Federico Ardila on Math, Music and the Space of Possibilities: Quanta Magazine

This is beautiful! Combinatorics, geometry, algebra, multidimensional spaces, robotics, music, education, social awareness – this podcast episode touches on all of this! This guy is a remarkable human being.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/federico-ardila-on-math-music-and-the-space-of-possibilities-20210329/

The Visit to Big Pool

This was the song going through my head when I woke up this morning. And I felt like writing….

Springtime is here for sure, and this was more than obvious during our Sunday walk along the canal from the parking area at Fort Frederick State Park. There were newer Spring flowers to be seen all over the place:
Spring Beauty,Grape Hyacinth,Periwinkle,Trout Lily,Dandelions,probably Forsythia, and even a patch of Daffodils, most likely introduced by humans.We were even able to identify the plant that we had seen springing out of the side of the trail two weeks ago near Dargan Bend.They were Virginia Bluebell!

We started the walk rather late yesterday, closer to 11am, after going for the Easter service at the church. Having received our vaccinations, we have an additional degree of comfort/confidence about being in such gathering places. After mass, it was off on a long car ride to the area of Big Pool near Hancock. This section of the canal, next to Fort Frederick, opens out into a huge natural lake, an area where the boats plying the C&O canal in the days of old could even turn around if needed.An active railroad line that used to belong to the Western Maryland Railway, now operated by CSX, runs on the other side of the Pool, away from the towpath. At the western end of the pool, the line crosses over the towpath,and a bridge over the Potomac river, into West Virginia, joining the CSX mainline running on that side. Trains do not use this secondary line through Maryland (which runs to Hagerstown) very often, but we did happen to be there when a couple of them passed through.

The Western Maryland Railway originally used to continue westward on the Maryland side of the river towards Hancock and beyond instead of crossing over into West Virginia. The rails in this section are long gone, and the right-of-way has been converted into the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It is extremely popular with cyclists and walkers.

We had an extremely late lunch on our way back to the car, consuming PB&J sandwiches and apples while sitting on the rocks next to the remains of a spillway from Big Pool. There was a very pleasant and cool breeze blowing in our faces, making up for temperatures that has risen into the sixties by then.It was late in the afternoon by the time we were done, but we were in no hurry to get home. We even took another short walk to get down to the river since we had been unable to do that earlier.We checked out a beaver pond in the state park.It was a long drive home after all of that activity. We were tired!

Here is some more music to close out the blog with.

Peace out, and Happy Easter!

Songs From The Woods

Let me bring you songs from the wood:
To make you feel much better than you could know

Jethro Tull – from Songs From the Wood

The weather report indicated that it was going to rain that morning. But I was determined to make it to the towpath anyway. The irony was that we had had good weather earlier in the week, suitable for outdoor activities, but I had successfully made excuses for not going outdoors and doing my exercise. The weather turned out to be bad on the one day I was going to be making up for my laziness during the week. Rats!

It rained as we drove to Pennyfield Lock last Sunday, and it was raining as we began our walk.The rain was not too heavy, and I kept my camera under a poncho that I was wearing. We were comfortable. And the rain did peter out as the morning progressed – even though the skies continued to look threatening from time to time. The wet weather did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm for the walk.

When we arrived at Pennyfield lock, we were met by a steady background noise, the sound of some kind of an insect it seemed, emanating from the woods all around us. We stopped to listen, but we still could not make out the source of the sound. It seemed to be everywhere. You can listen to these sounds in the background of this recording that I made in a section that also happened to be full of birds. I am thinking of crickets, or maybe cicadas.

There were more Spring flowers to be seen this week along the trail, including the unique Dutchman’s Breeches!We also saw Cutleaf Toothwort, Gill over the Ground, and some small yellow flowers that I did not recognize.

We also encountered a few different birds. There were quite a few Great Blue Herons in this section this morning.The Canada geese were also plentiful. They seem to be somewhat ornery this time of year. I think it is nesting season. They were squawking at each other, and we even witnessed one loud fight going on on the river.We speculated that this was a situation of two males fighting over a female. We had no informed basis for coming to such a conclusion.

We saw a few of the musical Carolina Wren,and the colorful Northern Cardinal.They brightened up the place.

A Barred Owl also made an appearance.I even sighted a couple of Wood Ducks. They are not that common in these parts, and the only time you are likely to see them is in winter.

As usual, there were noisy sparrows in the bushes all over the place. I reacted to their presence by dismissing them, half jokingly, as “just sparrows”. I think it was an unfortunate response, and it happens a lot because we see a lot these birds. The truth of the matter is that they are also amazing creatures like all of the other birds – regardless of how often we get to see them. Perhaps people would tend to respond differently in places where there are fewer of them. I am sure any curious child would find them amazing. Can any of us even claim to be able to fly around effortlessly like these birds? How many of us really understand the phenomenon of bird flight? And yet we take it all for granted….

The lyrics of the song I noted at the beginning of this blog are worth listening to:

Dargan Bend

The day of the March Equinox (the Spring Equinox here in the northern hemisphere) finally arrived last Saturday in our part of the world. Daytime and nighttime are roughly of the same duration anywhere on the earth on that day. From now onward, until our autumnal equinox, the length of the days will be longer than the nights in the northern hemisphere. It feels like we have crossed some threshold in our seasonal expectations. It is all mental.

The temperature was at just about freezing point (32° F) when we started our walk at Dargan Bend, just north of Harpers Ferry, on Sunday. It felt quite cold as we waited for the sun to rise over the ridge behind the parking lot. Meanwhile the sun had already risen over the West Virginia shore of the Potomac. This picture was taken from the boat-ramp to the river at the parking lot.There was a cool breeze that was blowing in our faces as we walked in the long shadows of the tall trees that lined the trail. It actually created a wind-chill. I needed to put on an extra pair of gloves.We headed off north towards Antietam aqueduct.

Thankfully, it warmed up quickly. It was about 60° F by the time we finished our walk. We had worked up a sweat by that time. More than 8 miles of walking was undertaken, and we were actually not feeling too tired. We ended up not making it to the aqueduct, falling short by probably much less than a mile.

I have run past the parking lot for the boat-ramp at Dargan Bend in the past, but have never actually stopped to park a car here. I used to park in one of the parking areas right across from Harpers Ferry, just below Maryland Heights, when I used to visit the area. But these parking areas have now been blocked off for safety reasons. Dargan Bend happened to be one of the two parking spaces closest to Harpers Ferry. Hence the decision to check it out.

The last time I went through this area was in 2016, during my bike ride. It had been an even longer time since I covered this section of the trail on foot. That could have been as far back as 2011. It was nice to experience the resurfacing work that has been done recently to improve the trail.It is smooth all the way to Shepherdstown.

We saw Spring flowers for the first time this year along the canal during this walk. That experience in itself is uplifting to the spirit. There is the expectation of more to come. This particular growth is called Bloodroot.

We walked past an area where the trees were covered by what looked like English Ivy.It felt strange to see all the green here when the rest of the spaces we were walking through were completely brown. It even looked this way in the woods beside the trail!

There was one lock in this section of the towpath. You can actually drive to this location and park there before getting on the trail.

We were lucky to see a hawk’s nest. We located it by tracking a bird that was flying toward a tree with something in its beak. There was probably a young one in the nest.

Also of note in this section are the remains of the old Shinhan Limestone kilns. Apparently, this place used to operate until the 1960s.

This was a magnificent morning walking along the river – as usual!

The Codebreaker: American Experience

The amazing story of an extraordinary person, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, America’s first cryptologist and codebreaker. She did most of her work in the first half of the 20th century, but some of the details of her life-story only came out recently. Find out why!

The Codebreaker poster image

I do not know if this particular video will be blocked where you live, but you could do a search for her name (which, I assure you, I have spelt correctly!) and find other sources of information about her, including other videos.

Life of Bacteria

Did you know that the single-cell bacteria are able to communicate with each other, and that they have the ability to detect the presence, and numbers, of other bacteria around them through a process called “quorum sensing”? Individually, they cannot do much, but when they sense enough of their numbers around them they can behave in a collective manner. The result can be either good or bad for human beings when this collective behavior happens within their bodies. These is strength in numbers! Also, there are more bacteria in the human body than human cells. It also appears that the behavior of bacteria when it comes to organization is very similar to that in human beings. Of course, bacteria existed billions of years before human beings did! You could call the behavior of bacteria intelligence. I blogged about this kind of collective behavior in ants a while back.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/bonnie-bassler-on-talkative-bacteria-and-eavesdropping-viruses-20210308/

A Change Is Gonna Come

We were not paying attention to the arrival of Daylight Savings Time last weekend. This led to a later start than we would have liked for our Sunday morning walk. It was a confusing situation – it was later than usual if you considered the time relative to other events planned for the day, but if you considered it in terms of absolute time, compared to the time the previous day (or weekend), it was actually an earlier start than usual because we tried to compensate for the time change by leaving home as quickly as possible. Make sense?! I hate these time-change events, especially when we jump forward in time.

The temperatures in our neck of the woods are generally going up. We had a 70° F day in the middle of the week. I went for a run outside and actually felt hot. But it has cooled since. The gusty winds got our attention as soon as we got out of the car at Sycamore Landing on Sunday. It felt cold in spite of the fact that the temperature was in the 40s. It was going to take a while to warm up!

But, we do know that the change is soon gonna come. We could see it in the shoots of green emerging from the ground in the woods. In a few months we will, once again, be complaining about the heat.

We could see the change that is coming in the growth emerging on the branches of the trees and shrubs beside the trail. Soon, the appearance of the woods is gonna change. It will feel different!

This growth of leaves and flowers on this tree trunk that was submerged in the waters of the canal was surprising.

And I do not remember ever seeing a black rat snake on the trail this early in the season. I wonder if they like the new trail surface.

Even this broken branch of a tree beside the trail reminded me of some kind of newfound life-form – maybe alien!

Hopefully, there is also a good change that is gonna come in the situation with the pandemic in the not too distant future. I get a general sense around these parts that more and more people are able to get their vaccinations these days. I have not felt this optimistic in a while. I am already thinking about being able to visit friends and places in the next few months. But, at the same time, there is also the message out there that we still need to be vigilant. It appears that there is a new wave of coronavirus spread happening in some other parts of the world at this time. We are not out of the woods yet, and truth be told, we will not really be completely out of the woods before herd immunity is established all over the world.

The title of this blog is the name of a song that a friend recently reminded me of.

Here’s hoping for positive changes!

The Sycamore Trees

I know I have already mentioned this – perhaps too many times – but the sight of the Sycamore trees in winter never ceases to generate a sense of wonder no matter how many times we see them during our walks along the river. Every time we visit the park it is as if we are experiencing the sight of these trees for the first time once again. They are majestic! They catch your attention. These trees tend to dominate the treeline wherever they are present, whether you are looking straight up, or whether you are looking at them along the shorelines of the river. The trees are very distinctive with their white trunks and branches in their upper reaches. The body of the tree looks robust, and the tree itself appears to tower over all others.

I tend to spend a lot of time during our walks looking around for stuff – birds mainly. Last weekend I spent a significant amount of time just trying to enjoy the sight of the Sycamore trees. I do not think I am able to take the kind of pictures that will do them full justice, but I tried anyway.

Tiktaalik

Nothing, of course, begins at the time you think it did.

I listened to a fascinating podcast a couple of days ago. It had to do with evolution, and the transition on Earth of living forms from fishes (of the water) to creatures who lived on dry land. Perhaps you, like I, have come across some pictures in the media in this regard that try to illustrate the concept in a easy to follow manner. The illustrations could include a body of water on one side and dry land on the other, and show a series of creatures emerging from the water onto the dry land, with the nature of the creatures changing form as you sequence them from the water on to the land. At one end of the sequence you will find a fish. At the other end you will find a human being. Here is an humorous example.

Of course, the pictures do not represent anything close to reality. The transition from fish form to human being took place over hundreds of millions of years and not in single picture frame – obviously. The process was also very complex, and impossible to capture in pictures like this. Also, if I understand correctly, there were simpler forms of life on earth before the fish. Nevertheless…

When scientists study evolution, they try to find evidence of the transitions from one kind of life form to another. This is the realm of the paleontologists. This is a fascinating subject, especially when you are dealing with the study of fossils/skeletons of lifeforms that existed hundreds of millions of years ago. It seems that we know enough about the geology of the earth and the ancient land forms that used to exist in those days, including the mountains, rivers, and oceans, to have some idea as to where to look for pieces of evidence of life from those times. And, surprising to me, there are such land forms, from those times, that are accessible to us easily. For example, there was a section of the Pennsylvania turnpike that was built by blasting a path through a mountainside that revealed rocks over 350 million years old. These rocks revealed preserved fossils from that period of time. (Human beings are capable of destroying our sources of knowledge without even a second thought in our quest for progress and all things “modern”, including mindless and unlimited convenience and speed.)

The reader will surely agree that, as part of the evidence of the evolution that took place, it would be great to find the lifeforms that represent the transition from a form of life that existed solely in the waters to one that lived solely on land, i.e., the fish to tetrapod transition. You may be surprised to learn that the first of this evidence was only discovered in 2004. This life form was given the name Tiktaalik (for reasons you will discover if you follow the links I am providing). The scientific process in this case allowed the scientists to narrow down the time-frame of possible existence of the kind of creature they were looking for, and then look for places where they could access the right kind of rocks of that particular period of time in order to search for the creature. They were successful in their quest.

My blog includes only a small part of the things I learnt from the podcast that I listened to. There is no way I, with my limited understanding, can do justice to the subject matter in a blog. Hopefully, I have stirred your curiosity, and motivated at least one or two of you to also listen to the podcast. Science is fascinating!

https://www.quantamagazine.org/neil-shubin-on-tiktaalik-ballistic-tongues-and-evolution-20210302/