Communion Of Dreams


Easy to predict.

In Communion of Dreams, I have “experts” who are A.I. assistants. As I describe them in that book when I introduce one as the character ‘Seth’:

His expert was one of the best, one of only a few hundred based on the new semifluid CPU technology that surpassed the best thin-film computers made by the Israelis. But it was a quirky technology, just a few years old, subject to problems that conventional computers didn’t have, and still not entirely understood. Even less settled was whether experts based on this technology could finally be considered to be true AI. The superconducting gel that was the basis of the semifluid CPU was more alive than not, and the computer was largely self-determining once the projected energy matrix surrounding the gel was initiated by another computer. Building on the initial subsistence program, the computer would learn how to refine and control the matrix to improve its own ‘thinking’. The thin-film computers had long since passed the Turing test, and these semifluid systems seemed to be almost human. But did that constitute sentience? Jon considered it to be a moot point, of interest only to philosophers and ethicists.

In the world of 2052, when Communion is set, these “experts” are ubiquitous and extremely helpful. Seth is an “S-series”, the latest tech, and all S-series models have names which start with S. I figured that naming convention would be a nice way to track the development of such expert-systems technology, and in the course of the book you see earlier models which have appropriate names.

So when the time came to write St Cybi’s Well, I figured that I would introduce the first such model, named Andi. Here’s the first bit of dialog with Andi:

“Hi, I’m Andi, your assistant application. How can I help you?”

“Andi, check local restaurant reviews for Conwy and find the best ranked Fish & Chips place.”

“You’re not in Conwy. You’re in Holywell. Would you rather that I check restaurants where you are?”

“No, I’m not hungry yet. But I will be when I get to Conwy.”

“Very good. Shall I read off the names?”

“Not now. It can wait until I am closer.”

“Very good. Shall I track your movement and alert you?”

“No.”

“Very good. May I help you with something else?”

“Not right now.” Darnell shut off the app, then the phone, and dropped it back into his pocket. The walk back to his car was uneventful.

Now, I wrote this bit almost eight years ago, long before “Siri” or “Alexa” were announced. But it was predictable that such technology would soon be introduced, and I was amused as all get-out when Amazon decided to name their first assistant as “Alexa”.

Anyway, I also figured that since the technology would be new, and unsophisticated, that Andi would be slightly annoying to use. Because it would default to repetitions of scripts, be easy to confuse, et cetera, similar to encountering a ‘bot on a phone call. And you can judge for yourself, but I think I succeeded in the book — the readers of early chapters thought so, and commented on it.

So this article in the morning Washington Post made me chuckle:

Alexa, just shut up: We’ve been isolated for months, and now we hate our home assistants

“I’m not a bad person,” Angela Hatem said. “I’m so nice to people.” But Alexa, the voice of Amazon’s home devices, isn’t a person, despite how hard “she” tries to emulate one. And coronavirus/self-quarantine/2020 has Hatem feeling a bit stressed out.

“I say things to Alexa that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy, if I had one. And I don’t know why. She makes me crazy. … I curse at her. I call her names. I’m very, very mean to her,” said Hatem, who lives in Indianapolis with her 1-year-old son. “There’s really few things I can vent at or vent to, and I’m making Alexa my virtual punching bag.”

 

Heh. Nailed another prediction.

* * *

It’s the first of the month. That means that both novels and our care-giving memoir are available for free download, as they are the first of each month. If you haven’t already, please help yourself and tell your friends.

Jim Downey

 

 



Scotland 2018: 2) Edinburgh lows.

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Friday, May 4.

After breakfast in the hotel (at which I confirmed that I didn’t care for black pudding), we caught a taxi back to the train station. Much like the two-hour ride from Manchester to York, it was a pleasant way to see the countryside.

Except for the boyos.

Yeah, there was a group of young 20-ish guys going to Edinburgh for some kind of sporting event/party, in their own little world of drink and unlikely anecdotes accompanied by a boombox and various videos they kept sharing on their phones. It was mostly amusing, until they had enough to drink to start singing along with the music, without benefit of much skill.

We relocated to the other end of the car for the rest of the trip. It was a good decision, even though the conductor came through to check tickets and told the guys to knock it off.

We got to Waverley Station, then hiked the mile or so north to our B&B. Met our host, dropped off our bags, and then decided to go for a bit of a walk. He had recommended one of the sites we had on Martha’s Marvelous Map: The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which was just a quarter-mile or so away. It was great!

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Mr Blackbird’s successful photobomb.

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20180504_160801We finished at the Garden with a bite in the cafe, then went out to stroll along the Water of Leith, down toward Dean Village. It was a completely charming walk, and a good way to see a quiet part of the city. Here’s a bit of it.

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We ended the day with dinner at The Bailie Bar, just around the corner (and down a bit) from our B&B. Since it was a Friday night, it was noisy, crowded, and a little nuts, but the hostess found us a table and took care of us. The food & drink was excellent and the whole thing was enjoyable … for a while, at least. We left before my tolerance for crowds left me.

 

Saturday, May 5.

After breakfast, we got our bags ready to travel, but then went out to explore Dean Village a bit, we enjoyed the walk along the Water of Leith so much the day before. I enjoy finding these quiet parts of old cities:

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We got back to the B&B in time to meet our scheduled ride out to the airport, where we picked up our rental car. From there we drove west on the M9 to Falkirk.

Falkirk? Why Falkirk? The Wikipedia entry about the little town seems … kinda boring, to be honest.

Which is why we didn’t go to the town. No, we went to the Falkirk Wheel, just outside of it. This place:

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Yeah, I know, it looks weird. Like a couple of giant talons, or a birds head or something. But it does something revolutionary, and I have been intrigued by it since I first heard about the proposed project a couple of decades ago: it lifts boats (specifically, narrow-boats, for the UK canal system) some 24 meters (about 80 feet) from one canal system to another. Woo-hoo!

Yeah, OK, I have a thing for big weird engineering projects.

Speaking of which, there’s another such big weird engineering project there above the Falkirk Wheel, albeit one almost a couple thousand years older: a section of the Antonine Wall, and Rough Castle, both part of the Roman fortifications of the north. Well, even though we only had a vague idea of where the Wall/Fort were, and how far, we decided to take a hike and see what we could see.

It was a good decision:

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Trust me, this is impressive.

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And so is this.

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Even the sign says it’s impressive. Really!

But we browsed and walked around long enough, so decided to get back to the car and drive to Stirling, where our B&B awaited. We got there with little trouble, found the B&B, and settled in a bit. Then we decided to walk into town and get a bite to eat. Since our B&B was just below the castle, we got to see some great sights along the way:

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The “King’s Knot

We had a nice dinner, tried some of the local ales and scotches, and then walked back to the B&B for a good night’s rest.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 

 



No escape from reality.*

For fun, and to make someone’s year a little better, I recently rebound a friend’s SF novel, converting the paperback edition into a hardcover binding.

With my bookbinding skills it’s a fairly simple and straightforward process, but not a cost-effective one (so don’t ask me to rebind your favorite paperbacks). The result is usually very satisfactory and striking, and makes for a nice little present when I am in the mood to do something different from my usual conservation work.

Anyway, I made this book and mailed it to my friend where she works. She opened it and shared it with her co-workers, who thought it was “pretty darn cool.”

Which, you know, is cool and all. But consider: making that book, that physical object, took me maybe an hour and a half actual labor time. But I’m sure that it took my friend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of labor to write that book. To conceptualize it. To make notes. To research. To stare at the blank computer screen in abject terror. To write the first draft. To edit.  To stare at the words there in horror and disgust at how horrible her writing was (I assume this happened anyway, since almost every serious writer I’ve known goes through this multiple times with any book). To write the second draft. And then the third, after getting feedback from friends and editors. Et cetera, et cetera.

But what her co-workers thought was “pretty darn cool” was a simple physical object.

Now, I’m sure that if you asked them, her co-workers would say that her book — the written words — was also pretty darn cool. And maybe some of them have even read it.** Still, the fact remains that for most people written work is mostly an abstraction, one which takes real effort and time to understand and enjoy. Whereas a tangible artifact like an artisanal hardcover book can be handled and appreciated as reality.

People are funny, aren’t we?

 

Jim Downey

*Naturally.

**A confession: I haven’t yet myself, since I am still in the middle of doing battle with St Cybi’s Well, and I just can’t read long fiction when I am trying to write it, since it just messes up my own writing. But you can bet I will when I finally finish this book.



All alone in the dark of night?

Perhaps:

Earth could be unique among 700 quintillion planets in the Universe, study finds

So much of humanity’s astronomical research is based around the notion of finding something like us out there – whether that’s looking for environments that could sustain life, ranking planets in terms of their potential habitability, or comparing distant worlds to our own.

But what if – statistically speaking – the odds are stacked against us finding another planet even remotely like Earth? That’s the thinking behind a new study by an international team of researchers, which has taken what we know about the exoplanets that lie outside our Solar System and fed the data into a computer model.

Their resulting calculations, designed to simulate how galaxies and planets have formed over some 13.8 billion years, produces a “cosmic inventory” of terrestrial planets – and one in which Earth very much looks to be unique.

 

Perhaps not:

Jon nodded. “Thanks. So what’s the meeting about? What happened?”

“Dr. Jakobs tried to contact you this morning. After hearing her message, I bounced it up to Director Magurshak. They found something on Titan. An artifact.” Seth paused, looked down at his hands, “a nonhuman artifact.”

Jon sat there for a moment, trying to digest what Seth said. According to what pretty much everyone thought, it wasn’t possible. SETI, OSETI, META and BETA had pretty much settled that question for most scientists decades ago, and twenty years of settlement efforts throughout the solar system hadn’t changed anyone’s mind. Even with the Advanced Survey Array out at Titan Prime searching nearby systems for good settlement prospects, there had never been an indication that there was an intelligent, technologically advanced race anywhere within earshot. Seth knew Jon well, didn’t let the silence wait. He looked back up, eyes level and unblinking, “It isn’t a hoax. The artifact is definitely nonhuman, or at least non-contemporary human. Mr. Sidwell found it out near his base. Dr. Bradsen will have as much a report on it as is available, which isn’t much.”

 

Jim Downey



The shape of things to come.

From Chapter 3 of Communion of Dreams:

Apparent Gravity was the third major application of the theories set forth in Hawking’s Conundrum, the great opus of Stephen Hawking which was not published until after his death in the earlier part of the century. He hadn’t released the work because evidently even he couldn’t really believe that it made any sense. It was, essentially, both too simple and too complex. And since he had died just shortly before the Fire-flu, with the chaos that brought, there had been a lag in his theory being fully understood and starting to be applied.

But it did account for all the established data, including much of the stuff that seemed valid but didn’t fit inside the previous paradigms. Using his theories, scientists and engineers learned that the structure of space itself could be manipulated. The first major application led to practical, safe, and efficient fusion power. Rather than forcing high-energy particles together, the forces keeping them apart were just removed. Or, more accurately, the manifestation of space between them was inverted. It took very little energy, was easy to control, but only worked in a very localized fashion

Then there’s this excellent non-technical explanation of a new theory of Shape Dynamics. An excerpt or two:

Their latest offering is something called “shape dynamics.” (If you’ve never heard of shape dynamics, that’s OK—neither have most physicists.) It could, of course, be a dead end, as most bold new ideas in physics are. Or it could be the next great revolution in our conception of the cosmos. Its supporters describe it as a new way of looking at gravity, although it could end up being quite a bit more than that. It appears to give a radical new picture of space and time—and of black holes in particular. It could even alter our view of what’s “real” in the universe.

* * *

In most situations, shape dynamics predicts what Einstein’s theory predicts. “For the vast majority of physical situations, the theories are equivalent,” Gryb says. In other words, the two frameworks are almost identical—but not quite.

Imagine dividing space-time up into billions upon billions of little patches. Within each patch, shape dynamics and general relativity tell the same story, Gryb says. But glue them all together, and a new kind of structure can emerge. For a concrete example of how this can happen, think of pulling together the two ends of a long, narrow strip of paper: Do it the usual way, and you get a loop; do it with a twist and you get a Möbius strip. “If you glue all the regions together to form a kind of global picture of space and time, then that global picture might actually be different.” So while shape dynamics may recreate Einstein’s theory on a small scale, the big-picture view of space and time may be novel.

Another prediction come true?

Not really — there were intimations of this theory when I was working on CoD, and it is a *very* long way from being accepted as valid, as the Nova article discusses.

But still …

 

Jim Downey

PS: new review of Communion of Dreams was put up yesterday. Check it out.

 



Well, that’s an interesting take on the book.

New review up at Amazon:

3.0 out of 5 starsNew Age Sci-Fi, October 15, 2015
This review is from: Communion of Dreams (Kindle Edition)
I borrowed this book from the Prime lending library as I was in the mood for a good old sci-fi first contact story and the books description lead me to believe that’s what it was. The first part of the book was exactly that. But then it shifted and did become more of a spiritual, new age-y, story about aura’s, healing hands, meditative states, etc. that just happened to take place on Titan. That’s not a bad thing, but it just wasn’t what I was in the mood to read at the moment. I should have suspected as much as the cover art and title depict nothing alien/space related, my bad. The story was interesting and kept my attention, the writing was good, the ideas presented interesting. But heads-up, if you’re in the mood for aliens, this might not be the book to read.

Well, I can’t really disagree, but … huh.

And there’s also a new review of Her Final Year you might enjoy.

Have thoughts about either one? Comment here, there, or maybe even write your own review!

 

Jim Downey



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



Living in the future.

Via Lawyers, Guns & Money, this passage from an article about current naval warship technology:

The biggest reason to build big ships may be the promise of electricity generation. The most interesting innovations in naval technology involve sensors, unmanned technology, lasers, and railguns, most of which are power intensive. Larger ships can generate more power, increasing not only their lethality (rail guns, sensors) but also their survivability (anti-missile lasers, defensive sensor technologies, close-defense systems).

Unmanned technology. Lasers. Railguns.

Tell me that ain’t living in a science fiction future.

And speaking of the future, tomorrow is the first of the month. And that means the Kindle edition of both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year will be available for free download. Help yourself!

 

Jim Downey



Why you should always take “reviews” with a decent serving of salt.
July 9, 2015, 7:24 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Feedback | Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s a great example of why you may want to:

on July 8, 2015
OK

That’s the complete review. Which would be fine, since if someone thinks the book isn’t that great,  perhaps that’s all they would feel like saying.

But I was curious about her other rankings, so went to check. You can too. Just click the name. And you’ll see that yesterday Dianna reviewed and rated 74 different items on Amazon. All except one were given three stars. And all were reviewed with just “OK”.

I don’t mind negative reviews. I don’t mind “meh” reviews. Both provide valuable feedback. But ones like this are hard to take seriously.

 

Jim Downey



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.