Stories of Our Lives

Each one of us comes with our own life story.  I believe that every story is unique, and that this story is strongly influenced by where we come from, and the circumstances that we grew up in.  I was more conscious of the existence of such stories when encountering people during our recent road trip out west.  It was not just about experiencing the places, it was also about trying to get to get to know a little bit about the people in any little way possible, with the faint possibility of even understanding something a little more substantial about individual lives.  Others’ stories are as important as our own, regardless of what you think of their achievements, or yours.  And many people are, for the most part, just trying to get by and make a living without hurting somebody else, and trying to find some happiness in their lives.  That is universal.  Life is not necessarily about becoming powerful, famous, and well-known, even though that would not be very obvious from what we are used to hearing in the news.

In my mind, most of the interesting interactions with people took place when we were in some of the smaller places, and mostly when we met people associated with the smaller mom-and-pop establishments, like some of the motels we stayed in, or some of the  restaurants we ate at.   Thankfully, there are still places that have not been overtaken by the big hotel chains and other “name brand” commercial establishments. There are places where you can find things that seem more genuine.  In some of the smaller places that we visited, there were even people we encountered who ran multiple establishments or operations of different kinds – like the hotel, the country store, and maybe even the town’s gas station and/or a restaurant.  Life could be about making a living and being happy. It does not necessarily have to be about defining a always rising career.

In the places we were visiting, you could try to imagine the background of the people you were interacting with or talking to (hopefully without romanticizing it unnecessarily), and if things turned in that direction, you could even strike up a conversation with them and get to know something specific about them.

In circumstances like this, when one did get a chance to interact with people, they usually tended to be open and friendly.  There was no reaction that would indicate discomfort because of how dissimilar or out of place tourists like us might have seemed be in the particular situation.  I say that because you typically do not see a large number of Indian tourists at the kinds of places we visited.   That having been said, I am not sure if the people we were meeting were as curious about us as we were about them.  Nevertheless…

Here are some of the folks that I remember from our travels, folks who in many cases were from the little towns that we were passing through:

The waitress at Doug’s Steak and BBQ in  Monticello, UT;  the waitress at The Broken Spur Steakhouse in Torrey who went out her way to customize a dessert for us – she looked busy but she did not ignore us;  the waitress with a east European accent  at Rustler’s restaurant in the town of Tropic, UT,  – we did not have the conversation to figure out how she ended up in Tropic, but she appeared to be bringing up her daughter there; the friendly waitress at Mango’s in Red Cliff, CO, who was cheerfully also serving the noisy crowd at the bar, but nevertheless talked to us a little bit.  (If you do go to Red Cliff, ask about the many dollar bills you will find attached to the ceiling in Mango’s using tacks).

I remember the girl at the hotel front desk at the Green Bridge Inn in Red Cliff, CO.  She clued me in on what there was to do in and around her little town.  The lady who checked us in at the Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn in Monticello cheerfully talked to us about the few eateries in her small town and gave us a sense about how small it was.  They have one traffic light in town, where the two main roads of the town intersect.

The owner of the Peak-to-Peak motel at Estes Park, CO, was manning the front desk of the motel himself.  I got the impression that he took also care of a lot of the things in the motel by himself.  It felt like that kind of an operation. I think he lived in the little house I could see outside the window of our motel room.  He helped us look for a place for dinner and even chatted a little bit about stuff.  His accent did not seem to be of the place.

The lady who was taking care of the Country Store at Cannonville, UT, when we checked in also owned and ran the Grand Staircase Inn.  When we did not have the change with us to pay for what we had bought from the store, she asked us to pay her whenever we were back down at the store, even if it was the next day.   We met her cousin the next morning when we went down for breakfast. She told us that the only two commercial activities in town were the motel and a cement factory.  Apparently, the place always had a small feel to it.

Bernice, the young Navajo girl who was our tour guide at Upper Antelope Slot canyon near Page, AZ, was a whiz with any camera that came here way.  She would take the pictures for the people in her tour with their own cameras.  The pickup truck that she was driving made all kinds of sounds as we traversed the sandy wash, but it made it.  It did not seem to be in the best of shape.  I suspected that the pickup truck was hers, but never found out.  If there had been some spare time, I might have tried to find out more about the life experiences of a young Navajo girl.  When I asked, she said that she did not own a real camera, but muttered something about getting one.  How affordable would something like that be for somebody who earned a living the way she did?

I remember the kindly old native American lady we met at the pullout at Monument Valley.  She was selling trinkets that she had made, and she was willing to talk about herself, where she lived, the circumstances under which she grew up, the life of the Navajo people in general, etc.  She told us that the young Navajo went to college outside the reservation so that they could find jobs.    There were not many jobs in the reservation.

Torrey, UT, is a very small place.  There are small number of private hotels just outside town on the way from Torrey to Capital Reef National park.  One of them was the Noor Hotel.  On our way out of town we stopped at the gas station connected to the hotel.  I had to go into the store to get a receipt.  I could have sworn that the lady behind the counter looked middle eastern.  Unfortunately, it was not the right time to start a conversation and find out.  I did find out that the hotel had changed hands in the last couple of years.

The ranger at the Interagency Visitor Center for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was very friendly.  She took the time to engage with us and to talk about the place, at one point even looking up a book to try to find out information about some plant that Teresa was interested in.  I do not know if she was actually from the local area.  I do not know what the hiring process is for folks who do these kinds of jobs.   In general, the rangers we interacted with were young and enthusiastic, and tried to be helpful.

The circumstances under which we saw the cowboys was not geared towards any meaningful interaction, but I have to wonder about the life of a cowboy these days.  I tried to take a good look at the face of one of these cowboys, but I could not gather a decent impression because I had to concentrate on driving.  Of course, he was wearing a cowboy hat!

Many of the employees in the restaurants that we went to in the very touristy town of Moab appeared to be of Hispanic background, whereas, we did not see many Hispanics on the streets.  It seemed like there was a story somewhere there.

Everyone has his (or her) own story to tell.

 

A Bridge in Montgomery County in Maryland and the African American Experience

Some people think of systemic racism as a thing of the distant past, especially if they happen to live in a part of the country which in the 19th century fought for freeing the slaves.  But institutional racism was alive even in the later half of the 20th century, and in some senses is alive even today.  I would bet that there are some practices today that future generations will look at and say – how could we have accepted that?  The current state of the national education system comes to mind in this regard.   The video below presents life experiences of people who lived, and are living, some of these experiences, told through the story of the bridge.  Not all stories make it to the limelight.

Talbot Avenue Bridge will eventually be demolished and replaced by a new bridge that is a part of the Purple Line project for light commuter rail.  I understand that parts of the original bridge will be saved and moved to locations where they can be used as memorials to remind us of our history.

P.S.  I biked across the Talbot Avenue bridge last year as part of training for my long ride.  The bridge is a part of the Georgetown Branch trail, which is an extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

Jesus was Here

It was the morning after the wedding.  Some of us were still on east coast time.  I woke up very early (but not early enough to see one of my siblings off to the airport, it seems).  Daylight was breaking and I could hear the sounds of the birds outside the window of our cabin at the Fern River Resort.  The rest of the folks seemed to be safely asleep in their cabins.  They were probably recovering from the festivities of the previous night.  It was a quiet time.

The resort lay among tall redwood trees,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAon a hillside overlooking a point where a little stream met the San Lorenzo river down below us.  (The name of the resort seems to be a misnomer.  Perhaps the little stream used to be called the Fern River, but I could not find any confirmation of this anywhere.) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun had not risen high enough to break through the hills, the tall redwoods, and the early morning clouds.  P5120158.jpgI decided to enjoy my moment of quiet down by the river side.

I crossed over the rocks and little sand dunes beside the river (probably a part of of the river bed itself when the waters were high) and arrived at a little open stretch of land beside the water itself.  It was quite narrow at this point, and the river was possibly crossable on foot if the water had not been flowing swiftly. P5120165.jpgUpstream, just behind an overhang of leaves, I noticed a family of mergansers. They had been floating downstream and had abruptly stopped in the water, having sighted me in the open space on the river bank.  They seemed to be considering their options to proceed downstream.  I had my camera in hand.

All of a sudden, they were moving downstream, effortlessly.  They had simply moved into a position to be caught by the swift current, to let it take them forward.  I pulled up my camera to take pictures, but I was unsuccessful because of the speed and the light.   They floated by, with mamma and papa duck leading the way, and the little one trailing behind, trying to keep pace.  The moment passed by quickly and I stayed by the riverside for a few more minutes to simply absorb the soothing sounds of its flow.   What a peaceful and glorious morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am so happy to have met some of young people who were present at the wedding.  We will certainly not forget the ones who went out of their way to quietly serve the people and help make the event happen. Remarkable human beings, and good examples for all of us to follow!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was this other time when we were talking about how we were planning to get to church in the nearby town of Felton for Sunday services, and they offered up their car keys without hesitation, and without even being asked.  Their minds had jumped one step ahead to how they could help us in any way. It is not as if we even knew them well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Zuckerberg Strategy for Technology Development

I think I actually understand the Mark Zuckerberg strategy for developing technology and making a business of it.   It is an approach based on placing a product or a feature out there for the public with a limited understanding of its broad impact.  You learn from the responses to the features.  If changes or fixes are to be made they will be made based on feedback, and as the problems arise.  You experiment with new features.  If indeed problems arise for customers, you can respond by apologizing, and it would be an apology that could be sincere since you did not take the trouble to dig more deeply into possible problem scenarios itself.

I think this is a valid approach in some business scenarios and applications, especially if the problems that can arise are most likely to have limited impact on the customer and can be contained, and mostly if the service is free.  But Facebook has become too big for this kind of a strategy to continue to work.  If too many people are impacted, the government gets involved.

If I were to fault Facebook with regards to the problems they have been having recently, it would be for not recognizing the serious nature of the misuse of the system promptly and responding to it.  They seem to have a policy strategy of trying to buy time while not promptly addressing issues that are becoming obvious.   They allowed their system to be co-opted by others to spread misinformation as if it was the truth.  However, in this context, I am not sure what the authorities can hold them liable for.  I am not sure there is any legal basis in current law to prosecute with.

The above problem should be separated from a second one that should not have happened.  There seems to have been a breakdown in Facebook’s security process that led to private data being exposed, a breakdown that should have legal repercussions.

Meanwhile, I am highly amused at all the outrage that is being directed Facebook’s way – as if people did not understand the risks they were taking by participating on this platform.  Any sensible person should realize that when you place your life story on the Internet, and when you do so with a free service, you are taking a big risk.  It is a free service only because your information is being sold to advertisers.   You signed away your privacy.  And Facebook in particular has pushed the boundaries on how to take advantage of the information you provide.  And the platform also seems to be designed to draw out more information about you from you than you might first have been inclined to provide.  Also realize that even when you are given options for privacy from a vendor, you are still at the mercy of the vendor.  You don’t know what goes on behind the button that you have just pressed, or the data you have entered, on the screen.  You could logically believe that they will not take the risk of breaking the law, but anything beyond that is a matter of “trust”.

Would you not be naturally suspicious of a non-philanthropic private organization that provides a free service, and ask yourself how they intend to make money?  Would you not read and understand more carefully the User’s Agreement that you have with a company that is offering you the free service?

In this context, we are our own worst enemies.  We should be protecting ourselves better even without new regulations from government.  People are being manipulated very easily.

 

Gratitude

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
The Sound of Music

I was a little nervous when I walked into the Manna facility today.   It has been over six months since I last volunteered at the warehouse.   What kind of changes would I see?  What about the people that I used to work with?  Would they still be there?  Was I going to be taken completely by surprise?

All my worries vanished the moment I walked in the door.  I was totally floored by the way I was greeted by both the staff and my fellow volunteers.  There was so much warmth in the greetings, and so much concern about my health and the state of my recovery from the accident.  There was a palpable sense of concern about my well-being.  And I got this kind of a response from almost all the people I used to interact with regularly in the warehouse in the past, even people that I did not expect to remember me.  I was touched.

The Tuesday team of volunteers is still alive and well at Manna, and I was glad to see the volunteers that I had worked with regularly in the past on my first day back.  This is perhaps the right moment for me to show a picture that was taken at the warehouse at the end of 2015.Distro Volunteers MusclesOn the right side of of the picture, standing up, is Jamal, the warehouse manager then and now.  (He was the one who had asked for the particular picture to be taken.)  When I arrived, he came out to the front of the warehouse to say hello.   (What you are seeing on the racks behind us are the open packages of perishable food that are to be given to customers in the  afternoon.  This open box will be accompanied by a closed box of non-perishable food, and frozen meat, bread, and other  items that might be available at that time from the donations that keep Manna going.)

Not all of the people in the picture above continue to work on the distribution side of things on Tuesdays, but, as I found out today, there still is an effective core of volunteers that come in on that day of the week to rock the joint!  I feel I have a connection with these folks that is unique in some ways.  And the connection showed in the way I was greeted this morning.

Mike, on the left hand side of the picture, is a grandfather in his seventies, who, after a successful career running a company, comes in to help regularly.  He is also responsible for fixing things in the warehouse and building whatever is needed.  In this regard he is willing to work on any problem that comes his way.  He and I assembled a bunch of mobile racks (similar of the ones you see in the picture) a few months ago.

Guliz, next to Mike, used to work for the US. State Dept, Turkish Culture & Language Section in DC for many years, and seems to spend a lot of her time outside of Manna speaking up about different social causes, not the least of which is the effect of the drift towards autocratic governance in her country of origin.  She is a “live wire” when it comes to getting things done.

The tall guy next to me (towards the center of the picture, in the back wearing black) is Steve.  He retired from a government job and he volunteers two days a week at Manna. He started about the same time I did.  He is the steady guy who knows what needs to be done at all times, and also jumps in to help with anything and everything where needed.

It would be fair to say that the volunteers I have noted from the picture above help make it happen in the distribution system on Tuesdays with the assistance of the other volunteers who are there on a more temporary basis.   I am happy to be a part of this core group that gets it done.

There is one other person in the picture whom I have not seen for a long time, and who we all miss at Manna.  Doug, standing in the back between Mike and Steve, is also a hardworking and versatile worker.  I used to enjoy hearing his jokes and stories, especially those experiences from his time in the Vietnam War as a mechanic working on aircraft in the field.  We have not seen him recently.  I hope he is keeping well.

And then there is Miss Blanche, a Manna employee who is not in the picture, who works with the distribution volunteers providing direction.  In her seventies (I believe!), she tries very hard to keep things in order while a kind of organized chaos reigns around her.

The remarkable thing is that we are all people with widely varied backgrounds who have come together to do a single thing, and that we do this as a team effectively.

The greeting I got from Jamal, Mike, Guliz, Steve, and Miss Blanche was particularly touching today.  I am back in a place that I want to be in, doing things that make me feel good about myself.  Being back at Manna is probably good for my mental state and sense of balance, and hopefully it helps in getting me back into better physical shape also.

I tried to take it easy in the warehouse today, and it took an extra effort on my part to back off from doing the things that I usually tend to do there.  But I was careful, and the folks around me were also looking out for me.  I also worked for a shorter duration of time than usual, and I came out of the experience not feeling as tired as I usually do.  I feel fine, and I took forward to stepping it up with time.

 

 

A Quantum Pioneer Unlocks Matter’s Hidden Secrets – Scientific American

Fascinating article!  I learned a new term from this article – Quantum Critical Point.

via A Quantum Pioneer Unlocks Matter’s Hidden Secrets – Scientific American

I followed one of the names mentioned in the article to find this short lecture on the topic.

A lingering question in my mind is about the energy consumed (be it in a cooling process, or in the application of high pressures, or in some other process) in creating these superconducting states and maintaining them for practical applications.  Seems like that would be significant regardless of the efficiencies achieved once you get there.  Is there not a trade-off involved?  I do not remember any mention of this aspect in the article or the video.