Bike Trip East

12 October 2017

I took this trip on the 24th of September. Got busy and almost forgot to write about it!

yellow asters

These hardy yellow asters thrive in an otherwise very dry landscape.

I have taken the American River Bikeway (also known by other names) west into Sacramento many times, but never east, so that’s what I decided to do one recent Sunday.

wild growing grapes

Here is another plant that grows in dry areas. But the fruit needs shade.

I have already written about the plants that grow along the river, but I never tire of photographing them – always hoping for a better shot than the last one. The jimsonweed with its huge white whorled flowers is always interesting to take pictures of.

jimsonweed

The trail east (towards Folsom) goes through drier land than that found downriver. And at one point the soil becomes almost 100 percent large gravel. This is a deposit from an ancient glacier, as far as geologists can tell. The stones are very worn and rounded. You will see these boulders in gardens; there is so much of it around here.

There is also an area of cliffs upriver. I took some pictures, but they didn’t seem very exciting and I didn’t really want to go on about geology, as it’s not my subject. There are also some really fancy houses up on top of those cliffs (other side of river). The views from up there must be pretty darned good.

Meanwhile, down on the trail a little group riding horses pass by. Horses are allowed along most of this trail, but they have their own paths they are supposed to follow, so they won’t interfere too much with the bike riders. These paths weave in and out along the river bank, sometimes using the bike path shoulder. This time of year you can often tell if there are horses ahead because their passing stirs up dust.

horse riders

Egret

egret by the trail

About a week before I made this trip, I saw a very large bird – probably a blue heron – land on the roof of a nearby house. It reminded me of seeing large birds following the creeks of Pullman down to wintering grounds closer to the big rivers, where it stays warmer and the water doesn’t freeze over.

But the fish eaters in this region don’t need to migrate. It never freezes here. Yet these birds do move around, and I am sure they are joined by more birds that summer at higher elevations were it does freeze in the winter. So there was one, one day, standing on a rooftop in Sacramento.

And then on this trip I saw this bird, an egret, by the trail. Myself and another photographer got pretty close to it before it took off. She had a fast camera and said she got a picture of it flying. It is really quite a large bird so seeing it in flight close to the ground is quite dramatic. My attempt to photograph it in flight captured only blue sky.

Lilacs

An another subject, there is the question of the “California Lilac.” Someone decided to call a bushy tree that somewhat resembles the traditional Lilac of the northwest, midwest and east coast by this name. The Lilac we are used to in “temperate” areas originates in the Mediterranean region (or Asia) and is in the Olive Family and rather closely related to the Privet (which does grow in the Sacramento area).

northern lilac flowers

Real lilacs are in genus Syringa

However, the plant found in drier climates named after the Lilac is in the Buckthorn Family, which has a somewhat unusual flower structure. Many of these species are native to California and are seen all over the place, including in many yards and urban plantings. They can be white, pink, violet (purple). A have seen plants that seemed to have totally red flowers, but those were perhaps a different plant, as Ceanothus flower colors apparently don’t include red. In gardens they do appear much like traditional Lilacs. However, the larger plants remind me a lot of mountain-ash (rowan). This particular specimen was hanging over a fence and getting dried out, but the shot shows its flower very well, with its showy frilled petals seated atop rather long slender stems. This plant was probably bred to have flowers this showy.

california lilac flower

California “lilac” is in genus Ceanothus.

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Electronics Design Case Study – ADSR

23 September 2017

ADSR module homemade

This is a technical article and if you have no particular interest in electronics design feel free to skip it. It will get into some terminology that won’t all be explained in the text…

Music Synthesis

My interest in synthesizers goes back to my early days studying electronics. I always wanted to make my own synth.

But by 1983, MIDI had come out, and I was in the Sea Org.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Musical instruments were an early target for embedded controllers (software-controlled electronic circuits) for many reasons. This ended (mostly) the era when synthesizers were controlled by analog (continuous) signals. Voltage sources were terrible when it came to keeping all the electronic instruments in an ensemble in tune with each other. So tuning was an obvious feature to turn over to the digital world, where crystal-controlled oscillators could stabilize pitch to within a few parts in a million.

The advent of digital signal processing meant things like voltage-controlled filters and unusual effects like ring modulation could be implemented with algorithms instead of hardware.

Voltage-controlled amplitude, however, is so straightforward in the hardware realm that it remains somewhat popular. A basic part of synthesizing a real-world note or sound is approximating its amplitude envelope. This envelope has long been analyzed by acoustics engineers into four parts: Attack; Decay; Sustain and Release. If you play a note on a stringed instrument you can easily see each of these parts in action. How hard and fast you hit (or pluck) the string determines the initial attack and to some extent how that attack decays. Then if you don’t damp the string it will continue to ring until it is damped or played over. This is sustain. And when it is damped, the sound will die out, which is the release phase.

There are many many possible ways to imitate this amplitude envelope with electronics. The most common methods use parts that I had run out of (1 Meg-ohm potentiometers) so I decided to try an alternative design of my own creation.

Design Requirements

Most traditional ADSRs take a “gate” signal from a keyboard which tells the electronics how long the key is being held down (“note on” in MIDI). My electronic art projects use sensors, not keyboards, so I couldn’t rely on a gate signal to determine how much sustain the sound would have. I also kind of wanted a circuit that could be adapted so that each part of the envelope could be controlled by a separate sensor. That means it couldn’t just use pots, like the super-simple designs do. I also wanted to try straight-line segments rather than the traditional curved segments you get using just resistors and capacitors, even though this is less “realistic” for decay slopes.

I had a front panel I was reusing from an earlier project, and originally loaded it with just three pots – all that seemed to fit – which is two less than you need to control the five main parameters of the envelope. But I thought I could skip setting a sustain level, and use one pot to control both decay and release slopes. This panel had to fit into a eurorack-style chassis I had put together earlier, with power coming in the front.

The unit was also to include the voltage-controlled amplifiers, using an IC I had never worked with before.

First Try

I decided to use an op amp integrator at the core of the design, as it would give straight-line slopes and could be dependably controlled. However, I wasn’t sure how to set up my 100K pots to imitate a wider range of resistance. I used three comparators and a couple of flip-flops to detect voltage levels and turn the various slopes on and off.

Mounted at the bottom of the front panel was a backplane board that has become standard in most of my designs. Circuit boards then plug into this backplane, which ideally handles all the interconnects. Front panel parts that could not be mounted directly on the backplane board would be wired down to the backplane using jumpers.

I made the envelope generator board first and then the VCA board. The VCA datasheet was confusing at first, but by wiring an actual circuit I was able to figure out what was going on. This VCA could accept a wide range of control voltages (0 to 30 roughly), but they were referenced to the negative voltage rail! So I needed both an amplifier and offset for my envelope, as it would go from 0 to 5V only, my standard range for control voltages. I realized at this point that I would need a sound source to test this with, and it would also be nice to monitor the envelope waveform on an analog meter. I then spent about a day creating an oscillator and a meter for these purposes.

An incomplete design with too many questions about “will it work this way?” resulted in my running out of room on my envelope module. To solve this I piggybacked an extra module onto the main one. I got some sort of envelope out of this design, but the pots worked only over an extremely narrow range of their total rotation. I had to decide whether to stick with these pots and basic design, or start over.

Second Try

I looked around at what my alternatives were. I had a nice set of six quite small 5K pots from an old piece of audio equipment. They would all fit into the panel if I drilled new holes for them. So I decided to go for it. Five of these pots went onto a new backplane board. I modified this board to hold circuitry and figured the majority of my new design would fit on this board, with the rest put on a new plug-in module on the original backplane.

Now that I was beginning to recognize that this was a challenging project, I went to a build a section and test it approach to my work. 5K pots could only yield 1:100 output variations (comparable to using a 1Meg pot in series with a 10K resistor) by using the turn-on “knee” of transistors to stretch out the transfer curve. I have used this before so didn’t bother to work it out in complete detail, or plot the curves graphically, but below gives you a graphical idea of what I’m referring to:

transistor turn-on graph

Using a curve found on the internet, note that a 0.1 change in input voltage produces a ten-fold change in output current. Extend this input range a little more and you can squeeze out a 1:100 input/output ratio, or even more.

I built my current sources and sinks using discrete transistors. This gives worse consistency and stability than using matched pairs or some specialized IC, but usable for my purposes. I built one and tested it. I gave me a range of 50 to roughly 1500 microamps. This was good enough. I put the rest on the board, then added a dual timer (LM556) and some inverters and connected it up to run continuously (astable mode). I powered up and checked with my oscilloscope. This part of the design worked fine. The timers have two comparators and a flip-flop inside each of them, so this decreased my parts count.

I thought that I could get the timers to stop after just one cycle using some sort of edge detection scheme. But it didn’t work. I was using two timers so that the attack-decay and sustain-release cycles were separate and could be put in sequence. But my difficulties in making the circuit cycle just once and stop caused me to rethink this approach.

The next day I rewired the timers for one-shot (monostable mode) operation. Now the timers could be triggered by my sensor, fire – producing the envelope waveforms – and would then stop, waiting for a new trigger. I used two control flip-flops with NAND gates (CD4093B) to lock out new trigger signals until the current envelope had finished. I really needed only one flip-flop, but the package (CD4013B) has two in it, so I used one for each of the timers.

Next I had to get all the analog levels of the envelope right. I put this circuitry on the new module board. I only needed 8 wires to connect the new envelope module to this analog module. It has six opamps and a comparator. The comparator detects when the envelope signal goes to zero, and resets the flip-flops so they can allow in another trigger signal. This circuit wasn’t working at first. What was wrong? The envelope waveforms were only going down to 0.5 volts, not to ground. I had the comparator set below this, so it was never firing. I was powering my envelope generator with only ground and +12V. The current sinks (set up as mirrors for my current sources) could only pull the load capacitors down to 1/2 a volt. I compensated for this by adding some offset to my summing opamp. I set the output to go a little below ground so the comparator would for sure fire. I had to find a missing wire on the envelope board before I got the unit totally working. It’s not perfect, but it now works as it was designed to work, and will serve it purpose in helping me develop electronic art that uses sounds.

Answers to Drugs

22 September 2017

Yesterday I attended a public information session concerning the increasing use of marijuana and other drugs. This session was organized by Bishop Ron Allen who heads the International Faith Based Coalition. This is an anti-drug-abuse group. (Not an anti-drug group, though.) He had this session video-taped for use in his outreach work.

Two of the presenters were with the Colorado National Marijuana Initiative. They were there representing the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

From official websites:

A component of the Executive Office of the President, ONDCP was created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 [which extended an act by the same name passed 2 years earlier]. The ONDCP Director is the principal advisor to the President on drug control issues. ONDCP coordinates the drug control activities and related funding of 16 Federal Departments and Agencies.

ONDCP also administers two grant programs: the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Drug-Free Communities (DFC).

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.

The National Marijuana Initiative (NMI) is one of three national initiatives within the HIDTA program.

Other presenters

Another presenter was with the California Dept. of Justice Advanced Training Center.

The first presenter, who did not sit on the panel, was the ED of Omni Youth Programs, a non-profit, non-governmental “agency” operating in Sacramento County. She is college-trained with a background in both traditional and non-traditional therapies. She is assisted at Omni by a trained Family Therapist.

She explained to the audience that Omni’s approach to drug abuse is to target correlated factors such as child and family violence. These factors are linked to drug abuse (alcohol abuse in particular) by many studies (I assume mostly done by sociologists). These factors are addressed through group training programs. Omni trains the trainers who then go out and train groups. If this training is like other methods I have heard about, it focuses on changing “undesirable” behaviors into more desirable ones. We can assume that this work is moderately beneficial, but it uses technologies that can also be applied to more sinister forms of social control, and involves no real therapy on a personal level. Measures of the effectiveness of this work were not stressed in her short talk, but the website indicates positive results in 6- and 12-month follow-up studies.

Criminalize it

The federal approach to the drug problem is to criminalize drug production (where possible), trafficking, and use. About half of all Federal prisoners are there on drug trafficking charges. This is about 100,000 people. There are only about 250 people in federal prisons for possession only, but in state prisons there are roughly 50,000 more. There were roughly 160,000 drug traffickers in state prisons in recent years.

These figures must not include many major in-country producers, as drug production figures show no sign of heading downwards. However, many of these drugs, even Meth and LSD, have significant non-US sources, and most illegal drugs are majorly produced outside of the US.

The law-based approach to drug abuse control gives a lot of people a lot of things to do, but gives no particular sign of being effective. As is the case with most lawmaking, anti-drug laws are on the books because they are demanded by popular opinion, or give the government the feeling they are “doing something,” not because they are effective at dealing with social problems.

The federal people at this event argued for a continued legal and regulatory approach to the problem, bolstered by information campaigns, which have shown some effectiveness.

If marketing is effective, why bother with criminalization?

My take would be to trash the legal approach and continue the information campaigns. This might seem hypocritical to some, but passing laws about things just doesn’t seem to work. Private corporations, which have no direct ability to make law (though they do lobby abundantly, per all reports), have grown strong on marketing alone. Marketing and propaganda can breath life into a failed idea or kill a successful one. I think the effectiveness of marketing stems from its stress on giving people reasons to do things rather than reasons to stop doing things. Starting remains more popular than stopping in this society and probably always will. The stoppers are doomed to a minority status, even if they gain control of government or industry for a time. One of the greatest paradoxes we live with today has been our success at starting wars. Wars have always been seen primarily as stops because of their destructive results, but we have become convinced that they have “constructive” purposes in society, so they are now broadly supported (at least in the US).

That wars are constructive is of course a lie. So what we have in the US is a situation where the public is being lied to broadly and believing most of it. This is a sad situation, and is the road to a totally out-ethics (self-destructive) nation, which we are rapidly becoming. Drug use is a part of this greater overall picture.

Hubbard’s approach

What LRH has discovered about drug use is summarized in the informational booklet, “Answers to Drugs.” This booklet is part of both the Volunteer Ministers program and the Scientology Online Courses program.

Hubbard believed that the only way to ultimately solve the huge social issues of our times was to take individuals and bring them up to a point where they would become willing and able to take effective actions at a social level. He saw no way to accomplish this only at the level of the group. Individuals were the building blocks of all groups, so individuals are the target of Hubbard’s work. Scientology organizations are dedicated to handling individuals. However, when individuals get to the point where they feel ready to take action on the group level, they may do so through several programs sponsored by church members, but designed to operate independently of church organizations:

Narconon handles the drug abuse problem by operating rehabilitation facilities across the planet.

The Truth About Drugs program backs up this work with drug education materials and activities.

United for Human Rights seeks to empower victims of criminal abuses by informing them of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Way to Happiness program distributes a secular moral code across the planet in about 100 languages.

That booklet is also used by Criminon, which is a criminal rehabilitation program.

Applied Scholastics seeks to improve study skills, as laid out in LRH’s Study Technology, through its international teacher training center and in schools across the planet.

Hubbard College of Administration similarly teaches Hubbard’s management technology.

The Volunteer Ministers are organized to assist in disaster relief, often working alongside the Red Cross and government groups. Volunteer Ministers can also get trained in all facets of Scientology so they can help friends, neighbors and strangers more effectively.

And the Citizens Commission on Human Rights seeks to put ethics in on the psychiatrist-lead mental health system.

Here are some excerpts from the Answers to Drugs booklet used to train Volunteer Ministers and anyone else interested in this subject:

The hard, solid fact is that until now there has been no effective psychotherapy in broad practice. The result is a drug-dependent population.

Drug addiction has been shrugged off by psychiatry as “unimportant” and the social problem of drug-taking has received no attention from psychiatrists–rather the contrary, since they themselves introduced and popularized LSD. And many are pushers.

Drugs essentially are poisons.

The mind is not a brain.

You can see from this short selection that Scientologists face real challenges in convincing non-Scientologists who have been educated in other “solutions” that our approaches are worth taking a hard look at. They are going to have to change some of their basic stable data about the problem and about society at large.

Drugs and Psychotherapy

The connection between drugs and psychotherapy might not be apparent to some, so let me clarify: People seek therapy usually due to experiencing some “mental problem.” They quite often don’t make this move until they are acutely suffering. Traditionally the therapist talks to the person (now often called “talk therapy”) in the hopes of giving the person some helpful realizations. This sort of therapy is no longer popular; it is not covered by many forms of medical insurance, and it takes a lot of time. So if the talk therapy doesn’t work or is unavailable, drugs are resorted to. Usually some drug can be found that will alleviate the symptoms. It will do nothing about the underlying cause. That means that drugs can “hook” people, because the symptoms return if drug use stops.

So we see drug use as a result of ineffective psychotherapies, as well as lack of access to any therapy other than drugs. Drugs are seen by beginning users as therapeutic, and in the past have often been sold that way. For instance, laudanum – a strong opioid drug – started as a pain relief medicine. So did the modern forms of opium, morphine (still used), heroin and cocaine. To that list add “legitimate” drugs prescribed by psychiatrists, and we see that whole profession falling into the pit of hiding symptoms behind a drug fog, rather than treating root cause. And: As long as they continue to believe that the mind is the brain – a widely disproved misconception – they will continue to fail in their assigned role in society, if they even care what that is.

The result of the failure of psychotherapy to deliver relief where it is most desired has resulted in the current drug situation. The only real solution is to start providing a psychotherapy (or whatever you choose to call it) that really works.

None of the panelists at the event I attended suggested this.

Intelligence and Social Experience

10 September 2017

The lower the IQ, the more the individual is shut off from the fruits of observation.
– LRH
(HCOPL 7 Feb 1965, KSW)

It was determined at some point when I was young that I was “smart.”

I didn’t think much about this in my younger years. I did not feel that I was getting pushed in any particular direction (because of my intelligence) by anyone exterior to myself. And no one ever brought it up with me.

Yet, I had an abiding sense of being “different.” Not a lot different, but different to some degree. And though I explained this to myself in various ways over the years, it never particularly occurred to me that intelligence had anything to do with it. Until one day a senior of mine who was in a position to know such data told me that by test I was one of the more intelligent people in our group. Though I made no particular connection at the time this comment was made, it intrigued me in light of the above quote, and in the light of my social experience.

Electronics

I took up a study of electronics around my last year of high school. I had always enjoyed my work in the arts throughout my younger days in school, but it occurred to me that I had no idea how to make a living as an artist. Beyond that, I had not figured out what art was “good for” outside of keeping myself and others involved in the field amused. I thought I’d better sort these points out before I committed myself to a life in the arts, so I chose a fall-back study, electronics, as I was already running into it through my interest in music and audio equipment.

my electronics bench

My electronics bench in its beginning form, 1972.

Practical electronics is basically an engineering study involving multiple subjects. To build equipment you must be able to make design drawings, construct objects from wood, plastic, or metal, choose, purchase and assemble parts that include hardware, passive electronic parts, and active parts like transistors or ICs. These days you also have to know how to write code (computing software). Electronics design further involves a knowledge of physics, mathematics, and materials sciences.

As I moved along in my study of electronics, I occasionally noticed that many people around me had no clue about any of these subjects. My father, for example, having studied mainly in the humanities, did not really know physics, chemistry or engineering – though he had used a computer to help him compile data for his doctoral thesis. I was living in a society full of people who did not know that much about the technologies they were using every day.

As I bought and read engineering and hobby books covering these various subjects (as well as studying the basic science and math in high school) I knew that a technically-savvy community existed and that I had become a part of it. It didn’t really occur to me that there might be large numbers of persons who were not up to this level. After all, I had been introduced to the basics in high school.

This subject, by the way, extends deeply into the subject that has been the center of my attention for some time, Scientology. Besides the fact that auditors use an electronic device in their work, electronics has been a repeated – if somewhat esoteric – aspect of the research path starting right out of the gate when LRH chose “bank,” a computer engineering term, to help him describe the mind. According to the more esoteric research conducted by LRH in the early years, electronics has been an important human technology for a very long time. Among the most famous stories to treat “high” technology as a thing of the past is Star Wars. But this has been borne out by research done by numerous persons, not just Hubbard.

Blank Stares

However, when I got into social situations and people would ask me, “What do you do?” (which is a crazy question, by the way), when I would answer “electronics” I would often get a blank stare. The more socially adept would recover quickly, acknowledge my answer, maybe say something like “That sounds really interesting!” and then change the subject.

But, as I have since come to recognize it, I had given them a Misunderstood Word, basically cutting the communication line.

Could other words I was using be causing similar effects?

Per even an average understanding of what it means to be “smart,” a higher-than-normal vocabulary is one agreed-upon characteristic. The subject is mentioned here http://thecommonroomblog.com/2013/02/vocabulary-and-intelligence.html in relation to childhood education. There are some IQ tests based entirely on vocabulary (knowing the meaning of words, and knowing when you don’t know their meaning).
The LRH study method is based on gaining conceptual understandings of the meanings of words. For some words, you might have to go out into the world and find the object or experience the action referred to by the word in order to get a really good conceptual understanding of it.

IQ

The term IQ comes to us from the field of psychology and is intended to be a measure of relative intelligence. In other words, the 100% score (or “average”) could mean a different intelligence – in either quality or quantity – now than it did 100 years ago. However, measuring intelligence this way has only been done for a relatively short amount of time compared to how long intelligent people have been writing down their ideas and experiences in the hopes that others might benefit from it. So we might imagine that a baseline measure of intelligence would be valid and comparable whether it was done today or 50 years ago.

A simple and well-agreed definition for intelligence is: mental ability. How best to measure mental ability depends to some extent on what we think the mind is for. If it is seen mainly as a storage device, then testing it might consist mostly of testing one’s ability to remember with speed and accuracy. If it is considered a thinking device – the more common belief – then it would be tested by posing problems for it to solve. This is the ordinary approach of most intelligence tests.

The fact that many studies have shown that IQ scores correlate with our ideas of what mental ability should be able to do for a person indicates that we have at least some grasp of the subject of human intelligence and how to measure it.

Experience of Others

I found relatively few articles on the internet addressing this subject directly, and none of them scholarly articles. However, some of them did refer to studies that had been done by psychologists or sociologists. Some articles I saw dealt with how to improve your intelligence, while others focused more on advice about how to cope socially if you are extra-smart.

To summarize:

  • Being smart has a certain isolating effect on people. They know and use more words, they can do very well at certain jobs – and are therefore sought-after for such positions, they tend to feel that the help they provide is vital – even if not well reimbursed – and so are willing to work extra hours, and they tend to have so many interests that it may be hard for them to stay focused on the activities of any particular group.
  • Their curiosity may “get them into trouble” on occasion.
  • Similarly, they may notice things – including flaws in data or logic – that others miss and therefore be seen as “picky” or disagreeable.
  • They may develop interests that others can’t grasp or fully participate in due to the breadth of knowledge required to be involved with that subject.
  • They may inadvertently say things or do things that make others feel “stupid.”

My Own Experience

Though my own experience aligns well with many of the above points, I am particularly interested in certain aspects that have been amplified by my Scientology studies:

  • Misunderstood Words. It is hoped that a person, through study alone, would be able to acquire enough conceptual understanding of most unusual (or even common) words or symbols that these would fully become a part of their working vocabulary. But I have found – particularly in the case of engineering subjects (including math), or other specialized vocabularies (botany, biology, law, medicine) that this is not always that easy to attain. Though people are generally “excused” for not knowing technical words, when these words are constantly used in their environment (such as computing terminologies are in this day and age) a mental dullness could result that could only be resolved with a dedicated study of the subject. I may not do well at limiting technical terms in my own writing and conversation, but when these things extend into general marketing – such as the list of side effects that drug advertisers are required to include in their ads – things have gone too far. I don’t see any good reason why “homicidal ideation” (thoughts of killing others) needs to be a household phrase in this world.
  • The need for multidisciplinary understandings. A common term for this sort of person is the “polymath.” He has always been considered to be someone a bit special, but anyone who wants to be an electronics engineer has to become a polymath of sorts, just to learn that subject well. Hubbard has made the point that if a person wishes to live well and fully, there are 27 different “hats” he must learn to wear, at a minimum. With the introduction of so many “advanced” technologies in recent years, this becomes even more essential. A very smart scientist can fail utterly as a human being if he has not learned the basics of Ethics and Public Relations. And who is teaching that to scientists? (My church is!) So the challenge of the brighter ones among us these days is in persuading others to join them. We face a very dire future indeed if too many insist on remaining ignorant of subjects they MUST know!
  • Tone level. I have mentioned this subject before. Its basics are here: http://www.scientologyhandbook.org/tone-scale/SH4_1.HTM . Though one can learn to move around more on the tone scale, the only known way to fully free a person on this scale is through auditing. Hubbard designated 2.0 as the make-break point on this scale. Above it, one seeks to survive, below it one seeks to succumb. If a person can’t get above 2.0 on this scale and stay on that side of life most of the time, it doesn’t matter how smart he is: He won’t make ethical decisions.
  • Recall and its control. Ron has discovered that the mind basically functions as a storage device. But it doesn’t just store data – though that can be important in more contemplative moments – it stores complete actions or what could be called “learned behaviors.” Such a behavior can be brought into action by various mental processes and will immediately manifest as either a body reaction or an actual body action. Though some of those mental processes are analytical or “intentional,” many others are not, and most people do not understand how they work or how to control them. This is very much linked to Tone level above, and has a similar resolution. Further, auditing can assist a being to access past-life data. Though this is not its emphasis, we could sure use that ability these days, as current circumstances are quite similar to past circumstances we have only experienced in past lives. It would be great to have more of that data available to help us resolve many of our current situations.

Beyond Intelligence

I did not totally expect this “musing” to turn out this long. It remains to be known what really makes some people seem smarter “out of the gate” (so to speak) than others. But in the context of my comments on past lives above, it could well be that some of us have a keener awareness, as soon as we arrive on this planet (no matter how many times we have been here before) that there is an urgent need for positive action on Earth. And this could be what drives them to push for a higher level of intelligence. That this push then tends to isolate them socially is an unfortunate result. But it points out that the solution lies beyond the subject of mere intelligence. Above mental ability lies spiritual ability. If I did not know this I would be very despondent indeed. Knowing this gives me reason to hope. Yes, it’s “good” to be smart. But in the long that’s not enough. I’m glad I was “smart” enough to at least find that out.

American River Parkway Introduction

7 September 2017
american river parkway map

Parkway on-site map

The American River is the waterway that flows down from California gold country and joins the Sacramento River at Sacramento.

Due to the fact that flood protection is necessary in these areas, levees have been erected on both sides of the American River. I would guess they are maybe 25 feet high. Anyway, on the river side of the levees you just can’t have houses (not normal ones, anyway) so it is all parkland. There are paved bike trails that extend from the Sacramento River up to Folsom.

I have been spending a lot of time on a particular section of this bike way, as it is on the way to downtown, which I visit often. I get on at Watt Ave, and exit to the north and east at Fair Oaks Blvd. Between Watt and Howe – the next big street before Fair Oaks – is an old oak grove that the trail goes through.

parkway grove evening

Oak grove illuminated by the evening sun.

At first for me this was just a picturesque spot. Then one morning at about 11AM, two deer (bucks with three-point antlers) showed up along the trail, nibbling on underbrush. Later that day I saw them again. The next day I saw a doe with one of them, as well as three turkey hens at another spot. This got me more interested.

These were very tame “wild” animals. Humans don’t bother them that much. A lot of squirrels are the same way. The turkey may even be escapees from a domestic flock. But the point was that these animals were showing up in what otherwise is considered a very urban area.

deer buck

Buck wanders through his temporary home.

I can only guess that the hot weather extending out for many weeks has been pushing some animals towards waterways, and a few ended up in the parkway. So I started looking at this section of the park more closely, as it seemed to be providing adequate shelter for these larger animals as well as countless other smaller ones. I spent most of my time on the north side of the river, where I spotted the deer.

elderberries

Elderberries are seen everywhere along this trail.

The land itself in this area is of some interest. On the north side of the bike trail, undergrowth consists mostly of dry grasses, not counting small trees like elderberry. Something on that side is preventing other plants from taking over there. On the levee itself the grass is being mowed, but not down here. Maybe the soil is just very poor.

forest understory

River-side forest and understory.

On the other side of the trail, the land is “foresting out” as I call it. The grasses that dry as the summer progresses are being replaced by plants that are staying green. It is more or less obvious that the soil is more moist there. Tree cover, presence of mulch and its thickness, understory plants, as well as the structure of the soil layers themselves all contribute to soil water content.

forest floor mulch

Forest floor mulch; this found right by the trail.

In any case, plant diversity and greenness increase as one gets closer to the water, but seeing it so starkly just across the width of a bike trail was a bit unusual for me. Seeing rushes growing is evidence of much wetter soil. I noticed these in only a few places.

parway rushes by trail

Rushes indicate a spot with wetter soil.

The area is also undergoing a “second flowering” at this time (early September) which sometimes happens when the weather has been a bit unusual, and seems to be up to individual plants or even individual buds. I saw a huge lily plant reflowering, plus some of the elderberries – which I know of as spring-only bloomers – and possibly some of the asters, which are known as late summer bloomers (think sunflowers), but I was seeing evidence on some of them for one bloom cycle already done this year.

asters in a field

Aster family plants grow tall in this field; very sun-tolerant.

There are a few other plants in this area that are persistent bloomers, such as the Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) and a few others with very good heat tolerance. Jimsonweed is native to Mexico and is dangerously toxic, though has been used for a long time for medicinal purposes. It is related to tobacco, nightshade, tomatoes and potatoes.

jimsonweed flower

A jimsonweed flower beginning to wilt.

Sharing the canopy with the oaks in this region are the walnuts. California black walnuts are native in this area, but do not produce nuts as edible as the cultivated English walnut. I have also seen some cottonwoods, but not many sycamores, which are widely planted along the streets and in parks.

walnuts fruit and nut

Walnuts look like fruit; the nut is inside the husk.

There are also areas of the park “infested” by grape vines. The grapes seem to the casual observer to be a problem, as they grow over and seem to smother other plants and trees. But ecologists are hesitant to control them as a weed, because they do produce food for the animals. Humans could eat these grapes, too (I tried one), but I don’t think many do.

grapes

Grapes hide under the shade of their leaves.

blackberries

Blackberries dry out quickly in the summer heat.

peas drying in the sun

The weather is too hot and dry for these peas; they bloomed in the spring.

Blackberries are also widely seen in open areas and in the understory, and I even saw some pea vines which came from goodness knows where. So animals that venture here can be quite well fed. I have managed to photograph some of them.

turkey hens

These turkeys seem happy here.

rabbit

I found this rabbit further up the trail.

quail

Quail are more skittish than some of the other animals, so a bit harder to photograph.

rose hips

We know rose hips as a source of vitamin C. I have not seen them eaten much by animals, though.

Though this section of the parkway is an important commute route for me (and for many others), it has also developed into quite a rich habitat that supports a lot of different life forms.

I discover Permaculture

14 August 2017

It all started with this guy…

David Bellamy 2005

David Bellamy, 2005, by Begaoz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61342374


British botanist and educator David Bellamy created an educational TV series “Bellamy on Botany” that I watched on Canadian public television while I was in high school. The point I remembered most about it was how Spain had been overgrazed, which eventually deprived it of tree cover and totally changed its climate and local ecosystems.
Bellamy was just using Spain as an example. This same thing has happened, and is happening, throughout the world. This is sometimes called “desertification.” Though it is more than unlikely that all deserts here on Earth were caused by overgrazing, when you let cattle or sheep graze through a forest, or burn down the forest (as has been done in Brazil) to create grazing land, then you have, at minimum, lost a forest with everything that goes with it.

Thus I became interested in attempts to reforest land of all types, and hoped I could some day try my hand at it.

California

Here in California, there has been a water supply problem for a long time.

In the north, damming of local rivers has provided the more regulated flow needed by modern agriculture, southern California had to reach out of state many years ago to supply its water needs. All across the state, ground water is also used. Though there are many reasons that water supplies can vary from year to year, amount of precipitation is the most obvious. And in Sacramento in the summer, that can get very obvious, as it might not rain at all for two months or more. So every year there is a mini-drought during the summer, and in recent years there has been an overall drought of some magnitude. As a result, residents are asked to conserve water, and have been whenever I have lived here. One way to do this is to plant a drought-resistant garden. We also had a water problem in Pullman, so I have been interested in how one goes about replacing an ordinary lawn with low-water plants. And now I have had a chance to look into this more, and that led me to the subject of permaculture.

Permaculture

Permaculture is a coined word invented by Bill Mollison, an Australian from Tasmania, who in his mid-life studied “bio-geography” at the University of Tasmania. He was nearly 40 and being a university student at about the same time I was being a high school student. The ecology movement was gaining steam at that time. Ecology had been an academic subject since the early 1900s, but turned into a political movement in the mid-1900s as it became more clear that some of our human enterprises were making very poor environmental decisions.

During the 1970s Mollison worked with a graduate student to develop an engineering approach to environmental design which involved water systems, agriculture, architecture and social development which they called “permaculture” in the sense that the systems so designed were meant to be permanent; what is now known as sustainable. This goal was based (roughly) on the premise that if natural systems can survive for thousands of years, then human systems should be able to, too. He believed in taking his lessons from those natural systems and implementing them in his designs. He fostered a whole movement by offering a “Permaculture Design Course” which would result in someone certified to practice or teach permaculture. By this time nearly half a million people have been so certified.

One such certificate holder is Geoff Lawton.

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton, by Bonnie Freibergs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47278739

Geoff is almost exactly my age. He’s a Brit who moved to Australia and took up permaculture as his mode of life and his creed. Geoff has crafted many videos – many relatively short – often produced by quite excellent videographers, which communicate his knowledge and excitement regarding this subject.

Oddly, for one of his videos he visited Davis, not too far from here, where a development (Village Homes) using permaculture practices has existed for about 30 years (construction started in 1975). Though this is an upscale subdivision in a university town, the basic fact remains that it grows an incredible amount of food that is available to residents almost year-round, and is a very shady, livable space. Other neighborhoods or communities could follow the design practices used to create Village Homes. And I was very interested in these practices because they are much more sustainable than conventional suburban design, and they create food and shade, as forests do.

Lawton has traveled all over the world spreading his permaculture philosophy and doing consulting work. He has worked in the Middle East and in India, two of the most ancient human areas on the globe, and both desperately in need of more sustainable practices. Unfortunately, current culture and big business agendas favor a restricted-access approach to this technology. Current culture does not expect life on earth to be permanent, and certain big businesses don’t plan for – or even particularly want – a sustainable Earth. Those groups seem to favor the “rape and pillage” approach to planetary life, and apparently are preparing – even as this is being written – to find some new planet to take advantage of once this one has been worn out.

Personally, though, I would very much prefer to leave behind at least a piece of ground – if not an entire planet – that keeps on giving long after I have left.

Biking to TAP Plastics

6 August 2017

TAP Plastics Sacramento storefront

The challenge this Sunday afternoon was to bike north through the Arden-Arcade suburbs to the location of TAP Plastics on Auburn Blvd. (old U.S. 40).

The data I had from the city on bike paths in the area did not look promising. Their map showed large discontinuities.

In my travels so far, I have learned to rely heavily on residential streets in the suburbs. Even though not officially bike-friendly, people use them and drivers know to be aware. The “bike ways” are on the main streets. They are usually narrow and there is lots of traffic. This is not ideal for a bicycler. There are some areas of the city that are serviced by purpose-built bike trails in parkways. These are the best choice for most bike riders. But downtown and in the suburbs, these disappear. (Pullman was an exception, with a nice path close to downtown that followed the creek. It could have been wider, though.) In Pullman I also relied heavily on sidewalks. But I have not always been able to do that here, as in the unincorporated areas, most streets have no sidewalks.

So I looked up the area on the now-trusted Google Map web application:

Google map of north Arcade neighborhoods

My destination was the red star at the top. My origin point, the blue star at the bottom. Some parks and an interesting pathway are noted with yellow arrows.

My focus was on Pasadena Ave. And it kept coming up during my ride. It turned out to be a key element to a fairly safe and interesting ride north.

Getting out of my neighborhood and across Marconi was the first major step. I found on my way back that looping around to Eastern where there is a sidewalk to the corner is the best way, as there is no such sidewalk on Marconi. On my initial study of the map, it looked like Norris would be the best way to go north. But I passed it without seeing it, and took a street called Montclaire, which got me to Auburn Blvd at Watt Ave. Auburn is sidewalked on one side, so that was not a big problem. But it was a long way around. I also noticed Pasadena coming out on Auburn at a place I didn’t expect. Turns out Pasadena starts at Auburn, loops down (south) into the suburbs, then turns north and returns to Auburn much further east. So on my trip up Auburn, I turned over on Winding Way and ran into Pasadena again. However, it appeared to end at the Creek. From the other direction, you get this sign:

road ends sign on Pasadena Ave.

But there was as footpath – which shows up on the map. I followed it and went past a big back yard where two horses were standing under a fig tree. Then I came to a footbridge across the creek. And from there the road started up again, appearing as a narrow piece of asphalt like you’d find in the mountains. And with all the old pines in the area, it smelled like the mountains, too.

foot bridge across the creek

This is an area where people are allowed to keep horses – and they do.

horses grazing in back yards

I had made it to TAP! But I wanted to go back a different way. I didn’t have the map with me. I just knew I needed to head south. I went past the bike-laned Edison Ave, attracted by a man selling watermelons, and found a park. Parks (when they aren’t crowded) are another good bike path resource. At least you don’t have to worry about cars!

Gibbons Park playground

I found my way to Mission Ave. It is not officially bike-laned like Edison, but it was not busy, so OK to ride. The way back along Marconi was actually more favorable for bike riders than the section above my neighborhood, though no official bike lanes.

On my next trip I will try the Mission-to-Edison-to-Pasadena route. It should be more direct, though this trip was not very time-consuming, either.

Next trip: All the way downtown!

Some Sacramento Parks and Green Spaces

9 July 2017

On Friday the 7th of July I toured some Sacramento parks with the idea of a theme of green space. I had been invited to a dinner on Fair Oaks Blvd just north of UC Sacramento, so that was my ultimate destination. I figured that with a combination of walking, sitting, and possibly bus riding I could spend most of the day visiting park areas between downtown and the university.

I got off the light rail at Alkali Flats station. This is a traditional neighborhood name for the area near to and just north of downtown. In this area of town, C Street is the northern-most useful street. It extends east into the fancy New Era Park neighborhood. It has three city-block-sized parks along it: John Muir Playground, Grant Park and Stanford Park. Then to the east of that is a large area referred to as Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, which is still under development.

There is a lot of low-income housing in the Alkali Flats area. Here is an example of some green space provided in front of one such building. I call it “urban green space.” It is usually surrounded by concrete on all four sides.

uban green space

Next I encountered some urban gardens. I have not seen areas like this in the suburbs.

urban garden

John Muir Playground has a fence around it, and a sign inside stating “no adults allowed unless accompanied by a child,” or words to that effect. However, on this warm morning, no children were there.

John Muir playground

C Street then takes you to the Blue Diamond facility. There I found a nice example of “corporate green space.” This is a lot like urban green space, but more closely controlled and maintained. It can provide a lot of great color, but is ordinarily rather limited in extent and definitely requires watering. Companies here – and many residents – are still into lawns. See my Goose Poop article for related thoughts.

corporate planting

The area just north of the American river contains a system of bike paths, and a path connecting to that system exits into this neighborhood. That would have to be another trip.

bikeways gate

Grant Park has a baseball field that may also be used for soccer. The grass was mowed, but no one was there. At the east end of this park is “Blues Alley.” I went down this alley, but found no evidence for “blues.” I did, however, notice a column of smoke rising from the area I was headed towards. A grass fire.

park field

Stanford Park was another big (and vacant) field. At its far end is the entrance to the developed part of Sutter’s Landing Park.

park lawn

This park had previously served industrial or similar uses; most of it was pretty bare. The most-used developed area was the Dog Park. I walked into the small dog area and took some pictures.

solar panel trees

This park contains some manmade shade roofed with solar (photo-voltaic) panels, most probably linked into a nearby solar “farm” and to the panels covering the parking lot to the northeast.

Sutter's Landing parking lot

The most notable features of the parking lot were two killdeer madly tweeting at each other. A “covered skate park” was closed. Inside it was covered in graffiti and housed several pigeon families. However, per its website, it opens to skaters and skateboarders every afternoon.

levee trail and lower trail

Just beyond that was the levee and the river. The levee is a key reason the American River Parkway exists. The levees began to be built in the mid 1800s in response to repeated flooding of Sacramento neighborhoods during peak flood season. Since then, flood control dams have been installed, and an extensive levee system has been completed up the American River (and also the Sacramento).

fishing on river

Fishing on the river.

Sutter’s Landing Park ends at a freeway at the edge of the East Sacramento neighborhood, not far from a railroad bridge. Here I found the blackened ground which could have been caused by the fire I saw smoke from earlier.
burn area

East Sacramento neighborhoods run right up to the levee, which in this area is roughly 20 feet high. On the other side of the levee is the river and parkland which can flood if there is a lot of runoff upstream. I could find no obvious access to regular streets from the levee, so continued walking along it to the east. I found a sump pump installation at one point, but the maintenance gate leading to city streets was locked. I was now walking along an affluent neighborhood known as River Park, which is right next to the university. It was a lot of walking in the high sun. I was in long sleeves and wearing a big hat, but my nose and cheeks got burned, and my exposed hands. At Hall Park I finally found street access.

floodplain near beach access

This is near the access point from Hall Park.

Hall Park is a nice park and includes a swimming pool. But even here I found someone who looked homeless sitting on a park bench.

Hall Park sports field

Sports field in Hall Park.

I was able to walk out of River Park to a small mall, where I ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Just beyond that was the university entrance, including a nearby “mini-park” space with a garden fountain and a bench.

fountain in mini park

bench in mini-park

To the right of the university entrance was the Arboretum. It was a well-developed “forest” and provided a pleasant place to stop and rest. Almost every plant was labeled with its botanical and common name, and where it is native. Though called an Arboretum, in included numerous shrubs and smaller plants.

inside the arboretum

Inside the Arboretum.

I had made it to Fair Oaks Blvd, but still had to make it across the river. There was a footpath/bike path across the bridge. The north end was surrounded by shrubbery; very picturesque.

foot path on bridge

Fair Oaks passed through a student housing area called Campus Commons where there was no ordinary commercial development. But I found the shopping area only a block or two up the street, designed in the usual suburban style, though a little more high-end than usual. As is normal in this style of development, pedestrian crossings of the main streets are few and far between. After getting an iced herb tea (and a refill) at a shop in the Pavilions Center, and browsing the Williams-Sonoma store, I sat for a while in a comfortable patio chair put out for shoppers. The two seated figures are sculpture next to a water feature.

urban green space at shopping center

I was early; it was only about 4pm. When I finally decided to cross the street to the restaurant, I had to walk way down to a light to get across legally. But at least I had survived the trek.

Sacramento Critters

2 July 2017
squirrel Sutter's fort

Tree squirrel at Sutter’s Fort.

We are all aware that many animals share human environments with us. Besides the obvious organisms that take advantage of the fact that we leave behind a certain amount of trash, both inside and outside, there are the ones that live semi-wild in our garden and park areas.

Perhaps the most obvious animals that share the urban environment with us are the birds. However, with my resources these are some of the most difficult animals for me to photograph. Robins, sparrows, swallows, and all their various relatives are familiar regulars in urban trees and bushes. Pigeons are also well-know, and often seem like a nuisance bird. In open areas you will see hawks and other raptors, indicating a considerable but hidden population of ground mammals (mostly rodents). Tree squirrels move around where we can see them, but the rest of those types of animals hide in underground areas much of the time.

Home gardens and park areas may have water features (or regular sprinklers) that support additional animals. These include various amphibians and reptiles, insects, even fish. I should mention soil worms, though these usually only appear when we dig around or after it rains hard. Worms and other soil organisms are an important part of any ecosystem but are another group that does not lend itself to ordinary photography.

We will also see some migrant species come through our cities. Many of us are not particularly aware of which animals are in this category. And there are some birds, like the geese and ducks pictured below, that you might think migrate but might actually be full-time residents. Some of these have lost the instinct to migrate due to being held in captivity over several generations.

geese and ducks at Sutter' Fort

These geese are probably permanent Sacramento residents. I don’t know about the ducks. This is at Sutter’s Fort.

Yesterday (Saturday 1 July) I visited a little museum on Auburn Blvd near Watt that has been known as the Discovery Museum, but will be known as the Powerhouse Science Center when it moves to its new downtown building (an old electric power station). This museum specializes in exhibits for children. Its original emphasis was probably the natural sciences, but it is moving into “hard” technology in a big way, with a “space mission” experience for kids, a planetarium, and more technology-related exhibits in the offing.

The museum grounds include a park and pond. The pond is kept aerated by a fountain. Aeration is important for most urban ponds, as they are usually quite shallow and warm up a lot in summer, which deprives them of vital dissolved oxygen. This particular pond was probably seeded with many of the animals that now grow in it. It has a lot of turtles for just one pond and is teaming with developing frogs (tadpoles / polliwogs). I also saw many dragonflies and a hummingbird. I asked the flying animals to pose for photographs (a habit I’ve taken up, as it sometimes works) and a few dragonflies consented to do so, but the hummingbird would not stay put long enough for me to get a proper photo.

turtles sunning themselves

Turtles sunning themselves at the Discovery Museum pond.

tadpoles in pond

Tadpoles were teaming in this pond.

dragonfly at pond edge

The dragonfly that posed for me.

Some of the first “wild” animals I ran into in Sacramento were ground squirrels at the Marconi-Arcade light rail station. I noticed them many times running across the tracks between their burrows and the public waiting areas. They are a bit nervous and so hard to photograph, but I got a few shots of them finally.

ground squirrel near its burrows

One of the infamous track-jumping Marconi-Arcade ground squirrels.

Ends of Lines

29 June 2017

no-outlet-cropped-sac-trip-74

Here is a rather short version of my intended post about what is at the ends of the light rail lines in Sacramento. My experiences in going back and forth on these trains have ramifications that I won’t particularly get into in this post. I have tried to do something like this in every city I have lived in. I didn’t totally do it in Seattle or Los Angeles, though.

Green Line

green-line-south-20170622-cropped-67

The “green line” is a short in-city line that just loops around downtown. It starts near 13th and R (above) and ends at 7th and Richards, which is traditionally known as Township 9 (below). The Township 9 Station is actually the best-developed station in the whole system. The basic weakness of the system is that it has no large central station or stations where lots of people can wait in a protected area. Subways provide this; Sacramento has no tunnels for trains. This also means that Sacramento trains have to share streets with cars buses and people in order to get anywhere that has a lot of people. The areas where the trains have their own right-of-ways are usually shared by real trains, out on the edge of town near nothing very important. That’s the Blue Line. The Gold Line follows the freeway roughly.

green-line-north-20170629-cropped-07

Blue Line

blue-line-north-20170621-cropped-11

This is a long north-south line. I found it below par as a light rail line. It does not seem very well-planned, and I have seldom seen it very well-used, though at rush hour today it was packed to standing-room only.

blue-line-south-20170621-cropped-25

Here is the south end, the Consumnes River College, a community college dating from 1970 per one sign I saw. Oddly, though, I found no development around it of any kind. No fast food places, no technology stores or clothing stores. I really didn’t quite understand it.

consumnes-college-banner-20170621-sac-trip-30

Gold Line

gold-line-west-end-cropped

I found this the best line in the system. It is a very long east-west line that goes from the Sacramento Valley (Train) Station near downtown (above) all the way out to Folsom. Many of the stops have extra shelter and attractions like shopping centers nearby. It’s east end (below) is right at the edge of Historic Folsom, which is similar to Old Sacramento (which has no light rail line nearby).

gold-line-east-20170629-cropped-33