Communion Of Dreams


Thinking about the unthinkable.*

Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s long been one of my favorite movies, even as a kid. Yeah, I was a strange kid. Don’t act like you’re surprised.

Anyway, Eric Schlosser has a good article in The New Yorker reflecting on how the movie, originally considered a farce, was actually frighteningly accurate. From the article:

A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.

 

“Detecting nuclear detonations” … hmm, where have I heard that phrase recently? Oh, yeah:

A Sound of Cosmic Thunder: Earth-Impacting Asteroid Heard by Nuke Detectors

On the second day of 2014, a small asteroid blew up high in Earth’s atmosphere. It was relatively harmless—the rock was only a couple of meters across, far too small to hit the ground or do any real damage—and it disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean anyway.

What’s cool is that now we know for sure this is the case: Infrasound detectors designed to listen for nuclear bomb detonations actually heard the explosion from the impact and were able to pinpoint the location of the event to a few hundred kilometers east off the coast of Venezuela.

NASA put together a nice informative video explaining it:

 

Gee, it sure is a good thing nothing like that has ever hit the territory of the old USSR … er, oops.

And now that I’ve given you a nice dose of fright, let me make it up to you with a reminder that you can download Communion of Dreams (which has it all … game theory, nuclear exchanges, and more than a little of my old strangeness) for free today and tomorrow!

 

Jim Downey

*The title of one of Herman Kahn‘s books about nuclear war/deterrence, and where I think I was first exposed to the concepts behind game theory.  I’ve got Schlosser’s book Command and Control on my to-read list when the Kindle price comes down a bit.



You can’t tell a book …

So, a week or so ago I linked to a new review of Communion of Dreams which was very positive overall. But the reviewer made a comment which echoes things some other people have said:

Another item that would likely help get this book moving is a different cover. I understand the imagery now that I’ve read the book, but definitely think it will keep hard-core sci-fi fans from buying a copy (and people do judge books by their covers).

Like I said, every so often a comment to this effect will pop up in a review. And I don’t spend much time thinking about it (and I’m not going to change the cover image at this point), but now and then I wonder just what kind of a cover would appeal to ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’ and still make any kind of sense in relation to the story. Maybe some nice images of Saturn or Titan from the Cassini mission? A depiction of some of the spacecraft (which aren’t described in much detail in the book), or perhaps the Titan Prime space station? Go with a charming post-apocalyptic montage of ruined cities and microphotographs of viruses? To me, none of these would fairly represent the story, and to a certain extent would unnecessarily limit the appeal to only ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’.

But I’m curious what others think. So feel free to post a comment here or over on FB. Over even on Amazon, as a comment on an extant review or in  new review of your own. In a week or so I’ll go through all the various comments I can find, and pick someone to get a jar of my latest hot sauce (or something else if they don’t want that).

Jim Downey

PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.



More than meets the eye.

If you haven’t seen this, you should:

Explanation from the source:  Jewel Box Sun

 

Jim Downey



Linky-link.

Some quick links, none of which really warrant a full blog post.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Wanna be a black-hole hunter? Sure you do! The Galaxy Zoo folks have just launched a new project you should check out:

Search for Black Holes

Black holes are found at the center of most, if not all, galaxies. The bigger the galaxy, the bigger the black hole and the more sensational the effect it can have on the host galaxy. These supermassive black holes drag in nearby material, growing to billions of times the mass of our sun and occasionally producing spectacular jets of material traveling nearly as fast as the speed of light. These jets often can’t be detected in visible light, but are seen using radio telescopes. Astronomers need your help to find these jets and match them to the galaxy that hosts them.

 

We live in the glorious future, where beer concentrate is a real, practical thing!

For fans of craft beer, enjoying a decent brew while hiking or camping away from the car usually involves lugging around heavy cans of beer, which can turn a lovely trek into a grueling slog through the woods.

But now the folks at Pat’s Backcountry Beverages have created a solution – their new Brew Concentrates come in featherweight 50ml packets and can be reconstituted with carbonated water (courtesy of their trail-ready 16-ounce carbonator bottle).

 

Well, actually, the past wasn’t so bad in some ways, either …

When you think of illicit substances that are shipped in brick form, wine probably doesn’t come to mind first. And no, boxed wine doesn’t count. During Prohibition, however, drinkers got around laws that banned alcohol by dissolving bricks of grape concentrate in water and fermenting them into wine.

Of course, conscientious makers of grape bricks didn’t want to contribute to bad behavior, and responsibly warned buyers that, “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.” The makers of the Vino Sano Grape Brick even dutifully indicated what flavors one’s careless handling of grape bricks would result in: burgundy, sherry, port, claret, riesling, etc.

 

And a friend had to share this:

CHRIST_IN_CHRISTMAS_THH_0372_11603013.JPG

 

Via BoingBoing, this vid of a crow using a jar lid as a snowboard.

 

And also via BoingBoing, a bit of explosive seasonal fun:

 

I’ll leave it at that for now. I need to get back to work on St. Cybi’s Well. (Oh, and if you’re interested, I often post snippets from daily writing on the Facebook page, just for fun.)

 

Jim Downey



New perspective.

Via Phil Plait, had to share this:

Saturn

Saturn, obviously. But from a new perspective, as Plait explains:

But dominating this jaw-dropping scene are Saturn’s magnificent rings, seen here far more circular than usual. Cassini’s mission has been to observe Saturn and its moons, which means it tends to stay near the planet’s equator. But now scientists are playing with the orbit more, to do more interesting science. The spacecraft is swinging well out of the equatorial plane, so here we see the rings at a much steeper angle, and they are less affected by perspective.

And here’s the link to the full-size image, which is definitely worth a look.

 

Jim Downey



Welcome to the paleo-future.

I grew up reading stuff like this:

R is for rocket.jpg

And even had a really cool metal rocket based on the images from Destination Moon which one of my relatives made and gave me. For the longest time those sleek rockets landing and taking off again (what NASA calls ‘Direct Ascent‘) defined what space travel meant, and I loved watching early launches which hinted at Things To Come.

Then space technology advanced, and I got a little older. Rockets were no longer cool. With all the wisdom and knowledge of a 14 year old, I dismissed the idea that anyone would want to use them for anything other than lobbing other things into orbit, and even at that they would be soon surpassed by more efficient and reusable shuttles and aerospace vehicles.

I’m glad not everyone was so easily distracted:

Welcome back to the future of my youth.

 

Jim Downey



The Source?

Got an email from an old friend and fan of Communion of Dreams which consisted of a link and this comment: Couldn’t resist…when I read this, all I could think was, “they’ve found the gel!!” :)

From the article at the link:

A nearby alien planet six times the size of the Earth is covered with a water-rich atmosphere that includes a strange “plasma form” of water, scientists say.

Astronomers have determined that the atmosphere of super-Earth Gliese 1214 b is likely water-rich. However, this exoplanet is no Earth twin. The high temperature and density of the planet give it an atmosphere that differs dramatically from Earth.

“As the temperature and pressure are so high, water is not in a usual form (vapor, liquid, or solid), but in an ionic or plasma form at the bottom the atmosphere — namely the interior — of Gliese 1214 b,” principle investigator Norio Narita of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan told SPACE.com by email.

You should read the whole thing, it’s pretty cool.

And yes, there is a reason why the prequel to Communion of Dreams is based around visits to holy wells in Wales … ;)

 

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



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




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