Communion Of Dreams


The Explosions Channel
August 20, 2007, 9:23 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Failure, Fireworks, Guns, Marketing, movies, NASA, Science, Society, Space, tech, YouTube

A buddy of mine sent me a bunch of YouTube links last night to clips of explosions (among other things). Some were compilations of failed rocket launches, some were ‘stupid human tricks’. He knows, budding pyromaniac that I am, that I would enjoy such things. Hey, what do you expect from someone whose birthday is the Fourth of July?

Anyway, it got me thinking about a niche cable channel which would be sure to be a huge hit: The Explosions Channel. Oh, I know that The Discovery Channel does some of this, as does The History Channel. But on those, explosions provide the punctuation for other stories, with the occasional feature on firearms, artillery, fireworks, demolitions, et cetera which has a higher-than-average explosion count. But think of the potential for a channel where you just *know* that you could tune in and catch some big explosions, anytime, day or night! It’d be like MTV for the jaded geek, pure visual heroin for the explosions junkie. Guys like me could turn it on, and sit there, slack-jawed and drooling, eyes wide, as explosion after fireball after thunderous report . . .

Jim Downey



Are you *sure*?
August 19, 2007, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, General Musings, Health, Predictions, Religion, Society

A friend sent me a link to this CBS News item this morning:

Atheists Make A Case Against God

Except that the article really isn’t about that. It’s more about where atheism fits in within our society, as seen through the vehicle of former Saturday Night Live actress Julia Sweeney, who discusses her own journey away from belief, and how it was received by her family:

Even more confusing for Sweeney personally was religion. She comes from a large Irish-Catholic family. But in her 30s, Sweeney says she began a spiritual quest. It led her away from any notion of God — a conversion she turned into a monologue, soon to be released as a film called “Letting Go of God.”

But of course, many people would disagree with Sweeney, especially her mother, Geri. She said it was a great shock that her daughter decided that there wasn’t enough evidence for her to believe in God.

“I just couldn’t believe that she had gotten to that place. I’m Catholic. I intend to continue to be Catholic,” Geri Sweeney said. “I think the Catholic Church is a wonderful place.”

It’s a long piece, but here is the bit I was intrigued by:

Julia Sweeney says she simply cannot believe in God because of a lack of evidence, but Prothero (Chair of the religious studies department at Boston University, and author of the recent book “Religious Literacy“) says that is where faith comes in.

“I have no trouble saying that, you know, we can’t prove the existence of God,” he said. “I think most Americans feel the same way.”

Julia’s mother Geri says she was taught in second grade that there was no proof that God exists.

“It doesn’t matter a bit to me,” she said. “I have a very personal relationship with my God and I don’t need any proof. I’m not searching for proof — and she is.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I was still trying to get to the bottom of my first cup of coffee this morning, when my MIL called for the third time since I had come downstairs about thirty minutes previously.

I entered the dark bedroom (it was barely 7 AM), went over to her bed. I leaned over the railing. “What do you need, MIL?”

“Are we there yet?”

“Where?”

“Boonville.” (A nearby town, and where she grew up.)

“We’re in Columbia.”

“Oh.” Pause. “Well, how long will the train take to get to Boonville?”

“Train?”

“Yeah, we’re on a train.”

“Um, no. We’re in your home.” (The home where she’s lived for 53 years.)

“Oh, no, we’re on a train.” She looked around the ample bedroom, complete with bookshelves, a desk, dressers, et cetera. “This is a train.”

“Um, no, this is your bedroom. In your home. In Columbia.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yup.”

“How are you sure?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I am somewhat dismayed when I see the religious responses to this kind of criticism/concern. Because so often it is not a rational “I know there’s no proof of God, but my faith helps me believe”, and instead is something akin to the outright disconnect I get when dealing with my MIL. It’s “Through the Looking Glass” time, where the usual words and understanding that we have of the world around us is no longer in any way related to reality.

Now, many people of deep faith are really decent people, with a good education and the ability to discuss things intelligently. And yet, when pushed, we so often see a believer who is capable of constructing a reality in which his personal saviour is triumphant over the “also rans” of science and other religions.

And that frightens me.

Oh, not so much that mankind is still stuck in magical thinking. I knew that. Have known it for many, many years. But rather that even the intelligent and well educated are capable of warping knowledge to fit their own particular religious perspective.

I will admit to being an elitist. I look at intelligence and education as our only possible hope of progress as a species. I see it as an antidote to ignorance, superstition, living in a fantasy where it is OK for one religious group to hate and kill another.

But when I witness the willing suspension of critical thinking – worse, the twisting of critical thinking to support irrationality – I feel like I am looking into a future in which the whole human race slides into an Alzheimer’s-like dementia, unable to determine where we are, let alone where we’re going.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

After my MIL got up from her nap this afternoon, had a snack, and went in to sit in the front room, we had a storm roll through. Nothing serious, but there was a bit of lightning and thunder. I went to check on her, and it was clear that she was anxious about something. I asked her if she was worried.

“I’m worried about the people.”

“Which people?”

“The people who I was talking with. Before.”

“Maybe that was a dream, MIL. You’ve been here all day.”

“Oh, no, I was up on a hill. Talking with people. They told me to come back here.”

(We live on the highest hill around, and she’d been no where.) “Well, maybe that was in your dream.”

“No, it was at a house, up on a hill over there,” She gestured randomly. “Will you take me up there? I want to make sure the people are OK.”

“I’m sure they’re fine.”

“But you have to take me to go see.”

And thereafter followed 40 minutes of discussion about not needing to take her ‘over there’ in the car so she could check to make sure the people of her dream were OK.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

And therein lies the danger of this – those who have slipped off into dementia are demanding that we all go along for the ride, and that we take them to their imaginary places to see imaginary people and do imaginary things. Why? Because they’re “sure”.

Jim Downey

(A slightly different version of this pertaining to specific people was posted at UTI. I decided that the general idea was applicable elsewhere, so decided to post it here.)



Remember, it *always* pays to back-up your data.

Pretty much everyone has had the experience of having your computer crash and take out data you hadn’t backed-up properly. Whether it is some kind of hardware failure, or a virus, or a lighting strike, or even a malicious employee/spouse/whomever, at some point we have all lost stuff on a computer we thought was secure. If you’re *really* lucky, you don’t lose much, and you learn the painful lesson about keeping important information properly backed-up on recoverable media. If you’re not really lucky, you learn the hard way that you can lose years of hard work in just an instant, with no recovery possible.

And that’s the basic idea behind building a secure storage facility for the bulk of human knowledge, and perhaps even humanity itself, off-planet. The people behind the newly formed Alliance to Rescue Civilization want to do just that:

‘Lunar Ark’ Proposed in Case of Deadly Impact on Earth

The founders of the group Alliance to Rescue Civilization (ARC) agreed that extending the Internet from the Earth to the moon could help avert a technological dark age following “nuclear war, acts of terrorism, plague, or asteroid collisions.” (Read: “Killer Asteroids: A Real But Remote Risk?” [June 19, 2003].)

But the group also advocates creating a moon-based repository of Earth’s life, complete with human-staffed facilities to “preserve backups of scientific and cultural achievements and of the species important to our civilization,” saidARC’s Robert Shapiro, a biochemist at New York University.

“In the event of a global catastrophe, the ARC facilities will be prepared to reintroduce lost technology, art, history, crops, livestock, and, if necessary, even human beings to the Earth,” Shapiro said.

This idea is not new. Not at all – it’s been a staple of SF for decades in one form or another, and is even somewhat cliche. The previous version of Communion of Dreams had the impact of a .3 km meteorite in central China about 2026 as being the primary motivating force to pushing humankind to fully develop space-faring capability as a survival strategy. But the feedback I got from a limited group of readers was that such a second global catastrophe was a little hard to swallow, so I tweaked that in the current version to just be a limited nuclear war in that part of the world. I’m still somewhat ambivalent about this change, and would discuss with an editor whether or not to go back to the previous version.

Anyway, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first real effort to take this kind of precaution in even a preliminary form. It is based on the idea that a viable Moon base in the coming decades would allow for this kind of repository to be constructed almost as an afterthought to the other facilities. By tying it into whatever form of Internet develops in the future, it would be possible to keep it continually updated with minimal effort, meaning that the vast majority of knowledge could be archived for future access. Add in a proper seed bank, frozen embryos, and perhaps advanced storage of DNA/RNA samples, and you’d be able to repopulate & rehabilitate the earth even after a major catastrophe.

Let’s hope that we don’t as a species have to learn the lesson the hard way that it pays to back-up our data, even ourselves.

Jim Downey



Briefly…
August 16, 2007, 10:27 am
Filed under: Feedback, Health, Promotion, Writing stuff

I’m feeling a bit wretched; both my wife and I have a touch of some GI bug, and it isn’t helping matters.   So, just a brief couple of notes . . .

Over 4200 downloads of the novel so far.  Feels a little weird.

And this blog is getting more attention.  We’ll pass 3500 visits sometime in the next couple of days.  And that doesn’t include anyone who gets a ‘feed’.  Nothing like the traffic over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable (where I post pretty much daily), let alone Daily Kos (where I post occasionally), but still not bad for just a private blog.

Maybe more later.  Maybe not until tomorrow.

Jim Downey



“It might be life, Jim…”

“Grrrr.”

“Easy, Alwyn.”

“Grrrrr! GRR!” His growls grew from a distant throaty rumble into a near bark, as we came around the corner across from the lawn with the sprinkler. Yeah, my dog was growling at a lawn sprinkler. This is not normal behaviour for him.

But in fairness, it was an odd lawn sprinkler. A big plastic dog lawn sprinkler. White, with black spots. Looked vaguely like a St. Bernard in size and shape, but a Dalmation in coloration. The hose attached to the tail, which fanned water all over while doing this odd jitterbug wag. Looked like some overgrown kid’s toy. Which it might well be. Since I don’t have kid, I don’t keep track of these things.

Anyway, it was clear that my dog thought that it was some kind of bizzaro-dog with a serious bladder problem. Perhaps an Alien Zombie Dog or something. So, he did the natural thing: he growled.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As I’ve noted before, I’m a big fan of the original series Star Trek and of Gene Roddenberry. But one of the things which has always bothered me about that series and most other SF television or movies is the fact that so often the Aliens are depicted as some variation of humanoid, albeit with a little makeup and prosthetics as the budget would allow. Though, in fairness to Roddenberry (and others in different series now and then), sometimes there was an attempt made to depict alien life as being just completely odd, unlike anything we’ve known or seen. This notion that extraterrestrial life might be difficult to even identify is a staple of good Science Fiction, of course, and one of the topics which I explore at some length in Communion of Dreams (and part of the reason why we never meet the aliens responsible for the creation of the artifact). It gets back to “Haldane’s Law“:

Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we CAN suppose.

(Which is decidedly similar to Sir Arthur Eddington‘s attributed comment: “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” But since I am talking more about life here than astrophysics, I thought I’d go with the evolutionary biologist…)

But now actual science has perhaps caught up with Science Fiction. From the New Journal of Physics comes a paper discussing what seems to be the discovery of inorganic life. The abstract:

Abstract. Complex plasmas may naturally self-organize themselves into stable interacting helical structures that exhibit features normally attributed to organic living matter. The self-organization is based on non-trivial physical mechanisms of plasma interactions involving over-screening of plasma polarization. As a result, each helical string composed of solid microparticles is topologically and dynamically controlled by plasma fluxes leading to particle charging and over-screening, the latter providing attraction even among helical strings of the same charge sign. These interacting complex structures exhibit thermodynamic and evolutionary features thought to be peculiar only to living matter such as bifurcations that serve as `memory marks’, self-duplication, metabolic rates in a thermodynamically open system, and non-Hamiltonian dynamics. We examine the salient features of this new complex `state of soft matter’ in light of the autonomy, evolution, progenity and autopoiesis principles used to define life. It is concluded that complex self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter that may exist in space provided certain conditions allow them to evolve naturally.

That’s a bit dense, so let’s go to the critical bit from the Press Release:

‘It might be life, Jim…’, physicists discover inorganic dust with lifelike qualities.

Until now, physicists assumed that there could be little organisation in such a cloud of particles. However, Tsytovich and his colleagues demonstrated, using a computer model of molecular dynamics, that particles in a plasma can undergo self-organization as electronic charges become separated and the plasma becomes polarized. This effect results in microscopic strands of solid particles that twist into corkscrew shapes, or helical structures. These helical strands are themselves electronically charged and are attracted to each other.

Quite bizarrely, not only do these helical strands interact in a counterintuitive way in which like can attract like, but they also undergo changes that are normally associated with biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, say the researchers. They can, for instance, divide, or bifurcate, to form two copies of the original structure. These new structures can also interact to induce changes in their neighbours and they can even evolve into yet more structures as less stable ones break down, leaving behind only the fittest structures in the plasma.

So, could helical clusters formed from interstellar dust be somehow alive? “These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter,” says Tsytovich, “they are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve”.

Obviously, there’s more to it, and it is worth reading at least the entire press release, or the full paper if you have a chance.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There’s another possibility, of course. This one can best be summed up as being that life is “a dream within a dream“. The latest popular version of this is “The Matrix“, wherein life is an artificial reality construct, designed to keep the human ‘power cells’ docile. But this too is an idea extensively exploited in Science Fiction, with many different variations on the theme. Of late, this idea has been more and more tied to the concept of a ‘Singularity’ , with speculation being that we are just some version of post-human research/recreation as a computer construct. And in a piece published yesterday in the NYT titled “Our Lives, Controlled From Some Guy’s Couch” this gets the mainstream religion treatment:

Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else’s hobby. I hadn’t imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims.

But now it seems quite possible. In fact, if you accept a pretty reasonable assumption of Dr. Bostrom’s, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation.

. . .

David J. Chalmers, a philosopher at the Australian National University, says Dr. Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis isn’t a cause for skepticism, but simply a different metaphysical explanation of our world. Whatever you’re touching now — a sheet of paper, a keyboard, a coffee mug — is real to you even if it’s created on a computer circuit rather than fashioned out of wood, plastic or clay.

You still have the desire to live as long as you can in this virtual world — and in any simulated afterlife that the designer of this world might bestow on you. Maybe that means following traditional moral principles, if you think the posthuman designer shares those morals and would reward you for being a good person.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My own prediction is that unless we are extremely fortunate, and extremely open-minded, we’ll stumble badly in our first encounter with any real extra-terrestrial intelligence. Chances are, we’ll completely mistake it for something else, or try and see it through our limited perspective, not unlike how my dog mistook a lawn sprinkler for a wierdly-colored St. Bernard. If we’re lucky, we’ll survive that first contact, and then go on to see the universe with less prejudiced eyes.

If we’re *very* lucky.

Jim Downey

(Some material via BoingBoing.)



Dying at home.
August 14, 2007, 4:01 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Government, Health, Hospice, Sleep, Society

About 15 months ago, I wrote the following:

I sit, listening to the labored breathing coming from the next room. The end will come probably sometime this next week, likely as the result of a fever and while she is asleep. As deaths go, it’ll be one of the best possible, with minimal pain, discomfort, and fear.

*******

…because some short time ago, when it became clear that my mother-in-law was not going to recover from her latest medical problems, my wife and I decided to enter her into Hospice.

I knew of Hospice as an medical movement designed to make the last weeks or months of life as comfortable as possible, with a primary emphasis on palliative care. And this it is. But I’ve discovered that it is so much more.

Our “hospice team” includes a nurse who comes by as often as we need her. If that’s once a week, or twice a day, it doesn’t matter. We have on call personal care aides, a chaplain, a social worker (to help me and my wife with any of the issues surrounding the imminent death of a loved one), as often as we need them. If we need any medical equipment, from a hospital bed to oxygen, it’s arranged for. All prescribed meds for her condition are delivered to our door. Basically, anything we need or want which pertains to my mother-in-law’s health is provided. And it is all 100% covered by Medicare.

And it is a shame that you have to die to get this kind of medical care.

As is clear from my other posts, my MIL actually didn’t die. Yeah, she’s one of those rare people who “graduated” from Hospice care. Basically, we were too good at providing care for her, and she just wasn’t ready to go yet. So, after the initial 90 days of being enrolled, she was dropped from the Hospice program administered by one of the local hospitals. I’m actually still a bit upset with the way that transition was handled – my wife and I very much felt like we were abandoned. The extensive network of support we’d had just disappeared, leaving us unsure how to proceed (because while my MIL wasn’t ready to die, neither was she going to ‘get well’, and her care needs had increased significantly.)

Anyway, now we’ve noticed another downturn in her condition, and one of the significant markers of end-of-life has shown up: my MIL has dramatically increased how much time she spends sleeping, with no indication that she is suffering from any secondary illness or infection which would explain it. Her afternoon nap has gone from 90 minutes to typically three hours (or longer). And she now wants to nap in the morning after breakfast most mornings, for an hour and a half to two hours and a half. Noting this, my wife sent me this: Eldercare at Home: Chapter 28 – Dying at Home which contains the following:

The end of life cannot be predicted for any of us. We do not know when it will happen, who will be with us, how it will occur, or what we will feel. However, we do know some useful things about how many people die and this can help put your situation in perspective.

Many misconceptions exist about what can happen during the final days and weeks of a person’s life. One stubborn myth about dying is that the person will die from only one cause. In some cases this is true, but many older people do not die from one major event or for only one reason. Instead, they die because of many different factors that combine to slow down the body’s important systems, such as the heart and lungs. In a sense, the physical body slowly “gives up.”

*******

Certain physical signs warn us that the end of life is growing close. Most people with an advanced, chronic illness spend more time in bed or on a couch or chair. People with any type of advanced disease eat less food, and drink fewer liquids. They also sleep more, lose weight, and become much weaker.

Not every warning sign is physical, however. People may talk about “leaving” or “having to go.” Their dreams make them feel as if they want to “get going” or “go home.” Although this does not occur in every situation, this language and the emotion behind it are ways of talking about dying. The person also may ask to see special friends or relatives, and some haziness or confusion can occur as each day blends into another. Keeping track of the day of the week becomes less important, as do other daily living details.

My MIL has been doing more of this, though it is difficult to really say whether it is pertinent, since she suffers from dementia. Still, it is good to see it described, to be able to point to this document to help friends and family understand a bit better where we are (the excerpts I cite are just one small bit of that chapter – and the whole thing is worth looking at).

And it helps some with my ambivalent feelings towards Hospice, which, in spite of what happened to us, I know is a good program. I just wish I knew when to turn to them again – having the full support followed by being dropped like a hot potato isn’t something I think I can take emotionally again. Not at this point, anyway.

Jim Downey



“Are you with me, Doctor Woo?*”

(*with apologies to Steely Dan)

So, a couple days ago, I was hitting some of my usual haunts, and on MeFi came across a link to something truly amazing: the most advanced personal energy system available today!

Personal energy system? Huh? Some kind of new sports drink? Maybe a reworked diet fad? Or a new way to charge your, uh, personal massagers?

Nope. They’re talking Sympathetic Resonance Technology! Wow! Even the name is impressively scientifical! What is Sympathetic Resonance Technology? I’m glad you asked:

The Q-Link’s fundamental technology can be understood by imagining a tuning fork that vibrates at a certain pitch. Similarly, the Q-Link’s Sympathetic Resonant Technology™ (SRT™) is tuned to optimize the human energy system through resonance. As it interacts with your biofield, it leads to a rebalancing and restoration according to your individual needs.

Oh-oh. Woo alert! Woo alert! How does this supposedly work?

The body creates and sustains its own energy system. That system can be drained and interrupted by rival signals from other electromagnetic systems (e.g. computers, hairdryers etc).

The QLink is encoded with Sympathetic Resonance Technology or SRT™, a pioneering branch of quantum physics. This makes it act as a tuning fork that resonates with the ideal note at which the body’s energy system should hum.

The body responds positively to this ideal note and pitches itself to it so that, in time, the ideal and the actual note become harmonised.

See, it’s a “pioneering branch of quantum physics”, so it must be good, it’s so technological and sciencetific. Cool! But what exactly is you get with this QLink thingee? Let’s ask a geek person who understands all about electronics and stuff:

Here in the sunshine, some of the nation’s cheekiest electronics geeks examined the QLink. We chucked probes at it, and tried to detect any “frequencies” emitted, with no joy. And then we did what any proper dork does when presented with an interesting device: we broke it open. Drilling down, the first thing we came to was the circuit board. This, we noted with some amusement, was not in any sense connected to the copper coil, and therefore is not powered by it.

The eight copper pads do have some intriguing looking circuit board tracks coming out of them, but they too, on close inspection, are connected to absolutely nothing. A gracious term to describe their purpose might be “decorative”. I’m also not clear if I can call something a “circuit board” when there is no “circuit”.

Finally, there is a modern surface mount electronic component soldered to the centre of the device. It looks impressive, but whatever it is, it is connected to absolutely nothing. Close examination with a magnifying glass, and experiments with a multimeter and oscilloscope, revealed that this component on the “circuit board” is a zero-ohm resistor.

And that’s it. No microchip. A coil connected to nothing. And a zero-ohm resistor, which costs half a penny, and is connected to nothing. I contacted qlinkworld.co.uk to discuss my findings. They kindly contacted the inventor, who informed me they have always been clear the QLink does not use electronics components “in a conventional electronic way”. And apparently the energy pattern reprogramming work is done by some finely powdered crystal embedded in the resin. Oh, hang on, I get it: it’s a new age crystal pendant.

A QLink pendant will set you back at least a hundred bucks if you order it from the manufacturer, and they have models up to about a thousand bucks, even some little pendants for your pets, because “Animals have energetic systems too!” And of course, there’s one for the golfers out there, to help improve your game!

*sigh*

You know, what really gets to me with this kind of crap is how they’re perfectly happy to use scientific terms in a techno-babble stew which would make Star Trek scriptwriters proud. And yet, you can just bet that if you called them on it, they’d backpeddle pretty damned fast (and do, according to Ben Goldacre of Bad Science). Furthermore, a lot of the people who buy this crap will likewise diss science given half a chance, saying that either science doesn’t ‘have all the answers’, or that their religion somehow supercedes scientific principles.

And meanwhile, the Shamen and the scam artists rake in the money. It’s very depressing.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)



News item.
August 12, 2007, 2:46 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Government, Health, Predictions, Society

Just a brief excerpt from an AP news item about care-giving for Alzheimer’s patients:

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It afflicts one in eight people 65 and older, and nearly one in two people over 85.

Worse, as the population ages, Alzheimer’s is steadily rising. Sixteen million are forecast to have the mind-destroying illness by 2050, not counting other forms of dementia.

Those figures are cited repeatedly in the push for more research into better treatments. But a frightening parallel goes largely undiscussed: As Alzheimer’s skyrockets, who will care for all these people?

And will the long-term stress of that care set up an entire population — once-healthy spouses and children — to suffer years of illness, even early death?

“I don’t think society and policymakers have fully grasped the future magnitude of what we’re up against, and how massive an operation we have to begin … to deal with this,” says Dr. Richard Suzman of the National Institute on Aging.

Go read the whole thing. It’ll break your heart, but you need to know this stuff – chances are your family will have to deal with one of its members who has some form of senile dementia, and very few people are ready for it when it happens. Trust me on this.

Jim Downey



“Have you seen the stars tonight?”

This weekend the annual Perseid meteor shower is at its height, I think Sunday night predicted for the best viewing. It’s enough of a big deal that news of it penetrates even into the mainstream press, one of the few times each year that most people may actually be inclined to look up in the sky.

I don’t talk about music much here. That’s mostly because I don’t get to listen to music very much these days – it interfers with listening to a monitor to see if my mother-in-law needs attending. But that hasn’t always been the case, and I actually have a fairly extensive collection of (mostly) rock music, going back to The Beatles, on LP, tape, and CD.

And it’s funny – for some reason whenever I think of the Persieds, I tend to think of the Jefferson Starship song “Have you seen the stars tonight?”, from their first album (as ‘Starship’) Blows Against The Empire. Here are the lyrics:

Have you seen the stars tonight?
Would you like to go up on A-deck and look at them with me?
Have you seen the stars tonight?
Would you like to go up for a stroll and keep me company?

Did you know
We could go
We are free
Any place
You can think of
We can be

Have you seen the stars tonight?
Have you looked at all of the galaxy of stars?

Simple (though the actual song is fairly lush in the way that only free-wheeling rock circa 1970 can be). And few people know it, but the whole concept album owes a lot to Robert Heinlein’s novel Methuselah’s Children, and was actually nominated for a Hugo Award.

Anyway, if you get a chance, look at the stars, and the Persieds, tonight.

Jim Downey



An excerpt.
August 10, 2007, 9:35 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health

This is a slightly-edited excerpt from a message I sent yesterday to the rest of the family, about my mother-in-law’s current condition. I offer it as part of my ongoing documentation about being a care-giver for someone with Alzheimer’s/Dementia, and hope that it may benefit others involved with care-giving (either directly or indirectly) .

Our strategy of lessening her anxiety has been good, I think, though one possible result of not trying to “ground” her regularly is that she seems to be losing her grasp on reality more and more. She has good days and bad days, but I can usually count on needing to just sit and re-assure her at least once each day, for 45 minutes to an hour. It has also become common for her to ask to “go home” when we get through watching some movie in the evening, or when she wakes up from a nap. When we explain that this is where she lives now, and that my wife and I care for her and make sure she’s safe, she’ll get very happy (almost teary-eyed) and thank us. But that will usually only last for a few minutes, unless you get her attention focused on something else. Likewise, due to her inability to focus and her failing memory, she needs constant supervision and basic repeated instruction when doing anything such as brushing her teeth or bathing.

She often asserts that she came here with other people, and that she wants to call them to ask them to come get her. If queried on this, she’ll frequently identify her mom and sister as the people involved (who died 38 and 16 years ago, respectively). Any effort to explain that they are no longer living is met with skepticism, no matter how phrased, and we’ll need to redirect her attention to other topics in order to get her from dwelling on where “her family” is. It seems very much to be the case that she is regressing to those very early relationships as security, as her more recent memories become more confused and clouded. At night, when she wakes and needs to use the toilet, she’ll usually ask whether my wife or I are her parents when we come into the room. We no longer ask her if she knows who we are, but I get the sense that she’s pretty much lost our names, just identifies us by sight.

To see all the related posts, click on the “Alzheimer’s” tag at the bottom.

Jim Downey