Communion Of Dreams


The term “bump” has been used online for at least the last couple of years, particularly on larger group blogs when someone who administers the site wants a specific post or comment to get more attention or not be lost in the flow of information.

Curious now that there’s an emerging use of the term pertaining to another aspect of information: “bumping” technological tools to share specific information. From a column by a friend sent me:

From University of Chicago, a bump joins networking grind

It is fitting that University of Chicago business school students would develop an iPhone app that works by bump.

After all, it was a former U. of C. professor, President Barack Obama, who helped to popularize the fist bump.

The new iPhone app, called Bump, transfers data from one iPhone to another simply by bumping. When two people holding iPhones bump hands, detailed contact information or just certain data, such as a phone number, can be shared.

I bumped an iPhone with an iPod Touch and contact information was transferred between the devices in about 5 seconds. Both gadgets asked for confirmation.

As my friend said in the email:

Not quite as handy as the handshake in your book, but on its way.

Well on it’s way, indeed. For those who don’t recall (or who haven’t yet read the book), the standard tech people use for my novel contains a palm ‘key’ which is linked to a worn (actually, embedded) personal computer. Among other things, this key allows people to just shake hands and exchange business-card type information, which is automatically filed away for reference by your personal expert system.

As I’ve said before, it’s always fun to see the technology developing as I predict in Communion.

Jim Downey

I’ve been shot! (again)
March 30, 2009, 12:07 pm
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Argentina, Guns, Health, Patagonia, Preparedness, RKBA

I mentioned last fall that I went to get a Hep A vaccination, in prep for our trip to Patagonia. Actually, what I got was the first part of the vaccine. To be fully effective, you need a booster shot six months later.

That six months was last Monday. This morning I went back for the second shot.

And as I sat there in the waiting room, I considered the matter. Why get the second shot? I only got the first one because I had a somewhat compromised immune system (the years of stress due to being a care provider) and was heading to Argentina, where there was an *outside* risk of exposure. I have no intention of traveling anywhere which might have a serious risk. And given how little I enjoyed our Argentine trip, almost no real inclination of going back there or anywhere else where there is a slight risk.

So why take the time, spend the money (just $25, but still . . .), and risk a low-grade reaction to the vaccine?

Well, partly it is just my approach to the world – I like to be thorough, see things to completion. And partly it was inertia: I had the card noting when I should come in for the second shot, and had all along figured that I would get it done.

But partly it was insurance. Like owning a fire extinguisher. Chances are I may never need it, but if I do, nothing else will be a very good substitute. And while I have absolutely zero illusions about being “safe”, why not take reasonable precautions?

Would you have bothered?

Jim Downey

Here’s an idea . . .

…which I haven’t heard of previously, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if it has already been the basis of an SF short or novel: what if the source of some giant computer/internet worm (say, Conficker or similar) was just someone’s effort to create an actual AI? Alternatively, what if some embryonic AI which already exists was creating these things in order to increase its own level of ability/sentience? The latter is somewhat similar to what I did with Seth in Communion of Dreams, through I used an entirely different mechanism.

Anyway, just an idea. I get these things all the time, and just happened to be sitting in front of the computer when I did so this time.

Jim Downey

Knock your socks off!
March 26, 2009, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Humor, Science


Mythbusters ‘Big Bang’ Shatters Windows

YOLO COUNTY, Calif. — A big explosion, in the name of science, scared a lot of people in a small town.

Mythbusters went to Yolo County and ended up with a bigger bang than expected.

* * *

They were trying to literally “knock the socks off” a mannequin by igniting 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate. But the explosion was a lot bigger than they expected.

“It felt like a house blew up, straight up,” said Paul Williams.

500 pounds of ammonium nitrate? That’d be worth seeing. Wonder when there’ll be video available?

And yeah, I would think that Mythbusters alone would be able to supply a lot of material for The Explosions Channel.

Jim Downey

(Hat tip to ML for the story!)

Entering Dystopia, population 94,428*
March 24, 2009, 4:56 pm
Filed under: ACLU, Civil Rights, Government, Politics, Predictions, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, tech

I’m becoming a crank.

Yeah, yeah, I know, what do I mean “becoming?”

But seriously, I am starting to worry a bit.  Why?  Because I am having a probably unnecessary overreaction to a couple of bits of news here in my hometown.  I think it’ll become obvious what I mean, when I tell you what they are:

Cameras keep watch downtown

The city of Columbia has installed a cluster of four surveillance cameras at Ninth Street and Broadway as a demo for a larger project to monitor and deter downtown crime.

Watchtower Security is stationing security cameras on Broadway.

The cameras, which are suspended in the air on a post and resemble black fish eyes, were installed Monday by Watchtower Security, a St. Louis-based manager of surveillance equipment. Each camera has “pan, tilt and zoom” capability, allowing a viewer to read a license plate number or identify facial features from several hundred feet away.

* * *

Each of the camera groups is a fixed to a mobile pole that can be installed anywhere with a 110-volt outlet and moved as crime activity dictates. The cameras will all be placed downtown — the Special Business District contributed half of the $50,000 budget for the project — at intersections or alleys.

That was last month. Here’s this month’s:

City negotiates deal for camera use at red lights

Although negotiations on red-light cameras for Columbia have been stop-and-go for more than a year, city officials have given the green light for a contract with a new company, and test cameras could be up by July 1.

* * *

Another feature unique to Gatso was the “Amber Alert” camera setting. With the flick of a switch, St. Romaine said, the cameras can scan every license plate that passes through the intersection and look for matches if an abductor’s plate number is known.

“It’s not only for Amber Alerts, either,” St. Romaine said. It could be used “if there was a bank robbery and we could get the plate number. It’s a feature that’s not been out long. It was introduced in Chicago in the last four or five months. They would bring that added value to the system.”

I must admit, I agree with the comments of our local head of the ACLU, who last week said this about the Downtown cameras:

ACLU finds camera plan ‘creepy’

Where Columbia city leaders and some downtown businesses see added security and comfort in new surveillance cameras planned for downtown, others see government invasion of personal activities.

“It makes my skin crawl that we would just accept this so unquestioningly,” said attorney Dan Viets, president of the Mid-Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

* * *

“It boils down to safety,” police Capt. Zim Schwartze said. “We’re going to use every tool we can that the budget will allow. … It’s unfortunate that people think we’re trying to watch them just to watch them. You’d be amazed how many cameras are in the city right now in private businesses, out in the mall, bank, grocery stores. … People are being watched and have been watched for a long time.”

Ah, yes, “safety.” Of course, that makes everything OK. Same excuse has been given for the red-light cameras. It’ll stop people from running red lights, doncha know. And the ability for the “Amber Alert” feature, which will allow the cameras to scan *every* license plate that passes through the intersection? Well, that’s to protect the children. We must do everything we can to protect the children, right?

And yes, there are lots of cameras in private businesses and at the mall, or in the parking lot at Sam’s & WalMart. That bugs me enough as it is. But all of those are private property – not public streets. And they are not being monitored by government agencies.

See, right there – I’m becoming a crank. I’m becoming one of those guys who is a bit paranoid of his own government, even though I am friends with one of our city council members, and on good terms with at least two others. Even though my wife serves on an important city government board, and I’m involved in the city government at the neighborhood association level. Why am I becoming a crank?

Because I value my privacy. No, I don’t have anything particular I wish to hide. My life is entirely too boring, and has been for a long long time. But while I am happy to comply with government requirements for paying taxes and getting licenses, making sure my car is inspected and properly insured, and obey driving laws to an absurd degree, I don’t want my government, even at the local level, to be able to track my movements around town. I don’t want to have myself monitored if I choose to go for a stroll downtown (which is now less likely – seriously, I *avoid* this crap when I can). Oh, sure, I’m a former downtown business owner, and a solid member of the community – a white, middle-aged guy who respects cops and is on a first name basis with the mayor. I’m not going to be hassled, and I won’t be targeted for increased scrutiny.

But why should any law abiding citizen be subject to this invasion?

Jim Downey

*From the 2006 Census estimates. Title refers your choice of dystopian, authoritarian futures as outlined in countless books and movies. Cross posted to UTI.

“Spock’s Brain” – Live!
March 24, 2009, 8:16 am
Filed under: Art, Gene Roddenberry, Humor, Science Fiction, Star Trek, YouTube

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of the old Star Trek series – the original one, not so much the various and sundry movies and spin-offs.  Sometime last weekend I came across this gem, which contains excerpts of a live stage production of the classic “Spock’s Brain” – brilliantly done:


Jim Downey

“Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less.”
March 23, 2009, 7:15 am
Filed under: Government, Humor, movies, Terrorism

Pub evacuated after Monty Python prop mistaken for grenade

Bomb disposal teams were called in and buildings evacuated after workmen mistook a Monty Python film prop for a hand grenade.

Water company engineers spotted the object when they lifted up a fire hydrant cover during work on a street in Shoreditch, east London.

The road was cordoned off and a nearby pub was evacuated amid fears that the “grenade” could explode.

But after nearly an hour of analysis bomb experts realised that the cause of the scare was in fact a copy of the “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch” used by Eric Idle to slaughter a killer rabbit in the 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

Makes me wonder whether there isn’t a new version of the DVD coming out – this’d be a brilliant marketing gimmick.

Jim Downey

(Via BB.  Cross posted to UTI.)

Meet Seth’s great-x17-grandmother.

[This post contains mild spoilers about Communion of Dreams.]

One of the main characters from my novel is Seth – an advanced expert system who functions as the personal assistant for the primary character.  I’ve written about him here before, and how I see this sort of “expert” developing over time.  My basic premise is that it will evolve out of simpler, independent computer programs which are brought together to create an easier and more comprehensive user interface.

Well, via this morning’s Weekend Edition, Microsoft has just come out with the first real step in this process:

Microsoft’s Laura will rule your Outlook calendar, nightmares

Back in Office 97, Microsoft wowed us with Clippy, the talking paperclip that made Word tasks far more annoying than necessary. By Office 2007 he was finally out of a job, but his spirit lives on in Laura, an oddly creepy virtual digital assistant shown off as part of Microsoft’s vision for the future (video of an earlier demo is below). She’s said to be able to schedule reservations, make appointments, and maybe even get you tickets for the first Watchmen showing tonight — much the same as the company’s EVA assistant, but not in a car and not as hot. She can judge you based on what type of clothing you’re wearing and even tell if you’re engaged in a conversation, perhaps keeping the doors on an elevator open while you chat with someone getting off, thus further annoying every other person on board.

Here’s the vid:

OK, about the title – what the hell is that supposed to mean?  Well, in the book I explain.  So go read the book.

Yeah, yeah, here’s the summation: Seth is an “S-series” expert, the latest iteration of such an artificial personal assistant, based on the most advanced type of computer.  Chances are, there is some skipping around during the periods of chaos that I stipulate for my future history, and one can never account for advertising hype, but the basic idea is that the experts were named on the basis of the alphabet.   Hence, he is the 19th generation of such a development.  Now, being the first such artificial personal assistant, Laura should actually be named Anne or something that starts with an “A”.  But Microsoft didn’t bother to ask me about it beforehand.  Figures.

Jim Downey

Exploding sheep???
March 20, 2009, 9:37 am
Filed under: Art, Fireworks, Humor, tech, YouTube

OK, be sure to watch this to the end. It’s just two minutes.

Something fun for Friday, via my good lady wife and the crazy Welsh.

Jim Downey

OK, this is just plain dangerous.
March 18, 2009, 9:26 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Fireworks, Guns, SCA, Science


Welcome to the Skylighter web site for people who make fireworks and other pyrotechnics. Skylighter offers a wide variety of novelty fireworks, sparklers, fireworks books, fireworks videos, pyrotechnic chemicals (potassium nitrate, potassium perchlorate, aluminum, sulfur, etc.), fireworks making tools, fireworks tubes (for rockets, mortars, fountains, salutes, shells, etc.), fireworks shell parts, end plugs, end disks, end caps, and other paper and plastic supplies for making fireworks and pyrotechnics to organizations and individuals in all 50 states.  The entire Skylighter catalog is available on-line, including air and surface shipping costs for all U.S. areas. Sorry, but we do not ship outside the United States.

And the guy who runs it has a blog with *extensive* information about how to construct fireworks. Here’s a bit:

Even when they don’t “work well,” and CATO (blow up) on the launch pad, these rockets are impressive! There is a lot of power packed into that engine tube, so it pays to put a long piece of Visco fuse on them, and have everyone plenty far away from the launch area just in case.

Whistle Rocket Explosion on Launch Pad

Whistle Rocket Explosion on Launch Pad
(Photo Courtesy Jerry Durand)

This is the third in a series of whistle-related articles. The first installment dealt with making whistle fuel and simple fireworks whistles. That same fuel will be used in these strobe rockets. The second article described the construction of basic whistle rockets. Many of those same techniques will be used now to make strobe rockets. So, it’s a good idea for you to familiarize yourself with those basic methods before forging ahead with this project.

Oh, baby.

Man, I’m drooling.

About 15 years ago I had the good fortune to attend several nights worth of amateur fireworks displays as part of the Pyrotechnics Guild International competitions. And I got a serious case of fireworks lust. Which is always easy for me, anyway, what with being born on July 4th and all. A few years prior to that, I’d had the chance to help set up and set off some very impressive stuff – up to 6″ shells – as part of some SCA activities.

Believe me, I could seriously get into this stuff. I put it off back then because I had my hands full with other things. And I do still, of course, but the temptation now is even stronger. Hey, I already have several pounds of black powder here because of my flintlock . . .

Oh baby.

Jim Downey