Weekly Photo Challenge: State of Mind

Most photography is probably in one way or the other about trying to capture or create a  State of Mind.  Many of the submissions for this week’s challenge try to capture the photographer’s mood, or state of mind, when they were taking a picture.  I do this all the time when I am communing with nature and take pictures.  When I post such pictures I am also trying to get somebody else to feel my own state of mind.

My response to the theme takes a different direction. This posting is about pictures of people. Most often people pose for you when their picture is being taken.  The common response is to try to smile for the camera.  But sometimes, if the timing happens to be just right, I capture something unexpected.  I might have captured them in an unexpected state of mind.

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More often something like this happens when the person may not be aware of their picture being taken.
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And sometimes you can be pretty sure what their state of mind is.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Apple and Privacy

Privacy is something that none of us who live in the digital connected world really have.  While we would like to believe that we are safe from prying eyes by using the tools provided by the different vendors who design security solutions that incorporate into our systems, I think that this ship has sailed.  The moment you decided to be a part of the Internet, be it on the social media, or be it for simple browsing, or e-mail, or chatting, you created a door into your device, and a means for your information to become available to the snoops, and also for folks who want to misuse your device. The security solutions I mentioned before can barely keep up with the hacking world in this regard. And it only takes one mistake to open the backdoor into your system! The best you can do is try to limit the damage.

There are all kinds of snoops.  There are the ones trying to get at your confidential information to do something bad to you. There are those who are trying to misuse your personal information for other illicit purposes. There are those who are trying to legally or illegally gain some commercial advantage, trying to sell things to you by learning more about you from your computer.  And then there is the government that might suspect you of doing something illegal on your computer.

Why has it been so easy for people to get into our private systems?  For one thing, most of the systems that we work with have fundamental software design flaws that can be exploited.   Next, whenever you are connected into the Internet, you have an address at which you can be reached.  Then, for reasons of convenience, and for supporting required functionalities, systems also include means for others to get access to your working environment for legitimate purposes.  (For example, remote login capability exists for debugging purposes.)

Once you have an identity on the network, there are ways for people to try to access your system for both legitimate and nefarious purposes.  Every time you visit a website you are executing code from the website on your computer.  Websites leave cookies on your computer regularly when you browse them.  And sometimes you give outsiders access inadvertently by going to a website that interacts with your computer in a malicious manner.  Once you have have hit the wrong button on the browser screen, or in an e-mail, or even opened a malicious application file that you downloaded, you could be at the mercy of the entity on the the other side of the communication link established.

And then there are many of us who are willing to give up our privacy willingly in return for something  that we want.  It happens all the time when you give your information to companies like Facebook, or Google, or LinkedIn or Microsoft, to name a few.  It happens when you make a purchase at any online shopping  site like Amazon or even an Expedia.  And then the systems that these organizations use for storing all this information are not foolproof.  Personal information for millions of people have been stolen from the records of more than one government agency.

Your digital communications are themselves not safe from snooping.  Communications from your smart phone can be intercepted by fake cell towers, and communications through an ISP can be snooped upon directly.  Both the bad guys and the good guys take advantage of this approach.

There are rules and regulations meant to address many of the above scenarios to try to protect your privacy, but in many cases rules cannot keep up with either the technologies nor the human ingenuity when it comes to creating problems and creating chaos. Then there are the human tendencies that make us disregard the speed-bumps in the  processes that are meant to make us slow down and think for a minute.  We make mistakes that allow our privacy to be compromised. When was the last time one read a EULA?   When was the last time one read and reacted to the privacy statement (mandated by law) they received from their financial organization?  Do we accept and store all cookies offered up when browsing a website?

Tim Cook at Apple has decided that the privacy of the owner of a device must be protected at all costs.  In this case, he is talking about access to the contents of a device by a third party that has your device in their hands and wants to look into its contents without asking you.  They want to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do something like this. Recently Apple introduced the concept of having all the contents of the device encrypted, and limiting access to the decryption key to the the owner of the device (i.e., even Apple does not know what it is).  In order to be able to use the key, the user has to first get access to his or her device with a password.  If somebody tries to hack the password too many times, the device stops working completely.  The system is “bricked“.  The only way to break the system is to guess the password without too many attempts.  Apple does not have a back door in its current software that lets it bypass this security.

This is where government access to a device becomes the topic of discussion.  What the FBI has asked Apple to do is to hack into their own system so that they can read the contents of another person’s smartphone.  Apple is refusing in spite of being under a court order.  They are in a difficult place. If they attempt to break their own system and are successful, it could indicate that others could also find a way to hack into their supposedly super-secure system.  They designed the system to work this way for a reason!

Is Apple justified in refusing to cooperate with the FBI?  Under ideal conditions I would say that they are not, since once you become a part of a society and its systems and use it to your benefit, you have some responsibilities to the system also.  But we also know that the system is not infallible, and can easily be manipulated and misused (as shown by Edward Snowden).   And the tendency for misuse is somehow inbuilt into the system because of human nature and can perhaps never be fixed.

Where should the line be drawn with regards to trying to protect privacy under these circumstances? It is certainly a dilemma…

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Season

Unless I focus on the above topic from the perspective of the seasons in one’s life, I could end up going back to a familiar place and repeating myself in response to the weekly challenge since I have addressed the subject of the seasons in other photo challenges. (You can check our my submissions the past under the topics of Change, and also Happy Place.)

But I have no interest today in really saying anything about myself. Instead I will simply focus on this season of Winter up here in the northeast United States, and our experience of it during a walk we took last weekend on the C&O Canal towpath beside the Potomac.  We drove up to a section near Hagerstown, MD.

We ended up on a section of the trail in the area of Dam 4.
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The swiftly flowing river appears to be clear of ice in these parts.
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There is a still a layer of snow and ice on the trail.
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I suspect that some of the snow on the ground is from the blizzard a few weeks back.  The consistency of the white stuff has turned somewhat hard. There are larger ice crystals on the ground that catch the sunlight, and  we found that the surface was mostly capable of supporting our weight without giving in.  The traffic on the trail has been light before our arrival, and the snow has not compressed to ice (which would have made it a more slippery and dangerous path to traverse).  That having been said, it is still more difficult to walk on the snow than on the dirt.

The surface of the trail is not characterless.  There are the fallen branches that pop out of the ice.
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The dried leaves that have fallen on the ice can stand out.  I thought some of these even looked pretty.
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The leaves can even start a melting process since they seem to absorb the heat of the sun faster than the ice around them.
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The bladdernut pod has even created a cavity in the surface of the ice.
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And there is plenty of other life around.

The snow flies (are they also called stone flies?) are everywhere over the ice.
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There are plenty of bird sounds to be heard all around, from the cry of soaring hawks, to the loud “wuk, wuk” call of the pileated woodpecker.  There are many small birds in the bushes all around the trail.  These are difficult to spot unless one is looking carefully, but this little thrush was very cooperative.  It sat around while I took my time to change lenses to take its picture.
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Winter in our parts can certainly be more challenging than our other seasons, but there is still much to celebrate and enjoy if only you set you mind to it.

It is somewhat interesting to see the varied responses to this challenge.  Some of you in lower hemisphere are in the midst of summer (and a hot one in some places), while others in the northern hemisphere seem to be experiencing weather indicating that spring is on its way.  We are still in the throes of the winter season in our part of the world!

Unexpected Pleasures (Sept 10th, 2014)

One of the conversations I had with a high-school classmate during a reunion trip to New Mexico was regarding how much more accessible the outdoors have become here in the US since the days of our your youth when we came over from India.  It seems like there are many more parks and many more marked trails everywhere, created by all kinds of government and private entities, exposing us to more of the wonders of nature in the country.  It is a great thing!

But sometimes it is the unexpected that thrills the senses.  I was on my way to Cloudcroft, out of Alamagordo, driving up into the mountains on Route 82 from the high plains, when I came to a lookout point just before a tunnel.  This was a few miles away from Cloudcroft.  I could see White Sands behind me.
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The parking lot was empty except for this older couple who had come to the location on a motorbike.  The couple looked like a rough sort, and my first thought was caution.  (I was guilty of stereotyping!) But the woman was friendly.  She wished me hello and asked me if I had been on the trail.  I said I was not aware of the existence of a trail at this spot.  The gentleman then came up and told me about a trail that led from the lookout point down into the gorge between the hills where there was a stream flowing.  He said there were waterfalls.  He said that most people did not know about the trail, which was the best thing about this spot, and that he brought his grandchildren to the stream regularly.  Since I was being flexible in my schedule I decided that I would try the trail.  The gentleman told me that it started just beyond the lookout point, nearer to the tunnel, at a place where a black water pipe ran beside the road.  He then offered to walk up with me to show me the exact spot.  I grabbed my camera bag and followed.  When we arrived at the location of the pipe all I could see was a steep slope going down from the location of the pipe. I told myself that I was not going to give that slope a try today.  The gentleman laughed, saying that he would not attempt something like that at his age himself,  and then showed me a somewhat hidden trail leading off to the right, beside the road, on the other side of the guide rail.  He pointed to a cliff in the distance that the trail would pass and told me that there was a cave-like structure over there.  The cliff looked steep.  I was not convinced that would be passable but I was going to give it a shot.  I climbed over the guide rail and followed the unmarked trail.  Pretty soon I arrived at the cliff.  Indeed there was passable trail.
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Pretty soon I had descended the cliff and this is what I could see behind me.
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The parking lot seemed quite far away at the top of the cliffs, but in fact it had not taken me too long to get to this point.  Immediately in front of me was an opening into a shady wooded area.
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And there was indeed a stream flowing in the wooded area between the hills.
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I followed the stream to a series of very small waterfalls at the end of the trail.  I thought it was quite pretty.
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On the way back I took this picture.   It looked quite peaceful.
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During the walk back I also took my time to look at the flowers along the trail. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was just the beginning of a wonderful (though tiring) day.

And here is another picture of White Sands, a place I was was going to visit later that day.
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Here is another blog I wrote during the trip to New Mexico.

Gravitational Waves

The video in this link describes in a simple manner the consequences of the  recently announced discovery of Gravitational Waves.  Their existence is final proof that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is correct.  It also potentially gives us a new tool for extending astronomical observations so that we can learn more about our universe.

This discovery of gravitational waves also conclusively proves that Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, that is used effectively in everyday physics even to this day is only an approximation.  This approximation can still be used since it works in almost real life cases that we experience. The application of this law begins to fall apart where there are very large gravitational fields present due to massive objects and short distances between objects.  (Approximations are not necessarily a bad thing so long as you recognize them as such, and also recognize their limitations.)

Einstein was the genius who could see things beyond the boundaries of the normal human experiences that are the basis of all of our perceptions.  He could then come up with universal laws in this regard, laws that are based on science that can be proved and not simply based on belief.  He was an amazing person.

It is fashionable these days in some circles to challenge the scientific approach and scientific results, and to label some of these as beliefs, as if the scientific process is akin to following a religion and a belief system.  Such an attitude only shows ignorance, and a laziness when it comes to trying to understand things.  This kind of attitude is unfortunately increasing in societies that are supposed to be advanced.  Check this comic strip out.  (I do not want to reproduce the strip in its entirely here for fear of violating copyright.)

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

How does the photograph really capture life?
Can the imitation of art also be artistic?
Should the art that is being imitated be something created by somebody else?

In the first part of my response I have series of pictures of nature that in general look like paintings to me. Since paintings are works of art by definition (may not be good art, but art nonetheless!), I think these could fall into the category of life imitating art.IMG_7057IMG_7073IMG_7196IMG_7339OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I believe this last picture is more in tune with the theme imagined by the author of the challenge.
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For more pictures submitted for this week’s challenge visit this site.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time

Time is an integral part of almost everything that we experience in our lives today. Almost everything that we do takes into consideration the time factor, whether it be the time taken to accomplish the task, or the time at which the task is expected to begin, or where it should end.  The modern world also has an insatiable need to be as efficient as possible with regards to how time is spent.  We always seem to be in a hurry.

Perhaps it is useful to understand/recognize that the pervasiveness of the “time-factor” in human experience is something that has changed over history, and that time was not this important in times past.   (Some of you may already know the interesting story of the role played by the railroads in establishing time zones.)  These days the concept of time has been taken to its limits, with even fractions of seconds becoming significant in our experiences.  Athletic events are judged and winners determined by time differences that lie in the order of 100ths of seconds.  The timing of signals in the electronics that we all use today is at the nanosecond level.

I cannot help feeling that the human entanglement with the concept of time is at an unhealthy extreme today, and that this is perhaps the result of the advancement of technology and also what we call progress.  The way we interact with time today forms the basis of our continued existence as a civilization.  There is no escaping it.  (As an aside, it is interesting to note that physicists today are not even sure whether time exists at the most fundamental level of physical reality.)

But if we step back and and look at time from a more philosophical perspective, we can go in so many different directions with the theme!  Time may sometimes be defined by a state of mind.

The atmosphere in the pictures below gives me a feeling of time slowing down.

The pictures below make me think about the impact of the passage of time on the lives of people.  What happened to these people?  Why did they abandon these homes and did they go to a better place?

The pictures below remind me of the damage caused by humans to the planet over time.

Finally, time is topic covered in a lot of music.  Here is an oldie that I still enjoy listening to.