Communion Of Dreams


By the book.

From Chapter 7 of St. Cybi’s Well:

Long training had taught him to put his trust in facts. In objective, testable reality. You didn’t fly a space shuttle – even one which had been stripped down to the bare essentials for transporting sealed sleeper modules – by the seat of your pants. That would very quickly get you killed. You flew it by the book, with close attention to your instrumentation and computer systems. Because your instincts would lie to you. Your hopes and dreams had no place in orbital calculations. The only miracles which existed were the ones created by careful science, proven engineering, and rigorous quality control.

 

And from a great entry today on Bad Astronomy:

The European Space Agency has put together a fantastic and enthralling video that goes through the steps taken to bring the space travelers down. This is seriously worth 20 minutes of your time.

 

Yeah, it is really cool to watch them go through it all by the book. Find the time to watch it.

 

Jim Downey



“I prefer the term ‘Artificial Person’ myself.”

Catch this news this week?

Synthetic biology: New letters for life’s alphabet

The five bases found in nucleic acids define the ‘alphabet’ used to encode life on Earth. The construction of an organism that stably propagates an unnatural DNA base pair redefines this fundamental feature of life.

* * *

Sorry about the sparseness of posting lately. I’ve been … busy. Have had a couple of interesting things happen which could play out in some very good ways. One is still enough in an embryonic stage that I won’t mention anything about it yet, but the other is far enough along that I’ll share: there’s a literary agent who is potentially interested in representing me, something which I have been thinking about for a while.

And it seems like a good enough fit that I took all of last weekend to put together a submission package for formal consideration. That meant going through and doing fairly thorough revisions to the first few chapters of St Cybi’s Well, using the feedback I have gotten from half a dozen ‘beta readers’, as well as composing a formal synopsis of the book. Frankly, both were a lot of work, and somewhat skewed my normal work schedule such that it is just now getting back to what passes for normal in my life.

But it was also helpful, and forced me to clarify some things which I had left unfocused for the rest of the book. Because of the way I am writing this (using Scrivener), it has been fairly easy for me to block out both the overall arc of the book as well as character developments. But doing so has been based on chapter notes more than anything, meaning that it was still somewhat in flux. Creating a full synopsis meant that I had to put the whole thing into one coherent document. And even though it was something of a pain in the butt, the result is helpful.

I’ll keep you posted as to any concrete developments.

* * *

Remember this scene from Aliens?

 

Considered a classic, and rightly so. But I’ve always thought that a big part of the brilliance of it is how it sets up what happens immediately after:

Back at the groups’ table, Bishop holds up his hand and examines a tiny cut closely.

BURKE: I thought you never missed, Bishop?

To Ripley’s horror, a trickle of white synthetic blood runs down his finger. Ripley spins on Burke, her tone accusing.

RIPLEY: You never said anything about an android being on board! Why not?!

BURKE: It never occurred to me. It’s common practice. We always have a synthetic on board.

BISHOP: I prefer the term ‘artificial person’ myself.

BURKE: Right.

 

* * *

Oh, one more thing: in observation of Mother’s Day, the Kindle edition of Her Final Year is available for free download through Sunday, May 11th. If you’re new here, just a quick note: this is our care-giving memoir about the challenges and rewards of caring for someone with dementia, as well as the long recovery/reflection period which comes after. It seems to have helped a lot of people. Perhaps it can help you or someone you know.

 

Jim Downey



“We’d never even *dream* of doing such a thing. Really!”

Well, anyone paying attention should have known this was coming:

Pentagon scientists show off life-size robot

Washington (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got a first-hand look at a life-size robot that resembles Hollywood’s “Terminator,” the latest experiment by the Pentagon’s hi-tech researchers.

But unlike the cinematic version, the hulking Atlas robot is designed not as a warrior but as a humanitarian machine that would rescue victims in the rubble of a natural disaster, officials said on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-2-inch (187 centimeters) Atlas is one of the entrants in a contest designed to produce a man-like life-saver machine, the brainchild of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

 

Right. Because the Pentagon would never *dream* of putting weapons on any new piece of technology

Well, they’ve got 15 years to get to the level of the T-800 model.

Sheesh.

 

Jim Downey



Eat the rich. Literally.

Now comes the perfect commoditization of celebrity:

“BiteLabs grows meat from celebrity tissue samples and uses it to make artisanal salami.” So proclaims the copy on BiteLabs.org, right under an all-caps call to action: EAT CELEBRITY MEAT. The site proposes taking actual tissue samples of celebrities—specifically, James Franco, Kanye West, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ellen DeGeneres—and growing their cloned meat for use in a marketable salami blend.

* * *

“The product is indeed salami,” Kevin says. “Each salami will have roughly 30% celebrity meat and 40% lab-grown animal meats (we’re currently looking into ostrich and venison but it pork and beef are more popular in our early research). The rest will consist of fats and spices. This break-down comes from consultation with expert food designers and chefs.”

 

Admittedly, I have an … odd … sense of humor, but for the life of me I can’t figure out whether this is funnier if it is satire or if it is real.

Welcome to the future, though it’s a bit different than what we expected.

 

Jim Downey



For What It’s Worth.

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware*

Minority Report, anyone?

When the Chicago Police Department sent one of its commanders to Robert McDaniel’s home last summer, the 22-year-old high school dropout was surprised. Though he lived in a neighborhood well-known for bloodshed on its streets, he hadn’t committed a crime or interacted with a police officer recently. And he didn’t have a violent criminal record, nor any gun violations. In August, he incredulously told the Chicago Tribune, “I haven’t done nothing that the next kid growing up hadn’t done.” Yet, there stood the female police commander at his front door with a stern message: if you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences. We’re watching you.

What McDaniel didn’t know was that he had been placed on the city’s “heat list” — an index of the roughly 400 people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime. Inspired by a Yale sociologist’s studies and compiled using an algorithm created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the heat list is just one example of the experiments the CPD is conducting as it attempts to push policing into the 21st century.

 

Jim Downey

*



“A rollicking good time!!!”

… said no one ever about Communion of Dreams. Oh, it’s got a buttload of positive reviews, but it’s a ‘serious’ book in the sense of being about Big Questions of Humanity’s Role in the Universe and all that . And, truth be told, so is St. Cybi’s Well (at least I hope so).

But as I’m starting to see the prospect of finishing SCW sometime in the next months, and perhaps because I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, I’m kinda in the mood to write something which isn’t Oh So Serious. Something light, fun, perhaps even popular. (Gawds, what a concept.) Maybe something like The Princess Bride, but recast in feudal Japan. Or Star Wars redone as the Western it is at heart.

And speaking of which, guess what I found:

Bob A. Ford

The typical wild west bounty hunter who sells his services to bring in anyone with a price on their head.   His quiet demeanor and lighting reflexes makes him one of the most dangerous men on the prairie.

There’s a whole series of these set in different periods/worlds, and they’re all completely delightful.

And we need more delight in our lives. All of us.

So, something to think about.

 

Jim Downey

Oh, PS: thanks to one and all who downloaded CoD during the weekend promotion. Not huge numbers, but not bad: about 550 downloads around the world. Interestingly, the Amazon portal in Germany was the second-highest number of downloads (second to the US, of course), with a couple dozen. First time that’s happened, and that’s a bigger total for there than ever before to the best of my recollection. No idea why.



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.



It’s a mystery.*

Some more ‘quick hits’ …

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

Here’s a very good article about the nuance of what you can/should call a book, and the sort of question I have had to dance around countless times when people have asked me what was the “oldest book” I’ve ever worked on:

What is the Oldest Book in the World?

The past few days I have been preoccupied with a deceptively simple question: “What is the oldest book in the world?” Having done some looking around I can now report that while somewhere on this planet, in a vault or a cupboard, lies the oldest surviving book, it is actually impossible to say which one may be branded as such. Bear with me.

 

* * *

A light bulb in our kitchen blew out, and needed to be replaced. Routine, except that this bulb was in a fixture on the ceiling in the part of the kitchen where the ceiling is 12′ (I live in an old house). Still, no big deal — we have a tall enough step ladder so it’s just a minor hassle.

So I set up the ladder, climbed to the fixture, new CFC bulb in hand. The fixture is one of those old kind that have been used for 50+ years, with a glass sphere hanging from a metal ring, more or less enclosing the whole thing. You back out three set-screws, drop the sphere, clean out the various small flying bugs which have gotten into it over the years, replace the bulb and then put the sphere back.

And there were some small dead flying bugs. But there were also several large crickets. Dead. And one small live one.

How the hell did they get into that fixture?

 

* * *

Anyone who thinks we’re not living in a partial police state just hasn’t been paying attention. To apply William Gibson’s classic phrase in a rather darker way: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal agents wrongfully strip-searched a New Mexico woman at the El Paso border crossing, then took her to a hospital where she was forced to undergo illegal body cavity probes in an attempt to find drugs, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in El Paso said the unnamed 54-year-old U.S. citizen was “brutally” searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December 2012 after being selected for additional random screening at the Cordova Bridge in El Paso when a drug sniffing dog jumped on her. The woman was returning from a visit to a recently deported family friend in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, the lawsuit said.

Agents quickly stripped searched her and did cavity searches but found no evidence of drugs, court documents said. But the woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, the lawsuit said, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and other exams without a warrant.

Via BoingBoing.

 

* * *

Enough for now, except to note that this is blog post #1,600 and we’re rapidly closing on 100,000 hits to this blog! Yay!

Have a good weekend!

Jim Downey

*Reference this.



More than meets the eye.

If you haven’t seen this, you should:

Explanation from the source:  Jewel Box Sun

 

Jim Downey



What kind of future were you expecting?

One with an ‘expert’ like Seth from Communion of Dreams?

Or maybe, a little closer to our own time, say one which includes something like HAL from 2001?

Ha! Sucker. You should know that reality would prove to be more … banal. And corporate. Like this:

The phone call came from a charming woman with a bright, engaging voice to the cell phone of a TIME Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer. She wanted to offer a deal on health insurance, but something was fishy.

When Scherer asked point blank if she was a real person, or a computer-operated robot voice, she replied enthusiastically that she was real, with a charming laugh. But then she failed several other tests. When asked “What vegetable is found in tomato soup?” she said she did not understand the question. When asked multiple times what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained repeatedly of a bad connection.

Over the course of the next hour, several TIME reporters called her back, working to uncover the mystery of her bona fides. Her name, she said, was Samantha West, and she was definitely a robot, given the pitch perfect repetition of her answers. Her goal was to ask a series of questions about health coverage—”Are you on Medicare?” etc.—and then transfer the potential customer to a real person, who could close the sale.

Hmm, I think I can still work “Samantha” into St. Cybi’s Well

 

Jim Downey




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