Communion Of Dreams

Here there be robots.

Oh, this is just delightful:

Here there be robots: A medieval map of Mars

Recently I’ve been really into old maps made by medieval explorers. I thought it would be fun to use their historical design style to illustrate our current adventures into unexplored territory. So here’s my hand-drawn topographic map of Mars, complete with official landmark names and rover landing sites.

Go check out the whole thing, but here’s a glimpse of the map itself (which is much larger on the original post):


You can even support the artist and buy a copy! Quick, before they’re all gone!


Jim Downey

HT to Margo Lynn.

A bookbinding mystery.

Been a while since I posted about book conservation. But I thought I would share a little mystery I came upon recently in my work.

First, a simple lesson in bookbinding history, with some terms used in the profession …

When books are sewn together, that sewing goes through a group of sheets which are folded in half. Each folded sheet is called a folio. The group — whether it is a single folio or multiple folios — is called a section (also a signature, a gathering, or a quire).  Most books consist of many different sections, all sewn together in a particular sequence, in order to keep the pages in the correct order.  The number of folios in each section can vary greatly, but it was common for it to be 2 or 4 folios until fairly recently (8 folios per section is common now).

To make it a little easier to keep everything straight and in the right order, printers developed some common practices (or conventions). Numbering the pages seems like an obvious way to do this, but page numbering conventions are surprisingly convoluted and confusing. So they came up with some other tricks for the bookbinders to follow. One was to give each section a letter designation. And another was to have a number combined with that letter designation, so the bookbinder would be able to make sure that they had all the folios for a given section. And just to be extra certain, for a long time printers would place at the very bottom of the printing on each page the start of the word on the *next* page.

Here are three images which show this, from a 1744 book awaiting my attention:

Mystery 1

OK, look at the right-hand page (called recto), at the bottom of the print. See the capital letter E? That shows that this was the start of the new section. And if you look in the same line as that E, you’ll see the word “and”.

Take a look at the next image:

Mystery 2

Note there on the top of the left page (called verso) the print starts with the word “and”. Look at the bottom of that page, and you can see the word “will”, which is the first word on the top of the next page. Got it?

Also, look at the bottom of the recto page, and you’ll see “E2”, meaning that this is the second folio of the section. And there, off to the far right, is the word “which”.

Next image:

Mystery 3

See? The first word on the top of the verso page is “which”, and the page numbering is sequential. At the bottom of that page is the word “faid” (which is actually the word “said”, using an f in place of a long s), and that is the same word on the top of the recto page. The page numbering is again sequential in going to the recto page. But look — there’s no section and folio marking at the bottom of the recto page. That means that this book has sections of just two folios. And if you look at the gutter of the book in this image, you can see the original sewing: the two discolored bits of thread at the top and bottom of the book.

Simple, right? Yup, and this was the way that almost everyone in Europe printed books for about 300 years. (There’s a lot more interesting history connected with this, but for now we’ll just leave it at that.)

OK, let’s take a look at one final image:

Mystery 4

This is from a different book. A bible. One printed sometime around 1644 in German.

Look at the bottom of the text there on the recto, in the lower right of the image. See the section and folio marks? It’s a lower case “e” for the section, and then “iiij.” So this should be the fourth folio of section “e”, right?

But look at the gutter of the book, there on the left hand side of the image. That’s the sewing of the book. In fact, if you look carefully, you can see that there is the original sewing thread, and then brighter sewing thread, where I have added new thread to strengthen these first few sections of the book.

What gives?

I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me. This book has three-folio sections, but it is marked as though it should be four folios per section. That’s through the whole book (well, according to my random examination of multiple sections … I haven’t examined every one, since this is a big ol’ bible).

It really threw me at first, because the book came to me with a number of loose pages front and back. Initially I thought that there must be a lot of missing pages (there are a couple), but I started using the other printing conventions of the starting part of a word, and was able to clearly establish that I did indeed have most of the pages. Then I went and checked some of the intact sections of the book, and saw this weird mystery.

Why on earth the printer did this, I can only guess. And that guess is that he did it to make someone think that there were more printed pages in the whole text than there actually are, since a casual examination using the normal printing conventions would suggest that there should be 25% more folios than are really there. Is this a case of some unscrupulous printer ripping off the church or whoever paid for the work? Maybe.

But that’s just a guess.


Jim Downey

And you thought Skynet was scary …

Three billion bank accounts ended on August 29th, 2016. The survivors of the monetary collapse called it Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the War of the Billionaires. The cartel which controlled the money, Ca$hnet, sent several Terminators back through time. Their mission: to leverage the buyout of the remaining political system. The first Terminator had taken the form of Donald Trump, who quickly moved to consolidate power in the Republican Party. The second Terminator was known as Micheal Bloomberg, who sought disruption and control of the Democrats. By the time Terminators Gates, Zuckerberg, and Buffett showed up, the working republic which had struggled for decades was finished.

Then the Billionaires began to war among themselves …


Jim Downey

(With apologies to James Cameron.)
[I can’t believe I just said that.]

It’s October! That must mean it’s time for …

… more House Horrors!

OK, this time it’s not nearly as bad as it was last year. But nonetheless, I don’t think this is exactly what most people mean when they talk about having a “green roof“:


Yeah, probably a safe bet.

So, this is the small roof of an unused porch on the front west of our house, which is a “Notable Historic Structure“ built by the first dean of the MU medical school in 1883. We’re fairly sure that this porch used to be a separate entrance for the dean’s private office/surgery, which is now our living room. At some point the door was closed off and turned into window, so now the porch is purely decorative and out of the way. As such, it tends to not get a lot of attention … including, unfortunately, maintenance.

But I was doing some other work up on the roof, and noticed that this small porch was to a point where it really needed some work. Eventually we’ll replace the steps and perhaps the floor of the porch, but first we needed to do some roof repairs.

Originally, this porch just had a sheet metal roof, over 1″ thick decking. But when the sheet metal started leaking, applications of roofing tar were applied in an effort seal the leaks. And for more than 100 years, that’s the only attention that it got. With the result that there was dried (and cracking/leaking) tar almost an inch thick in place over the whole small roof (it’s about 4’x8′).

To repair it was straight-forward: remove the old dried tar, repair the sheet metal as necessary, and then put down an appropriate proper flat roof.

To see that process, follow me below the fold:

Continue reading

Free books!

Just a quick note: both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year are available for free download today! Go get ’em! Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell your pets!

Except fish. Fish don’t like books. At least as far as I know.


Jim Downey

Remember the fickle finger of fate?*

Good article, worth reading the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The fate of most books is a fragile thing; readers and the media get distracted easily. Any author’s beloved brainchild is more likely than not to slip through the cracks because it came out on the eve of a huge news event, or when the reading public was preoccupied with some other time-devouring darling, whether it be by George R.R. Martin, Karl Ove Knausgaard, or Elena Ferrante. If a novel does seize that fickle attention, it had better deliver on its promises, or the author may never get a second chance. Even when a novelist scores a big hit, the book that follows it isn’t guaranteed anything more than an advantage in garnering review attention. Pop quiz: Can you name the titles of the novels that Alice Sebold, Yann Martel, Mark Haddon, and Patrick Suskind published after The Lovely Bones, The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Perfume?

This also applies to self-published work, of course. Another factor that scares the hell out of me as I keep writing St Cybi’s Well.

But I *think* I’ve just finished the current chapter. I’ll take another look at it tomorrow, and decide. Slow, uneven steps, but forward progress nonetheless.


Jim Downey

*A reminder.


Writer’s block.

A friend posted this little aphorism to my profile on Facebook:

Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you.

My response:

Hmm. Pithy, but not sure I agree.

For me, being blocked isn’t about the technical stuff – dialog, description, understanding motivations. That’s all pretty straight-forward.

Rather, it tends to happen when I am trying to see the whole arc, and how a particular scene will fit into the developing narrative. There’s always a balance between knowing that you want to get from point A to point B on the ‘map’ of your story, and then working on the scene-by-scene movement. It’s been described as being like driving at night: you may know your destination a 100 miles away, but your headlights only illuminate the quarter-mile of the road ahead at a time. Being blocked is like having your headlights fail.

Jim Downey

Oh, and if you’re not at least following me or the Communion of Dreams page on Facebook … well, you should. I’m obviously brilliant and share a lot of interesting links and observations about the world there.  Just think of what you’re missing! 😉


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