it was handled.

It is set, maybe, 50 years in the future.

It was an exercise for me in how things I had learned could be applied in the real world. But of course, the global emergency I depicted was entirely fictional…

I wanted to turn that blog – or at least that idea – into a work of fiction. But I didn’t particularly want to write a novel. I was getting pictures of how the story might go, so I thought: Why not write a screenplay?

I am still working on a version that could actually last an hour or longer on film. Meanwhile, I wrote some other stories to get some practice on how to use Trelby, an open-source tool for writing screenplays.

But today I found myself home for a day, because I had some sniffles. My church wants to play it very safe. They know what’s being reported about this global event…

So I thought, why not publish here the part of the story that I consider basically finished? Maybe it could provide a few of you with something to do if you, too, are stranded at home. And maybe it could point out that there might still be some hope left in this world. So here it is:

The Mergansers return!

20 December 2019

The Folsom Mergansers were first mentioned here: https://lecox.wordpress.com/2019/03/03/i-sight-a-special-bird/

This is the first time I’ve been able to photograph one myself. As you can see, they are a striking bird (technically, this is the Hooded Merganser).

My understanding is that they migrate down from northern areas to winter in warmer areas like the California Central Valley.

Other returnings

Life Force Tree electronic art.

I have revived two of my older electronic art (eArt) projects. Above, the “Life Force Tree,” comprised of eight concentric circles of lights, each ring with one more light in it than the next inner one. That means 3-4-5-6-7-8-9 and 10 lights. I have switched this to be fed from a shift register, which needs only 3 signals to run 52 lights. This makes having a remote controller a lot easier. I added a pretty nice wood frame to make it look a little more elegant.

My other project uses rewired Christmas lights. They are in a 6 by 10 array, but my current electronics only controls a 6 by 8 array. Again, a shift register scheme has been used to reduce the number of wires needed to control all these lights. I am just beginning to work on a remote control box for this project. This is where the real creative work comes in, as the pattern that is generated (and constantly moves and changes) is a result of the interaction between the signals generated by the controller and those used to operate the display itself.

Electronic art using Christmas lights.

Happy holidays!

Workable Management Principles

28 July 2019

What would happen if we tried to apply workable management principles (developed by L. Ron Hubbard for the Church) to business, government or our personal lives?

I have been studying a series of courses that teach me how to do just that. But I won’t go into that material too deeply, as you really need to study those courses to get the full meaning out of them. But I have returned to this theme several times, and there is no end to that in sight, as people really do need to think about how to change things so they work better.

Ideal size of a group – fractal organizing structure

In the ideal organization, every part of it is built on the same basic template: Thetan – Mind – Body – Product. The ideal production group is maybe five people or a few more. One takes the role of In-Charge (Thetan), another works on record-keeping (Mind), one or two handle most of the physical work (Body), with another making sure the Product is the correct one for that group.

A part of this concept is that the group members only have to deal with their own senior. They are friends; they get along with each other. And if anyone above their level has a problem with what they are doing, that guy has to take it up with the In-Charge. This helps limit overwhelm due to altitude (how much more powerful someone is compared to someone else).

It’s not that the workers never hear from the head honcho. He can give speeches like General Patton in that movie. But the Captain isn’t supposed to walk into a unit’s tent or barracks and directly discipline or give orders to one of the men; that’s the Sargeant’s job. Same should go for a business organization, a family or a government. So how come everyone has to turn their tax forms directly into the IRS?

This is a form of intimidation, isn’t it? That’s all that sort of management system accomplishes. And they probably do it on purpose. Big centralized organizations tend to be nervous on the subject of control. They know that people don’t really want to just willingly cooperate with the whole setup. After all, they (at the top) know it wasn’t set up to benefit the guys at the bottom. Well, that would have to change in a real organization.

businessman-little_prince

The Little Prince’s businessman (above) wouldn’t like this next idea either (or would he)?

How are you going to spend your money?

A sensible financial management system puts a trained executive between a production group and its income. The group has to plan how it is going to spend its earnings and inform this executive, who needs to be convinced that the proposed spending will help the group to produce and expand. Only then will that executive release those funds. They work together at it; it’s not like that guy wants to harm anyone (his statistic is the size of the payroll). He just wants to make sure the group is handling its finances in an ethical manner.

Now, government supposedly does this. But they don’t use a strictly trained executive, they use the legislators. Well, that’s like asking the kids how much of Dad’s pay they want to spend on pizza and cookies. So, it doesn’t work. I don’t know if you could get it to work in government. The Founding Fathers had a good idea, but they were trying to solve a different problem than we have now. As it turns out, you don’t need a monarch to have a despotism, and a democracy won’t guarantee the continued freedom of its people, either.

The U.S. system is good, but it’s not the best we can do.

The biggest gap is in understanding the criminal element and what to do about them.

Police as ethics officers

Ethics is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to improving the management of any group or activity. Everyone should know about Ethics, but someone has to make sure it gets applied properly, that honest and productive people are protected and that the real criminals of the world get put out of business. And that’s really what most people who sign up for police work hope they can accomplish. The only reason it doesn’t happen is that not enough people – and particularly the police – know about Ethics. So this is an educational job, as is much of the work that needs to be done to improve conditions.

We have some Forces here and there – some in Colombia, some in South Africa – learning this data and having success with it. They are happy about the results they are getting. That trend just needs to grow.

And maybe some day even Saint-Exupéry‘s stodgy old “businessman” can breath a sigh of relief and see a way back towards happiness.

The Emotion of Hate

18 July 2019

The essay below is almost verbatim from a copy I kept. It was probably written in 1968. I presented it with a collage of news photos from magazines – probably ones we had at  home. The collage of photos is lost, but as they were news photos, similar ones still exist on the internet. My copy has notes from my teacher (not sure who she was) which are not included here. It is being published here for the first time to give my readers some idea of where my thinking was back then, and how long I have had these issues on my mind. The first photo is from the Birmingham student protests of May 1963. The second photo is from the Columbia University (New York) student protests of April 1968.

19630503-birmingham_alabama

With these pictures I have tried to illustrate, among other things, the emotion of hate. This emotion, as all emotions, belongs exclusively to man. It occurs under many circumstances and may be accompanied by fear. I used a dictionary to help me find what fear was. One of the basic things that fear is is “ an agitated feeling aroused by an awareness of actual or threatened danger…an uneasy feeling that something may happen contrary to one’s desires.” I would like to try to elaborate on this, so as to be able to understand it better.

One of the main things I would like to study is what one’s desires are. Most people have a conscious, or at least biological, desire to live. One may also desire to conform to sets of values determined by his peer groups. These values may include certain prejudices. Many people want things to stay as they are; they do not desire change. This may be a change in governmental or business institutions, or it could be change in their own lives or values. Another thing people desire is to feel as if they are better than someone else, or have power over someone else. Many people have a desire for wealth.

The desire to live is basic. Within this basic desire we may include the need for food, clothing and shelter. Since these things, in our system, are not free, one must have money to buy them; one must have money to buy life. One must have a paying job.

I must now go back to hate, “an extreme feeling of dislike or animosity,” says the dictionary. But why would this feeling ever occur? Have you ever hated? When you hated, you probably hated a person or group of people. What made you hate them? Maybe they said something about your looks, or actions, or manner. Did what they said affect your pride? Or perhaps they physically threatened you, perhaps they wanted to kill you. Or maybe someone told you to hate them, or described them to you so that they seemed inferior to you.

The basic reason for hating is because someone is threatening your life. Most other reasons for hating are reasons built up over hundreds of years of people living with people. They are reasons that need not exist. Of course these reasons, which are in most cases the desires I spoke of before, are hard to get rid of. But some of them keep others from attaining their basic desire – which is to live. This cannot and should not be tolerated by the victims of hate. They should not have to only half-live because of someone else’s hate for them. And if they hate the people who hate them, their feeling should be condoned and not condemned. This, I believe, is the only justifiable hate.

(Or is it?)

19680428-columbia-protests

Most of these students, at first, only fear. Fear that they will not feel fully educated when they leave the university they protest. But repelled by police, they now have something to fight, someone threatening their lives, and the fear turns to hate. And once the ball gets rolling, it’s hard to stop it.

The blacks have, for a long time, had a true and justified hate for whites, because the whites hated them, as humans at any rate. If the Negroes had remained slaves, the whites would have been content – they had someone to have power over, to dominate. But of course the Negroes were humans, not slaves, and not content. They hated the white man. And because of this, the whites hated them all the more.

So unless the white desire to dominate over the Negro ends, they will probably go on hating each other forever.

Possibly one way to eliminate hate is through education.

Basically, hate comes when one thinks his life is being threatened.

How do you get rid of the artificial desires and values of modern man? You only have to get rid of them enough to let everyone live a good life. Possibly these desires also come from a fear that one will not live a full life without the things desired. Is it possible that really no one in America feels he’s not living a good life? Maybe everyone should go back and re-examine their basic fear. If they find it to be a justifiable one, as I think it is, perhaps they are over-estimating what it takes to live. Or perhaps someone is helping them to overestimate. Their peer group? The business world?

I must find the root! A common denominator!

The trouble with human relations is that they can never be perfect, for human emotion is part of it. And human emotion will occasionally be able to rule a person’s whole body.

Of course, some emotions seem perfectly wholesome, such as love. Though at second glance there may be complications – or is that only in love as many see it? In the institution of marriage? For some people, marriage might ruin their love. Perhaps people were not meant to love one person for the entirety of life. In fact, it is horrible to think that all the more people a man is allowed in his life to love is one. Everyone should feel love for everyone. Love, as all emotions, was not meant to be hidden or kept by only two people.

And then there is hate… You know, it’s a funny thing: I used to hate a person so much that I threw rocks at him once. But now he’s one of my best friends. Of course it was a childish hate, bred from immaturity and failing to understand the other’s situation. Why, then, does this same childish hate occur in adults? Why do some adults let their emotions and their peer group just rule their lives? It must be because of something they need, something they want out of life, or maybe it is a misunderstanding of life. What could it be?

Perhaps it is fear. Fear that if one breaks one’s dependencies on others one will cease to exist. Fear that if they are not accepted in their group, they will be alone. It is as if they don’t know how to make new friends with new people. It’s as if they couldn’t face a world different than the one they are in.

Institutions often help this happen. Take Christianity. It has been the truth for some people for years that God created the earth and all the creatures on it. These and other beliefs have been thrust into people’s heads along with fear, the fear that if they don’t believe these things, they will go through huge amounts of pain – the most hated thing to man. And when these beliefs are contradicted, the Christian backs into his shell farther, afraid to believe the truth.

Yes truth, all important truth. Not nearly enough people take the truth as seriously as they should.

Shut minds breed fear and hate; these minds must be opened with love and courage. People must live the truth, yet always question it, curiously and openly.

Now another question: Is hate on anyone’s part really necessary?

As I envision the cave man, I see him with a myriad of unknown phenomena surrounding him. These included electrical storms, wild animals, birth, death, and many other wonders of nature. These men learned to hate some of these things – death for one, and things that caused it – and pain, and things that caused that. This included wild animals, weather extremes that started fires or ruined the food supply thus causing hunger and pain, and anything else causing pain or death.

These things – death, pain – were not understood and fantastic stories were built up around their causes. In the meantime, science has solved these questions, basically at any rate, and so anyone with an education can understand why death, pain, birth and other things exist, and why some of them are necessary.

One question has remained unsolved, and this is fate, on a personal basis at any rate. People have always wondered, why did he die then? Why was he the one to be killed, out of all those others? It is harder for people to understand why things like this happen, sudden deaths, with one in a million chances of the one that died dying. Yet people need not even get as flustered as they do, except for the fact that their emotions get in their way, emotions like love, emotions that aren’t essential to life yet certainly do, and will, exist. It seems that for hate to dissolve at this late date, people would have to be able to rule over their emotions. This seems impossible. But at least people could make a conscious effort to eliminate false hate as much as possible, making their hates as basic and justifiable as they can possibly be. The hate of other humans is not justifiable. But it has existed ever since the first cave man wanted someone to blame for something that happened, that he couldn’t explain.

Cruelty to animals seems to be a well-liked pastime among boys my age. They blow frogs up, burn mice live, use toads as slingshot projectiles, feed squirrels whiskey, cut a rat in half, sin a snake live.

Why is this necessary?

Perhaps it is better than taking out one’s hate on other people. But where were these boys exposed to so much hate in the first place? It’s horrible, grotesque, and brutal.

People ask, why are there so many problems in our society? I have been thinking about hate because I thought it was one of the main causes of our problems. Some people use other words to express this prevailing feeling of hate…racism, conflicting interests, unequal rights…but I see hate as the major factor in all of these.

Hate, as I have said before, has to do with man’s desires. It is, however, always hard for me to remember how it has to do with them. Perhaps it is this: One man, a businessman, pursues his desires which are, say, to make money. He thereafter does not bother to shell out the dough to train hard-core unemployed. But this results in the interference with another man’s basic desire to live (by earning money which can buy food, clothing and shelter). This may be seen as conflicting interests, but their interests are much the same. They both want money. If the richer man, though, were to sacrifice some of his to train hard-core unemployed, he would then get a new set of workers. This would probably pay back a bit of what was spent on them, and they would also be able to live a decent life. It all comes down to people having to look at themselves and others and be compassionate enough to bend their backs a bit for others so that they may fulfill the desire shared by all men – the desire to live.

So, we find a condition on the part of upper and middle class people which is often called apathy. They think of themselves as harmless, not taking anything away from underprivileged people. But they aren’t able to lift a foot off the floor to help them, support them, love them. And though they may think the absence of love for their fellow man on their part is not extremely important, by the time this absence of love gets down to the underprivileged people it turns to hate, for they are only half living. And so people must truly love their fellow man in order for hate to cease to exist. It means, at first glance, that the affluent must give some of it up. But in the end, everyone would benefit. In the end, there would be no hate, conflicting interests, racism, unequal rights, just living human beings.

P.S.

The above is probably the major philosophic work that survives from my early teenage years. I was surprised as I transcribed it. It summarizes all the most basic themes – at that level of thought – that I have been dealing with my entire life. I even get some of the basic concepts correct, which surprises me; I don’t recall where I learned them from. This is part of an ongoing project to digitize writings I have saved that I think might be important. But this first is probably the most important piece in my collection.

Traffic and Wild Fruits – Connected?

6 May 2018

Sometimes working things out requires physical models. In this case the results were equivocal. The problem was: If you wanted to design a road system that would not require traffic lights to handle intersecting flows, what would it look like? Well, you’d probably have to separate the traffic into two levels (not totally necessary, but more compact) At the intersections you’d have to route the crossing flows around each other.

In another system, all the streets would be one-way, and the direction would alternate every block. To get through a city (or neighborhood) you’d have to “wiggle” back and forth through the grid.

I got these ideas from two videos reporting on new designs for intersections that use fewer road signs and no traffic lights. The videos said these designs were working better (allowing a smoother flow of cars with fewer accidents) than traditional intersections. This seems to result from a combination of spatial and psychological factors.

Urban Design

This is just one small example of what some people are thinking about concerning the broader subject of urban design. Did I mention going to a meeting about a new light rail station in an earlier post? Same basic topic.

Urban Design is linked to Urban Planning, or Land Use Planning. Urban Design is considered the more embracive subject. Planning is more directly involved with political control.

San Francisco plaza

A view of San Francisco’s Vaillancourt Fountain, in a plaza near the old ferry terminal. This is from 1977. The fountain was installed in 1971.

In trying to find out more about what people involved with this subject are thinking and doing, I searched online using several search strings that I thought would be important to the subject. However, it seems most others did not consider most of those topics that important. Which is to say, I didn’t find a lot of helpful material.

Henry George and Garden Cities

I did run across the subject of Garden Cities. These were first proposed in England by one Ebenezer Howard, who, according to Wikipedia, was inspired by American writers Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward) and Henry George (Progress and Poverty). I have read both of those books!

Really only one (you can count more) garden city was ever constructed in England, named Letchworth. The historically recent push for sustainability in urban design has created renewed interest in the Garden City concept. This resulted in “The Letchworth Declaration” of 2014, put forward by a new Community Interest Company named New Garden Cities Alliance. The declaration upholds the values of Sir Howard, including in particular the idea that the land of the city should be held by the community in trust. This is very similar to Henry George’s vision. It totally changes the traditional rules regarding land ownership, but has a more favorable history in the UK than it does in the US.

Land Ownership

If a community is unable or unwilling to take ownership of its land and charge rent to those wishing to use that land, then a Garden City degrades into a nice-looking suburb, as has happened with most attempts to create such cities in other places, especially the US. This seems to be a fundamental problem in changing the way cities form, particularly in the US, but more conspicuously in most large cities in the developing world. In those cities, the landowners have refused to build any kind of housing for poorer people, and the poor who moved to the cities were forced to build their own “cities” according to their own rules. Thus the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are much more than just “slums” as we would think of them. In the US, the original slums were created when tenements built for immigrants or poorer workers were abandoned by their original communities and rented out to new waves of immigrants, and left to run down until land owners were forced to demolish them or cities were forced to replace them. In Rio the favelas were built by their occupants, and this remains the case to this day. In 2010, over 11 million people lived in favelas in Brazil. This is more than the entire population of New York City.

I thought that land ownership, land owners, and the decisions they make about how to use their urban land would be a major topic related to the subject of urban development, design, and planning. But most writers (after George) avoid the topic. Apparently the debate is considered closed. In the US at least, land owners have the right to decide how to use their land (as long as it is not overtly destructive) and can sell the deed to their land to anyone they want for any price they want.

portion of the Railyards property, Sacramento

The above-pictured land has stood vacant very near the downtown of Sacramento for about 20 years. It is currently owned by a local developer who promises to start building on it. However, the year 2017 came and went with no significant work done. Below is the same view from a slightly different perspective.

homeless tent overlooks the railyards

This tent has one of the nicest views in the entire city (campers are periodically removed from this site, but tend to get bothered less during the colder months). Why does this overpass exist? Because the city built it and another one in 2015 to connect the new development to downtown. And when the development finally gets built, the various community agencies that provide police, fire protection, sewage, water, garbage collection, electricity and gas will obligingly re-tool and expand into the area. But how will they recoup the costs associated with doing this? George said: Charge the owners rent. If the owners of this land had to pay Sacramento-sized rent on all this property, would they continue to leave it vacant? George hoped the answer would be, “No.” But apparently Georgism in the US has been canned for the duration…And the Railyards remain vacant.

Who decides how to use the land?

When you are a homesteader sitting on your 160 acres (the Railyards cover 240 acres) you get to decide where to put the well, the house, the chicken coup, the cow pasture, the corn field or whatever. Seems fair. But what if that land is in a city?

200 acres is enough land to host one or more companies employing thousands of people, the housing, schools, clinics, restaurants and parks for those people, and probably much more. You don’t have one user, you have thousands. And you don’t have one landowner, you have (maybe) hundreds. They all have to develop their land in a way that eventually fits together with everyone else. And they might be able to do it. But it’s a sure thing that various agents for the community (or its government) are going to be looking over their shoulders and trying to influence certain outcomes.

“Modern” urban developments commonly go through years of design, planning, and approvals before the developers get the go-ahead. This isn’t the way it always was. I don’t think it is even known how the ancient cities of Europe, Asia and Africa were built. There was probably a central planner/designer, but this data seems to be lost. We know that many of these cities were rebuilt following wars, fires, floods and similar catastrophes. And not always with as pleasing results as in older times. Certainly, the majority of US cities could easily be described as “ugly.” Or as having a “disorganized” look about them. They certainly have not responded well to various economic/cultural/political changes in the past. When agriculture got mechanized, and more factories got built near urban transport hubs, were the cities ready for the inrush of new workers from the countryside? The stories I read point to the contrary. When old electric trains and trolleys were torn out and replaced with wide streets for cars, then freeways for cars, were the cities ready for that change? It seems not. And when the welfare system started dumping its failed cases into the streets of urban America, I don’t see that going very well, either.

Perhaps it is time to take a different approach to the problems that cities were built to solve.

Did cities “evolve” from rural settlements?

Students of ancient history seem to agree that something happened on Earth that led to the need for cities. Cities began developing in a big way around 3,500 BC. The city of Mohenjo-Daro in India, estimated to have been built about 4,000 years ago, is noted for its “urban planning” including some form of plumbing. It shared its layout pattern with several other sites occupied by that same civilization.

With historical scholarship as it stood in the early 1900s, historians and archeologists of those times had to assume that the humans who built and occupied those ancient cities somehow worked it all out, all by themselves. But with what we know now, there is no excuse for that theory to stand as the only one, or still very dominant one. It is much more likely that something more interesting than that was going on back then.

And in that possibility – probability – lies the key to a new approach. We have already developed part of that new approach: Computer design and simulation techniques. We still need the other part: An understanding and certainty on what we are doing on Earth, firmly supported by our own ability to recall similar situations in the past.

At this point in my own development, I’m not sure where such a certainty will lead us. The intention is that we “get it right” this time, or at least more right. We have an opportunity today that is close to unique in the history of the universe. We are now able to combine human compassion with the willingness to use advanced technologies. In our own written history, we have no obvious prior experience with a situation like this. But in our longer history, we have many such experiences. If we can humanize our technocracy so that self-destructive impulses don’t ruin our future on Earth, then we have a chance to bring something new to the table.

Of Fig trees and Freeways

Unripe fig cut open.

My fig sample.

This fig came from a tree growing underneath a freeway in Sacramento’s American River Parkway. I’ve never had a chance to look inside an unripe fig before. Perhaps the figs there will be ripe in another month or so. But, what will happen to them?

flowering plum trees Seattle

Here is a lovely row of flowering plum trees near the Queen Anne area of Seattle. How do I know they are plum trees? Because every summer their fruit ripens and falls on the sidewalks, making a big mess. How many people could those plums feed if they were harvested? Same question could be asked about the figs under the freeway in Sacramento. I know the animals there don’t eat them all. Besides, the animals also have wild grapes, blackberries and goodness knows what other treats growing in their park. With a little effort, all these plants could also provide human food. Elderberry flowers are edible, and the fruit also has many uses. The park is full of elderberries.

elderberry bushes in sacramento park

Elderberry bushes heavy with berries.

People could also be growing plants like this in their suburban gardens. Some do, but they don’t harvest the fruit. At a house just down the street stands a fine lemon tree, still holding its (I am sure now less than edible) fruit from last year!

OK, so maybe it would be more efficient to have urban orchards (like they do in Village Homes in Davis) and hire someone to harvest the fruit and get it into the hands of people who want to eat it. So, let’s do it! All I know is, that if I get a chance, I’ll be enjoying some great figs, wild grapes, blackberries, almonds and goodness knows what else courtesy of my local park.

The point is, a lot of functions that get overlooked or forgotten could be integrated into urban life (at least in a town like Sacramento) if someone just became a little more aware of what is possible. We need people thinking about things like this, and those people should be people like us. We have a chance this time to get it right. Will we blow it?