Communion Of Dreams


Cold comfort.

Thought I’d share a small discovery I made this weekend.

I’m working on a book conservation project for an institutional client. It’s a patient ledger for a public hospital from the 1880s. It’s a large, heavy account book, and the binding structure had broken down, the original leather-covered covers have a bad case of red rot, and a number of the individual pages had been damaged. All in all, a fairly routine project; an important piece of mundane history, but not particularly interesting from a bookbinding standpoint.

So I took it apart, cleaned and repaired the individual pages, organized the folios back into sections, and set to resewing the book. Here’s the start of that process:

And here it is further along, as I’m sewing the individual sections onto ‘tapes’ as part of the new structure:

As I did this, something caught my eye I hadn’t noticed previously: here and there was the world “cold”.

Now, people don’t usually go to the hospital for a “cold”. Particularly in the 1880s, when hospitals were usually places most people avoided. So I looked a little more closely, and saw that the entries were under the column for where in the hospital patients had been put:

Here’s the top of that page:

Why on Earth would you put someone into a “cold” ward? That didn’t make sense.

Then I noticed something else, further across the page. Here’s a pic of it from a blank page, so as not to inadvertently violate someone’s privacy:

What I thought was “cold” was actually “col’d”, the abbreviation used for “Colored.”

As I’ve said previously, about another historical artifact:

So I understand the importance of preserving the artifacts of that history. And so understanding, felt that it was my responsibility to use the skills I have acquired to that end, no matter how distasteful the task. It was my small tribute to all who resisted, who persevered, who fought.

I’m not equating the two.

But it is important that we not forget either history.

 

Jim Downey

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Three weeks in Wales, Part 10: Welsh Rover.

 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9.

Took this the next morning at breakfast in the Black Lion pub, just had to share it:

While we’d had exceptionally nice weather through most of our trip, the next day we woke to more low-hanging clouds, light rain, and mist. In other words, characteristically Welsh weather.

We next had an Air B&B up outside of Caernarfon. Charming place. Lots of character. Bit too much for my tastes, actually. Would have been fine if I were a grad student again, but I’ve now come to like more luxury when on vacation. Like a bed which isn’t a foot off the floor. A bathroom which isn’t down the hall, up some stairs, then down another hall. And a door which *doesn’t* lock from outside the room.  It made me … uncomfortable. At least the host was pleasant, though in a way which a murder mystery writer might describe. Yes, I have an over-active imagination, but still. We stayed the one night, but high-tailed it to a conventional holiday hotel elsewhere in the area the next day.

But before we went there, we took a trip south to pay homage to Number 6. Yup, we went to Portmeirion:

Even The Village needs maintenance work now and again.

Rover! Here boy!”

 

OK, this is hard to make out. But there in the middle of the image is a modern security camera. Given how Portmeirion was used as the setting for The Prisoner, with it’s all-encompassing monitoring, I just thought it a bit ironic to actually see this.

 

After a nice afternoon in Portmeirion we went up to Caernarfon and strolled around a bit. I was surprised at just how much the city shuts down at the end of the business day — they really roll up the sidewalks.

But there was still one pub going strong, at least: The Anglesey Arms.

Where we saw this. I thought the paint job would appeal to a number of my friends.

The next morning we decided to go out onto the Llŷn Peninsula, first going to Criccieth Castle.   Here’s the description of Criccieth from St Cybi’s Well — see if you think it fits with the image from Castle Wales below.

Darnell went across to the exit into the castle grounds proper. The path turned left, then right into a copse of trees. When he emerged from these, the massive gatehouse seemed to loom directly overhead. The path cut up the hill at an angle on the north side, climbing steeply, then switched back before coming around to the front of the gatehouse. There was little doubt that when the castle was in operation, taking this path would mean that any attackers would be under constant fire from arrows, bolts, and heavy stones coming from the walls and the outer gatehouse. Trying to go straight up the hillside would have been even worse, because while it was a shorter path, it was much more precarious footing, and still under direct fire from the outer gatehouse tower and curtain wall.

And of course, if you made it past the outer gatehouse, then you had to contend with the huge inner gatehouse, a massive structure of twin D-shaped towers sporting a delightful array of arrow loops and murder holes.

Do go and check out the castle itself: it’s damned impressive, even in its ruined state. And the lump of hill it sits on is a stunning site, with fantastic views of the town and country around:

From Criccieth, we did some exploring on the peninsula, then thought to go find a small church we had heard about from friends years before. This is St Beuno’s at Pistyll, on the north shore, and its so small that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry:

St Beuno’s is a 12th century structure, though it has seen some updates and repairs over time. Still, it’s largely intact, and feels like it both inside and out:

Note the rushes on the floor.

 

If you look carefully, you can see the holes in the rafters for where thatch was held in place. The slate roof is only about 100 years old.

I love these two pans of moss & stone in the window ledges, an old tradition related to Easter:

Moss pan in the window, 12th century stone font for holy water in the foreground.

Outside:

The narrow window is called a “Leper’s squint”, where those who were not permitted inside the church could witness mass.

And around:

Lovely.

Jim Downey



‘Watch the skies, everywhere!”

That’s from the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, one of the first (and defining) science fiction movies which set the stage for much of what was to come even to the present day.

It was also very much a product of the early Cold War era, reflecting the fear* of the USSR and atomic weaponry. This is typical — science fiction usually is a reflection of (or commentary on) the technology and social conditions of the era when it was created.

So, what to make of two news items which showed up this week?

Here’s the first:

First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

And here’s the second:

Welcome to the World, Drone-Killing Laser Cannon

Hang on to your drone. Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage.

The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars—there’s no flying beams of light, no “pew! pew!” sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down.

* * *

Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes. At the moment, it’s aimed primarily at driving drones away from sensitive areas.

 

I’m already seeing posts by friends on social media complaining about drones being operated by annoying neighbors, with discussion about what possible solutions there might be to deal with them (both by legal recourse and um, more informal approaches). There have been a number of news items already about people who have shot down drones, and there’s even a company advertising a specific kind of shotgun ammunition for just that.

“Watch the skies!”, indeed.

 

Jim Downey

*As good an explanation as any.



“You’re oversharing again, Earth.”

Seth Shostak, on the topic of how to introduce ourselves to our neighbors:

A better approach is to note that the nearest intelligent extraterrestrials are likely to be at least dozens of light-years away. Even assuming that active SETI provokes a reply, it won’t be breezy conversation. Simple back-and-forth exchanges would take decades. This suggests that we should abandon the “greeting card” format of previous signaling schemes, and offer the aliens Big Data.

For example, we could transmit the contents of the Internet. Such a large corpus — with its text, pictures, videos and sounds — would allow clever extraterrestrials to decipher much about our society, and even formulate questions that could be answered with the material in hand.

 

While I still agree with Stephen Hawking on the idea of ‘active SETI’, I think that there’s merit in the idea of exposing other nearby civilizations to what we’re really like, warts and all. Because as soon as they decoded our transmissions well enough to understand the comments section of pretty much any major site on the web, they’d either completely wall off our solar system* and post warnings around it or just trigger our sun to go supernova. Either way, we’d never know what happened, and the rest of the galaxy would be safe …

 

Jim Downey
*gee, that’d make an interesting premise for a SF novel, doncha think?



Because I was not the President.*

First they flew to watch for illegal immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an illegal immigrant.

Then they flew to look for marijuana farms, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a marijuana farmer.

Then they flew to watch the White House, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not the President.

Then … and then … and then …

 

Jim Downey

*With apologies.



Three shall be the number thou shalt count…*

Today’s the official Third Anniversary for the publication of Communion of Dreams, and in celebration, you can download the Kindle edition today for free! Who doesn’t like free? I mean, yeah, sure, if someone walks up to you and offers you a free punch in the nose, you might not like it, but other than that …

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I was honestly surprised when I looked and saw that the last blog entry was ten days ago. I haven’t been ill, or traveling, or anything. But after I recorded the essay for “This I Believe” I was feeling very … quiet. As I explained to a friend:

It may be hard to understand, and I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it (recording the essay) was actually a very hard thing for me to do. It wasn’t just any essay or promotional piece I’d written, not like doing interviews or anything. The essay was powerful because of the emotions behind it — I’m certain that’s why it has resonated for people. But that same source of power cuts very deep for me. Particularly after the stuff last month, it took a hell of a lot for me to come to terms with it all again, and to do so in such a public fashion.

You probably wouldn’t think so from reading this blog (or the book which came out of it), but I am actually a very private and introverted person by nature. My writing has always been a way for me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to force myself to be somewhat more public, more sharing. And it’s worked. Mostly. But there are still times when I just need to withdraw, to recover my energy and self-confidence. This last week+ has been one of those times.

Thanks for understanding. Now, go download that book if you haven’t already.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course.



“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”*

When you see news like this in the mainstream press…

Rogue Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Call

It seems rather far fetched at first glance. There is news that came out last week that rogue cell phone towers around the US are forcing mobile devices to disable their encryption making it possible that someone might be able to listen in to your call. “That could never happen to me,” you think out loud. But, apparently it could.

In 2010 at the DEF CON in Las Vegas, security researcher Chris Paget did the unthinkable. He built a cell tower of his own so that he could spoof legitimate towers and intercept calls.The device would mimic the type used by law enforcement agencies to intercept phone calls. In this case, he was able to build it for roughly $1500 US. Paget’s device would only capture 2G GSM phone calls. Carriers such as AT&TT -0.06% and T-Mobile would be vulnerable as they use GSM, unlike Verizon which relies on CDMA technology.

… it’s easy to feel a little paranoid. But is this a real threat? Has anyone actually seen things like this ‘in the wild’?

Yup:

Rogue ‘Cell Towers’ Can Intercept Your Data; At Least One Found In Chicago

So-called rogue cell phone towers, the type that can intercept your mobile calls and data, are cropping up all over the United States, including here in Chicago, according to a company that specializes in developing highly secure mobile phones.

* * *

CBS 2 security analyst Ross Rice, a former FBI agent, said it’s likely being used illegally.

“I doubt that they are installed by law enforcement as they require a warrant to intercept conversations or data and since the cell providers are ordered by the court to cooperate with the intercept, there really would be no need for this,” Rice said.

“Most likely, they are installed and operated by hackers, trying to steal personal identification and passwords.”

Great. Just great.

Well, what can you do? There are some smart phones out there which are designed to thwart this kind of security threat. And I’ve mentioned another option previously. And now there’s a company with a whole line of clothing based on similar RF-blocking technology:

Kickstarting a line of Orwell-inspired clothes with radio-shielding pockets

“The 1984 Collection” is a line of clothing for men and women with removable, snap-in pockets that act as radio-shields for slipping your devices and tokens (cards, phones, etc) into to stop them from being read when you’re not using them.

Hmm … let’s see, there’s a passage from Chapter One of St Cybi’s Well that comes to mind:

Darnell stepped close to her, said in a low voice, “Give me your hand-held.”

She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I don’t want to make it too easy for anyone to listen in.”

“Really, Dar, or is this some kind of joke?”

“Really.”

She looked him in the eye, pulled her phone out of her small purse, held it out to him. “Here.”

“Either turn it off or put it into offline mode.”

She fiddled with it a moment then handed it over. He took it and dropped it into the RF-blocking pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”

“Couldn’t I just have turned it off?”

“Nope. They can still turn it on remotely and activate the mic. This pocket,” he patted the satchel where he had put the phone, “blocks the signal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good protection.”

I guess I need to get back into the habit of using my RF-shielding pocket.

 

Jim Downey

*Philip K. Dick, of course.