Communion Of Dreams


Thoughts on this day.

I wrote this nine years ago, and posted it to this blog seven years ago. It seemed like a good time to repost it.

And as my birthday gift to everyone, Communion of Dreams is available for free download today. Please, spread the word to anyone who might enjoy it.

Jim Downey

 

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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.



One fourth.

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.

I remember the early days of the Space Race. I remember the night Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon.

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.

 

Jim Downey



Net worth.

“Here ya go!” said the salesman with almost sincere enthusiasm as he handed the key fob across the desk to me. “Your Googel AutoDrive Sedan is ready and waiting!”

“Thanks,” I said, with little desire to mask my exhaustion. I hated buying cars. I took the fob, stood up to go.

“Oh, one last thing …”

I cringed. Looked at him. He still had a gleam in his eye. Which I knew meant he hadn’t finished toying with me yet. “Yes?”

“In going through your profile, I noted that your credit score was … a tad low.” His smile widened just a bit.

“So? I financed it through MegaLoan. You got your money.”

“Well, yes,” he said. “But I wasn’t talking about the financing … ”

I waited to see where this was going. I was sure it wasn’t going to be someplace I liked.

He didn’t disappoint me. His smile broadened even more. “As you know, the AutoDrive system is programmed to consider every possible factor in road safety and benefit to society — in full accordance with all relevant laws.”

“Yes?”

“Well … how shall I put this … your low credit score means that in some situations, AutoDrive may elect to …” he paused to savor the effect “… maximize the benefits to society in the event of an accident.”

“Sorry?”

“Well, if the situation warrants, someone who has a better credit score … who provides a greater benefit to society, as shown by their assets and wealth creation … may be deemed less expendable than you are.”

“WHAT?!?!?!”

I had hoped my outrage would startle him. Instead, he licked his lips. “Now, now, not to worry. There’s an easy way to mitigate the chances of that happening.”

I sighed. “How much?”

“Well, we have a Net Worth insurance policy we offer which will indemnify society against loss of more valuable citizens, available on a sliding scale …”

 

 

Jim Downey



Well, however you get there, I suppose …

Via Topless Robot, this article/video from the New York Times:

Sex Dolls That Talk Back

Matt McMullen has proved that some people are willing to spend thousands on sex dolls.

* * *
Mr. McMullen’s new project, which he is calling Realbotix, is an attempt to animate the doll. He has assembled a small team that includes engineers who have worked for Hanson Robotics, a robotics lab that produces shockingly lifelike humanoid robots.

Mr. McMullen is first focusing on developing convincing artificial intelligence, and a robotic head that can blink and open and close its mouth. He’s also working to integrate other emerging technologies, like a mobile app that acts like a virtual assistant and companion, and virtual reality headsets that can be used separately or in tandem with the physical doll.

 

It’s accepted wisdom that many new technologies come into their own and are quickly disseminated through the public when a way can be found to use them for sex and/or the depictions of same. Printing. VHS tapes. DVDs. The internet. Smartphone Apps like Tinder or Grindr.

So why not artificial intelligence?

Which isn’t the way I saw the technology for an expert system/assistant like Seth developing, but hey, I suppose whatever works …

 

Jim Downey



Taking the long view.

This framed item has been on the wall of my bindery (at various locations) since I started work in 1992:

pledge

Here’s the same text, taken from the Services Offered page of my business website:

I am dedicated to preserving the legacy of books and documents that we have inherited.  To the best of my knowledge and ability I use techniques and materials that will last for generations.  Whenever possible, the materials are of archival quality:  acid-free and buffered papers & board, inert and reversible adhesives, unbleached linen thread, et cetera.  The techniques I use for binding and conservation work are likewise archivally oriented, non-damaging, and reversible in the event the book or document requires additional attention in the future.  All work is, of course, unconditionally guaranteed.

 

That last line sometimes surprises people. But it is extremely important, and has stood me in very good stead over the years I have been in business.  As I told a client by email this morning, concerning work on a recently-completed project (a 1910 D.A.R. charter on natural vellum which had been poorly framed and stored):

Well, I’ve done all that can be done, I think. The document is flat, the remaining wrinkling is where it was once wet and then dried in contact with the glass.

But as it says on my website: my work is unconditionally guaranteed. I want to wait until you have a chance to see the condition of the charter, and if you’re not satisfied with the work, just don’t send me payment (or if payment has already been sent, I’ll hold onto the check until you have the charter and can judge for yourself). Seriously, it is much more important to me that you be satisfied with the work than the few hours of labor I have invested in this project. I have always operated by this policy, and it has been by far the best thing for my customers and reputation.

 

You might think that people would take advantage of such a policy to try and screw me out of deserved payment. And maybe a couple have in my 23+ years of business. But I think the vast majority of people are honest and well-intentioned; if I think that a client isn’t trustworthy, I just don’t take the job. That has probably filtered out a few potential problems. And the others I chalk up to being a cost of doing business. Because when I tell a client that if they are not satisfied with the work, and I will either do what is necessary to make them satisfied or there’s no charge, they see that I’m not trying to cheat them in any way. And having that reputation as a craftsman is priceless.

Recently I was helping out a local NFP arts organization, by getting information together for some renovation work they need to have done. I met with several contractors, walked them through the facility so they could see the scope of the work, and then asked them to provide estimates for what needed to be done and at what cost, so that the NFP Board and Executive could seek funding.

With the first two contractors, things went exactly as expected. However, when the third contractor went through the facility, he saw something which caught his attention  and he started reconsidering the whole project (one of the other contractors had noticed the same thing and remarked on it, but didn’t investigate further). By the time we were done, he turned to me, shook his head and said something along the lines of: “I’m going to talk myself out of a job, but I think that the problem you’re having isn’t the one you think you’re having. I think you should get a qualified structural engineer in to do a formal check, but I don’t think you need me to do the work you asked me to bid on. That’s just a symptom of what is really going on, and it’d be cheaper and easier to correct the actual source of the trouble.”

This was a construction job which was going to run into the low five-digits, so it wasn’t just some little thing. For a small contractor, walking away from that sort of job isn’t done lightly. Particularly when it would have been very easy for him to just bid, do the work, and then figure the repairs would hold up long enough that nothing would come back to haunt him in the future.

That, my friends, is integrity.

I reached out my hand to the contractor, thanked him for his honesty, and told him that from now on if I knew of anyone who needed the kind of work done that he did, that I would have no hesitation in recommending him as honest and trustworthy.

That’s why I have the policy I do for my conservation work. And yeah, I am convinced that it is far and away the best possible policy I could have.

 

Jim Downey

 



Share it.

The folks at This I Believe have now put up the audio of me reading my essay “The Power to Forget“, as part of having it included in their weekly featured essay podcast, as I mentioned previously was in the works.

And I’d like to ask a favor: if you know of someone who might benefit from this essay, please share it with them.

No, not for any benefit to me. I’m not above self-promotion, but that isn’t why I ask for your help in this case. A decade ago when I wrote that essay, I had hoped that it might help others navigate through their own anger and loss. I thought that it had just disappeared into the foam of internet verbiage, until the people at This I Believe contacted me the beginning of this year. And now it feels somewhat like it has a second chance to do some good.

I don’t expect it to work miracles. Each of us who has suffered a loss — whether of a loved one, or our health, or our dreams, or an opportunity — have to deal with that loss in our own way. But it’s sometimes good to know what path others have taken, what worked for them.  So maybe my essay will help someone.

Thanks.

 

Jim Downey

 



So I wander into this nuclear reactor . . .

I had reason to look up this item the other day, and was surprised that I hadn’t ever posted it to the blog. So, in honor of St Pat’s Day (well, OK, not really, but there is a connection…), here’s a little something from my old archives from a few years ago.

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So I wander into this nuclear reactor . . .

This morning’s news that the NRC has declined to force nuclear power plants to take additional precautions to prevent the breach of a nuclear reactor’s core by attack with a jetliner comes as little surprise, given the Bush administration’s attitudes about actual security issues.

But, as always when I hear such news reports, I was taken back to a sunny spring morning some 30 years ago, when me and a couple of college buddies wandered into a nuclear reactor.

It was the weekend of St. Pats day, and we were at the University of Missouri – Rolla to party with a friend of ours who was an engineering student there.  I think it was Friday morning, and our friend had some classes he had to attend, so myself and my two friends decided to just explore the campus a bit (we all attended schools elsewhere).

I had considered Rolla for school myself a few years previously, when I had been thinking of going into physics (a dream derailed by poor higher-math skills).  So when we came across the research reactor building, I wanted to have a look.

We just wandered in.  No, seriously.  We just wandered into the building, through a couple of sets of doors, and soon found ourselves standing at a railing, looking down at the glowing blue core of the nuclear reactor.  In this day and age it is hard to imagine such a thing – and even at the time it seemed more than a little odd.

A few minutes after we came in, a nice fellow who fit the stereotype image of a science professor came over to us.  Short, grey, bearded, balding, wearing a white lab smock over his shirt and jeans.  He sort of looked us over, asked what we were up to . . . and then gave us an impromptu tour of the place (after tagging us with personal dosimeters).

It was fascinating, to me at least.  The reactor core at this facility sits at the bottom of a large swimming pool, about 20 feet down.  That provides all the necessary protection from the radiation generated from operation of the fission reactor (which doesn’t produce much power, and doesn’t use the sort of fuel used in nuclear weapons).  Herr Doktor explained all this to us non-scientists, and also explained the eerie blue glow coming off the reactor (which was then in operation).

It was a color like I’ve never seen before or since – a soft electric blue that was both intriguing and repulsive.  I knew what it was, having been interested in physics:  Cherenkov radiation, caused when the radioactive particles generated by the fission reactions are faster than the speed of light in the water.  But it’s the sort of thing that lasts in the memory, embedded there in a way not unlike a religious experience – hard to describe, or explain, or convince others of, yet extremely vivid for the one who experienced it.

Now, I’m not religious.  I’m an atheist, in fact.  I understand what that blue glow is – yet, whenever someone claims that they have had a religious experience, I can tie it to that same feeling I had on first seeing that other-worldly blue glow.

Well, anyway, I had to share that personal experience, and add a bit of perspective on the changes we’ve seen in terms of security over the last 30 years.

Jim Downey




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