Communion Of Dreams


Scenes from a trip: sights, sounds, tastes.
December 8, 2011, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Music, N. Am. Welsh Choir, New Zealand, Travel, Weather

The morning clouds promised rain. And they made good the promise.

* * * * * * *

We got up, breakfasted, then climbed on the bus for a bit of a poke around the sights of Dunedin. First we made a stop at the steepest street in the world (seriously – hard to tell from the pictures, but it’s pretty damned impressive). The story goes that the city was laid out by planners in London who had never been to New Zealand and didn’t think that the reports of the topography of the area could possibly be correct. So they just laid out everything in a nice grid, and let the locals cope best they could.

True or not, makes a good story.

* * * * * * *

Then we climbed up to Signal Hill overlooking the city. It was here that the clouds turned to actual rain, forcing not only the members of our group to run for cover, but likewise a vanload of students from the University of Otago who had a bunch of seismic sensors set up around the Centennial Monument.

We wound back down into the city, to the gorgeous Dunedin Railway Station.

I’m not usually a big fan of Victorian/Edwardian ‘gingerbread’ architecture – such ornate structures are a little too self-congratulatory for my tastes (even though our house falls into this category…). But there is no doubt that this station is a wonderful example of the period, and the level of craftsmanship on display in almost every facet of the building is remarkable and something I can respect. The large booking hall has an intricate mosaic tile floor made up of some 750,000 individual tiles, and looks stunning. Likewise, the contrasting black/white of the building’s exterior stone is very striking. The whole thing underwent extensive refurbishing in the 1990s, and shows it.

* * * * * * *

Following a couple of other stops, we got back to the hotel in time for lunch. Martha and I decided to go check out the Speight’s Brewery just around the corner, where they have a nice restaurant/cafe.

The lunch was good – and there was a whole lot of it, as we had come to expect. The beer was even better, on a par with most of the decent micro-brews I’ve had at brew-pubs in the States.

After, we did a bit of walking around, then went back to the hotel to rest before the late-afternoon rehearsal.

* * * * * * *

The rain started up again, and the temperature dropped. I got a little take-away Chinese food to have in the hotel room for when Martha got back from her rehearsal. There wasn’t going to be time to get a real meal before the concert that evening.

The concert was just a couple of blocks from our hotel, at St. Paul’s Cathedral on the Octagon. It’s a beautiful old church, and certainly something to see.

But that night it mostly felt cold and almost aloof. The nasty weather kept attendance to the concert down, so it felt like the large space of the cathedral was empty. Further, there was a problem with the sound system, meaning that the usual chatter and introductions from the Choir Director couldn’t be understood through most of the space – even trying to project her voice didn’t work very well, and most people were completely befuddled as to what was going on. When the choir took a break in their performance, a lot of people thought that they were finished and just left.

My friend ML and I again tried to sell CDs. We failed dismally.

* * * * * * *

Following the concert, there was a very nice reception for everyone in the church basement meeting area. There we could actually hear what people were saying, and the whole atmosphere was warm and friendly, with tea and cookies/small cakes that were just delicious.

We stayed a while, headed out when the rest of the choir went to go. Though Helen, our guide, offered to make arrangements to have taxis on hand, Martha and I just elected to walk back to the hotel.

I decided to pop in to a little Greek place across the street from our hotel for a little something more substantial. The fellow who owned the place was friendly, but barely spoke any English. His Gyro was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Jim Downey



The TSA = “steampunk”.

Via BB, an item in Wired from an insider telling all of us what we already know: that Airport Security is nothing but an expensive farce, based on bad science:

TSA is trying to get away from its stigma of being the guys who grope and photograph you. It’s taking the porno out of the scanners by getting rid of the “nude” imaging displays. Its director, John Pistole, talks about becoming an “intelligence driven” agency that compiles behavioral profiles of potential terrorists and — someday — targeting its toughest screening on only those who fit the profile. Kids no longer have to take their shoes off before boarding a plane.

Just one problem, according to Brandt: The behavioral science is no panacea. “The scientific community is divided as to whether behavioral detection of terrorists is viable,” he writes. According to the Government Accountability Office, TSA put together a behavioral profiling program “without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment.” Even if the science was sound, the office found last year, TSA officers “lack a mechanism to input data on suspicious passengers into a database used by TSA analysts and also lack a means to obtain information from the Transportation System Operations Center on a timely basis.”

It’s like the government awarded military contracts during the Civil War for the development of æther craft in order to defeat the South – makes for a good story, perhaps, but has little or nothing to do with reality.

Jim Downey



Take a walk on the wild side.

I’m a blockhead.

No, really. Samuel Johnson’s quote establishes it beyond a doubt:

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

For years I listened to people go on and on about how beneficial my writing about being a care-giver was. All the praise, the sharing, the requests to write more, to collect my writings into a book. The final result has been for Her Final Year to sell a grand total of 32 copies, after years of work and months of flogging the book. What a staggering success.

Yup, a blockhead.

Also for years now I’ve listened to countless proclamations of how incredible and valuable Ballistics By The Inch is. How it is an amazing resource for anyone interested in hard data. This has been in discussions on different forums and blogs which I have stumbled upon. And it’s reflected in the hits & usage of the site, as well, with over 8 million hits total and something on the order of 500,000 unique visitors. There’ve been plenty of people who have written me, thanking me, telling me that we should accept donations to support our work. So, for the re-launch we have done just that – added a way for people to show how much they value the site with a small donation. And in the short time we’ve had the new site up we’ve had over 5,000 unique visitors, and gotten just one donation of $10. At that rate, we’d have gotten a stunning total of $1,000 in donations since the start – it wouldn’t even cover the cost of hosting the website.

Yup, a blockhead.

My novel has been downloaded over 35,000 times in the last 5 years. People have told me they love it, that it’s brilliant and just like the classic SF of the golden era. Sometime in the next few weeks we’ll offer a self-published version of the book in hardcopy and for the Kindle. And I’m not so much a blockhead that I expect to actually sell copies of the thing. But I bet – I just bet – that somehow I’ll manage to be disappointed, nonetheless. Probably when I start getting complaints that the book is no longer free.

Screw it. I swear, I am seriously tempted to just shut down all the websites. Yup, BBTI too. Just leave a brief description of the project up with an email address where people can contact me to buy access to the data. Like the song says:

Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City’s the place where
They said hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
They said hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side

But being a blockhead, we’ll see what happens.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the BBTI blog.)



It’s Up!
December 1, 2011, 10:41 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns, Science

The new Ballistics By The Inch site is now up and running! Bigger, Faster, And with More DATA! Take a look, spread the word, let us know if there are any glitches or problems.

Jim Downey