Dam 4 and Mather Gorge After The Rain

It rained steadily through the later half of last week. Although the rain was not heavy enough to cause flash flooding in the neighborhood, it rained long enough to cause a record or two to be broken in terms of the volume of rainfall we received.

There had been warnings in the weather reports about possible flooding on the river over the weekend because of the rain. It was an unintended invitation for me to check out the conditions at Dam 4 on the Potomac on Sunday. Although the rain had stopped by that time, its impact on the flow of water on the river was still in its early stages.

The water was nearly up to the level of the road as we approached the parking area for Dam 4. The entire trail was under water downstream of Dam 4. In the picture below, you can see the trail vanish into the water as it descends from the level of the dam.

Instead of gently flowing down the side of the dam as it usually does, the water was pouring out with full force well beyond wall of the dam – into a chaotic churning foam of brown whitewater.

All kinds of flotsam and jetsam, including massive tree trunks, were being carried over the top of the dam, only to be caught in a debris field at the bottom of the dam.At one point I even noticed a huge tree truck caught in a upright configuration above the swirling waters. It held that position for an moment or two, somehow magically kept balanced vertically by the chaotic forces of the swirling waters at its base, before finally disappearing into the downstream flow. There was the steady roar of the angry waters of the river in the background.

The road upstream of the dam, in the direction of the parking lot at Big Slackwater, was closed because of the conditions, but the trail was still open. So we took the opportunity to walk towards Big Slackwater to see what the conditions were like there. On one side of the dry trail was the swiftly flowing river, now just a couple of feet below the level of the trail because of its flooded state,and on the other side, well below us, was the canal – usually dry but now full of water because of the rainfall.

The difference in heights of the river and the canal in this section is because they are fully separated. If not, there would have been water close to where we were walking on both sides of the trail, in which case the trail would probably have been closed. As things stood, I still had a nagging concern about the the river possibly cresting above the trail while we were on it.The trail itself looked like it had been recently repaved.

We found parts of the Big Slackwater parking lot partially under water. The boat dock was floating well above its normal level.

The picnic area beyond the parking lot was fully under water.

The trail was marked as being closed beyond this point, but we walked a couple of hundred feet more along the pathway to the inlet lock from the river. No water enters from the river at this point because the lock is now cemented shut.

Just beyond the inlet lock we could see the trail disappearing into the water as it descended to the level of the river.It was clear that we would not be able to continue our travels further upstream. The trail at Big Slackwater was clearly not passable. We had to return to Dam 4.

The parking lot at Dam 4 had been empty when we first arrived, but there were many more vehicles there by this time. Some people were fishing at the stop lock and others were watching the water flowing over the dam.

Since we were still interested in seeing the impact of the high water on the river, and since we had not walked much at the point, we decided to drive to Great Falls, closer to home, to take another look at the river.

We encountered the usual weekend park traffic when we arrived later in the morning at Great Falls. The parking lot was about half-full. The walkway to Olmsted Island, from which vantage point you can see the actual Great Falls, was closed because of the level of the water. So was the Billy Goat Trail over Mather Gorge.

But one did not have to leave the towpath itself to see the impact of the flooding. Water was pouring over Dam 3 just upstream of The Tavern at Great Falls,and all of the rocks that one would normally see in the path of the river next to the towpath in the area just downstream of the tavern were completely under water.

The were cascades in places that were normally above water.

The section of Mather Gorge next to the towpath was full. This is how the area looked under normal conditions a few months ago.

We did continue our walk along the towpath towards the far end of Widewater, to the place where the Billy Goat Trail ends. Being separated from the river, the water in this section of the canal was at its normal level. Everything was calm.You would have had no suspicion that the river was in its full fury just close by – just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the trail.

We encountered many people on the trail, both on foot and on bikes, during this part of the morning walk. Many people live in this area of Montgomery County. It must have felt good for them to be able to get outside after having been cooped up indoors because of the rain.

I will end with a final note that the river does usually return to its normal levels very soon after an episode like this.

Riding My New Bicycle For the First Time

This is the first new bicycle that I have bought for myself. (I did actually buy a used bike once before – as an unemployed graduate student – for almost zero cost! Maybe that is a story for another day…) The bike I have been riding for the last few years belongs to Teresa. It is a woman’s hybrid bike that has served its purpose, but it is somewhat small for my size, and it was not really built for the heavy-duty usage that I was putting it through. I had somehow managed with her bike, not feeling a necessity to spend money on this background pastime of mine that could be considered non-essential. I kept postponing a final decision about a new bike. But the kids finally put me to shame with a present that they had bought me last year. It was a camera bag that was supposed to attach to my new bike! Where was the bike?!

I did some research before going out to the stores. I test rode a couple of bikes. I did have a couple of bikes in mind when I finally went out shopping, but I ended up buying a completely different bike from those on my list! My final choice was between a somewhat staid REI Co-op CTY 2.1, and the Trek Dual Sport 2 that looked more sporty. Both bikes had similar features. The Trek bike might even have been a little ahead in feature comparison, but I finally got the bike from REI because of the benefits of membership in REI.

I rode the new bike on the towpath for the first time last Thursday. The first challenge was fitting it on to the bike rack on the back of the car. It turns out that the bike barely fits into its position on the carrier. I am going to have to make further adjustments.

It was actually not the best day for a ride, but the bike had been sitting at home for a while, and I was itching to try it out. It was cloudy and chilly, and I could feel the cold of the gentle breeze on the skin as I rode. Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared for the weather – with a long sleeved bike shirt and a sleeveless vest (apparently also called a golf vest – who knew!) on top of it. It took a while for the numbness to go away from my fingers.

Since this was also my first bike ride of the season, I also found it to be somewhat of a relearning experience. I do need to get the muscles that are used in this exercise routine back in shape. And it was also the other simple and basic things that I had to think about while riding. I had to remind myself of the danger of drifting across the trail if I turned my head to look back while riding. I had to get comfortable once again with the experience of passing other people who were on foot or on bikes on the trail. You cannot always predict how somebody else will respond to your presence.

The bluebells have almost all disappeared from the trail, but most of the flowers that I regularly observe in Spring have made their appearances. Getting on the trail, it was this field of buttercups near Pennyfield Lock that first caught my attention.

Once on the trail, I stopped every once in a while to take pictures of the Wild Phlox, Fleabane, Chickweed, Ragwort, Spiderwort, Honeysuckle, Dames Rocket, Yellow Iris, Violets, etc.. The Rosa Multiflora will be flowering soon.

The squirrels and the birds were quite active. The presence of a relatively fast moving bicycle on the trail seemed to confuse some of these creatures. One of the squirrels almost ran into the spokes of the bicycle. Birds would occasionally fly across the front of the moving cycle, and sometimes they would fly ahead of the bicycle and try to land on the trail, seemingly misjudging the speed of my approach towards them. I deliberately made an effort to keep a somewhat slower pace and not speed up. I needed to get more comfortable with the gearing on the new bike first and find out what worked the best for me.

There were plenty of turtles that were out and about.I did notice that the herons were missing in action. (It fact, they have been generally missing in action during our last few outings!) I finally got a sight of one of them in the distance towards the end of the ride at the pond near Rileys Lock.

Even though I was prepared for it, I was surprised to have encounters with snakes this early in the riding season. (I can sense a shudder going through some of the readers!🙂) Both of the snakes I saw were small in size.
I cannot make up my mind about the kind of snake the second one was. It seemed to have the pattern of a Northern Copperhead on its body, but it was darker than the Northern Copperheads I have seen during previous outings. I also do not think the eyes were the right shape. This one had round eyes. Anyway, I kept a safe distance away from it.

And then there was the experience that I mentioned in my previous blog!

All in all, it was a good first ride on the bike!

Driving From Behind

I was on the towpath, crossing the new bridge across Seneca Creek, when I saw this sight on the Potomac river yesterday. The parent duck (from its haircut I think it is a female Common Merganser), which had been leading its little ones towards the middle section of the river, changed direction and headed back towards a section of the Maryland shore that was hidden from my sight. I suspect that the duck had just noticed me on the bridge, sensed danger, and was looking for protection for its brood.

I can understand that the parent duck likes to keep all its ducklings in its sight in front of it when they are headed out somewhere as a group, but I do not understand how it manages to direct the direction of their swimming from behind, and keep them in a straight line when doing this. What kind of natural intelligence is in play at this point? Notice that this is happening in spite of the distance between the parent and the little ones in this case. There could be some audio communications going on, I suppose.

The thought also occurs to me that this is a very dangerous situation for the brood to find itself in. There is no way to escape other than by diving underwater if there were an attack by a predator bird. There must have been a good reason why the parent duck had set out on this hazardous journey across the river.

There are always a lot of interesting things going on in nature.

A Reflection on “Deep Learning Poised to ‘Blow Up’ Famed Fluid Equations | Quanta Magazine”

For some reason or the other, this article took me mentally to a place of familiarity and comfort, of having “been there, done that”. This happened even though I have no experience with the subject of fluid dynamics – beyond perhaps the faint memories of a course or two taken during my undergraduate studies. The phrase “Navier-Stokes equations” sounds vaguely familiar. And I do have friends who worked on fluid dynamics for their doctoral theses.

I think that the way my brain is wired, I have tended to approach problem-solving in the past in general with a similar overall philosophy of attack as that which comes through in the article. One should be adaptable in the solution approach. One should not be afraid of patching together unconventional and unorthodox approaches for problem solving. Blindly following formulae can sometimes only get you so far. I have sometimes thought my thought process when visualizing problems and solutions did not necessarily belong in the mainstream, but perhaps that is not completely true these days.

However, having said all this, one should not make the mistake of underestimating the utility of characterizing processes using standard approaches, including the use of equations (or formulae) as applicable, to simplify problem solving. Many of our technological advances would not have been possible without recognizing a structure behind certain phenomena or observations, often stated in the form of equations. For example, without the use of Newton’s Laws of Motion, and the equations that follow, we would not be able to shoot and direct objects to the distant recesses of Space – and direct these objects precisely to where we want them to be at particular time instants – to be able to learn more about our place in the scheme of Everything. We used computers initially to speed up our use of these equations. Even during my time we could be innovative about the the use of computers for the application of these equations. I could actually come up with evaluation and analysis tools using techniques and concepts like iteration, convergence, equilibrium, intersection points, even educated guesses for solution spaces, etc.., based on standard equations that could be implemented on computers – which could lead to solution spaces that would not easily be accessible by hand. But we are now getting past even that stage. We are making use of the power of the computers in other ways for discovering and intuiting the structures themselves, and then using these structures to further problem solving.

As time passes, we also learn that many of the equations that we depend upon in our daily lives may be approximations of what is actually physically going on in the Universe. We still have not connected all the four “fundamental” forces of nature that we recognize today in a logical way. The relevant equations that characterize the individual forces do not connect with each other. There is something missing. Something else is going on.

As another aside, how many of us were aware that the GPS system that we have come to depend upon to find our locations on Earth would be inaccurate without accounting for the physical impact of the Theory of Relativity. Yes, the speed of light does have an impact in a practical sense in our lives even if we are not aware of it, and Newton’s equations by themselves are not adequate for some applications even though they would suffice for others. Pause for a minute to ponder the fact that Euclidean geometry, a tool that seems to work so well for us in characterizing our physical world, is not the only kind of geometry that exists, and that there are other kinds of geometries that obey different rules that can be useful for studying and understanding different systems and applications, and perspectives.

Coming back to simpler things like fluid flows, the subject of the attached article, there have been equations that have formed the basis of our understanding of fluid dynamics for years. These equations help us predict behaviors and design systems. But then we also learn from the article that there may be singularities, and the possible existence of a place or space where the equations do not quite add up (pun intended). The equations can actually break down. What do you do when the equations blow up, perhaps as one or more of the parameters tends towards zero and the solution tends to infinity? Do we need to push ourselves to try provide structure, perhaps in the form of equations, to our understanding everywhere, including at perceived or real singularities? In my mind, it only makes sense to the extent that these formulations help us to predict and foresee how real physical (and other) phenomena will play out in these “extreme” circumstances, thereby expanding our knowledge of the world, or creating the possibility of some practical application that may serve our benefit. I admit that I myself have a curiosity about what lies beyond the singularity of a Black Hole.

Enter now the new techniques and concepts like artificial intelligence, deep learning, neural networks, etc.., aided and abetted by the availability of massive data collection and storage capability, massive processing power, and even the emergence of innovative technologies like quantum computing. Essentially, you can gather up all your observations and process the data using your computer until you are at point where you can try to see a pattern (or structure). It may be a pattern that is easy to pick up on, or it may be something that is weak and difficult to follow. So you continue the computing process for as long as is necessary. With the current state of our technology, this process may be easier than trying to mentally discern a a structure or process that lies hidden, something that is not obvious to the common eye. After all, how many of us have the intuition of an Issac Newton to get to figure out concepts like Gravity?

The general approach described in the article below seems to me to be a combination of multiple techniques in what could be considered by some to be a somewhat unorthodox manner. The approach follows a methodology and a way of thinking that I actually feel quite comfortable with. The approach seems quite intuitive to me, and its usage would come naturally to me. Although I have no experience with the deeper science of artificial intelligence and deep learning, I would be quite happy making use of these tools as applicable and available to further whatever research or analysis that I might happen to find myself involved in. I would instinctively tend to look at the whole problem holistically without necessarily constraining my thinking to some misguided notion to purity of procedure.

The question that still bugs me regarding the article below is that of the reason why significant brainpower and computer resources are being expended on this particular topic. Why are people so intent on “Blowing Up” the equations? Is it just intellectual curiosity (dare I call it idle curiosity), or is there some practical use that they have in mind today? Either way, I can see myself spending time implementing techniques and investigating phenomena just like this, even if it were just for the fun of it.

Deep Learning Poised to ‘Blow Up’ Famed Fluid Equations | Quanta Magazine

Deep Learning Poised to ‘Blow Up’ Famed Fluid Equations | Quanta Magazine

Getting Up Close In Spring

We started our walk last weekend from the parking lot at Riley’s Lock. Instead of walking beside the river and canal on the towpath, we decided to head out on the Seneca Creek Greenway trail this time. This trail parallels Seneca Creek, and ends at the towpath next to the Potomac river – beside the pond just beyond the aqueduct (just north of Rileys Lock).

It felt nice to be in a somewhat different space from the wide and well paved towpath that we usually walk on. The trail was narrow, wending its way through the woods, now green with the coming of Spring.The sunshine felt good on the shoulders. There were also very few people on the trail.

There was the occasional creek to be crossed,and a few rolling hillsides of Montgomery County to be traversed. This particular hill provided us with a good view of Seneca Creek flowing below us.

The flowers of Spring, some that I have yet to identify, were in abundance around us. The white flowers on the dogwood trees were notable. Butterflies were also beginning to make their appearance.

Our progress on the trail was finally halted in the neighborhood of Berryville Road by the presence of a stream that needed to be crossed. We could not figure out how to get across without getting our feet wet.I had, unwisely it turned out, decided that we did not need trekking poles for this walk. (I was so unprepared that I was actually also wearing my trail running shoes instead of hiking boots for this walk.)

I had the opportunity to take a couple of closeup pictures during the tail end of our walk. The first time was on Tschiffely Road, the section of the Greenway trail that runs between the Potomac river and River Road. This turtle was sitting in the middle of the gravel road.Fortunately for the turtle, there is usually no traffic on this particular road. It terminates at a dead end close to the ruins of an old mill next to the pond I mentioned earlier in this blog.

I was able to bring my camera quite close to the turtle in order to take its picture. It did not flinch. It did not blink, neither did it withdraw into its shell.

The other close encounter we had was with a frog (I think it is a frog and not a toad!) that had parked itself in the middle of the trail on a stretch of the towpath just north of Rileys Lock.Once again, the frog did not seem to mind the camera being this close to it!

We had found the frog enjoying the sunshine at a location that was particularly dangerous for it. The trail was quite busy on a Sunday morning, and there was no shortage of bikers who were speeding along, many of them lost in their own mental space. They could easily run over the frog without even realizing it. I tried to encourage the frog to the side of the trail but it refused to move. It merely raised itself on its haunches as if it were deciding whether it really should jump forward, but it never followed through. We continued our walk thinking that there was a chance we could find the frog completely squashed on the trail during our return. We were happy to see it alive and well, sitting at the edge of the trail. We pointed out the frog to a little child passing by with his parents. He was sitting in a stroller. The child promptly fell out of his stroller when leaning over to look at the frog, then started crying, and eventually lost interest completely. At least we tried….

A Bounty of Bluebells

We usually go to the area just upstream of Noland Ferry to experience the blooming of the Virginia Bluebells during springtime. We will not have to make that trip this year. We got our fill of bluebells last weekend. We were pleasantly surprised find out how widespread these plants also were in the area near Whites Ferry. The flowers were all in full bloom. It was a sea of blue in certain sections of the trail. It was a feast for the eyes.

And, as expected, we also came across many more spring flowers that we were seeing for the first time this year. (These are the ones we saw last weekend!) I have identified all of the flowers in the pictures below in blogs from the past!

The weather was much more pleasant last Saturday when compared to how it had been the previous weekend. We also encountered many more walkers and bikers on the trail.

As you can see from the picture below, the leaves are returning to the trees in this part of the towpath. Spring is here!

The Escape For The Day

We have made only a few Sunday morning trips to the canal so far this year. I am strongly motivated to get back to the routine of our more regular outings of the past. Last weekend, I also felt strongly motivated to go back to some place along the canal further away from home. I felt like escaping my familiar surroundings and absconding to some quiet and peaceful place far away from the hustle and bustle of humanity – at least for a short while.

We ended up at Dam 5, between Williamsport and Hancock. Although we had been to Dam 5 in the past, this was the first time we were going to park our car there. My plan was to walk upstream from this point towards the Four Locks area.The bridge below is across the stop lock next to the dam that used to carry the boats between the river upstream of the dam and the C&O canal downstream of it. There was no canal in the area immediately above the dam.

We found the weather somewhat more challenging than we had expected at the beginning of the walk. It was particularly windy in the section where the canal boats used to pulled along the side of the river itself – beside cliffs that prevented the construction of a canal bed beside the river. We had to double up on our protection against the cold.The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds. I had opportunities to take pictures with some unique lighting conditions during the walk. The Sycamore trees caught my attention.

There was also a little town on the West Virginia side of in the river that was occasionally nicely lit up.

As we continued our way upstream, the canal emerged once again from the river at Lock 45 just beyond the cliffs hugging the river.When traveling upstream in this section of the canal, the mules pulling the boats used to travel along what usually was the berm side of the canal. They moved back to the side of the canal that they normally occupied, on the side of the river itself, at Lock 46. The picture below shows the remains of the bridge at Lock 46 that was used to move the mules from one side to the other.The picture below shows where the trail crosses the old canal bed today.This is a picture of the lock area including the lock house.

The river wanders away from the canal in the area of Four Locks, where the canal takes a shortcut to avoid a significant loop in the meandering path of the river. The towpath changes elevation significantly in a short distance in this section. The picture below manages to capture three of these four locks. The canal makes a turn in this section that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to capture all four locks in a single picture. You can barely make out three of them in this picture.You can see the lock house for the four locks in the above picture in the distance.

There was an attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to try to get a view of all four locks from below the lowest lock in the sequence of locks.

We walked beyond the Four Locks area to the area of McCoy’s Ferry before turning back. There is a big drive-in campsite at McCoy’s Ferry that is accessed by a road that runs under the canal. This picture shows the camping area beyond the end of the road that runs through the area. There were people camping out for the weekend even in the cold conditions.

There were more Spring flowers to be seen than during our previous walk along the canal two weeks ago. If felt a little strange to see this increased growth because of the cold weather we were experiencing. But Spring is inevitable! Most of the flowers were in the area closer to Dam 5. I had a hard time remembering the names of some of the flowers that we came across. It is time once again to put that part of my brain back to work. Perhaps a reader with a better memory than mine still remembers the names of these plants from my blogs of past years.

There were also a lot of little birds in the area closer to Dam 5, but they were not very cooperative when it came to having their pictures taken. But some of the birds did make up for this behavior by providing some unique sounds to listen to, and some background music.

It looked like a lot of trees had been chopped down in this area just recently. It was sad to see, but I am assuming that this was done to prevent overgrowth and in order to keep the woods healthy. The stumps of the trees that had been chopped did for the most part look like they had belonged to trees that had been healthy.

Looking through my old blogs, I was surprised to discover that the last time we came to this area was in October 2020. For some reason I had been thinking that we had made a more recent visit ot this place. In any case, it was good to be back!

NASA’s Webb Reaches Alignment Milestone, Optics Working Successfully

For those who might be more technically inclined, you should watch the video. This is fascinating stuff. I have been following this project for a while now.


Washington, DC, During The Time of The National Cherry Blossom Festival

We went into Washington, DC, last weekend to visit the International Spy Museum, and then the area of the cherry trees which were supposed to be close to their peak bloom.

We found out that we were going into town only the day before it happened! It was a birthday treat from the young ones. They were going to manage the whole trip for us. So, for a change, I did not have to get stressed out worrying about how I was going to manage the city streets and traffic. Washington, DC, is especially difficult to navigate around if you are from out of town. It was good that I was away from the wheel for this trip. The directions for, and the approach to, the underground parking garage that we used for the day were so unique and specific that I would not have found it on my own!

The city streets were crowded in spite of the windy and unexpectedly cold conditions. It was a madhouse around in the area of the Tidal Basin, where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The museum was also crowded. We also walked to The Wharf, the newly developed destination spot along the Potomac river. There were people everywhere. The restaurants were all full. COVID be damned!

This was our first visit to the spy museum. It is a fascinating place. There was way too much information for us to be able to absorb it all during the few hours that we were there. One of the things to note is that there are obvious political leanings and biases in the exhibits, especially when dealing with matters that are closer to our present time in history. And the term “spying” is used in a very broad sense.

The museum has been at this particular location since 2019. The building is new and has a fascinating design.The exhibition rooms are on the upper floors.

After our visit to the museum, we went down to The Wharf to try to get an early dinner. We had missed lunch while in the museum and we were hungry. The wharf was very busy in spite of the weather and its location next to the river. The sky was threatening and the gusts of wind from over the river made the feeling of discomfort from the cold more intense.
There were plenty of eateries around but we encountered waiting times of over an hour (even two hours in one case!) for seating at the ones that were open that early in the evening. We spent a lot time walking around, searching for a place to eat at, before ending up standing in line at a place that was not going to open until a little later. Thankfully, the wait there was not too long.

After lunch we walked over to the Tidal Basin for the experience of the cherry blossoms. There were people and cars everywhere. A team of traffic police personnel tried to maintain some measure of order at some road intersections, trying to prevent gridlock, and managing the crowds waiting to cross the streets.(The building in the background in the picture above is the National Museum of African American History and Culture.)

This is a picture the Jefferson Memorial across the water of the tidal basin.The crowds were incredibly heavy in the area of the Tidal Basin that we were at. I was wondering how anybody could actually enjoy the sight of the trees in this kind of an atmosphere.We decided to walk towards the Washington Monument instead of staying in the area of the Tidal Basin, hoping that we would get more space to ourselves to enjoy the cherry trees and to also take some pictures.
In general, the foot traffic from the presence of so many people in the area of the trees cannot be good for the health of the trees themselves. We could also see people who had torn off blossoms and branches from the trees.

This was our last stop in the city. We did not want to hang out too long on the street because of the weather and the crowds. We walked back to where we had parked our car, via Independence Avenue and L’Enfant SW street, passing under the offices of the United States Department of Energy at the intersection of these two roads.

On our way, we walked past the food trucks lined up in the area of The Mall on 14th Street.

The garbage bins in the area of the food trucks were overflowing, an unfortunate side-effect of the success of the National Cherry Blossom festival.

We made our way back to the location of the Spy Museum where we had parked the car. Pretty soon we were on Interstate-395 heading across the river and on our way home. The kids made it easy for us!