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.)