Time and time again

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...
English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d’Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is often said that Einstein considered time to be an illusion, and web sites which collect notable quotes often just claim that Einstein said “Time is an illusion“. This a classic case of taking a quote and posting it out of context. What Einstein actually said was more complex and more subtle.

He actually said:

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

He did not claim that time is an illusion, but that the moment of “now” is an illusion. In fact his equations give time the same status as space. For instance, the square of the space time interval between two events is defined by combining the square of the space interval minus the square of the time interval interval. (Provided all values are expressed in the same units.)

Time dilation spacetime diagram06
Time dilation spacetime diagram06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The details don’t matter too much here. The point is that time is treated equally with the space dimensions, and no one is claiming that Einstein was arguing that space does not exist. There are many references to be found on the Internet which explain Einstein’s ideas with variable clarity and accuracy.

I said above that Einstein argued that the instance of “now” is an illusion, but I was over simplifying. What I believe that he was saying was that while we experience a “now” now, we also experienced a “now” ten seconds ago, and one second ago, and one instant ago. There is nothing special about the “now” moment and all instants of time are “now” moments.


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This isn’t that surprising really. If you consider where you are at a particular place and at a particular time, not only is there a “now” moment, there is also a “here” place. When you move to another place, you have another “now” moment, and another “here” place. To experience an event you have to have both.

If we are taking a road trip we have no difficulty with the concept that the “here” place changes continually and that a place we have passed through was a “here” place when we passed through it, and that a place further on will later be a “here” place. Where ever we are we are “here”.

You might argue that time is fundamentally different from space, in that we can see what is in front of us in space but we can’t see what is in front of us in time. This is true, but maybe we just don’t have the physical equipment to do so. We can use sight to look around as see what is not “here”, to some extent, but we don’t have complete visibility to things around us.

If we did we would not bump into things and fall off of things as much as we do. We use sight to build a picture of things around us, but we don’t have physical access to those things until we move up to them.

Human hand icon
Human hand icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we don’t have “time vision” we have use whatever abilities we can to work out what is in the future, such as reason and intuition, both of which have limited success. We do have some ability to fairly accurately guess the future, as evidenced by our abilities to catch a ball thrown to us. If you have ever watched a top table-tennis match, you will no doubt be amazed at how accurately we can so this, as the ball whizzes from end to end of the table.

Time is measured in seconds and space is measured in metres (or hours and yards or other equivalent units). This seems to be a difference between the space dimensions and the time dimension.

Time dilation spacetime diagram05
Time dilation spacetime diagram05 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However it is easy to show that there is little fundamental difference. Distances are often measured in terms of time – astronomers refer to a light year, which is the distance that light travels in one year. It is not often, however, that the opposite is true. Times could be measured in terms of light metres, or the time it takes light to move a given number of metres, but this is not usual, possibly because a light metre is such a very short period of time.

Interestingly some people claim to be able to “see” the future. They are claiming that they have a sense similar to vision which they use to determine what is going to happen in the future. While it is possibly conceivable to have such a sense, there appear to be no organs in the body which could be used to “view” the future.

Panoramic view of the future Phoenix-Lake from...
Panoramic view of the future Phoenix-Lake from the observation deck of the Phoenix-Lake Infopoint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such organs would have to have receptors which would have to receive information about the future just as the eyes receive information about things that are relatively distant, and that information would have to travel in time from the future to reach the receptors in the present. This appears to be counter to all known physics. Possibly “unknown physics” would allow this, but I suspect not.

In any case the human body doesn’t appear to have any receptors which could possibly serve this purpose, and although not everything is known about the human body, such organs, if such existed and could be used by some people, would be probably be apparent.

English: "Sight" - First of a series...
English: “Sight” – First of a series of 5 engravings illustrating the five senses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about the brain? Could the brain perhaps receive information about future events in some way? Well, the brain is an organ for processing information, not for receiving information from the future.  There is nothing like a receptor in the brain, though it is connected via nerves to receptors which terminate those nerves and when stimulated excite the nerves which then pass the stimulation to the brain.

In my opinion, which of course could be wrong, there is no way that information from the future could be detected by the human body, and in particular by the brain acting as a receptor. That does not mean that time is in any way different from space as a dimension. What it does mean is that we are able to perceive the dimensions of space differently from the dimension of time.

Diagram of human brain
Diagram of human brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That doesn’t address the question as to why the space dimensions are accessible to vision and time is not. It only addresses the question of why we can “see” the space dimension, but cannot “see” the time dimension. Something links the space dimensions into one seeming whole, while the time dimension seem singularly different.


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Imagine this….

Flying Swan
Drawn using Python and Matplotlib. This picture is serendipitous and not intended.

[Grr! While I finished my previous post, I didn’t publish it. Darn it.]

Since I’ve been playing around with computer generated images recently, my thoughts turned to how we see images. When you look at a computer or television screen these days, you are looking at a matrix of pixels. A pixel can be thought of as a very tiny point of light, or a location that can be switched on and off very rapidly.

Pixels are small. There’s 1920 across my screen at the current resolution, and while I can just about see the individual pixels if I look up close, they are small. To get the same resolution with an array of 5cm light bulbs, the screen would need to be 96 metres in size! You’d probably want to sit at about 150m from the screen to watch it.

A closeup of pixels.
A closeup of pixels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The actual size of a pixel is a complicated matter, and depends on the resolution setting of your screen. However, the rating of a camera sensor is a different matter entirely. When I started looking into this, I thought that I understood it, but I discovered that I didn’t.

What complicates things as regards camera sensor resolutions is that typically a camera will store an image as a JPG/JPEG image file, though some will save the image as a RAW image file. The JPG format is “lossy” so some information is lost in the process (though typically not much). RAW image file are minimally processed from the sensor data so contain as much information about what the sensor sees as is possible. Naturally they are larger than JPG format images.


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When we look at a screen we don’t see an array of dots. We pretty much see a smooth image. If the resolution is low, we might consider the image to be grainy, or fuzzy, but we don’t actually “see” the individual pixels as such, unless we specifically look closely. This is because the brain does a lot of processing of an image before we “see” it.

I’ve used the scare quotes around the word “see”, because seeing is very much a mental process. The brain cells extend right out to the eye, with the nerves from the eye being connected directly into the brain.

Schematic diagram of the human eye in greek.
Schematic diagram of the human eye in greek. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The eye, much like a camera, consists of a hole to let in the light, a lens to focus it, and sensor at the back of the eye to capture the image. Apparently the measured resolution of the eye is 576 megapixels, but the eye has a number of tricks to improve its apparent resolution. Firstly, we have two eyes and the slightly different images are used to deduce detail that one eye alone will not resolve. Secondly, the eye moves slightly and this also enables it to deduce more detail than would be apparent otherwise.

That said, the eye is not made of plastic metal and glass. It is essentially a ball of jelly, mostly opaque but with a transparent window in it. The size of the window or pupil is controlled by small muscles which contract or expand the size of the pupil depending on the light level (and other factors, such as excitement).

English: A close up of the human eye. Notice t...
English: A close up of the human eye. Notice the reflection of the photographer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The light is focused on to an area at the back of the eye, which is obviously not flat, but curved. Most the focusing is done by the cornea, the outermost layer of the eye, but the lens is fine tuned by muscles which stretch and relax the lens as necessary. This doesn’t on the face of it seem as accurate as a mechanical focusing system.

In addition to these factors, human eyes are prone to various issues where the eye cannot focus properly, such as myopia (short sightedness) or hyperopia (long sightedness) and similar issues. In addition the jelly that forms the bulk of the eye is not completely transparent, with “floaters” obstructing vision. Cataracts may cloud the front of the cornea, blurring vision.

English: Artist's impression of appearance of ...
English: Artist’s impression of appearance of ocular floaters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When all this is considered, it’s amazing that our vision works as well as it does. One of the reasons that it does so well is, as I mentioned above, the amazing processing that our brains. Interestingly, what it works with is the rods and cones at the back of the eye, which may or may not be excited by light falling on them. This in not exactly digital data, since the associated nerve cells may react when the state of the receptor changes, but it is close.

It is unclear how images are stored in the brain as memories. One thing is for sure, and that is that it is not possible to dissect the brain and locate the image anywhere in the brain. Instead an image is stored, as it is in a computer, as a pattern. I suspect that the location of the pattern may be variable, just as a file in a computer may move as files are moved about.

Expanded version, with explanations.
Expanded version, with explanations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mind processes images after the raw data is captured by the eye and any gaps (caused by, for example, blood vessels in the eye blocking the light). This is why, most of the time, we don’t notice floaters, as the mind edits them out. The mind also uses the little movements of the eye to refine information that the mind uses to present the image to our “mind’s eye“. The two eyes, and the difference between the images on the backs of them also helps to build up the image.

It seems likely to me that memories that come in the form of images are not raw images, but are memories of the image that appears in the mind’s eye. If it were otherwise the image would lacking the edits that are applied to the raw images. If I think of an image that I remember, I find that it is embedded in a narrative.

Narrative frieze.
Narrative frieze. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That is, it doesn’t just appear, but appears in a context. For instance, if I recall an image of a particular horse race, I remember it as a radio or television commentary on the race. Obviously, I don’t know if others remember images in a similar way, but I suspect that images stored in the brain are not stored in isolation, like computer files, but as part of a narrative. That narrative may or may not relate to the occasion when the image was acquired. Indeed the narrative may be a total fiction and probably exists so that the mental image may be easily retrieved.

One bubble memory track and loop
One bubble memory track and loop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Crime and Punishment

English: Donald Trump at a press conference an...
English: Donald Trump at a press conference announcing David Blaine’s latest feat in New York City at the Trump Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Donald Trump got into trouble the other for, if you read the media, suggesting that women who seek abortions should be punished if abortion was made illegal in the US. Much as I dislike the Trump and fear for the US and possibly the world if he should become president, he is right.

It’s the conditional that makes the difference. If abortion was to be made illegal, it would make it a crime, and all crimes have an associated punishment. I think that Trump made a political misstep, and that he should have stood firm on the matter, explaining the logic of his statement.

A bar chart depicting selected data from the 1...
A bar chart depicting selected data from the 1998 AGI meta-study on the reasons women stated for having an abortion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He doesn’t even have to support the outlawing of abortion. He just has to explain the logic. Of course, if abortion were illegal, then the doctors and nurses who perform the operation would also be help responsible and punished. But if abortion were ruled illegal then the woman seeking the abortion would be breaking the law, and that implies punishment.

I personally believe that abortion, per se, should never be made illegal, although it should not be treated as just another birth control method, and should not be undertaken casually by the woman, or casually by the doctors and nurses. Clearly something living dies in the process.


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The Trump got caught out by knee-jerk and politically based reactions all round. Logically, the stand makes sense – if a crime is committed, then the perpetrators should be punished. Trump wisely backed down on this position in the case of a hypothetical law, and may have missed his chance at the presidency because of this political gaffe on a hypothetical situation!

Crime and punishment go together like Adam and Eve, like right and left, like good and evil, like a fine rump steak and a good Cab Sav. Ahem. As a determinist, I feel that choice is illusory and that the apparent choices that we make in fact depend totally on past events that narrow down our options to just one.


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Let’s take the case of a woman who “chooses” to have an abortion. She may have been informed that this is the safest option by medical specialists, she may be carrying a child who will not be viable when delivered because of genetic and other defect, or she may unable to care for a child for whatever reason. There is always a reason.

The woman balances all the information that comes to her and uses that information to “choose” to have an abortion. What really happens is that all the factors added together result in her trying to get an abortion.

English: Female demonstrator wearing a hat in ...
English: Female demonstrator wearing a hat in Madrid. It says “Abortion is my freedom, my choice.” She protested against Pope visit to Spain. Español: Chica manifestante con un sombrero en Madrid. Protesta contra la visita del papa a España. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You could of course argue that she could/should have decided to have the baby and adopt it out (assuming that the child is viable outside the womb, but that option is often not viable.

In general, punishment of a criminal is used to deter other criminals (and the criminal his/her self) from committing a similar crime in the future. Punishment should always give the criminal and similar people like him/her pause for thought. It is a factor that determines whether or not someone commits the crime in the future.

Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a criminal is thinking about committing a crime he/she will (consciously or unconsciously) consider the implications. If he/she chances it anyway, that will be because the pros outweigh the cons from their point of view at the time, not as a result of any free choice.

If someone is starving they may well steal a loaf of bread as one of the pros in the case may be continuing to live. This trumps any cons there may be if the person is desperate enough. Of course the person may be caught and fined or imprisoned or even transported to Australia, but at least he/she will be alive!

Tolpuddle Martyrs' Memorial Shelter, Tolpuddle...
Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Memorial Shelter, Tolpuddle Tolpuddle, Dorset, UK. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The justice system still works even if the concept of choice is removed. The person who commits a crime does so because they cannot do otherwise, and any punishment is merely the result of the actions that the person is destined to take. Such punishment is seen by others and becomes a factor that is considered when another person is contemplating a similar crime.

All the factors that go into the mental consideration of committing a crime result in either the crime being committed or not. They don’t result in a choice being made as the factors involved result in the person committing the crime or alternatively the factors may add up to the person not committing the crime.

English: 'Campus Watch' sign, Belfast One of d...
English: ‘Campus Watch’ sign, Belfast One of dozens erected around the university area of Belfast, this sign promotes the ‘Campus Watch’ scheme for students. Developed by the police in Belfast in partnership with the Northern Ireland Office, University of Ulster & Queen’s Students’ Union, it is similar to a neighbourhood watch scheme and promotes practical crime prevention for students. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you get people to “make a choice” where they have no sufficiently compelling reason to “choose” one way or another, they find it very difficult to do so. For example if you put a person in a room with two unmarked buttons and told them to push a button when a buzzer went, I’d say that they would initially have great difficulty, but once they had pushed a button once, it would become easier, I suspect.

If asked why they pushed one button on the third trial, they might reply that they had pressed the other button twice so it was the button’s turn to be pressed. Consciously or unconsciously I’d suggest that they would be led to make the choices random.

English: 'Arcade Button' photo by Daniel, free...
English: ‘Arcade Button’ photo by Daniel, free to use (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the experimenter then pauses the test and mentions that the subject had favoured one button over the other and then continued, I’d guess that this would cause the subject to favour the unfavoured button more. I have no idea if such experiments have been done.

We are machines of meat, and machines don’t have any choice – they behave in a way that is built in, or lately, programmed in. Would you punish a machine that gives an answer that doesn’t satisfy you? You’d maybe add a new input into the machine to achieve a desired result.


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In humans punishment is a new input. It could affect the result of the calculation that the brain makes and hence the human would come up with a result different to the result that would be observed without the punishment. Perhaps if or when machines become intelligent, it may be that we will need to introduce the concept of punishment to make them do what is required. Let’s hope not.


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Classification

"Father! Father! / Tell me what ails thee...
“Father! Father! / Tell me what ails thee? / With dismay thou art filling thy child!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, wow, drat and other words of dismay. I haven’t thought of a topic for this week and it is time to write my post. Time to get started.

OK, people seem to like classifying things. This can be so that they can find one item in a large collection of things, or it may be simply a means of bolstering prejudices that they might have. Or any of a myriad number of other reasons.

Garbage Can
Garbage Can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When faced with a profusion of things, the human impulse is to classify them. One of the most famous classification systems is that of Carl Linnaeus, whose classification system is used for the not so trivial task of classifying all living things. His system, with modifications is still the basis for biological classification of all organisms.

Digitally improved version of Alexander Roslin...
Digitally improved version of Alexander Roslin’s painting of Carl von Linné. This particular version has had dust and missing specs of paint deleted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Linnaeus started his classification, it is likely that partial schemes would likely have been in place to classify small groups of organisms, but Linnaeus extended this to all organisms, in an organised way. When someone states that mankind’s scientific name is “Homo Sapiens”, he or she is using the Linnaeus system, at least partially.

“Homo” represents mankind’s Genus, and “Sapiens” is mankind’s  Species, but the species is merely a leaf on the classification tree, which is rooted in the Animalia Kingdom, and descends through Phylum, Class, Order, Family, and Tribe, (which I’m not going to list here) and finally to the Genus and Species.

Darwin's tree of life
Darwin’s tree of life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Linnaeus’ system is still in use today, but the emphasis has changed somewhat. When he was doing his work, the classification was based on appearance, and while that is often a good guide to an organism’s place in nature, emphasis has now shifted to the genetic make up of organisms to determine their correct classification.

Agapornis phylogeny
Agapornis phylogeny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This has sometimes resulted in whole chunks of the classification tree being moved from one branch to another as knowledge of the genetics of the organisms has come to light. It is obvious that if two organisms have similar genetic make ups, then they must be closely related. Also, it implies that they almost certainly have a common ancestor, and such an ancestor is also fitted into the tree of life and given a species name.

Horned Dinosaur Phylogeny
Horned Dinosaur Phylogeny (Photo credit: Scott Wurzel)

This adds a time dimension to the genetic tree, turning it from a static representation of living organisms into a dynamic picture of all life over all time. The tree of life is evolving.

Another great classification system is the Dewey Decimal Classification system, a proprietary library classification system used to classify books. Every book in a library is assigned a number, which in most cases would not be unique. The number consists of two parts separated by a period (‘.’). Most library users would be aware of the system, and will have used it to locate books.

Spine Books Label show Call Number for Dewey D...
Spine Books Label show Call Number for Dewey Decimal Classification. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the system can classify books in great detail, merely by extending the number after the period to many decimal points, most libraries classify their books in much less detail, using only two or three digits as a suffix. This results in groups of books receiving the same number, with the books in a group sharing a common topic, while differing in detail.

get to know the dewey decimal system
get to know the dewey decimal system (Photo credit: susannaryan)

For instance a particular number may be assigned by the library whose topic might be the geography of the country of Bolivia. (The actual number is 918.4). The library might have only one or two books on the subject of the country of Bolivia, so that number is sufficient to locate any of them.

In the country of Bolivia itself, however, there will almost certainly be many more books on the topic and the Dewey Decimal Classification almost certainly contains more detailed classification numbers which would have to be used in Bolivia libraries to classify the geography books. (I’ve not checked this “factoid” but it is probably true).

Shelf of Books on South America
Shelf of Books on South America (Photo credit: pkdon50)

So the Dewey Decimal Classification system can be hair-splittingly  accurate or broadly general in its application and this flexibility is ideal for libraries. Sometime libraries use a sort of hybrid system, probably driven by the need for a sub-classification where some books have been already more generally classified, where some books are classified as “something.12” and other books are classified as “something.123”. In most cases this inconsistency doesn’t matter.

Topographic map of Bolivia. Created with GMT f...
Topographic map of Bolivia. Created with GMT from public domain GLOBE data. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just realised on writing that, that it may not be inconsistency at all. Instead the “something.123” books may be more specific than the “something.12” books, which would therefore be more general.

An obvious difficulty with the Dewey Decimal Classification system is that there is no cross-reference possible. In the Bolivia example, a book may cover the topic of the geographic causes of distribution of various related Bolivian species of some organism or other. Is this to be classified as biology and be assigned to a class in the 500s (Pure Science), or should it be classified as geography and assigned to a class in the 900s?

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nowadays one can do a computer search and come up with a bunch of numbers that fit the topic that is being researched. In the days before computers there were card-based “Topic Catalogs” which would also provide the searcher with a bunch of numbers. The trouble is, many searches would result in multiple numbers, either as a result of a card search or a computer search.  One would then have to go to several locations to decide if the required topic was covered by this Dewey Decimal Classification number or one of the others. I make it sound bad, but really, it wasn’t, and the issue is more a user confusion about what was covered by each topic in the system rather than an issue with the system itself.

Banner for Wikipedia:WikiProject Lists of topics
Banner for Wikipedia:WikiProject Lists of topics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A computer search (on Google for example) will provide a list of possible references to a search term, but as anyone has used a computer search is aware, a search term can refer to many topics. A search for the word Socrates gave me a list including a Wikipedia article on the philosopher himself, a list of quotes taken from his work, a biography of the philosopher and a site where his philosophies could be discussed. And that is just the first four items out of an estimated 6 million or so.

Google
Google (Photo credit: warrantedarrest)

Classification of things seems to be a trait of humans. I think that we classify things to simplify things for ourselves, to make it easy to identify threats and possibilities. As such, it is probably an inherited trait possessed by at least the more developed organisms on the planet. However classification can add complexity if one is searching for something, so it is something of a trade off.

google_logo
google_logo (Photo credit: keso)

Counting.

English: Counting sheep at Newport Cattle Mark...
Counting Sheep

If you want to count sheep, count the legs and divide by four. This piece of faux folk-wisdom has, as is usual in such cases, a grain of truth. The human eye finds it easier to distinguish elongated objects if the axes of the object are separated and perpendicular (or so I believe). It is easier to count the candles mounted on a cake than the same candles arranged in a line. This – | | | | | | | – is easier to count than this – _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , I feel. (I’ve used Google to see if I can find evidence and came across this, which seems to align with what I am saying, though I’ve not accessed the paper).

Ankole cattle
Ankole cattle

If I am correct it is easier to, say, count the horns on a herd of cattle and divide by two than count their backs. It occurs to me that an optical-electrical counting device might have issues in this regard too, since a leg might stand out from the background, and produce a short pulse in the sensor, but a whole cow might take a while and its colours would blend into the next cow.  Of course, one could always use higher technology to resolve the issue with respect to cow counting, (RFIDs in ear tags would be an obvious solution), but it doesn’t solve the wider issue.

Maybe the reason that the counting device and the eye/brain find it easier to distinguish objects orientated (roughly) perpendicular to  their (roughly) linear arrangement is similar. If they are (roughly) aligned in the same direction as their linear arrangement they may, possibly, overlap, and this can confuse sensor and/or eye. Was that one, two, or three objects that passed the sensor? It’s easy if they are perpendicular, but harder if they are aligned.

English: Geometrical-optical illusions: horizo...
English: Geometrical-optical illusions: horizontal/vertical anisotropy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m pretty much reduced to saying the same thing in different words, but I hope that what I am trying to get at is clear. It may or may not be relevant that humans and higher primates tend to stand more or less vertically, so one individual is more easily distinguished from others than an individual cow is from the herd.

Cow!
Cow! (Photo credit: StickerEsq)

Android app

I discovered an Android app for WordPress, so I’m giving it a try. (I may remove this post later).

The trouble is I don’t yet have a topic. Well, I haven’t yet posted any photographs, apart from the ones that I’ve used as illustrations.

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Back lit tree fern frond.
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I’m not good on plant names. This might be an azalea.
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Grass. I was trying to capture the shape of the grass in the rather long lawn.
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Grass and weeds. At this level the lawn seemed to be a battleground of competing species.