Communion Of Dreams


“… and I feel fine.”*

I ‘put to bed’ Chapter Nine of St Cybi’s Well yesterday. Meaning that it is completed well enough that I can move on to the next chapter, with the expectation that there will likely be some slight-to-moderate revisions later as the rest of the book is written.

That’s the halfway point in the actual writing of the novel, though since I have a lot of the rest of the infrastructure of the book done, it means that I’m probably more like 70% done. Exciting.

And also a little … sobering. I’ve mentioned it before, but given the events of this book (which is the historical backdrop of Communion of Dreams), this book has an understandable darkness to it. Here’s a bit from the last page of Chapter Nine to show what I mean:

The Jeconiah protocols covered a range of possible emergency conditions. Some would just require all available crews to report to base. Some would accelerate planned shipments. Some would mean preselected VIPs would be transferred to the Moon under increased security.

But Program One meant immediate isolation of the shuttle launch facility under the strictest security possible. Soon the Israelis would be launching all available shuttles with emergency supplies, using only crew who were already in normal pre-flight quarantine. This was in an effort to isolate and protect the New Ma’abarot colonies from whatever was happening here. As far as the Lunar colonies were concerned, Earth was now quarantined. It was a failsafe protocol – probably an over-reaction, but one they were willing to chance. If things turned out to be not too bad here on Earth, the quarantine could be relaxed later.

 

Or, you know, not.

So yeah, dark. Especially when I read something like this, in  a very good article about human extinction:

Humans have a long history of using biology’s deadlier innovations for ill ends; we have proved especially adept at the weaponisation of microbes. In antiquity, we sent plagues into cities by catapulting corpses over fortified walls. Now we have more cunning Trojan horses. We have even stashed smallpox in blankets, disguising disease as a gift of good will. Still, these are crude techniques, primitive attempts to loose lethal organisms on our fellow man. In 1993, the death cult that gassed Tokyo’s subways flew to the African rainforest in order to acquire the Ebola virus, a tool it hoped to use to usher in Armageddon. In the future, even small, unsophisticated groups will be able to enhance pathogens, or invent them wholesale.

 

Sarin. Ebola. Gee, where have I heard those names recently? Oh, yeah.

Damn, sometimes I hate to be so right about things …

 

Jim Downey

*Yup.

 

 



Vast vision must improve our sight.*

Remember this from a post a couple months back?

Darnell shook his head, but peered closer where Eleazar pointed. He could see something faint on the rock, but couldn’t make the image resolve. So he took out his hand-held, removed the stylus. Pointing the stylus camera and the flash on the phone at the image, he tapped an icon on the screen. There were a series of quick flashes, and the screen filled with a close-up of the stone face. Eleazar looked on with some amusement as Darnell used a slider at the bottom of the screen to go up and down the spectrum, changing the image and bringing out details otherwise hidden in it. Darnell glanced up at Eleazar, saw his amusement, and explained “Multispectral imaging. Not nearly the resolution or range of real remote sensing equipment, but handy for some things.”

“Particularly when you’re going blind, eh?”

“Yeah. And until I can find my miracle, this helps.” Darnell smiled slightly, a wry, almost sad smile. “But the range of the image is well beyond what even good human sight can see – what even you can see.”

 

A cool article with some very fun interactive tools to see how the different ranges of animal eyes compare to ours:

Some animals, including your pets, may be partially colorblind, and yet certain aspects of their vision are superior to your own. Living creatures’ visual perception of the surrounding world depends on how their eyes process light. Humans are trichromats—meaning that our eyes have three types of the photoreceptors known as cone cells, which are sensitive to the colors red, green, and blue. A different type of photoreceptors, called rods, detect small amounts of light; this allows us to see in the dark. Animals process light differently—some creatures have only two types of photoreceptors, which renders them partially colorblind, some have four, which enables them to see ultraviolet light, and others can detect polarized light, meaning light waves that are oscillating in the same plane.

“None of us can resist thinking that we can imagine what another animal is thinking,” says Thomas Cronin, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies visual physiology. But while guessing animals’ thoughts is a fantasy, looking at the world through their eyes is possible.

 

Check it out.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course.



Artists lead the way.

One of my favorite characters in Communion of Dreams is the artist Duc Ng. Here’s the description of him when he is introduced in Chapter 2:

Duc Ng was an artist. A holo sculptor, whose specialty was slow-progression transformations. The works were beautiful, inspired, and appreciated by almost anyone who saw them. Ng had jacked-up cyberware to heighten his sensitivity, and used psychotropic drugs tailored to cause neurotransmitter activity to increase dramatically. This created an artificial synesthesia for a short period of time, during which the usual senses became blurredand intermingled, adding layer upon layer of perception.

 

Note the phrase “jacked-up cyberware”.  While it plays a role in the plot, I put this in there because I’ve always admired the way that artists are constantly pushing to adapt new technologies in the creation of their art. Here’s a passage from the beginning of Chapter6 when we first get a look at Ng using his skills:

There was just one other person in the room, standing at the side of the holo platform, hands dancing over a control board only he could see. It was Ng, dressed fittingly in a jumpsuit of the same black material from which the drapes and carpet were made.

“Isn’t that stuff hot?” asked Jon, nodding toward Ng’s clothing.

“Nah, I’ve got a coolpack plugged into it. Not as efficient as a real military stealth suit, but it works. Reduces the problems I have with creating my sculptures.”

Jon looked to the dance Ng’s hands played in the air. “About ready?”

Ng said nothing, but his fingers tapped a command in the air. Instantly, there appeared an image above the holo projector.

 

Check this out:

“These beautiful gloves help me gesturally interact with my computer,” says Heap, explaining how the wearable technology allows her to perform without having to interact with keyboards or control panels.

Pushing buttons and twiddling dials “is not very exciting for me or the audience,” she says. “[Now] I can make music on the move, in the flow and more humanly, [and] more naturally engage with my computer software and technology.”

 

There’s a brilliant video which demonstrates the potential of her gloves:

 

And she has started a Kickstarter to help develop the technology to share with other performance artists:

 

Wonderful. I’m in to support it. And yeah, I think that’s another prediction from CoD coming true.

 

Jim Downey

Via BoingBoing.



Get lucky.

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” — Lefty Gomez

* * * * * * *

In a fairly soul-baring piece by Emily Gould about the reality of struggling to be an ostensibly ‘successful’ writer, this should give even the most optimistic person pause:

In 2008 I sold a book-in-progress for $200,000 ($170,000 after commission, to be paid in four installments), which still seems to me like a lot of money. At the time, though, it seemed infinite. The resulting book—a “paperback original,” as they’re called—has sold around 8,000 copies, which is about a fifth of what it needed to sell not to be considered a flop. This essentially guarantees that no one will ever pay me that kind of money to write a book again.

 

* * * * * * *

In a discussion over on MetaFilter, successful Science Fiction author Charlie Stross had some thoughts on the above-cited essay. Here’s an excerpt from his comment:

In 2001 I had a gigantic stroke of good luck: I acquired a [good] literary agent and sold my first novel. It was about the tenth novel or novel-shaped-thing I’d written since 1990, on my own time. The advance was, eventually, $15,000 for US rights (a good first book advance in SF/F) and £3500 for UK rights. Note that a new novelist can’t get follow-on book contracts until their first book has proven itself in print — to justify the advance money the new contract will cost the publisher — so I had to keep up the freelance journalism for a few more years.

 

* * * * * * *

“A gigantic stroke of good luck.”

But Stross is a good writer, right? I mean, doesn’t he deserve his success and popularity? The meritocracy of the marketplace and all that?

Perhaps. From an NPR story the other day:

Several years ago, Princeton professor Matthew Salganik started thinking about success, specifically about how much of success should be attributed to the inherent qualities of the successful thing itself, and how much was just chance. For some essentially random reason, a group of people decided that the thing in question was really good and their attention attracted more attention until there was a herd of people who believed that it was special mostly because all the other people believed that it was, but the successful thing wasn’t in fact that special.

Salganik came up with a clever experiment, one which allowed a large number of teenagers (30,000) access to several dozen songs by promising but as yet unsigned bands. The way the experiment ran created 9 different iterations of ‘reality’, to see whether the same song would become the most popular one in each test run. They didn’t. In fact, the results were wildly divergent:

“For example, we had this song ‘Lock Down’ by the band 52 Metro,” Salganik says. “In one world this song came in first; in another world it came in 40th out of 48th. And this was exactly the same song. It’s just in these different worlds, history evolved slightly different. There were differences in the beginnings, and then the process of social influence and cumulative advantage sort of magnified those small, random initial differences.”

Now obviously there are many different things that have an impact on success and failure — money, race and a laundry list of other things — and after this work, which one person in the field described as a seminal paper, Salganik went on to do similar studies with parallel worlds that suggest that quality does have at least a limited role. It is hard to make things of very poor quality succeed — though after you meet a basic standard of quality, what becomes a huge hit and what doesn’t is essentially a matter of chance.

 

* * * * * * *

Another comment a little after Stross’s in that MeFi discussion offered a different perspective that’s worth considering:

Emily Gould’s example is crucial because she is the primary example of a writer who had succeeded. She did everything she was supposed to do: came to NYC, produced a ton of successful content for a big brand website, then continued on her own to create a huge internet presence, and then branched out into conventional media (the NYT piece) and eventually a six-figure book deal. If you think of the thousands of writers who are racking up credit card debt writing for free or almost on free all those websites we read every day, they are trying to become Emily Gould. Regardless of what they might think of her work itself, that’s the approximate career path they’re trying to follow.

So when people are glibly like, “Oh, she lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, there’s your problem,” what they’re saying is: the pinnacle of this career is one in which you will never be able to afford to live on your own, never mind have kids or financial stability or even a regular writing paycheck, the end. And that should really give us pause.

Because, sure, you can say “She should never have come to New York, she should always have kept a full time job in a different profession, etc. etc.” But to work for Gawker, she had to come to New York. To gain the kind of name recognition she has, she had to work full time posting and networking and Tweeting and, basically, working for free. And when her book failed, it didn’t fail because it was “bad” – because she wrote, in the book, the exact same way she wrote online. For better or for worse, that was what people liked. The real, applicable lesson is that the book failed because the people who read her stuff online didn’t care enough to pay for it in print.

 

* * * * * * *

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” — Lefty Gomez

I used to think that this was wrong. In fact I was quite confident that my intelligence, hard work, and focus could overcome any barrier. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things.

But I’ve seen too much life to still believe that. Yeah, I’d rather be lucky than good.

Back to work.

 

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

*



Blows against the empire.*

Last week Hugh Howey, the very successful author of the Wool series, published The Report on his AuthorEarnings site which generated more than a little attention across the publishing/self-publishing world.

I’m not going to get into a real discussion of The Report here. I’m in no way qualified to criticize the data or analysis contained in Howey’s post, and others have already done so with thoroughness. If you’re interested whether or not Howey’s post holds up to scrutiny, I’d recommend reading those.

Howey has had huge success, and seems to have managed that arc of success very well. By his own admission, he has been extremely fortunate with self-publishing, and his success is very much *not* what the vast majority of self-published authors will experience. But his success has made him something of an evangelist for self-publishing, and that is reflected in The Report.  Hence the title of this blog post — Howey very much advocates self-publishing for authors at every level, and in using the power which self-publishing has to force changes in the traditional publishing industry to benefit authors.

While I actually largely agree with Howey about the benefits of self-publishing, I thought I would offer my  own contrasting  experience as a self-published genre author who has had only moderate success.

After years of ‘close calls’ in almost getting Communion of Dreams conventionally published (including what would have been a nightmare - losing the rights to the book when a small publisher went under), in January of 2012 I self-published it.  Since then, some 27,000 copies of the book have been downloaded, and about 200 paperback copies have been sold.

Looks pretty good, right?

Well, 80% or more of those downloads were promotional. Which is to say, free.  And in addition to the paperback copies sold, I gave away about as many.

No complaints from me — this is using the tools available through Amazon, and I knew what I was doing. But that necessarily means that I didn’t earn any money off those books directly.

So in all of 2012, actual sales generated decent, but modest, income. Not enough to buy even an economy car new, but easily 3 or 4 times the advance that the Publisher Who Shall Not Be Named was going to give me. Then last year residual sales were less than $1000. If you add in my successful Kickstarter (after deducting expenses associated with that), all told I was able to stop doing most freelance writing last year and get to work on the next novel. Of course, while still trying to do enough book conservation work to stay afloat, and almost managing.

I consider this success.  It’s not Hugh Howey level success. It’s not even ‘mid-list authors a decade ago’ level sucess. It isn’t enough to live on.

But the first novel is out there, and has been well received. And I’m well on the way to having the next one out later this year.

Which is a hell of a lot better than banging my head against the gates of traditional publishing houses.

 

Jim Downey

*Reference, for those who are wondering. I’ve been considering doing a series of blog posts getting into rock music with a SF theme, looking at the development of that sub-genre over time. I still have a lot on my plate with SCW, so it’ll probably be a while, but if anyone wants to comment with suggested songs/albums/performers, feel free.



Stereotomy*

For those who don’t know, one of my other interests is handgun ballistics research. Specifically, in regards to how barrel length effects bullet velocity for different cartridges and loadings. Even if you don’t like guns, the physics behind ballistic performance can be very interesting.

And here’s a wonderfully graphic image showing those physical forces:

Ruger Alaskan .44 Magnum

Text from the source to go with this image (site is Finnish, and English is not the author’s first language):

Let’s talk a bit about .44 Magnum cartridge. Despite of being very close to diameter of .45ACP the .44Mag is totally different beast. Average .45ACP round generates ~650J of hit energy while .44Mag makes easily 1600J and can be pushed much more beyond that. This specific gun however cannot utilize all potential of .44 Magnum cartridge because of very short barrel. It simply cannot burn all powder. As you can see there is huge cone shaped spray of unburnt stuff flying in the air. With longer barrel show would be different.

Ok, you may have noticed the flames. They are something we haven’t seen before. Especially when you look picture below and huge left side flame in it. Interesting thing is that major amount of the flame is escaping between cylinder and barrel. That short barrel seems to puff bullet our so fast that powder mass just flies out unignited.

The site is filled with a bunch of great high-speed camera images of guns being fired. And it also has something else which is new to me: ‘natural stereoscopic’ images of guns being fired. Like this one:

Now, what do I mean ‘natural stereoscopic’ images? Well, this is pretty cool itself. Here’s a reference link & explanation from the Kuulapaa site:

Help: How to Free-View the Stereo Pairs

Each stereo view consists of two images, one for each eye. Free viewing is the technique that will allow you to direct each of these images separately and simultaneously into each eye. Once that happens, you are said to have “fused” the pair of images into a stereo view.

At the bottom of this page a stereo pair of images is loading with which you can practice. All the stereo pairs shown on this site are in the “cross-eyed” format (my apologies to all the “wall-eyed” people). That means that the first (leftmost) image is for your right eye and the right image is for your left eye.

There are then a series of practice image to show what he means and give you a chance to develop this viewing skill. It works fairly well for me, but does tire my eye muscles fairly quickly. Give it a try and see how you do.

Jim Downey

*Couldn’t resist. Lyrics here.

Cross posted to the BBTI blog.




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