Communion Of Dreams

Morphing expectations.

It is nothing but complete fantasy at this point, and will likely be tomorrow’s paleo-future, but this “concept device” from Nokia is intriguing:

Featured in The Museum of Modern Art “Design and The Elastic Mind” exhibition, the Morph concept device is a bridge between highly advanced technologies and their potential benefits to end-users. This device concept showcases some revolutionary leaps being explored by Nokia Research Center (NRC) in collaboration with the Cambridge Nanoscience Centre (United Kingdom) – nanoscale technologies that will potentially create a world of radically different devices that open up an entirely new spectrum of possibilities.

Morph concept technologies might create fantastic opportunities for mobile devices:

  • Newly-enabled flexible and transparent materials blend more seamlessly with the way we live
  • Devices become self-cleaning and self-preserving
  • Transparent electronics offering an entirely new aesthetic dimension
  • Built-in solar absorption might charge a device, whilst batteries become smaller, longer lasting and faster to charge
  • Integrated sensors might allow us to learn more about the environment around us, empowering us to make better choices

To get a full sense of what they are envisioning, check out the demonstration video.

Like I said, nothing but fantasy at this point. For Communion of Dreams I mostly stayed away from nanotech, since the capabilities it presents in theory are so radically powerful. We’re still early enough in learning how to manipulate material at the molecular level that it is not yet apparent what the real limitations are – it would be fairly easy to envision nearly god-like powers becoming available. And for me, such power isn’t that interesting – there is just too much you can do with it, for it to be a worthwhile device for writing. I prefer a more nitty-gritty tech level, with real limitations and problems for my characters to learn to use and overcome.

But it is fun to see something like the Morph concept come along, just as it was fun back in the 60s to watch the Pan Am shuttle match up to the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey (an homage to which I have in Communion, though it may not be obvious).

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

February 28, 2008, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Book Conservation, Health, Hospice, Sleep

Last night, my wife washed off the blackboard which hangs in the kitchen.

* * * * * * *

I just got back from a quick trip to KC to pick up the first large load of books from the seminary. Simple. Got up this morning, usual routine, jumped in the car and drove to KC. Met with the client. Selected about 60 volumes to start with, wrapped them in cling film, boxed ’em up. Put the boxes in the car, drove home, pausing to check out a new store just off the highway – and amazing myself that I didn’t have to call home to coordinate the slight delay.

* * * * * * *

I sent this note to a friend:

Mostly I’ve been getting work done, at least in the afternoons. Feels good to be able to focus in and do it – a nice affirmation, and there is that joy that comes with doing something well which most people can’t do. Still struggling to shake off the last effects of the flu, which is annoying, but there is clear progress.

And that has been the real change this week. Each afternoon I’ve been able to just dive in and work. For hours. Very productively. Such a change.

* * * * * * *

It’s the little things. Yes, there are the larger changes: more sleep, no need to go around always listening to a monitor, being able to come and go as I please. Those I expected, even if they have taken some adjustment. But it’s the little things that catch you unprepared.

Last night, my wife washed off the blackboard which hangs in the kitchen.

The blackboard which for years had our contact phone numbers on it. Those were first put there by Martha Sr. years ago, when her memory was becoming undependable and she might need to call someone for help. Then they remained even once we moved in here, since both my wife and I still had our jobs elsewhere during the day. After I closed my gallery and moved home that was no longer the need, but by then they were an institution. More recently, long after Martha Sr had stopped using the phone, the numbers were there as a quick resource for the various respite care workers and whatnot, in the event of an emergency.

Last night, my wife washed it clean. It was time to move on.

* * * * * * *

Jim Downey

garfield minus garfield
February 28, 2008, 3:32 pm
Filed under: Bipolar, Comics, Depression, Humor

Whoa – this is *such* an improvement!

garfield minus garfield

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.

Jim Downey

Hat tip to Tim! Cross posted to UTI.

I’m not sure this is progress.
February 26, 2008, 11:58 am
Filed under: BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, General Musings, ISS, Science, Space

Man, when I was a kid, I thought that all the ‘astronaut food’ was super cool.  Tang was always my drink of choice, even if the stuff really was kinda nasty.  But seriously, is this progress?

Kimchi goes to space, along with first Korean astronaut.

So it was only natural for Koreans to think that their first astronaut must have the beloved national dish when he goes on his historic space mission in April. Three top government research institutes went to work. Their mission: to create “space kimchi.”

“If a Korean goes to space, kimchi must go there, too,” said Kim Sung Soo, a Korea Food Research Institute scientist. “Without kimchi, Koreans feel flabby. Kimchi first came to our mind when we began discussing what Korean food should go into space.”

* * *

“The key was how to make a bacteria-free kimchi while retaining its unique taste, color and texture,” said Lee Ju Woon at the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute, who began working on the newfangled kimchi in 2003 with samples provided by his mother.

Ordinary kimchi is teeming with microbes, like lactic acid bacteria, which help fermentation. On Earth they are harmless, but scientists fear they could turn dangerous in space if cosmic rays cause them to mutate.

Um, yeah, “mutating kimchi microbes” sounds like a very bad idea, and not even a good name for a band.

Jim Downey

(Via BoingBoing.) 

I knew these days would come.

Last night we settled down with some dinner to watch a bit of Firefly, settling on Serenity (the episode, not the movie). At one point fairly early on, when plans have gone south at several junctures, the captain of the ship (Mal) is considering options, trying to make the best of a not-great situation. There’s this little bit of dialog:

MAL: We don’t get paid for this, we won’t have enough money to fuel the ship,
let alone keep her in repair. She’ll be dead in the water anyhow.
(Mal turns to the others)
We just gotta keep our heads down and do the job. Pray there ain’t no more surprises.

I looked at my wife, and we just nodded to one another.

* * * * * * *

We did a hard thing. And we did it well.

Caring for my MIL for years somewhat warped my perspective. First and foremost in our consideration was always what her needs were and how best to meet them. I’ve often talked about what that meant in terms of rewards and sacrifices, and I don’t intend to rehash that now.

But a couple of things have changed with her passing. First off, is the odd sense of disorientation. I’ve compared it in discussion with friends with almost having a sense of agoraphobia – a nervousness when out in the world I’ve never felt before. It’s really just a conditioned reflex, and will fade as I adjust to the lack of need to always being worried about Martha Sr.

Another thing which has changed is the need to return to something resembling a ‘normal’ life, with the usual requirements of work. I don’t mind work, never have. My life has never been easy (though it certainly could have been harder), and I’ve never expected it to be otherwise.

But sometimes you wonder if maybe it couldn’t be just a little bit easier.

Caring for Martha Sr those last weeks was more demanding, and lasted longer than anyone expected. Getting hit with the flu so hard following seemed a bit gratuitous, in the sense of the universe having fun at our expense. Both my wife and I are behind on our work, and while our clients understand, that doesn’t help the cash flow situation. I knew these days would come, and things would be a little rough for a while until we got settled again. But we’ll manage.

* * * * * * *

We did a hard thing, and we did it well.

What has come of a bit of surprise has been how some people have responded to that. There’s been some discord in the family about the disposition of Martha Sr’s possessions, borne mostly out of a misguided sense of guilt, from what I can tell. It’s really unfortunate, but everyone has their own way of reacting to death. If we’re lucky, with time the matter will sort itself out with a minimal amount of damage.

I’ve also seen others in different forums who have almost felt like they had to defend their own decisions regarding a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or some other debilitating illness leading to hospice care. I’ve witnessed those who almost seem resentful that we did what we did, because it somehow implies that they did less – that they cared less.

No. We were able to make this work out. Barely. Everyone has a different situation, and each family, each person, must come to their own conclusions, their own solutions. None is better or worse than another. Because my wife and I don’t have kids, we didn’t have to juggle that aspect of life at the same time. Because we live here in the same town as Martha Sr, and have professions which allow a considerable flexibility in terms of work hours, we were better able to adapt to providing care at home than most. Our solution worked for our situation – barely. Those final months were very demanding, and I will admit that I was pushed further than I would have thought was possible, and failed and succeeded in ways I never expected.

I will not judge another – this experience has taught me humility.

Jim Downey

This is a test of the Stupid People Identification System. This is only a test.
February 24, 2008, 7:44 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Humor, MetaFilter, Society, tech

Oh baby, sign me up!

WHAT IS Frrvrr?
Frrvrr is a revolutionary tool for connecting and communicating with people that share your interests. Photos, politics, music, books, medical history, movies–anything you can think of! And the best part is, Frrvrr does all the work.
Frrvrr uses cutting-edge technology to identify topics you might be interested in based on your browsing history, public records, health records, email activity, legal filings, and web profiles. Frrvrr then directs you to those topics and connects you with similar-minded people. It’s part social network, part search engine, part recommendation-aggregator. In short, it uses your existing Internet habits to deliver a richer, more personalized web experience.
And from the FAQ:

How does Frrvrr work? top

When you sign up, Frrvrr’s AvaTroll Accelerator™ will download itself onto your desktop and begin cataloguing your web history, or “webtory,” from the past eight months. Once it gathers all of your information, it creates a personalized avatar of you based on the snapshot of you gleaned from web usage and sites visited.

How do others join in the conversation? top

Once you’ve completed the registration process, your Frrvrr avatar will send itself to everyone in your address book, showing off your new look and inviting them to join. And every week, your personal avatar will update its appearance based on your past week’s web habits and resend itself to your contacts to keep them updated on what you’re up to.

Man, just read the whole thing. Brilliant – and I’m guessing the folks at The Onion are behind it, based on this and the general tone of the thing.

Jim Downey

(Via Mefi. Cross posted to UTI.)

Maybe you had to have been there . . .

(I’m still fighting this stubborn flu, so forgive the light content quality. But I just had to pass on this brilliant item found on BoingBoing.)

I’ve recently been going through all the old Star Trek: The Original Series episodes and movies, and being amused at just how well the stuff holds up after so many years. But that has nothing to do with this, which I offer for your amusement: Jefferson Airplane‘s White Rabbit with TOS crew.

Bloody well brilliant.

Jim Downey

Pity party.
February 20, 2008, 6:46 am
Filed under: Bipolar, Civil Rights, Depression, Flu, Google, Health, Society

I was going to title this “I’m sick and tired . . . of being sick and tired.” After yet another night of coughing jags, tossing and turning, getting up to take OTC meds every couple of hours, and generally being miserable in this tenth day of this flu.

But then I popped that phrase into Google, to see why it echoed so from my childhood. And a couple of clicks later I found this, and was humbled.

My tendency to feel sorry for myself is not one of my most attractive traits. I can only say that it usually is a sign that I am bottoming out, and before long I will be climbing back out of my own personal pit of despair (whether it is caused by health problems, my mild bi-polar condition, or some other source). It’s that Emerson quote, again.

So, sorry about that, Fanny Lou. Didn’t mean no offense.

Jim Downey

“This is just like Pearl Harbor.”
February 18, 2008, 7:38 am
Filed under: Amazon, General Musings, Heinlein, NYT, Robert A. Heinlein, Science, Society, Terrorism

A good friend uses this quote from Robert Heinlein (from Time Enough for Love) as part of her .sig:

“There is no such thing as luck.
There is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.”

Which is a nice reformulation of my favorite Louis Pasteur quote:

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Which is why I grieve for the future of my country when I read things like this:

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment (from the NY Public Library following the 9/11 attacks), she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”

What book? The Age of American Unreason, just released last week.

Susan Jacoby has a number of other books to her credit, including Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. She has a history of supporting rationalism, and this is her latest effort to get people to pay attention to the toxic mix of anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. From her website:

This impassioned, tough-minded work of contemporary history paints a disturbing portrait of a mutant strain of public ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism that has developed over the past four decades and now threatens the future of American democracy. Combining historical analysis with contemporary observation, Susan Jacoby dissects a culture at odds with America’s heritage of Enlightenment reason and with modern knowledge and science. With mordant wit, the author offers an unsparing indictment of the ways in which dumbness has been defined downward throughout American society—on the political right and the left. America’s endemic anti-intellectual tendencies have been exacerbated by a new species of semiconscious anti-rationalism, feeding on and fed by a popular culture of video images and unremitting noise that leaves no room for contemplation or logic.

Edenists, anyone? Grieve. Grieve for the future.

Jim Downey

(Cross-posted to UTI. Thanks to ML for the initial NYT story.)

Laid low.

Wow. It’s been a while since I was this sick, this long. Nothing life-threatening, just the flu that’s going around. Of course, I was completely worn out by the last few weeks of caring for Martha Sr, with no reserves to draw upon to fight this virus, so it comes as very little surprise that I haven’t been able to just shrug off the bug and get better.

It is this sort of experience that drives home the statistics pertaining to how many soldiers over the ages died due to disease rather than battle – I don’t have the numbers right at hand, but generally it has been concluded that at least as many soldiers have died due to illness than from battle related injuries, at least up until the last century. Why? Because soldiers are frequently pushed past the point of physical exhaustion, denied adequate sleep, with poor quality or inadequate food, and under conditions which foster rapid transmission of disease from soldier to soldier.

And that’s one of the things that I always chuckle about when I read about TEOTWAWKI scenarios on this or that forum. Often, particularly when such threads come up on a firearms-related forum, people will get way too preoccupied with guns and ammo, and lose track of the fact that those tools are completely useless if you are too sick or too tired or too hungry to employ them. Get sick, and your superior collection of guns or other tech mean nothing. H.G. Wells knew this, while most of us have forgotten it.

I’ll write more when I am up to it.

Jim Downey