Communion Of Dreams

As in so many things,
June 27, 2010, 11:31 am
Filed under: Humor, Mark Twain, Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir

Preparing to leave Salt Lake City this morning, drive over the mountains by the scenic route to Loveland, where we’ll spend the day tomorrow relaxing with friends and recovering for the long haul home.

It’s been a good trip – scenery gorgeous, the performances of the Choir excellent and well-received.

As for Salt Lake City, and the pervasive influence of the LDS church here, as in so many things I think Mark Twain said it best. I may have some more to comment on the topic later, once I am safely distant.

For now, time to schlep the bags down to the car and get on the road.

Jim Downey

On the road again . . .
June 24, 2010, 11:39 am
Filed under: Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir, Travel

Well, I’m in Salt Lake City.

Yeah, for this thing my wife has going on.

It’s actually been an enjoyable trip, though not without mishaps. We drove over to Loveland CO on Monday (13 hours – thank gods for audio books). Spent the day with friends there on Tuesday, then headed off yesterday morning for the 8+ hour drive to SLC.

And the A/C died just outside of Cheyenne, WY.

I looked, saw the belt had broken. But it did so just as I had turned the A/C on. And we’d had problems with the A/C not being fully functional on Monday.

Made arrangements while on the road for an appointment to get the car looked at in SLC this morning, since we wanted to just get here. This morning I took the car over, while Martha went to rehearsal. After a few minutes, I got the verdict: dead compressor. Not too surprising, given what had happened.

So, I told the guys to fix it. They’ll have it done later today.

Then I walked back to the hotel – about 20 minutes. And I was in a good mood.

Why be in a good mood in reaction to car problems and a $1200 bill?

Well, why not? We’re where we need to be for the time being. The car will be ready for the drive home. I can hang out with the choir on a city tour this afternoon. And it was a pretty day for a walk – which felt good after a couple of days of driving.

All in all, things could be a hell of a lot worse.

Enjoy the day.

Jim Downey

Guess where?
June 20, 2010, 7:45 am
Filed under: Book Conservation, Guns, Humor

A long time back I wrote about getting my big safe, to keep the rare books secure, as well as my guns. Which has led to some interesting situations with clients, who somehow don’t expect a mild-mannered bookbinder to also own a decent selection of firearms.

Well, I keep the safe open during the day when I am home (which is usually). This helps to prevent humidity build up – a problem for both the books and the guns. Typically, closing the safe up is the last thing I do at night before going up to bed.

Just like last night. I shut off the computer, turned off the desk lamp, went over and pushed the big door closed and spun the lock. Upstairs to bed.

Wandered down this morning, and our old lady yellow cat was waiting for her breakfast. She’s always waiting when I come down. The younger grey wasn’t around – hadn’t been up on the bed last night, either. She does this sometimes, whether because of just mood or because she decided to stay outside overnight.

I fed the yellow cat, went to the back door and whistled for the other one. Yes, our cats come when called. Particularly when it is time for breakfast.

But there was no sign of her. Oh well, it happens – she must’ve been off adventuring somewhere in our very large yard.

So I went into my usual morning routine. Put away the dishes from the night before as water heated for coffee. Once the coffee was ready, and there was once again hope in the world, went in to my office and fired up the computer. As it booted up, I went over and opened the safe.

Guess who came darting out?

Yeah, the small grey cat. She evidently had decided to investigate the bottom shelf on one side of the safe, which is empty. This is unusual, since she has long since determined that the safe isn’t very interesting.

Anyway, no harm done. She went right to the litter box, then wanted breakfast.

But I bet she stays clear of the safe from now on.

Jim Downey

Back to it.
June 19, 2010, 10:29 am
Filed under: Emergency, George Orwell, Society, Violence

Well, I’m back to reading the Orwell Diaries, after just browsing them now and again for the last two years. Why now? Well, what was happening in the world 70 years ago?

Oh, yeah, that.

Specifically, the fall of France. Dunkirk.

Orwell’s diaries have gone from mundane reporting of how many eggs his chickens laid to a preoccupation with the war news, and observations on how few people in the British public seem to be engaged in it yet. It’s funny, from our perspective we think of WWII as “total war” which completely took over the countries involved. But of course that’s not how things actually unfolded – those who were experiencing it saw it within the other aspects and concerns of their lives. It took time for the full scope of the war to become clear, and as always some people understood what was actually happening sooner than others.

Anyway, if you fell away from reading the Orwell Diaries, you might want to pick the habit back up. Interesting stuff.

Jim Downey

Looking back…
June 17, 2010, 9:39 am
Filed under: Bad Astronomy, NASA, Phil Plait, Science, Science Fiction, Space, tech

Just a quick note to point people to a delightful overview of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) done as a flash animation, via Bad Astronomy. The JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and will be able to look back further into the history of the universe.

Minor bit of trivia: the early information on the JWST which was available helped me to come up with the design idea for the ‘Advanced Survey Array’ in Communion of Dreams. I never really get into a description of the ASA, but I had to think through for myself how the thing worked to use it consistently in the book.

Jim Downey

“It’s absolutely amazing how many people have the same story.”
June 16, 2010, 3:54 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, NPR

I’ve written many times about Alzheimer’s, and our experiences in caring for Martha’s mom. In fact, there are 142 blog entries here tagged “Alzheimer’s”.

We’re hardly alone. This is, in fact, the main reason that myself and my co-author are working on the book we are, which offers a male care provider’s perspective and experience. But one story I have followed all along has been that of Tom DeBaggio, as it has been covered on NPR. Here’s the close of that story:

Joyce (Tom’s wife) visits Tom once a week. She used to go almost every day. It gets harder and harder, she says. She’ll sit in the parking lot for a long time to get her courage up.

It’s been a long road for Joyce. She says that Tom’s friends and fans ask about him, more and more — or they’ll ask her if he’s still alive, she says.

“What’s so wrenching, there’s so many that have Alzheimer’s in their family. Or they’ve just lost someone, or someone just been diagnosed. It just makes you cry, listening to all of their stories. It’s heartening, too, that they can talk about it. It’s absolutely amazing how many people have the same story.”

The whole series is worth listening to. Heartbreaking, but worth it. Just like care giving.

Jim Downey

This ‘n that.

Several things of interest, some personal, some news, some related to the book . . .

* * *

I am struck with how powerful just random chance is in determining the course of events. Whether you agree with the Administration’s handling of it or not, just consider how the BP oil leak in the Gulf has come to dominate the attention and course of politics. Who could have predicted that of all the things happening in the world, this would happen? It’s like getting in a car crash – it sort of shuts out every other factor in your life.

* * *

A couple of people have sent me a link to the NYT item “Merely Human? That’s so yesterday.” It’s a long piece, and worth reading.

I’ve written about Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity previously. Simply put, I find the idea interesting but unconvincing. Kurzweil and the others involved in this ‘Singularity University’ are smart people, and I like that they are pushing for research and the development of technology which will benefit all, but it strikes me as mostly as the technological equivalent of the ‘afterlife’ of most religions – more hope than reality. This quote from the article sums up my thoughts pretty well:

William S. Bainbridge, who has spent the last two decades evaluating grant proposals for the National Science Foundation, also sides with the skeptics.

“We are not seeing exponential results from the exponential gains in computing power,” he says. “I think we are at a time where progress will be increasingly difficult in many fields.

“We should not base ideas of the world on simplistic extrapolations of what has happened in the past,” he adds.

It’s called the Law of Diminishing Returns.

* * *

Which isn’t to say that there cannot be revolutionary breakthroughs which could radically change our lives. I’ve also written about how hydrogen sulfide (H2S) seems to be connected to hibernation, and now comes a fairly breathtaking bit of news that is related:

Mystery Explained: How Frozen Humans Are Brought Back

Yeast and worms can survive hypothermia if they are first subjected to extreme oxygen deprivation, a new study finds.

The results could explain a long-held mystery as to how humans can be brought back to life after “freezing to death,” the scientists say.

The study uncovered a previously unknown ability of organisms to survive lethal cold by temporarily slowing the biological processes that maintain life.

But the really interesting bit was this:

Documented cases of humans successfully revived after spending hours or days without a pulse in extremely cold conditions first inspired Roth to study the relationship between human hypothermia and his own research in forced hibernation.

In the winter of 2001, the body temperature of Canadian toddler Erica Norby plunged to 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) as she lay for hours in below-freezing weather after wandering outside wearing only a diaper. Apparently dead, she recovered completely after being re-warmed and resuscitated.

The same curious fate befell Japanese mountain climber Mitsutaka Uchikoshi in 2006, who was discovered with a core body temperature of 71 degrees F (22 degrees C) after 23 days after falling asleep on a snowy mountain.

23 DAYS? Holy shit, I hadn’t been aware of that.

* * *

And lastly, you probably heard about this:

KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. geologists have discovered vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan, possibly amounting to $1 trillion, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman said Monday.

Waheed Omar told reporters the findings were made by the U.S. Geological Survey under contract to the Afghan government.

* * *

Americans discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, including iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium, according to the report. The Times quoted a Pentagon memo as saying Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and cell phones.

Sounds like a brilliant bit of good news? Think about it again. As someone on MetaFilter commented:

Oh man, I wish I could feel optimistic about this… but a homeless guy with no hope and no prospects, who finds a gold watch, still has no hope and no prospects, but now he’s in for a beating too.

Did you ever read The Prize? Same thing. The ore sources for some of these minerals are very rare, they are critical for many high-tech products, and there is going to be a scramble to make sure who winds up in control of them.

* * *

Random chance rules our lives.

Jim Downey