Just for fun

There are a lot of fun things you can do with photography.  Here is an effect that I got when taking pictures while it was snowing.  The first picture was taken with the flash turned on.  The camera was focused on the background, but, as you can see, the light from the flash was being reflected by the snowflakes.

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For the second picture I turned the flash off but all other parameters of the shot were nearly the same.  The snowflakes do not show up in this picture, but I do think they impact the nature of the picture in a way that I cannot define too well.  Perhaps it is a little softer and smoother than normal.

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Which picture more closely reflects the perception of the human eye?  Does the human perception vary from person to person?  Which picture do you prefer?

What Happens to Aging Rock and Roll Bands?

The short answer is that they end up performing on cruise ships.

But this blog is about much more than the answer to the above question. A couple of days ago I got a call from my friend asking if I was interested in seeing Uriah Heep perform at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA.   An old rock-and-roller like me cannot even keep his bands straight, and my mind gravitated towards Jethro Tull, the name of another band from the same era! I was thinking of the music from Heep while thinking Tull. Go figure! But it would not have mattered. I said yes.

For those of you who do not know, Uriah Heep is a band from the 1970s that used to create music that would not have  necessarily been considered mainstream. Their heavier brand of rock music was actually quite innovative and catchy at the same time. Songs like July Morning, Easy Living, Lady in Black and Sunrise are all unique in their own way, with great vocals (including occasional notes up there in the stratosphere), fantastic extended guitar and keyboard riffs, and awesome drum solos. They were also one of those bands that were not afraid to make songs that were long. (This was not unusual for that time.) You could find yourself taken on a roller coaster of a musical ride that could last 10 to 15 minutes. Needless to say, the music was not necessarily targeted towards those with short attention spans.

I was surprised to find out that the band was still together.   A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that they have come out with new albums in both 2013 and 2014. While personnel changes happened very frequently during their earlier days, more recently there has been more stability in the group, except for the death of their bass guitarist in 2013. One has to remember that the older members of the band are now in their 60s!

Birchmere is small but a well-known musical venue that has been hosting music groups since the 70s. It is a somewhat more intimate setting than a concert hall or a stadium, with the audience sitting at dining tables not too far from the stage enjoying their food and drink. It makes for a great set up.

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The band started promptly at 7:30pm. There was no mistaking the age of the people who were on stage. The vocal lead was even displaying a nice paunch. They still had the long hair that was typical of bands of the 70s, as if they were trying to still keep some the reminders of their youth.  But they need not have worried about the hair. Their music instantly took us back to the old days. They rocked! Even the music from their newer albums had the same flair and style as the music of our youth.  The group had the same energy as a bunch of young rockers, and we even got our loud guitar, keyboard and drum solos.   The lead singer even hit the high notes that are unique to some of their songs with ease (he could be excused for losing his voice during the encore). This was great after my previous disappointing experience with BB King!   They did not play too long but they gave it all they had while they were on stage. They did not take a single break during their set.  (This could not have been easy for people at their age.)  One of the things I like about these type of shows is that it is less about the staging and the choreography and more about the music. I had a great time with the music, the food, and the drink.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne could not help but wonder what it takes for bands like this to stay together, and why they would choose to remain as a group for this long.   They are obviously not a mainstream band today (they tended to be a fringe band even during their heydays), and life cannot be that easy when you are performing in smaller venues like the Birchmere or on cruise ships. (Here is a piece of trivia. The band apparently performed at OAT in IIT Madras in 1983.) But these guys continue to come out with new albums with good music. They still appear to have their creative juices flowing. Is that all there is to it, or do they do this in order to be able to make a living and survive? But how can they manage something like that under the circumstances? They still seem to have most of the overhead of a regular rock band, but their audiences have surely shrunk from the days when they were better known.

There is probably no point to my wondering about questions for which I will get no answers – unless one of the band members decides to write a tell-all story.  For now one must just enjoy the music, and the nostalgic feeling that comes with the process of being taken back to a previous time in one’s life, in another century, when one was still young.

In Winter’s Icy Grip

We have seen temperatures in our neighborhood recently that have not been experienced in recent years. With temperatures in the vicinity of zero degrees Fahrenheit, and wind chill factors making it feel even colder, it is almost as if we were living somewhere in Canada. Thankfully we have been spared the storms that have hit the New England area. The winter has disrupted our weekly routine of going out into the woods every weekend.

It is beautiful outside the house. Looking out from the kitchen window one sees the swarms of small birds that are flying around undeterred by the cold. There are blue jays aplenty alighting on the crepe myrtle behind the house and then there was this one looking back at me from its seat on the fence behind the house.

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Beautiful patterns of crystals form on the cold windows.
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The stormy winter nights lead to sights like this outside our front door.
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Sunsets do not look too bad either.
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The deer are getting desperate with the cold and the snow on the ground and they are eating the stuff that they normally would not touch. I need to keep them away from the plants.

Seneca Creek at Riley’s Lock is frozen over.
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The Potomac River is also frozen over at Seneca Creek. One can cross over to Virginia if one wanted.
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Huge chunks of smashed up ice line the side of the river.
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And then there is this view at Violette’s lock.
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You cannot blame me for thinking that winter can be enjoyable in its own way.

We have snow falling outside right now, and it is expected to eventually change to ice and rain. The temperatures are eventually expected to rise to around freezing. It is going to be a different experience. Wonder if I will get a chance to go outside tomorrow!

Scene in the Middle of Winter

We have a routine these days of going out for walks in the woods every Sunday morning, but this weekend has been too cold for that activity.  The temperature out here was 7 degrees Fahrenheit this morning and the wind chill factor -14 degrees, too extreme even for crazy people like myself.  I happened to step outside last evening to some really strange evening lighting due to the stormy skies.  Here is a picture.

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The more things change

The more they remain the same…

I read somebody’s blog article recently about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and about how human intelligence will in the not-to-distant future be surpassed by artificial intelligence, which will then fuel a development pace that we have not seen in the past.  There was an interesting introductory section of the article that talked about how technology was basically developing exponentially.  It would have taken lifetimes in the past to see the kinds of changes that we have seen within our own lifetimes.  In fact the changes today seem to happen rapidly enough that people are left behind.

But I have a hard time tying the rate of development to the topic of AI.   The logical capability that constitutes the core of a machine is very different from the core of a human brain, and I am not sure that this can be replicated. One has to have sufficient speed in the machine to be able to build an emulation of the core of the human brain that works in real time. The approach for developing AI capability in its limited form today is very focused and still limited in the capability to really learn.  Of course, one could come out with new versions of software encompassing the lessons from the use of the earlier version of what one can call AI software, and call this an AI implementation, but this is still an development that is directly dependent on human intelligence.  So some additional big breakthrough in technology is needed, something that can apparently lead to “super-intelligence” as discussed in the article I mentioned.  Also, in addition to “learning” software, we perhaps need hardware that can self-promulgate and grow in order to make this concept a reality.

So what, I think to myself.  While the changes in lifestyle during our own lifetimes has been astounding, where is this leading us? We have developed the tools to improve our efficiency of operation, we have created lots of functionality that simplifies life, we can communicate at speeds and across distances that would have been considered astounding even a couple of hundred years ago ago, we can cover vast distances in short periods of time,  we have increased food production to levels that would have been unthinkable in the past, etc…  We regularly have new technologies that come into place that quickly form the basis of our future experiences in all facets of life. People are living longer, enjoying more comfort, etc.., but so what.  We still are born, eat, sleep, and poop, and eventually die.  While lifetimes have increased, is this increase proportionate to the level of increase in technology? Is somebody thinking that AI will eventually change the fundamental elements of the paradigm of life.

I am not saying that development is a bad thing.  I am just thinking that we have not thought through its impact at a fundamental level. Every advantage that we appear to gain seems to be balanced by an advancement of some negative sort (including sometimes stupidity) at some level.  AI, even if it lives up to its hype, could turn out to be one of these things that adds to this unfocused sense of advancement and speeds it up.  I suppose that the most dangerous thing possible is that if this concept really becomes a reality in its truest form, we would have found a way to speed up the progress to such an extent that what we really achieve turns out to be completely destructive.

I might have saved a Turtle’s life today (6/12/04)

It is Saturday morning here in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and it is just beautiful outside – the sun is up but it is not too hot.  I usually try to either help with the Church furniture program on Saturday mornings, or go down to the C&O canal towpath by the Potomac river for an early morning run/walk.  Today’s morning plans have been thrown slightly askew.  Another meeting that had been planned  has not materialized and the morning could be free, but it is too late to do the usual stuff. Being the nice guy I am (he! he!), I volunteer to take Christina to her dance class at 8:00 am.  After dropping her off, I decide to explore the byways of Montgomery County by motorized means.  I take to the back roads that parallel The Potomac River, heading north towards Edwards Ferry and Whites Ferry.  The goal is to find parking lots along the river where I can park the car at some future date and explore the canal towpath (which winds its way all the way up to Cumberland, MD, 184.5 miles of hiking/biking trails in all).  The scenic countryside of Montgomery County, and its hidden woods, are seldom seen by us folks living in Suburban Paradise. We scurry around like ants taking care of our businesses and experiencing the hustle and bustle of daily life. We very rarely make a serious effort to learn about the place we live in and become familiar with what surrounds us.  So here I am on the back roads of America, bouncing around on the gravel pathways that we seldom experience, the roads that we always find a reason to avoid in our rush, for God knows what reason, to get from point A to point B.

What about the turtle, you ask?  Heading north on River Road from Riley’s Lock, on a reasonably fast road (40 mph), (not one of the gravel roads that I noted earlier),  I encounter a turtle crossing the road.  The turtle is on the opposite lane, which is a good thing because I could have killed it otherwise.  I quickly pull over to the side, turn around and drive back to where I had seen the turtle.  Luckily there is not much traffic around.  This is not a well-traveled road, and it is also a Saturday morning at that.  Mr. Turtle is still trying to make his way across the road.  (Wait a minute – I guess it could be a female!  I am going to call her Mr. Turtle anyway.)  A couple of cars zoom by on the opposite lane.  Mr. Turtle appears to hesitate with the noise and the gusts of wind from the passing cars.  I look around, make sure there are no cars coming, get to Mr. Turtle in the middle of the road, and pick him/her up.  All four legs and head are out, and I stare into Mr. Turtle’s eyes.  I think I said something along the lines of  “How are you doing”, or “What are you trying to do”.  Mr. Turtle quickly disappears into his/her shell (not very friendly, I thought!).  I  take Mr. Turtle across the road to where I guessed he/she was going, and put him/her down by the bushes facing the approximate direction in which I thought he/she was headed.  When last I left Mr. Turtle, he/she was still under the shell.  All the best, Mr. Turtle!

Now, I do not know if I really saved Mr. Turtle’s life, because, for all I know, he/she could have just turned and headed back for the road, and gotten hit by another passing vehicle.  Does it matter what I did?  Was the risk I took of getting hit by a vehicle myself worth it?  Maybe it does not matter in the big picture whether a turtle survives or not.  But it felt good!!!!

Boys and girls, that is my story for today.   If you have not been bored, I might even be tempted to tell you about turning the other cheek – a very naughty story indeed!   Or about the other day I saw a big snake on the towpath (it gets bigger with every week that passes!).

S’all for now.

A New Experiment

While the concept of “blogging” has existed for several years, it has taken me a while to attempt to get my feet wet experimenting with the medium.  In the past I have tended to post pictures at a photography themed website. I also write my thoughts in essays to friends and families.  I have considered blogging in the past, but the question that always occurred to me was – who cares!  What do I have to offer in this medium that is unique?  Will anybody care other than close friends and family?  Something that has changed is that I now have more time on my hands.  The challenge of this new format beckons.  I need to better understand what it is all about and see where it takes me.  I will not be ambitious and I will post when the mood hits.  I will take it as it comes.

What do I think I will write about?  A little bit of history may be in order.  A few years ago, I started spending more time during the weekends at a park not too far from home.  The C&O Canal National Historical Park soon became my regular weekend haunt.  It essentially changed my life.  I spent hours in the park, walking, running, taking pictures, and basically lost in my own thoughts, surrounded by nature and all to myself.  My photographic experience exploded, and I also started putting down my thoughts on paper.  There was (and still is) something about the experience that tended to open up the mind.  Words to help get the sometimes strange thoughts and conclusions onto paper started coming easily.  Topics that went through the mind were unpredictable. And friends and family seemed to appreciate it.  I was hooked.

Several years have passed and life has changed in many ways.  Who knows if the mind is still as active as it used to be.  Creativity is something that cannot be forced.  But I am in a better situation to let my mind wander and delve into off-beat topics that are still of interest to me.  So I am going to try to write about them.  I will mix this writing with content from some old e-mails which I still find interesting.  My broad experience in the world of digital communications and entertainment, and the associated hardware and software areas, has given me much insight into how things work, and significant reason to pause for thought.  I think that in the advanced societies of today we are a long way removed from basic realities, even though basic necessities still remain unchanged and are essential for existence.  Further, our world survives on a foundation of human development supported by many man-made technologies, each of which has its own issues.  We have created a very complex system.  Do we even understand what are we doing to ourselves over time?  Why are we doing this to ourselves?  What is the point of all this development?  What would the philosophers of yore have to say about the realities of today if they were to experience it?

I like to write about my experiences in the park.  It does not matter what the season is (and believe me, we experience a wide range of  weather conditions where we live), I am out there several times a month.  I run when the woods around me are green and I run when they are brown. I will run in the snow, rain, wind and sun.  I will stop to examine the trees and the flowers along the trail. I will stop to try to get closer to a wild animal or a bird so that I can get a picture or two.  I will do strange things in the woods.

I am also attracted by topics that occasionally crop up in conversations that are not in the mainstream.   The Internet can prove to be a valuable resource in these cases if one is careful with the references.  Perhaps I will provide links to some of these articles, with my own associated thoughts on the topic.  Anything goes.

So I will start this series off with the first e-mail I had sent out at the time I was discovering the C&O canal.  Hopefully you will come back for some more.