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.

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.