Communion Of Dreams

And people call *me* crazy…
March 30, 2011, 10:23 am
Filed under: Guns, Health, Humor, YouTube

Gotta love it:

Except for the accent, this guy reminds me so much of my step-brother Patrick. He was always doing wildly insane but pretty cool crap like this.

Needed a chuckle, after being subject to more abuses of the medical-test variety this morning. Just a CAT scan trying to sort out the ongoing pleuritic pain, so nothing to worry about. Still, having to stay off coffee until after the test was annoying, and the above vid helped.

Jim Downey

Now, do something.

Last week, there was an interesting discussion on MetaFilter about “Every Day Carry” – both the blog, and the mindset. I was a bit surprised at how dismissive people were of the need to think of basic preparedness, but then I’ve long been of a mind that having some options at hand in terms of tools and resources is better than just trusting to fate.

* * * * * * *

A couple of weeks ago, this video and the news it generated was making the rounds:

It’s a bit long, but the summation is that Jim Berkland predicted that there would be a major seismic event in southern California sometime in the week of March 19 through March 26.

Following the Japanese quake/tsunami from earlier in the month, it understandably got a lot of attention and generated no small amount of fear and anxiety. I heard about the prediction from a number of friends, and it was a major source of chatter in a variety of different forums & social media outlets. A lot of people started thinking about what they should do to prepare for a possible catastrophe.

Well, the 26th has come and gone, and there’s been no major earthquake. Of course, no one is talking about that – it isn’t news. Earthquakes don’t happen all the time. And I would bet that a large number of the people who started giving some thought to emergency preparedness the week before have since moved on to thinking about other things. Life’s busy, after all.

* * * * * * *

We had a bunch of friends in for the weekend, a reunion of sorts. It was a lot of fun, and good to reconnect with folks we had somewhat lost touch with.

As things were winding down yesterday, a few of us were just chatting about this and that, and one good friend told the story of what happened to his small Midwestern city in the aftermath of a really nasty ice storm a couple of years ago. Trees collapsed under the weight of the ice, knocking down power lines and blocking streets. He couldn’t get hold of his mom, who lived elsewhere outside of town, so he set out to go check on her.

He got to her just fine, using his chainsaw to clear paths through streets as necessary. And she was OK. But along the way he passed a number of houses engulfed in fire – stuff that started small but got out of control because the fire department was delayed by both the number of small fires started and the inability to navigate the streets quickly. Reports later also told of a fair number of people who died from injuries and heart attacks which were normally survivable because ambulances couldn’t get to them.

* * * * * * *

I don’t really have anything profound to say. I guess I’m a bit tired from the weekend festivities, and my mind is sluggish. So no real insights, no real message to pass along which hasn’t been said a million times before.

But I wish that stories like the failed prediction from Jim Berkland did more than gin up fear and a short-term scramble to stock up on some emergency supplies. Every time there’s a hurricane, there are stories of stores in the area being stripped of almost everything. Same thing has happened throughout large parts of Japan, in the wake of the tsunami and ongoing problems with the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

It’s relatively easy to build a reserve of food and water, to secure necessary emergency supplies – so long as it isn’t something you suddenly need to do when everyone else is also in a panic. Think about it. Then actually do something about it.

Jim Downey

March 25, 2011, 4:50 pm
Filed under: Astronomy, NPR, Predictions, Science Fiction, Space, Titan, UFO

Lights in the sky. Strange lights. Lights that don’t move . . . right.

Must be aliens, stopping off for a visit, right?

Highbeams Of The Gods: Do UFOs Need Headlights?

Over at the Two-Way a UFO sighting over Colorado has been generating discussion and heat. In looking over the comments a question has come up which really strikes at the heart of the UFO issue. Someone astutely asked something along the lines of “Why do UFOs need headlights?”

Yeah. Good point. Are the aliens scared of running into a deer?


Pretty much the most crucial plot point in Communion of Dreams is that the alien artifact discovered on Titan is using some kind of stealth technology. (I’m not giving anything away by saying this, for those who haven’t yet read the book.) How and more importantly why this is the case is what drives the story.

I agree with the author of the blog post cited: “…any civilization with technology capable of spanning light-years ought to be able to hide themselves well enough to avoid detection from hairy apes with jet-planes like us.”


And that’s all I’ll say, or I will give away some spoilers for those who haven’t yet read the book. (And why haven’t you?? C’mon – it’s brilliant!)

Jim Downey

It’s even got a flying car on the cover!

A good friend sent me a review in the WSJ about Physics of the Future. Here’s a good excerpt from the review:

That is the core message of Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Future.” Despite its title, the book is not so much about physics as it is about gadgets and technology, described by Mr. Kaku—professor, blogger and television host—on a wide-ranging tour of what to expect from technological progress over the next century or so.

Much of the terrain Mr. Kaku surveys will be familiar to futurists, but less technically oriented readers are likely to find it fascinating—and related with commendable clarity. The changes that Mr. Kaku expects range from the readily foreseeable to the considerably more esoteric.

Augmented reality—in which useful data overlay what we see with our eyes—already exists in rudimentary form on smartphones, but Mr. Kaku predicts a time, only a decade or two away, when a much denser information stream will be fed directly to our retinas by contact lenses or optical implants. Want to fix a car, perform emergency surgery, or prepare a gourmet meal? The app will tell you what to do—and guide your work. Have trouble learning a foreign language? Expect a useful universal translator to do the work for you. And the ability to connect computers directly to human nervous systems will drastically improve the lives of those who are paralyzed, blind or deaf—as it is already beginning to do. Eventually, we may know the sort of virtual worlds illustrated in science-fiction novels like Greg Egan’s “Permutation City.”

Hmm . . . sound familiar? This is exactly the sort of tech I stipulate as being pretty mature (completely developed and integrated into everyday use) in Communion of Dreams.

Fun. I may have to get a copy of that book.

Jim Downey

(Thanks to ML for the link!)

A different story out of Libya.
March 21, 2011, 5:14 pm
Filed under: Astronomy, Science, Space, Travel

3.5 million square miles of desert: a meteorite-hunter’s dream. Here’s an excerpt from this fascinating account:

Dar al Gani

Small in size at 80 x 50 km (50 x 30 mi), Dar al Gani is the most important Saharan strewnfield, with nearly a thousand itemized meteorites, Lunar and Martian rocks, various achondrites, etc. At least 150 different falls are represented. When you approach Dar al Gani from the west, the first thing to strike you is its whiteness, as if you were looking out over mountain-tops covered in snow: a mirage in the desert. First comes a succession of terraces which then open on to a smooth, rolling expanse of white, without rocks or vegetation. Meteorites have been falling here for thousands of years, and it goes without saying that strewnfields like this one are of scientific interest. Unlike Antarctica, where ice shifts concentrate meteorites and wind scatters the fragments, things here stay in the same place from one millennium to the next. I often think of Dar al Gani as a photographic plate recording all falls over a significant time-scale of 20,000 years or more. The terrain is gentle and preserving, so that thousands of years worth of data are at present accessible.

The author and his brother make one of the most important finds ever. Very cool, and with some great pictures.

Jim Downey

“Yeah, but . . . “
March 20, 2011, 5:32 pm
Filed under: BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, MetaFilter, Predictions, Publishing

Via BB, this ‘bingo card’ from John Scalzi, on the subject of e-publishing:

Scalzi’s website contains complete information, and you should read it – Scalzi knows what he is talking about, and has been having these arguments for the better part of a decade that I’m aware of (I follow his blog, and see him discussing these issues on other forums, such as MetaFilter).

That said, just because he knows what he is talking about doesn’t mean that he is *always* right, nor that his position is a simple black/white one on the topic. He’s too thoughtful and nuanced for that.

When I voted to go the self-publishing/e-publishing route with our care-giving memoir, I did so fully aware of all the pros and cons (in large part thanks to discussions I’ve seen with Scalzi.) What he says is valid, but I find myself saying “yeah, but . . . ” as pertains to Her Final Year, largely because the care-giving memoir is a niche market, and therefore many of the problems with publishing are more manageable than they are for general or genre fiction.

But we’ll see. I’ll be asking for your help to beat the odds.

Jim Downey

Almost finished.
March 20, 2011, 12:41 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Publishing, Writing stuff

Been a busy few days.

Got through close editing (formatting, typos, similar such) of both Her Final Year and His First Year, all except one chapter which needed more work from my co-author and his wife to tighten up some passage. I’m still waiting to hear back from the ‘beta readers‘ whether there are major problems from their perspective, but I am generally very pleased with the book(s).

Why the (s)? Because we still need to decide whether we will offer an e-book version which has the two together as the only option, or whether we’ll offer the two titles separately with a discount incentive to buy both. Any thoughts on this would be welcome.

Well, was just taking a break from getting some much-needed yardwork done, thought I should post an update. Not much else to tell, though I always seem to find things to post on facebook.

Jim Downey

The road ahead.
March 16, 2011, 10:20 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Publishing

Got a call Sunday afternoon – old friends K & L with whom we are in sporadic contact were in town, wanted to get together sometime this week, if it was convenient.

In the course of the conversation it came up that they had just realized that L’s mother, who lives alone here, wasn’t just experiencing the normal forgetfulness of advancing years. No, there were clear signs of something else going on: age-related dementia.


I discussed it with my wife, Martha. We made arrangements to get together last night. Fortunately, the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter was having a support group meeting for care-providers early evening.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday was . . . difficult. I was distracted by the latest news from Japan. We had some information about a legal tussle we’re involved with which wasn’t very encouraging. I was hurting a bit (residual problems related to the pneumonia which I have been struggling with these last months). Work on editing Her Final Year was slow.

But come the early evening, we got together with our friends. Drove to the Alzheimer’s Association building. My wife and L stayed for the support group meeting. My buddy K and I went out for a beer.

We chatted. He knew that we had taken care of Martha Sr through the arc of Alzheimer’s. He knew that I had been working on a care-giving book. He needed someone to talk with.

* * * * * * *

Later, all of us wound up back here at the house, talking. Martha and I discussed with them where L’s mother was in the progression of the disease (very early), offered advice on the steps they need to take right now, what they should be thinking about further ahead.

K & L are both intelligent, well educated, professional people. They listened to our advice, asked the right kinds of questions, were already thinking through the necessary steps and how to resolve them. We offered suggestions on local resources (part of the reason why we wanted to make sure they got in contact with the local Alzheimer’s Association). We discussed some of the experiences we had, problems encountered, ways we did or did not resolve them.

It was a good conversation. They were both coping, but clearly a bit stunned by the suddenness of everything.

They left, after we made tentative plans to get back together with them tomorrow or Friday, depending on how things go. They’re going to want to have someone to talk with again about this, after they start getting into the nitty-gritty. Even if they don’t realize it yet.

* * * * * * *

This morning on our walk, Martha and I discussed last night. She observed that K seemed a little more out of his depth than L was. We chatted about possible reasons for this. Perhaps it was due to her attending the support group. Perhaps it was due to the fact that L had seen her grandmother struck down by Alzheimer’s. Perhaps it was simply due to the fact that typically, more women are used to being in the role of care-provider, and so tend to think in terms related to that.

The comment jelled something in me that I hadn’t quite yet put entirely together: the realization that there is a solid likelihood that if things go well, it may be that the most important thing I can accomplish in this life will be to raise awareness among men that they too should be thinking in these terms. That their parents, their spouses, are just as subject to age-related dementia. That watching for the signs, preparing for the possibility, is something that they should get used to.

I would never have predicted that this would be an important milestone in my life. Perhaps the most important.

Funny how life is, isn’t it?

Jim Downey

“17 billion hours of unpaid care.”
March 15, 2011, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Publishing, Writing stuff

The editing continues. I’m making real progress with it, should be done in another week or so. Preliminary feedback from the ‘beta readers’ is positive.

And it couldn’t come too soon:

Almost 15 Million Americans Now Caring for Loved One With Alzheimer’s

TUESDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) — Nearly 15 million Americans are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and the number is rising, according to a report released Tuesday.

“People with Alzheimer’s who are otherwise healthy may live as long as 20 or 25 years,” said William H. Thies, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, which is publishing the report in the March issue of its journal, Alzheimer’s & Dementia. “These are individuals who need increasing levels of care over time, and that can be very difficult for families.

About 5.4 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, and their 14.9 million caregivers provided a total of 17 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at more than $200 billion, according to the report, which also highlights the physical and emotional burdens that caregivers face every day.

The full report can be found at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Jim Downey

Get along, get along.
March 13, 2011, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Music, YouTube

While the music played you worked by candle light.
Those San Fransisco nights.
You were the best in town.
Just by chance you crossed a diamond with a pearl,
Then turned it on the world.
That’s when you turned your world around.
Did you feel like Jesus?
Did you realize that you were a champion in their eyes?

R.I.P., Kid.

Jim Downey