People Like to Talk…and News

1 May 2018
family reunion people talking

A few examples from the Pritchard Family Reunion of summer 1980…

For some reason it struck me last night as it never really had before: People like to talk!

What was missing?

Several weeks ago I was riding on a bus, and I saw a small placard inviting me to “help us design the new Dos Rios light rail station!” They were having a meeting on 10 April, and I managed to attend. It was rather fun (we got to talk!). But what I was more intent on was: What’s wrong with modern society in general and my life in particular, and how do I fix it?

people talking at a family reunion

I have this whole writing project I’ve engaged on (which I swear no one reads – don’t worry about hurt feelings; not like I didn’t expect it…) which envisions a future where a lot of the big picture questions are getting solved. It involves Scientology. It involves Permaculture. But it also involves something else. I don’t have a good word for it, and I wasn’t sure I really understood it. In Africa they have a word for it: ubuntu. In the West what this usually translates to is “community.”

“Community”

Though the word technically derives from Latin for “common,” it just screams to be re-interpreted as “communicating in unity.”

I heard a lot about community at the transit station design workshop. In fact, I hear about this topic quite often regarding urban land use, and modern life in general. As far as I can tell, the whole concept starts with just giving people the opportunity to sit down together and talk.

I watch a lot of videos. But why do I like them so much? Probably because they mostly consist of people talking. On the internet it’s usually called an “interview.” I recently saw a great one about an artist who makes chandeliers. Modern chandeliers; quite dazzling works of art, but also useful. And this man was just so animated in telling about how he came to this work, and what the work is like for him; it was delightful to watch him talk.

Yesterday I realized that’s what’s missing. Now, I’m not too unhappy because I find these videos and watch them. I even sit around sometimes and talk with real people! When I’m traveling I often talk to fellow travelers. And when I go to these design meetings I also get a chance to talk. But I still don’t feel like I’m sufficiently in communication. After all, I’ve learned a lot about life and now I want to talk about it.

How must it be for other people? Even if they saw the placard in the bus and were interested, the meeting was scheduled on a Tuesday afternoon; most people work – they can’t make it to a meeting scheduled in the middle of the day. I love to go to such meetings, because I don’t like to travel alone at night. But what other chances are most people getting to sit around and talk?

Do they do this in schools? I don’t know. They didn’t do it that much when I was going to school; probably the best class I had for that was art class. We sometimes had “discussions” in English class, but is that the same as just sitting around talking?

my relatives at a reunion in 1980

The big time to talk at school and at work was lunch time. And lots of people took advantage of that when I was going to school, and I imagine still do. Same when I was working in places that had lunch rooms or Mess Halls. I have also seen many images of people gathering together in urban parks in the evening (weather permitting), or in various indoor venues. Do people still do this?

Suburban life has cut off two or more generations from the “community meeting place” that was common in cities in earlier times. Some still find such places, while others try to substitute radio or TV shows, or now internet activities. But I’ll tell you, watching interview videos wouldn’t be nearly as fun for me if I weren’t forced to do it at my local Starbucks, where I can find enough connection bandwidth to stream larger files. In my recent travels I have visited several coffee shops, not in search of coffee (which I don’t drink) but in search of an internet connection. But I also found a relaxed environment where people can sit and talk. Imagine that!

Now when I see someone, particularly someone younger, staring into their mobile device, I understand it this way: They are looking for someone to talk with.

And when I write on this blog or my other ones, I am doing much the same thing. I actually communicate with a few other people who have blogs. They write back, either on email or in the comments. It’s fun.

Making time to talk

But in too many environments, interactions like this just don’t seem to happen much. Some bus or train stops have no benches, or the benches don’t face each other, or they are out in the sun or the wind or the rain, so no one will use them. At work, of course, people are busy. They don’t have time to talk, except about work. Well, that’s OK, people have to work. But do you realize that futurists once predicted that technology advances in the workplace would give us all more free time (shorter work days) while still earning a good living? I think that could still happen. But obviously, there’s someone out there who doesn’t want people to get into better communication. We should realize that’s a situation, and just not agree with it. Communication is too important to be ignored when it needs to happen.

In other news…

girl reading Way To Happiness

This girl is also in communication. In this case, with the author of the book she is reading. Reading is a little one-sided, but it’s the best communication method most authors have been able to come up with.

I shot these photos last weekend at “Kid’s Day” in Rancho Cordova. I’m glad I went and volunteered at one of our booths. Lots of good relaxed communication took place. Some people were uptight about our anti-drug message. But all the kids liked it!

Earlier last week I volunteered at a Way To Happiness booth at “Jail Expo” in the Sacramento Convention Center. We met all sorts of interesting people, including a woman who had raised four foster kids. She really wanted to talk about her experience doing that. Well, she got her chance. My photo, however, is just a general scene from our booth.

I won’t try to cover current events, except to make the observation: Things would probably be going better if people would just sit down and talk. They should realize that there is someone out there that doesn’t want us to get to know each other better and make friends with each other. Well, we should just recognize that and go ahead and make friends anyway.

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Installing Linux on an HP Stream 11

25 April 2018

linux mint desktop

The Stream series of portable computers from Hewlett-Packard (HP) are low-cost and rather bare bones devices for connecting to the internet.

I have a Stream 7 which is a tablet and runs Windows 8 (the first version of Windows that introduced various features to desktops that formerly were only used on portable devices like smartphones). And I have a Stream 11 which is a small notebook that has just a little more disk space than it needs to run its OS (operating system) which was Windows 10.

One day while sitting somewhere (probably my church’s café), I got a message that the computer needed to install a security update, but did not have enough disk space to do so. I was not able to reduce the unused space on the disk to the point where the update could be done. What could I do about this?

One alternative would have been to get a bigger disk. I could do this by purchasing a little gizmo called a “Micro SD” card. These are basically thumb drives in a special package designed to be installed more or less permanently in a host device, like a digital camera. They aren’t very expensive; it was an option.

But, I don’t like Microsoft products (like Windows) that much, and am always trying to find excuses to replace them with something else. The “ultimate” anti-Microsoft operating system is Richard Stallman’s GNU/Linux. Loaded onto “free” hardware (no proprietary firmware or hardware-related software – drivers) it creates a totally free computer system. I usually settle for a compromise. The HP hardware is no way totally “free” and I believe there is some proprietary software associated with reading some media files I use that are very popular. So I decided to try Linux Mint. Mint is a Linux distro that is meant to look and behave almost exactly like Windows. The rationale is that if Linux can attract Windows users, they might never go back to Windows. A full install of Mint would require maybe 10GB of disk space, whereas Windows 10 was taking around 20GB.

The UEFI

The Stream 11, like most recent computers, uses the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on its motherboard, instead of a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). The UEFI is implemented with much more modern hardware, and supports stricter security protections. In fact, a manufacturer can use UEFI settings – if it wants to – to limit its motherboard to just one type of operating system.

Thus, updating recent hardware from Windows to Linux can be chancy. Will it work?

Getting a Linux disk

These days the standard way to obtain a Linux install disk is to download the disk “image” (a huge file showing exactly what the final disk should look like) and then burning it to a DVD-ROM on your own DVD drive. The HP Stream has no optical drives. So I had to obtain the image (.ISO) file then burn it to disk on a computer that does have an optical drive. Then I had to get out my portable DVD ROM reader, put the DVD in there, and connect it to the HP Stream. And then I had to get the HP Stream to boot from the attached drive instead of the installed boot partition. This is done by pressing the ESCAPE key when powering up the Stream and selecting the appropriate items from the text-based menu that appears.

escape key

Install

Like most recent versions of Linux, Mint detected the presence of the UEFI and presented me with a variety of special options to deal with it. I needed to install proprietary hardware drivers, and this can be a potential problem for the UEFI (per on-screen instructions) but did not seem to be a problem in this case.

Then I had to decide whether Windows would co-exist with Linux or be totally replaced. In this case, I wanted total replacement. The installer reported to me what disk partitions it was going to create over the old ones and then started the process. The whole thing went rather smoothly.

On reboot, I feared the worst, as the UEFI presented a screen telling me it could not find the operating system (Windows).

But all I had to do was press ESCAPE again, and there after F9…

startup menu

…were a list of boot options that included the new Linux.

UEFI boot options

So: The installer was unable to erase the fact that Windows was the expected default OS on this machine. But it was able to tell the UEFI that a new OS had been installed. Like most Linux distributions, software called “grub” is used as the boot manager. Here is the options screen it displays:

Linux Mint

linux mint password screen

Linux Mint is a very nice OS. It is based on the very popular Ubuntu, but has a special desktop environment that makes it look almost the same as Windows 7. It has an Update Manager just like Windows, and also a software installer called Software Manager. My browser needed immediate updating in order to run videos properly, and now everything runs smoothly. As I only use the Stream to watch the Scientology TV channel and download files occasionally, the OS will never get a full test on this machine. But at least the bulk of Windows 10 and the programs that came with it is gone.

Marijuana

8 April 2018
wild hemp Iowa farm

Relatives inspect a wild hemp plant, found on a farm in Iowa during a family reunion, summer 1980.

Yesterday I attended an event concerning marijuana use in California. The event was sponsored by my church and featured Bishop Ron Allen as the speaker. Dr. Allen is a long-time opponent of teenage drug use, and an ex-addict himself. The group attending was very small. There was only one person present who had a problem with a person she was close to and needed those kinds of answers. The rest of us were concerned with how best to counter the effects of legalization in California, and in particular in the Black communities. The church has developed an education program called Truth About Drugs which is operated by the Foundation for a Drug Free World. Bishop Allen has a more faith-based approach, but uses the Truth About Drugs materials. He has started his own group, called the International Faith Based Coalition. Its mission is to get effective drug education programs into all churches and being delivered to all young people.

But on that Saturday afternoon, with the eight or ten others that shared the room, Bishop Allen was mostly worried. He had come to realize that some of the government agencies that you’d expect to want to prevent drug use were instead pushing for legalization, supposedly due to the potential revenues from excise taxes. He found that they were buying into spurious and dishonest claims being made by pro-drug groups. And he recognized that the “black market” selling marijuana to minors continued to grow, with their costs now reduced due to legalization. He was also troubled by the continued problems in the black communities in dealing with drugs, crime and violence. He warned that the current focus on white-on-black violence was avoiding the more painful and prevalent issue of black-on-black violence, and of the broader problem of violence and war in human society. “All lives matter!” he said. And he repeated this many times.

All Lives Matter!

In embracing this concept, Bishop Allen to some extent turns away from teachings that require unwavering devotion to a deity but instead see deity in all people. Another way of stating this belief or awareness is: “What you do in life matters.” In other words, if an individual makes good choices, the effects of this will be felt by many others around him, and perhaps even improve the general environment. Conversely, if an individual makes poor choices, similar ripple effects will occur. This awareness is very similar to the awareness of connectedness that many who pay attention to the spiritual side of life acquire. This contrasts with the separateness that is implied or expressed in the popular pursuit of material advantage. Thus, Bishop Allen is confronted by a conundrum (puzzling problem) that has confounded the best thinkers of the ages.

Drugs

The Foundation for a Drug Free World pushes the message that all drugs are poisons. Biologically-created poisons are known as toxins. Toxin is a back-formation from toxic which comes from a Greek word for the poison used on arrows. The word “intoxicated” shares this root meaning. We start from this as our stable datum concerning drugs. If an overdose of something can kill you, then it is a drug. Otherwise, it is merely food, or a food-like substance, like vitamins. Certain drugs are also known as narcotics, the Greek root of that word meaning “numb.”

Because pain relief can be medically useful, the worlds of medicine and narcotics have become crossed – and have been so for a very long time. This should be understood as a problem of biology. However, the mind, and the mental effects of drugs, go beyond biology. This is the difficult point that many reach when trying to understand drugs, as many persons of this world don’t recognize the existence of any living thing beyond the realm of biology. In this they are most certainly mistaken.

Because pain and confusion can exist in the mind independent of the state of the body, the subject of drugs also crosses over into the realm of the spirit. This is one reason why churches are quite rightly involved and concerned. They can see this clearly; particularly those like Bishop Allen, who have been through the experience of addiction.

Addiction

Can physical and mental addiction be separated? Researchers say, “yes.” Spiritual people are not so sure.

A web article published by rehabs.com states:

In many ways, physical and psychological [addiction] are identical in that they activate similar brain regions.

The difference involves what happens when a person is deprived of the drug. Do they experience simple mental torture, or actual physical withdrawal symptoms (plus the mental torture)? That’s the difference. So we are talking about a difference of degree. One argument made about marijuana is that it is not physically addictive. But it is mentally addictive. Some call mental addiction “dependency.”

Imagine, if you can, that you have the body of a robot. Your body works on electricity which is supplied by some sort of power pack that is designed to run for years. You have been taken out on a long space tour, and you miss your robot buddies back on the home planet. You are sad about this, as you see no way of returning to your friends. You discover that when your smell sensors are overwhelmed by the presence of certain solvents (such as alcohol) in your environment, you forget about your lost friends, and switch to a different line of thought. So, to relieve your sadness, you seek out such solvents, and hover over them. You, a robot, have started on your path towards addiction. With a machine body, you could never get physically addicted to anything; you don’t eat or drink! Here on Earth your problem would be classified as psychological addiction, or dependence.

An addicted robot? OK, perhaps a little far-fetched. But I wanted to stress the mental component of addiction and by extension, the spiritual component. In the end, it is the spiritual being who is addicted. And this is backed up by numbers: The most effective drug rehab program is Narconon, and that program addresses the being, not just the body (detox). Though withdrawal can kill a body, it is mental attachment, not physical attachment, that drives addiction.

Medicine versus Salvation

It has been the hope of Ron Hubbard, from the beginning of his work, that medicine, science, and spirituality could someday be harmonized into an overarching theory and practice that would handle any human condition.

However, it appears that medicine, as an institution has come to see spiritual practices as a threat. In this we see that some “doctors” have walked away from the ideals of medicine and into some other realm, which could – frankly – be labeled as criminal. This is an unhappy circumstance, as most practicing doctors would not agree with this. They still want to make their patients permanently better, and they haven’t given up hope about this. Those currently in control, however, seem to have different ideas.

Today we understand this to be a “dramatization.” A compulsion to display non-optimum conduct for reasons that have been totally buried and seem to be totally lost. But today we can handle dramatization. It works on many drug addicts. It could also work on many doctors.

Meanwhile, though, we have a problem. Organized medicine is opposed to many health-giving therapies because they aren’t medical! They have been pushing an anti-spiritual, anti-religion message for decades, only recently slightly relenting in the face of the overwhelming popularity of some of the simpler non-medical practices.

Whole industries have been built up that take advantage of various human weaknesses and conditions. So now we have business people and bankers also being lured into the criminal attitude that a sick population is better for business than would be a healthy population.

The Role of Government: Decriminalization versus Legalization

I have expounded in other places about the problem that government has with crime. It is summed up in the phrase: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” This is considered to be sound political advice. However, it contains a connotation of deceit, in that you could remain an enemy of a group while pretending to join it, and thus operate within the group as a traitor.

I have proposed – and this is not a new idea – that many people in government, if not whole governments, have been taken over by criminal interests because the criminals appeared stronger than the honest people they victimize. They are certainly not spiritually stronger, but in the physical universe – especially if given superior physical weapons – criminals can appear to be the stronger force.

This has been and will continue to be a problem for beings who want to do right. The most workable strategy has been to use spiritual strength to one’s advantage. And we know now that you can actually improve, or rehabilitate, the spiritual strength of someone if they decide to stay honest. Thus what we see playing out here on Earth – in really just its beginning stages – is an attempt by honest beings to recover control over the institutions of Earth, fought against by criminals using technologies of an increasingly devious and destructive nature.

These technologies very much include Bernay’s approach to marketing and public relations, which involves taking advantage of human psychological weaknesses.

So you have a situation on the planet now where the economy has stagnated and in some sectors collapsed. Governments, which depend on healthy economies for their own existence, become desperate for funds to continue providing the public services that the population expects from them. And so they become open to arguments that law enforcement costs would reduce and tax revenues could increase by legalizing (but taxing) activities that have become popular in the culture, but were previously seen as illegal. While some governments have only reduced criminal penalties for some acts (such as possession of marijuana – decriminalization) in the hopes of increased revenues from fines, others have opted for legalization for adults, as has been done with cigarettes and alcohol, expecting, we presume, even better economic outcomes.

The situation is further confused by the fact that centralized legal systems have never served the population well, and so popular sentiment is often in favor of fewer prohibitions. From the viewpoint of an honest citizen, this is a justifiable position. Laws are routinely used selectively on the population, enforced on persons that are dissidents or rivals, and not enforced on friends and family. There is also a significant and undeniable legacy of false and forced imprisonment across the planet and down through the ages, used by governments to prolong the reign of leaders or cabals who have outlasted their tenure of popular support. It is a common criminal practice, sometimes referred to as a “frame-up.”

That police departments continue to work with churches and the Foundation for a Drug Free World in anti-drug education programs and other forms of community outreach attests to the basic goodness and decency of people – particularly those who have pledged to work for the public good – but not in all instances, unfortunately, can the same be said for their political leaders or funding sources.

In the face of this morass of ethical and moral confusion at the leadership level, the question of whether or not to legalize becomes irrelevant. Leadership must first decide to unconfuse itself and start to lead for real. Leaders in government could then begin to serve their communities in some useful way, and would rise up out of the criminal situation where so many of them currently find themselves.

A vision based on reality

In the real world, for ages past and for ages to come (I hope), people will do what they decide to do. Yes, laws can serve as guidelines towards the better path. But they can never replace the resolution of a being to pursue his choice, no matter what. Thus, a “legal system” based on guilt and punishment will never fulfill its purpose of improving conditions, but will tend to worsen conditions. Only a legal system based on education and real understanding could hope to do that. Where beings lose hope that they could ever attain their ideals, the improvement of conditions becomes impossible. Thus, absent a general improvement in the population on the subject of happiness, a general improvement of the human condition on Earth (or anywhere else for that matter) will not occur.

Thus, this vision starts with The Way to Happiness. I know of no other book that does what this book does, without once mentioning God, heaven, or scriptures. We need a universal moral guide, and this is the only one I am aware of that exists on Earth. In it are our stable data, the foundation on which a better society may be built.

Next, groups need purposes to survive as groups. Put otherwise, they need games, goals, visions of the future to work toward. The lowest common denominator purpose on Earth has been war. That has to change…but not necessarily that much. How do you turn a game from something destructive for the larger group, to something constructive? There are two main ways: 1) Construct the game in ways that allow the defeated rival to survive and play again, as in sports. 2) Pick a rival that is external to the group, either physically or conceptually. Thus, “fighting human aberration” becomes a playable game if it doesn’t actually destroy human life, but only strives to remove the self-imposed barriers to a fuller life experience. In the hands of psychiatry, “mental health” became a criminal game. But it doesn’t have to be. With effective mental technologies, it is a game very much worth playing, and winning.

In this vision of the future, what does government and law look like, and how can we move in that direction from our current scene? Would marijuana be an “illegal drug” in that new world?

If we start with The Way to Happiness as our foundation, then we can imagine that law, to the extent that it was necessary and desirable, would parallel the Precepts. Take Care of Yourself. Be Temperate. Be Industrious. If someone was abusing marijuana, they would have problems in some of these areas. And their community would be organized to assist them to change their ways. If they got into Ethics trouble, say for missing work, they might be assigned a Condition. If they could not get out of that Condition, an investigation might be undertaken to determine if that person had criminal ties or tendencies. If so, further handlings would be recommended. If those handlings did not result in turning the individual around, a justice procedure might result in the person being placed on a list of persons with unhandled drug dependencies, limiting the sorts of employment and assistance that would be available to them. They’d have a hard time in life. Would they go to jail? Possibly not. Would they be given opportunities to detox and get rehabilitated? Probably so. It would be in the community’s interest to turn such people around, so the community might even help pay the cost of such services. Or maybe the addict would be billed for the cost, and expected to repay after he got cleaned up.

What we can do right now is push The Way to Happiness into use. All the police organizations of the country of Colombia know this book! They used it to help create a truce with the FARC rebels. In Los Angeles it has been used to reduce gang violence, with similar results in Denver and many other cities.

Even the Ethics technology has made some inroads into society, and should be promoted as an adjunct to the criminal justice system. Third Party Investigations have been mentioned as useful in conflict resolution work in Los Angeles, and deserve much wider recognition and use.

These are both educative technologies, and that’s what the planet needs right now. Some reach for it. Others know they need it, but are afraid to ask. You can often get cooperation in forwarding this data just by assuming that you will.

That’s the way – briefly stated – to run a community, a city, a state, a planet. Care about everyone. Make sure they know and understand their moral and ethical choices, then let people get on with it, and see what happens. The curbing of crime and of criminals is an important aspect in such a world. It simply has to be done in an honest and humane manner, with the application of as much effective mental and spiritual technology as seems practical. Earth, after all, is not the end of our problems. Even now, as many more than do should realize, other worlds – worlds many of us once participated in – are knocking on our doors, inviting us to learn and play their age-old games of commerce and war. Do we meet those invitations with the moral compass of our ancestors, or with The Way to Happiness? What we decide in the next few years could make a big difference over a long stretch of our future.

As for pot and drug addiction: I’m sure glad I didn’t have to worry about that this lifetime. Was there an anti-drug education program in my school when I was growing up? Yes! Will such programs save everyone? No, but one saved me. Can I get an amen?

Death of a Cultural Hero

5 April 2018

portrait of Martin Luther King
On yesterday’s date 50 years ago (1968) Martin Luther King was shot while standing on a balcony outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. He died later that day.

A story was invented and widely published about how this death came about. However, it was incorrect.

A man named William Pepper, who was a friend of King at the time, a writer, and later became a lawyer, worked for the following almost-50 years to unravel a more accurate story. The only remaining major piece missing is true motive.

Pepper published his last book on the subject in the summer of 2016. About 17 years earlier, a jury had found government complicity in the murder in a civil trial that ended in late 1999. Have you heard this story? Has any major news media made a point of correcting themselves on this subject? No? So, they are complicit, too.

The Truer Story in Brief

King was shot by a Memphis police sharpshooter with a completely different rifle from the one that was found across the street in a “bundle” and reported to be the murder weapon.

James Earl Ray was not on site at the time of the shooting, but was the named fall guy and picked up later while traveling through the UK. Earlier, he had been smuggled out of prison, with the prison warden paid off to look the other way. He was contacted and given money and instructions through an intermediary who was nominally just a criminal.

Coordination of the operation has been linked to the FBI, or at least its director, J. Edgar Hoover, and at least one of his top people. Hoover has been linked to several similar incidents.

According to a nurse at the hospital where King was taken after the shooting, he was still alive when the head of neurosurgery entered the emergency room with two men in suits, ordered everyone else to leave, then suffocated King with a pillow.

Motive?

It is known that Hoover hated King and many other activists who were trying to steer the country back onto a more open and honest trajectory after the huge deceptions and atrocities it had been part of during and subsequent to World War 2.

 

King had come out against the Vietnam War a year (to the day) before his death. So this position, in combination with his general popularity and effectiveness in restoring civil rights in the South, has been cited as a possible motivation to have him killed.

Of course, each individual or group that was involved in the plot was given a motivation and story line that fit their viewpoint and need to know. That “higher concerns” may have figured into this murder – as has also been theorized about JFK and RFK – does not mean that any of those intimately involved with those plots had any awareness of those concerns.

I don’t rail about “truth and justice.” It won’t be enough to expose the true perpetrators of these crimes and “bring them to justice.” That won’t handle any of the most important problems we face on this planet. Only a higher level of knowledge and spiritual ability could handle those problems. So that’s what I advocate.

Arduino Drives 7-segment LED Display

23 March 2018
7-segment LED display

A standard 4-digit display. I fiddled with the image to make it look lit up.

7-segment Displays

This type of LED (Light Emitting Diode) display has been around for a long time, and you can still find them in many devices. For most applications they have been replaced with LCDs which use less power and are more versatile. But if all you need to do is display numbers, and you have some old parts around that you want to use, then you might be interested in putting one of these things into a “modern” project, such as one using an Arduino (programmable microcontroller).

Pin Count

The simplest Arduino has only 20 pins that can be used for digital I/O (inputs/outputs). A 7-segment display requires 8 pins to drive the segments (if you want to use the decimal point) and a pin for every digit. For 4 digits, that’s 12 pins. For 8 digits, that’s 16 pins. That doesn’t leave many pins for other functions in your project. But, you might not need many other pins.

There are ways to reduce pin count. One way is to use ICs (integrated circuits) that will take a binary number at the input, say from 0 (B0000) to 9 (B1001) and output the appropriate pattern to the segments to display those numerals. You can also use a simpler encoder to run the digits; 3 (binary) lines in, 8 lines (or digits) out. That means you could operate an 8-digit display using only 7 Arduino pins.

Drive Current

An older LED, like you find in these displays, requires at least 5ma (milli-amps) of current to look reasonably bright. Most are rated for 20ma. These arrays are actually scanned (only one digit on at a time), so it helps to make them look brighter if you drive them with more current than the LEDs would need if they stayed on all the time. However, unless you can find a special IC to do your decoding, one specifically designed to drive LED arrays at those current levels, most ICs won’t be able to do the job. The average CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) IC that hobbyists use is only rated for about 2ma output current.

However, the Arduino itself is rated for about 20mA output. So the Arduino pins can run the LED segments unassisted. I use transistor arrays to run the digits. They take about 1ma in and can output up to 500ma or so. However, these drive transistors invert the input signal (in high, out low), so to drive the digits requires a signal of opposite polarity to what you would use if you weren’t using the transistors.

Existing Solutions

Most – but not all – of these factors are taken into account by an Arduino code add-on (called a library) named “SevSeg” (for “seven segments”). What it does not take into account is using encoder ICs to lower the pin count. My design uses an encoder to select the digits, but runs the segments directly from the Arduino. So, I could not use the library that had already been written for this purpose.

My Own Solution

I am writing this because I thought I could come up with something relatively simple that would do the job, but I wasn’t sure.

The basic cycle of action is fairly straightforward:

  1. Set up the 8 segment drivers to be high or low depending which segments you need on or off to display the desired numeral (or other pattern) for the first digit.
  2. Select that digit by outputting the binary number corresponding to that digit’s hardware position. (Say, B000, three low lines for binary zero, “digit zero.”)
  3. Keep that pattern on for a little while (a milli-second maybe), then switch to the pattern for the next digit.
  4. Repeat this process for each digit, until all have been lit, then repeat the entire cycle as long as you want the display to show something.

I used what is sometimes referred to as a “brute force” method to select the digits. For each digit, I just tell the Arduino which lines to make high and which lines to make low. It’s only 3 lines, so not that hard to do it that way. Those lines will stay that way until I tell the Arduino to change them, so it’s just three commands for each digit. Pretty easy.

I could have done the same for the segments, but I was hoping for a simpler solution. I found one by using a built-in Arduino function (built into the code writing system, not the microcontroller!). This function is one of several that treat a number as a string of binary bits. They are called the “bit functions.” The one I used is called “bitRead().” You give this function almost any number and it can tell you whether there is a “1” or a “0” in any of the places in its binary form. For example, the number 255 is binary “11111111.” All its places are ones. The number 254, one less, is B11111110. There’s a zero at the end instead of a one. So bitRead(254,0) would return zero, while bitRead(254,1) would return 1. As is customary in most of these programming languages, lists of things usually start with “item 0” instead of “item 1” as most of us would assume. So, if you want the first item in the list you have to ask for “0” and if you want the 8th item you ask for “7”. Seems weird but you get used to it after a while.

For the eight segments on an LED display (including the decimal point) there are 256 possible different patterns, each represented by a number from 0 to 255. So I just had to figure out which numbers would produce the correct patterns to display numerals 0 to 9 on the display, then put those numbers in a list, with their position in the list corresponding to the numeral they represented. Then to display that numeral, I would just have to use bitRead() on the number selected from the list, going through each of the 8 binary places, and matching up each place with the pin I used for that segment (another list) and I would have the entire pattern properly outputted.

For my hardware, I wasn’t using the decimal point, and the list I came up with was: {63,6,91,79,102,109,125,7,127,111} for numerals 0 to 9. The numeral 8 has all seven segments on, so would be 127 (B1111111) in almost any system using this idea. The other numbers could change if the wiring of pins to segments was different than the one I used.

Note on touch screen styluses

I’ve been playing around with my touch screen devices, an iPod Touch and an HP Stream tablet. They both have “capacitive” screens and therefore require a conductive rubber stylus if you don’t want to use your fingers. I found a nice ballpoint pen downtown that uses the “eraser” as a stylus tip, and two children’s styluses at Walmart. I like to use the styluses instead of fingers, and hope to locate a drawing program for my tablet before too long.

styluses for touch screens

A New Leaf

20 February 2018
fruit tree shoot

Springtime in Seattle, 2012.

In English we have an expression “turn over a new leaf” which means to make a new start. It literally refers to a page in a book, but of course this meaning of leaf is closely related to the one illustrated above.

As has already been mentioned in the previous post, my desire to build a new relationship with my church led me to the realization that my public-facing communications could use a change of context.

The Situation

Early this lifetime I came to a conclusion that I hope most can agree on: There is a situation on this planet. Situation is here defined as a major departure from the ideal scene.

In my younger years (the early 1960s) I was under the impression that we as a nation (the U.S.A.), if not the entire planet, were working towards an ideal scene. Here it is as expressed in one of our founding documents:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Then near the end of 1963 a duly elected – and rather popular – President was shot to death in public during a parade while he was visiting a city in Texas. A new administration took over from that man, which resulted in our country becoming very deeply involved in Vietnam, a war Kennedy hoped could be kept under control using only Special Forces troops. As more and more of our men died there, our involvement in the war in Vietnam became more and more unpopular, and was finally ended. The “Communists” then won the war, because they were more sensible rulers than those left in power by earlier colonizers and other outside interests.

Our government had immensely failed in effecting our “safety and happiness.” That failure was so obvious, it’s almost as if it was planned; and it may well have been.

To this day, there are huge holes in our understanding of what was really going on during the first half of the 20th century. And those holes only increased in size when we tried to look at and understand more recent events.

Doctors?

 

In the early 1980s I learned that the psychiatry or “Mental Health” movement was being pushed forward by men who shared certain personality traits that most of us would recognize as insane or psychotic. Those persons had their friends installed in various media and political organizations. If we want clean and honest public communication lines, we must remove those persons from control of those lines.

In the early years, those lines consisted mostly of English-language newspapers. Later those lines became dominated by radio and television. And now, since the the 1990s or so, we also have the internet which now feeds into a vast network of mobile “smart” phones.

These communication networks are not evil in themselves, but the persistent attempts by persons of criminal intent to dominate those lines has drastically reduced their usability (and believability) to the point that many people will not use those lines for anything other than gathering the most mundane forms of information, or commercial uses like shopping and banking.

The Search for Reliable Information

I didn’t get on the internet in any big way until 2009. Wikipedia was already very well-developed by that time and had become the de facto source of information about almost anything. However, on topics where facts or intentions are hotly contested, the “establishment” position tends to win out on Wikipedia, on TED, on all the major news sites, or any site attempting to present reliable information. This goes for almost any topic other than the most mundane (weather forecasts?) or boring (electronics and coding?).

What I did at that time was to start my own blog. There I would present and compare data from multiple sources in the hopes of giving readers a more insightful view of things than what was being fed to them by the mainstream sources.

This activity had two main problems: 1) nobody read it, and 2) too many data sources were questionable or antagonistic to real spiritual betterment. I was trying to demonstrate to my readers that there existed certain basic phenomena of life that were widely agreed on and widely researched. Yet I kept falling over false data that others were going into agreement with.

My plan is to revise this site to make it more resource-oriented and less discussion-oriented. Discussion has its place, but that’s not what is happening on the web as it is currently organized.

Technical Limitations

The internet was created to provide its initial users (mostly data scientists in academia and the military-industrial complex) with faster data sharing capabilities, which data might include – in the case of the military – strategic and actionable data of a confidential nature.

Some of the earliest websites looked basically like search windows and were used to find scientific papers and other technical information, somewhat on the order of a giant library.

Additionally, any services that earlier used telex lines were obvious candidates for switching over to the internet. This included news feeds, stock tickers, and private messaging of course.

But it was not long before commerce was being conducted over the internet, and this use quickly became the dominant use. About 1/2 of all internet websites today are .com sites. And this means that what most website designers are trying to do is maximize traffic. Today, social networking is widely understood as a way to give commercial sites access to a lot of potential customers. The sharing of useful information on the internet, its original educational use, has been buried under all the subsequent traffic; a development that should have been quite predictable.

The blog is a sort of personal news feed service. It presents your posts in reverse chrono order, most recent on top, like the news. “Free” blogs are used – often blatantly – for advertising, and so are “free” e-mail and social media accounts.

About two-thirds (68%) of internet users disapprove of search engines and websites tracking their online behavior for the purpose of ad targeting.
– Pew Research, 13 March 2012.

While internet shopping is very popular compared to using the internet to seek useful data or advice (except as it concerns which product to buy), many people use the internet for that purpose or assume that it can be used that way. This group especially includes young people in school. I know it also includes all sorts of engineers and other “geek” types.

People want good data, but the internet concentrates on giving them news, blogs, ads and messages commonly associated with entertainment or commerce, not associated with making smart decisions.

Thus if I want to use my blog to help people make smarter decisions in their lives, I must realize that this is not what my blog was designed to do, and I am going to need to compensate for that.

The changes I will be making in the site reflect that realization.

The Lands

8 February 2018

dead trees along american river
…Some background on a new writing project and WordPress site…here…

Inspirations from odd places

I had recently been exposed to a film story called “Blade Runner 4049.” Though I found the story overly complex, its vision of our future is not that unusual in contemporary fiction. I particularly recall from the movie an area called “San Diego” that had become a huge dump and salvage yard for the Los Angeles metropolis. The piles of junk went on for miles and miles in all directions. It was also pointed out that there were no living trees in the environment. It was noted that at a “rebel” outpost, a dead tree had been kept standing using steel cables.

The Blade Runner story is a “loose adaptation” of a story by writer Philip K. Dick. Philip is considered an important science fiction writer. Born in 1928, he was influenced by the somewhat older sci-fi writers of the pulp days, such as Hubbard and Heinlein, but also the “beat” writers like Jack Kerouac. He died at only 53 under circumstances that remain poorly understood. He was a drug user, that is for sure.

In Dick’s book, the dystopia evident on the West Coast was brought about by war. In the movie this is not mentioned, except for a reference to a “high radiation” area near Las Vegas. In both stories, androids apparently designed for robotic tasks (I don’t believe it) acquire their own sense of humanity and wish to have equal rights with humans and an end to the control programming. Science fiction writers who have gone down this road seem to be of a mind that something like this could happen. They don’t try to understand why. The difference for me is that I now know why. The design and manufacture of human-like androids would be seen as a dangerous and stupid activity by anyone who understood the likely spiritual outcome of it. The androids in the film, called “replicants,” would be even more susceptible to this problem, as they are almost totally biological.

Bicycling downtown through the riverside park, I noticed a large stand of dead trees that has always been there, but seemed unusually gloomy with no spring foliage to offset the grayness. And I thought, “this is the Land of the Dead Trees.” And so I began to formulate the starting point of a story.

I am incapable – even if I wanted to – of writing an ordinary fiction story. I have been exposed to too much actuality that is much stranger than most “fiction” written these days. The trick would be to start with how things are now and somehow show how the situation could be improved.

That leads to Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” which employed a similar technique. But I have no use for his time traveler. I can simply assume a viewpoint of some future time and “look back” to now.

phto with added effects

The photo above with two effects added to it: “oil” and “sepia.”

Museum Day

3 February 2018

fruit tree blooming

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that here in the middle of California Spring would start a little earlier than it does in Pullman, or Seattle. But this is the beginning of February, and the fruit trees are blooming and it’s over 70 degrees outside, and I am a little bit surprised.

On top of that, today is “Museum Day” in Sacramento. (I’ve never heard of anything like that before!) On Museum Day many museums in this area forego their usual admission price and just let anyone who walks in look at their exhibits. Well, I thought I’d take advantage of this day, so I decided to go back to the Aerospace Museum of California out near the old McClellan Air Force Base, which I visited when I was here last summer. It’s not my favorite museum, but there’s lots of cool planes there, I used to be into model planes, and I like to collect photos of planes, so it seemed like an ideal opportunity for me. It’s also not too far from where I am living, so I could ride my bicycle out to it.

I was a little surprised, also, that so many others also took advantage of this day. The place was very crowded.

crowds at the museum

Outside in the “yard” there was almost a festival, or carnival, atmosphere. Kids waiting to look into plane cockpits, or sitting eating “Hawaiian Ice” or asking their parents questions about these huge machines. I got lots of photos.

outside in the plane yard

If you are actually interested in plane engines (they have a ton of plane engines), planes, jets, flight trainers, cockpit instrumentation or similar, this is a great museum to visit. I suggest you wait for a more normal day, though, and go ahead and pay the $15 admission.

I personally find the excitement in advanced weapons delivery systems a bit disturbing. It is similar to our fascination with action movies and in general lives filled with tragedy. That this is par for the course on this planet should be understood by now (if not very understandable), but I am glad to know, from a personal point of view, that it is more understandable now than it once was.

A bit of magic in this day

Here’s an image that seems to convey the spirit of this Museum Day here in Sacramento. I shot a picture of a helicopter I had toured, and when I reviewed my photos I found this image of a boy jumping in excitement. Per his shadow, both his feet are in the air in this image. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I dream of lifting off the ground and just flying around wherever I want to go with my feet just a few inches off the surface. So this image has a little magic in it, as far as I’m concerned.

boy jumping

The bees were out today, too. A good sign.

Bee on a fruit tree flower

A happy bee makes a happy life.

Patterns caused by different frequencies

21 January 2018

interference pattern
The above photo (which I have colorized and cropped) from Wikimedia Commons illustrates how two similar wave patterns can interfere with each other.

I have been working with this basic phenomenon as a possible way to create interesting patterns in LED displays that could be configured to interact with the environment.

My simpler prototype uses 12 yellow LEDs in a circle. The illustrations below show them in rows. This made it much easier to draw the illustrations.

Two Signals

The basic idea is to compare two different signals in a way that is interesting.

This design uses voltage-controlled oscillators to create a pair of square waves.

Each wave is then applied to a circuit that turns it into a repeating pattern with twelve parts. The corresponding outputs are then compared, and an LED is turned on or off depending on the result of that comparison.

The comparison logic I used for my first prototype turns the LEDs on only when both outputs being compared are “on” (about +5 volts in this case). There are other types of logic possible. This particular one gives the lowest current usage from the power supply.

So there are 12 LEDs, and each LED can only be on for one-twelfth of the time it takes for the pattern to repeat. But they will all fully light during their time slot only if the two signals being compared are exactly the same.

Otherwise, the LEDs will turn on and off in a pattern based on how different the two signals are. Here I have illustrated a few possible patterns. The yellow strip is the “reference” frequency, and the light blue strip is the other frequency. The lime green bands depict which LEDs will turn on, and for how long, based on my chosen comparison logic.

If the two signals are close but not exactly the same, the circle of LEDs will dim and brighten as the signals slowly go in and out of alignment. This is similar to how two musical notes that are close to each other will “beat” (get louder and softer).

two similar frequencies

If the two signals are a lot different, but related mathematically, they will produce a pattern of light and dark in the display.

As it is almost impossible to adjust the two oscillators to exact frequency multiples, the actual result is a fast or slow rotation of the pattern, depending on how far off they are.

Oddly, a 3 times difference in frequency produces a 2-node pattern.

frequencies different by factor of three

And a 4 times difference in frequency produces a 3-node pattern.

frequencies different by factor of four

Here is an image of my prototype – doctored to remove most of the distracting details of wiring and so forth on the circuit boards – showing a 3-node pattern that is slowly rotating. Here, three LEDs are much brighter, and three others are just beginning to turn on as the pattern slowly rotates.

3 nodes in circle

Three node pattern with LEDs in a circle.

Other Designs

I also made a display that uses my “signature” pattern of 8 concentric circles, starting with one having only three LEDs in it, and ending with one that has ten LEDs. This is a more interesting display to watch, but the results are more difficult to interpret. It is also more difficult to make. So I will likely continue to work with simpler designs as I develop this idea.

Software

These designs don’t use any software; totally hard-wired, as they say. My experience with software that runs on controllers that I can afford is that it doesn’t run fast enough to provide a smooth display that doesn’t blink. So, though I plan to use controllers in some of these designs, I prefer designs where they are not needed and we are dealing totally with the real-time interactions of signals.

Energy and Economics

11 January 2018

I wanted to get started on this topic. I may go back and amplify this later.

Balance Sheet for Planet Earth
Years ago I read an article about a man who was attempting to create a “balance sheet” for the planet. This idea was the work of Robert Costanza, founder of  Earth Inc and developer of a subject he calls Ecological Economics.

Like any corporation, Earth, Inc.’s objective is to maximize profit for its shareholders, but profit for this global institution is defined as every human’s wellbeing, established by sustainable use and enhancement of Natural, Social, Human, and Built capital.

How do you measure human well-being? I was doing bookkeeping work when I ran into this, so I found it an interesting concept.

Systems
In science and engineering, we have the concept of a “system.” Scientists and engineers have long dealt primarily with mechanical or only-physical systems. Sociologists, on the other hand, have been interested mostly in human (or animal) systems. It eventually became clearer that these two fields actually overlap, often extensively. The problem was really one of analysis. Our primary way to model a system for analysis is through using mathematics. However, the mathematics involved for a complex system (where there may be hundreds of interrelated actions) were too cumbersome until the advent of computer-based modeling.

Economics
The word “economics” shares its root with “ecology” and similar words, where “eco” comes from a Greek word meaning “house” or “household.” Obviously the sense of the original meaning has been broadened, so that these subjects can be applied to almost any system, but still somewhat using the analogy of a system to a house. Obviously, it is people who run an economy. So that places economics in the social sciences. “Natural” systems, even if living, are seen as self-governing, and – by most researchers – as self-created for that matter, but research in other directions has demonstrated that this is not totally true. Even in purely physical systems, the fact that someone (the researcher) is observing the system seems to have a subtle influence on how the system behaves. This opens the door to treating systems formerly thought of as merely physical to something a little closer to alive.

Permaculture
As I have been looking into the subject called “permaculture” for a while now, it is worth mentioning that this is a good example of an attempt to create a design philosophy – if not a rigorous mathematical model – for a human-built “natural” system. Because the creators of permaculture sought to keep the subject simple and teachable, this is one good way to get a feel for how to approach the problem of applying both physics and economics to a system.

Money is Energy
However, before I was introduced to permaculture, my studies had introduced me to the idea that money can be thought of as a type of energy, or as a way to measure energy flows.

When I was trying to re-locate the article I had seen about a planetary balance sheet (I finally found it in my electronic library) I ran across several school lessons (an interesting resource that often appears in searches) with the name “Earth’s Energy Budget” or similar terms. These lessons were mainly written to help students wrap their heads around the “greenhouse effect” climate theories. The fact is that without an atmosphere around Earth – including a portion of CO2 – surface temperatures would be much more crazy than they are now, and the planet would be barely livable.

In these lessons, we have an example of a living system that is relatively stable, or in balance. So I thought I’d go through it briefly as an example. The system (as modeled for analysis) has just one input, sunlight. Though this may not be strictly speaking totally accurate, that one input dominates by many orders of magnitude any other physical input into this system. Most of these lessons start with 100 “units” of energy into the Earth system. Basic theory of a balanced system predicts that 100 units of energy should exit the system (be measurable as outputs). Again, this might not be strictly accurate, but in this system, that’s what we see. The measured outputs are:

  • 30 units reflected light.
  • 49 units atmospheric heat lost to space.
  • 9 units water vapor heat lost to space.
  • 12 units surface heat lost to space.

You will see that these numbers add up to 100, confirming that the system is in balance.

The atmosphere and the planet surface convert 70 percent of incoming sunlight to heat. After that the interaction between surface and atmosphere becomes extremely important, with about 100 energy units constantly cycling through that part of the system.

In the lesson I took these figures from, the students are asked to stack pennies on a diagram illustrating these various energy exchanges in order to visualize the size of these different flows. I have not yet come up with an adequate visualization for the system I am more interested in.

A Model for the Economy of Earth

The amount of energy used by the humans of Earth – or even the entire biosphere – is only a fraction of a “penny” in the energy system illustrated above. Yet we humans are quite sensitive to relatively small fluctuations in the flows of our systems. Beyond that, there is no doubt that we, as the most sentient beings on the planet, must take responsibility for the natural systems we interact with. But we have only been able to really monitor those systems for the last 100 years or so. We are babies in the game of managing planets; and our lack of experience is obvious!

Balance sheets concentrate on reporting assets versus liabilities. An imbalance in favor of assets suggests the enterprise being reported on is doing well. An imbalance in favor of liabilities suggests it is in trouble. In business, these reports are made every year, or sometimes even every three months. While it would be good to keep track of the entire planet on a similar time frame, that might not be practical. But the way things are currently playing out, we should know where we stand at least every five years. And we could probably figure out how to reduce the reporting period down to a year or less once a working system was established.

In physical systems, assets – or pools of potential energy – are relatively unimportant. In the above example, the heat generated by the Earth itself can be totally ignored. Similarly, “liabilities” is basically a human concept. So physical systems are mostly about flows, or only look at the energy storage structures that could directly influence those flows.

In fact, even in human systems, “assets” and “liabilities” are actually not that easy to evaluate. Many things counted as assets lose value over time due to wear and tear, etc., but that’s usually only roughly accounted for. The most important long-term asset is land. Probably the least important is cash. Yet both of these have volatile prices. In business – as in physical systems – the more important measures of health are its flows; is it making more than it’s spending?

The daily flow of energy received from the sun is estimated to be about 11,000 exajoules, an enormous number. Humanity needs only about 2 exajoules a day. It takes most of this energy from “fossil fuels” as well as other carbon sources. It is hard to imagine at this point how things would change if we got all the energy we needed by converting solar radiation. Plants perform this conversion every day, yet that mechanism is insufficient to do the job, as we need to leave most of the plants where they are to perform other functions. In any case, energy input is really not the problem for our world balance sheet. It seems to be more a problem of human behavior, which is classically thought of to be governed by “policy” but more often governed by other factors that most managers seem confused about.

How limited are resources?

What ecologists call “resources” is what economists might call “assets.” Yet planetary resources do not appear on the balance sheets of most businesses unless they have direct control over them and are actively exploiting them, such as in mining. Even then, the land might be valued by its cost of purchase, and that purchase might be seen by the company as little more than one of the costs of production.

Yet, obviously, planetary resources are limited. The most obvious example of this is land area. The only way to get around that is to build skyscrapers and huge basements. The air and its quality is also a limiting factor, as are sources of fresh water. With sufficient energy inputs most limits listed so far could possibly be overcome. This might well be true of all important resources.

Thus, we are looking at a “balance sheet” where “assets” could be valued near infinity. Why, then, do so many people feel so “poor?”

Our ability to handle energy flows

It appears, then, that our basic problem must have something to do with our ability to handle large energy flows. Indeed, people who have the ability to handle energy flows sufficient to operate an organization that does billions of dollars of business a year are considered so rare and valuable that they can garner huge wages all out of proportion to the economic needs of even a large and wealthy household.

The ability to arrange for the energy flows that would be necessary to make this planet work well for all life forms currently using it as their home is probably a key limiting factor to our economic progress. Even given all the criminal enterprises that drain energy out of the system, or waste it, or use it to damage people or property, we could probably do well anyway if there were enough of us that could conceive of and implement systems that could handle energy (and money) flows sufficient to do the job.