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

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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




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