Communion Of Dreams

Habanero Happiness.
October 30, 2010, 10:27 am
Filed under: Gardening, Habanero, Health

Well, not as big a haul as three years ago, but this is respectable:

That’s a three-gallon basket, brimming full. I’d guesstimate about 350 – 400 Habaneros.

I think I know that I’m doing today.

Added, 5:00 PM: Over 600 habs at final count. Chopped and cooked down. Everything run through the Foley, now the first dozen half-pints are processing in a water bath. I’ll probably get another 8 – 10 jars after these are done. Stuff is great, consistency of a thick pea soup – pureed habs, about 3.75 per ounce – and good lord, is it HOT.

Quick recipe for future reference: 600 habs, chopped in food processor. About 10 ounces of chopped garlic. One very large yellow onion. 20 ounces real apple cider vinegar. One cup sugar. About 4 tablespoons of Kosher salt. 16 ounces of homemade tomato sauce. Simmer for 2 hours, process.

Jim Downey

(Oh, an aside: I think that the Prednisone is helping. Now I just have to resist the urge to try and make up for all the stuff I *haven’t* been doing for the last three months…)

A closing window.

The Fermi paradox is at the heart of Communion of Dreams – given what we know, where are the extra-terrestrials?

What do I mean “given what we know”? Well, the Drake equation has been a staple of science fiction (and at least part of the justification for SETI) for decades. Filling in the factors in the equation has always necessitated a lot of guesswork – the Wiki entry goes into that fairly well – but now we have more solid information on at least one of the more important components of the equation: how many terrestrial (Earth-like) planets are there in our galaxy?

Phil Plait has a good rundown on this, coming at the number from two directions, using the latest astronomical observations:

How many habitable planets are there in the galaxy?

By now you may have heard the report that as many as 1/4 of all the sun-like stars in the Milky Way may have Earth-like worlds. Briefly, astronomers studied 166 stars within 80 light years of Earth, and did a survey of the planets they found orbiting them. What they found is that about 1.5% of the stars have Jupiter-mass planets, 6% have Neptune-mass ones, and about 12% have planets from 3 – 10 times the Earth’s mass. This sample isn’t complete, and they cannot detect planets smaller than 3 times the Earth’s mass. But using some statistics, they can estimate from the trend that as many as 25% of sun-like stars have earth-mass planets orbiting them!

And what does that mean? Here’s the closing calculation from Plait:

2 x 1013 / 8000 = 2,500,000,000 planets

Oh my. Yeah, let that sink in for a second. That’s 2.5 billion planets that are potentially habitable!

How many of them would host indigenous life? How many of *those* would develop intelligent, technological civilization? There’s a nice interactive on the PBS site which allows you to play with this. Using that 2.5 billion number, but assuming that only half the planets which could support life will actually develop it, and that only 1% of those will develop intelligent life, and that only 10% of those intelligent lifeforms will develop technological civilizations capable of interstellar communication . . . you wind up with 125,000 such civilizations. You then have to make some assumptions about how long such a civilization would last, and what the likelihood would be that they would be around now (at the same time we are), but still . . .

I’ve complained previously that I worry that solid evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence will be discovered before Communion of Dreams makes it into print. That window is now closing. But you know, I really wouldn’t complain too much now if such evidence beat me to press.

Jim Downey

Pucker power!
October 28, 2010, 11:18 am
Filed under: Travel, YouTube

I’ve been on some pretty nerve-wracking paths. But this one makes me laugh nervously, just watching it.

Um, if you’re afraid of heights, probably best not to watch.

I’m particularly fond of the places where the bed of the path has just started to crumble away…

Jim Downey

Thanks, Jerry!

“Life is pain, Highness!”*
October 28, 2010, 10:48 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, movies, Science

Got a nice note from an old friend, chiding me for my comment in my post yesterday. (It wasn’t from the author of the comment I was responding to.) My friend thought I should be more open-minded about how to deal with the ongoing pain I am experiencing, and should reconsider alternative medical treatment. I thought I would post my response, and save myself from having to explain the same thing to others:

My comment reflects how much of a hard-nosed skeptic I have become in the last 15 – 20 years. At the very least, homeopathy or acupuncture needs the willing suspension of disbelief from the patient to have any chance of working, and I’m just not capable of working up to that. The realities of life have just been too hard-edged for me to put faith in prayer or magical thinking.

It’s not that I am bitter, or brittle. In fact, I am remarkably optimistic and hopeful, given all I have lived through and all I have seen. But I am much less willing to invest my energy into any enterprise which doesn’t seem to be well grounded in proven reality. I look for tangible ways to manifest my hopes, and to do what I can to help others.

Communion of Dreams
is one such effort – entertainment, perhaps a little dreaming to inspire, maybe with some ideas to provoke thought. Caring for Martha Sr was another, and from that sprang a book which I hope will be able to aid many others in very real and tangible ways.

So I appreciate your thoughts, and your motivation, in writing. But though I may be in pain, I prefer to proceed on my own path. It is one I understand.

Jim Downey

* I don’t really need to explain, do I?

It’s a mystery.
October 27, 2010, 10:48 am
Filed under: Health, Preparedness

In the movie Shakespeare in Love the Philip Henslowe character has a line which is invoked several times to explain how incredibly bad situations always turn out for the best when it comes to theatrical performance: “It’s a mystery.”

I’m hoping I have something similar happen to my current situation.

Because that’s basically the word I got from my doctor this morning, about my ongoing chest/lung pain: it’s a mystery.

The CAT scan I had last week didn’t really turn up anything. Oh, I have a small spot of calcification in one lobe of my lungs where the pneumonia had settled, but that’s not really sufficient to account for the pain and shortness of breath I’ve had. But there’s nothing else indicated from that scan.

Good long discussion and examination (who gets more than a quick 5 minute consult these days?) by my doctor didn’t really point up anything else. She’s having some blood work done, just to be thorough, but the area where I have been experiencing pain doesn’t really make sense for anything like liver function or heart problems (both of which looked normal on the CAT scan, anyway). About the only thing that makes sense is just ongoing soft-tissue damage, which is being slow to heal. I’m going on another course of Prednisone, which should help with that if it is the problem. But even that doesn’t really make sense, because it has gotten worse in recent weeks, rather than just slowly improving.

So. Treat symptoms. Try the Prednisone. Get on with life. Hope for the best and see how everything works out.

It’s a mystery.

Jim Downey

Constant vigilance!
October 26, 2010, 10:41 am
Filed under: Harry Potter, Health, Preparedness, Publishing

As I sipped my first cup of coffee, Alwyn (my dog) came up and sat down next to me, tail wagging vigorously on the carpet.

I had just let him in a few moments previously. “What is it, bud? You want to go back outside?”

He bolted for the door.

I followed, let him out into the yard.

* * * * * * *

I walked into the bedroom, still damp around the edges from my shower.

The window was open, and there was a stiff breeze coming through. Temps outside were only about 54 degrees, so it was quite crisp.

But the first thing I did, in spite of the cold, was not to put on some clothes. Instead, I checked my phone to see if there had been a call while I was in the shower.

* * * * * * *

My friend’s email was to the point: if something happened, and the publisher with whom I am negotiating for publication of Communion of Dreams went out of business, I needed to have it clear that all my rights under the contract would automatically revert to me.

I thought that was a given, since if one party in the contract no longer existed, then the contract be would null and void. But I’m not an attorney. I included a note about the matter in my email to the publisher.

* * * * * * *

Alwyn ran off to the side of the yard, looking up. In the thin morning light, I could see a raccoon, caught in a tree.

Alwyn ran back and forth, looking up. The raccoon climbed higher.

Thing was, the tree he was in was on the other side of the fence. Alwyn couldn’t touch him if he came down and sauntered off.

But the raccoon didn’t know that.

* * * * * * *

I’m still waiting.

I’m still waiting for a phone call, or an email, from my doctor’s office, with some information about the results of the CAT scan I had on Friday.

I hate waiting.

I particularly hate waiting when I feel worse day by day. The right side of my chest hurts more. I now get a bit short of breath just standing or doing *anything*. I’ve started to experience moments of light-headedness.

I’m hoping that I’m on the other side of the fence, able to just walk away from the threat.

But I fear the dog below.

Jim Downey

Update: I have an appointment to see my doc tomorrow morning, 9:15. CAT scan is “basically normal”. So now I wonder what we do.

Ya gotta have priorities.
October 22, 2010, 2:38 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, Health

So, in spite of the fears of some of my friends, I made it to Chicago and back.

Er, what’s that? Fears?

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve had some ongoing issues related to the pneumonia that had me so sick through all of August. Well, this past Tuesday I saw my doc, who poked and prodded, listened and queried. Then she told me she wanted me to get a CAT scan, since it would show more of what was going on than did the normal X-Ray I’d had the beginning of September. It was possible I had some leftover pneumonia, or a pocket of pleurisy, or possibly even a partial collapsed lung. I told her I would have to schedule the scan for Friday, since I was going to be gone the next two days.

“Where to?”

“Quick trip to Chicago.”

“Business or pleasure?”


“Well, enjoy it.”

Note – she did not tell me not to go. She did not tell me to change my plans because I was gonna die if I did such an insanely dangerous thing as drive to Chicago. She told me to enjoy the trip. Because I have been fighting whatever it is that I have going on for two months, and it is unlikely that just driving anywhere would be any worse for me than anything else I’ve done.

* * * * * * *

What pleasure so tempted me in Chicago?

Art. And an old friend.

Norma Rubovits, who studied under the same bookbinding mentor that I did (but 20 years earlier), was having a show of her bindings and her incredible marbled papers at the Newberry Library.

I first heard from Norma almost 20 years ago, when I was starting to make a name for myself with my own paper marbling. She dropped me a note, said that she heard I was making marbled paper vignettes. She said she wanted to buy some of my marbling – would I send her a selection, along with an invoice. At first I didn’t have a clue who this woman was, and I didn’t know whether to take her seriously. But after a few inquiries, I had some idea – and I sent her some of my work.

It was the start of a solid friendship. As I got to know her, I also came to understand what an incredible artist she was, working in both bookbinding and marbled paper. On one of my first trips to visit her, I got to see some of her work. She could do things in fine binding that I can still only dream of. And her marbled papers made me almost embarrassed to call myself a marbler.

See for yourself:

(More images of Norma’s show here.)

What that shows are twin marbled vignettes – two small, highly concentrated marbled ‘paintings’ called ebru. This sort of work was a specialty of Norma’s. That example is particularly fine because the two pieces had to be done quickly before the pigment would start to break down on the surface of the marbling tank – you can see this already starting to happen if you look closely at the lower image, where the center part is starting to develop small imperfections as the color bubble and concentrates. Altogether, she just had a matter of several minutes to place the multiple layers of pigment, then manipulate it into the form she wanted, then to transfer that to the paper. When I was really ‘in the zone’ while marbling, I could manage this feat with one image but I never even tried to do a pair like that.

* * * * * * *

We met Norma at the entrance to the Newberry. She graciously introduced us to her companion, a woman who serves as her care-giving assistant. Norma’s still getting around fine, and is as sharp mentally as anyone. But she is 92, and her balance isn’t what it used to be.

She escorted us into the exhibit, fussed to make sure we found the magnifying glasses you need to appreciate her most detailed work, and then had a seat to the side, popping up to point out specific works and tell us each one’s history. That we knew about the binding techniques involved, and most of the people in her stories, just added richness and encouraged her to go into greater detail than she would with the general public.

After, it was a nice long and relaxing lunch at Russian Tea Time – her favorite place to take company. Be sure to have the borscht.

* * * * * * *

My doc looked at me: “Where to?”

“Quick trip to Chicago.”

“Business or pleasure?”


“Well, enjoy it.”

“Thanks. Art exhibit of the work of an old friend. She’s 92 – and while she’s still doing quite well, you never know.”

My doctor nodded, and handed me the Rx for more painkillers, which I knew I would need to get me through the trip, at least overnight so I could maybe sleep.

Jim Downey

Seven blips of light.
October 18, 2010, 10:22 am
Filed under: Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, NASA, Phil Plait, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Space, tech

One of the main technological features of the setting of Communion of Dreams is the Advanced Survey Array – an artificial satellite in orbit around Titan, which is searching for likely planets to colonize in nearby star systems – planets which would be able to sustain Terran life. When I started writing CoD, finding such planets was still very much beyond our current tech – exoplanets of any sort were still just being inferred from other data.

But we’ve come a long way in the last decade. From Phil Plait’s latest blog post on Exoplanets:

Direct imaging of exoplanets is perhaps the newest field in all of astronomy. Ten years ago it didn’t exist, and was something of a dream. Now we have images of seven tiny dots, seven blips of light indicating the presence of mighty planets.

And with the advent of spectroscopy, we’ll learn even more: how hot they are, and what they have in their atmospheres. Eventually, with new technology, new telescopes on space, we’ll be able to split their light ever finer, and who knows? Maybe, one day not too long from now, we’ll see the tell-tale sign of molecular oxygen… the only way we know of to have molecular oxygen in an atmosphere over long periods of time is through biological activity. If we ever see it… that, my friends, will be quite a day indeed.

As I have noted previously, this is one of the dangers in writing near-term SF: that actual technological developments can outstrip what the writer envisions all too easily. We’re still not to the tech of my novel, but we’re further along than I would have guessed. Good thing that the book will soon be in print . . .

Jim Downey

Yes, it is art.
October 16, 2010, 1:44 pm
Filed under: Art, Daily Kos, Health, Politics

Perhaps it is because I am tired and in pain, thanks to the slowly worsening pleurisy I have been dealing with for the last two months. Perhaps it is because I am sick and tired of inane political commentary and commercials as we head into the mid-term elections. And perhaps it is because I fought the good fight in owning an art gallery for 8 years, and tried to promote sometimes non-traditional artwork.

For whatever reason, I found this comment to be *really* grating:

This is art??? I sure hope the Federal Government didn’t for this through the NEA budget, but it sure has the feel of Obama “stimulus” about it.

Fuck me to tears.

Yes, it is art.

And no, the Federal Government didn’t pay for this. Because the goddam installation was created by a Chinese artist, and is on display at the Tate Modern – you know, the one in London. Which isn’t in the US, you idiot.

Now, I realize that the NPR article about Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds where I came across this comment doesn’t give the location of the Tate Modern. But both of the links in the article are to UK newspapers, one of which says the exhibit is in London in the opening paragraph. And I would fully expect anyone reading the NPR site (or hearing the news on NPR this morning) concerning such an exhibition would know this, as the Tate Modern is famous world-wide.

And yet we get this:

This is art??? I sure hope the Federal Government didn’t for this through the NEA budget, but it sure has the feel of Obama “stimulus” about it.

That’s not just ignorance. It’s proud ignorance. With a side dish of blind partisanship. It is the mindset that says that anything the writer doesn’t understand must obviously be not worth knowing, and besides, the fault of the damned liberals to boot.

Like the exhibit or not, that’s fine. Think that art is only pretty pictures on a wall, and that’s OK too. But pull your head out of your ass and be at least marginally informed about the matter before you decide to expound on it. Ignorance is nothing to be proud of.

Good lord.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to Daily Kos.)

Where there were two, now there is one.
October 14, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Science, Science Fiction, tech, YouTube

Gotta love the geeky stuff. What happens when you drop water onto a superhydrophobic carbon nanotube? This:

The header reference starts about 2:25.

I love this sort of stuff. And it seems really timely to come across it when I am wrapping up work on the minor revisions of Communion of Dreams, since in there I have descriptions of superfluid materials which behave in non-intuitive ways. Kinda fun!

Jim Downey