Communion Of Dreams


Bits & pieces.

A number of unrelated items which I thought I’d share …

* * *

Astronomers Find Ancient Earth-Sized Planets in Our Galactic Backyard

Astronomers have announced what may be the most interesting exoplanet discovery yet made: five planets, all smaller than Earth, orbiting a very ancient star. And I do mean ancient: Its age is estimated to be more than 11 billion years old, far older than the Sun. These are old, old planets!

* * *

Perhaps you see the problem. If planets like Earth formed 11 billion years ago, and happened to form at the right distance for more clement conditions on the surface, life could have arisen long enough ago and started building spaceships long before the Earth even formed! They’d have planted their flags on every Earth-sized habitable planet in the Milky Way by now.

Where are they?

Oh! Oh! I know! Pick me!!

* * *

Thanks to all who helped spread the word about the 3rd anniversary promotion! It was a modest success, with a little shy of 200 books downloaded world-wide, including through the following Amazon portals:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Japan
  • Netherlands (for the first time!)
  • UK
  • US

* * *

Via BoingBoing, turn your iPhone into a thermal imaging camera in just seconds:

Yeah, I mentioned using this kind of imaging tech in the current novel some time back.

* * *

Speaking of tech predictions, this is the first step in the sort of thing I envisioned for the cyberware of Communion of Dreams:

Flexible spinal cord implants will let paralyzed people walk

* * *

I mentioned earlier that evidently the Wikipedia elves are trying to decide whether to nuke my entry there. It seems that they’re still debating it. As I noted on the BBTI Facebook page a few days ago, in response to comment by a friend that it seems weird that BBTI is little more than a footnote in that entry:

It’s a fair point. I certainly am known much better around the world for being the driving force behind BBTI than I am for a fun little art stunt which was intended to happen and then fade from memory. I know that BBTI has had a much bigger and more lasting impact in the real world.

So, whether or not an entry about me should exist at all, if one does exist, shouldn’t it be more about my part in BBTI rather than as a “internet performance artist”? Hell, even my work as a book & document conservator has had a much larger real impact than ‘Paint the Moon’ did.

Just a thought, if anyone wants to do some editing …

* * *

This doesn’t have anything to do with any of the books or anything I’ve predicted (that I can remember), but it is a pretty cool bit of astronomy:

Gigantic ring system around J1407b much larger, heavier than Saturn’s

Astronomers at the Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands, and the University of Rochester, USA, have discovered that the ring system that they see eclipse the very young Sun-like star J1407 is of enormous proportions, much larger and heavier than the ring system of Saturn. The ring system – the first of its kind to be found outside our solar system – was discovered in 2012 by a team led by Rochester’s Eric Mamajek.

 

* * *
And here’s a useful video for anyone out there who may need to remove some rust from old equipment:

I knew that this could be done with electrolysis, but I didn’t realize that it was actually quite so simple. I am definitely going to set up to do this on a number of old tools and suchlike.

* * *

A nice bit of space exploration history:

The Challenge of the Planets, Part Three: Gravity

 

* * *

And I think I will leave it at that for now.

 

Jim Downey

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Music of the spheres, music to my ears.

Overnight, this blog hit 100,000 visits. Rah. Go, me.

 

* * *

Remember the old notion of the ‘music of the spheres‘? It wasn’t really about actual music you could hear, but more a philosophical/mathematical concept about the relationships within different aspects of reality. I make some oblique references to it in Communion of Dreams, and it’s a safe bet that you’ll see some similar references in St. Cybi’s Well.

Anyway, here’s something kinda-sorta tangentially related, insofar as it is a musical interpretation of traveling through our solar system, using data collected from the two Voyager spacecraft:

The sound of space: Voyager provides music from solar system and beyond

It’s a surprisingly nice little duet.

 

* * *

Persistence, I realized, was not the end goal. It was the actual game.

I had all the chances in the world to quit this game. Any rational person probably would have. Poverty, unemployment, crazy relationships, chronic illness, an imploding publisher… I could have quit. I could have said, “Fuck this noise.”

But after raging around on the internet or drinking a bottle of wine or taking a long bike ride, I came back to the keyboard. Always. I always came back.

Most people don’t.

I don’t blame them.

An excerpt from a really excellent, really honest assessment of what it means to be a fiction writer in this day and age. The author, Kameron Hurley, also participates in a discussion of the essay/topic on MetaFilter.

She’s had more success than I have, but my own experiences and conclusions are not that different.

 

* * *

A friend of mine who does a couple of podcasts had some fun recording an ad for Communion of Dreams. You can download/listen to the MP3 of it here. And if you’re into firearms at all, you should check out his podcasts.

 

* * *

Overnight, this blog hit 100,000 visits. Rah. Go, me.

That sounds a little more cynical, a little more bitter than I mean it to. Though I have certainly gone through both cynicism and bitterness many times, and expect that I will again.

But not now. Now, I’m … weary. For a variety of very human reasons. Reasons we all share, now and again.

But in spite of the weariness, I push on. As I mentioned in a comment the other day, writing/promotion these days is more akin to guerrilla warfare than anything.

And speaking of which, remember: tomorrow through Sunday is my two-year anniversary promotion. The Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams will be free to download for all three days. Spread the word — be part of my little guerrilla force.

Thanks.

 

Jim Downey



Reflecting (on) reality.

Any work of literature is, to some extent, part of the society in which it was written, and needs to be understood within that context. Whether you’re talking The Bonfire of the Vanities or On the Beach or Life on the Mississippi  or just about any novel you care to name, it is, to some extent, a reflection on the culture surrounding it.

Writers react to the events around them. Even science fiction authors like yours truly. We really can’t avoid it.

I mentioned events in Boston the other day.  Just a blog post. But it is some measure of what has gotten my attention. So it would be safe to assume that to some degree it will show up in St. Cybi’s Well. And it will. But perhaps not exactly as you might think.

Almost five years ago I wrote this:

This is nothing more or less than the peace of the gun. This is the abrogation of civil liberties as a solution for incompetent governance. Of course people like it – let things get bad enough that they fear for their lives more than they value their liberties, and you can get people to do almost anything.

Now, I don’t think that what happened in Boston was anything like what led to that blog post about HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. in August of 2008. In that instance, it was chronic problems with crime rather than a couple of domestic terrorists which brought about de facto martial law.

And I think that the police agencies involved in determining who was responsible for the attacks, and then seeking the suspects in a major metropolitan area did a very professional job. Just compare it to another recent dragnet and you’ll see what I mean.

But I keep coming back to that earlier blog post. Why? Because seeing a major city shut down, and then para-military operations going house to house searching for a suspect, gives me pause. I certainly can’t fault the police for taking precautions intended to protect their own lives and the lives of citizens. SWAT equipment and tactics have been shown to be very effective.

Yet …

… I feel somewhat like the owner of a couple of highly trained and massive guard dogs, who has just watched those dogs chase off/control a threat. There’s a satisfaction in watching them do the task so well. But there’s also a nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, things could be bad if they ever decided that they no longer wanted to obey commands.

Nah – no need to worry. That has never happened before.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



“Both sides think they can win.”

From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

* * * * * * *

From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:

“Thanks, but I checked your file. You saw fighting during the Restoration. You can figure this stuff out.”

“Yeah, but those are old instincts. And what I learned was mostly just practical survival.”

“Worth its weight in gold.”

Jon smiled. “See you in the morning.”

* * * * * * *

Politically, I don’t fit into any neat little boxes. I tend to describe myself as “left-libertarian”, which is to say that I am generally left-of-center on a lot of social issues, but I also tend to think that the lives of people should be largely be their own to determine with minimal government or corporate intrusion.  Both government and business can be very great sources of good, but they can also both be great threats to the individual if unchecked, particularly if their power and interests are aligned.

What this means for me practically is that I tend to be in the center of the political spectrum, keeping a wary eye on everything. And since I like to stay informed, I tend to read more political blather than is probably good for my blood pressure. Combine that with my interests in firearms, and, well, let’s just say that I have seen an awful lot of extreme rhetoric on both sides of the current debate about gun control.

* * * * * * *

One of the interesting things about working on St. Cybi’s Well is that I have to keep in mind details of the larger story. Partly this means making sure the story of the current book meshes with the story of Communion of Dreams. But it also goes beyond that. It also means making sure that I set the stage for other books I might write someday.

One of those would be set during the “Restoration” — that period of time when a fractured, post-pandemic America is being again forged into a United States. As it says on the first page of Communion of Dreams:

The Commons had been borne of the fire-flu, with so few people left out in the great northern plains after it was finally all over that it was a relatively simple matter to just turn things back over to nature. Effectively, that happened a few short years after the flu swept around the globe. According to law, it was codified almost a decade later in the late Twenties, after the Restoration was complete and the country was once again whole — expanded, actually, to include what had been Canada, minus independent Quebec.

As part of this whole process, then, I’ve been thinking about what would lead to a splitting-up of the US. I’m not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say that the fire-flu is only part of the explanation.

* * * * * * *

When people argue about gun control, one of the things you can bet on is that at some point a variation on the following will happen: First, one side will say that the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to allow for citizens to resist governmental tyranny. Then the other side will laugh and point out that Joe Gun Nut isn’t going to resist tanks and jets with his AR15. In response, the pro-RKBA side will likely point out that in both Iraq and Afghanistan local fighters managed to do a pretty good job in resisting the might of US & Allied forces for years. Then the argument will dissolve into disagreements over logistics, not knowing the local culture, corrupt indigenous military units, et cetera.  Laced through all of that will be those who hope just such a thing would come to pass, to finally resolve the issue and ‘show the other side’.

In these arguments, however, I think everyone is using the wrong examples. What would happen here isn’t what’s happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, with a cohesive military facing insurgents. It’d be like what’s happened in Syria: civil insurrection growing into civil war, with defections and confusion on all sides. From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

Is Syria still too strange a place, too foreign, for you to map comparisons? Well, then how about Europe, just 20 years ago?

Careful what you wish for.

 

Jim Downey



Blimey.
June 26, 2012, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, Humor, RKBA, Society | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Cross posted from the BBTI blog, just to give you an idea of what my day has been like.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blimey. Just got the following email:

Someone directed me to this page from your site: http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/357mag.html

Now, I appreciate what you are doing, but how you are presenting it is not very helpful.

What a useless page that is. Hey, look, columns of unlabeled numbers! How exciting!

Is that velocity? Muzzle Energy? Momentum? Power factor? Drop over distance? What are the units?

It’s labeled at the top as “.357 Mag Results”. Why not “.357 Mag Muzzle Energy in ft-lbs”?

My response? This: “Sorry to disappoint you. We’ll be happy to completely refund your money.”

The guy wrote back, protesting that he meant it as “constructive criticism.” And then went on to protest that he *still* didn’t know what the data represented (in spite of the fact that it is listed on the Y-axis of every ammo graph and indicated elsewhere on the site).

Sigh. I wrote back the following:

From the homepage of the site, and also referred to in multiple locations elsewhere on the site: “Since we first launched BBTI three years ago, it has become a primary reference tool for firearms enthusiasts of all stripes and from around the globe. Our initial research data covered the relationship between barrel length and velocity for some 13 common handgun calibers/cartridges.”

But you’re absolutely correct, we didn’t spell out that the numbers were velocity in feet-per-second (the standard velocity measurement in the US). We’ll correct that to make it more explicit. The funny thing is that you are the very first person in 3.5 years to not understand that this was what was indicated. Probably because you came at it from someone else’s link direct to that one results page. At least that’s the most charitable conclusion I can come to.

And that, dear friends is why now each caliber/cartridge page now says .22 Results in fps. (or whatever the caliber/cartridge is). Never let it be said that we won’t go the e x t r a inch for the dimwitted and deliberately dense.

People really will always find something to bitch about, won’t they? Even if it is free & unencumbered research data that they can’t get elsewhere.

Blimey.

Jim Downey



Am I a prima donna?

There’s a reason I’m self-employed.

It’s because while I can work fine with others, by and large I prefer to do things my own way, on my own schedule. This comes with trade-offs, of course, and it doesn’t mean that I can completely eliminate the need to conform to societal or even corporate rules. But I can minimize that crap and get on with my life.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing for the last year or so has been writing for Guns.com. For the most part I’ve just picked a topic, ran the idea past my editors, and then produced a piece of writing within the appropriate word-count range. Usually the changes they made to my writing were minimal, and everyone was happy. It didn’t generate a lot of money (free-lance writing in this day and age doesn’t), but during some of the lean times it was money which came in very handy.

Well, Guns.com has seen a remarkable growth in the time I’ve been writing for them (I got started with them very early on), and they’re now one of the biggest firearms-related sites out there. They’ve been very aggressive in gathering together a lot of talented people, and seeing that they have kept their content fresh & interesting. It’s been a lot of fun for me to be a part of that. It’s also taught me a lot (doing the necessary research to write a review or article is always a good education), and it has allowed me to keep my writing skills sharp.

Well, the other day I mentioned that I was making some changes in my usual routine, because of limitations of time and energy. And I’m giving serious consideration to making another such change – curtailing or even stopping altogether how much writing I do for Guns.com.

Now, partly this is just due to the natural pacing of things. I had set out to do reviews of most of the firearms we’ve tested for BBTI, and I have now submitted reviews for all those which Guns.com had not previously covered – there still some 30 or 40 such reviews pending publication (they like to spread them out). I also did a bunch of other reviews of guns which I had a chance to try recently which are a little more unusual than what most people ever try, and that was fun.

But there’s another factor here. With the substantial growth of the site, as well as the expansion of the number of contributing writers, Guns.com had to come up with some formal style guides for people to use. This is a common thing for any large site, and it is a mark of their professionalism that they put together a very good style manual more than 30 pages in length, complete with links of a lot of example articles. I was flattered to see that quite a few of those articles were ones I had written.

I find, however, that it presents a certain quandary for me: having to write to certain style rules.

That’s not my writing . . . style. I like to play around. Innovate. Feel my way through an idea, a topic, a story. If you’ve read my novel, or even this blog, you’ll have a pretty good sense of what I mean. While I am perfectly capable of writing within conventional rules, I’m much more interested in playing with the expectations of the reader a bit, challenging them by subverting those rules now and then.

In short, I don’t want the rules to apply to me.

In other words, I’m a prima donna.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. I like the guys at Guns.com, and I respect what they have accomplished. But I’m not interested in doing cookie-cutter writing – leastwise, not as a regular course of affairs. And besides, if I take the hour or two I spend on each article/review I write for them, and put it towards another novel, well I think that might be a better use of my time & energy. Particularly so, given the response so far to Communion of Dreams.

Speaking of which, remember that the Kindle edition is free today!

Jim Downey



Season of persuasion.

Over the last week or so, I’ve tried to write this piece about a dozen times, only to give up and delete what I had come up with. I’m not sure whether this one will work or not.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s easy for whatever I say to only be seen as bitterness. And while I am a bit bitter, that’s not the reason for my writing.

* * * * * * *

Timing is everything.

The best ice cream in the world won’t sell worth a damn in the middle of a blizzard.

And so it is with writing.

I’ve been very frustrated with our inability to sell Her Final Year. I don’t think we’ve broken 30 sales yet. It’s depressing enough that I don’t even bother to check the sales figures these days. And it seems that nothing we do makes the slightest difference.

I thought that the timing for the book would be perfect. There’s been a slew of studies and warnings about the impending crunch of an aging population, and how that will require more care-givers. Organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association have been working hard to build awareness, create support mechanisms for care-providers and their charges.

But people don’t want to think about such things. The news of the day is depressing enough as it is, with little prospect for getting better anytime soon.

* * * * * * *

And it isn’t just that. I’ve noticed that increasingly, people are not in a mood for conversation. They’re in a mood for argument. Or just shouting at one another.

I was relieved a couple of years ago when Brent decided to shut down Unscrewing the Inscrutable. Because I had gotten tired of having the same old arguments time and again, frequently with the same people. No one was willing to change their mind, they just wanted to rehash the same words, endlessly.

The same was true of making a pro-2nd Amendment argument on the political blog Daily Kos. For years, I had been engaged, and it seemed to make a real difference – people would change their minds when presented with a cogent position, supported by facts and logic. But then earlier this year, the mood changed. And even trying to hold those conversations became pointless – no one would ever change their mind, no matter what.

I’ve seen the same thing happen in other venues, as well. My writing for Guns.com is generally well received, but anything which is even the slightest challenge to the conventional wisdom or political alignment of the bulk of the readers tends to get less attention and support. If I write something which is ‘preaching to the choir’, people go nuts and love it.

* * * * * * *

And it isn’t just me, either. Others have noticed the same thing, though I’m not sure anyone has phrased it in quite the same terms.

I don’t think people want to be challenged at all. They want to hear familiar, soothing tones. They want to be told that they are right, and that the “other side” is wrong. They want to be certain that only they are being reasonable and open minded.

Now, this is usually the case to a greater or lesser extent. People always want to have their prejudices and biases affirmed. That is a human trait – one we all share, whether or not we like it or are willing to admit it.

But it has become even more strident of late. Politics in this country has been polarized for a while, and the rhetoric from all sides has been dire building to extreme. I get the sense that a kind of madness is developing, a mindless tribalism that shunts off all contrary data in favor of those things which serve the tribal identity.

Things change. I think the time to rend is coming.

Certainly, the season of persuasion is ending.

Jim Downey