Communion Of Dreams

Compare and contrast.
March 20, 2012, 10:09 am
Filed under: Marketing, movies, Music, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Violence, YouTube

So, anyone and everyone (well, in the “Love movies/science fiction/spectacles” crowd) spent much of the last couple of days talking about the new Prometheus trailer. This one:

At the time I write this, some 3,894,928 people have viewed said trailer on YouTube. And little wonder that it has so many people talking – it’s just about perfect for a blockbuster Hollywood spectacle, with massive explosions, plenty of violence and special effects, and a soundtrack that’ll make your ears bleed.

I’m a big fan of Alien, and Ridley Scott in general. And the above Prometheus trailer is pretty damned exciting.

But you know, I’d rather see this movie:

Yeah, that’s also a trailer for Prometheus. But it’s the UK trailer. It’s slower paced. More emphasis on telling a story. Literally quieter. The first explosion doesn’t show up until about 3/4 into the trailer.

Interesting difference in marketing. Using the same tech, many of the same clips/images from the movie (well, as much as you can depend on any trailer to use actual clips from the movie), even mostly the same music, the UK trailer manages to create a substantially different mood.

Like I said, I know which movie I’d rather see. And I know which crew I would rather see turn Communion of Dreams into a movie.

Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Jim Downey

Via Topless Robot.

A bit of ‘bookkeeping’.
March 19, 2012, 9:56 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Health, Hospice, Kindle, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction

Just wanted to pass along some nuts & bolts stuff.

First, the Kindle promotion yesterday for Her Final Year was quite successful. Total, we had 409 downloads of the memoir, and that breaks down to 385 in the US, 23 in the UK, and one in Italy. Not bad at all – and thanks to all those who were kind enough to help spread the word.

If you missed your chance to download the book for free yesterday, never fear: we’re going to repeat the promotion this coming Sunday!

And here’s a bit of news: I’m going to offer a promotion for a free download of the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams the weekend of March 31/April 1. And in conjunction with that, I will also have a small contest/drawing for a signed copy of the paperback – watch for details!

Lastly, I want to note another excellent review of Communion of Dreams now up on Amazon. Here’s an excerpt:

As an SF devotee since the 1950’s, I’ve read the best and the worst in the genre. Communion of Dreams definitely ranks among the best. Combining believeable “hard” science with a profound humanism, the story and the characters — especially Seth — engaged me fully from start to finish.

Check out the whole thing.

More later. Probably. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night due to raccoon-chewing-on-the-house problems. So we’ll see.

Jim Downey

Today’s the day!
March 18, 2012, 10:40 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Health, Kindle, Promotion, Publishing, Society

Cross-posted from the Her Final Year blog.



OK, our first Kindle promotional day is here! That means that *anyone* can download the Kindle edition of Her Final Year for free. You don’t need a special code. You don’t need to enter any kind of drawing. You don’t even need a Kindle – there is a free Kindle emulator/app for almost all computers/tablets/mobile devices. Just go to the Kindle page for the book, and “buy” it for $0.00. Then it is yours to read, or loan, or ignore.

But don’t ignore this opportunity – we’ve already had over 100 downloads in the US, and another dozen in the UK. Be sure to get your copy, and to tell any friends or forums who may need this kind of information/support about the promotion!

Thanks, everyone!

Jim Downey

Don’t say words you’re gonna regret*

Hmm. Quoting a lot of music lately. Wonder why that is.

It’s not explicit in the book, but there is an implication that the Experts of the government have access to pretty much *all* private conversations and communications in 2052. Having true Artificial Intelligences makes it fairly easy to break most routine security, and that’s why you have things like ‘privacy screens’ and military-grade isolation fields – it’s an attempt to maintain some level of privacy. There are also some explicit passages like this one from the beginning of Chapter Nine:

“After he experienced several instances of unusual dream activity, Jon asked my thin-film counterpart back on Earth to collect data on the subject. Reports in discussion groups, news sources, and public postings on any significant change in the
frequency of dreams or their content. My dup went back through the last year’s datafiles to establish a baseline for the study, then I compared that to activity for the last few weeks. There is a significant deviation from the norm.”

Think about that – Seth, Jon’s ‘Expert’, can casually go back through all the material of the previous year looking for a specific pattern to conversations. That is an immense amount of data, and a similarly immense amount of computing power.

And that’s the world we live in today. If you have any illusions that you have some modicum of privacy from our government, read this:

The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)

* * *

In the process—and for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration—the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.

* * *

Breaking into those complex mathematical shells like the AES is one of the key reasons for the construction going on in Bluffdale. That kind of cryptanalysis requires two major ingredients: super-fast computers to conduct brute-force attacks on encrypted messages and a massive number of those messages for the computers to analyze. The more messages from a given target, the more likely it is for the computers to detect telltale patterns, and Bluffdale will be able to hold a great many messages. “We questioned it one time,” says another source, a senior intelligence manager who was also involved with the planning. “Why were we building this NSA facility? And, boy, they rolled out all the old guys—the crypto guys.” According to the official, these experts told then-director of national intelligence Dennis Blair, “You’ve got to build this thing because we just don’t have the capability of doing the code-breaking.” It was a candid admission. In the long war between the code breakers and the code makers—the tens of thousands of cryptographers in the worldwide computer security industry—the code breakers were admitting defeat.

* * *

In addition to giving the NSA access to a tremendous amount of Americans’ personal data, such an advance would also open a window on a trove of foreign secrets. While today most sensitive communications use the strongest encryption, much of the older data stored by the NSA, including a great deal of what will be transferred to Bluffdale once the center is complete, is encrypted with more vulnerable ciphers. “Remember,” says the former intelligence official, “a lot of foreign government stuff we’ve never been able to break is 128 or less. Break all that and you’ll find out a lot more of what you didn’t know—stuff we’ve already stored—so there’s an enormous amount of information still in there.”

The article is long, but informative. And frightening. That is, if you have any illusions that you have some modicum of privacy. As they also say in the article: “Binney held his thumb and forefinger close together. ‘We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,’ he says.”

But are we even that far?

Again, I almost regret that “I . . . see . . . things.”

Jim Downey

*Don’t say words you’re gonna regret
Don’t let the fire rush to your head
I’ve heard the accusation before
And I ain’t gonna take any more
Believe me
The sun in your Eyes
Made some of the lies worth believing

Bowie certainly understood.*
March 17, 2012, 10:45 am
Filed under: Art, Babylon 5, Music, Promotion, YouTube

To paraphrase one of my favorite Babylon 5 characters: “I have seen what fame does, and I have seen what fame costs. The one is never equal to the other.”

Yeah, I’ve had just enough of a taste of that to agree. Not everyone is suited for instant and world-wide fame:

Kony 2012 campaigner Jason Russell detained for public rampage

One of the co-founders of Invisible Children, the San Diego-based charity that is campaigning for the arrest of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, has been hospitalised after police said he was detained for running around the streets screaming in his underwear.

Jason Russell, 33, was picked up by police in San Diego at around 11.30am on Thursday after they received numerous calls from the public about a man vandalising cars, being apparently under the influence of a substance and making sexual gestures.

* * *

A brief statement by the group in the wake of Russell’s detention said that being at the centre of a massive media storm may have taken its toll. “Jason Russell was unfortunately hospitalised suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition. He is now receiving medical care and is focused on getting better,” said Invisible Children’s chief executive Ben Keesey in the statement.

A lot of people think that fame is the key to success, and so seek it out in just about any way they can.

Careful what you ask for.

Jim Downey

*Fame, (fame) makes a man take things over
Fame, (fame) lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, (fame) puts you there where things are hollow
Fame (fame)

There’s a little red spot on the sun today.
March 16, 2012, 11:16 am
Filed under: Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait, Science, Space

Via Phil Plait, this stunning image:


There are more wonderful images, and a lot of explanation of what you’re seeing, there in the post. Check it out.

Jim Downey

Well, at least it isn’t G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate*.
March 16, 2012, 10:20 am
Filed under: Firefly, Health, movies, Science, Science Fiction, Serenity

I’ve said before that there is some kind of environmental effect behind the rising obesity rates worldwide over the last several decades. It could be a virus. It could be change in our gut flora. It could just be a response to rising stress levels in our society. It could be some kind of leeching plastics, or the use of HFC, or any number of other factors individually or in combination.

Or, perhaps it is the air we breathe:

Could Air Pollution Be Making Us Fat?

Steadily rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be affecting brain chemistry, increasing appetite and contributing to the obesity epidemic, according to a new hypothesis, which still awaits rigorous testing and inevitable debate.

The idea proposes that breathing in extra CO2 makes blood more acidic, which in turn causes neurons that regulate appetite, sleep and metabolism to fire more frequently. As a result, we might be eating more, sleeping less and gaining more weight, partly as a result of the air we breathe.

Major studies are in the works to test the hypothesis, which is still very much in the what-if stage. But if the link pans out, the research would offer yet another reason to reduce the CO2 we produce, while also potentially inspiring new obesity treatments.

OK, as the article stresses, this is *not* proven yet. But there is enough preliminary data and a plausible mechanism to warrant some serious investigation. And it tracks well with the rapid spread of obesity rates – CO2 levels have about doubled in the last 50 years.

Still, I’d rather have to fight fat than Reavers.

Jim Downey


Hey, Blade Runner fans…
March 15, 2012, 6:07 pm
Filed under: Blade Runner, Guns, Marketing, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction

One of my most popular blog posts is this one: Model 2019 Detective Special

Well, you still have a few hours to get one of these, just $10 plus shipping:

Why yes, I have ordered one already.

Jim Downey

Speaking with one voice.
March 15, 2012, 9:42 am
Filed under: Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Star Trek, tech

From late in Chapter Two:

“All right. Let’s get her inside and get Seth working with her. By the way, what’s her name?”

“Chu Ling.”

Jon nodded his head, touched the wafer under his ear. “Seth, download the record of the last few minutes from my pc. Then make the necessary arrangements for us to get inside with the girl. I’ll meet you in the conference room; since she isn’t wired, you’ll have to conduct the tests from the holo projector there. And tell Magurshak I’m on my way to lunch.”


“Let’s go.” Jon looked to Gish and the young girl.

“Oh, and Seth . . . ”


“Prepare a Mandarin language program for me, OK?”

“It’s waiting for you.”

From this past Monday:

Microsoft unveils universal translator that converts your voice into another language

Microsoft Research has shown off software that translates your spoken words into another language while preserving the accent, timbre, and intonation of your actual voice.

In a demo of the prototype software (starts around the 12 minute mark), Rick Rashid, Microsoft’s chief research officer, says a long sentence in English, and then has it translated into Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin. You can definitely hear an edge of digitized “Microsoft Sam,” but overall it’s remarkable how the three translations still sound just like Rashid.

In order for the translation system to do its work it needs about an hour of training, which allows it to create a model of your voice. This model is then mushed into Microsoft’s standard text-to-speech model for the target translation language. For example, Microsoft’s standard model of Spanish will have a default “S” (ess) sound, but the training process replaces it with your “S” sound. This is done for every individual sound (phoneme) in Microsoft’s text-to-speech model for Spanish. The creator of the software, Frank Soong, says that this approach can be used to translate between all 26 languages supported by the Microsoft Speech Platform, which covers most of the world’s major languages.

OK, first thing: this is *NOT* the universal translator from Star Trek.

But it is *exactly* what I had envisioned as the tech that Jon asks Seth to use in the excerpt from Communion of Dreams quoted above. The idea is that Seth would have such a wide selection of Jon’s phonemes in his knowledge base that it would be simple for him to use that for translation. In this case, all he would have to do is install the necessary program files into Jon’s embedded personal pc – so that Jon could use it to communicate with the girl whether or not Seth was ‘present’.

So, yeah, another prediction nailed.

Jim Downey

Early start.
March 13, 2012, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Weather

The freakishly mild winter has been followed by an early warm spring. It was almost 80 yesterday, and the forecast for the next week or so is for temps in 70s & 80s. On Sunday, we had a good soaking rain. And that all means that today was the perfect day to get an early start on the gardening.

Specifically, today I decided to get going on weeding the raised asparagus and strawberry beds. Here’s a “before” picture:

And the after:

The scale is a little hard to tell, in the first pic particularly. But in the second image, each of the ‘squares’ defined by the 1″ pipe is approximately 48″ x 60″. So from where my gloves are to the far end of the raised bed in the second picture is about 32′. The area covered by the box wire is the strawberry bed (the wire keeps the critters from enjoying our strawberries before we do) and the area at the far end is the asparagus bed.

There’s *always* more weeding to do, but that’s got the bulk of it done in that bed for the time being.

Now, get a shower and get ‘to work’.

Jim Downey