My Sister’s Garden

We were fortunate as kids to grow up in a university campus in India surrounded by the beauty of nature.  Our house had a yard and we had a garden that was probably the best on campus, with a lawn and garden with all kinds of colorful flowers.  It took all kinds of effort to maintain this garden, but my parents were really into it, and also up to it.

Fast-forward to the present and my siblings and I find ourselves all grown up and in different parts of another country with our own homes and families.  Time passes and things change. Fortunately, we (the siblings) end up seeing each other quite often these days even across the miles that separate us.  But this summer happened to be particularly hectic for me in this regard with four visits to my sister’s place up north.  I always look forward to these visits, although at this point over 4000 miles of solo driving over a period of just a few short months in this regard has taken its toll on me.

One of the things I look forward to during my visits up north is my sister’s garden.  (Well, everybody calls it her garden, but I am sure she has significant help from others.)  It is really magnificent, especially in the middle of summer when all the flowers are blooming.  It is a colorful feast for the eyes. The birds and bees that are there to feast on the flowers are indications of the great shape that it is in.

The pictures below are in celebration of My Sister’s Garden.  They are probably not the typical pictures of a garden that you are used to seeing, but fortunately or unfortunately my camera has a mind of its own.

The hungry beeThe Hungry Bee

The honeysuckleThe Honeysuckle

The shy sunflower

The Shy Sunflower

The coneflower

The Coneflower

The unidentified flower

Shapes in Flowers

Interstate 10 (September 8th, 2014)

One evening during my trip to New Mexico…..

I am driving west into the sunset on Interstate 10 after a day spent at Cloudcroft and White Sands.  The land is perfectly flat.  The sky is still lit up in front of me but it is quite dark behind me.  The sky is clear except for a few wispy clouds.  The universe opens up in front of me.  I wish I could take a picture but it is not possible at 80mph.  There is no place to stop in the desolate countryside that I am passing.  I can see for miles. I drive by a mountain range to the left of the highway, not too far away, wondering if I was looking at some place in Mexico.  As I approach Deming, I see the rail cars of a freight train caught in the orange evening light, framed against the beautiful sky in front of me.  The train is also heading towards Deming, and pretty soon the railroad line and the highway are running parallel to each other.  I catch up with, and pass, the freight train as I enter into Deming, NM, my stop for the night.

Deming is a very small sleepy town not too far from the border with Mexico.  In fact you can see the occasional Border Patrol truck being driven around town. I do not think that Deming is well known for anything at this point. I had passed through this town during a cross-country trip in 1987 and was curious if my faulty memory matched reality.  This is primarily a railroad stop for freight trains.  The town itself lies around a one to two mile stretch of road that parallels interstate 10.   It  feels typical of a place along a highway that survives by offering services to travelers.  There are quite a few motels and even some chain restaurants. The streets are quite empty as a enter town late in the evening.  I need to to get me some authentic Mexican food. The local restaurants close early for the evening and I have to eat at the Dennys.

Went roaming around the town early in the morning as the sun was rising.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI checked out the railroad yard. This gas station in the picture below was just off the Interstate and next to the railroad tracks.  The sun was rising up behind me.

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I parked my car (seen in the picture below) at the gas station so that I could walk around and take pictures.

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Went searching for Irma’s and managed to get me some real Mexican breakfast.  The restaurant is around the corner in the picture below.

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I could stand in the middle of the road to take pictures.

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My nice little hotel room cost only $40!  I must have stayed at some similar place on Interstate 10 in 1987.

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Soon after breakfast I checked out of the hotel and took off north on a local road (Route 180), heading for the Gila National Forest and the Gila cliff dwellings.

Summer Storms and Stories

Summer storms can come up on you quite quickly and silently in our part of the world.  This one had been threatening us the whole day.  Although the air temperatures had been very reasonable, it had also been quite humid, and the clouds floating overhead looked distantly menacing.  The air was unstable!

It was later in the evening that I noticed that it was turning unexpectedly dark in the house. I slid open the blinds in the living room to notice that the sun had finally given up its struggle to penetrate the clouds, and that the sky had turned ominously dark. It was now filled with low black malevolent clouds swiftly scurrying across its expanse to some unknown destination. It had not started raining just yet.   It was a camera moment.  I found myself standing on the furniture on the deck taking pictures of the drama unfolding in the skies.  I can never get tired of this spectacle.  Can you see what I saw?  There are stories to be told behind these pictures!

HAIR ON FIRE
HAIR ON FIRE
THE TEDDY BEAR
THE TEDDY BEAR
THE SCARY FLYING BOY
THE SCARY FLYING BOY
THE FURIES
THE FURIES

Is There a Concept of Having Too Much Technology

Some inventors from Airbus were recently granted the following patent.

If you follow the link you will see that the patent is essentially for the design of a passenger aircraft that can travel at speeds of up to Mach 4.5 using certain advanced technologies.  The invention contemplates an aircraft with three different kinds of engines for three different stages of flight.  The first engine type would be used for liftoff of the aircraft, the second would take it up to the altitude that it is supposed to fly at, and the third would let it cruise as speeds that border on the hypersonic. Although I have not read the patent,  I suspect that the innovation that is being claimed here is the single piece of equipment (i.e., the aircraft) being designed to work with the three engine technologies in three different stages of flight, and that the innovation is not in the inventions of the engine types themselves, although there could be some optimization/modification of the engines being contemplated for the application at hand.  There also ought to be some innovative ideas related to the shape of the aircraft and the placement of the engines.

Of course, filing patents is all about putting ideas that you consider implementable on the record and being acknowledged as the person who “owns” the idea, but it does not necessarily imply that the patents have been really implemented or are implementable in a practical sense in the near future.  In my past history, I have been fortunate  to have worked, in most cases with other people, on many concepts that have been patented, some of which have made it into real implementations, and many that have not.

In the case of this particular patent, I have my serious doubts about the design becoming reality in any practical sense for the purpose of moving passengers.   Factors that make me a skeptic include the development costs, the cost of the aircraft itself, its efficiency in terms of the cost of moving each passenger per mile, and finally the real need in our world for this kind of technology today.  In many cases patents are filed purely as a defensive measure, to let people know that you got the idea first, or to serve as a negotiating tool with your competition.  That having been said, I cannot completely discount the possibility of somebody somewhere convincing a military organization somewhere to spend billions of dollars for the purposes of building something based on this patent that improves our capability in the realm of waging war and killing people.  You do not have to look too far to see this kind of foolishness going on today. There is also a new field of commercial space flight that is emerging these days, where paying passengers can be given rides into space, for which some of this technology may be applicable. But if this idea becomes successful in that realm, only the super rich who can afford to pay humongous amounts of money for one-time thrills will be able to afford it.

People might argue that my viewpoint regarding the practical use of this technology is typical of those who have no real vision for the future.  After all, most of the technology that has been developed that keeps the world going today had a cost associated with it, and if people had not invested in these technologies, we would not be where we are today in terms of capabilities, lifestyles, convenience and comfort.  But how much of convenience and comfort does a human being really need?  There is also the trickle down factor to be considered, where technology that is developed for one limited scenario bleeds into more general usage.  This is particularly true about innovations that have come out of the space program that have found their way into every day use.   Fair enough!  But, at the same time, the innovation that comes from the space program is considered useful all in itself even if there were no immediate secondary benefits.  This is because we human beings want to know more about the Universe we live in.  We want to advance our knowledge.  Can some similar case be made for the benefits of developing of a passenger aircraft as contemplated in the patent?

We know that the concept of a super-fast aircraft did not work out from an economic perspective in the case of the Concorde (which was also a relatively much slower aircraft).  There is even the possibility that new aircraft technologies that have been introduced recently can end up not being successful in the long run.  Aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380 are huge risks for their manufacturers, and it is quite possible that the companies may not even recoup their expenses over the lifetimes of the aircraft. The aircraft being contemplated in the patent would cost much more to develop, purchase and operate.  All things considered, will Boeing or Airbus even attempt to build a passenger aircraft that travels this fast?

Regardless, even if there was enough of a motivation to try to develop an aircraft as contemplated in the invention, and even if there were enough people willing to pay for flying in the aircraft so that a profit could be made in spite of the monumental developmental and manufacturing cost, what kind of real world scenario really demands/needs such a capability as far as speed is concerned?  Most leisure travelers are unlikely to be able to afford to fly such an aircraft.   If at all, this could turn into a business tool, a military boondoggle, or a toy for rich people. (I believe that when it comes to conducting business, we are definitely capable of coming up with some new reasoning for needing to use an aircraft of this type, finding a way to justify the cost based on what is likely to be some kind of hokey cost benefit analysis.  After all, there are a lot of companies today that still think it makes sense to own and use private luxury jets.  This is how business works.)  In my mind the above scenarios would amount to the use of technology just because it can exist and not because it is necessary.  Basically this would be about spending without having a good reason to do so.  What good will come out of any of it?

There is some commonality of this scenario with the story of a lot of the technology being developed in recent years in the field of electronics and communications.  The significant driver for advancements in this field is entertainment (perhaps it actually all starts out with porn).  Companies want to outdo their competition in this business, so that people with money to burn (and sometimes even people who cannot afford it) will try to buy their product.  A lot of resources of all kinds are spent in this regard, and the primary motivation is creating wealth and putting money into the pockets of those involved.  This is also my story, having worked for many years in the industry to make a living by advancing technologies for the purposes of delivering entertainment. I suppose there is nothing wrong with all of this.  This is the way capitalism works.

How much of the impact of new technologies really trickles down to the people whose lives really need to be improved? I have a lot of doubt in this regard about a lot of the stuff that is being worked on today. As I grow older I have more and more difficulty coming to terms with the development and use of technology just for technology’s sake.  I hope that the aircraft described above just remains a concept in somebody’s mind.

A Holy Place

I am trying to find a way to describe the experience I have when I head out on my run on a late afternoon and enter the woods behind the elementary school near my home. It is difficult to find the words to express what happens to my state of mind at this point.  I enter the trail into the woods from relatively open space next to the school and the next thing I know is that I am in a space that leaves me transformed in mind and spirit. All of a sudden I find myself surrounded by the tall trees that form a green canopy; trees that let the sunlight filter in through in random spots to light up random leaves on random trees and plants, and random spots on the forest floor; trees that also provide a deep cooling shade that envelopes you.  All of a sudden one feels at peace, and at the same time both relaxed and energized.

Being an engineer by training, my thoughts have been turning analytical at this point in time.  A unique aspect of this experience is that my mind is impacted in the same manner regardless of how many times I repeat the routine.  Why is this remarkable, you ask?  It is notable to me because my general observation is that experiences tend to be more exciting when you go through them for the first time, but if you repeat them often enough, the novelty wears off. Even though you might continue to enjoy the experience, things feel a little bit different from that first time, and some of what you continue to do becomes part of a habit.  As a rather extreme example of the sentiment I am trying to express, one could pose the following question.  If you saw the Grand Canyon every day, would you feel the same sense of wonder after many years as you did on the first day.  Not to say that the sense of awe would go away, but I am sure that some of the emotional impact of the experience would tend to change over time, wouldn’t it.

This particular running experience I am talking about is most certainly not as grand as seeing the Grand Canyon, but it is more about the feeling you get when you are transported instantly into different state of mind every single time, even though you are repeating the routine frequently.  When it happens you forget about everything else instantly, and you are struck by a sense of wonder, maybe even ecstasy, that is hard to define.  And it is achieved without the benefit of external chemical stimulants.:-)  As a runner who explores a lot of spaces and always enjoys doing what I do, I have to say that there is something different going on in the head in this particular instance. Is it the endorphins on steroids, figuratively speaking?

As you can see, I have been pondering how one would characterize this kind of experience for some time.  I have also been thinking about the possibility of people having a somewhat similar experience in a different setting.  The only thing that came to mind is the state of mind of some people who enter a place of worship.  People enter a different place in their minds. Perhaps it is also possible to also get transported to this state of mind if one were to meditate.  I looked around on the Internet for the definition of a Holy place.  The most relevant description that I came across in this particular context was that a place becomes holy when it is specially linked to God.  If one continued along this thread of thought, you could perhaps get caught up in a contemplation of the nature of God, and your conclusion, if you had one, would of course depend on your point of view.  But I think that that particular thought process would be beside the point in this particular instance.  This is primarily about the state of mind that one tends to experience.  Perhaps I am in a Holy place when I run along these trails and have the experience I am describing.

I have a similar experience when running in a different part of the woods further along in this loop that I cover regularly, when the nature of my surroundings changes from that of the trees that are plentiful in this area to a vision of thin and tall evergreens all around me, a scene that is less common in these parts.  The mind is indeed transformed by the physical process that leads to the visual change, and perhaps it is that the process that is important to note in this context.

Having thought about this often enough, I decided to do an experiment to find out if it would be possible to capture the feeling that I have so far tried to express in words in pictures.  I carried my camera bag during one of my runs and made a game attempt at capturing the story with the camera.  Needless to say, pictures do not necessarily tell the tale, just as words themselves do not quite get to the heart of the matter.

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