Communion Of Dreams


So, without a lot of fanfare I went ahead and scheduled a two-day promotion for the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams the other day, as mentioned. After I posted something about it on Facebook, John Bourke, my primary co-author on Her Final Year asked whether we might as well do a similar promotion for the Kindle edition of that book. D’oh! An oversight on my part.

But, I think, an understandable one. Right now I’m focused on writing St. Cybi’s Well, the prequel to Communion of Dreams. So there’s that.

And there’s something else. This passage from a post last February sums it up for me:

I am frequently struck just how much of our life doesn’t make sense until seen from a distance. Just recently I was surprised at the revelation of *why* the failure of Her Final Year to be more successful bothered me as much as it did: it was because I had seen the book as being a way to create something positive (for the world) out of the experience of being a long-term care provider. To have the book only reach a limited audience was, in my mind, saying that our roles as care-givers didn’t matter.

Yeah, that. In a word: disappointment.

And when things disappoint, it is only natural to disengage somewhat from them, to not sink a lot of additional emotional energy into it. At some point you just say “well, OK, that’s done — time to move on.”

Except moving on isn’t always the best course, or even possible. John reminded me of that. So I went ahead and scheduled the promotion for Her Final Year to run the same time as the one for Communion of Dreams did.

And guess what? Her Final Year, for the very first time, did better in terms of the number of downloads than Communion of Dreams did. Not by a lot — just a dozen books — but still, it did better. Whereas in the past when we did promotions for the two books at the same time, CoD almost always did better, by upwards of a factor of 10.  And for the first time, one of my books was downloaded through the Amazon Australia portal. Guess which one it was. Right: HFY. And I think that’s pretty cool.

Now, the numbers in either case aren’t huge. Just 271 copies of Communion of Dreams, and 283 copies of Her Final Year. But I find myself somewhat surprisingly pleased.

I hope you had a similarly good Thanksgiving holiday.


Jim Downey

PS: If you missed this promotion, don’t worry. For people who get new computers/readers/mobile devices, we’ll repeat in shortly after Christmas. And of course you can always just go to the links above and buy either book for only $3.01.



More of an attitude.

As those close to me know, I’m not really “into” holidays the way many people are. Oh, I’m happy to have an excuse to eat and drink more, to visit with family & friends, to relax a bit more than usual. And I can appreciate the rituals which surround the holidays, and how those rituals can give some definition and context for things. Marking birthday milestones. Taking time to remember loved ones and Veterans. Observing the change of seasons and acknowledging the passing of years. Giving thanks.

Those forms are important. I understand why holidays exist even unto this modern age, when everything seems to exist in a constant froth of work, commerce, and entertainment.

But it is easy — far too easy — to come to think of those holidays as things in themselves, rather than reminders.  The meanings of the rituals are lost, and only the rituals themselves become important.

And there, I just did the same thing. I just fell into the ritual of bemoaning how holidays have lost their meaning.


What I want to say is this: thank you. Thank you for being family, thank you for being a friend, thank you for just reading my stuff. I try to remember to be appreciative for all this, and for so much more, to make that appreciation more of an attitude than a holiday.

Jim Downey

And a different kind of reminder: both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year are available for free download today and tomorrow. Please help yourself and spread the word.

That’s amusing.

I was scheduling a “free Kindle copy” promotion of Communion of Dreams a while ago, and as part of that I was poking around a little deeper into the Amazon ratings/rankings/comments. Something they evidently added a while back that I hadn’t noticed is that people can “highlight” passages in the Kindle edition, and share that info with other readers.

Anyway, about a year ago someone highlighted a passage (in italics below) and added a comment which I find rather amusing, and I thought I’d share it:

JohnB: I resent the author’s allusion to Christians in this negative light. More unConstitutional bashing.

Take your worst nightmare right-wing Christian fundies,

Really makes me wonder if he continued to read the book at all past that point.

You can find all the highlights here. Oh, and the Kindle edition will be available for free this Thursday and Friday.


Jim Downey

I wonder if I need to notify the authorities …

As I’ve mentioned previously, it was a good year for peppers. Well, in addition to making the big batch of sauce at the end of the season, I also dried approximately 5 gallons of seeded habaneros of various sorts. And this morning I got around to crushing them. Here’s the result:

Quart jars of powdered evil.

Quart jars of powdered evil.

That works out to something like 8 ounces (fluid volume) of crushed habs per gallon of fresh/frozen. Yeah, baby!


Jim Downey

“Memories, you’re talking about memories.”


I am staggered by this thing: a 35-minute “paraphrasing” of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 12,597 animated watercolor paintings. It’s beautiful and insane—who would do this? A really big Blade Runner fan, I guess.

That fan is Swedish artist Anders Ramsell, who hand-painted each of the thousands of 1.5 by 3 cm paintings that make up the film, then synced them up to audio from the movie. The results are moody, and dreamily gorgeous.

Judge for yourself:


For me, this presentation/interpretation works, because it fits so perfectly with the theme and style of the movie. Very impressive.


Jim Downey


Mea culpa.

I just put up the following update on my Kickstarter page:

13 months ago this Kickstarter project was successfully funded. You guys did your part in supporting it. I wish I could say that I’ve completed my end of the deal.

But I haven’t, in spite of my best intentions and hard work. This happened for all the usual reasons creative projects get delayed, some of which I have discussed on my blog — you can find them under the tag St. Cybi’s Well if you are interested.

Now, I am actually making great progress working on the book. The structure and format is all laid out, and presently I am working through writing the text systematically. I’m excited about it, to the point of being a bit obsessed, and when I’m not having panic attacks about being a complete hack of a writer (I’ve yet to meet a writer who doesn’t occasionally have such attacks) I get the sense that this may be the best thing I’ve written to date.

But progress isn’t completion. So this is my mea culpa, and an offer: if you backed this Kickstarter in good faith, and want a refund, just drop me a note to and we’ll work things out. Now, I hope that you won’t. But I will understand if you do. We had a contract, and I have not fulfilled my obligations.

For those who don’t want a refund, here’s as realistic a progress report as I can offer: I think I’m about a third to halfway to completion of the book, and I hope to have it ready for editing in three or four months. One good aspect of how I am creating this book is that the manuscript should require much less reworking/redrafting when done. So, ideally, it should be ready for publishing sometime in the Spring of next year, with the various hand-bound editions and whatnot to follow.

Like I said, that’s my best estimate. But I also honestly thought when I launched this Kickstarter that I could have the book completed and rewards out by this point in time. The last year has taught me that sometimes you can’t force or predict creativity, no matter what your best intentions are.

One last thing: for those who decide to stick with the Kickstarter, I’ll find some way of enhancing your chosen reward. Not sure what that will be at this time, and I am open to suggestions.

Thanks, everyone!

Just thought I’d share that.


Jim Downey

PS: I just want to add that I’m not beating myself up over this missed deadline. Publishing has *always* had to take into account the fact that writing a book is a necessarily unpredictable process, and that it is foolish to try and be too hard-nosed about time schedules. But as I told another friend, in this case I felt that I had a direct relationship, a contract if you will, with the Kickstarter backers and that they deserved both an explanation and a option for making adjustments. So don’t worry.

Hey, it’s just $900 million …

Well, that’s terribly surprising: the GAO is out with a new report from their investigation of the TSA’s Behavior Profiling program, and it turns out that it doesn’t work.  From NPR:

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal probe of a Transportation Security Administration program to screen suspicious behavior of passengers at airports suggests the effort, which has cost almost $1 billion since 2007, has not been proven effective, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Government Accountability Office said its investigation found that the results of the TSA program — called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques — were “no better than chance.” Under the program, agents identify suspicious looking people and talk to them to determine whether they pose a threat. The investigators looked at the screening program at four airports, chosen on the basis of size and other factors.

“TSA has yet to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of the program despite spending about $900 million on it since 2007,” said Steve Lord, who directed the investigation for the GAO. He said the GAO, which is the research and investigative arm of Congress, “conducts active oversight of the TSA for the Congress given their multibillion-dollar budget.” He said “the behavior detection program is viewed as a key layer of aviation security.”

Yeah, a “key layer” that doesn’t work. From ars technica:

It sounds pretty science-y, but it turns out that, in practice, BDOs across the country are referring passengers for secondary screenings at very different rates. For a program based on “objective” biometric measurements of deception, this is not the result one would hope to see. (Even the TSA admitted to GAO auditors that some of the observations were “subjective”; it is trying to rein these in.) And Ekman, who helped set up the program, told GAO three years ago that no one knew “how many BDOs are required to observe a given number of passengers moving at a given rate per day in an airport environment, or the length of time that such observation can be conducted before observation fatigue affects the effectiveness of the personnel.”

For the report, GAO auditors looked at the outside scientific literature, speaking to behavioral researchers and examining meta-analyses of 400 separate academic studies on unmasking liars. That literature suggests that “the ability of human observers to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral cues or indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance (54 percent).” That result holds whether or not the observer is a member of law enforcement.

It turns out that all of those signs you instinctively “know” to indicate deception usually don’t. Lack of eye contact for instance simply does not correlate with deception when examined in empirical studies. Nor do increases in body movements such as tapping fingers or toes; the literature shows that people’s movements actually decrease when lying. A 2008 study for the Department of Defense found that “no compelling evidence exists to support remote observation of physiological signals that may indicate fear or nervousness in an operational scenario by human observers.”

Like I said, surprising.

Or, you know, not at all.

But at least they spent almost a billion dollars of our money. That’s something.


Jim Downey

Broken seal.
November 11, 2013, 12:41 pm
Filed under: Connections, Government, NPR, Society | Tags: , , , ,

The Raid was a total secret to all involved and the members of the raid were chosen by volunteering for a “dangerous secret mission”.  The members did not know the target destination until the planes were loaded on the ship and the raid was underway.  This was to prevent any “leakage” of information about the raid.  16 B-25 twin engine bombers were to take off from the deck of the Aircraft Carrier USS Hornet and bomb Japan mainland.  This would be the first attack on Japan mainland of WW2.  Because the airplanes were too large to be taken below deck on the aircraft carrier they had to be stored at the end of the runway on top.  As a result the runway was very short, especially for the first plane in line, and special training was required to teach the pilots to be able to take off in such a short distance with a full payload.

From the official Doolittle Tokyo Raiders website.

* * *

Historically, important legal and government documents were “sealed” with some manner of imprint in wax, wet clay (which was then allowed to dry), ink or some similar material. This helped to verify their authenticity.

Later, such sealing was used so as to indicate that a letter or package wasn’t opened prior to the intended recipient having possession, or before an appointed time.

We still use the term “seal” in both ways, routinely. So much so that we seldom even give much thought to it. Court records are sealed. Government documents bear a seal indicating their official nature. Food & drug products are sealed for your protection. Alcohol containers are sealed with a tax stamp.

When a seal is broken, it is a moment of change. Perhaps a noteworthy one. Perhaps something trivial. It can be a violation. Or it can be the culmination of a promise.

* * *

From NPR this morning, about the final reunion of the Doolittle Raiders this past Saturday:

In 1959, officials in Tucson, Ariz., presented the Raiders with a set of 80 name-engraved silver goblets. They’re kept in a velvet-lined box, and after each year’s toast, the goblets of those who have died are turned upside down. Four remain upright.

This time, the Raiders bring out an 1896 vintage bottle of Hennessy cognac. It was given to Jimmy Doolittle on his 60th birthday, and it has been kept unopened by the Raiders.

Cole is asked to break the wax seal, but it’s not an easy task. When the 98-year-old succeeds, the final toast is offered: “Gentleman, I propose a toast to those we lost on the mission and those who have passed away since. Thank you very much, and may they rest in peace.”

More than 71 years of tragedy, bravery and inspiration have lead to this moment. And finally, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders declare their mission is over.

Thank you, gentlemen.  And thank you to all our Veterans. You have kept your promise to us, one sealed in blood and sacrifice.


Jim Downey

Broadcast power.

Very interesting technology breakthrough: the use of metamaterials to harvest microwave energy and convert it to DC (direct current), with an efficiency on par with the best solar panels.  From EurekAlert:

With additional modifications, the researchers said the power-harvesting metamaterial could potentially be built into a cell phone, allowing the phone to recharge wirelessly while not in use. This feature could, in principle, allow people living in locations without ready access to a conventional power outlet to harvest energy from a nearby cell phone tower instead.

“Our work demonstrates a simple and inexpensive approach to electromagnetic power harvesting,” said Cummer. “The beauty of the design is that the basic building blocks are self-contained and additive. One can simply assemble more blocks to increase the scavenged power.”

For example, a series of power-harvesting blocks could be assembled to capture the signal from a known set of satellites passing overhead, the researchers explained. The small amount of energy generated from these signals might power a sensor network in a remote location such as a mountaintop or desert, allowing data collection for a long-term study that takes infrequent measurements.

This is a fundamental breakthrough, and one which will have a lot of applications/implications far beyond just those mentioned above. Consider what you could do with even our current electronics technology if you didn’t need to have access to charge batteries/capacitors. Already many devices are charged through induction, though that has a relatively short-range effect, and the magnetic fields used create their own problems (and are relatively inefficient).

Combine this with RFID technology as well as nano-sized processors/memory, and you quickly get to the point where ubiquitous computing becomes not just possible but economically viable. Fascinating.

The full pdf (just 4 pages) of the Applied Physics Letters article can be found here.

Jim Downey

“A Look Behind the Future.”

Via Open Culture, this brilliant, and fairly hilarious, promotional documentary about the ‘forthcoming’ movie 2001: A Space Odyssey:


As the Open Culture post says:

The Apollo 11 moon landing would, of course, come just three years later. A Look Behind the Future reflects the enterprising if square technological optimism of that era, a tone that perhaps hasn’t aged quite as well as the haunting, bottomlessly ambiguous film it pitches.


Jim Downey