Communion Of Dreams


What a difference a week makes.

Just think — all the folks who are prepping to deal with some global emergency almost got a chance to see how well their theories work in practice. My friends who are into Steampunk and the SCA would have reigned supreme!

Earth survived near-miss from 2012 solar storm: NASA

Back in 2012, the Sun erupted with a powerful solar storm that just missed the Earth but was big enough to “knock modern civilization back to the 18th century,” NASA said.

The extreme space weather that tore through Earth’s orbit on July 23, 2012, was the most powerful in 150 years, according to a statement posted on the US space agency website Wednesday.

* * *

“If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire,” said Daniel Baker, professor of atmospheric and space physics at the University of Colorado.

 

Ah well. Better luck next time!

 

Jim

 



“… 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.

 

 



Matter of perspective.

This will probably come across as a little brag-y. Sorry about that. Not my intention.

The other day I got a phone call. For Legacy Art. The gallery we closed May 31, 2004. Yeah, more than ten years ago.

And after I got through abusing the telemarketer over this point, I got to thinking about the many changes in the last decade.

First thing I should say up front: I’m at a low point in my bipolar cycle, as I’ve noted recently. That means that my self-image isn’t all that great. This isn’t a debilitating depressive episode or anything — I’ve managed to continue to work steadily, as well as enjoy the usual aspects of life. So not horrid. But it is sometimes difficult to not focus on the things which haven’t gone well, and my own failings which are often a component of that. And one of those failings is a sense of not accomplishing much, of being lazy, of wasting my time and the time of others.

Anyway. I got to thinking about the changes in the last decade. And surprisingly, more positive things came to mind than negative ones. That fed on itself, and I found myself making a mental list of the accomplishments.

In no particular order or ranking: wrote two books (one of them as co-author). Most of the way done with another. Visited Wales. And Argentina. And New Zealand. And Italy. Wrote several thousand blog posts. Became something of an authority on small caliber ballistics. Wrote several hundred articles and columns for publication. Was the full-time caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s. Have done conservation work on something more than a thousand (that’s just a guess … may be closer to two thousand) books and documents. Made some great hot sauces. Raised, loved, and then said farewell to a great dog. Tried to be a good friend, and husband. Tried to help others when I could.

We all fail. We all have things we’ve done that haunt us in one way or another. Sometimes, those fears and demons overwhelm. Me, at least.

I may or may not be at a turning point in my bipolar cycle. But I’m glad that at least I can think of things I have accomplished. That helps.

Back to work on St. Cybi’s Well.

 

Jim Downey



Three years.

NPR recently did a very good series looking at family caregivers — those who are caring for a family member who has dementia or has suffered a sudden serious illness/injury or lives with a challenging birth defect.  I thought that it was particularly good in highlighting how the traditional image we have of caregivers has been changing. Installments in the series concerned parents caring for a 16 year-old son with cerebral palsy, a 46 year-old woman caring for her sister who suffered a devastating stroke (as well as  their father who has dementia), and a retired man who cares for his wife of 42 years who has dementia.

None of it is easy to listen to.  None of it is easy to contemplate. I think all of us shy away from the thought of such a responsibility. I think all of us wonder whether or not we would be adequate to the challenge of caring for someone at this level.

Three years ago we published Her Final Year. In that time the book has been downloaded nearly 10,000 times. And when people read it, they find it a huge help, as seen in reviews and in plenty of comments which people have made to us.

But I know that many of those 10,000 downloads, perhaps even most of them, have never been read. Many people are so daunted by the idea of caregiving that they just can’t bring themselves to read the book. I know a couple of people who are currently *in* a caregiving role who haven’t been able to bring themselves to open the book, because they’re afraid that they can’t face the experience.

I understand this. Contemplating being a caregiver … or being someone who needs a caregiver … is frightening. The experience is incredibly stressful. Exhausting. Financially difficult. That comes through in the NPR series, and in our book. In spades. From the second story cited above:

“The experience for these caregivers is quite burdensome, emotionally and physically,” Hoffman says.

The work these family caregivers are doing would be enormously expensive if their loved ones were instead in nursing homes or other institutions, Hoffman says. But the caregivers also often find they must cut their hours at work or, as in Loretta’s case, give up outside jobs in order to care for their relatives.

“In effect,” Hoffman says, “we are taking care of the most vulnerable in our society — aging adults who have chronic care needs — by placing the burden on the backs of some of the people who can least afford to do … those who are themselves economically fragile and vulnerable.”

 

Little wonder people don’t want to picture themselves in that role. It’d scare the hell out of anyone with any sense.

But you know what? There are also incredible rewards which come from caregiving. It may be hard to believe, but as hard as the experience is, there are  real benefits. We try and convey that in the book. I try to explain to people how I am a much better person now for having gone through that. And that I would not wish to go back and erase those difficult years for anything. But here’s a bit from the third story cited above which illustrates what I mean:

Dementia has transformed her into someone who’s dependent and vulnerable. That’s triggering changes within Rick, too. He’s noticed himself gravitating toward traits Marianne was known for, like empathy.

“The importance of listening and caring for others. Now I can see why that is so important and why you can go through life just giving and feeling totally satisfied. You know, that’s a good thing,” Rick says.

Marianne may no longer be the woman Rick married, but he says she’s still helping him become a better husband.

 

Three years. The actual anniversary is July 15th. And Her Final Year will be available for free download starting that day and going through the 17th. Please, download it.

But more importantly, read it.

Thanks.

 

Jim Downey



It’s a test.

Today’s xkcd triggered a thought: that we can think of the challenges of climate change as being akin to a planetary gom jabbar. Do we have the ability to endure short-term pain and survive, or do we give in to our immediate short-term desires and suffer the consequences?

 

Jim Downey



You can never be too rich or too tall.*
May 27, 2014, 9:44 am
Filed under: Health, Humor, Science, Society | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The doctor looked up from her laptop, where the patient’s medical history was displayed. “Have you been doing those exercises we discussed?”

“Every day. Well, most days. I miss doing them sometimes if I’m traveling or if the kids are running late in the morning.”

“You do understand that they’re really important, right?” She looked her patient right in the eye. “Every. Single. Day.”

He looked down at his feet, dangling off of the exam table. “Sorry. I’ll try and do better.”

“I certainly hope so.  Lifespan is correlated with how tall you are. Short people just do not live as long.” She glanced at the laptop again. “Now, how about your meds & vitamin supplements? Taking those?”

The patient didn’t look up. “The vitamins, yes. Religiously. But the prescriptions … they’re *SO* expensive. My insurance company doesn’t cover them, because my shortness is considered a lifestyle choice.”

The doctor shook her head. “Yeah, I know. Medical science still considers height as being only partially due to genetics. But still, you really have to do your best. Take the meds. I’ll get you some free samples — the sales reps are always leaving that stuff for us.”

“Thanks.” He looked up. “Doc, what do you think of maybe the surgical option?”

“Surgery?”

“Yeah.”

“Does your insurance cover it?”

“Surprisingly, yes. Well, not here in the States.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’ve got a thing set-up with a clinic in India: for the whole six-month breaking & lengthening process, they cover it. Lots less expensive than here in the US.”

The doctor made a face. “I know they’re supposed to do good work … “

“Doc, they can add two inches to my overall height.”

“Yes, but at what risk?”

“Not much. Not too different than having it done here.” His face brightened a bit. “I’m not getting any younger. You know what a difference it can make for dating and career. Just think … I could be almost six foot tall!”

The doctor sighed. “Look, I know this is hard. But stick with the stretching exercises and meds I’ve prescribed. Maybe start going to a rack therapist — they can usually add up to an inch in the course of a year.”

“Yeah, OK.”

“And watch your diet. Stay away from those short sugars. Proteins are long. Makes a difference.”

 

Jim Downey

*With apologies to Her Grace.

 



Are hats next?

I have mentioned this passage from the prelude to St Cybi’s Well a couple of times previously:

He turned the hand-held on, did a quick check to make sure it had the software and apps he’d asked for. Everything was there. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held. He turned off the hand-held, dropped it into a special pocket inside his vest – one which was RF-blocked. He had another such compartment in his satchel. These, like the wallet/holster, were prohibited items and grounds for arrest in the States, but while they would raise an eyebrow in the UK they weren’t technically illegal.

 

And even earlier did a blog post about a commercial product to isolate a phone that way when I first thought of it: Off the Grid Bag. (Which actually works quite well, as a matter of fact; I got one of those and have tested/used it exactly as intended.)

Well, now someone has come up with the idea of making actual articles of clothing using the same idea:

Sure, you could just turn off your phone. But that would be too easy. Now, thanks to Trident (yes, the chewing gum) and fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga, you can repel all cellphone transmissions simply by wearing these hip threads called Focus Life Gear—made of radio frequency shielding fabric.

 

I suppose that since I haven’t actually published St Cybi’s Well yet I can’t claim to have predicted this tech, but no matter — it’s an obvious application of existing technology and desire for privacy. But still, kinda fun.

 

James Downey

Tip of the radio-wave-blocking hat to Tim for the news item! Thanks!



The more things change …

“Mr. Jones? This is Jane from Universal Replacements.”

“Yes?”

“I was just calling to tell you that your new left ear will be ready for delivery on Friday. Which medical clinic will be doing the installation?”

“Acme Doctors over on … hey, wait, did you say LEFT ear?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“No, no, no, there’s been a mistake. I ordered a RIGHT ear when I sent in the cell sample.”

“I’m sorry sir, my records clearly indicate that you ordered a LEFT ear when you placed your order.”

“That can’t be right, I know I ordered a RIGHT ear! I don’t need a new LEFT ear!”

“I’m sorry, sir … “

 

James Downey



Yup. We’re all gonna die. Again.

News item of note:

A new report by WHO–its first to look at antimicrobial resistance, including antibiotic resistance, globally–reveals that this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance–when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections–is now a major threat to public health.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security. “Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”

 

I thought I had mentioned it here previously, but a quick search didn’t turn up anything: I had originally considered the world-wide pandemic which sets the ‘history’ of Communion of Dreams as being entirely due to an antibiotic-resistant bug (probably the plague). But as I was going through and doing work on the early draft of the book, I decided to change that, since an informal survey among people indicated that it was too “far fetched.”  I didn’t think so — as far back as 15 – 20 years ago there were already indications that this was a real threat. But you can’t get too far out ahead of what people think is possible, even when writing Science Fiction, so I went with an influenza virus instead.

And speaking of which, time to get back to writing St Cybi’s Well

 

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




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 175 other followers