Communion Of Dreams

We all need a little TLC now and then.
October 25, 2013, 10:00 am
Filed under: Art, Google | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Even 350 year old trees:

McBAINE — Five years ago, when the father-son duo of Bill and Kyle Spradley teamed up to give the state champion bur oak at McBaine some much-needed attention, they were joined by a handful of people.

Yesterday, more than 40 people gave the majestic tree a hefty dose of TLC. The gathering included representatives of 10 organizations and businesses from across the state — most of them arborists or rural electric linemen experienced in tree-trimming and pruning.

That goes to show how much people care about this tree,” said Kyle Spradley, a senior information specialist at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Spradley also has his own photography business, and many of his photos feature the McBaine bur oak.


I’ve written about the tree previously, for the very good reason that it is the image used on the cover of Communion of Dreams (and so, at the top of this blog).  And I’m glad to see this sort of effort to help care for the tree, and preserve it for future generations.   Seriously, if you haven’t ever seen it in person, and you find yourself in the area, it is worth a visit.

In the meantime, you can see images of the work done this week here, and a simple image search will bring up plenty of great shots of it.


Jim Downey

October 24, 2013, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: , , , , , , ,

As he came into the open from the narrow spiraling stairs, he saw a man standing on the upper viewing platform, calmly looking out over the city as he leaned on the ramparts. He was tall, even though he had a slight stoop which Darnell sensed came from extreme age. And while he wore a large, wide-brimmed hat, it was clear that he still had a full head of  hair, mostly of the sort of silver color which suggested it had once been deep black. His full yet neat beard was completely white. He wore no glasses, and noticed as Darnell emerged from the darkness of the tower.

Darnell nodded to the man. “Hello.”

“Good afternoon,” said the man in reply. His voice was rich, still solid. There was a touch of an accent that seemed familiar to Darnell, though it was neither American nor Welsh. He turned his attention back to the city below them, but spoke again. “You’ve come a long way.”

And with those words, Darnell was better able to define the accent. Mediterranean. Possibly Greek. “So have you.”

“True enough.” He looked at Darnell, smiled just a bit. His eyes were dark, a little sad. He glanced east to the castle proper, then north, where the mass of the Great Orme disappeared in low-hanging clouds. Then back at Darnell, seeming to size him up. “I suspect that both of us have a ways yet to go.”

“If we’re lucky.”

“Perhaps.” He stepped past Darnell, and disappeared down the stairs without another word.


The writing is going well. Things are coming together nicely.


Jim Downey

Oh. Yeah.

Remember this?

Hab harvest, 2013

Hab harvest, 2013


Well, this morning I got started turning those into this:

Simmer, simmer

Simmer, simmer


Which resulted in this, after other ingredients were added and it was allowed to simmer for a while:




Which was then run through a blender for a bit, then cranked through a Foley food mill to remove seeds and skins, resulting in this:

Oh. Yeah.

Oh. Yeah.


Which became 30 half-pint jars of just incredible sauce. So, there’s about two full habs per ounce of this stuff. I just had about 1/8th a teaspoon on a burger, and my oh my.

I think I’ll call it Scorpion Blood, since it includes (among other varietals) two different ‘Scorpion’ peppers: the Moruga Scorpion, and the Trinidad Scorpion.



Jim Downey

Recipe, for those interested:

  • Approximately 500 peppers, crown removed and cut in half
  • Half a gallon of natural apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of Kosher salt
  • Quart of homemade tomato sauce
  • 20 ounce of chopped garlic
  • 2 yellow onions, rough chopped

Prepare all ingredients. Put peppers, onion and vinegar in 5 gallon stock pot, simmer until peppers & onion all soft.  Add other ingredients, simmer about an hour, stirring often.

Scoop into blender, do a rough blend for 15 – 20 seconds. Then pour into Foley food mill, and crank until just seeds and skins are left.  Transfer to jar, can.

Mmm. Cobbler.

Among other things, my Good Lady Wife is the exec of the local chapter of the AIA. And last night they had their annual awards dinner.

Now, you might think that such an event would be formal and fancy. But that would be ‘big city’ thinking. This is where it happened:


No, I’m not kidding. Here’s another pic:


It’s the Claysville Store, just off the Katy Trail at mile 150 outside Hartsburg.

Here’s a nice little video about the place:


Here it is from the Trail:


And here are a couple of images taken from the Trail while I was wandering around:



So, if you find yourself on the Trail, or in mid-Missouri sometime and are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, give them a look. Excellent, simple fare. Limited menu, and hours.

But man, the blackberry cobbler was delicious.


Jim Downey

A good year for peppers.
October 18, 2013, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Habanero, Weather | Tags: , , , , ,

My sister dropped me a note. It included this:

Also, now that it has been a bit, how are you doing without Alwyn there?  I’m sure that you miss him terribly!!


* * * * * * *

Typical for this time of year, weather forecasts are now starting to include the possibility of frost. I decided that this afternoon I’d go out and harvest the rest of my Habanero crop in advance of some rain we’ll probably get tonight. This is what I brought in:

Hab harvest, 2013

Hab harvest, 2013


Compare that to three years ago:


Or three years before that:

Habenero Harvest


Notice the difference? Yeah, a *lot* more fully or partially ripe ones in this year’s crop. Even though both of those other picks were taken about two weeks later in the season. Interesting.

There’s about 700 – 800 in this year’s pic, based on the totals listed in those earlier posts. Should make for a nice big batch of insanely hot sauce.


* * * * * * *

My sister dropped me a note. It included this:

Also, now that it has been a bit, how are you doing without Alwyn there?  I’m sure that you miss him terribly!!

My reply:

Yeah, definitely. Still keep expecting to see him when I turn a corner, still by reflex go to call him when I go out to take something to the compost pile, and so forth.

“And so forth.”

That would have included going out with me this afternoon to pick peppers. He just loved going outside with me, any chance he got.

Yeah, I miss him.

But it’s been a good year for peppers.


Jim Downey

To sleep, perchance to clear amyloid plaques.*

Interesting. They may have found the reason that animals sleep: in order to flush the brain of toxins which build up during waking hours.

And more importantly, this may also be part of the explanation for Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementia. From the NPR article linked above:

The brain-cleaning process has been observed in rats and baboons, but not yet in humans, Nedergaard says. Even so, it could offer a new way of understanding human brain diseases including Alzheimer’s. That’s because one of the waste products removed from the brain during sleep is beta amyloid, the substance that forms sticky plaques associated with the disease.

That’s probably not a coincidence, Nedergaard says. “Isn’t it interesting that Alzheimer’s and all other diseases associated with dementia, they are linked to sleep disorders,” she says.

Researchers who study Alzheimer’s say Nedergaard’s research could help explain a number of recent findings related to sleep. One of these involves how sleep affects levels of beta amyloid, says , a professor of neurology Washington University in St. Louis who wasn’t involved in the study.

Perhaps it is time for a nap …


Jim Downey

*With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare.

New perspective.

Via Phil Plait, had to share this:


Saturn, obviously. But from a new perspective, as Plait explains:

But dominating this jaw-dropping scene are Saturn’s magnificent rings, seen here far more circular than usual. Cassini’s mission has been to observe Saturn and its moons, which means it tends to stay near the planet’s equator. But now scientists are playing with the orbit more, to do more interesting science. The spacecraft is swinging well out of the equatorial plane, so here we see the rings at a much steeper angle, and they are less affected by perspective.

And here’s the link to the full-size image, which is definitely worth a look.


Jim Downey

Welcome to the paleo-future.

I grew up reading stuff like this:

R is for rocket.jpg

And even had a really cool metal rocket based on the images from Destination Moon which one of my relatives made and gave me. For the longest time those sleek rockets landing and taking off again (what NASA calls ‘Direct Ascent‘) defined what space travel meant, and I loved watching early launches which hinted at Things To Come.

Then space technology advanced, and I got a little older. Rockets were no longer cool. With all the wisdom and knowledge of a 14 year old, I dismissed the idea that anyone would want to use them for anything other than lobbing other things into orbit, and even at that they would be soon surpassed by more efficient and reusable shuttles and aerospace vehicles.

I’m glad not everyone was so easily distracted:

Welcome back to the future of my youth.


Jim Downey

Sometimes the future is cool …

… and sometimes it is just chilling.

First, meet Seth’s grandpa:

Watson is a cognitive capability that resides in the computing cloud — just like Google and Facebook and Twitter. This new capability is designed to help people penetrate complexity so they can make better decisions and live and work more successfully. Eventually, a host of cognitive services will be delivered to people at any time and anywhere through a wide variety of handy devices. Laptops. Tablets. Smart phones. You name it.

In other words, you won’t need to be a TV producer or a giant corporation to take advantage of Watson’s capabilities. Everybody will have Watson — or a relative of the Watson technologies — at his or her fingertips.

Indeed, Watson represents the first wave in a new era of technology: the era of cognitive computing. This new generation of technology has the potential to transform business and society just as radically as today’s programmable computers did so over the past 60+ years. Cognitive systems will be capable of making sense of vast quantities of unstructured information, by learning, reasoning and interacting with people in ways that are more natural for us.

Next, consider the implications of this idea:

Now think of another way of doing this. Think of a website that is a repository of all these IDs, and is government-owned or certified. Why can’t I just visit a police station once, pay a fee (so the government doesn’t lose money on this), show all my documentation, have the government scan and upload everything so that all policemen and pertinent authorities can have access. Then my car insurance company, my health insurance company, the car registration agency can all notify this government repository if I stop paying, or if my insurance policy is not valid anymore.

Imagine a world in which the police has tablets or smartphones that show nice big pictures of you, in which whatever they currently do secretly with NSA-type agencies they do openly instead. If they find you without an ID they ask, “who are you?”, and once you give your name, they can see your photo and a ton of information about you. It would be so hard for anyone to impersonate you. I find it paradoxical that while some government agencies spy on you and know all about you, others pretend to know nothing until you show them a piece of plastic that if you lose, somebody else can impersonate you with. We need to evolve from this. We need to evolve into a system in which we have no wallets and a safer world!

Yeah, safer

TrackingPoint, the biggest name in “smart” scope technology today, is rolling out their next big project. Not too surprising, it is a military endeavor. Called the “Future of War,” TrackingPoint is gearing up for a new market.

The company has been getting a lot of attention with their high-end big-bore hunting rifles that are designed to track targets up to 1,000 yards away. The “smart” aspect of the scope technology is a host of rangefinders and sensors that, combined with optical image recognition software, calculate the ballistics of the shot and compensate for it automatically.

TrackingPoint’s hasn’t exactly concealed their intentions to develop arms for the military market. That was always a possibility and something they all but confirmed when they began talking about their second-generation precision guided rifle systems that, chambered for .50 BMG, are expected to be effective well over 3,000 yards. The cartridge, .50 BMG, is a devastating long-range anti-personnel and anti-material round.

From TrackingPoint’s website:

Target handoff can be achieved by leader touching a smart rifle icon and map location at which point the designated user will see an arrow in his scope directing him to look at handoff location. Whether from shooter to shooter, leader to shooter, drone to leader to shooter, shooter to leader to drone, handoff is a simple touch interface via a mobile device and mobile apps augmented by the appropriate a la carte communications gear.

Emphasis added, because:

The MADSS is one mean robot. Developed by defense industry leader Northrop Grumman and currently being showcased at the Fort Benning, Ga. “Robotics Rodeo,” the MADSS is a 1 1/2-ton unmanned ground vehicle designed to provide soldiers with covering fire while cutting down targets.

Make no mistake, it’s an automatic shooting machine, But it requires people to operate it and set targets. The MADSS — Mobile Armed Dismount Support System — tracks and fires on targets only once it gets the green light. It won’t shoot unless a soldier is directing it.

It’s half killer robot, half killer giant remote-control car.

But you know, not all cars need someone in control of them these days:

In Silberg’s estimation, the reason is that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz drivers are “already accustomed to high-tech bells and whistles, so adding a ‘self-driving package’ is just another option.” Throw in the possibility of a special lane on highways for autonomous vehicles and the ability to turn the system on and off at will, and premium buyers were sold on the option full-stop.

Considering that Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz all plan to have some kind of semi-autonomous, traffic jam assistance feature either on the market or coming in the next few years, and it’s obvious that luxury brands are well aware of what their buyers want.

Draw your own conclusions.


Jim Downey


The Source?

Got an email from an old friend and fan of Communion of Dreams which consisted of a link and this comment: Couldn’t resist…when I read this, all I could think was, “they’ve found the gel!!” 🙂

From the article at the link:

A nearby alien planet six times the size of the Earth is covered with a water-rich atmosphere that includes a strange “plasma form” of water, scientists say.

Astronomers have determined that the atmosphere of super-Earth Gliese 1214 b is likely water-rich. However, this exoplanet is no Earth twin. The high temperature and density of the planet give it an atmosphere that differs dramatically from Earth.

“As the temperature and pressure are so high, water is not in a usual form (vapor, liquid, or solid), but in an ionic or plasma form at the bottom the atmosphere — namely the interior — of Gliese 1214 b,” principle investigator Norio Narita of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan told by email.

You should read the whole thing, it’s pretty cool.

And yes, there is a reason why the prequel to Communion of Dreams is based around visits to holy wells in Wales … 😉


Jim Downey