Communion Of Dreams

1,001 Ways to Die.
December 10, 2010, 12:14 pm
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech

Way back in the lost mists of time, someone, somewhere on Facebook decided that they would post something in recognition of friends and loved ones struggling with a disease. Someone else liked what they said, and so in solidarity, cross-posted the same item, perhaps tweaking it just a little. This process continued, and a meme was born. Here is the latest version of it:

Most people have 1000 wishes for Christmas; a cancer patient only has one, to get better. I know 97% of you won’t repost this to your status, but my friends will be the 3% that do. In honor of someone who has passed, is still fighting, or survived cancer.

OK, it could have just been a year ago that this particular meme started. I’ve only been on Facebook for about six months. But I have seen multiple variations of this thing sweep through my ‘friends’, each time with a different disease or cause substituted for “cancer”. My guess, however, in watching the social dynamic, is that this sort of thing has been going on forever.

Harmless? Just a bit of social bonding, people taking a moment to express a concern they have?

Probably. And perhaps it is only because I’m coming up on the anniversary of my father’s death that this latest item rubbed me the wrong way. I know I get sensitive about such things about this time of year.

But I don’t think it is harmless. I think it is a form of emotional blackmail: “Do this or you don’t *really* care about cancer, you heartless bastard.” And because people don’t want to come off as being a heartless bastard, they fall for it.

I’ve considered driving this point home by going through and posting every single variation on this meme I can think of, just to point out the absurdity of the practice. There’s cancer. Diabetes. Heart disease. Violence. Child abuse. Automotive safety. Terrorism. Et cetera, et cetera. I could spend the whole next month doing nothing but posting status updates which are variations on this theme.

Of course, all it would do is just alienate everyone who knows me. And that pretty much defeats the purpose for my signing up for Facebook to start with.

But that is exactly my point – why I don’t think these things are harmless. Because they prey upon the social lubrication through which the site functions, leeching away real emotion and connectivity. In some ways, this is an artificial lifeform, the online equivalent of a parasite.

Jim Downey

Big round number.

What topic could possibly warrant being the subject of post #1,000?


I have no big announcements to share, no news, not even a scrap of intelligent musing on something obscure. Things are pretty much just what passes for routine here currently: getting conservation work done, waiting to hear from the publishers/agents, going through the day-to-day of life.

So, I’ll just break the tension (well, *I’ve* been feeling tension over it) and share this amusing item:

Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk

Well, this doesn’t happen every day.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s walk across the lunar surface back in 1969 and wondered, how come they walked such a modest distance? Less than a hundred yards from their lander?

Today Neil Armstrong wrote in to say, here are the reasons:

He also posts the entirety of Armstrong’s email. It’s not often that you get to read history from one of the men who actually made it – it’s worth a look.

So, on to 1,001: A Blog Odyssey.

Jim Downey

Number nine. Number nine. Number nine.*

Well. Post 999. Who woulda thunk it?

I started this blog one month short of 4 years ago, ostensibly to discuss the process of revising, then submitting for publication Communion of Dreams.

Of course, along the way it became something much more than that. Another book emerged from it. I made a lot of friends. I connected with old friends. I documented the twistings and turnings of my life and fortunes. Stared into my navel far too much. Stared into the bright sun upon occasion. Started a new project, and watched it become insanely popular (though not exactly remunerative.)

I’m still waiting for final confirmation of the publication date and details from the publisher who is interested in CoD – even at this late date in the whole process, things could fall through. But with a little luck, the book will actually be out sometime in the new year, and we’ll see whether the over 29,000 downloads it has had since I first launched this blog translate into actual sales.

Wow – 29,000 downloads. That still amazes me, given that it has all been word of mouth and informal promotion.

So, thanks for the ride, everyone.

Jim Downey

*Of course.

Aging well.
December 5, 2010, 3:05 pm
Filed under: H. R. Giger, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Space

So, last night I was in the mood for a little classic science fiction, and decided to watch Alien.

It’s a movie which has aged remarkably well, and as a friend mentioned to me this morning doesn’t seem just silly or cartoonish. The design elements are still widely emulated in science fiction film and television. The special effects are solid and hold up to our modern standards. The cinematographics are perfect for the horror storyline, except for some 70’s lens-flare which seems a bit dated. The anti-corporation subtext is still relevant. And the saga of survival timeless. It’s a great movie.

But one thing about it bugged me while I watched it last night. And thinking more about it this morning, it still bugs me.

It’s the “self destruct” mechanism.

Yeah, I know, this isn’t the first film which had something like that in it. And it certainly wasn’t the last – seems like there isn’t a SF movie or TV show out there which manages to completely avoid using this trope (or at least playing with it).

But think about it: why would you actually build that kind of mechanism into a commercial vehicle? We don’t do that today. The Nostromo was a space tug, hauling an ore-processing facility and some 20,000,000 tons of minerals. You’re talking a huge capital investment – no corporation would want to destroy such an asset, I don’t care how many people were killed on the thing or what sort of horrors happened there. They’d want to be able to salvage as much of the ship, facility, and cargo as possible, no matter what.

And designing the mechanism to act the way it does in the movie doesn’t make sense, either – shutting off the coolant for the nuclear reactor which powers the ship? That’s building a weakness into a system which you would rather want to make as safe and redundant as possible. That’s just asking for trouble.

OK, yeah, I’m being picky. But it really is this sort of thing which I try to pay attention to in my own writing – looking at what makes sense in terms of human motivation and practical engineering, whatever the story or tech that you’re playing with.

But it is still a great movie. I’d hope that Communion of Dreams ages half as well in say, 30 years.

Jim Downey

After the hype.

Today’s xkcd sums things up pretty well, I think: the actual discovery was cool, but the hype made it feel anticlimatic.

Above and beyond what this says about our press being driven by ASTOUNDING!! news and the failure to get even basic science stories right (with some very obvious and excellent exceptions), consider just what was behind the hype: excitement at the prospect of non-terrestrial life of any sort being discovered.

The initial speculation that NASA had proof of life on Titan swept like electronic fire around the world. It wasn’t just science fiction geeks. Or actual biologists. Or space buffs. It was pretty much the whole world, though some had more fun with it than others.

Why did this capture the imaginations of so many people? Easy: we’re hungry for this news, and have been for decades. It’s not just the countless science fiction books and movies which have fed this hunger (mine included) – it is also the very real science behind the search for extra-terrestrial life (or intelligence). Proof of the existence of life beyond our planet would likely be considered one of the most important discoveries in the history of mankind, and the announcement of such a discovery would be a turning point bigger than even the first time that humans walked on the Moon.

It is easy in a time of recession, when money is tight for most people and the government is trying to figure out ways to cut expenditures, to under-value NASA or basic science research. And I am not arguing for this or that ‘big science’ program, per se. But all you have to do is look at what happened this week, to note the wonder and excitement which was launched by the merest possibility of the discovery of life elsewhere, to realize that this kind of knowledge is something that people around the world are waiting for with eager, almost palpable, anticipation. I think it is one of the very best things about humans that this is the case, and it should be encouraged and used.

Jim Downey

“The dollar bill in the couch.”
December 2, 2010, 4:38 pm
Filed under: Bad Astronomy, Brave New World, Carl Zimmer, NASA, Phil Plait, Science, Science Fiction

Well, it’s not life on Titan. But it is very damned cool nonetheless:

NASA’s real news: bacterium on Earth that lives off arsenic!

NASA scientists announced today an incredible find: a form of microbe that apparently evolved the ability to use otherwise toxic arsenic in their biochemistry!

To understand just how important this is, let’s turn to an analogy from one of my favorite science writers: Carl Zimmer.

The search for alien life has long been plagued by a philosophical question: what is life? Why is this so vexing? Well, let’s say that you’re hunting for change under your couch so that your four-year-old son can buy an ice cream cone from a truck that’s pulled up outside your house. Your son offers to help.

“What is change?” he asks.

“It’s…” You trail off, realizing that you’re about to get into a full-blown discussion of economics with a sugar-crazed four-year-old. So, instead, you open up your hand and show him a penny, a nickel, a dime. “It’s things like this.”

“Oh–okay!” your son says. He digs away happily. The two of you find lots of interesting things–paper clips, doll shoes, some sort of cracker–which you set aside in a little pile. But you’ve only found seventeen cents in change when the ice cream truck pulls away. Tears ensue.

As you’re tossing the pile of debris into the trash, you notice that there’s a dollar bill in the mix.

“Did you find this?” you ask.

“Yes,” your son sobs.

“Well, why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s not change. Change is metal. That’s paper.”

OK, I have just broken the usual standards of “fair use” and I hope Carl will forgive me. I’ll compensate by saying that you should go read the whole rest of the post, because it explains far better than I ever could what the full ramifications of this actually are. Seriously – go. I’ll write more tomorrow. Come back then.

Jim Downey

Hot news on a cold day.
December 1, 2010, 9:12 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Predictions, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Survival

Well, well, well. For the last couple of months the totals have been slowly approaching our all time high of 303,000 hits in December 2008 – the first full month when we launched BBTI and made a big splash in the firearms world.

November 2010 blew that number right out of the water. We had a total of 384,578 hits last month.


As I noted last Friday, I was pretty confident that we would break the all-time high in November. But a big surge at the end of the month, in part thanks to the article in Concealed Carry Magazine but in bigger part to an article which showed up on the popular Survival Blog which cited our data. Thanks, guys!

News on Communion of Dreams is less dramatic. Things are still pending with publication, and I don’t have much info to share about that yet. Downloads, which had jumped in October, have dropped back to their usual range of 600+. As soon as I have details to share with everyone about the publication date, I will definitely post it here and on FaceBook.

All in all, the continued success of both of these endeavors amazes and pleases me. Now we just need to add in similar success with the care-giving book . . .

Happy December, everyone!

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the BBTI blog.)