Communion Of Dreams


Let your fingers do the dancing.

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:

Google’s new finger control technology is straight out of a science fiction movie

* * *

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.

Bingo.

 

Jim Downey



A change in perspective.

Excerpt, set here:

She reached a hand out to help, steadying herself with her other hand on the tiller, and Darnell stepped down onto the small deck area. There was a low rail around the deck, about knee-height, but there was nothing else between him and the low rail of the bridge trough. And on the other side of the trough rail was a drop of almost 40 meters to the valley floor.

“Very nice,” said Darnell, one hand on the roof rail, as he leaned out and looked over the edge. He turned back, extended his hand to the woman. “Thanks. Name’s Darnell.”

“I’m Sharon. And welcome to the Tedford’s Folly, if only for a short hop to the other end of the aqueduct.” She patted the tiller in her hand, then gestured off the open side of the boat. “Pretty remarkable, isn’t it? You know the history of the Pontcysyllte?”

“The basics, anyway,” said Darnell. “And yeah, it is remarkable what people can achieve when they put their minds to it. Both for good and ill.”

She smiled, and there was an intensity to her bluish-grey eyes. “I love all the canals, but especially this one. There’s always something new to be found when you cross over from one side to the other. A new perspective, depending on the time of year, the time of day, and where your head is at. But not everyone understands that.”

 

Jim Downey



When self confidence fails.

At Stonehenge:

As he crossed the earthen ditch which surrounded the stones some 20 meters out, following the usual paved walking path, he noticed that the shaping of the sound somehow changed. Perhaps it was the mass of bodies crowding in around the stones. But it seemed less to be coming from one particular place, and more like it was just coming up from the ground all around him. Then he stepped off the path, and onto the grass, and he could feel the sound more than hear it. It strummed through his heels, up his legs, vibrations caressing his entire body. It was the springiness, the resonance, which he had felt at St David’s, but infinitely stronger.

Stronger, and shared. Shared, he knew, by every person who walked this ground. By every person who had ever walked this ground. It was as though the earth itself were a drum, and this the taut, shimmering skin which they skittered across.

Slowly he made his way into the circle, almost in a daze. Others moved past and around him, making contact, sharing a smile, a laugh, tears. He had never before been this close to the stones, had never come on those rare occasions when the site was open this way. They seemed impossibly tall, impossibly old. He stepped past the first great upright before him, then paused, and gingerly reached out to touch it. Cold stone, rough weathered, aged lichens. A woman standing next to him had her eyes closed, the palms of her hands also on the stone, and for a moment he felt her mind there, the contact of lovers sharing a glimpse of the eternal. It caught his breath, he stepped back, turned in slight embarrassment and stepped further into the circle. Further into the crowd.

Now the press of people was greater. There were people everywhere, holding hands, praying, chanting, caressing. They were on the fallen stones, pressed up against the standing sarsens, moving. He felt himself drawn further in, pulled in by the sound vibrations filling the space, which became deeper and stronger with every step. He passed the inner sarsen, stood there in the inner circle, the sanctum sanctorum, the Garbha griha, the sacred center of everything.

I’m at that point in the novel where I have lost track of how it is going. Whether any of this is any good. Whether it will just confuse and disappoint my readers. Whether it is worth continuing.

This happens. I know it. I have been in this place before. And when self-confidence fails, only my self-discipline gets me past the lurking paralysis. Chapter 12 is almost finished. Momentum continues.

Jim Downey



It’s a Mil-Tech SF future; we’re just living in it.

Yeah, it’s cool and all, but I can’t be the only one who looked at the news about Google X’s Drone Program

A zipping comes across the sky.

A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap.

… and thinks “generation 1.0 Hunter-seeker“, right? I mean, this basically jumps from needing a large military drone to having a backpack assassination tool. Why worry about collateral damage with a missile when you can just drop a cigarette-pack lump of high explosive in someone’s lap, using a cell phone and facial-recognition software to make sure of your specific target?

Or how I look at the self-driving car and think “hmm, add a Ma Deuce and/or 30mm cannon, and you’ve a small autonomous tank”.

Yeah, OK, perhaps I’m just too cynical. But human nature being what it is, you’ve gotta think that there was a reason why DARPA has been behind the development of these technologies …

 

Jim Downey

 



Coming soon, to a reality near you.

There are over 70 reviews of Communion of Dreams on Amazon, and if you poke around online you’ll find a bunch more. In addition, I’ve heard from countless friends and fans about the book in private messages and chats. And one of the most common things people will note is just how much they like the character of Seth, the Expert/AI executive assistant for the main character, Jon. The book opens with Seth contacting Jon about something which has come up, and you can get a sense of how useful such a virtual assistant could be:

“Sorry to bother you, Jon, but you’ll need to come back immediately. Business. I’ve made the arrangements. Transport waiting for you in town, take you to Denver. Then commercial flight home.” Audio only. That meant a lot. Tighter beam, easier to encode and keep private. Security protocol.

He wondered if something had gone wrong with the Hawking, the experimental long-range ship undergoing trials, based out at Titan. That was about the only thing he could think of that would require his cutting short his first vacation in four years. No use in asking. “All right. Give me a few minutes to pack my things, and I’ll get started.”

“Understood.”

“And contact my family, let them know I’m on my way back. ”

“Will do. Anything else?”

“Not at present. See you when I get there.”

Of course, CoD is set in 2052, and there have been huge advances in technology which allow for a very natural interaction between a human and a computer.

What’s been fun for me in writing St Cybi’s Well, set in our own time (well, actually, in October 2012), is that I get to plant the seeds for the technology which then shows up in Communion of Dreams. And one of those seeds is an Android app which is a ‘virtual assistant’ named Andi. It’s er, not quite up to Seth’s standards:

Darnell sat there, scanned the blog post. As he read, the assistant repeated “The page you requested is displayed on your screen. Do you need something else?”

“Um, yeah. How about a map to St. Seiriol’s Well?”

“A map is now displayed on your screen. You are presently at the location of St. Seiriol’s Well. Do you need something else?”

“I’m not at the Well. I’m in the parking lot. Where is the Well itself?”

“I’m sorry, available maps indicate you are presently at the Well. Do you need something else?”

“Go back to the Well Hopper site.”

“Very good. The page you requested is displayed on your screen. Do you need something else?”

 

A bit annoying, eh? Well, the people who have been reading the early chapters of the book have certainly thought so. Which was exactly what I was going for. Because technology doesn’t arrive fully developed. It shows up in an early, buggy form, and then gets improved over time. Think back to when we all had dial-up modems: they were annoying, klunky, and expensive … but they also were very, very cool because they allowed us to “get online”.

Anyway, I had to chuckle over a story on NPR yesterday afternoon which reminded me of this. Here’s the intro:

We’re already giving voice instructions to virtual personal assistants, like Apple’s Siri. But artificial intelligence is getting even smarter. The next wave of behavior-changing computing is a technology called anticipatory computing — systems that learn to predict what you need, even before you ask.

Google Now, which is available on tablets and mobile devices, is an early form of this. You can ask it a question like, “Where is the White House?” and get a spoken-word answer. Then, Google Now recognizes any follow-up questions, like “How far is it from here?” as a human would — the system realizes you’re still asking about the White House, even without you mentioning the search term again. It’s an example of how anticipatory computing is moving the way we interact with devices from tapping or typing to predictive voice control.

It wasn’t a prediction on my part to see this development, rather just paying attention to the current technology and tweaking it a bit to fit into the alternate timeline of CoD/SCW. But still, kinda fun to see things going just the way I envision.

 

Jim Downey



You Are There.*

An excerpt:

A very short distance down the road was another simple black and white sign which said “Llangybi”. There was a stone house not far past it, but no sign of a real town. Darnell kept going. He passed a few more homes and farms. Then he came to a split in the road and stopped, pulling off to the side in front of yet another stone house. There were some workmen on scaffolding at the near end of the house, doing something to the chimney.

Workmen? What workmen?

Why, these workmen.  (It’s a Google Streetview location. You have to let it load, then activate it.)

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been doing a lot of double-checking of locations and descriptions using a variety of map tools. Google has made this very easy, between their satellite, Earth, and Streetview map apps. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that to amuse myself I have been including things actually caught in the Streetview images now and again, so that if anyone actually looks up a particular location I cite on Streetview, they will see what is described in the text. This has mostly applied to storefronts and the like, but also includes the occasional bit like the passage above — where a little later I have Darnell (the main character) actually stop and chat with these workmen, asking them for directions.

It’s a little thing which almost no one will ever discover, just my version of an Easter egg. And whenever Google updates the images used on these locations, they’ll no longer apply. But what the hell.

 

Jim Downey

*For those who don’t know of/remember the series.

 

 

 



The view from 250 feet.

This is fun:

It’s a view of Wales most of us will never see.

This video was filmed from the cockpit of a Typhoon fighter jet which flies over North Wales before heading to the Lake District.

The man behind the controls is Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris, the RAF’s Typhoon display pilot and a member of RAF Coningsby, based in Lincolnshire, who calmly talks viewers through his manoeuvres at altitudes of between 250ft and 40,000ft.

There’s an embedded video which is a real delight, too, for anyone who isn’t afraid of heights/motion.

I haven’t flown at low altitude over Wales, so I can’t really speak as to how this compares to the slower velocity of a small plane or helicopter. However, I was struck by just how similar the video is to viewing the same terrain via Google Earth, which I have done a *lot* of in the last couple of months as I write St. Cybi’s Well.  The ability to zoom in, rotate orientation, and even change the angle to the horizon allows you very much get the sense of flying through the landscape — it’s a very cool technology.

And speaking of very cool technology, just thought I’d share this little item, which gives a nice bit of perspective: Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone. It’s a pretty impressive list, and shows how a whole pile of electronics valued at about $5,000 in today’s money has been replaced by a smartphone that fits in your pocket and costs about $500.

And speaking of 500 … that’s about the total number of world-wide downloads of Communion of Dreams so far in the current promotion. Which in itself is a pretty cool bit of technology. If you haven’t yet gotten your copy of the Kindle edition of the book (which you can read on, yes, smartphones as well as any number of other devices), pop over and get it today!

 

Jim Downey

 




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