Filed under: Book Conservation, Connections, Kindle, Publishing, Religion, Society, tech | Tags: Amazon, blogging, book conservation, bookbinding, caligraphy, direct publishing, economics, Erik Kwakkel, history, jim downey, Kindle, technology
A lot of folks don’t know it, but I have an undergraduate degree in Economics (and another in German). And, while I haven’t really done anything with that degree, it does still largely inform how I see the world: in terms of economic forces at play.
So this nice little explanation of how the industry of making books worked during the Medieval Period … and the forces which led to it … as well as how it relates to modern publishing … well, let’s just say it ties a lot of my interests together. Here’s an excerpt:
The professionals who made books for profit were usually found near the biggest church in town. This was a well-chosen spot as canons and clerics (i.e. people who visited the church and who could read) formed an important part of the clientele. By the 14th century true communities of the book had formed in the neighborhoods around churches and cathedrals. Evidence from such cities as Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, London and Paris suggests that in these communities a diverse group of artisans interacted with clients and with each other. It was a world bound not only by the book, however, but also by profit.
The whole thing is worth a read, and it’s actually quite brief. Brief, but insightful.
Filed under: Connections, Faith healing, Predictions, Religion, Science Fiction, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: blogging, Celtic, faith, jim downey, Pennant Melangell, predictions, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Tanat, travel, Wales, writing, Yew
No, not from St. Cybi’s Well. Not exactly, anyway. Rather, from a travelogue I wrote following my 2006 trip to Wales. This is how I describe the small chapel of Pennant Melangell, which is the site where a lot of the book will be based:
The shrine is to St. Melangell, supposedly one of the earliest such shrines in northern Europe. It’s been nicely restored, using new local materials to recreate missing pieces, but in such a fashion as to be clear what is old and what is new. Yeah, that’s the professional book conservator talking there – I appreciate good craftsmanship when I see it. Evidently the shrine had been pitched (literally) into a local ditch during the Reformation, but was (much) later recovered, then even later properly restored.
The rest of the chapel is stunning, though in an honest and simple way. It has seen multiple alterations and revisions in the last 800 years (big surprise), but still maintains a sense of what it is all about. And what it is all about is grace. No, not in the strictly Christian sense of the term, but in something older, something deeper . . . dare I say in the sense the early Christians wanted to appropriate?
Here we get into what I was talking about when I said that this trip was partly a spiritual quest. The Celts had notions of holiness tied up with location, of ‘thin’ places where the boundaries between this reality and the other side came together. You’ll frequently find a river, stream, or spring at such a location. The whole valley of the Tanat has that feeling to it, but it seems to be particularly strong here, where the young river wraps itself around the church grounds. The rough circle of the churchyard is bounded by a coarse wall, more like an earthwork than anything. More importantly, while the wall is higher than either the interior or the exterior ground, the interior is on a slight rise, a slight dome with the chapel at the apex. It’s almost like it is a lens of earth, focusing spiritual energy. And that Big Damned Yew tree? It isn’t the only one. There are several others of almost the same age at other points on the wall, the anchors of the lens, both to the earth and to the sky.
So, go. If you make it to Wales, and have an afternoon or a morning to spare, go. In the coming travelogues I will have other places you might want to visit, each one special in its own way. But go to Pennant Melangell. Make a donation of a few pounds if you can spare ‘em. Avowed atheist that I am, I now carry a wallet with a religious inscription that I got at Pennant Melangell, from the self-service/honor system selection of items in the office. And yes, I even paid for it.
Just thought I would share that passage. Trust me, you’ll see a lot more about this place over the coming year.
Filed under: Art, Arthur C. Clarke, Artificial Intelligence, Blade Runner, Brave New World, Connections, Expert systems, Feedback, General Musings, Humor, movies, Music, NPR, Predictions, Psychic abilities, Religion, Ridley Scott, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A.I., Arthur C. Clarke, artificial intelligence, Blade Runner, blogging, Christoph Bartneck, Clifford Nass, Communion of Dreams, deva, Expert, feedback, HAL, humor, jim downey, movies, music, NPR, predictions, reviews, Ridley Scott, science, Science Fiction, Seth, Siri, St. Cybi's Well, technology, Vangelis, video, writing, www youtube
One of the things I’ve been a little bit surprised by has been just how many people have volunteered to me (or in reviews) just how much they like the ‘Experts’ in Communion of Dreams, and in particular how much of a favorite character Seth becomes to them in the course of the novel.
I don’t mean I’m surprised by how much people like the Experts, and particularly Seth. Hell, I intended the Experts to be likeable. I mean that this is something which people find remarkable enough to, well, remark on it.
That’s because humans tend to anthropomorphize just about everything. Our pets. Our cars. Our tools. Even nature. It’s one of the basic ways that we make sense of the world, as can be seen in religious and spiritual beliefs. Long before Siri there was HAL, and inasmuch as Communion of Dreams is an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey I knew that Seth would resonate as a ‘real person’.*
So this morning I was amused to hear a story on NPR about how giving computers/robots more human characteristics tends to cause humans to develop a greater sense of empathy and socialization with them. Amused, but not surprised. From the article:
Many people have studied machine-human relations, and at this point it’s clear that without realizing it, we often treat the machines around us like social beings.
* * *
What the study demonstrated was that people do in fact obey the rule of reciprocity when it comes to computers. When the first computer was helpful to people, they helped it way more on the boring task than the other computer in the room. They reciprocated.
* * *
“The relationship is profoundly social,” he says. “The human brain is built so that when given the slightest hint that something is even vaguely social, or vaguely human — in this case, it was just answering questions; it didn’t have a face on the screen, it didn’t have a voice — but given the slightest hint of humanness, people will respond with an enormous array of social responses including, in this case, reciprocating and retaliating.”
On the NPR website version of the story there’s also this delightful video showing what happens when a robot with cat/human characteristics begs a research subject to not switch it off:
Interesting. But again, unsurprising. Consider the whole sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL is shut down — a powerful and poignant part of the movie. And referenced at the end of the video above.
Lastly, I laughed out loud once the story was over on NPR, and the transitional bit of music started up. Why? Because it was an instrumental work by the artist Vangelis, composed as the Love Theme from the movie Blade Runner.
Filed under: Amazon, Connections, Failure, Heinlein, Kindle, Marketing, movies, Music, Predictions, Preparedness, Promotion, Publishing, Religion, Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Alan Parsons Project, Amazon, blogging, Buckaroo Bonzai, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, free, gambling, Heinlein, jim downey, Kickstarter, Kindle, literature, movies, music, predictions, promotion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, video, writing, www youtube
* * * * * * *
I liked “The Day After Tomorrow.”
No, not the movie. Gah.
Rather, I’m talking about the initial name for the Heinlein novel we now know as Sixth Column. I always figured that the trick of inventing a religion (one of the major plot devices of the book) gave L. Ron Hubbard inspiration. It’s not one of Heinlein’s best works — hardly — and you have to understand the blatant racism in the context of when it was written. But it’s decent pulp science fiction.
* * * * * * *
RAWHIDE: Look, uh... we've got the overthruster, but somebody shanghaied the Professor right from the press conference. BUCKAROO BANZAI: Ohhh... the deuce you say.
* * * * * * *
And they think it will make their lives easier
For God knows up till now it’s been hard
But the game never ends when your whole world depends
On the turn of a friendly card
No the game never ends when your whole world depends
On the turn of a friendly card
Two days remaining. It ends the day after tomorrow. $7,781 to go. Bluff, or fold?
Filed under: Amazon, Augmented Reality, Connections, Humor, Kindle, Music, Promotion, Publishing, Religion, Science Fiction, Society, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Amazon, augmented reality, blogging, Carl Jung, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, humor, jim downey, Jungian psychology, Kickstarter, Kindle, literature, music, promotion, Roman, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Synchronicity, The Police, video, writing, www youtube
Today is October 8th.
October used to be the 8th month. That it is now the 10th month played havoc with my mind when I was a kid, since I knew damned good and well that “octo” meant “eight”. It wasn’t logical. It didn’t make sense. This may well have been my first conscious awareness that reality was kinda screwed-up. Seriously.
It is also, as it happens, day 8 in our little count-down. No, I didn’t plan it that way.
At least not consciously.
So, that brings us to this:
Have a good Monday.
*Just in case. And yeah, Jung’s ideas run all through my fiction. Obviously.
Filed under: Amazon, Connections, Faith healing, Feedback, Flu, Kindle, Marketing, Pandemic, Predictions, Preparedness, Promotion, Publishing, Religion, Saturn, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Titan, Travel, Writing stuff | Tags: Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, fire-flu, flu, Israel, jim downey, Kickstarter, Kindle, literature, Moon, murder, predictions, Saturn, Science Fiction, space, St. Cybi's Well, technology, Titan, travel, Wales, writing
The description of Communion of Dreams on both the back of the book and on the website/Amazon is this:
The year is 2052, and the human race is still struggling to recover from a massive pandemic flu some 40 years previously. When an independent prospector on Saturn’s moon Titan discovers an alien artifact, assumptions that we are alone in the universe are called into question. Knowing that news of such a discovery could prompt chaos on Earth, a small team is sent to investigate and hopefully manage the situation. What they find is that there’s more to human history, and human abilities, than any of them ever imagined. And that they will need all those insights, and all those abilities, to face the greatest threat yet to human survival.
It was pretty easy to come up with that. It was written well after the fact, after all. The book had been done for years, worked over and tweaked endlessly.
Well, as I am getting things set to do the Kickstarter project to allow me to concentrate on writing St. Cybi’s Well, one of the components we have to get into place is setting up a website for it. To do that I needed to have the same sort of short description of that book as the one above for Communion of Dreams. But St. Cybi’s Well *isn’t* done yet. Far from it. I have a lot of ideas/thoughts/scenes for it, accumulated over the last nine years. I basically know what the book is going to be, but the story and the characters will evolve as I write. Nonetheless, I had to come up with a description.
This is what I came up with. See what you think:
Darnell Sidwell had a problem. Well, two, actually. One was the onset of an eye disease which threatened to end his career as a shuttle pilot for the Israeli Lunar Transfer, to the so-called New Ma’abarot colonies. That brought him to Wales, where his sister operated a spiritual healing center – a last, absurd hope for a man who didn’t believe in miracles.
The other problem was a small matter of a murder. His. But he didn’t know about that yet. Just as he didn’t know that the whole world was about to be plunged into the fire-flu.
It’s a start.
Filed under: Amazon, Brave New World, Failure, Feedback, General Musings, Kindle, Predictions, Preparedness, Publishing, Religion, Science Fiction, Synesthesia, Travel, Weather, Writing stuff | Tags: Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, drought, holy wells, jim downey, Kickstarter, Kindle, literature, predictions, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, weather, writing
We got a little more than 2″ of rain yesterday.
On my walk this morning, the grass no longer crunched underfoot.
* * * * * * *
Got a note from a friend this morning. He’d just finished reading CoD last night, made this comment:
“That was one hell of a lot of keeping things straight on your part. Very nice job and a thoroughly enjoyable read.”
* * * * * * *
From almost a decade ago:
My awareness shifted, slowed, and a calmness and sense of peace came over me. I did a cursory examination of the cottage, but then walked behind the Well room to find the source of the stream which fed the pool there: it was a spring, unencumbered by metal bars, bubbling up in a stone-ledged pool complete with small steps, perhaps four feet across. I knelt on one knee, left hand on the cold stone slab, the right reaching down to caress the surface of the water. Just touching that water gave me an electric chill, and brought tears to my eyes. Those tears have returned as I write this. I paused there, and just felt the joy of that water through my fingers for a few minutes, before returning to the Well room.
This is a substantial room, all the walls mostly intact but the roof missing. Perhaps 15 feet on a side, the pool in the center 8 or 9 feet across. Again, there were stone steps leading down into the pool. In the thick stone walls are several niches for sitting, perfect for contemplation. I sat. I just felt that place, felt the faith and devotion that had shaped it, and the deep source that fed it. The pool is quiet, the surface a mirror for looking up into the open sky. After what was probably only a few minutes, but what felt like hours, I again kneeled, reaching down to touch that smooth inviting surface. Here there was a different character to the energy, less raw, perhaps easier to digest. A sense of communion with all the souls who had entered that pool. A moment that stretched back centuries.
I was speechless for a time. Alix (my wife) knows me well enough, has seen me in these moments before, that she let me be, allowed me to just experience the place, until I was filled and ready to move again. With the silky texture of worn stone sliding under my fingers, I rose and left the pool, pausing only to pat the dark stone of the doorway and give thanks.
In was in that moment that St. Cybi’s Well was conceived.
* * * * * * *
It’s a strange thing to write a novel. To have it churn inside you for years. To feel it gestate, to become heavy in your mind, slowly pushing aside everything else.
I think this is part of the reason why so many writers suffer with addiction and relationship problems of one sort or another. The book takes up all the space in your head. And if you can’t extract it at the right time, and in *just* the right way, it hurts. It hurts like hell.
* * * * * * *
We got a little more than 2″ of rain yesterday.
On my walk this morning, the grass no longer crunched underfoot. We’re still in a drought — still some 10″ under for total precipitation this year — but two inches of rain over the course of 24 hours has helped. A lot. It no longer feels as if the entire outdoors is holding its breath, hanging on in anticipation . . . and in worry. The world has sighed.
I was speechless for a time. I am no longer.
There is work to be done. Hard work. There is no guarantee that I’ll be successful. There certainly is no guarantee that anyone will like the book. While it is very much a prequel to Communion of Dreams, St. Cybi’s Well will not neatly fit in the usual framework of a classic science fiction story. The passage above should give you some sense of that.
But I have to be faithful to the story. And have faith in my fans.
Filed under: Architecture, Art, Ballistics, Blade Runner, Connections, Guns, Italy, movies, Religion, Travel, Weather | Tags: blogging, Campo de' Fiori, Carravagio, firearms, Italy, jim downey, Leonardo da Vinci, movies, Piazza Navona, Roman, Roman Holiday, Rome, travel, Trevi Fountain
We left the villa early on Monday morning, since it was a drive of some hours back to Rome and we needed to get there about noon to allow some members of the group to make travel connections.
There had been rain overnight. When we left, this was the view of the sea from the villa:
Taking the inland interstate-style highway, we got to see part of the country we hadn’t before.
And I discovered that the rest stops in Italy are much like rest stops anywhere, complete with baffling toys…
…and various products to help you stay awake:
Actually, I bought some of the “pocket espresso” things – and they weren’t bad. About an ounce of high-density caffeine with a lot of chocolate, in liquid form like an extra-small juice box.
* * * * * * *
We got to Rome, dropped off several people at the main train station. Most of the rest of us were back in the hotel we had stayed in the first few days of the program. We got checked in, dropped off bags and then made plans for the afternoon.
Most of the remaining group were leaving the next morning, just a few staying on to Wednesday. The bulk of the group made plans for dinner together that evening. But Steve & Amy needed to get a number of things done to wrap up the trip (and plan for the next one), so they were inclined to not join in on another big dinner.
In all honesty, I think they were also tired of being “in charge” and just wanted a little down-time. I know that when I have been in such a role for a week or two, I feel wiped out, and no offense to the people in the group but I am usually ready for a break.
So we spent the afternoon hitting a couple of different sights, mostly giving Steve and Amy time to do something of a post-mortem on the workshop – discussing what worked, what didn’t go so smoothly, how to perhaps change the schedule. I mostly kept my mouth shut, though occasionally I was able to offer some perspective as a tag-along. We had coffee & conversation on the Piazza Navona, then eventually Amy went off to take care of some errands and Steve and I went to see the Carravagio paintings (The Calling of St Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) at the nearby San Luigi dei Francesi. Naturally, I had seen reproductions of these pieces, but seeing them actually in the space they were intended for was breath-taking.
Following this, we wandered back to the hotel room. We both wanted a chance to rest and shower before getting back together with Amy for drinks and dinner that evening.
Dinner that night was worth mentioning: a place which specializes in dishes with porcini mushrooms. We ate heartily, washed the food down with some local artisanal beer. According to Amy & Steve, such beer is a relatively new thing in Rome – but it was quite good, though it was odd to have it served in what was basically a champagne bottle.
* * * * * * *
The next morning we mostly went our separate ways. Steve & Amy needed to check out a couple different museums for the next program. I was tired of “Roman Stuff” and opted to do a bit of exploring on my own.
Starting with a completely delightful exhibit I had noted on previous wanderings: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Big Machines”. I had seen that there was a traveling version of this show which made it to the US, but I hadn’t had a chance to see it for myself. Here are a few images of the fun items in the exhibit:
This was mostly geared towards kids, but it was still fun to see actual mock-ups of a number of da Vinci’s drawings. And one thing which was completely new to me was the octagonal closet which was completely lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. You stepped into this closet, closed the door, and were able to see an infinite regression of images – like being in a room with two facing mirrors. Except that in this case, because of the placement of all 8 mirrors, you were able to see yourself from every angle – and it is a very odd thing to see your own back full size, in real time. What’s most impressive about this is, of course, that during da Vinci’s time it was impossible to make mirrors of sufficient size or quality to demonstrate this effect – he had done it all through basic knowledge of optics, applied as a thought-experiment. Very cool.
* * * * * * *
I got some lunch from a street vendor, then decided to go see this:
Yeah, the Trevi fountain. I’d promised a friend I would toss a coin in for her, and fulfilled that promise.
Two things I want to note about seeing the Trevi fountain: one, it was crazy with crowds. Seriously, just a block away there were few tourists. But in the square with the fountain it was packed. Nuts. Worst crowds I had seen anywhere in Rome.
And two, I had gotten to know my way around Rome well enough that it was pretty easy for me to dead-reckon with minimal reference to a street map. This got me to and from the Trevi fountain with minimal problems. This made me inordinately happy.
* * * * * * *
I made my way back to where the hotel was, stopping by once again to just stand inside the Pantheon. It was the sort of place I could probably visit a hundred times.
Along the way back to the hotel, I noted this interior courtyard:
No idea what that was. But it was cool.
* * * * * * *
After dropping off my bag at the hotel, I popped over to the Campo de’ Fiori – the little market square I mentioned previously. I got a beer and some snacks, sat down to write some notes and just observe what was going on in the square.
And what was going on was the take-down of the market stalls and subsequent clean-up:
That’s one of those little motor-cycle carts as seen in “Roman Holiday”. I was a bit surprised to see that they’re still very much in use in Rome, since that movie is even older than I am. But quite a number of the different merchants had them, and they seem quite practical for such use given the narrow winding streets in the heart of the city.
* * * * * * *
Dinner that evening was again just the three of us: myself, Steve, Amy. We ate at a place not far off the Campo, which is to say not that far from the hotel. This was by design, since we had to be up early to catch a private van to the airport.
Which we did the next morning, leaving about 6:30. My flight was later than the other’s, but it made the most sense for me to just get to the airport a bit early.
Of course, as it turned out, things all ran late at the Rome airport for me, and I could have gone over much later in the day. And the delays meant missed connections and the usual travel-foo. But I got in to St. Louis eventually, and in time to catch the shuttle home.
Yes indeed, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” I almost don’t believe it, myself.
Filed under: Architecture, Art, Emergency, Italy, Mark Twain, Predictions, Preparedness, Religion, Science, Survival, Travel | Tags: art, blogging, ghosts, Herculaneum, Innocents Abroad, Italy, jim downey, Mark Twain, Mount Vesuvius, Naples, photography, Pompeii, predictions, pyroclastic flow, Roman, science, travel, volcano
“Finally we stood in a level, narrow valley (a valley that had been created by the terrific march of some old time irruption) and on either hand towered the two steep peaks of Vesuvius. The one we had to climb – the one that contains the active volcano – seemed about eight hundred or one thousand feet high, and looked almost too straight-up-and-down for any man to climb, and certainly no mule could climb it with a man on his back. Four of these native pirates will carry you to the top in a sedan chair, if you wish it, but suppose they were to slip and let you fall, – is it likely that you would ever stop rolling? Not this side of eternity, perhaps. We left the mules, sharpened our finger-nails, and began the ascent I have been writing about so long, at twenty minutes to six in the morning. The path led straight up a rugged sweep of loose chunks of pumice-stone, and for about every two steps forward we took, we slid back one. It was so excessively steep that we had to stop, every fifty or sixty steps, and rest a moment. To see our comrades, we had to look very nearly straight up at those above us, and very nearly straight down at those below. We stood on the summit at last – it had taken an hour and fifteen minutes to make the trip.”
Mark Twain, Chapter 30 of The Innocents Abroad.
* * * * * * *
Yeah, it isn’t quite that bad climbing Mount Vesuvius today. There’s now a very good path which switchbacks a couple of times, then winds around the mountain a fair amount, making for a longer walk but one which is still fairly steep, climbing the final 200 meters of elevation from the parking lot. Take a look:
Then once you’re to the top, you can walk about a third of the way around the lip of the crater. On one side, you look down into the crater, on the other out over the volcanic plains to the Bay of Naples:
At the top – at the very end of the public trail – there’s a little hut selling refreshments and souvenirs. And the prices are more reasonable than you might expect. But I decided that I didn’t really need either an ashtray or a skull carved out of black pumice.
Standing there on what’s left of Vesuvius, looking out over the plains below, I felt a bit melancholy. It could have just been the exertion to climb to the top. Or that I knew the trip was coming to a close. But looking out over the misty cities, it was easy to picture another eruption. There are millions of people within potential reach of the volcano. Naples – a city of some 4 million – is conceivably at risk. In the immediate area around the volcano some 600,000 people are subject to possible pyroclastic flows. Current scientific models indicate that there would probably be two to three weeks of warning before a serious eruption, but no one is entirely confident of that. And at best, it would take 5 -7 days to evacuate those most at risk.
* * * * * * *
We came down off the mountain, but in some sense didn’t leave it. It lurked there on the skyline as we went to Herculaneum.
I said that visiting Pompeii was “sobering,” but the primary thing that going there did for me was to help me envision what a Roman city was like.
Herculaneum was different. It was even more immediate – more “real.” That’s because of the way the city was destroyed.
When Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, Herculaneum was mostly out of the immediate ash cloud. In Pompeii, the city was largely buried by ash and small rock debris to a depth of several meters in the first few hours. This caused roofs to collapse, and entombed people in ash after they suffocated or died from blunt trauma.
Not so in Herculaneum. They only got a few inches of ash initially. This meant that they had a lot more time for the city to be evacuated. But when the blow came to Herculaneum, it came very swiftly – in the form of a pyroclastic flow of molten rock and debris moving at 100 mph and at a temperature of over 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
Those who were in the city died almost instantaneously, their flesh vaporized in the heat. All that was left was bone.
Likewise, structures were encased in the molten mass, and it happened so quickly that wood didn’t burn – it was carbonized, turned to charcoal, sealed in super-heated rock. Roofs didn’t collapse, as the structures were filled inside as well as covered over on the outside. Eventually, the entire city was covered to a depth of more than 20 meters. The result was a city which was even better preserved than Pompeii. Better preserved, and because of that more tangible. You couldn’t help but walk the streets, enter the houses, and feel like you were in a living city, one which had just misplaced its populace. The ghosts were still close here:
* * * * * * *
It was our last night at the villa. Usually this is something of a party night for everyone, and for much of the group this was true. But somehow I just wasn’t really in the mood.