Communion Of Dreams

April 29, 2010, 1:38 pm
Filed under: Connections, Feedback, Privacy, Promotion

Sometimes, you just gotta admit that you’ve been defeated, and move on.

No, I’m not talking about my decision to have someone with a tractor come and till my garden this year, rather than doing it myself because of my recent muscle tear (which is actually healing quite well, thanks).

Instead, I’m talking about going on Facebook. Yeah, in spite of their privacy policies and the whole high-school-popularity-competition nonsense, I bit the bullet and signed up. A personal profile in my name, and when I can get a handle on the best way to do it I’ll also set up pages for my business, BBTI, and Communion of Dreams. If you have suggestions or pointers, feel free to drop me a note, leave a comment here, or (gods forbid, I can’t believe I’m saying this) post something to my ‘wall.’ And yes, you’re all invited to be my friend.


Jim Downey

Everybody’s talking . . .

. . . about Stephen Hawking’s caution regarding contacting alien civilizations.

LONDON (AFP) – Aliens may exist but mankind should avoid contact with them as the consequences could be devastating, British scientist Stephen Hawking has warned.

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” said the astrophysicist in a new television series, according to British media reports.


THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

* * *

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

It’s also hit a number of the big aggregating sites such as Huffington Post, BoingBoing, and MetaFilter, as well as popular science sites Bad Astronomy and Discover. The more intelligent comments/discussions get into such things as Fermi’s Paradox, the Drake Equation, and SETI, and debating the why of what would appeal to aliens about us.

Man, it really makes me wish that Communion of Dreams was currently in print. Because this is all stuff that I discuss, at length, there. The topic of alien contact is as old as science fiction, but it comes and goes in popularity – and right now it’d be great to have my book on the shelves of bookstores.

Ah well. Story of my life.

Jim Downey

No, it’s not fake.
April 26, 2010, 8:04 am
Filed under: Art, Gene Roddenberry, Guns, MetaFilter, NPR, Science Fiction, Star Trek, tech, YouTube

Oh, this is much too cool:

Info if you want to see about making your own here.

Remarkable how the technology has evolved since my nutty art project.

Jim Downey

(Yes, via MeFi. When are you people going to learn and just start reading the damn site on your own?)

Secret space plane? What secret space plane?
April 25, 2010, 1:48 pm
Filed under: DARPA, Government, NASA, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Space, tech, Wired, Writing stuff


The Air Force launched a secretive space plane into orbit Thursday night from Cape Canaveral, Florida. And they’re not sure when it’s returning to Earth.

Perched atop an Atlas V rocket, the Air Force’s unmanned and reusable X-37B made its first flight after a decade in development shrouded in mystery; most of the mission goals remain unknown to the public.

The Air Force has fended off statements calling the X-37B a space weapon, or a space-based drone to be used for spying or delivering weapons from orbit. In a conference call with reporters, deputy undersecretary for the Air Force for space programs Gary Payton acknowledged much of the current mission is classified.

The X-37B looks like a miniature space shuttle, and evidently the design was based on that system. The much smaller size (about one quarter the size of the shuttle) does give some indications of the limitations of the missions it could be used on, and it seems to not be quipped for life support – but beyond that, not much is publicly known.

One particular reason I find this of interest is that in the ‘future history’ in which Communion of Dreams occurs, this is exactly the sort of secret tech which has been developed by joint US & Israeli efforts – a fleet of these sorts of unmanned vehicles forms the basis for a concerted effort to establish a colony on the Moon, which are then supplied with personnel by use of new full-size shuttles which have built using the same technology but equipped to handle human life support. One of the main characters of Communion of Dreams, Darnell Sidwell, is heavily involved in this effort, and his role is mentioned in CoD. In my future history, this whole development is about ten years ahead of what is indicated by the news of the X-37B launch. In fact, most of this story forms the background for the prequel to CoD which I have mentioned previously, titled St. Cybi’s Well.

But then, who knows how much of what we’re now finding out is the actual truth? I mean, the Atlas lift capability has been around since the Apollo days. The basic shuttle design goes back to the 1970s. Do you really think that they stopped improving the tech for military applications until just ten years ago?


Jim Downey

(Also via MeFi.)

They call it a “derecho”.
April 23, 2010, 9:39 am
Filed under: Survival, Weather

Not quite a year ago I wrote about dodging tornadoes on the way to visit a friend in Arkansas.

And appropriately enough, as spring storms roll through here again this morning, my Good Lady Wife showed me an article in the Rural Missouri newsletter which is a follow-up to that weather event. Here’s the first bit:

Donnie Guinn steps out of his small farmhouse to greet his wife, Marty, who had just returned home from the grocery store. While reaching down for a bag of groceries, Donnie stares toward the sky and pauses, as something doesn’t look right. As a dark line of clouds creeps over the horizon, he urges Marty to head downstairs.

They didn’t realize it, but they were about to experience what several counties across southern Missouri faced May 8, 2009: a derecho.

Spanish for “direct” or “straight ahead,” this term describes a widespread, long-lived windstorm with a band of rapidly moving thunderstorms.

Straight-line winds in excess of 90 miles an hour. Baseball-sized hail. Actual tornadoes embedded here and there. 3-5 inches of rain in an hour.

Good times, good times.

Jim Downey

“…and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me. “
April 23, 2010, 9:00 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Constitution, Government, Guns, Humor, MetaFilter, movies, Society, Violence

The news this week about the discovery of ‘lost’ documents from the coroner’s inquest following the gunfight at the O.K. Corral has fired the imaginations of many. Unsurprising, given the historical nature of that event and the number of books and movies made concerning it.

But I want to pass along something else from a little earlier in our history. It wasn’t lost, as such, but I never knew of it. And I wish I had.

It was a letter of former slave to his owner, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of the man (Jourdon Anderson), and how the Civil War changed things. Here’s the introduction:

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

There’s a taste of Mr. Andserson’s wry cutting humor. There’s a bunch more in the letter, as he goes on to say that he’s willing to return to his former master but asks for back pay (and interest) for the work he and his wife did over decades as a sign of good faith of the Colonel’s intent. The letter isn’t long, and ends with this:

P.S. —Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

Jourdon Anderson was evidently illiterate, and this letter was written for him (but according to his instruction.) I don’t know whether the actual phrasing was his or someone else’s. But it really doesn’t matter – it remains a masterpiece. And it is a shame that it isn’t more widely known. I don’t expect that it will ever receive the attention that the O.K. Corral documents have. But I would have to say that it is in many ways more important that those documents, for what it tells us about our history.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

A thought experiment.
April 18, 2010, 8:45 am
Filed under: General Musings, Science, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Writing stuff

This morning, as I was listening to the latest news about the impact of the Iceland volcano on European air travel, I had that classic science fiction notion: what if what we’re seeing in Europe currently were a simple fact of life all around the globe? And what if it had always been the case?

Think about how the history of flight would have changed if there was a functional barrier to flight at say 12,000 feet. Think about how the history of the 20th century would have changed – perhaps impacting WWII. Yeah, sure, you can fly a jet at 10,000 feet, but it consumes a lot more energy to do so – just that much of a technological challenge could have made a difference in the geopolitical structure of the world. Most cargo is transported by ship or trains, so that wouldn’t change too much, but would the world now rely on ships and trains for most passenger transport? Would we have developed high-speed trains earlier and more completely, perhaps even introducing trans-oceanic train technology?

Or what if something happened now to impose such a limit on jet transport worldwide as we’re seeing in Europe? How would that change our world in the present and going forward? Again, we’d probably find work-arounds – that’s what we do in this technological age – but how would those changes and challenges shape our reality?

There’s an awful lot of interesting fiction waiting to be written with just this one change . . .

Jim Downey

Results in.
April 16, 2010, 8:52 am
Filed under: Health

Got a call this morning from the doctor’s office: the results of my CAT scan are in. Muscle tear, but nothing penetrating the abdominal wall. No hernia. Just take it easy for a while, let the muscle heal. I should be able to get back to doing things in another week or so, so long as I don’t over-do it.

Which is a relief, on several counts. The pain and downtime I can put up with, now that I know what’s what.

Ironically, early this AM I developed a nasty lower GI bug and fever. Probably something I picked up while over at the doctor’s office or at the hospital. So I have even more incentive to take it easy for the next day or two.

And so it goes.

Jim Downey

“How much would you pay for the universe?”
April 14, 2010, 10:41 am
Filed under: Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Government, NASA, Phil Plait, Politics, Science, Space, tech, YouTube

Half a penny on the dollar?

Well, off to have my CAT scan done.

Jim Downey

Via Phil Plait.

Well, that’s annoying.
April 13, 2010, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Health

Well, I finished the storm windows on Sunday. As I told a friend, I wanted to get it wrapped up before Monday, when I expected my doctor to tell me to stop.

See, I had come to the conclusion that I probably had a hernia. Had it since early last week.

As it turned out, I didn’t get in to see my doctor until this morning. All the symptoms point to classic abdominal hernia – a small tear in the abdominal wall on the lower left, just opposite from the location of my appendix. No indication of bowel or intestinal involvement, so nothing actually serious about it. Just painful. It feels very much like someone shoved a thin 4″ knife blade into my gut, and left it there.

Well, a CAT scan tomorrow will give us a definitive answer. At worst, some outpatient surgery – nothing to worry about, and I already have more interesting scars. Just annoying, in terms of pain and messing with my wanting to get my garden in and more stuff done here around the house/yard.

Ah, well, that’s what I get for trying to be conscientious and getting the windows cleaned.

Jim Downey