Communion Of Dreams


Fearless.

At about 7:45 in this interview:

NPR: “I wonder: your original CD together Realtime is so beloved by your fans, does that make you just a tad nervous about how this much-anticipated follow-up might be received? Or do you just block that stuff out?”

O’Brien: “Ah, you know, I’m gettin’ over that.”

NPR: “But not yet? You’re still working on it?”

 

* * * * * * *

It was a hard week. He may have been only a dog, but his absence was entirely too distracting.

 

* * * * * * *

The other night I played supportive spouse and accompanied my Good Lady Wife to a professional meeting she had at the Lake of the Ozarks.

The Lake (as people in Missouri almost universally refer to it) is an interesting sort of place, from a purely anthropological perspective. Originally built to help generate electricity, it then became a tourist trap in the 1960s, then evolved into something of a Spring Break party spot for college kids throughout the state. It still has something of that reputation, though it has now branched out a bit into being a general purpose convention/resort area. I’ve written about it previously.

Anyway, like these sorts of meeting things go, the first night there was a cocktail party with an open, but limited selection, bar.  I walked up to the bar, nodded to the nice very clean cut young man behind it, asked “Got any Fat Tire? “

“Sorry, just domestic beer. “

I blinked, a bit stunned.

He explained further “We don’t have any of those Belgium beers.”

 

* * * * * * *

At about 7:45 in this interview:

NPR: “I wonder: your original CD together Realtime is so beloved by your fans, does that make you just a tad nervous about how this much-anticipated follow up might be received? Or do you just block that stuff out?”

O’Brien: “Ah, you know, I’m gettin’ over that.”

NPR: “But not yet? You’re still working on it?”

O’Brien:“Well, there is a sort of a fermentation that happens in people’s minds, and I guess it happened in my mind too, that you know, what, can we do that again? Can we go back to that? And then, at some point I just said ‘well, you know, if we don’t try we’ll never do anything together again’”.

Scott: “To me the word is ‘fearless’. Putting it out there, and then, with the right ingredients it’ll probably turn into something edible.”

 

Something edible, indeed. Back to work.

 

Jim Downey



30 billion Earths.

How many Earth-like planets are there in our galaxy? Ones which are reasonably like ours, in terms of size, density, and location relative to their sun’s ‘habitable zone’? That’s one of the basic components of the Drake Equation, and until fairly recently all estimates were little more than speculation.

Enter Kepler:

Expanding our view from Kepler’s corner of the galaxy to show more of the Milky Way, the sky fills with billions of potentially life-bearing worlds. If we showed them all, the sky would be a mass of green. So now the green dots illustrate stars that might host such planets, visible with a good pair of binoculars on a dark night here on Earth.

From this perspective, the chances that we’re alone in the cosmos seem very slim, indeed.

The final answer? 15 – 30 billion Earth-like planets.

Of course, that doesn’t include the rest of the Drake equation values. Such as: what percentage of planets which could potentially develop life actually do so? Then what percentage of those planets develop intelligent, technologically sophisticated life? Then what percentage of such intelligent species develop interstellar communication capabilities? Then how long will such a civilization survive, out of the billions of years of history?

The last time I played with the numbers, the best guess from Phil Plait was that there were some 2.5 billion potentially habitable planets. Kepler indicates that number was too conservative, by something on the order of a factor of 10. Running the rest of the equation is largely just an experiment in gut feelings (since we don’t yet have any real data), but what is impressive is that at each stage as solid data has become available, we’ve had to adjust our “best guesstimate” numbers *upwards*. Meaning that the the total number of technologically sophisticated civilizations capable of interstellar communications out there at this point in time also goes up.

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.”

Where, indeed? I came up with my own answer, explained in Communion.

But I wonder what the real answer will be.

Jim Downey



A trick of the light.
September 25, 2013, 2:12 pm
Filed under: BoingBoing, movies, tech | Tags: , , , , ,

Unsurprisingly, the last couple of days have been darker than they could have been.

But life goes on. And so I want to share this, via BoingBoing:

 

Jim Downey



Death comes quickly.
September 22, 2013, 8:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about
The dog up and died, he up and died
And after 20 years he still grieves*

Again, I am reminded that we need to cherish those we love while we have them.

An hour or so ago I lost my buddy. The buddy who went walking with me every morning. The buddy who helped me get through the long years of being a care-giver. The buddy who kept a sharp eye out for trespassing deer, and people, and racoons — especially racoons. The buddy who was always there, always patient, always happy to see me.

Death came quickly and unexpectedly. Yesterday he was fine, had a good day. Last night he seemed a little sluggish, reluctant to go outside, but we figured that was due to the loudness of a nearby music festival. He didn’t like loud noises.

This morning before the sun was up, he was out of his bed, seemed to not be feeling well. I decided to wait until a little later in the morning before I called our vet. Shortly thereafter he started a quick downward spiral, showing all the symptoms of a heart attack. We debated whether we could get him to a veterinary hospital in time to do any good. Instead, he was able to die while I held him, in familiar surroundings.

He was a good dog.

The cats are being extra affectionate this morning. They know we’re hurting.

Jim Downey



Limits of perception.

From the beginning of Chapter 18 of Communion of Dreams:

“But there’s something else going on. Perhaps I was being too hasty in considering this to be just a four-dimensional problem.”

“Sorry? You lost me there,” said Jon.

Gish ignored him, his attention turning in on itself. “Yes. Clearly there’s a proximity effect. Perhaps anyone who touches the artifact becomes somehow connected to the outer surface of the bubble.”

“Wait, you mean that the artifact is some kind of doorway to another dimension?”

Gish looked at Jon, annoyed. “What? Doorway? No, just that the surface of the isolation field may not conform to our simple space-time geometry.”

Not too surprising that Robert Gish was aware of this recent theory, since he’s some 39 years in our future:

A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

“This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.

The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.

It’s an absolutely fascinating article & theory, and deserves consideration: that many of the observational problems with quantum mechanics may be due to our limited perspective from this space-time, just as our perspective from one reference point gave rise to the notion that there is something which could be considered a “universal time” — a notion which a certain Mr. Einstein dealt with.

Which, while all the math is completely beyond me, makes a certain amount of intuitive sense from the history of science. Which is: the slow progression of realization that none of our privileged positions are true. That the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth. That humankind isn’t different from all the other animals. That our perception of time isn’t the only one. So why should this set of spacial dimensions be the basis for reality?

Which is why I felt comfortable coming up with the “theoretical discovery” at the heart of Communion of Dreams, as discussed in this passage from Chapter 3:

Apparent Gravity was the third major application of the theories set forth in Hawking’s Conundrum, the great opus of Stephen Hawking which was not published until after his death in the earlier part of the century. He hadn’t released the work because evidently even he couldn’t really believe that it made any sense. It was, essentially, both too simple and too complex. And since he had died just shortly before the Fire-flu, with the chaos that brought, there had been a lag in his theory being fully understood and starting to be applied.

But it did account for all the established data, including much of the stuff that seemed valid but didn’t fit inside the previous paradigms. Using his theories, scientists and engineers learned that the structure of space itself could be manipulated. The first major application led to practical, safe, and efficient fusion power. Rather than forcing high-energy particles together, the forces keeping them apart were just removed. Or, more accurately, the manifestation of space between them was inverted. It took very little energy, was easy to control, but only worked in a very localized fashion.

And just for fun, here’s a little hint from my work on St. Cybi’s Well: there’s a character in there who has something of the perspective of the people working on the “amplituhedron theory” and applies it in his own way to explain the dark matter/dark energy problem. Well, it amuses me, anyway.

And I should get back to work on that.

 

Jim Downey

Via MeFi and elsewhere. The MeFi link has a lot of other links in both the post and the following discussion, if you would like more information and … perspective. ;)

Oh, and this seems entirely appropriate – start at 35 seconds:



Now, *that’s* a full moon.

Via BoingBoing, an interesting animation using images from the Lunar Reconissance Orbiter:

 

Jim Downey



Just wanting to help.

Almost every morning me and the dog go for a walk through the neighborhood. We have a well-established track about a mile long, which allows the dog to check his pmail and me to enjoy the changing seasons. At several points we have to cross from one side of the street to the other, and the dog has long since learned to pause at these junctures and wait for me to give him the go-ahead to cross. He’s a smart guy.

One morning recently a fellow in a big red pickup stopped at one of these crossing points, and kindly waved for me and the dog to go ahead and cross. He was just wanting to help.

 

* * * * * * *

Did you remember that yesterday was Constitution Day?

 

* * * * * * *

John Moses Browning was a firearms designer who was born in 1855. His design for the M1911 is considered to this day to be one of the best designs for a handgun, and 1911 variants are still extremely popular. Of the 1911 it has been said “designed by a genius to be used by morons.”

 

* * * * * * *

FISA court releases opinion upholding NSA phone program

A federal surveillance court on Tuesday released a declassified opinion upholding the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of billions of Americans’ phone records for counterterrorism purposes.

The gathering of “all call detail records” from phone companies is justified as long as the government can show that it is relevant to an authorized investigation into known — and, significantly — unknown terrorists who may be in the United States, the Aug. 29 opinion states.

Moreover, the government need only show that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the records will be relevant to the investigation, a lower burden than required in ordinary criminal investigations. That is justified because the goal is to prevent a terrorist attack, not solve a crime that has already taken place, the court said, affirming the government’s position.

 

I feel safer already.

 

* * * * * * *

Almost every morning me and the dog go for a walk through the neighborhood. We have a well-established track about a mile long, which allows the dog to check his pmail and me to enjoy the changing seasons. At several points we have to cross from one side of the street to the other, and the dog has long since learned to pause at these junctures and wait for me to give him the go-ahead to cross. He’s a smart guy.

One morning recently a fellow in a big red pickup stopped at one of these crossing points, and kindly waved for me and the dog to go ahead and cross. He was just wanting to help.

I smiled, nodded, and then motioned him to go ahead. He looked at me for a moment, confused, and waved again for me to cross. I shook my head. Looking a little offended, he shrugged and went ahead through the intersection.

I sighed. The dog looked up at me from his waiting position. I gave him the command to go ahead and cross the street. He did. Like I said, he’s a smart guy.

Smart enough that I don’t want him drawing the lesson that it is OK to walk out in front of pickup trucks, even if their drivers are just wanting to help.

 

Jim Downey

 



Before and after.

Remember these?

20130912_154245

Well, yesterday afternoon I got around to prepping about half of them to dry:

20130915_211208

Overnight I dried the peppers.

* * * * * * *

An interesting take on incorporating an additional dimension into photography:

Photographer and historian Marc Hermann has done a beautiful job pulling historic crime scene photos from the New York Daily News archive to blend them with photographs of the same locations today. For those who live in New York now, it may be easy to forget just how rough the city was in the not-too-distant past.

Grisly violence is an undeniable part of New York’s DNA and the juxtaposition of the old, black and white images with the modern “Times Square” version of what most people expect today is incredibly fascinating – truly making ghosts walk amongst us.

* * * * * * *

Remember this?

What has also been my plan, but which I hadn’t quite been able to sort out how to accomplish, was that in St. Cybi’s Well much of the story will revolve around *how* this character came to have those dream-visions in the first place. This is further complicated by the fact that I don’t necessarily want the character to realize the full import of what he experiences within the context of the story – the reader should be able to draw out conclusions which the character wouldn’t, especially if the reader had already read Communion of Dreams.

OK, got all that? So, here’s what I experienced at Baia Castle: the revelation that the classical sculptures of Greek and Roman mythology could themselves be the conduit for the dream-visions. I got this by walking through the collection – not just walking through it, but by seeing the juxtaposition of different sculptures within the somewhat under-lit and under-stated layout of the museum.

See, like in most of the museums we had visited, the climate control there was non-existent. And whether in order to keep down temps a bit, or just to save money on electricity, the only lighting throughout the space was from windows along one side of the building. And the layout of the building was a series of almost cave-like ‘bunkers’ – rooms which were kinda long & narrow with a relatively low ceiling, and done up in neutral grey tones.

It was perfect. And in a moment my mind made the leap to imagery for St. Cybi’s Well. Because, like many of the different ‘holy wells’ in Wales, it dates back to the middle of the 6th century – not that long after the fall of Rome. And, in fact, the spread of Christianity to the Celtic lands was part of the cultural transference which took place. It’d be easy to tweak the history just a bit to include ‘lost’ sculpture & myth.

I felt in that moment the same way I feel now: like laughing maniacally.

And an appropriate (and somewhat telling) image from that same blog post:

Prometheus. Not Ridly Scott's version. The original.

Prometheus. Not Ridly Scott’s version. The original.

* * * * * * *

A passage from an excellent essay on the roots of Enlightenment thought about justice.

Rarely in the history of thought do I have a chance to say the outcome was so simply good, but it worked.  Within their lifetimes, Voltaire and Beccaria saw real reform, a sincere and solid transformation of the legal codes of most of Europe, the spread of deterrence-based justicial thought.  Within decades, judicial torture virtually vanished from European law.  The laws of America, and of the other new constitutions drafted in the latter 18th century, all show the touch of Beccaria’s call.  It worked.  The change was not absolute, of course.  Torture, the primary target, retreated, as did the notions of retributive justice, avenging dignity, and purging sin.  But prisons were still squalid, punishments severe, and other things Beccaria had campaigned against remained, capital punishment primary among them.  But even here there was what Beccaria would call progress.  The guillotine lives in infamy, but it too was a consequence of this call for enlightened justice: a quick, egalitarian execution, death with the least possible suffering, and equal for all, giving no advantage to the noble, who had long been able to hire an expert and humane headsman while the poor man suffered the clumsy hackings of an amateur who might take many blows to sever a writhing neck.  Most states judged death still necessary, but agreed that law and punishment should bind all men equally, and that unnecessary pain did not serve the public good.  It is strange to call the guillotine a happy ending, but it was in a small way, and even more victorious was the dialog it that birthed it.

* * * * * * *

Overnight I dried the peppers. Here they are this morning:

20130916_064646

Why, yes, all of these things are connected.   ;)

Jim Downey



And then there are these.
September 12, 2013, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Habanero | Tags: , , , ,

As a follow up to Tuesday’s post about tomatoes, here’s what I just brought in from the garden:

20130912_154245

From left to right:

Oh, and Tuesday’s tomato harvest? In addition to plenty being used in meals the last couple of days, they also made 9 full quarts of rich, delicious sauce. Yum!

Jim Downey



Blimey.
September 10, 2013, 9:56 am
Filed under: Gardening | Tags: , , ,

I haven’t talked about it too much, but this has been a rather astounding year for my garden. To wit:

20130910_094320

The bucket on the end? That holds 5 gallons. It’s full. All told, I think there’s somewhere between 60 and 70 pounds of tomatoes sitting there.  That’s just this morning. And I only planted 12 plants (4 of which are now past bearing).

Blimey. Time to make tomato sauce …

 

Jim Downey




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 168 other followers