Communion Of Dreams


All my best ideas occur to me while I’m in the shower …

Seriously. It’s a common thing for me. Usually I shower while listening to Morning Edition or The Diane Rehm show, picking up on the news or some interesting topic of conversation. The combination of engaging my brain while relaxing my body seems to prompt intuitive leaps and interesting insights. And I had an excellent one this morning.

From back in December:

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.

Compare it to this passage:

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. It was a model with a ‘super stylus’ – one end for working on the screen like any stylus, the other which had an integrated camera and microphone system wirelessly tethered to the phone. With the range of applications available, this damned near made the thing a proto-tricorder. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held.

 

No big deal, right? Just two additional sentences. What constitutes a minor tweak, right?

Actually, it’s the first major revision of St Cybi’s Well. Granted, I’m only about halfway done with the first draft, so calling it a revision might seem to be a bit much. But it’s not.

Consider what you could do with such a change to our current technology. My present smartphone is a Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’s a great phone, with an amazing range of applications available for it. If you added a resident decent camera and mic to the end of the stylus, combined with the right software, this thing really would be almost like a tricorder. Particularly if the quality of the camera were such that it could pick up a wider range of EMR than just normal visible light, and the mic(s) were sensitive to a wider range of sounds. You might need to add in something like an IR or UV “flash/laser” on the phone body, but doing so would allow you to do a wide range of diagnostics well outside the usual range of human vision and hearing. Just off the top of my head it would be capable of:

  • Checking surface temperatures.
  • Night vision.
  • Rangefinder.
  • Motion detection.
  • Blood oxygenation & glucose monitoring.
  • Pulse/heart monitor.
  • Echolocation.
  • The ability to look around corners or over walls, into small crevices/holes …
  • The ability to listen to distant sounds and to estimate location of same.

 

You get the idea. And pretty much all that should be possible with our present level of technology (both hardware & software), just brought together in some slightly different ways.

So yeah, just two sentences dropped into the “Prelude” to the actual novel, but which sets the stage for me to allow my characters to know and do more throughout the whole book.

Fun stuff.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



Let your Geek flag fly.

Final exam sample question:

Discuss the origin and differences in nuance of meaning/use of the following words:

  • Frell
  • Frak
  • Frig

Demonstrate each in an appropriate sentence.

For extra credit, give the approximate Klingon equivalent.

 

 

Jim Downey

 



Chill, dude.

Suspended animation of one sort or another has been a staple of Science Fiction just about forever.  Of course, as such it has often been dismissed as being little more than fantasy — just a magic trick that a lazy author will resort to in order to get around some technological barrier or another. Because, you know, it’s just completely unrealistic

NEITHER dead or alive, knife-wound or gunshot victims will be cooled down and placed in suspended animation later this month, as a groundbreaking emergency technique is tested out for the first time.

Surgeons are now on call at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to perform the operation, which will buy doctors time to fix injuries that would otherwise be lethal.

“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” says Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the hospital, who is leading the trial. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”

Yeah, you certainly wouldn’t want it to sound like Science Fiction. ‘Cause that stuff’s just nuts.

*sigh*

I’ve written previously about ‘mundane science fiction‘, the idea being that we have to stick with what we know to be technologically realistic. The thing is, what we consider to be technologically “realistic” keeps changing, often in surprising ways. I remember the energy crisis of the mid-’70’s, and when US energy independence was considered to be little more than a fantasy talking-point of presidents. Well, the US currently produces more oil than we consume. Sure, it has come with real costs/problems, but it is nonetheless true. (And actually, I think that sort of trade-off makes for a more interesting Science Fiction story overall, exploring both the benefits and problems of new technologies.)

Clarke had it right: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  That doesn’t give a Science Fiction writer complete latitude to just make shit up. But it also cautions against dismissing any technology as “unrealistic” out-of-hand.

Just ask the first person who will be saved due to “emergency preservation and resuscitation.” Chances are, sometime later this year you’ll be able to do so on his/her cell phone.

Jim Downey



“Shields holding, Captain.”

Unsurprisingly, this has been making the rounds among my friends:

I say “unsurprisingly” because a lot of my friends are reacting to yesterday’s well-documented meteor explosion in the Ural mountains (Russia), and today’s near-pass of a much larger body:

As noted in the various science stories, 2012 DA14 is about 150 feet in diameter, and would have about the same effect were it to hit the Earth as Meteor Crater, depending on the exact composition, speed and angle of approach of the meteor. If you want to play with the variables, here’s a simulator I’ve had fun playing with in the past Impact: Earth!

On one end of the range of effects would be just another bright light in the sky, as the thing exploded in the upper atmosphere. On the other end, another mile-wide crater where a city used to be. Fun, eh? And remember – 2012 DA14 was just discovered last year, and then by pure chance. There are any number of such potential threats out in space. As the Washington Post puts it:

For the foreseeable future, then, Earth will continue to reside in a cosmic shooting gallery with an enormous number of currently unknown objects, some of which may have a direct bead on us without our knowing. While it is probably much more unlikely than likely, a potentially disastrous collision with an asteroid of at least the dimensions comparable to DA14 could occur anytime possibly with little or no warning in our lifetimes.

Keep your fingers crossed that our luck — and our atmospheric ‘shields’ — continue to hold until we no longer have all of our eggs in this particular basket.

 

Jim Downey

 



It’s always interesting…

…to see the sorts of things which come to mind for people as they read Communion of Dreams. Got the following note via email this morning:

“About I’m 80% through the book, and some niggle I’ve had in my head for a few days finally broke through.

Are you paying homage to the old Star Trek episode, the Tholian Web?”

Heh.

Hehehehehe.

 

Jim Downey

Just 11 days left – support the Kickstarter!



Damn.
August 10, 2012, 10:10 am
Filed under: Science Fiction, Space, Star Trek | Tags: , , , , ,

A brief break in the travelogues to share this *surprisingly* good item:


From Topless Robot, who says:

For the rest of you, what sets Star Trek Continues apart from its brethren is that it has a hint of professionalism in the cast, what with Mythbusters‘ Grant Imahara playing Sulu, anime voice actor Vic Mignogna as Kirk, as original Scotty James Doohan’s son Chris in his father’s most famous role. But the real star, for my money, is the phenomenal sets — honestly, if you told me that they were the original show’s sets, just dusted off, I’d be inclined to believe you, that’s how perfect they look.

Impressive.

Another travelogue hopefully later this morning.

 

Jim Downey



Speaking with one voice.
March 15, 2012, 9:42 am
Filed under: Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Star Trek, tech

From late in Chapter Two:

“All right. Let’s get her inside and get Seth working with her. By the way, what’s her name?”

“Chu Ling.”

Jon nodded his head, touched the wafer under his ear. “Seth, download the record of the last few minutes from my pc. Then make the necessary arrangements for us to get inside with the girl. I’ll meet you in the conference room; since she isn’t wired, you’ll have to conduct the tests from the holo projector there. And tell Magurshak I’m on my way to lunch.”

“Understood.”

“Let’s go.” Jon looked to Gish and the young girl.

“Oh, and Seth . . . “

“Yes?”

“Prepare a Mandarin language program for me, OK?”

“It’s waiting for you.”

From this past Monday:

Microsoft unveils universal translator that converts your voice into another language

Microsoft Research has shown off software that translates your spoken words into another language while preserving the accent, timbre, and intonation of your actual voice.

In a demo of the prototype software (starts around the 12 minute mark), Rick Rashid, Microsoft’s chief research officer, says a long sentence in English, and then has it translated into Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin. You can definitely hear an edge of digitized “Microsoft Sam,” but overall it’s remarkable how the three translations still sound just like Rashid.

In order for the translation system to do its work it needs about an hour of training, which allows it to create a model of your voice. This model is then mushed into Microsoft’s standard text-to-speech model for the target translation language. For example, Microsoft’s standard model of Spanish will have a default “S” (ess) sound, but the training process replaces it with your “S” sound. This is done for every individual sound (phoneme) in Microsoft’s text-to-speech model for Spanish. The creator of the software, Frank Soong, says that this approach can be used to translate between all 26 languages supported by the Microsoft Speech Platform, which covers most of the world’s major languages.

OK, first thing: this is *NOT* the universal translator from Star Trek.

But it is *exactly* what I had envisioned as the tech that Jon asks Seth to use in the excerpt from Communion of Dreams quoted above. The idea is that Seth would have such a wide selection of Jon’s phonemes in his knowledge base that it would be simple for him to use that for translation. In this case, all he would have to do is install the necessary program files into Jon’s embedded personal pc – so that Jon could use it to communicate with the girl whether or not Seth was ‘present’.

So, yeah, another prediction nailed.

Jim Downey



No, it’s not fake.
April 26, 2010, 8:04 am
Filed under: Art, Gene Roddenberry, Guns, MetaFilter, NPR, Science Fiction, Star Trek, tech, YouTube

Oh, this is much too cool:

Info if you want to see about making your own here.

Remarkable how the technology has evolved since my nutty art project.

Jim Downey

(Yes, via MeFi. When are you people going to learn and just start reading the damn site on your own?)



Nasty nasty!

How is it, being born in 1958 and growing up in the era of MAD (and with a teenage fascination with nuclear weapons), that I never heard of this insane/brilliant project before?

Project Pluto

On January 1, 1957, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission selected the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory‘s (LLNL) predecessor, the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, to study the feasibility of applying heat from nuclear reactors to ramjet engines. This research became known as “Project Pluto“. The work was directed by Dr. Ted Merkle, leader of the laboratory’s R-Division.

Originally carried out at Livermore, California, the work was moved to new facilities constructed for $1.2 million on eight square miles (21 km²) of Jackass Flats at the NTS, known as Site 401. The complex consisted of six miles (10 km) of roads, critical assembly building, control building, assembly and shop buildings, and utilities. Also required for the construction was 25 miles (40 km) of oil well casing which was necessary to store the million pounds (450 t) of pressurized air used to simulate ramjet flight conditions for Pluto.

The principle behind the nuclear ramjet was relatively simple: motion of the vehicle pushed air in through the front of the vehicle (ram effect), a nuclear reactor heated the air, and then the hot air expanded at high speed out through a nozzle at the back, providing thrust.

The notion of using a nuclear reactor to heat the air was fundamentally new. Unlike commercial reactors, which are surrounded by concrete, the Pluto reactor had to be small and compact enough to fly, but durable enough to survive a 7,000 mile (11,000 km) trip to a potential target. The nuclear engine could, in principle, operate for months, so a Pluto cruise missile could be left airborne for a prolonged time before being directed to carry out its attack.

That’s just the intro from the Wikipedia article. To get a better sense of just how demented this project was, check out this article from 1990: The Flying Crowbar. A couple of bits from that that gives you an idea:

Pluto’s namesake was Roman mythology’s ruler of the underworld — seemingly an apt inspiration for a locomotive-size missile that would travel at near-treetop level at three times the speed of sound, tossing out hydrogen bombs as it roared overhead. Pluto’s designers calculated that its shock wave alone might kill people on the ground. Then there was the problem of fallout. In addition to gamma and neutron radiation from the unshielded reactor, Pluto’s nuclear ramjet would spew fission fragments out in its exhaust as it flew by. (One enterprising weaponeer had a plan to turn an obvious peace-time liability into a wartime asset: he suggested flying the radioactive rocket back and forth over the Soviet Union after it had dropped its bombs.)

* * *

Because of its combination of high speed and low altitude, Pluto promised to get through to targets that manned bombers and even ballistic missiles might not be able to reach. What weaponeers call “robustness” was another important advantage. “Pluto was about as durable as a bucket of rocks,” says one who worked on the project. It was because of the missile’s low complexity and high durability that physicist Ted Merkle, the project’s director, called it “the flying crowbar.”

* * *

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, Pluto’s sponsors were having second thoughts about the project. Since the missile would be launched from U.S. territory and had to fly low over America’s allies in order to avoid detection on its way to the Soviet Union, some military planners began to wonder if it might not be almost as much a threat to the allies. Even before it began dropping bombs on our enemies Pluto would have deafened, flattened, and irradiated our friends. (The noise level on the ground as Pluto went by overhead was expected to be about 150 decibels; by comparison, the Saturn V rocket, which sent astronauts to the moon, produced 200 decibels at full thrust.) Ruptured eardrums, of course, would have been the least of your problems if you were unlucky enough to be underneath the unshielded reactor when it went by, literally roasting chickens in the barnyard. Pluto had begun to look like something only Goofy could love.

Nasty nasty! Now I know the inspiration for The Doomsday Machine. And possibly Reaver tech.

But consider also the brilliance behind Project Pluto. It required fundamental advancements in technology on the order of what was required for the Apollo missions. Again, from the Air & Space Magazine article:

The success of Project Pluto depended upon a whole series of technological advances in metallurgy and materials science. Pneumatic motors necessary to control the reactor in flight had to operate while red-hot and in the presence of intense radioactivity. The need to maintain supersonic speed at low altitude and in all kinds of weather meant that Pluto’s reactor had to survive conditions that would melt or disintegrate the metals used in most jet and rocket engines. Engineers calculated that the aerodynamic pressures upon the missile might be five times those the hypersonic X-15 had to endure. Pluto was “pretty close to the limits in all respects,” says Ethan Platt, an engineer who worked on the project. “We were tickling the dragon’s tail all the way,” says Blake Myers, head of Livermore’s propulsion engineering division.

I can see the appeal – but I’m glad they didn’t decide to wake that particular dragon.

Jim Downey

(Via a comment at MeFi.)



Slices of Vega$
January 28, 2010, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Humor, Society, Star Trek, Star Wars, Travel

I decided not to do formal ‘travelogues’ for my recent trip out to Las Vegas for the SHOT Show, but instead do a series of small vignettes, over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Jim D.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It rained.

It rained more in four days than it rained for all of 2009.

And of course, I was there for it.

* * * * * * *

Well, it’s a good thing that you basically don’t have to go outside when in Vegas. Ever. And that the rain doesn’t present problems for such festivities as taking a gondola ride at the Venetian. Like the Miss America Pageant contestants did.

And I was there for it.

No, seriously. And it was seriously weird.

Me, Jim K, and John E were having some top-notch pizza and a couple of beers at Postrio there in the strangeness that is St. Mark’s Square. When all of a sudden there was some pomp & circumstance happening around us. Of the sort that involves scant clothing on plastic women and men wearing tuxes. One of my dining companions mentioned that he thought the Miss America Pageant was being held the next week, and this must be some kind of preliminary event.

It was. The line of women wandered through the ‘outdoor’ restaurant, just a couple of paces from our table.

I looked up, saw what was going on, then turned my attention back to the pizza. At least that was real.

* * * * * * *

Did you know that there is a Star Trek slot machine game?

And a Star Wars one?

Also ones for Indiana Jones, the Wizard of Oz, and dozens of television shows?

I didn’t. I thought slot machines were all those classic things with just three spinning wheels that contain numbers or symbols.

What a rube from flyover country.

But one morning before I left, I dutifully went over to one machine, donated a $10 bill to it, and played twice.

Oh, sure, I could have gotten a thousand plays at a “penny machine”.

But two hits from that adrenaline pump were quite enough, thank you.

* * * * * * *

My traveling companion needed to get some additional cash the morning we left.

The ATM there on the floor of the casino just gave $100.00 bills.

Tells you all you need to know about the casino business.

Jim Downey




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