Caught my Attention

Was it…

The spring flowers that lined the trail with different colors in different in sections,
Or the light tinge of green beginning to appear among the branches of the trees;

The big fat bird that I sighted in the distance,
That kept running away from me along the trail as I slowly caught up with it,
That eventually managed to lift its huge and somewhat ungainly body off the ground
and disappear into the woods around a corner;

The small turtle crossing the trail oblivious to the dangers posed by folks like me;

The big turtles perched on the logs in the waters of the canal warming themselves,
Or swimming in the clear waters with their backs sticking out above water level;

The incredibly bright red cardinals zipping across the trail in front of me;

The extremely loud pecking of the woodpecker ringing through the woods;

The fox crossing the trail and the canal as I approached;

The barred owl that rose from a tree just beside the trail as I went by,
Flying off to settle on a tree further away from the trail to stare at me;

The vultures that reluctantly rose from the trail as I approached,
Only to land on the trees above the trail to watch me go by;

The appearance of the two dogs that seemed to have no master,
One approaching me with an awkward and sideways gait,
Seemingly looking at me warily out of the corner of one eye,
And the other running away to the berm side of the canal to stare at me from the distance?

But the overall result was a great time riding my bike even though I did not stop to smell the roses, and even as I covered 20 miles in each direction along the towpath in  preparation for the ride from Pittsburgh to the DC area happening later in the year.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Landscape

When I think about landscapes,  I think about the drama of the wide open spaces of Nature. My hope is to be able to capture this in pictures.  I also hope to be able to show the sometimes spectacular interaction between the skies and the earth.  I think of wide-angle shots and of panoramic viewing.   Here are some examples.

Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga), New Zealand.

Uluru, in the Australian Outback.

Kata Tjuta, in the Australian Outback.

In Senegal, not far from Dakar.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

The pictures above are probably best viewed when clicked-through.  Other submissions for the challenge can be seen here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Half-Light

“Morning Has Broken” as performed by Cat Stevens
Eleanor Farjeon

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day


A farm in the countryside beside the C&O Canal towpath trail.


Early morning light on the Potomac


Boat goes out into the bay early in the morning at Paihia, New Zealand.


Daybreak at Rotorua, New Zealand.


“The End”
The Beatles

Oh yeah, all right
Are you going to be in my dreams


And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love
You make

The sun sets over LAX.

Other entries for the challenge here.

Continue reading Weekly Photo Challenge: Half-Light

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dance

Although experts and purists might object to this statement, I believe that there has always been “dancing” of one kind or another, mostly spontaneous, at the family’s annual gatherings.  Perpetrators of what some may consider to be crimes against the art of dancing shall remain unidentified.  (I am always happy to remove a picture or two if you see yourself and object.)

You can have fun coming up with captions for these pictures.  For example, the first picture could be called The Coffee Cup dance.










Here are more submissions to this week’s challenge.


How many of you have heard of CRISPR?   I gather from the Wikipedia article that it somehow holds the key to a gene editing technology that is relatively simple to implement compared to  older methods in this field.  Pioneers in this area of science include Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier.   This is mind-blowing stuff with many practical applications.   You can develop approaches to tackling diseases by modifying the DNA itself.  (Think of approaches to attacking cancer in the most efficient manner without having any of the current side-effects of such treatment.) You can easily modify the DNA of pests such as mosquitoes that spread diseases as a form of pest control.  You can easily modify the DNA of plants so that they are more useful to humans. You can easily modify the properties of microorganisms so that they are less dangerous to humans, and perhaps even do useful things for them.  The possibilities are endless, and therein lies the problem.

It is a fact that we human beings have played a very significant part in determining the nature of the lifeforms that exist on this planet today.  As a process of evolution, human beings have changed over the centuries, and we have also managed to impact a lot of the things around us that we find in “nature”.  If you think that all the meats and the fruits and vegetables that we buy in the grocery store are all “natural”, think again.  They have all taken the form they are today only because we as humans have managed to affect changes to the lifeforms that are the basis of our foods in a certain way to our benefit.  We have dominated the environment of our planet in this context.  In addition to the evolutionary changes that we have caused (sped up through the process of efficient “farming”), we have also been affecting faster and more deliberate genetic changes through science in the last century or so.  While we may not have looked at what we were doing with that perspective, we have always been playing God.  And while all of this is happening, there is this moment every once in a while when we momentarily pause to consider the ethical impact of what we are doing.

The pace is now about to pick up significantly!  With simpler technology for gene editing, we have the capability to move forward much faster.  Not only that, we have the ability to open up newer frontiers in science, and with that raise a bunch of new ethical questions.

Medicine has always been about trying to take care of the problems of human beings at all stages of life and very often regardless of the costs involved.  We have been successful in extending human life significantly (for what reason, one is not always sure).  We are all about trying to make sure that people are healthy and that we overcome any health issue with all the resources available.  With the new gene repair technology, having access to all of this can become only a matter of cost.  There are of course always ethical questions involved when cost enters the picture.

But the more intriguing ethical dilemma to me will be about the process of creating a life.  It seems that not only will will be able to fix problems after birth, but we may even be able to address them before we are born.  Wow!  For example, if there is a risk of Down’s syndrome in a baby, perhaps we can now do something about it very easily before the baby is born!  Now, we are really playing God.

I suspect that some people are going to be appalled by the ethical questions that are raised, as if we are crossing some barrier that must not be breached.  But truth we told, we have always been playing God, and we have always been willing to accept any science and technology that we feel is to our benefit.  Only now the pace of “progress” increases, and this progress continues relentlessly.  It is all a continuum and the barriers that are only in our minds will be hurdled over before too long.   Where we are headed, nobody really knows.  This process started a long time ago.

The really crazy thing about all of this is even as science and technology leads us fearlessly across new frontiers, we are still unable to address some other basic requirements for humanity to thrive.  We still have inequality in the world. We still have poverty and hunger.  Crazy!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Harmony

Considering that I sing in an acappella chorus in a chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, this should be an ideal topic for me to address if there were no pictures involved!

I could also talk about my attempts to achieve harmony with nature through my outdoor activities, but I have already done that too many times already!

So, this time I have decided to take a different perspective.  I have some pictures that attempt to demonstrate some examples of what I think is a visual harmony of some sort, sometimes achieved somewhat unintentionally, between something natural and something created by human beings.  Hopefully I do not have to say anything more.







Here are more submissions for the the challenge.

Cryptography Pioneers Receive ACM A.M. Turing Award

Modern day cryptography involves some absolutely fascinating math, some of which I have been fortunate to have been exposed to while working in the field of digital video broadcast systems.  The requirement that calls for the use of cryptography in video distribution is protection the content from pirates attempting to steal the video content.  At the most fundamental level,  the audio/video data that is transmitted is encrypted so that it is not in the clear for anybody and everybody to pick up.  One has to apply the process of decryption in order to recover the original content from a data stream (or bitstream).

The nature of the encryption process determines how easy it is for somebody to break the code in order to obtain the clear version of the data that is being sent.   When symmetric block ciphers are used for encryption, you need the encryption keys to figure out how to decrypt the data.  To break the system one could try to guess at the encryption key, or try to intercept the key that is being sent to the receiver separately.  In general, the shorter the encryption key, the quicker the guessing process is. The Data Encryption Standard (DES) that was more commonly used in the past has become easily breakable with the power of computers today.  These days, the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), with its longer block sizes and keys, is more commonly used.  AES block ciphers are hard to crack using the brute force of computers even today. If you are trying to do this in real time with a stream of data that is being transmitted, it becomes close to impossible. (People used to think that the NSA had a backdoor into the AES algorithm.  Nowadays people talk more about capability the NSA might have to break the standard using raw computer power rather than by using a backdoor.)

Protection of the content being transmitted does not depend simply on the fact that data is encrypted.  The encryption only assures that nobody can make sense of the data easily as it is being sent.  The security is actually in the knowledge of the key that is needed to decrypt the data, and most efforts to break a system focus on this aspect of the system design.   In a real system there is some form of data exchange between the source and the destination related to the key, and security is compromised if this is discovered.   In any case, when it comes to video distribution, there are many additional strategies applied along with the  data stream encryption process itself in order to protect the content.

The Turing Award is being awarded this year to Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman for their invention of Public-Key Cryptography and Digital Signatures.  The concept is quite brilliant!  It is based on the use of an asymmetric cipher, something quite different from the symmetric block ciphers described earlier.  When a symmetric block cipher is used, the same key is used in the processes for encryption and decryption.  With an asymmetric cipher, the key being used for encryption is different from that used for decryption.  There is a relationship between the encryption key (also called the public key) and the decryption key (also called the private key) that cannot be guessed because of the complexity of the math involved in generating the key pair.  What this allows an entity to do is then distribute a public key in the clear to everybody for use in the communications process with itself, knowing that data that is generated during the communications process using this key pair cannot be made proper sense of by any other entity without the use of the correct decryption key, something which remains private.

The algorithms used for Public-key cryptography are more complex than those used for the block ciphers in use today and are ill-suited for real-time streaming of data.  Today, public key cryptography is primarily used for digital authentication of content and the creation of digital signatures that can be used to confirm the identity of the entity that you are communicating with. In the case of video broadcasting, they generally tend to be used for protecting the keys that are used in association with the block cipher encrypted audio/video data that is transmitted.

This is a fascinating subject, but you really need to know your math to delve deeper. There is a great book, a bible if you will, on the subject of Cryptography by Bruce Schneier, that anybody who is interested in the topic should read.