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 embassy of her country 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.

On Your Left

This phrase is a call used as a common courtesy on the trails in these parts, usually uttered when a bicyclist is coming up on either a walker or another cyclist from behind.  It serves as a warning to the slower person about your approach, and also a request for the person to move towards the right side of the trail if he or she is blocking the trail.  You hear the phrase  quite frequently on crowded trails, and the responses to this call can vary quite a bit. Sometimes folks do not hear you unless you yell because they have their  earphones on and are listening to something or the other on their mobile devices. Sometimes folks do something unexpected like moving into your path.  But the call works often enough that its usage is a common practice.  I do not know what the etiquette of overtaking on a trail is in other places.  Perhaps in the UK, they say “On your right!”

It happened when I was barrelling downhill on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT), heading from Bethesda to Fletcher’s Cove on the C&O Canal.  Traffic on the trail was unusually light that morning.  It was a cool morning, actually unusually cool for this time of year, and I was wearing extra gear to keep out the chill.  I felt an occasional drop of water from the overcast skies.  The forecasters had predicted that it would all clear up, but perhaps even this slight threat of inclement weather had been sufficient to deter other bikers from the trail.  (Or maybe it was because people have left town on vacations because of the start of summer.)

My goal for the ride was to tackle two trails that had slopes that were challenging.  I needed the training to be better prepared for the Rockies.   The Capital Crescent Trail and the Custis trail, both trails that I had found difficult in the past in this context, were within reachable distance of each other.

As I was speeding down the nearly empty CCT, I spied this kid in front of me who was walking down the middle of the trail in the same direction that I was riding.  I tried to warn him “On your left!”, but I got no response.  He had his earphones on!  I had to slow down.  I kept repeating myself with increasing urgency as I got closer to him and continued to slow down.  He heard me at the last minute and jumped to the side.  He turned to me with a sheepish grin on his face.  “Sorry, my bad.”  But I was not upset at all. In fact, I had to smile in spite of the fact that he had slowed me down significantly.  It was partly due to the look on his face, and the spirit in which he apologized.  There was no sign of annoyance in his demeanor at being startled, and he also openly accepted his responsibility.  Also, I was not really in a hurry (in spite of my speed), and I was happily distracted by the thought of a kid taking a walk on the trail in the middle of the morning, enjoying the outdoors.  Hopefully he had not bunked school, but in any case, he seemed to be involved a healthy outdoor diversion that was better than idling in front of an electronic display of some sort at home.  I was not upset.IMG_20170607_102733902_HDRLater on during the ride, while on a section of the W&OD trail in Virginia, I sighted a mother (I think!) and her little girl on the trail in front of me.  The two of them moved to the side of the trail when the mother noticed my approach.  The mother sat herself next to the kid, pointed my way, and the two of them waited for me to come by.  As I got closer she waved to me, and the kid gave me a big smile that would have melted any reasonable person’s heart.  I waved back with a smile on my face.  I got a big lift that lasted for a significant portion of the rest of the ride.IMG_20170607_115652484It is sometimes the small things that you remember from these type of outings, and I hope many such opportunities for smaller memories continue to present themselves during the next few weeks of training.IMG_20170602_092609202I managed to tackle the hills on both the Capital Crescent and Custis trails without having to get off the bike and push it uphill.  I am also learning how to better relax while doing rides like this that require some endurance.  I took breaks from riding whenever I felt like it without feeling a need to push myself and keep going.  I eased up on imaginary challenges that I tend to set for myself while riding.  In spite of this outlook, I did manage to keep a good pace.  In the end I covered about 46 miles, and I was in the groove towards the end, hitting four and a half minute miles on the rough trail.  Perhaps I am in decent shape for the final ride already.

 

 

The Andes Bike Shop

It used to be a small carpet store, and I remembered it having a certain mideast flavor. It sat at the corner of a neighborhood strip mall, well set back from a main road, behind the Wendy’s and the McDonalds, so much so that you could barely make out the names on the store fronts when you drove by on Darnestown Road.  I remember having gone to the carpet store once to ask if they would like to put an advertisement in the program book for the annual show of the chorus.  The proprietor said that he would look into it but he never got back to me.  That was then.

But then we noticed that something had changed. It was when we were driving to the park for one our Sunday morning walks along the towpath.  There was now a new sign over  the storefront that simply said “Bike Shop”.  A bike shop in our neighborhood was something new, and it was a surprising, if not puzzling, thing to me.  This was a curiosity.  Running a local bike store had to be a tough gig, especially when you were competing with big nationwide companies and their large and well stocked stores.   Local bike stores have come and gone in other neighborhoods.  Why had folks opened a small bike shop in this location?  I resolved to pay these guys a visit some time.

The opportunity arose after my first training ride of the year last week.  While I had been wanting to go the bike store for a while, it was only after that ride that I found the focus to remember in a timely manner my intent to visit the store.  So I stopped by after the ride.

I stepped into a small space that was filled with used bikes of all kinds, for all ages, and for all the different kinds of biking experiences that were possible.  There was also some other biking gear and equipment sitting around on stands and on shelves on the walls.  The place had a crowded feel to it.  Behind a counter was a young man working on a bike. Music was playing on a computer in the background.

I started the conversation by noting that I had stopped by because of curiosity, and asked the guy how long the shop had been open. “Ten months,” he said.  He spoke with a very distinct but light accent.  He seemed very friendly and open.  I told him about the bike ride I had done last year.  That seemed to break the ice.   He turned down the music and started chatting.  And gradually the story emerged.

The store was owned and operated by his father and him.  Their primary business was not selling new equipment, but in taking care of and maintaining bicycles for people.  He loved touring on his bicycle. He said he was the kind of person who would pack his bike with all the equipment that he would need for a ride, including what was needed for outdoor stays and cooking, and just go.  He said that if I were interested in a bike, he could put one together from parts obtained from used bikes that he could get from his contacts, and that he could fit the bike with exactly the right kind of equipment I would need for the type of ride I was interested in doing.  And he could do this for a reasonable price.  He was very conversational, but I also noticed a certain ease and sense of confidence that he had with what he was doing.

I got the sense that he was enjoying being in business with his dad. He gave me a business card as I was preparing to leave.  The card said “Andes Bike Shop”, and the name on the card was Oscar Ramirez.  I asked him if that was his name, and he noted that both he and his dad had the same name.  When I asked him why the name of the shop did not appear on the sign up front, he said that this was something his dad had decided.  And even in that comment I could sense the connection he had with his dad.  It was a connection of love and respect.  There seemed to be a sense of togetherness and trust in their activity of running the store.

I was curious about the Ramirezes and the Andes Bike Shop, and about what it was that had brought them and their store to our little corner of Gaithersburg.   I had asked the young Oscar where they resided, and he had mentioned that they  lived nearby.   I still wondered what triggered their decision to set up the store in its current location.  I did manage to find this video about them.

This happens to be an immigrant story, and I find stories like this somewhat inspiring.  I will perhaps go out of my way to give them some business even if there are other less expensive options.  We need more of these kinds of small family businesses to survive and thrive.  You have to believe that it is not always about the money.

 

Carson City, NV

The visit to Carson City in Nevada was an afterthought that occurred only after we had already started our vacation, after we had left San Francisco on our multi-day drive through California and Nevada.  Our visit there strengthens my opinion that a vacation experience is not just about going to well known places and looking for the extraordinary.  Sometimes you can enjoy the simple experiences and things that would not be considered noteworthy in the normal course of events.

We had spent the night in Reno and were about to head south in the morning, along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, on our way to Mammoth Lakes for our stopover for that night.  The thought had occurred to me that it would be nice to take a short detour to Carson City if possible just for the heck of it.  After all, Carson City is the capital of the state of  Nevada.  The only other item of note as far as we were concerned was the fact that Mark Twain had spent a few years of his life there.  Still, we were curious. Perhaps there was something new to learn by visiting the town.

But a detour to Carson City from Lake Tahoe would take up additional time just for the driving even though the two places were close by, especially if we wanted to visit the entire eastern shore of the lake (which would involve driving back and forth between the two places).    We could save time visiting just the top half or the bottom half of the east shore of Lake Tahoe, while cutting east-west between the two destinations just once at the half-way mark.

We awoke to threatening skies on the morning of the drive.  This was a view from our hotel room in Reno.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince driving on the winding roads in the area of the lake in the rain was not likely to be fun, we made a quick decision to head straight down to Carson City and to try to get to Lake Tahoe later in the day.

Carson City looked quite underwhelming when we arrived.  It looked small and unimposing.   It did not look like the capital of a state to me!  The city appeared to have one main drag, Carson Street, that went from north to south, with a few smaller streets parallel to it, and others cutting across in a grid.  I could see no big buildings typical of a big town, let alone a capital city.  The houses were modest in size and older.  There was hardly any traffic on the main road.  The place certainly looked laid back, and as if it had seen better times.

It was time for us to learn more about Carson City.  We drove down Carson Street to the Visitor Center to get information.  We learned that Carson City was named after Kit Carson, and that one of the important historical markers in town was the mint which had now been converted into a section of the Nevada State Museum.  We got a map of the city and a description of a walking tour of about 2.5 miles that covered all the noteworthy sights in town.  (Yes, the town was small enough to be covered that easily!)  The path taken during the walk was called the Kit Carson Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe kind lady at the visitor center told us that we could park almost anywhere, except at the visitor center where the meter lady would make an occasional appearance.  There was ample parking in front of the houses on the side streets.  It was certainly a nice change to be driving in a city where one could relax and not worry about some impatient person who wanted to get in front of you, or about finding a place to park.

We had a choice of going to the museum or taking a walk along parts of the Kit Carson trail.  We started with the walk since it was not raining at that time.  The main drag, Carson Street, was mostly empty of traffic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany storefronts on the street looked like they were shuttered down and in a state of disuse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked past the obligatory casino in town.  It appeared to have seen better days (and this was true of most of the casinos we saw in small towns in Nevada).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can seen the sign for an abandoned casino next to Cactus Jack’s casino in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following building was the only one of note in that section of the strip.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe side streets had an equally empty feel about them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou would have a hard time believing that you were in a capital city.

But in very short order we found ourselves on the grounds of the Nevada State Capitol.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did indeed see a few people in somewhat formal clothes walk in and out of the building, indicating that some sort of business of note was taking place in these offices.  This contrasted with the feel of the rest of the town itself.  It did not seem to take itself that seriously!

Our next stop was on one of the side streets off the main road, at an art gallery that Angela had found in the city guide.  The rain was beginning to fall steadily at this point, but we were OK since we had our rain gear with us.  I saw this other art gallery on the way.  It seemed to blend in well with the “small” nature of the place.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe building pictured below was our destination for this visit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey were having an exhibition of entries from a statewide art competition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our way out of the exhibition, the lady who was manning the information table (a turn of phrase that might be considered inappropriate by some :-)) noted that she spent a lot of her time giving tours at the museum.  She then gave us a strong recommendation to spend some time there.  Seeing that the rain was not slowing down, we decided that this was indeed what we would do.

We continued our walk along the Kit Carson trail (marked in blue on the sidewalk) on our way to the museum.  The skies began to clear up a little bit (temporarily, as it turned out) as we walked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed the building where Mark Twain had lived for a few years.   (Mark Twain actually followed his brother, Orion Clemens, the first Secretary to the new government of the Territory of Nevada, to Carson City.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The building appeared to be owned by an Insurance Company!

We continued to walk the back roads of the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACloser to the museum, on Carson Street, we passed memorials for the Lincoln Highway, the first coast to coast highway, and the old Pony Express, the paths of both of which used to run through Carson City.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the museum, passing by the old mint building on our way to the entrance. The visit turned out to be quite interesting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had a big section in the museum about the minting operations that are a part of the history of the city.  This mint worked primarily with silver, and it seems that the minting operations only lasted a few years.  This is a picture of a coin press machine which is still operational and used occasionally.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey had a reconstruction of a mine at the lowest level of the museum.  This covered all aspects of the mining process including the construction of the underground structures, the extraction and supply processes, and the safety elements of the operation.  This is a picture of a slide that was used to move material from one level to another below it within the mine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASilver and gold were mined in these parts, and mining used  to be a significant source of employment for people.

There was a section on natural history, including displays about animals and birds, and the about the geology of the area.  The place has a history of significant volcanic activity. They tackled the more recent history of human settlement in that area.  European arrival in Nevada is actually a very recent happening (in a relative sense).   They had a separate section in the museum put together from the Native American perspective (which can be quite different than the White Man’s way of thinking).  There is some tension even today between the Native Americans and the “modern world” in many regards.  The Native Americans try to live in harmony with their surroundings whereas modern man was (and still is) more intent on taking control over and exploiting their surroundings and resources.  We found out that whereas modern man has no hesitation or compunctions about digging up ancient Indian burial sites to study and try to understand life in olden times, the Native Americans believe that their ancestors are to be left alone in their quest for eternal peace in the afterlife.  Even though I have my own scientific curiosity,  I know where my sympathies lie.

The rain had returned with a vengeance as we prepared to leave the museum.  We headed out to a cafe that had been recommended to us for lunch.  It was called the L. A. Bakery Cafe and Eatery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe place was a delightful surprise.  The family had opened the cafe in 2012, selling healthy foods with a light Mediterranean touch. The business seemed to have caught on and become a success with the local population.  From the plaques and other hangings on the walls, I gathered that they had received recognition from the local community and accolades from the local business groups for what they was doing.  They were in the process of expanding their business.  The food was really healthy and tasty.  (I wish I had taken a picture of my salad!)

It was still raining after lunch.  Given that we had stayed longer than we had anticipated in town, and since the weather was not really cooperating, we gave up on making the side trip to Lake Tahoe and decided to take the most direct route for Mammoth Lakes.

Since we had some more time on our hands because of the change in plans, I suggested that we visit the railroad museum, one of the two more significant tourist destinations in town noted in the tour guides (the other one was the state museum).  We found out as we were driving towards  the museum that we had arrived in town on the one day of the week that it was closed. We had to satisfy ourselves with a drive past in the rain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was on to Mammoth Lakes for an earlier arrival than originally planned.  The weather kept changing during the drive.  We even saw a rainbow at some point,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut later on, as we climbed into the mountains, we also ran into a few heavy snowstorms that came out of nowhere and presented some fairly challenging driving conditions every once in a while. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But I will leave the stories of our further adventures during this trip for another day.

The Mathematician Who Will Make You Fall in Love With Numbers | WIRED

The person who is the subject of this article has his own blog site:
https://mathyawp.wordpress.com/
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The ancient Greeks argued that the best life was filled with beauty, truth, justice, play, and love. The mathematician Francis Su knows just where to find them.

Source: The Mathematician Who Will Make You Fall in Love With Numbers | WIRED