Communion Of Dreams

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


“It’s Philip K Dick’s world; we just live in it.”*

Speculation about what technological change can do to society is at the very heart of Science Fiction.

It also works pretty well for other cautionary tales:

We now know that the NSA is collecting location information en masse. As we’ve long said, location data is an extremely powerful set of information about people. To flesh out why that is true, here is the kind of future memo that we fear may someday soon be uncovered:

Sorry for the light posting the last few days; the latest viral thing going around managed to get more of a grip on my body than I would have liked. But the work on St. Cybi’s Well continues to go well.


Jim Downey

*From this comment on MetaFilter. The whole discussion is worth reading.

“Memories, you’re talking about memories.”


I am staggered by this thing: a 35-minute “paraphrasing” of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 12,597 animated watercolor paintings. It’s beautiful and insane—who would do this? A really big Blade Runner fan, I guess.

That fan is Swedish artist Anders Ramsell, who hand-painted each of the thousands of 1.5 by 3 cm paintings that make up the film, then synced them up to audio from the movie. The results are moody, and dreamily gorgeous.

Judge for yourself:


For me, this presentation/interpretation works, because it fits so perfectly with the theme and style of the movie. Very impressive.


Jim Downey


I, for one, welcome our new NSA Overlords.

Everyone is thinking about the whole “NSA Spying” thing all wrong. This isn’t about surveillance. It’s not whether there is a trade off to be made between security and privacy. It isn’t a question of how much the government is watching you or that you shouldn’t worry at all if you have nothing to hide. Nope. It’s not about any of that.

It’s about whether you want to live forever or not.

The idea that we’re living in some kind of ‘simulated reality‘ has been a mainstay of Science Fiction for just about forever, whether you want to credit it to Philip José Farmer, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, or for that matter, Genesis. One popular twist on this perhaps best seen in The Matrix where at some future time hyper-intelligent computers have re-created our reality for their own purposes, using the best records available to run simulations and better understand us.

So don’t think of it as the National Security Agency. Think of it, rather, as a records-keeping entity. One which is doing everything possible to record as much of this world, and your life, as possible so that later it can be used to make an accurate simulation. Just call it the Nascent Simulation Archive, and rejoice that our government is being so ecumenical in trying to document as much as possible about not just America, but the whole wide world. Because it means that you’ll live forever.

And you want to live forever, right?


Jim Downey

“You remember the spider that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs.”

Of late, as I have been slowly getting over the rather nasty bout of parainfluenza I mentioned previously, shedding the more annoying and disgusting symptoms, I’ve also come to realize that just now I am pulling out of the depressive trough of one of my long-term bipolar cycles.  It wasn’t a particularly bad trough, and was somewhat mitigated by the success of the Kickstarter back in the fall. Nonetheless, it was there, as I can see in hindsight.

I am frequently struck just how much of our life doesn’t make sense until seen from a distance. Just recently I was surprised at the revelation of *why* the failure of Her Final Year to be more successful bothered me as much as it did: it was because I had seen the book as being a way to create something positive (for the world) out of the experience of being a long-term care provider. To have the book only reach a limited audience was, in my mind, saying that our roles as care-givers didn’t matter.

Which isn’t true, of course, but that was the emotional reality which I had been dealing with. The “narrative truth”, if you will. A term I borrow from a very interesting meditation by Oliver Sacks at the New York Review of Books website titled Speak, Memory. From the article:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.

Let me repeat one bit of that: “Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves.”

I think this is at the very heart of why fiction has such power, and appeal. I also think that it explains the well-documented phenomenon of people believing things which are clearly and demonstratively false, if their facts come from a trusted source.

Little surprise that writers of fiction are aware of this very human trait, and have explored it in all manner of ways. I have a note here on my desk, a scrawl written on a scrap of paper some months ago as I was thinking through character motivations in St. Cybi’s Well, which says simply: “We take our truths from the people we trust.”

And here’s another example, from one of my favorite movies, exploring a favorite theme of Philip K. Dick’s:


That theme? The nature of reality.  And this is how the Sacks essay closes:

Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

In other words, that reality is a shared construct. A Communion of Dreams, if you will.

Time for me to get back to work.


Jim Downey

Sometimes I think that Philip K. Dick was an optimist.

I’ve mentioned Philip K. Dick, his genius and his influence on my writing, previously. And I’ve specifically written about his short story The Minority Report in the context of the UK’s plunge into becoming a surveillance society.

Well, even Philip K. Dick had his limitations. He was a man of his time, and couldn’t foresee just how powerful and widespread computing power and expert systems would become. Powerful enough that now it is routine for such systems to mimic one of the human brain’s best tricks: facial recognition.  To wit:

The UK’s online crime reporting
& intelligence community

Stop crime before it happens

And when they say “community” they mean it — this includes a social media-like network of interlinked businesses, government agencies, and individuals. They even have an app for your smart phone! If you don’t believe me, just check out the promotional video which seems like it is straight out of your favorite dystopian movie:

Remember, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear. Unless, you know, you worry about abuses committed by others using such a powerful surveillance tool.

Nah, *that’d* never happen, would it?

Jim Downey


Eight years.
December 28, 2011, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Art, Blade Runner, movies, Philip K. Dick, Predictions, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, tech

My, my, my. Hit the mother lode: Future Noir.

Just one of the gems there is the Blade Runner Sketchbook.

Less than 8 years to go.

Jim Downey

Via Mefi.

Model 2019 Detective Special

a.k.a.: Deckard’s gun from Blade Runner, sold at auction earlier this month for $270,000. From The Firearm Blog:

Bladerunner Blaster-Thumb-550X377-16159

At first glance the gun looks to be some sort of auto-revolver. It is in fact a Steyr Mannlicher .222 Model SL rifle action and trigger group with some revolver parts tacked on. Note the double set trigger and Steyr’s iconic “butter knife” style bolt handle. It even retains the Steyr serial number.

Man, what a piece of movie history. But then, you know I have a weakness for the movie.

Anyway, as mentioned the other day, we launched the revised BBTI late Thursday. Friday and Saturday each day the hits to the site went up by 10x, and we’re now at about 825,000 total. At this rate it should break a million by next Sunday.


It’s good to get this done and off on its own. I still need to do a write up for another firearms site about it this week, but then I’ll mostly be able to leave this project be for a while and devote my attention to other matters, including a not small pile of conservation work awaiting my attention.

But it’s good to be busy.

Jim Downey

Learning the Cost, Part II

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been very busy getting ready for our trip to Patagonia, including some long hours to wrap up work for clients before I leave.

But I took some time out for a follow-up visit to my doctor.  A good thing that I did.

* * * * * * *

As I sat waiting in the exam room for my doctor to come in, I looked around.  All the usual stuff.  But high up on top of a cabinet, only barely visible from where I sat on the exam table, was a wooden box.  Some light-colored wood, perhaps pine or a light oak.  It was a bit battered, but in decent shape, about the size of loaf of bread.  Not one of those long loafs of sandwich bread – a short loaf, of something like rye or pumpernickel.

One the end of the box bore a large seal, the sort of thing which was popular in the late 19th century.  Big outer ring, inner motif of a six-pointed star, cross-hatched on half of each star arm to indicate motion or something.  Center of the star had three initials: JBL.  Around the ring was more information: “TYRELLS HYGIENIC INST.  NEW YORK CITY U.S.A.  PATENT JANUARY, 1894 AUGUST, 1897 JUNE 1903.” Outside the ring, one in each upper corner, and one below in the center were three words: “JOY.  BEAUTY.  LIFE.”

You can get some idea of what this looked like from this image.  So far, I have been unable to find an image online of the box I saw.

* * * * * * *

I’d gone in first part of the week to have blood drawn, for tests my doctor wanted to run.  I still have the bruise where the aide who drew the blood went a bit too deep and punctured the back of my vein.

My doctor looked over the lab results, looked up at me.  “Not too bad.  LDL is a bit high, so is your HDL, which helps. Fasting blood sugar also a bit high, but not bad.  I think we should give both of those a chance to settle out some more, as you continue to get diet and exercise back completely under your control.  The rest all looks pretty good – liver & kidney function, et cetera.  Nothing to be too worried about.”

She handed over the sheaf of papers to me.  “But I want to do something more about your blood pressure.  It is still dangerously high, though you seem to have made some real progress with the beta blocker.”

Yeah, I had – I’d been testing it.  And it was down 50 points systolic, 20 points diastolic.  About halfway to where it should be.

“Would you be willing to try something else?  Another drug?”

Echo of the first conversation we had on the topic.  “What did you have in mind?”

Calcium channel blocker,” she said.  “We could still increase the dosage of the beta blocker you’re taking, because you’re on the low end of that.  But I would like to see how your system responds to this additional drug, also at a minimal dosage.  Then we can tweak dosage levels, if we need to.”

Another good call.  “Sure, let’s try it.”

* * * * * * *

My doctor returned with my prescriptions.  “Do you have any other questions?”

I pointed at the box up on top of the cabinet.  “What’s the story behind that?”

Caught off-guard, she looked at the box, confused.

“I mean, what was in there?  Is there a particular reason you have it?”

“No, not really.  Nothing’s in there.  I just came across it at an antique shop some years ago.”  She looked at me.  “Why?”

“There was an author in the 60s & 70s who wrote a lot of stuff I like.  Philip K. Dick.  He had a lot of health issues, and I can imagine him sitting in a room not unlike this one, looking at some variation of a box like that.”  I got down off the exam table.  “One of his most important books was made into the movie Blade Runner in the early 1980s.  In that movie one of the major characters goes by the name Tyrell, and he has a connection to . . . um, the medical industry.  I just thought it an interesting coincidence.”

“Oh.”  She was completely lost.  I’ve worked with doctors enough to know that they do not like this feeling.  “Well, we’ll see you after your trip, check out how the new meds are working, OK?”


Jim Downey

“You’re in the desert, you see a tortoise lying on its back, struggling, and you’re not helping — why is that?”*

So, according to FOX News, our friends at the Department of Homeland Security will soon have a new trick up their sleeve: MALINTENT.

Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind

Baggage searches are SOOOOOO early-21st century. Homeland Security is now testing the next generation of security screening — a body scanner that can read your mind.

Most preventive screening looks for explosives or metals that pose a threat. But a new system called MALINTENT turns the old school approach on its head. This Orwellian-sounding machine detects the person — not the device — set to wreak havoc and terror.

MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security’s directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.

I’m . . . sceptical.  Let me put it like this: if this thing actually, dependably, reliably works the way they tout it in the article (go read the whole thing, even if it is from FOX), then the TSA would be perfectly fine with allowing me to carry a gun onto a plane.  After all, I have a legitimate CCW permit, have been vetted by a background check and accuracy test, have had the permit for three years, and have never demonstrated the slightest inclination to use my weapon inappropriately.  If I could pass their MALINTENT scanners as well, they should be completely willing to let me (and anyone else who had a similar background and permit) carry a weapon on board.

Just how likely do you think that is?

Right.  Because this sort of technology does not, will not, demonstrate reliability to the degree they claim.  There will be far too many “false positives”, as there always are with any kind of lie detector.  That’s why multiple questions are asked when a lie detector is used, and even then many jurisdictions do not allow the results of a lie detector to be admitted into courts of law.

Furthermore, the risk of a “false negative” would be far too high.  Someone who was trained/drugged/unaware/elated with being a terrorist and slipped by the scanners would still be a threat.  As Bruce Schneier just posted about Two Classes of Airport Contraband:

This is why articles about how screeners don’t catch every — or even a majority — of guns and bombs that go through the checkpoints don’t bother me. The screeners don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be good enough. No terrorist is going to base his plot on getting a gun through airport security if there’s decent chance of getting caught, because the consequences of getting caught are too great.

Contrast that with a terrorist plot that requires a 12-ounce bottle of liquid. There’s no evidence that the London liquid bombers actually had a workable plot, but assume for the moment they did. If some copycat terrorists try to bring their liquid bomb through airport security and the screeners catch them — like they caught me with my bottle of pasta sauce — the terrorists can simply try again. They can try again and again. They can keep trying until they succeed. Because there are no consequences to trying and failing, the screeners have to be 100 percent effective. Even if they slip up one in a hundred times, the plot can succeed.

OK, so then why do it?  Why introduce these scanners at all?  Why intrude on the privacy of people wanting to get on an airplane?

Control.  As I noted earlier this year, about the news that the US military was deploying hand-held ‘lie detectors’ for use in Iraq:

The device is being tested by the military. They just don’t know it. And once it is in use, some version of the technology will be adapted for more generalized police use. Just consider how it will be promoted to the law enforcement community: as a way of screening suspects. Then, as a way of finding suspects. Then, as a way of checking anyone who wants access to some critical facility. Then, as a way of checking anyone who wants access to an airplane, train, or bus.

Just how long do you think it will be before you have to pass a test by one of these types of devices in your day-to-day life? I give it maybe ten years.  But I worry that I am an optimist.

An optimist, indeed.  Because here’s another bit from the FOXNews article:

And because FAST is a mobile screening laboratory, it could be set up at entrances to stadiums, malls and in airports, making it ever more difficult for terrorists to live and work among us.

This is about scanning the public, making people *afraid*.  Afraid not just of being a terrorist, but of being thought to be a terrorist by others, of being an outsider.  Of being a critic of the government in power. The first step is to get you afraid of terrorists, because then they could use that fear, and build on it, to slowly, methodically, destroy your privacy.  Sure, the DHS claims that they will not keep the information gathered from such scanners.  And you’re a fool if you think you can trust that.

Jim Downey

Via BoingBoing. Cross posted to UTI.

*Recognize the quote?


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