Filed under: Architecture, Art, Augmented Reality, Connections, General Musings, movies, SCA, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: art, blogging, bookbinding, Chrissie Iles, Communion of Dreams, Double Negative, Doug Pray, Grinnell College, jim downey, John Bowsher, LACMA, Legacy Bookbindery, Levitated Mass, Louis Zirkle, Michael Heizer, Moon, movies, Paint the Moon, SCA, Science Fiction, space, St. Cybi's Well, Wikipedia, writing
I finally got around to seeing this the other day, and I have been thinking about it ever since:
* * *
I first heard of Michael Heizer in a sculpture class in college, sometime in the late 1970s. Well, that I remember. It’s entirely possible that I had seen some coverage of his work in the press before then. But my professor got me thinking about how sculpture defined space both by physical presence and absence, and I know that it was then that I became aware of Heizer’s work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but his basic concepts would manifest in my life in many ways, showing up in my interests in martial arts, book design, even writing.
* * *
His ideas are incredibly simple, when you pare it all down to just its physical nature, it’s really quite simple, and you see it again and again in his work. To achieve that degree of simplicity is like, almost the hardest thing in the world to do.
* * *
Not being there when your opponent strikes.
Drawing the eye to the empty space.
Allowing the reader to fill in the suggested, but missing, description.
Each of these engages and enlightens in ways that no amount of force, or color, or detail ever could.
* * *
Micheal Heizer makes you aware of space and your relationship to space and how you move through space,the role of the sky, the role of the land, beyond what you’re looking at. You have to rethink the nature of who you are physically in relation to what you are walking around inside and observing from a distance and up close.
* * *
We’re not always aware of what we do while we’re doing it, or why. Sometimes, the trajectory of a life is determined by little things, subtle things. Even things which are mssing.
* * *
I finally got around to seeing this the other day, and I have been thinking about it ever since:
Shortly after I had conceived of the idea behind Paint the Moon, I knew that it wasn’t actually feasible. But the idea delighted me. And after some thought, I realized why: it was taking the principles of Michael Heizer’s art — of paring down art to the very simplest, physical elements of experience — and going one step further. Remove the physical object altogether, and replace it with pure experience, pure concept. Hence my description of the project as a “collective lyric fantasy”.
You can’t see the artifact of that project at a museum. There is no massive boulder to walk under, or a negative space in the desert to encounter.
But there is the Moon overhead, and the memory of a moment in time.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Connections, Diane Rehm, Health, Hospice, Kindle, NPR, Science, Society, tech | Tags: Alzheimer's, Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Association International Conference, Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, amyloid plaque, blogging, care-giving, CNN, Diane Rehm, free, health, Her Final Year, hospice, jim downey, John Bourke, Keith Fargo, Kindle, Lauran Neergaard, Liza Lucas, Murali Doraiswamy, Nancy Donovan, NPR, science, tau protein, technology
It’s been seven and a half years since my mother-in-law passed away from Alzheimer’s. A couple years later, we published Her Final Year. Since then I have kept an eye on ongoing research concerning the disease, and have mentioned it here when I thought appropriate. This week, there are several new promising developments to come out of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C.
First is a saliva test for metabolites which indicate brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. From this CNN article:
Researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada analyzed saliva samples of fewer than 100 people, divided into three groups based on cognitive ability: 35 with normal aging cognition, 25 with mild cognitive impairment and 22 with Alzheimer’s disease.
Using protein analysis technology, researchers examined the saliva of each individual, analyzing nearly 6,000 metabolites, which are small molecules that are byproducts of chemical reactions in the brain.
The team then discovered specific biomarkers (or patterns of metabolites) in the groups with known Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment, in comparison with the natural aging group, and tested the biomarkers as predictors of cognitive performance.
It’s a very small study, but if additional research into this area bares out the results, this could be a quick and inexpensive screening tool to help determine who may be at risk for Alzheimer’s. Because, as discussed in a very good segment on the Diane Rehm show this morning, early detection helps even though there are limited treatment options for Alzheimer’s (and other age-related dementias). That’s because there are things you can do to prepare for managing the disease: establish necessary legal protections (things like family trusts and durable power of attorney), educate family members and caregivers, investigate daycare and assisted living options, participate in drug and treatment trials, and similar.
Speaking of drug and treatment trials, the Alzheimer’s Association has a very useful online tool for Alzheimer’s patients, care-providers, and family members:
Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch is a free, easy-to-use clinical studies matching service that connects individuals with Alzheimer’s, caregivers, healthy volunteers and physicians with current studies. Our continuously updated database of Alzheimer’s clinical trials includes more than 225 promising clinical studies being conducted at nearly 700 trials sites across the country.
This is just one of the new tools which have been made available since we cared for Martha Sr. Because in the last 7+ years, there has been a lot of research and a growing awareness that Alzheimer’s will touch nearly every family at some time.
One of the other pieces of information to come out of this week’s is that women seem to be more susceptible to the disease, and experience a faster decline in their mental abilities than men:
Older women with mild memory impairment worsened about twice as fast as men, researchers reported Tuesday, part of an effort to unravel why women are especially hard-hit by Alzheimer’s.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
At age 65, seemingly healthy women have about a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s during the rest of their lives, compared with a 1 in 11 chance for men. Scientists once thought the disparity was just because women tend to live longer — but there’s increasing agreement that something else makes women more vulnerable.
There are a number of other factors which can have an impact on those numbers, of course. But even accounting for differences due to education, lifestyle, and social status, the discrepancy between men and women could not be accounted for. And having close family who had Alzheimer’s is a substantial risk factor, about doubling your chances of developing the disease. As is having any kind of major health crises requiring either hospitalization or surgery under general anesthesia. In each and every case, men seem to fare better than women.
That may not seem to be a “promising development”, particularly if you are a woman in the high-risk category/categories. But it is, in the sense that scientists are now coming to understand the disease much, much better than they did just a decade ago. When we cared for Martha Sr, there really wasn’t a good diagnostic tool to determine whether or not someone had Alzheimer’s — it was a diagnosis confirmed postmortem. Now there are very good imaging tools available for amyloid plaque and tau protein, as detailed at the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.
As I noted above, there are still very limited treatment and drug options, though even there some hopeful results have been reported at the Conference. But real progress has been made. Alzheimer’s no longer needs to be a devastating diagnosis, something to be feared and hidden. If you, or someone you love, is showing any signs of memory or cognitive impairment, seek help. It’s even possible that through participation in some of the clinical trials you can be part of the solution.
PS: As noted previously, the Kindle edition of Her Final Year is available as a free download on the first of each month.
Filed under: General Musings, Writing stuff, tech, Predictions, Science Fiction, Depression, Society, Connections, Book Conservation, Brave New World, Ray Bradbury, Discover, Science, Bipolar, Survival, Mars | Tags: jim downey, writing, blogging, technology, Science Fiction, space, science, predictions, Ray Bradbury, Mars, St. Cybi's Well, book conservation, Legacy Bookbindery, bookbinding, Martians, Chris Hadfield, The Martian Chronicles, Charles Lindbergh, Globe and Mail
Bradbury’s Mars offered unlimited new opportunity for exploration and discovery, and expansion of human awareness. Yet virtually every step in the Chronicles, as through much of human history, is a misstep. Mutual ignorance and distrust between normally peaceful peoples leads to violence and death. Greed causes unfathomably bad behavior; uncomfortably reminiscent of gold-hungry Conquistadors in the New World, ﬁve hundred years previous. Anger and frustration at the constraints of an intensely bureaucratic society somehow permit the craziest of personal behavior. And the ultimate threat of the destruction of it all somehow draws everyone back into the maelstrom, as if there is no escape. As if we all have a necessity to accept the consequences of everyone’s actions, and take our punishment, no matter how deadly.
Bradbury’s inclusion of the repeated patterns of human behavior, right down to inadvertent genocide caused by external pestilence and unfamiliar disease, makes The Martian Chronicles an ageless cautionary tale. It made me pause and ask myself – could it be possible that we are forever unable to go beyond who we were? Will every great opportunity of discovery be tainted, tarred and eventually destroyed by our own clumsy, brutish hand?
Are we so cursed by our own tragic humanity?
Wrestling with that very question … and depicting it … has been at the heart of my struggle to write St Cybi’s Well. And wrestling with my own demons at the same time has led me into some very dark moments, particularly over the last couple of months.
But there is hope. Here is the closing of Hadfield’s essay:
Their spaceship will be improbable, and the voyage will have been long. But as our ﬁrst emissaries thump down onto Mars, stand up and look around, they will see who the Martians really are. And with that sense of belonging will come the responsibility and appreciation that has allowed us to ﬂourish and grow on Earth for millennia, in spite of ourselves. By the time we land on Mars and ﬁrst step onto the dusty, red soil, it will be alien no longer. We will know that we are home. And that may be what saves us.
As chance would have it, yesterday I started working on another conservation project which, in its own way, also affirms how exploration may save us. You’ve probably heard of the author, who had his own struggles and failings. Here’s the title page:
Maybe there’s hope for all of ‘we’, after all.
Thanks to Margo Lynn for sharing the Hadfield essay.
Filed under: Connections, Constitution, Fireworks, General Musings, Government, Kindle, Science Fiction, Society | Tags: Amazon, America, blogging, Civil War, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, Fourth of July, free, freedom, history, Independence Day, jim downey, Kindle, promotion, Science Fiction
I wrote this nine years ago, and posted it to this blog seven years ago. It seemed like a good time to repost it.
Thoughts on This Day
One birthday, when I was nine or ten, I woke with anticipation of the presents I would receive. Still in my pajamas I rushed into the kitchen where my parents were having coffee, expecting to get the loot which was rightfully mine. My father happily handed over a small, wrapped box. I opened it eagerly, to find a little American flag on a wooden stick. My father said that since my birthday was July 4th, he thought I would appreciate the gift.
Horror-struck first at not getting anything better, then a moment later at my own greed, I guiltily told my parents that I thought it was a fine gift.
After a moment, of course, my folks brought out my real presents, and there was a fair amount of good-natured teasing and laughing about the little trick they had played on me.
That was almost 40 years ago, and I can no longer tell you what presents I received that day. But the lesson in expectations and perspective my dad taught me that morning always remained with me. My dad had been a Marine, fought in Korea, and was a deeply patriotic cop who was killed while on duty a couple of years after that birthday. I have no idea what happened to that little flag on a stick, but I do still have the flag taken from my father’s coffin, carefully and perfectly folded at the graveside when we buried him.
I’ve never looked at the American flag without remembering what a fine gift it really is and, as so many others have written, what it represents in terms of sacrifice. I love my country, as any Firecracker Baby is probably destined to do. You just can’t ignore all that early training of patriotism, fireworks, and presents all tied up together.
But that doesn’t mean that I am blinded by patriotism. As I’ve matured and gained life experience, I’ve learned many other lessons. Lessons about tempering expectations, living with occasional disappointment, accepting that things don’t always work out the way you plan no matter how hard you work, how good your intentions, or how deserving you are. Still, you learn, grow, and do the best you can. This, it seems, is also the story of America. I believe we are an exceptional people, holding great potential, with our best years still to come. But nothing is guaranteed. We must honestly, and sometimes painfully, confront our failures, learn from them, and move on. The original founders of our country were brilliant, but flawed as all humans are flawed. Some of their errors led directly to the Civil War, that great bloody second revolution of the human spirit. That they made mistakes does not negate their greatness; rather, it shows us our potential even though we are not perfect. They knew, as we should know, that only we are responsible for our self-determination. Not a king, not a God, not a ruling political class. Us.
Today we’ve been gifted with a small box with a flag inside. A token of our history. Let us not take it for granted. Let us not think that the thing itself is more important than what it represents. Let us look on it and declare our own responsibility, our own self-determination.
Happy Independence Day.
Filed under: Apollo program, Brave New World, Buzz Aldrin, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, General Musings, Government, NASA, Neil Armstrong, Society | Tags: 1776, America, Apollo 11, blogging, Buzz Aldrin, Civil War, Fourth of July, history, jim downey, Kitty Hawk, Moon, NASA, Neil Armstrong, space
Tomorrow I turn 57. Yeah, on the Fourth of July.
That might seem a little weird to someone who doesn’t have a birthday on the Fourth. Not to me. I’ve grown up with it.
But you know what seems weird to me?
That I’ve been alive for almost one-fourth of the entire time that the United States has existed. Run the numbers, and you’ll see.
It’s very odd to realize just how young our country is in some ways. And how much things have changed just in my lifetime.
And I remember growing up with casual racism of the worst sort. When homophobia was so deeply ingrained and widespread that the word itself didn’t even really exist. I remember using words like n***** and f***** without a trace of embarrassment, because they were so common.
Things have changed somewhat. Not enough. But still, too much for some people. Because change can be scary. Threatening.
The length of my life will take you to the time of Sputnik. The length of another such will take you back before Kitty Hawk. And just one more will land you well before the Civil War.
Change can be hard. And the fight never ends. But have hope: progress can be made. Both for individuals and for countries. Perhaps, even, for the whole world.
Filed under: Amazon, Art, Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, Google, movies, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, tech, Writing stuff | Tags: Alexei Oreskovic, Amazon, art, augmented reality, blogging, Communion of Dreams, Google, jim downey, Matt Weinberger, predictions, Science Fiction, Soli, technology, writing
From the beginning of Chapter 6:
There was just one other person in the room, standing at the side of the holo platform, hands dancing over a control board only he could see.
* * *
Jon looked to the dance Ng’s hands played in the air. “About ready?”
Ng said nothing, but just his fingers tapped a command in the air. Instantly, there appeared an image above the holo projector. It was the artifact, pretty much exactly as Jon remembered it from the first meeting a week ago.
There are many such passages in Communion of Dreams, just part of the augmented reality technology which exists at the time of the book. The basic explanation is that the user is wearing contact lenses which allow one to see a virtual reality overlay on the real world, and then within that overlay you can manipulate virtual objects/controls thanks to hand-tracking. When I wrote the book I figured that such technology would be available eventually …
… and here it is, even sooner than I expected:
* * *
The company’s lab for advanced projects showed off new technology on Friday that lets users move their fingers in the air to control objects in the virtual world.
It’s called Project Soli, and it uses radar waves to detect precise finger movements or finger “micromotions.”
The result is something that looks like it’s from a science-fiction movie such as Minority Report or Her, in which characters manipulated virtual objects by gracefully moving their hands or fingers in the air.