The Tent Angel

“We just gotta outlast the storm by one day,and I just want to be there to help someone through their storm”.
Arnold Harvey, Garbageman, Montgomery County, MD.

Here is somebody who is actually actively doing good work with the less fortunate in our part of the world.  Read the story of the tent angel.

I did a little more research on Arnold and found out that I had just touched the tip of the iceberg regarding the background of this remarkable person.  He is an amazing chap who with his wife Theresa has already been doing other notable charitable works in our part of the world for many years. He is called “The trash truck driver” by the homeless, and he has done a lot to help them in their immediate needs.  He manages to run a charitable organization while working as a garbageman, and he is making a difference the best way that he can.

Read the article that appeared about him in the Huffington Post here.  His life story is also quite interesting.

Here are a couple of videos.

https://youtu.be/EXUYujwCRGI

https://www.facebook.com/godsconnectiontransition/videos/vb.584956878230174/858936434165549/?type=2&theater

What would you rather be doing at 5:00am on a Saturday morning?

Just another story? The tale of Nature Boy

I suspect that many of us who inhabit the blogosphere today would be considered a little bit outside the mainstream.  We are most probably here because we think we have something to say; perhaps we have time on our hands; perhaps we have interests (hobbies?) that are provided an outlet though this medium; perhaps some of us are fortunate enough to belong to the minority who are in a position to lead lives beyond the seemingly never-ending need to earn a living.  Seen in this context, some of us may be considered a little crazy, and craziness in the eyes of the mainstream of society can sometimes take you in a different direction in your life.  Witness the story of Elijah Alfred “NatureBoy” Alexander, Jr that I found in the Washington Post today.  It includes the following quote:

“I’m the freest man in America.”

Reading the article led me to do some more searching about this gentleman.  I came upon another blogspot called Invisible People, and a page about the gentleman noted above.  The blog includes the following video interview.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GO3IULOrrlM#t=17

Many thoughts come to mind when reading about Nature Boy.  Some of them are perhaps captured in the comments that follow the Washington Post article.  Some of them come from reading about the lives of the Invisible People.  I wonder how many of us think we are qualified to pass judgement on people like Elijah Alfred Alexander, Jr? And do we think that the existence of the invisible people in our societies today is acceptable?  If anything, I think all of this is commentary on the kind of society that we inhabit today.  And I for one certainly think it is possible to do better.

Are there any Boundaries for Greed

People like the person noted in the article below are greedy parasites who seem to thrive on the misery of others.  They can come up with all kinds of reasons to justify the things they are doing, and also make all the excuses they want in this regard, but in reality all they seem to care about is making money for themselves even at the expense of others.  This is unfortunately the result of capitalism run amok, without a conscience.  It is folks like this who cause new rules and regulations to come into place regarding the the conduct of business that they can later cry about.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/business/a-huge-overnight-increase-in-a-drugs-price-raises-protests.html

The publicity behind this story may have changed the final outcome a little.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/business/big-price-increase-for-tb-drug-is-rescinded.html?_r=0

The Apple Plant

She had bitten into the core of an apple she was eating and noticed two shoots emerging from seeds in the core. Responding to her immediate instincts, she saved the shoots with the seeds still connected to them and planted them in a small pot.  The shoots were placed diametrically opposite each other towards the sides of the pot. The pot was placed on a shelf in front of the kitchen sink.  The window in front of the sink provided plenty of light for the plant.  After a short period of time and some TLC, the shoots began to grow further.  But one of them became sick and had to be removed.  The shoot that was left was now moved to the center of the pot.   And it has continued to grow, with new leaves emerging and growing to their full size every now and then.  I think this one will survive the pot.

But soon it will be time to move the plant to a bigger pot and also a different location because it will become too big for its current setting.  Days, and even months, of suspense will probably follow as we try to make sure that the plant survives.  And if we are successful and the plant grows to a reasonable size….

We would face the final test when we try to move the plant outdoors.  This would be the most risky stage in my opinion, not because of the change in the conditions that the plant will now encounter, but mostly because of the danger of being eaten by the deer.  You see, I have had to give up on having any kind of a garden with flowers and/or vegetables because the deer here are very aggressive and do not allow much to grow outside.  You should see the state of our holly, evergreens, and azalea in Spring.  It is a disaster, and it is exhausting to deal with the problem of the deer without much encouragement.  The discussion point is always presented to me that the deer also need to survive.  But not by eating my plants, I say!

Anyway, I do have my stories of success to also talk about.  This includes three maple trees, a plum tree, a crape myrtle and a cherry tree.  I have somehow managed to wage a solitary battle with the deer during the times when these trees were young saplings, and have lived long enough to see these grow into mature trees that provide shade and privacy, and which look particularly beautiful during the changes of seasons.  It would be fair to say that the deer have played a significant part in shaping these trees since there was no way to completely prevent them from getting to the plants when they were small and more vulnerable.  But now they are beyond the reach of the deer, and the ungrateful animals even rest in the shade of the trees that they tried to destroy not very long ago.  More recent additions to our yard are the birch and the dogwood.  I have a suspicion that the dogwood will not survive.

Which brings me back to the apple plant.

I am hoping that it will continue to grow.
It should grow to the point that it needs to be transplanted to a bigger pot.
It should grow to the point where it then needs to be transplanted outside the house.
It should grow to the point where it survives the battles I am going to wage on its behalf with the deer.
And it should finally grow to the point where perhaps some time in our old age we can get to enjoy the fruits from our own tree.

And don’t ask me what kind of apples to expect, because I have no clue!

Is There a Concept of Having Too Much Technology

Some inventors from Airbus were recently granted the following patent.

If you follow the link you will see that the patent is essentially for the design of a passenger aircraft that can travel at speeds of up to Mach 4.5 using certain advanced technologies.  The invention contemplates an aircraft with three different kinds of engines for three different stages of flight.  The first engine type would be used for liftoff of the aircraft, the second would take it up to the altitude that it is supposed to fly at, and the third would let it cruise as speeds that border on the hypersonic. Although I have not read the patent,  I suspect that the innovation that is being claimed here is the single piece of equipment (i.e., the aircraft) being designed to work with the three engine technologies in three different stages of flight, and that the innovation is not in the inventions of the engine types themselves, although there could be some optimization/modification of the engines being contemplated for the application at hand.  There also ought to be some innovative ideas related to the shape of the aircraft and the placement of the engines.

Of course, filing patents is all about putting ideas that you consider implementable on the record and being acknowledged as the person who “owns” the idea, but it does not necessarily imply that the patents have been really implemented or are implementable in a practical sense in the near future.  In my past history, I have been fortunate  to have worked, in most cases with other people, on many concepts that have been patented, some of which have made it into real implementations, and many that have not.

In the case of this particular patent, I have my serious doubts about the design becoming reality in any practical sense for the purpose of moving passengers.   Factors that make me a skeptic include the development costs, the cost of the aircraft itself, its efficiency in terms of the cost of moving each passenger per mile, and finally the real need in our world for this kind of technology today.  In many cases patents are filed purely as a defensive measure, to let people know that you got the idea first, or to serve as a negotiating tool with your competition.  That having been said, I cannot completely discount the possibility of somebody somewhere convincing a military organization somewhere to spend billions of dollars for the purposes of building something based on this patent that improves our capability in the realm of waging war and killing people.  You do not have to look too far to see this kind of foolishness going on today. There is also a new field of commercial space flight that is emerging these days, where paying passengers can be given rides into space, for which some of this technology may be applicable. But if this idea becomes successful in that realm, only the super rich who can afford to pay humongous amounts of money for one-time thrills will be able to afford it.

People might argue that my viewpoint regarding the practical use of this technology is typical of those who have no real vision for the future.  After all, most of the technology that has been developed that keeps the world going today had a cost associated with it, and if people had not invested in these technologies, we would not be where we are today in terms of capabilities, lifestyles, convenience and comfort.  But how much of convenience and comfort does a human being really need?  There is also the trickle down factor to be considered, where technology that is developed for one limited scenario bleeds into more general usage.  This is particularly true about innovations that have come out of the space program that have found their way into every day use.   Fair enough!  But, at the same time, the innovation that comes from the space program is considered useful all in itself even if there were no immediate secondary benefits.  This is because we human beings want to know more about the Universe we live in.  We want to advance our knowledge.  Can some similar case be made for the benefits of developing of a passenger aircraft as contemplated in the patent?

We know that the concept of a super-fast aircraft did not work out from an economic perspective in the case of the Concorde (which was also a relatively much slower aircraft).  There is even the possibility that new aircraft technologies that have been introduced recently can end up not being successful in the long run.  Aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380 are huge risks for their manufacturers, and it is quite possible that the companies may not even recoup their expenses over the lifetimes of the aircraft. The aircraft being contemplated in the patent would cost much more to develop, purchase and operate.  All things considered, will Boeing or Airbus even attempt to build a passenger aircraft that travels this fast?

Regardless, even if there was enough of a motivation to try to develop an aircraft as contemplated in the invention, and even if there were enough people willing to pay for flying in the aircraft so that a profit could be made in spite of the monumental developmental and manufacturing cost, what kind of real world scenario really demands/needs such a capability as far as speed is concerned?  Most leisure travelers are unlikely to be able to afford to fly such an aircraft.   If at all, this could turn into a business tool, a military boondoggle, or a toy for rich people. (I believe that when it comes to conducting business, we are definitely capable of coming up with some new reasoning for needing to use an aircraft of this type, finding a way to justify the cost based on what is likely to be some kind of hokey cost benefit analysis.  After all, there are a lot of companies today that still think it makes sense to own and use private luxury jets.  This is how business works.)  In my mind the above scenarios would amount to the use of technology just because it can exist and not because it is necessary.  Basically this would be about spending without having a good reason to do so.  What good will come out of any of it?

There is some commonality of this scenario with the story of a lot of the technology being developed in recent years in the field of electronics and communications.  The significant driver for advancements in this field is entertainment (perhaps it actually all starts out with porn).  Companies want to outdo their competition in this business, so that people with money to burn (and sometimes even people who cannot afford it) will try to buy their product.  A lot of resources of all kinds are spent in this regard, and the primary motivation is creating wealth and putting money into the pockets of those involved.  This is also my story, having worked for many years in the industry to make a living by advancing technologies for the purposes of delivering entertainment. I suppose there is nothing wrong with all of this.  This is the way capitalism works.

How much of the impact of new technologies really trickles down to the people whose lives really need to be improved? I have a lot of doubt in this regard about a lot of the stuff that is being worked on today. As I grow older I have more and more difficulty coming to terms with the development and use of technology just for technology’s sake.  I hope that the aircraft described above just remains a concept in somebody’s mind.

Digital in an Analog World (March 21st, 2014)

The digital paradigm is a key element of the technology and general thinking that drives our civilization today.  Information sharing in the electronic domain is for the most part achieved by breaking the information down into discrete, i.e, digital, levels for transmission and processing (except for a few remaining exceptions).  What we may not realize is that we also tend to use the digital paradigm almost everywhere else in our lives, outside of the technology domain, and this often times is the trigger to many of the issues we have in the world.  We tend to make absolute determinations about situations when in fact there are” levels” or grades of explanations and understandings about the realities, and a resulting ambiguity with a lot of what happens in the world.  By using the term “levels” I have already assumed a digital mode of thought, by postulating that there are some thresholds involved in the thinking process, when in fact the range of ideas and opinions that are available is a continuously variable analog process.

There are examples everywhere.  Consider definitions  used in the political world. We tend to use categorizations such as democratic, dictatorship, capitalist, socialist, etc.,  when in fact there is almost always more variation and ambiguity in the definition of political systems of particular countries being talked about, and mixed approaches to governing and addressing national issues.  But given a choice, the world will tend to categorize and compartmentalize.  When you do not want to think, names can be substituted and can perhaps be used as a basis for conflict.  When you think about it, having nations with boundaries is a completely artificial digital concept in itself.

Social arguments also tend to follow the digital paradigm.  In many cases is no compromise on topics ranging from religion to human rights (including women’s rights).  We are the owners of the one truth, we set our thresholds at one extreme, we cannot (or we refuse to) empathize with the other side, we want to set the rules, there is no room for compromise, and we are divided because of this.  It could be argued that some categorization is needed to provide a structure in society, without which there would be chaos. The challenge is to do this in a way that works fairly for everybody involved so that consideration of variety, compromise, and ambiguity are part of the process.  Why is it that the only outcomes of a court of law are that of guilty and not guilty.  Surely there are situations which are not that clear cut.  But we hate ambiguity.

Take an practical example from everyday city life.  We have traffic lights that almost eliminate the need for drivers of automobiles to think when arriving at a traffic intersection. Then we have speed limits (and other rules of the road) that are meant for safety (as if you are completely safe below a particular speed, and completely unsafe above it).  Perhaps we need some of these absolute rules because we cannot be trusted to deal properly with situations that are ambiguous, where we need to make judgment calls.  But rules still do not eliminate danger.  We are still capable of killing ourselves and others on the road.  And rules can also applied in a manner that leads to inefficiencies, such as the need to sit at traffic intersections waiting for the light to change for long periods of time when there is no cross traffic at all. Do we set more levels and boundary conditions and rules for decision making, or should we be smarter about our interactions at a traffic intersection?  Or perhaps we create autonomous vehicles and try to program the vehicles to respond to any possible scenario that can be thought of.  Is this even possible?

Categorization does also provide us with a tool that can be used to simplify the teaching process.  For example, look up information about the height of the atmosphere.  You will find that it is defined as being layered, with names for the different layers. In fact the nature of the atmosphere continuously changes with height and there are no clear layers, nor is there a clear boundary between the atmosphere and outer space.  Creating layers makes it simpler to be organized and to talk a common language to get an idea across, but it is essentially a concept in our minds.  To truly understand something, perhaps you have to embrace  ambiguity.  Consider the geographical construct of a shoreline.  Assumptions are made about clear lines delineating the land from the water so that we can try to make measurements, when in fact the delineation could be extremely complex and could be described beautifully using the concept of fractals  Here are some great examples (including that of the shoreline). (I actually think that the concept of fractals is something that is intuitive and can be taught to kids.)

When the digital mode of thinking it taken to its extreme, any form of dissent, disagreement, and attempts to argue with the rules, is not allowed.   (You will also be failed in your exams. 🙂 ) Are there folks who will argue that it is a good thing?

Things can be ambiguous in physics.  The uncertainty principle asserts that one cannot accurately know the location and momentum of a particle at the same time.  We also learn in physics that light has properties of both particles and waveforms, and there are experiments to illustrate both behaviors.   But we most probably started out learning only one of the behaviors in a school environment because it was probably more intuitive and easy to explain that behavior.  It is more difficult to comprehend things when you start talking about the subtleties.

In the world of digital communications, we find that communications becomes more efficient if are able to define more levels (of modulation), but we also learn that creating these additional levels creates more uncertainty and requires much more powerful processing (error correction) to resolve the uncertainty, until at some point we can approach Shannons capacity limit for the maximum possible information transmission rate in a noisy channel.  Perhaps, there is a similar dynamic in play in our minds on other matters, where creating more levels of consideration may be considered equivalent to embracing more uncertainty, but the ability to deal with this uncertainty requires more powerful processing in our heads. Dealing with ambiguity can lead to better solutions but it is harder to do.

You might say that there are moments in time when change is instantaneous.  Death is instantaneous. A nuclear explosion happens instantly.  How about the Big Bang?  From a human experience today, is it always the case that the experience of real life ends at the moment of death.  What if you are incapacitated and incapable of doing or feeling anything while your heart is still beating?  Some people might feel that this is as good as being dead.  Who is to decide? Consider also that time frames tend to be relative, or that the concept of time is itself relative.  There is actually a process related to a phenomenon such as the Big Bang, or even  a nuclear reaction, and processes do take some time, even if that time might seem to be extremely short. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/science/space/detection-of-waves-in-space-buttresses-landmark-theory-of-big-bang.html)

Looking at the concept of time frames from a different angle, consider the fact that if one were to measure the lifetime of individual humans relative to the lifetime of the universe, our existence is of the order of the order of 1 out of about 100000000 units of time (if we live that long)!  Homo sapiens have only existed for much less than less than 1/10000th the lifetime of the universe, and “intelligent life” for much less than that. Our individual existences, and even the existence of humanity are but an instant if the observation is being made from a particular perspective.  But we think we know that our real lives are not instantaneous.  It all depends on your perspective.

We can use absolutes to get concepts across, to try to organize the workings of our human society, and perhaps even to find ways to move humanity forward (using whatever definition of humanity that works for us), but I think we are truly enlightened only if we are able to get even beyond these “absolutes” and wrap our heads around the reality of the ambiguity of almost everything, and incorporate this concept into the principles that we all individually live by.  Life is analog!

The article below is somewhat related.  The argument is being made that nothing is truly alive.  But I think the actual issue here is that we are trying to fit a digital concept of life and death into a world that is really analog.  It is a hard argument to make that life and death are not real for humans.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/opinion/why-nothing-is-truly-alive.html?ref=opinion
(Even if you do not read the article, click through to this website to see something unique.)

An Article about Limiting the Wastage of Food

Last week I wrote about how large quantities of bread sometimes go to waste at the food bank that I volunteer at, primarily because there is sometimes a massive oversupply of the product.  This seems to happen seemingly without an adverse impact on the organization that is responsible for this oversupply of product, and in spite of the wastage it causes.  Supply and demand seem to be completely independent factors in this kind of a situation in this economic model.

By pure coincidence, I recently got an e-mail from an online organization that does campaigns for social causes that addressed wastage of food all over the world.  This was one of the articles that was linked in the e-mail.  I am glad that I am not alone in thinking that there is a problem.

http://time.com/money/3913386/food-waste-feed-hungry/

One of the things that you notice when you are sorting out products in the food bank is the presence of the expiry dates on the packaging.   If I am not wrong, every packaged product for human consumption in the US has an expiry date.  The issue is that the passage of the expiry date does not necessarily mean that the product has gone bad.  Also, in spite of the fact that different types of product are subject to different manners of expiry, this “expiry date” concept seems to be applied and used in a uniform mindless manner in commerce.  Stores remove products on or before their expiry dates from the shelves even if they are good.  I expect that there are legal reasons for doing this, but sometimes removal of product before the expiry date might be done of the reason of managing appearances.  I also suspect that expiry dates are generated in a conservative manner, i.e., the dates that are used are themselves well ahead of the dates when the product is expected to go bad.  You try to be more flexible in terms of managing this aspect of handling products in a place like a food bank (as opposed to a store), but at the end of the day, there definitely are legal constraints to be followed everywhere.

In order to exist as a society we have to set up an bunch of rules that people agree to follow (or are forced to follow) for the betterment of the larger population.  Unfortunately, the use of rules has to involve the setting up of absolutes, and thresholds for certain types of behaviors and expectations, when in fact there is often a continuum, and some ambiguity, in what constitutes reasonable logical behavior and expectation.  I call this phenomenon digital behavior in an analog world.  I recently wrote something on this topic. I will perhaps add an entry to my blog on this subject.