Communion Of Dreams


“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”*

When you see news like this in the mainstream press…

Rogue Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Call

It seems rather far fetched at first glance. There is news that came out last week that rogue cell phone towers around the US are forcing mobile devices to disable their encryption making it possible that someone might be able to listen in to your call. “That could never happen to me,” you think out loud. But, apparently it could.

In 2010 at the DEF CON in Las Vegas, security researcher Chris Paget did the unthinkable. He built a cell tower of his own so that he could spoof legitimate towers and intercept calls.The device would mimic the type used by law enforcement agencies to intercept phone calls. In this case, he was able to build it for roughly $1500 US. Paget’s device would only capture 2G GSM phone calls. Carriers such as AT&TT -0.06% and T-Mobile would be vulnerable as they use GSM, unlike Verizon which relies on CDMA technology.

… it’s easy to feel a little paranoid. But is this a real threat? Has anyone actually seen things like this ‘in the wild’?

Yup:

Rogue ‘Cell Towers’ Can Intercept Your Data; At Least One Found In Chicago

So-called rogue cell phone towers, the type that can intercept your mobile calls and data, are cropping up all over the United States, including here in Chicago, according to a company that specializes in developing highly secure mobile phones.

* * *

CBS 2 security analyst Ross Rice, a former FBI agent, said it’s likely being used illegally.

“I doubt that they are installed by law enforcement as they require a warrant to intercept conversations or data and since the cell providers are ordered by the court to cooperate with the intercept, there really would be no need for this,” Rice said.

“Most likely, they are installed and operated by hackers, trying to steal personal identification and passwords.”

Great. Just great.

Well, what can you do? There are some smart phones out there which are designed to thwart this kind of security threat. And I’ve mentioned another option previously. And now there’s a company with a whole line of clothing based on similar RF-blocking technology:

Kickstarting a line of Orwell-inspired clothes with radio-shielding pockets

“The 1984 Collection” is a line of clothing for men and women with removable, snap-in pockets that act as radio-shields for slipping your devices and tokens (cards, phones, etc) into to stop them from being read when you’re not using them.

Hmm … let’s see, there’s a passage from Chapter One of St Cybi’s Well that comes to mind:

Darnell stepped close to her, said in a low voice, “Give me your hand-held.”

She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I don’t want to make it too easy for anyone to listen in.”

“Really, Dar, or is this some kind of joke?”

“Really.”

She looked him in the eye, pulled her phone out of her small purse, held it out to him. “Here.”

“Either turn it off or put it into offline mode.”

She fiddled with it a moment then handed it over. He took it and dropped it into the RF-blocking pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”

“Couldn’t I just have turned it off?”

“Nope. They can still turn it on remotely and activate the mic. This pocket,” he patted the satchel where he had put the phone, “blocks the signal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good protection.”

I guess I need to get back into the habit of using my RF-shielding pocket.

 

Jim Downey

*Philip K. Dick, of course.



“I’m here to challenge assumptions of normal…”

This piece by Kameron Hurley is quite good. It’s about using fiction to shape expectations and open imaginations. Here’s a good excerpt:

Even our nonfiction perpetuates this idea that the way we are today is the way we’ve always been, or will ever be. I saw my first few episodes of Cosmos this week, a show I probably would have interrogated less before I started untangling the stories we tell ourselves are history. As with every other depiction of “early humans” this one showed a recognizable, to us, family group: women holding children, a couple men out hunting, maybe grandma off to one side. They looked like the limited family groups we knew from popular media, instead of the likely far more complicated ones that they moved in during their time: four women and two men stripping a carcass, two men out gathering, an old man watching after the children, two old women tending the fire. The truth is that every archaeologist and historian is limited by their own present in interpreting the future. So when Americans and Europeans talk about early humans, they don’t talk so much about early humans in Africa, even if that’s where we all came from. When we talk about early humans, they’re always hairy, pelt-wearing pale folks hacking out a living on some ice sheet. The men are always out hunting (like good 1950’s office workers!) while women stay in camp to dawdle babies on their knees. In fact, small family groups like these could not afford truly specialized roles until the advent of agriculture. Before that, folks needed to work together even more closely to survive — every member pulled their weight, whether that was looking after young children, gathering food, or herding some big mammal off a cliff and stripping it for meat.

 

Couldn’t agree more. In fact, here’s a passage from Chapter 2 of Communion of Dreams, and this element was built into that book for precisely the reasons she discusses:

Down at the end of a cul-de-sac was his family’s residence. A couple of the large, old homes which were built in the ‘90’s served as the bookends of the compound, with additional structures between and behind them forming an open triangle. Group families of various configurations had become the norm in the few decades since the flu. Almost everyone who survived the flu was left infertile, even the very young, and the children who were born were themselves likely to be infertile. Children had become critically important, treasured above all else. Group families formed naturally as a way of raising more children in a secure environment, with shared responsibility. Those adults who were fertile came to be cherished and protected by the others. Couples still tended to pair-bond, as in Jon’s family, but formed a small collective, or extended family structure. In some ways it was an older form of the family, a survival strategy from deep in mankind’s racial memory.

 

And, unsurprisingly, even this fairly tame variation on what a ‘family’ is has gotten criticism from some reviewers.

Anyway, Hurley’s piece isn’t very long, and is well worth the read.

 

Jim Downey

 



It’s not just the initial disease.

Sorry for my absence here — I’ve been very busy with a another big project, one which I can’t discuss publicly just yet. But soon.

Without wanting to buy-into the complete panic in some corners about Ebola, here are a couple of very sober articles to consider, which are less about the actual disease and more about what such a pandemic does to the society it hits:

Looters Attack Liberia Ebola Quarantine Center, Patients Under Observation Return Home

Battling the deadly outbreak of Ebola in Liberia has been a mammoth task for the country’s government and international aid agencies. Over the weekend combating the virus’ spread got even harder when a quarantine center in Monrovia was attacked, and 17 patients being monitored for possible infection fled the medical facility. The Liberian government initially said all of the patients had been relocated to another facility after the West Point health center was looted on Saturday, but later admitted that 17 patients had gone “back into their communities,” the BBC reports.

 

And this one from last week:

You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola

Attention, World: You just don’t get it.

You think there are magic bullets in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into La-la-land? You believe novelist Dan Brown’s utterly absurd description of a World Health Organization that has a private C5-A military transport jet and disease SWAT team that can swoop into outbreaks, saving the world from contagion?

Wake up, fools. What’s going on in West Africa now isn’t Brown’s silly Inferno scenario — it’s Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.

 

And from that second article, more to my point:

I myself have received emails from physicians in these countries, describing the complete collapse of all non-Ebola care, from unassisted deliveries to untended auto accident injuries. People aren’t just dying of the virus, but from every imaginable medical issue a system of care usually faces.

 

That’s the thing — a pandemic is bad enough in its own right, when a disease such as Ebola has a mortality of more than 50% under the best conditions.  Consider how much worse the impact will be once the overall public health system collapses due to the death of doctors and nurses, when deliveries can’t be made to restock supplies, when whole cities are quarantined, when people begin to really panic.

That is the horror of a true global pandemic. Like the one in St Cybi’s Well.

Cheery thought, eh?

 

Jim Downey

PS: Two other unrelated things I want to mention. The first is thanks to all who participated in Helping Cassandra – you made a real difference. And the second is just to link to a blog post about some black powder shooting I did this past weekend with some very fun historical guns.

 

 

 



“Ripped from today’s headlines!”

That was a fairly common advertising phrase used to promote books and movies back in the day, referencing spectacular murders and crazed drug orgies. Writers/publishers/moviemakers would try and cynically cash-in on the public attention these events generated by getting their books & movies out quickly.

And recently, it’s  a phrase which has been haunting me.

I’ve mentioned previously that sometimes it feels like I am being a bit too prescient about our own future in writing about the alternate timeline of St Cybi’s Well / Communion of Dreams. Like I told a friend this morning:

I’ve made the comment a couple of times, but let me reiterate that it is just plain … creepy? … scary? … to be hearing comments from the CDC and WHO about the spread of this Ebola outbreak, and how it is a virus we don’t really have any treatment for, and how quarantines are necessary to try and control it … *ALL* of which could be coming right out of the SCW stuff I am writing about right now. Blimey. It’s seriously playing with my brain a bit.

Well, at least I know that all the ‘news’ stuff in SCW will have the ring of truth to it …

 

News? Ring of truth? Try this on for size:

CORNISH: How have past Ebola outbreaks ended, and what do you think needs to be done to end this particular outbreak?

GEISBERT: Outbreaks usually end when the public health agencies are able to come in and quarantine the affected individuals, and, you know, eventually the outbreak runs its course, and it’s over. You know, in central Africa these outbreaks have tended to occur in a very defined geographic area – for example, a village. And the public health agencies, like the World Health Organization and humanitarian aid organizations like Medecins Sans Frontieres, have come in, quarantined that area, and the outbreak has been contained. I think what’s been difficult with West Africa is that it’s so widespread, and it’s occurring simultaneously in so many different areas, that you really stretch that experienced resource thin, and so that’s a huge problem.

 

Or this:

How bad is the current outbreak?

Bad — very, very bad. It’s concentrated in three small West African states: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where reports of Ebola infections first emerged in February. The outbreak has claimed more than 670 lives and, worryingly, infected medical personnel attempting to stop its spread. A prominent Liberian physician died Sunday.

What’s particularly scary, though, was the recent death of a Liberian man in Lagos, the bustling coastal mega-city in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. The man, a consultant for the Liberian government, had traveled from Liberia through an airport in Lome, the capital of Togo, before arriving in Nigeria. The hospital where he died is under lockdown, and the WHO has sent teams to Togo and Nigeria.

 

So, yeah, the phrase “ripped from today’s headlines” has been kicking around in my head entirely too much the last couple of weeks.

Ah, well, maybe that just means that some large publisher or famous director will knock on my door and hand me a very large chunk of money so I can ignore everything else and finish the book in a few weeks …

 

Jim Downey



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




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