Communion Of Dreams

But can it cry “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”?
April 14, 2011, 9:51 am
Filed under: Predictions, Science Fiction, Society, tech, YouTube


From the FRIDA project page:

Today, the development is at a stage where several prototypes have left the research lab and are being tested in pilot applications, with more work required to reach a fully agile assembly scenario.

This is more of an economic development than it is the advent of our New Robotic Overlords. Having such a robot on a human scale which is fairly modular means that it can be plugged into existing factories and systems with minimal additional investment. Depending on the cost of these things once they’re ready for sale, they could wind up supplanting human labor – likely first in environments where it is too dangerous/costly for humans to work, then increasingly in general repetitive labor.

The Utopian science fiction writers foresaw a society where robotic workers freed humans for a life of ease – allow people to do creative work at their leisure. Cynical bastard that I am, I always figured that such a life of ease would mostly be reserved for the people who *owned* the robotic workers, with everyone else struggling to get by in a society which no longer really needed human labor. Current economic trends have tended to bear this out.

But I suppose we’ll see what the future actually holds.

Jim Downey


1066, and all that.*
April 12, 2011, 9:41 am
Filed under: Google, Humor, Space, Writing stuff

150 years ago the US Civil War started. 50 years ago a man first went into space.

In a completely trivial and unimportant, unrelated note, I started posting on this blog 1065 posts ago. Yeah, this makes post #1,066.

So why mention it? Oh, because I’m amused by the number. And because it is something of a poke at myself – it’s important to have perspective. As the old line goes, “after Shakespeare, why write anything?”

And yet, I can’t seem to help myself.

Jim Downey

*Gratuitously stolen from the book of the same name, of course.

Beyond graceful.
April 11, 2011, 5:09 pm
Filed under: NPR, Science, tech, YouTube

I’ve heard of engineering projects described as “graceful.” My uncle Ted was one of the people primarily responsible for building such a project – the Clark Bridge.

But this . . . this goes beyond graceful, and straight to beautiful, like something out of a dream:

Via a delightful blog post by Robert Krulwich, science reporter for NPR. He’s got more videos and complete explanation there.

Jim Downey

What it was like.

My wife and I decided to revisit the Cosmos series recently. It holds up surprisingly well for a pop-science program from 30 years ago.

Tonight’s episode was the finale. And I was struck by what it was like back then, to contemplate the possibility of nuclear war. I think a lot of people today who weren’t aware during that time have difficulty in understanding just how palpable that threat was. Here’s a good bit from the episode that explains it better than I could:

Is it any wonder that a post-apocalyptic world was the setting for so much science fiction generated during that time? Any wonder at all?

We may or may not have threaded the needle and survived the time of peak technological vulnerability. Not only are there other threats out there to our long term survival, but even the threat of nuclear war is not passed – not hardly. I still fully expect that there will be another war in which nuclear weapons will be a factor, and such use could easily spin out of control and engulf the entire planet.

But the hair trigger we lived with for some 30 years is no more. Things certainly are not perfect now, but they *are* better. We did indeed decide to survive, at least through that time. And that was an important step.

Jim Downey

Fat and happy.
April 8, 2011, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Bipolar, Depression, Health, MetaFilter, Society, Survival

The uncle I lived with following the death of my parents had a response he used almost whenever someone asked how he was doing. With a big grin, raising a beer almost as a toast, he’d say “fat and happy!”

* * * * * * *

MetaFilter pointed me to an interesting science item from last year that I managed to miss:

ScienceDaily (May 18, 2010) — When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.

* * * * * * *

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that my usual bipolar cycle seems to be a little shorter this time around, and I am in something of a downturn.

Nothing too bad yet. And not likely to become so, since my cycle is pretty shallow as such things go. But I am less inclined to write here. It is harder to write in general – for my regular articles, working on the book, even on Facebook.

But I’ve noticed, and mentioned it to friends.

Which is somewhat . . . annoying. I need to rally and beat the ongoing problems from the pneumonia I had last year (primarily through exercise). I have a new big round of ballistics testing coming up the end of the month. Getting the care-giving book out means a lot of work and attention. And there is always book conservation work to do.

* * * * * * * *




This is unsurprising:

Why French Fries Are Such Good Comfort Food

Ever wonder why French fries, potato chips and Cheetos are so appealing when you’re feeling stressed? A new study suggests that elevated levels of salt in the body lower stress hormones and raise levels of oxytocin, a hormone involved in love and other social connections.The research, which was conducted in rats, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. It found that rats’ response to a stressful situation — being tied down — depended on how much salt they had in their bodies. When restrained, rats with high salt levels showed less activity in their brain’s stress systems, compared with rats with normal salt levels.

Where are the pretzels?

* * * * * * *

The uncle I lived with following the death of my parents had a response he used almost whenever someone asked how he was doing. With a big grin, raising a beer almost as a toast, he’d say “fat and happy!”

He wasn’t really fat – just a big guy, and a bit heavy. I’m easily as heavy as he was then, or moreso.

And to a certain extent, even then I knew that the “happy” part masked the stresses he was under – and which he coped with admirably, at least as I see it from this vantage point.

And, as usual, he demonstrated a wisdom I did not appreciate at the time.

“Fat and happy,” indeed.

* * * * * * *

Jim Downey

Maybe there’s hope for us, after all.
April 3, 2011, 6:19 pm
Filed under: ISS, Music, NASA, Predictions, Religion, Science Fiction, Space, Violence, YouTube

This is from the end of Chapter Three, set on a space station in Earth orbit:

There was a knot of perhaps 15 people, all facing one another around a bunch of tables shoved together. They finished their song, and clapping was heard throughout the atrium.

Jon smiled at Gates, explained. “Spacers. Crew off those two ships docked outside. Choral music has become something of a tradition the last few years, and each ship usually can field a fairly good ensemble of at least a half-dozen singers.”

“Huh. I had no idea.”

Another song started, this time with more voices. “C’mon, let’s go on down there.”

Why do I post this? Because of this wonderful clip:

Not choral music, but flute as an accompaniment to a song. The provenance of her flutes is impressive in itself. But the fact that we’re seeing a highly-trained, wonderfully intelligent person in orbit doing this just really makes my day . . . and re-affirms my faith in humanity overall.

It is sometimes easy to be cynical and depressed at the things we do.

This makes up for it.

Jim Downey

April 2, 2011, 11:05 am
Filed under: Marketing, Music, Promotion, YouTube

Yeah, it’s an ad. So what? It’s still fun:

Jim Downey