Communion Of Dreams


A useful swarm.

Another interesting item about developing the technology to create a useful swarm of small robots:

Harvard Researchers Create a Nature-Inspired Robotic Swarm

Some scientists believe that the way to solve the flocking enigma is to replicate it. Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently developed a micro-scaled robotic technology that enables a controlled, flash mob–like assembly. In August, the team led by Harvard computer-science professors Radhika Nagpal and Fred Kavli demonstrated the ability of 1,000 robots to self-organize into user-selected shapes, such as a five-pointed starfish and the letter K.

* * *

“Increasingly, we’re going to see large numbers of robots working together, whether it’s hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways,” Nagpal said in the press release. “Understanding how to design ‘good’ systems at that scale will be critical.”

One provocative concept is the possibility of building and infrastructure construction that is carried out by thousands of self-organizing modules. Although many technical hurdles remain, this notion is especially intriguing in the case of hazardous and other challenging settings. In the near term, we will likely witness simple, one-story pavilions built from a collection of mobile robotic bricks to create emergency relief shelters following natural disasters.

Hmm … seems I’ve heard about that idea before someplace. Oh, yeah, from Communion of Dreams:

They were, in essence, enclosing the entire planet in a greenhouse of glass fabric and golden plasteel. It was going to take generations to finish, even using mass microbots and fabricating the construction materials from the Martian sands. Tens of thousands of the specially programmed microbots, a few centimeters long and a couple wide, would swarm an area, a carpet of shifting, building insects. As each cell was finished, it was sealed, joined to the adjacent cells, and then the microbots would move on.

But it is pretty cool to see the work being done to bring that about.

 

Jim Downey



“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

 



Well, it’s not a von Neumann machine*,

nor even a simple ‘microbot‘ from Communion of Dreams, but still, this is pretty cool and could lead to either of those technologies:

Transformer Paper Turns Itself Into A Robot. Cool!

Every so often, a scientific paper just begs for a sexy headline.

Consider this study in the current issue of Science: “A Method for Building Self-Folding Machines.” A bit bland, you’ll no doubt agree. A Real-Life, Origami-Inspired Transformer is how the journal’s public affairs department referred to it. Now that’s more like it.

* * *

It’s now possible to print electronic circuits on a flat sheet of paper. So if you use some clever folding techniques (based on the ancient art of paper folding called origami), you can fold these sheets into useful structures — maybe a crab-shaped robot that could scuttle across the floor, or a swan-shaped robot that could really fly.

 

Kinda like the beastie up above there. The really clever bit was using a thermal-activated material called a shape memory polymer which would cause the paper (or whatever material) to fold as needed. So you basically create flat-pack robots which can be remotely activated into a useful machine as needed.

It’s fun living in the future.

 

Jim Downey

*Named after John von Neumann, who among many other impressive accomplishments was instrumental in developing the concept of  self-replicating machines. The term has been commonly used this way in Science Fiction for decades.



Latest developments …

For one reason and another, this past week has been a little rough, hence the paucity of posts. The rejection from the agent kinda took the wind out of my sails a bit, since I thought that the prospects were good. And continued news on the Ebola front* kept reminding me just how grim St Cybi’s Well is getting, in regards to the onset of the fire-flu (though I hope that other aspects of the novel more than balance that out for the reader).

But now the winds have shifted again, and things are looking up. We’ve gotten a bunch of bids in the auction to help my friend (though you can still pick up a hand-bound limited edition hardcopy of Communion of Dreams for a song). There’s a new review of CoD up on Amazon. And this morning I got word that a major new project I’ve been involved with helping to get organized is going to be implemented — more on that when there’s an official announcement in a couple of weeks. But it’s kinda a big deal and one which I am excited to be part of. Oh, and there’s a fun little item here about a recent book conservation job I did which might be of interest.

So, those are the latest developments. Watch for more to come. Oh, and go put a bid in on something on the auction site — there are a number of great items available! Thanks!

 

Jim Downey

*I do want to note that I don’t think that Ebola poses a significant risk to people in the US. We have the medical infrastructure to deal with isolated cases, which is likely all that we’ll see here. There’s no reason to get into a panic.  But that doesn’t change the horror of the disease itself, nor the impact that it is having on people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.



Validation is a good thing. Kinda.

Good news! This morning the bidding opened on the auction I mentioned the other day, and I understand that there’s already something of a bidding war on some of the “become immortal” options I offered:

Be Famous!  Have your name (or the name of a loved one, pet, etc) included in my next novel!  Can be a character, a named place (manor/restaurant/pub), a book title/author, et cetera.  Any sort of name you wish.

You have three choices:

  1. Passing mention.  Five available.

  2. Name and some description.  Three available.

  3. Tertiary character, who will have some dialog & interaction with other characters.  One available.

Yay! Thanks for the vote of confidence, and for helping out my friend!

* * *

I’ve seen several preliminary news items on this, and it’s … intriguing.

Nasa validates ‘impossible’ space drive

Nasa is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that “impossible” microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or Nasa has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion.

Very intriguing. Basically, this is the third test conducted on a theoretical reactionless drive, with NASA (British publications consider it stylistically appropriate to just capitalize the first letter) doing the independent testing of previous claims. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this.

* * *

From three months back:

…but the other is far enough along that I’ll share: there’s a literary agent who is potentially interested in representing me, something which I have been thinking about for a while.

***

I’ll keep you posted as to any concrete developments.

Well, I just got a very nice note back from said agent, who complimented me in several ways but said that he wasn’t going to represent me after all.

Rejection is part of the game, and any writer or artist has to come to terms with that, or you might as well just give up. As I told a friend earlier:

He’s gotta do what he thinks makes business sense – when I ran the gallery, I had to turn down hundreds of artists who wanted us to represent them. And as I told them, just because I wasn’t going to rep them  didn’t in any way mean that their work wasn’t quality. So I understand the equation from both sides of the = sign …

Still … I think I might take the rest of the afternoon off.

Do something nice for my friend. Go place a bid on something which interests you.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



“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



Helping a friend, and giving you a chance at immortality.

I’m involved in a small effort to help out a friend with ongoing medical bills, and that means that there’s an opportunity for you to become immortalized in St Cybi’s Well:

Your Name in a Novel!

Be Famous!  Have your name (or the name of a loved one, pet, etc) included in my next novel!  Can be a character, a named place (manor/restaurant/pub), a book title/author, et cetera.  Any sort of name you wish.

You have three choices:

  1. Passing mention.  Five available.
  2. Name and some description.  Three available.
  3. Tertiary character, who will have some dialog & interaction with other characters.  One available.

Top bidder in each category will be able to purchase as many of the item that they wish from those that are available, at the winning bid price.  After that, the second highest bidder may purchase as many as he/she wishes from those that remain, at his/her bid price, etc.

Option 1:  Passing mention
Minimum Bid:  $5

Option 2:  Name and description
Minimum Bid:  $10

Option 3:  Tertiary Character
Minimum Bid:  $20

 

There are a number of additional great items up for auction on the site (including a signed & numbered hand-bound, hardcover copy of Communion of Dreams with a reserve bid of just $25), so I’d invite you to check it out. The auction will commence this coming Friday, and go for two weeks. Full details on the auction site*. So if you can, help me help a friend … and make yourself immortal, at least in my thanks.

 

Jim Downey

*There’s also a GoFundMe page if you just want to make a donation. Thank you.




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