Communion Of Dreams


“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



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



Cue the mad scientist laugh …

This is a really interesting idea: that fundamental thermodynamic forces lead very naturally to the the beginning and evolution of life. From the start of the article:

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

It’s important to note that this is not in any way in conflict with current understanding of evolution — rather, as the article says: “England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations.”

Take a few minutes to read the article; it’s well written and non-technical but assumes a basic scientific understanding of both evolution and thermodynamics.

And if proven true, implies that the universe should be full of biological life as a manifestation of basic physical processes.

*Very* interesting, indeed.

 

Jim Downey



Danger: Spoilers.

The following post contains spoilers regarding Communion of Dreams. In fact, it contains such spoilers that I’m going to put it after a break, so that you have to actually scroll down to see it. For anyone who hasn’t read Communion of Dreams, you’ve been warned.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I’ve been asked many times what comes after the end of Communion of Dreams. The answer to that is tied up with questions of just exactly why there is a “barrier” around our solar system, which has been hiding any and all indications of extra-terrestrial life/intelligence/civilization from us.

Let’s just say that I have my own … ideas … on the subject. Which I may or may not someday explore/make public.  We’ll see.

But of the many possibilities, this is one very viable explanation. And it’s pretty well done:

 

Jim Downey

PS: The classic Gordon R. Dickson short “Danger—Human!” also deals with much the same idea.



Just wanting to help.

Almost every morning me and the dog go for a walk through the neighborhood. We have a well-established track about a mile long, which allows the dog to check his pmail and me to enjoy the changing seasons. At several points we have to cross from one side of the street to the other, and the dog has long since learned to pause at these junctures and wait for me to give him the go-ahead to cross. He’s a smart guy.

One morning recently a fellow in a big red pickup stopped at one of these crossing points, and kindly waved for me and the dog to go ahead and cross. He was just wanting to help.

 

* * * * * * *

Did you remember that yesterday was Constitution Day?

 

* * * * * * *

John Moses Browning was a firearms designer who was born in 1855. His design for the M1911 is considered to this day to be one of the best designs for a handgun, and 1911 variants are still extremely popular. Of the 1911 it has been said “designed by a genius to be used by morons.”

 

* * * * * * *

FISA court releases opinion upholding NSA phone program

A federal surveillance court on Tuesday released a declassified opinion upholding the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of billions of Americans’ phone records for counterterrorism purposes.

The gathering of “all call detail records” from phone companies is justified as long as the government can show that it is relevant to an authorized investigation into known — and, significantly — unknown terrorists who may be in the United States, the Aug. 29 opinion states.

Moreover, the government need only show that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the records will be relevant to the investigation, a lower burden than required in ordinary criminal investigations. That is justified because the goal is to prevent a terrorist attack, not solve a crime that has already taken place, the court said, affirming the government’s position.

 

I feel safer already.

 

* * * * * * *

Almost every morning me and the dog go for a walk through the neighborhood. We have a well-established track about a mile long, which allows the dog to check his pmail and me to enjoy the changing seasons. At several points we have to cross from one side of the street to the other, and the dog has long since learned to pause at these junctures and wait for me to give him the go-ahead to cross. He’s a smart guy.

One morning recently a fellow in a big red pickup stopped at one of these crossing points, and kindly waved for me and the dog to go ahead and cross. He was just wanting to help.

I smiled, nodded, and then motioned him to go ahead. He looked at me for a moment, confused, and waved again for me to cross. I shook my head. Looking a little offended, he shrugged and went ahead through the intersection.

I sighed. The dog looked up at me from his waiting position. I gave him the command to go ahead and cross the street. He did. Like I said, he’s a smart guy.

Smart enough that I don’t want him drawing the lesson that it is OK to walk out in front of pickup trucks, even if their drivers are just wanting to help.

 

Jim Downey

 



How so very … random.

There’s “random“, and then there’s random.

 

* * *

Huh.

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (09/03/2013) —An international group of researchers from the University of Minnesota, Argonne National Laboratory and Seoul National University have discovered a groundbreaking technique in manufacturing nanostructures that has the potential to make electrical and optical devices smaller and better than ever before. A surprising low-tech tool of Scotch Magic tape ended up being one of the keys to the discovery.

The research is published today in Nature Communications, an international online research journal.

Combining several standard nanofabrication techniques—with the final addition of the Scotch Magic tape—researchers at the University of Minnesota created extremely thin gaps through a layer of metal and patterned these tiny gaps over the entire surface of a four-inch silicon wafer. The smallest gaps were only one nanometer wide, much smaller than most researchers have been able to achieve. In addition, the widths of the gaps could be controlled on the atomic level. This work provides the basis for producing new and better nanostructures that are at the core of advanced electronic and optical devices.

And no, it’s not graphene.

* * *

In a small side discussion on the larger topic of space exploration, this comment was made in response to the characterization of those who have said that they would be willing to take a one-way trip to Mars were ‘nuts’:

It’s disturbing that people would choose death on Mars over life eternal here in the undying lands of Earth.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:24 PM on September 4

Yeah, pretty much my take on things, as well.

* * *

This is over-simplified, but good nonetheless:

 

* * *

There’s “random“, and then there’s random. And yes, that is very much how Margo Lynn goes through life, from what I’ve seen in knowing her the last couple of decades. But it works, and keeps things interesting.

So, congrats to TanteLiz and to CJ, who will receive the leather-bound and ‘nearly perfect‘ copies of Communion of Dreams, respectively. Thanks to all who participated.

And particular thanks to Margo Lynn for adding her own somewhat random take on determining the winners, as well.

 

Jim Downey



A friendly reminder …
September 3, 2013, 8:54 am
Filed under: Emergency, Preparedness, Society, Survival | Tags: , ,

“Did you hear all the excitement yesterday?” asked our back-fence neighbor when we saw him on our walk this morning.

“Um, no, what happened?”

“Guy walked in my front door about 4:15, holding a knife.”

“Good lord, what happened?”

“He said ‘Give me your keys.’  And I threw him my keys. He took my truck, and headed out.”

“What the hell???”

“Yeah, he’d evidently assaulted someone at one of the ‘gentleman’s clubs’ up off the highway. So the cops were already looking for him, and caught him a little later. He was pretty drunk. I got the truck back – it didn’t have any damage.”

“Damn.”

* * *

So, a friendly reminder: lock your doors, people.  Be prepared, even when you’re enjoying a pleasant holiday afternoon. There really are nuts out there.

I’ll update with a link to the actual story when it shows up in the local press. UPDATE: Here it is.

 

Jim Downey



The end of things.

This morning, NPR repeated the story of Voyager 1 having apparently left the solar system.

I wonder why?

 

* * *

Philip James Bailey, Festus:

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
Life’s but a means unto an end; that end
Beginning, mean, and end to all things,—God.

 

* * *

We went shopping yesterday.

Big deal, right? Actually, it kinda was. It was the first time my wife had been in good enough shape to do so since her emergency appendectomy. Things are slowly returning to whatever passes for normal.

 

* * *

Dr. David Casarett is the director of hospice care at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He works with families as they try to navigate end-of-life decisions.

At least once a week, Casarett says, one of his patients expresses a desire to end his or her own life. “It’s a reminder to me that I have to stop whatever I was doing … and sit back down to try to find out what is motivating that request,” he says. “Is it really a carefully thought out desire to die, or is it, as it is unfortunately many times, a cry for help?”

It’s a good story.

 

* * *

Tomorrow’s the last day this month to get the free Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams. And this week is the last one to get entered into the drawing for a hand-bound leather copy of the special edition. Remember, you have to have posted a review on Amazon of the book, and then post a comment with a link to that review in this blog entry. There are currently 65 reviews on Amazon, but only 8 entrants for the drawing — don’t delay, as the end will come sooner than you expect.

As it usually does, for good or ill.

 

Jim Downey



You’re history.

The actor James Gandolfini died this week, from a massive heart attack. He was 51.

I did not know him.

 

* * * * * * *

Recently I met with an institutional client about some book conservation work which needed to be done. I’ve done work with this client off and on for a number of years. He’s a smart guy, well educated, and very much an experienced professional with decades of work in his field. His responsibilities include oversight of a very large collection which includes books, documents, records, artwork, and physical plant. In working with him, I’ve always been impressed with how conscientious he is about collection management.  The items entrusted to his care are important historical and artistic treasures, and he is doing his level best to make sure that they are preserved and protected for future generations.

As it happens, the physical plant of the collection needs some work. This necessitates moving a large number of items into safe storage for the duration, and he is handling all of that with his usual skill. After we had discussed the specific needs of the books I had been called in to evaluate, and that business was done, we were just chatting a bit. And I noticed a large sketchbook (18″x24″) on a desk in his office.

Seeing my attention thus directed, he smiled and picked up the sketchbook, opened it. Each page was a scale drawing of each of the rooms which needed to be closed, showing the exact location of each of the pieces of art, with notation as to which item it was, how it was positioned (if a wall piece, how high off the floor, etc.). Just a simple drawing, done with a ballpoint pen and a ruler.

“I want to make sure we get everything back to where it belongs,” he said.

 

* * * * * * *

In a profile last year of my friend and papermaking instructor, Tim Barrett, there’s this passage:

Barrett’s connection to the old papers was becoming more than simply technical. It was emotional. He detected life in them. He once found the imprint of a person’s thumb on a page in a Renaissance book. “Maybe the papermaker was rushing to fill an order, and grabbed the corner of the sheet too firmly,” he said. “To me, that fingerprint marked the sheet with the humanity of the person who made it. I could feel his presence.”

I’ve heard him tell that same story. Several times. You might say that it made an impression.

 

* * * * * * *

“I want to make sure we get everything back to where it belongs,” he said.

I nodded. “You know, you should get some deacidification spray and treat each page. Also, make a note as to when you drew them, and sign them.”

He looked at me like I was nuts. Deacidification spray is expensive. “Why, they’re just sketches for my own use.”

I smiled. “No, they are wonderful documentation of exactly how each of these rooms was arranged in early 2013.”

“So?”

“So now you use them, treat them, and then file them away in one of your flat files. They’ve just become part of the history of this place, and in a couple hundred years some researcher will delight in holding these simple drawings of yours.”

He looked down at the sketches in his hand. “Huh.”

“Yeah, you’re history.”

 

* * * * * * *

The actor James Gandolfini died this week, from a massive heart attack. He was 51.

I did not know him.

But I did know Paul. He was an old friend of mine, though in the last few years we’d only been in sporadic contact. I woke this morning to the news that Paul died last night from a massive heart attack. He was about my age.

I turn 55 in a couple weeks. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve got a couple health issues which need ongoing attention and treatment, but in general I’m not doing too bad. Particularly with as hard as I’ve been on my body.

But I could have a massive heart attack tonight. Or get hit by a truck tomorrow. People die, unexpectedly, every day.

I don’t dwell on this, though it has been an emotional reality for me since I was 11. But on occasions like today, after just losing a friend and reading all the tributes to that person online, I am perhaps more aware of it than usual.

Because whether we prepare for it or not, we’re all history.

 

Jim Downey



I, for one, welcome our new NSA Overlords.

Everyone is thinking about the whole “NSA Spying” thing all wrong. This isn’t about surveillance. It’s not whether there is a trade off to be made between security and privacy. It isn’t a question of how much the government is watching you or that you shouldn’t worry at all if you have nothing to hide. Nope. It’s not about any of that.

It’s about whether you want to live forever or not.

The idea that we’re living in some kind of ‘simulated reality‘ has been a mainstay of Science Fiction for just about forever, whether you want to credit it to Philip José Farmer, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, or for that matter, Genesis. One popular twist on this perhaps best seen in The Matrix where at some future time hyper-intelligent computers have re-created our reality for their own purposes, using the best records available to run simulations and better understand us.

So don’t think of it as the National Security Agency. Think of it, rather, as a records-keeping entity. One which is doing everything possible to record as much of this world, and your life, as possible so that later it can be used to make an accurate simulation. Just call it the Nascent Simulation Archive, and rejoice that our government is being so ecumenical in trying to document as much as possible about not just America, but the whole wide world. Because it means that you’ll live forever.

And you want to live forever, right?

 

Jim Downey




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