Communion Of Dreams


Coming soon, to a reality near you.

There are over 70 reviews of Communion of Dreams on Amazon, and if you poke around online you’ll find a bunch more. In addition, I’ve heard from countless friends and fans about the book in private messages and chats. And one of the most common things people will note is just how much they like the character of Seth, the Expert/AI executive assistant for the main character, Jon. The book opens with Seth contacting Jon about something which has come up, and you can get a sense of how useful such a virtual assistant could be:

“Sorry to bother you, Jon, but you’ll need to come back immediately. Business. I’ve made the arrangements. Transport waiting for you in town, take you to Denver. Then commercial flight home.” Audio only. That meant a lot. Tighter beam, easier to encode and keep private. Security protocol.

He wondered if something had gone wrong with the Hawking, the experimental long-range ship undergoing trials, based out at Titan. That was about the only thing he could think of that would require his cutting short his first vacation in four years. No use in asking. “All right. Give me a few minutes to pack my things, and I’ll get started.”

“Understood.”

“And contact my family, let them know I’m on my way back. “

“Will do. Anything else?”

“Not at present. See you when I get there.”

Of course, CoD is set in 2052, and there have been huge advances in technology which allow for a very natural interaction between a human and a computer.

What’s been fun for me in writing St Cybi’s Well, set in our own time (well, actually, in October 2012), is that I get to plant the seeds for the technology which then shows up in Communion of Dreams. And one of those seeds is an Android app which is a ‘virtual assistant’ named Andi. It’s er, not quite up to Seth’s standards:

Darnell sat there, scanned the blog post. As he read, the assistant repeated “The page you requested is displayed on your screen. Do you need something else?”

“Um, yeah. How about a map to St. Seiriol’s Well?”

“A map is now displayed on your screen. You are presently at the location of St. Seiriol’s Well. Do you need something else?”

“I’m not at the Well. I’m in the parking lot. Where is the Well itself?”

“I’m sorry, available maps indicate you are presently at the Well. Do you need something else?”

“Go back to the Well Hopper site.”

“Very good. The page you requested is displayed on your screen. Do you need something else?”

 

A bit annoying, eh? Well, the people who have been reading the early chapters of the book have certainly thought so. Which was exactly what I was going for. Because technology doesn’t arrive fully developed. It shows up in an early, buggy form, and then gets improved over time. Think back to when we all had dial-up modems: they were annoying, klunky, and expensive … but they also were very, very cool because they allowed us to “get online”.

Anyway, I had to chuckle over a story on NPR yesterday afternoon which reminded me of this. Here’s the intro:

We’re already giving voice instructions to virtual personal assistants, like Apple’s Siri. But artificial intelligence is getting even smarter. The next wave of behavior-changing computing is a technology called anticipatory computing — systems that learn to predict what you need, even before you ask.

Google Now, which is available on tablets and mobile devices, is an early form of this. You can ask it a question like, “Where is the White House?” and get a spoken-word answer. Then, Google Now recognizes any follow-up questions, like “How far is it from here?” as a human would — the system realizes you’re still asking about the White House, even without you mentioning the search term again. It’s an example of how anticipatory computing is moving the way we interact with devices from tapping or typing to predictive voice control.

It wasn’t a prediction on my part to see this development, rather just paying attention to the current technology and tweaking it a bit to fit into the alternate timeline of CoD/SCW. But still, kinda fun to see things going just the way I envision.

 

Jim Downey



You Are There.*

An excerpt:

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.

 

Jim Downey

*For those who don’t know of/remember the series.

 

 

 



The view from 250 feet.

This is fun:

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!

 

Jim Downey

 



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.



We all need a little TLC now and then.
October 25, 2013, 10:00 am
Filed under: Art, Google | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Even 350 year old trees:

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.

In the meantime, you can see images of the work done this week here, and a simple image search will bring up plenty of great shots of it.

 

Jim Downey



Sometimes the future is cool …

… 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.

 

Jim Downey

 



“Welcome to the Google Cafe.”
September 6, 2013, 10:40 am
Filed under: Augmented Reality, Google, Humor, Privacy, Society, tech | Tags: , , , , ,

“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?”

“Fine.”

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 …”

 

 

Jim Downey

 



I watched a movie…

This brief post is about the recent science fiction movie Looper. It contains spoilers.  You’ve been warned.

 

* * * * * * *

Last night I watched Looper. This in itself isn’t unusual, since I try and keep up with interesting science fiction movies, usually watching them some time after the release hype has calmed down.

Looper generated a lot of discussion in reviews and related discussion threads. Lots of people really liked it, though there were the usual arguments about the theories of time travel that you almost always encounter. Personally, I thought that this was handled reasonably well in the film, and I was able to maintain suspension of disbelief.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Not really. Rather, because I am deep in the middle of writing St. Cybi’s Well, another aspect of the movie really stood out for me: it is a meta-narrative on the process of writing itself.

I just Googled the phrase “Looper as meta-narrative“. Over 600,000 hits. I’m not going to get into what others have had to say — I don’t have time this morning (er, so to speak). You can look for yourself.

Instead, just let me say this (and here’s the spoilers part): as depicted in the movie, when events in the past are changed, we see how those changes play out in the bodies of people in the future. If a character gets shot, a scar appears on his future self. If someone loses a finger, we see the person in the future go from having four fingers to three. And in a couple of instances characters will inscribe a message to their future self literally into their own flesh.

And this is just *exactly* the same process that an author uses as he or she revises a text. If I decide that I want to change something that a character says or does early in a book, I need to track that change and make sure that it appears through all aspects of that character through the rest of the book. Same thing for description, plot, background, … everything.

I’ll leave it at that. I have a busy weekend ahead of me, and I need to get things ready for that. And, unfortunately, I don’t have a time machine at hand to allow me some extra leeway.

 

Jim Downey

 



Believe it, or Not!

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.

But it was posted after I (jokingly) whinged about it on Facebook. So I wonder whether it was a serious review, particularly since the same person also posted a review of Her Final Year:

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?

 

Jim Downey

 

 



Amusing.
December 15, 2012, 12:25 pm
Filed under: Art, Google, Humor, tech

And damn if it doesn’t work, too.

And yeah, I’m old enough to remember systems like this.

 

Jim Downey




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 163 other followers