Communion Of Dreams

December 27, 2010, 6:28 pm
Filed under: Book Conservation, General Musings, Society, tech

“Heh. Well, I suppose that’s one way to do it.”

I smiled at my wife, dipped an index finger carefully to just barely make contact with the surface of the paint. It was cool, thick and creamy. “Well, you know.”

She laughed, left me to my work and went back to hers.

I smeared the paint on the small patch that needed repairing – just behind the silver handle on one of the cabinets in the bathroom. It took two more dips to get sufficient paint applied.

Why do this? Why not just get a small brush and do the minor touch up that needed doing? We’re supposed to be tool-using monkeys, right?

Partly, it’s laziness. This way I didn’t have to clean a paint brush. But more, it’s just for the tactile joy – being able to feel that wonderful slick quality of paint against the wood. I think in many ways we are too divorced from our world – distanced by a computer screen, a barrier of our own making, living inside a post-modern bubble, safe in our ironic detachment. Wii games allow us to ski without getting cold or wet. It’s safer, but somehow less . . . real.

And this is what I do. Dip a finger in pigment or adhesive, work it into the damaged cover of a book. That way I can feel the texture of the leather or cloth, work the material to match in terms of color or surface. Tapping the wet paint creates a stippling pattern that’s a perfect match to the effect of a paint roller. Try doing that with a small brush.

I finished in the bathroom, closed up the gallon of paint. A bit of solvent and a paper towel cleaned the residual off of my fingers.

When it dries, the minor repairs will be almost invisible. But I’ll know they’re there. I have touched them.

And been touched by them.

Jim Downey

Do not embarrass the TSA, or . . .
December 24, 2010, 12:09 pm
Filed under: BoingBoing, Constitution, Failure, Government, Guns, Society, Travel, YouTube

. . . you will quickly find yourself punished, even if you are a deputized Air Marshal and airline pilot.

That’s about the only conclusion one can draw from this story:

Pilot in Hot Water for Exposing Security Flaws

An anonymous 50-year-old airline pilot is in hot water with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after posting on YouTube a behind-the-scenes tour of what he says are security flaws at San Francisco International Airport.

While airplane passengers go through security screening — such as with metal detectors, full body scanners and pat downs — the pilot shows in one of several video clips, recorded with his cell phone, that airport employees at SFO simply swipe a card to go through an unmanned door.

* * *

According to sister station ABC7 in San Francisco, the disclosure resulted in federal air marshals and sheriff’s deputies showing up at the pilot’s home — an event the pilot, a deputized federal air marshal, also recorded — to confiscate his federally issued handgun.

There’s a nice video clip there on the news site about the whole incident. Which contains this great quote from the TSA in a letter sent to the pilot after Federal Marshals showed up at his home to confiscate his handgun that says “A FFDO (Federal Flight Deck Officer) must not engage in … conduct that impairs the efficiency of TSA … or causes public loss of confidence in TSA.”

There’s also an interview with the TV station’s aviation consultant who worked at the airport in question for 47 years who confirms that the problems the pilot documented are as characterized.

So, while the traveling public has to deal with enhanced groping and potentially dangerous scanners, anyone with an access card gets to take whatever they want out onto the airfield and onto planes being serviced. But if you’re in a position to document that fact and publicize it, you should expect the TSA to come down hard on your ass.

Jim Downey

Via BB. Cross posted to dKos.

This guy should get a job with the TSA.
December 24, 2010, 9:43 am
Filed under: Failure, Marketing

I mean, he’d be perfect:

Sleepy shopper upset over Columbia Mall ban

A Holts Summit man caught catnapping at Columbia Mall was banned from shopping there for a year, and he’s not happy about it.

Roger Wheat was at the mall with his wife Friday when, he said, he stopped to rest. Surrounded by packages containing their purchases, he said he was sitting as his wife shopped when security guard Ryan Tripp approached.

* * *

When Tripp walked away and conferred with other guards, Wheat called his wife. They moved their packages to another area with chairs, he sat down, and she resumed shopping. Wheat, a former corrections officer, said because of a back injury and leg problems, he tires easily and cannot keep up with his wife during weekly trips to the mall.

Tripp returned, this time with Columbia police officers. Tripp wanted to take Wheat’s picture, which Wheat refused. He then made a trade — he took pictures of Tripp and the two officers, then allowed his picture to be taken. That’s when Tripp gave him a “Notice to depart and forbid re-entry.”

Wow. Give people a little authority, and some just can’t wait to abuse it. He kicked a guy out (and banned him for a year) because he was having a nap while his wife did more shopping. A week before Christmas. With that combination of poor public relations skill and an instinct to push people around in petty ways, this clown should get a job with the TSA when the Mall finally fires his ass over the public uproar.

Good lord.

Oh, if you would like to communicate to the Mall administration just exactly what you think of this kind of stupidity, here’s their contact page:

Jim Downey

Just ones and zeros.
December 23, 2010, 12:11 pm
Filed under: BoingBoing, movies, Science Fiction, tech, YouTube

This is clever. And I mean that in a positive way:

“They’re made out of data.”


“Data. They’re made out of data.”


“No doubt about it. We picked them up as holonomic extrusions, sent in an amnesiant isomorphic scout party, and checked them out up close. They are completely data.”

“That’s impossible. What about that page?”

It’s a riff on the classic short story by Terry Bisson, of course. And speaking of that, I’ve always loved this version:

Jim Downey

December 21, 2010, 1:36 pm
Filed under: Book Conservation, Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

This morning, after our walk, I took some time and replenished the firewood ric on our front porch. It hadn’t gotten down too far, but with the possibility of significant winter weather ugliness later this week, I thought it a good time to top it off. When done, I paused a moment and looked at the supply, felt comforted.

* * * * * * *

I’ve always been an information junkie. I blame it on wanting to be a mentat when I was a kid.

And the way you control a mentat? Control the information he gets.

I hate being controlled.

* * * * * * *

It had been eight weeks.

Eight weeks since I had last heard from my editor. We had been nearing the close of contract discussions, most everything sorted out just fine. There were only a couple of points we needed to settle.

Then . . . nothing.

I knew he had his hands full with a bunch of other stuff. More tech being developed. At least one more book scheduled to be out before mine. This, that, and the other.

So it was just likely that he got busy.

But . . . nothing.

After a couple of weeks, I dropped him an email.

Still . . . nothing.

I figured it was no big deal, he’d get back to me when ready. A couple more weeks passed, and I sent another email.

Again . . . nothing.

But that was right before Thanksgiving. I figured after the holiday he’d write.

Yet . . . nothing.

* * * * * * *

Finances have been tight. Nothing horrid, but tight. Because of the downturn in the economy, my conservation work from private clients this year has been way down. And since I lost a large institutional client last year, I didn’t have that work. Still, I’ve had work enough to keep me busy, the cash flow positive.

Except when my other institutional clients screw up the way that bureaucracies do with annoying regularity.

Such as has happened with MU recently. They have managed to lose/misplace/futz around with invoices such that I haven’t been paid for work done for about two months now.

And of course, trying to get an answer about what is going on from the Business Office is just an exercise in frustration.

I’ve danced this dance with them many times before. I know they’ll come through in the end, but they’ll take their own sweet time about it.

In the meantime we manage with savings. We’re lucky in that regard, and I know it – a lot of people right now can’t do the same.

* * * * * * *

This morning I sent another email to my publisher, asking whether they had reconsidered whether to publish Communion of Dreams, or what.

See, the lack of response . . . the lack of information about what was going on . . . was starting to drive me nuts.

I can deal with pretty much anything. At least, that’s been my track record to date, and I’ve had enough tough things to deal with to trust that ability. That is, I can deal with pretty much anything so long as I know what the hell is going on.

Because if I don’t know, I tend to imagine the worst. And I have a very active imagination.

In fairness, I’ve had enough tough things to deal with that this somewhat pessimistic inclination has been borne out repeatedly. So I’m not just neurotic.

Anyway, I got a response right back with an apology. Everything is cool, he’s just been insanely busy with the various projects I’d mentioned (and then some), and things had just slipped past more quickly than he intended. Looks like the book will now be out in February – though it won’t surprise me if that gets pushed back a bit.

And that’s fine. ‘Cause now I know what is going on.

* * * * * * *

I stood there for a moment, looking at the stack of firewood on the porch. A good supply, easily enough for a couple of weeks of casual use, even if the weather gets ugly. And there’s more in the big stash elsewhere in the yard.

I don’t know what will happen later this week. Will we just get some snow for Christmas? Or will dire predictions of sleet and freezing rain translate into reality?

We’ll see. Because even though I don’t know what will happen, I know I’m ready for it. Well, as ready as you can be for anything.

Jim Downey

“Hand over the money and no one gets hurt.”
December 17, 2010, 1:24 pm
Filed under: Brave New World, Emergency, Failure, General Musings, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society

It’s been a while since I’ve written much of anything about economic conditions; frankly, the whole mess was just too depressing no matter how I looked at it, and I knew (and said) that the end result was going to be that we would wind up transferring more of our wealth to the bastards who caused the economic collapse.

But it is worthwhile to look at what happened and why. And this is perhaps the best examination I’ve found yet of the systemic, structural problems which are behind the latest mess. It’s a somewhat dense and jargon-packed piece on finance, but here’s the money quote:

For the time being, we need to accept the possibility that the financial sector has learned how to game the American (and UK-based) system of state capitalism. It’s no longer obvious that the system is stable at a macro level, and extreme income inequality at the top has been one result of that imbalance. Income inequality is a symptom, however, rather than a cause of the real problem. The root cause of income inequality, viewed in the most general terms, is extreme human ingenuity, albeit of a perverse kind. That is why it is so hard to control.

Another root cause of growing inequality is that the modern world, by so limiting our downside risk, makes extreme risk-taking all too comfortable and easy. More risk-taking will mean more inequality, sooner or later, because winners always emerge from risk-taking. Yet bankers who take bad risks (provided those risks are legal) simply do not end up with bad outcomes in any absolute sense. They still have millions in the bank, lots of human capital and plenty of social status. We’re not going to bring back torture, trial by ordeal or debtors’ prisons, nor should we. Yet the threat of impoverishment and disgrace no longer looms the way it once did, so we no longer can constrain excess financial risk-taking. It’s too soft and cushy a world.

“Too soft and cushy,” indeed. I must admit (and have before) that one of the reasons that I wrote the backstory to Communion of Dreams the way I did was, as Umberto Eco said so well, “I wanted to poison a monk.” A certain part of me thinks that a good round of ‘off with their heads’ would be really healthy for our society overall, though somewhat less so for Wall Street.

Jim Downey

December 17, 2010, 11:09 am
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Predictions, Science Fiction, tech, YouTube

Man, I so love to see technology advancing to exactly what I was envisioning for Communion of Dreams. And when I say “envision”, I mean that literally:

That’s from Word Lens, a company who came up with instant-translation software you can use on your smart phone. And it’s just brilliant.

That’s *exactly* the sort of tech I projected for CoD – there is a reference early on to the main character asking his AI “Expert” to load a program to allow him to understand Mandarin in real time, and to provide him with an augmented-reality text for responses that he could read in order to allow him to communicate with a young girl from China. Yeah, that is more advanced than what we see in the vid above, but not that much moreso.


Jim Downey

Man, I love creative people.
December 15, 2010, 10:22 am
Filed under: Art, Humor, YouTube

They explain their process at the end. Damned clever.

Jim Downey

Unexpected strength.
December 14, 2010, 1:01 pm
Filed under: SCA, Society, Survival

Holbrooke was the chief architect of the Dayton Accords, the agreement which helped end the war in Bosnia. The agreement was signed fifteen years ago today. The veteran US diplomat was 69.

* * * * * * *

I took the phone call in the kitchen of my aunt & uncle’s house (this was long before cell phones). I had spent my adolescence in this home, after they took me in following the death of my parents. Now myself and some friends were staying there for a big SCA event to be held in my hometown: my first coronation as “king“. It was going to be a festive event, a day which was to be filled with fun and a bit of pomp, something to be celebrated and enjoyed.

I listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. We talked. Not many words were used, but much was said. I hung up the phone, looked to my future wife. Even then, she could read my face.

“What’s wrong?”

“Something’s happened.”

* * * * * * *

Betty, the friend who was going to be my “queen”, looked at me. We were in a small room set aside for our use prior to the coronation ceremony. I don’t remember if anyone else was in the room at the time, but things were generally in chaos. What had ‘happened’ was that the night before a carload of friends who were traveling to attend our coronation had been killed in an accident. 4 people, known and beloved, were dead. Everyone was in shock, understandably.

Betty looked at me. She was a smart, caring woman, capable of dealing with just about anything. A child-abuse investigator, she had the training and temperament to understand tough emotional situations and still see what needed to be done. At that moment I realized just how incredibly fortunate I was to have her as a partner in the role I was about to play.

Betty looked at me, and I at her. There was compassion in her face. “Suddenly, it’s not just a game anymore, is it?”

* * * * * * *

Sunday was the anniversary of my father’s death. It’s been 41 years. My mom died about 18 months later. Both deaths were unexpected – one due to violence, the other accident.

They were not the first deaths I had known. And they certainly have not been the last. I’ve lost friends and loved ones. I’ve been there at the end to do what I can for another.

At 52, this is not uncommon. Most of us experience these things as we move through adulthood. But, prodigy that I was, I was ahead of the curve when I was younger.

* * * * * * *

Betty looked at me, and I at her. There was compassion in her face. “Suddenly, it’s not just a game anymore, is it?”

“No. Real people, real emotions.” I remember thinking that for all that that day was not what I had expected, there was some small part of me which was . . . satisfied . . . that I had entirely too much experience with such matters. Even with the shock and pain, I felt capable of dealing with what was to come.

She saw it, and knew. “Well, let’s go do what we can for everyone.”

* * * * * * *

Holbrooke was the chief architect of the Dayton Accords, the agreement which helped end the war in Bosnia. The agreement was signed fifteen years ago today. The veteran US diplomat was 69.

The radio moved on to the next story. My wife glanced at me. We were both getting dressed to go on our morning walk, adding extra layers because of the cold. “69. I heard that earlier. He was just ten years older than me.”


“It got me thinking about, well, unexpected death.”

“Me too.” I paused, looked at her. “I think about that all the time.”

“I know.”

* * * * * * *

Jim Downey

Raising your eyes.
December 12, 2010, 10:16 am
Filed under: NASA, Space, tech, YouTube

Sometimes you just need to look up. This is one of those days for me. So here is some amazing slow-motion footage of a shuttle launch. It really gets going about the 2:30 mark.


Jim Downey