Filed under: Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, Google, Humor, Science Fiction, StreetView, tech, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: augmented reality, blogging, Easter egg, Google, Google Earth, Google Streetview, humor, jim downey, Llangybi, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing, You Are There
A very short distance down the road was another simple black and white sign which said “Llangybi”. There was a stone house not far past it, but no sign of a real town. Darnell kept going. He passed a few more homes and farms. Then he came to a split in the road and stopped, pulling off to the side in front of yet another stone house. There were some workmen on scaffolding at the near end of the house, doing something to the chimney.
Workmen? What workmen?
Why, these workmen. (It’s a Google Streetview location. You have to let it load, then activate it.)
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been doing a lot of double-checking of locations and descriptions using a variety of map tools. Google has made this very easy, between their satellite, Earth, and Streetview map apps. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that to amuse myself I have been including things actually caught in the Streetview images now and again, so that if anyone actually looks up a particular location I cite on Streetview, they will see what is described in the text. This has mostly applied to storefronts and the like, but also includes the occasional bit like the passage above — where a little later I have Darnell (the main character) actually stop and chat with these workmen, asking them for directions.
It’s a little thing which almost no one will ever discover, just my version of an Easter egg. And whenever Google updates the images used on these locations, they’ll no longer apply. But what the hell.
*For those who don’t know of/remember the series.
Filed under: Amazon, Brave New World, Connections, Feedback, General Musings, Google, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, Predictions, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Travel, Wales | Tags: 1991, Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, electronics, feedback, free, Google Earth, humor, Jamie Norris, jim downey, Kindle, predictions, promotion, science, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Steve Cichon, technology, travel, Typhoon, video, Wales
It’s a view of Wales most of us will never see.
This video was filmed from the cockpit of a Typhoon fighter jet which flies over North Wales before heading to the Lake District.
The man behind the controls is Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris, the RAF’s Typhoon display pilot and a member of RAF Coningsby, based in Lincolnshire, who calmly talks viewers through his manoeuvres at altitudes of between 250ft and 40,000ft.
There’s an embedded video which is a real delight, too, for anyone who isn’t afraid of heights/motion.
I haven’t flown at low altitude over Wales, so I can’t really speak as to how this compares to the slower velocity of a small plane or helicopter. However, I was struck by just how similar the video is to viewing the same terrain via Google Earth, which I have done a *lot* of in the last couple of months as I write St. Cybi’s Well. The ability to zoom in, rotate orientation, and even change the angle to the horizon allows you very much get the sense of flying through the landscape — it’s a very cool technology.
And speaking of very cool technology, just thought I’d share this little item, which gives a nice bit of perspective: Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone. It’s a pretty impressive list, and shows how a whole pile of electronics valued at about $5,000 in today’s money has been replaced by a smartphone that fits in your pocket and costs about $500.
And speaking of 500 … that’s about the total number of world-wide downloads of Communion of Dreams so far in the current promotion. Which in itself is a pretty cool bit of technology. If you haven’t yet gotten your copy of the Kindle edition of the book (which you can read on, yes, smartphones as well as any number of other devices), pop over and get it today!
Filed under: Amazon, Art, Astronomy, Cassini, Connections, Feedback, Google, Habanero, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, NASA, Pandemic, Plague, Promotion, Publishing, Saturn, Science Fiction, Space, Titan | Tags: Amazon, art, blogging, book design, Cassini, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, Facebook, feedback, Habaneros, humor, jim downey, Kindle, NASA, pandemic, photography, post-apocalyptic, promotion, reviews, Saturn, Science Fiction, Scorpion Blood, space, Titan
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).
PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.
Filed under: Art, Google | Tags: art, blogging, Burr Oak, Communion of Dreams, health, jim downey, photography, WIlliamson Oak
McBAINE — Five years ago, when the father-son duo of Bill and Kyle Spradley teamed up to give the state champion bur oak at McBaine some much-needed attention, they were joined by a handful of people.
Yesterday, more than 40 people gave the majestic tree a hefty dose of TLC. The gathering included representatives of 10 organizations and businesses from across the state — most of them arborists or rural electric linemen experienced in tree-trimming and pruning.
That goes to show how much people care about this tree,” said Kyle Spradley, a senior information specialist at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Spradley also has his own photography business, and many of his photos feature the McBaine bur oak.
I’ve written about the tree previously, for the very good reason that it is the image used on the cover of Communion of Dreams (and so, at the top of this blog). And I’m glad to see this sort of effort to help care for the tree, and preserve it for future generations. Seriously, if you haven’t ever seen it in person, and you find yourself in the area, it is worth a visit.
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Ballistics, Blade Runner, Brave New World, Connections, Expert systems, General Musings, Google, Government, Guns, Predictions, Preparedness, Privacy, Science, Science Fiction, tech, Violence | Tags: artificial intelligence, augmented reality, Communion of Dreams, drones, Expert, Google, government, guns, Guns.com, jim downey, MADSS, NSA, predictions, privacy, science, Science Fiction, Seth, technology, TrackingPoint, Watson
… and sometimes it is just chilling.
First, meet Seth’s grandpa:
Watson is a cognitive capability that resides in the computing cloud — just like Google and Facebook and Twitter. This new capability is designed to help people penetrate complexity so they can make better decisions and live and work more successfully. Eventually, a host of cognitive services will be delivered to people at any time and anywhere through a wide variety of handy devices. Laptops. Tablets. Smart phones. You name it.
In other words, you won’t need to be a TV producer or a giant corporation to take advantage of Watson’s capabilities. Everybody will have Watson — or a relative of the Watson technologies — at his or her fingertips.
Indeed, Watson represents the first wave in a new era of technology: the era of cognitive computing. This new generation of technology has the potential to transform business and society just as radically as today’s programmable computers did so over the past 60+ years. Cognitive systems will be capable of making sense of vast quantities of unstructured information, by learning, reasoning and interacting with people in ways that are more natural for us.
Next, consider the implications of this idea:
Now think of another way of doing this. Think of a website that is a repository of all these IDs, and is government-owned or certified. Why can’t I just visit a police station once, pay a fee (so the government doesn’t lose money on this), show all my documentation, have the government scan and upload everything so that all policemen and pertinent authorities can have access. Then my car insurance company, my health insurance company, the car registration agency can all notify this government repository if I stop paying, or if my insurance policy is not valid anymore.
Imagine a world in which the police has tablets or smartphones that show nice big pictures of you, in which whatever they currently do secretly with NSA-type agencies they do openly instead. If they find you without an ID they ask, “who are you?”, and once you give your name, they can see your photo and a ton of information about you. It would be so hard for anyone to impersonate you. I find it paradoxical that while some government agencies spy on you and know all about you, others pretend to know nothing until you show them a piece of plastic that if you lose, somebody else can impersonate you with. We need to evolve from this. We need to evolve into a system in which we have no wallets and a safer world!
Yeah, safer …
TrackingPoint, the biggest name in “smart” scope technology today, is rolling out their next big project. Not too surprising, it is a military endeavor. Called the “Future of War,” TrackingPoint is gearing up for a new market.
The company has been getting a lot of attention with their high-end big-bore hunting rifles that are designed to track targets up to 1,000 yards away. The “smart” aspect of the scope technology is a host of rangefinders and sensors that, combined with optical image recognition software, calculate the ballistics of the shot and compensate for it automatically.
TrackingPoint’s hasn’t exactly concealed their intentions to develop arms for the military market. That was always a possibility and something they all but confirmed when they began talking about their second-generation precision guided rifle systems that, chambered for .50 BMG, are expected to be effective well over 3,000 yards. The cartridge, .50 BMG, is a devastating long-range anti-personnel and anti-material round.
From TrackingPoint’s website:
Target handoff can be achieved by leader touching a smart rifle icon and map location at which point the designated user will see an arrow in his scope directing him to look at handoff location. Whether from shooter to shooter, leader to shooter, drone to leader to shooter, shooter to leader to drone, handoff is a simple touch interface via a mobile device and mobile apps augmented by the appropriate a la carte communications gear.
Emphasis added, because:
The MADSS is one mean robot. Developed by defense industry leader Northrop Grumman and currently being showcased at the Fort Benning, Ga. “Robotics Rodeo,” the MADSS is a 1 1/2-ton unmanned ground vehicle designed to provide soldiers with covering fire while cutting down targets.
Make no mistake, it’s an automatic shooting machine, But it requires people to operate it and set targets. The MADSS — Mobile Armed Dismount Support System — tracks and fires on targets only once it gets the green light. It won’t shoot unless a soldier is directing it.
It’s half killer robot, half killer giant remote-control car.
But you know, not all cars need someone in control of them these days:
In Silberg’s estimation, the reason is that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz drivers are “already accustomed to high-tech bells and whistles, so adding a ‘self-driving package’ is just another option.” Throw in the possibility of a special lane on highways for autonomous vehicles and the ability to turn the system on and off at will, and premium buyers were sold on the option full-stop.
Considering that Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz all plan to have some kind of semi-autonomous, traffic jam assistance feature either on the market or coming in the next few years, and it’s obvious that luxury brands are well aware of what their buyers want.
Draw your own conclusions.
Filed under: Augmented Reality, Google, Humor, Privacy, Society, tech | Tags: augmented reality, Gmail, Google, humor, jim downey, privacy
“Can I show you to a table?”
“Yeah, sure.” I followed the young, trim man over to a small table by the window.
“Will this be OK?”
I sat down. The waiter stood next to the table.
“Would you like to order your mocha and cheese danish?”
“Sorry, what? I haven’t even looked at the menu yet.”
He glanced at a pad in his hand. “Our records show that you usually order a mocha – slim – and cheese danish whenever you come into the cafe at this time of day.”
“Um, not yet. I’m waiting for someone.”
“OK.” He glanced to the door. “Here she comes now.”
I turned, saw Sam enter. I looked back at the waiter.
He looked back. “Samantha Jones. 37. Two kids. Her husband, Joe, isn’t aware that you’re having an affair.”
I goggled. Sam came over, glanced at the waiter, sat down.
“Good morning! So, that’ll be coffee, black, for you, sir, with a fresh fruit platter. And Samantha will nibble at a blueberry muffin and drink water.” He gave us a wink. “Don’t want to get too full.”
Sam blinked, looked at me a little confused. We both looked to the waiter. “Yeah, sure.”
He nodded and smiled. Tapped a few keys on the pad, then just stood there.
I looked at Sam. She looked at me. I looked at the waiter. “Something I can help you with?”
“Oh, no sir. But thanks for asking.”
“Then, will you go away?”
“Oh, no sir. I’m here to facilitate anything you may need. Perhaps interest you in a special offer for a weekend getaway?” He glanced at the pad. “It’s been almost three months since the last one.”
“Um, but we’d like a little privacy.”
He smiled. “Not to worry, sir. I won’t share your information with anyone. This is just a service we provide. Completely routine.”
“Yeah, but, you know, we’d like to be … alone.”
“Sorry sir, but you agreed to the terms of service when you came in here. And the courts have ruled that you have no expectation of privacy in a public place such as this.”
“Yeah, but …”
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Arthur C. Clarke, Augmented Reality, Connections, Feedback, Google, Health, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, Science Fiction | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, April Fools, blogging, Communion of Dreams, feedback, Google, Google Nose, health, Her Final Year, humor, jim downey, Kindle, reviews, Science Fiction
I usually refrain from posting anything on April Fool’s Day. I mean, seriously, why would you want to? My sense of humor is quirky enough that most people don’t *quite* share it. And the competition for a good April Fool’s gag is really stiff. But on the other hand, if you try and post anything ‘serious’ — particularly the odd or innovative stuff I like to blog about — there’s a fair chance it will be either ignored or dismissed.
So I usually just don’t bother.
But today there’s three new reviews up on Amazon, and I thought I should share. Even if they do leave me wondering whether they’re a gag in themselves.
Well, not this one. At least I don’t think so.
Loved the premise, but the in my opinion, the book fell short of delivering. “Set up a meeting Seth, set up another meeting Seth” seemed to be a lot of the dialogue. Might have been better as a short story. Took me a long time to read as it never “grabbed” me.
That’s the whole of it. Well, other than the two stars and the title of the review: “borderline boring“
The next review isn’t much longer. In fact, it’s even a bit shorter. Here it is:
Jim Downey is evocative of Arthur C. Clarke at his best. Downey has taken Clarke and led us to the place where Clarke left us. i can’t remember a book of this genre that i’ve recently enjoyed more than this one. MORE please!
Nice, eh? Particularly with a five star rating and bearing the title: “Clarke left us, Downey is taking us onward now.“
now, with parents getting older, mother with alzheimers, father with rheumatoid arthritis and stupid doctors, this book was perfect! i passed it on to the sister that’s handling all the problems since we live over 300 miles away. she and i agree that it is invaluable for caregivers.
But that sounds serious, so …
Damn. I hate April Fools Day. It always leaves me so confused.
Say, did you hear about Google Nose?
And damn if it doesn’t work, too.
And yeah, I’m old enough to remember systems like this.
Filed under: Amazon, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, Diane Rehm, Expert systems, Failure, Google, Government, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling, Kindle, Music, NPR, Predictions, Preparedness, Publishing, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Amazon, augmented reality, blogging, Blood Sweat & Tears, cars, Communion of Dreams, Diane Rehm, direct publishing, failure, Google, Harry Potter, jim downey, JK Rowling, Kickstarter, Kindle, literature, music, NPR, predictions, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, status, success, technology, video, writing, www youtube
“Could you take care of this for me?” I said. “I find myself surprisingly … attached.”
* * * * * * *
Just a couple pages into Communion of Dreams, there’s this passage:
He picked up a meal at the airport and ate in the car on the way over to his office, relaxing and watching the city roll by around him.
Early in the second chapter there’s this one:
The car he was in threaded through the old suburban streets, past still vacant houses and the occasional empty lot. Following the great death of the fire-flu, many homes had simply been abandoned.
The opening paragraph of Chapter 3:
‘What was it?’ he wondered as the car wound through the streets, stopping before the USSA building. He got out, standing there in the plaza, looking up at the golden plasteel supports and the draping glass fabric.
As a writer, particularly of science fiction, you have to know what to explain and what to just assume. By this I mean you have to explain certain things to the reader, enough to give them a grasp on important story elements, but that you can assume they will fill in the background with other less important elements on their own.
Nowhere in Communion of Dreams do I state that cars are largely self-driving. There’s really no need to. Most readers are used enough to the tropes of science fiction that they can read the above passages, and fill in that detail on their own. It’s a little trick which helps anchor the reality of the book in the mind of the reader quickly.
* * * * * * *
And, honestly, the notion of a self-driving car is only barely science fiction at this point. I mean, one of the primary issues right now is having our legal system play catch-up with the technological changes in this field. From a discussion on the Diane Rehm Show yesterday:
GJELTEN: So the — I guess what — driverless cars have been in development for many years. But the big news this week is this law that passed in California allowing some driving of self-driving cars. Tell us what’s in this law exactly.
LEVANDOWSKI: Well, this law is called SB 1298, and it sets forth the framework for the DMV to set up the guidelines that vehicles will need to adhere to in order to, in the future, be able to drive themselves with or without people inside them. It outlines the type of technical standards, the types of insurance requirements. Everything that you would expect a person to go through when they get their driver’s license, you would expect a vehicle that doesn’t have a driver in it to be able to have.
* * * * * * *
“I do feel that I’m a very lucky, lucky person, in all sorts of ways. And one of the ways in which I’m fortunate is Harry Potter set me free to write whatever I want to write. I don’t — you know, we’re not living hand-to-mouth — I, clearly I can afford to pay all of my bills and now my writing life is a great experience. I can really do whatever I want to do. So I’m a fortunate person — I’m a fortunate writer.”
From JK Rowling’s interview on “Morning Edition” today.
* * * * * * *
“Could you take care of this for me?” I said. “I find myself surprisingly … attached.”
“Sure,” said my wife.
Yeah, to my car.
Which is a surprise. Because I don’t usually become attached to things. Oh, I keep some things for sentimental value, because they are somehow connected to an important person or event in my life. But otherwise I tend to be very pragmatic about material things.
I got the car new 20 years ago. A Subaru wagon, which served me well. The last five or six years when it needed work I would weigh the pros and cons of getting the work done — was it worth it? Could I afford it? Could I afford not to?
See, I don’t *really* need a car. I work at home. For a while now when I needed to drive any distance, I took my wife’s car anyway, since it is a few years newer and in substantially better shape.
This past spring it developed some exhaust problems. The work it needed was more than the car was worth. I decided the time had come to just sell it and be done. Consolidating down to one car for the household would be a minor annoyance, but made the most sense.
Well, I made the intellectual decision. The emotional one, I found, wasn’t quite as easy.
I owned, and drove, that car for more than half the time I’ve had a driver’s license. There was simple ‘time in harness’ associated with it.
But there was more. Specifically, status.
I don’t worry a lot about status. As in, conventional measures of “success” in our society. When you don’t make a lot of money, you learn to not put so much store in such things, or it’ll drive you completely nuts. And as I noted earlier this year, I don’t make a lot of money.
But confronting the hard truth that I can not afford to buy a new car was a bit more than I really wanted to face. And selling my car meant exactly that. Because in our society, if you sell your car, you’re supposed to get another one. Preferably a new one. At the very least, a newer one. To not do so means you’re not successful.
And you should never, ever, under no circumstances, admit that you’re not successful.
So, yeah, the emotional truth was harder to come to terms with. Which would mean that I would be piss-poor at selling my car — at advertising it, at negotiating a sale, all that stuff.
But I’ve come to realize that there are other approaches to defining success, other strategies which can change how you accomplish things. My Kickstarter project is one such, stepping in to crowd-fund what a conventional publishing contract would previously do.
So I asked my wife to take care of it. She didn’t have the same emotional baggage to contend with. And she took care of it in her usual competent & efficient manner: last night the car drove away from our driveway for the last time.
Who knows? Maybe next year, after St. Cybi’s Well is done and available, it’ll be enough of a hit that I’ll be able to afford a new car. One which can partially drive itself. Stranger things have happened. Just ask JK Rowling.