Communion Of Dreams


“Greetings from a fan.”

That’s how the email started. Here’s part of how it continued:

Just completed Communion Of Dreams, and was delighted with the story!  In fact, I sat with my Kindle, a good pipe and spent the time to read it front to back in one sitting.  Its been a long time since I found a story that captivated me like this, a joy to read and keep.  Thanks for the wonderful work, this is what good fiction is all about, a storyteller with a good tale and and time to enjoy the story in the telling.

It’s always good to hear from people, to get feedback. Particularly when they so obviously have such good taste and discerning judgment.  ;)

Isaac has arrived. I think already today we’ve had more rain than we’ve had in the previous two months, perhaps longer. Last I checked the forecast is for another 4″ or more over the course of the weekend.

No flooding yet. Not of either the weather nor the ideas variety.

That’s OK. These things arrive when they do, like kindly reviews and comments in the email.

Jim Downey



Waiting for it.

They say Isaac will be paying us a visit.

* * * * * * *

I’ve previously talked about the Drake Equation, and how new information from a host of sources is changing the calculus of expectation — expectation of what is waiting for us out in the universe.

Well, via Wired and BoingBoing, there’s a new fun graphical tool now available to explore the Drake Equation. Check it out:

Drake equation: How many alien civilizations exist?

* * * * * * *

From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:

“But in any event, as Arthur Bailey said this morning ‘where are they?’ Where are the aliens? That’s what’s bothering me.”

* * * * * * *

They say Isaac will be paying us a visit.

I’m in a somewhat weird headspace right now. Maybe that’s the reason for it. We’re suffering such a drought that it seems almost surreal that there may be rain this weekend. And not just a little rain: current forecast models say between two and six inches, most of it in about a 24 hour period. That won’t break the drought, but it would cause flash floods.

Like I said, surreal.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking — and thinking hard — about the Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well. But all my thoughts seem to be random, chaotic. Nothing will quite ‘gel’, to use another reference from Communion of Dreams.

But when it does, I think there will be a flood.

Jim Downey



“The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”

That’s the title of a NYT article a friend sent me. It’s long, more than a bit depressing, and probably something that every aspiring author should read.  More than that, it’s probably something that every book consumer should read. Because if you’re going by book reviews listed online, well, you might be reading nothing more than “artificially embellished reviews” in the words of one former business owner who brokered such reviews for authors.

Why do people do this? Money. From the article:

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.

And why do authors seek such services? Same reason. Gaming the system to have a bunch of fake reviews posted helps to boost sales, building the dynamic which leads to a self-supporting “best seller.” People love the idea of being part of something successful. This is why marketers of all sorts seek to create “buzz” — that kind of attention is the Holy Grail of selling anything. Again, from the article:

One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.

So, what to do about it?

There’s no easy answer, for either a writer or a reader. Ideally, you should be able to read a review and tell whether the person actually read the book or not. But you can’t trust that. Believe me — I wrote advertising copy for several years after college and before grad school, and I got to the point where I could convince almost anyone that whatever product I was writing about was *FANTASTIC* whether or not I had ever even tried the product, let alone whether I liked it. Any competent writer could churn out ‘reviews’ for books they’ve never read by the dozens.

So, what then? Because reviews really do make a difference — having a solid body of honest reviews has helped others decide to give my books a try. That’s why I keep asking people to do them: it helps. A lot.

But what I think helps even more is word-of-mouth. Well, the internet equivalent of it, anyway. Which is people — real people — posting their thoughts/recommendations about a book on their favorite forum/blog/twitter/Facebook wall. I haven’t hit this mechanism nearly as much as I probably should since the initial launch of both Her Final Year and Communion of Dreams, but that’s because I hate bugging people.

But I’m going to swallow my pride and ask when it comes time to kick off the Kickstarter Project for St. Cybi’s Well that I keep mentioning. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that the Kickstarter will either succeed or fail according to how much promotional support it gets from people who have read Communion of Dreams.

So if you read that book, and enjoyed it, and would like to read another component in my over-arching story — be ready to help spread the word.

Thanks. In advance. There will be more tangible expressions of my appreciation coming soon.

Jim Downey

PS: Editing (Sept. 3) to add another link addressing this problem: RJ Ellory’s secret Amazon reviews anger rivals 



Have a shot of oxygen.

There are a lot of ways we die. Massive trauma. Heart failure. Diseases of the organs which cause other body systems to shut down. But one of the more common mechanisms of death is lack of oxygen in the blood, what is called hypoxemia in the medical community. Without adequate oxygen in your blood, your brain and other organs start to die at the cellular level within minutes (in most conditions).

Hypoxemia can be caused by many different things, including a wide range of diseases and a variety of trauma. But if you can keep the blood oxygenated, you can buy time to treat the underlying cause. In the case of someone who has drowned, for example, this can be as simple as CPR. In other cases a heart-lung machine can keep someone alive while awaiting a transplant.

The problem is that sometimes it is impossible to buy that time. Maybe CPR isn’t viable. Maybe you’re too far from a hospital for other immediate treatments. Maybe it’d just take too long to get someone stable. In which case, this might work:

n a new study, published online today in ScienceTranslational Medicine, he and colleagues report the development of microparticles filled with oxygen gas that can be injected directly into the bloodstream. The particles quickly dissolve, releasing the gas and keeping organs, such as the brain, from suffocating.

* * *

The microparticles are tiny bubbles whose surfaces are membranes already used clinically to administer chemotherapy drugs and ultrasound dyes. But while those microparticles release their contents slowly, Kheir and his collaborators designed oxygen-containing particles that would dissolve as soon as they hit the bloodstream. They then tested the microparticles in rabbits breathing air low in oxygen. Within seconds of receiving the microbubbles, the levels of oxygen in the rabbits’ blood rose from a dangerously low 70% to nearly 100% saturation, the ideal level.

Promising. Very promising. From the abstract of the paper:

We have developed an injectable foam suspension containing self-assembling, lipid-based microparticles encapsulating a core of pure oxygen gas for intravenous injection. Prototype suspensions were manufactured to contain between 50 and 90 ml of oxygen gas per deciliter of suspension. Particle size was polydisperse, with a mean particle diameter between 2 and 4 μm. When mixed with human blood ex vivo, oxygen transfer from 70 volume % microparticles was complete within 4 s.

As noted, this is based on very proven technology: liposomes. These lipid-bilayer artificial “cells” are commonly used to deliver drugs in the bloodstream, and they are very well understood. This new application changes the liposome construction so that it dissolves much more quickly, allowing the oxygen to infuse the bloodstream almost instantly.

It is currently in animal trials. But based on how well the technology is understood, and the potential benefit it offers for a wide variety of life-saving applications, we could easily see this approved for human trials in the near term, and available for deployment within a few years.

And I just may need to find a way to work it into the next book

Jim Downey



Admiration.

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

* * * * * * *

I remember July 20, 1969. As I’ve noted before:

I was at a Boy Scout camp outside of St. Louis when it happened. That night, we all sat around a big firepit, and tried to watch a small black and white portable television with bad reception as Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) E. Aldrin, Jr. made the first human steps onto the Lunar surface and spoke these words (links to audio file on Wikipedia):

“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And the world was changed forever.

* * * * * * *

Death wins. We all know this. They knew it during the early years of our space program, and there were even contingency plans in the event of the death of the crew on the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong himself thought there was only about a 90% chance of his returning from that mission, as well as only a 50/50 chance that they would successfully land on the Moon (which he always considered the most important aspect of the mission).

But it is a risk which is worth taking.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

Yesterday, after finding out about Neil Armstrong’s death, I spent the rest of the day thinking about the man, reading about him.

Probably the most telling thing is how he lived his life after retiring from NASA. As has been often cited (even by me – and again I recommend the very rare interview he gave last year ), the man was remarkably self-effacing. He didn’t take credit for being the first man to set foot on the Moon. He didn’t exploit the fame which had come to him unwanted. He could have easily cashed-in on his status, reaping riches for endorsements, becoming a permanent celebrity.

Instead, he joined a small university program as a professor of Aerospace Engineering.

Endorsements (of a very limited sort) and serving on the Board of Directors for several large corporations came later. But he still kept a very low profile, trying to live his life as much like a ‘normal’ person as he could.

Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? In a world where celebrity distorts everything — where even my modest accomplishment with one self-published novel would prompt someone to react differently to me — Neil Armstrong managed to live and die without it completely warping who he was.

I honor his place in history as the first man to step foot on the Moon. But I admire him much more for who he really was. That depth of character is what made him a hero.

Godspeed, commander.

Jim Downey



Another small step for a man.
August 25, 2012, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Apollo program, NASA, Neil Armstrong | Tags: , , , , , ,

Wow – Neil Armstrong has died.

I find that I am incredibly sad at this news. There isn’t much else to say.

Jim Downey

Image from xkcd, of course.



99.29%

I’ve written before (even recently) about the tree in the image at the top of this page. It’s locally known as the “Williamson Oak”, named after the family which owns the property where it grows. It is, simply, magnificent, and the oldest/largest such tree in the world.

And it is suffering from the drought which is having a devastating effect across the whole state and region:

The tree was starting to show signs of distress, Williamson said. “The leaves are beginning to curl up a little bit, and they have turned kind of brown. I think it has aborted a lot of the acorns. And the leaves turn upside down to keep from losing moisture.”

The ongoing drought didn’t get much worse in the past week, but things in Boone County and across the Midwest did not improve much either. According to the drought monitor report issued this morning, 99.29 percent of Missouri is in extreme drought or worse. The remainder of the state, a tiny sliver of the northwest, is only under a “severe” drought designation. More than one-third of the state, including most of Boone County, is designated as undergoing an “exceptional drought.”

Typically, the older a tree is, the deeper the roots it has. So older trees tend to fare better in severe droughts. And the Williamson Oak is in the Missouri River bottoms — the river’s natural flood plain, where ground water isn’t that far below the surface. In other words, this tree should have the best possible chance to survive this drought. Still, things are so bad that this was the image on our local paper’s front page last evening:

John Sam<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Williamson<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
releases<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
850 gallons<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of water at<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
the base<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of the<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
350-yearold<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
champion<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
bur oak<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
at McBaine<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Wednesday.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Six generations<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of his<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
family have<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
owned the<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
land since<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
the 1830s.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Williamson<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
plans<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
to release<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
roughly<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
1,600 gallons<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of water<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
around<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
the base<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of the tree<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
each week<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
for the next<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
several<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
weeks.” /> <img src=
John Sam Williamson releases 850 gallons of water at the base of the 350-year old champion bur oak at McBaine Wednesday. Six generations of his family have owned the land since the 1830s. Williamson plans to release roughly 1,600 gallons of water around the base of the tree each week for the next several weeks.

Yeah, this drought is bad. The worst I’ve ever seen.

Jim Downey



The other 90% of you.

Your body has something on the order of 10 trillion individual cells. But surprisingly, it has nine or ten times that number of microorganisms which it hosts in some capacity or another, many of which we have co-evolved with and which seem to be critical to our long health. While these microorganisms are typically much smaller than human body cells, in one very real sense, “you” is actually only about 10% “you.”

These microorganisms have a substantial impact on how your body digests food. On whether you can resist various kinds of infection or develop any of a range of auto-immune diseases. Perhaps even on your mood and risk assessment.

Would it therefore be any kind of a surprise at all if doing something to change the “mix” of these microorganisms had an impact on you?

Hell, it’d be a surprise if it didn’t.

Almost all of us know what happens when you have to take a broad-spectrum antibiotic: usually some degree of diarrhea and intestinal discomfort. And in the last decade or two it has become commonplace for people to seek out some variety of probiotics, frequently in the form of live yogurt, as a way to replenish gut flora following antibiotic treatment. I do it myself.

So, extending that idea a bit, researchers are now investigating whether part of the slow-moving plague of obesity can be due to the changes created in the human-hosted microorganisms:

Early use of antibiotics linked to obesity, research finds

The use of antibiotics in young children might lead to a higher risk of obesity, and two new studies, one on mice and one on humans, conclude that changes of the intestinal bacteria caused by antibiotics could be responsible.

Taken together, the New York University researchers conclude that it might be necessary to broaden our concept of the causes of obesity and urge more caution in using antibiotics. Both studies focus on the early age, because that is when obesity begins, the scientists say.

As I’ve noted previously:

In Communion I have a post-pandemic society, one which is recovering from a massive disruption caused by a flu virus which caused rapid death in a large percentage of the population. But the reality of what we’re dealing with might be even more insidious.

More insidious in this case because we have done it to ourselves.

And perhaps not even with direct antibiotic treatment to deal with some kind of life-threatening infection. Consider that it is still a widespread practice to boost livestock weight gain through the use of antibiotics, and that leaves a residue of antibiotics in the meat. If it boosts weight gain in feed animals, why wouldn’t it do the same to us?

I’ve said before that there has been some kind of change to the way our bodies absorb nutrients in the last 40 or 50 years, and that that is behind the global rise in obesity. Previously there were indications that it might be due to some kind of virus. Or an immune response to the germaphobia of the 20th century. But maybe it is more directly our own damned fault, and we’ve traded the ability to defeat infections for a different kind of health risk.

Jim Downey



Perhaps it is (was) a Liquid Sky* after all.

An item in the news the other day caught my attention: that scientists at the LHC had managed to create the “hottest temperature” ever, purportedly of some “5.5 trillion degrees.”

It was meant to be one of NPR’s little funny quips, so there wasn’t much detail, as you can see from the transcript in the link above. But that’s not really how scientists really talk about results from the LHC, so I filed away the news and figured I’d look it up when I had a chance.

Well, I just did. And I was right — the actual results weren’t really explained in terms of “temperature.” Rather, it was put in terms of energy (MeV), and more important than some abstract conversion into temperatures was what was achieved: the production of a quark-gluon plasma.

Why is this important?

Because it is a glimpse into conditions during the earliest moments of the Big Bang, and may explain *why* there is matter at all. Here’s an excerpt about earlier research conducted at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) which first glimpsed a quark-gluon plamsa:

Predictions made prior to RHIC’s initial operations in 2000 expected that the quark-gluon plasma would exist as a gas. But RHIC’s first three years of operation showed that the matter produced at RHIC behaves as a liquid, whose constituent particles interact very strongly among themselves. This liquid matter has been described as nearly “perfect” in the sense that it flows with almost no frictional resistance, or viscosity. Such a “perfect” liquid doesn’t fit with the picture of “free” quarks and gluons physicists had previously used to describe the quark-gluon plasma.

Essentially, this was just confirmed by the LHC, using a slightly different protocol which achieved very similar results:

Collisions of lead ions in the LHC, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, recreate for a fleeting moment conditions similar to those of the early universe. By examining a billion or so of these collisions, the experiments have been able to make more precise measurements of the properties of matter under these extreme conditions.

“The field of heavy-ion physics is crucial for probing the properties of matter in the primordial universe, one of the key questions of fundamental physics that the LHC and its experiments are designed to address. It illustrates how in addition to the investigation of the recently discovered Higgs-like boson, physicists at the LHC are studying many other important phenomena in both proton-proton and lead-lead collisions,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer.

The upshot of this is not just more experimental data, but an interesting new theory: that our universe is, in some sense, what happened when that quark-gluon plasma cooled and became ‘crystallized’, so to speak, complete with the fractures and imperfections common to all crystals. Here’s the abstract of the theory:

Quantum graphity offers the intriguing notion that space emerges in the low-energy states of the spatial degrees of freedom of a dynamical lattice. Here we investigate metastable domain structures which are likely to exist in the low-energy phase of lattice evolution. Through an annealing process we explore the formation of metastable defects at domain boundaries and the effects of domain structures on the propagation of bosons. We show that these structures should have observable background-independent consequences including scattering, double imaging, and gravitational lensing-like effects.

And here’s an excerpt from the press release which may make a little more sense to people like me:

“A new theory, known as Quantum Graphity, suggests that space may be made up of indivisible building blocks, like tiny atoms. These indivisible blocks can be thought about as similar to pixels that make up an image on a screen. The challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly.”

However James Quach and his colleagues believe they may have figured out a way to see them indirectly.

“Think of the early universe as being like a liquid,” he said. “Then as the universe cools, it ‘crystallises’ into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorised this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice.”

Fascinating.

Jim Downey

*Playing off the old and somewhat forgotten movie, of course, which was mind-blowing, not unlike the possibilities posed by this theory.

 



Piece by piece…

As I keep discussing, I’m working through multiple small components of getting ready to launch a Kickstarter for the next novel. I’ve got two things to mention today.

The first is a request for some help. Part of the normal Kickstarter project is to have a video. As they put it on their website:

A video is by far the best way to get a feel for the emotions, motivations, and character of a project. It’s a demonstration of effort and a good predictor of success. Projects with videos succeed at a much higher rate than those without (50% vs. 30%).

Now, I’m sure that my wife and I can cobble something together which would vaguely meet the “have a video” criteria for the project page. But I would really prefer to have something decent. Something original. Something put together by someone who has more than a vague idea of what they’re doing.

If you are such a person, or if you *know* such a person, and would be interested in working with me on this, please leave a comment or send me an email. And note that I say “working with me” rather than “do this for me” — for the very simple reason that I respect the artistic talents of others and see this as a collaboration rather than just a technical problem to turn over to someone else. And I’m not asking for someone to do it for just “exposure” either — compensation will be offered, and we can work out an equitable arrangement. Please think about it, and get back to me soonish.

The other item I want to mention today is that we’ve given my bookbinding website something of a facelift, updating information on it, modernizing the look & operation a bit. Check it out when you get a chance.

What does this have to do with a Kickstarter project for St. Cybi’s Well?

Well, I’m glad you asked. It has something to do with St. Cybi’s Well because some of the premiums for pledges to my Kickstarter will include hand-bound copies of the book. As well as hand-bound copies of Communion of Dreams. In hardcover. In hardcover covered with premium bookcloth. Or full calfskin leather. Or even in full goatskin leather.

These will be very rare, possibly unique books. And how many other writers that you know have my professional bookbinding skills?

*That’s* why we updated the Legacy website. To show off my bookbinding talents a bit. Well, and because I’ve added a photo series of restoring a 1633 Danish bible that was a lot of fun earlier this year and I wanted to share that.

So, two more pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place.

Jim Downey




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 164 other followers