Communion Of Dreams


A useful swarm.

Another interesting item about developing the technology to create a useful swarm of small robots:

Harvard Researchers Create a Nature-Inspired Robotic Swarm

Some scientists believe that the way to solve the flocking enigma is to replicate it. Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently developed a micro-scaled robotic technology that enables a controlled, flash mob–like assembly. In August, the team led by Harvard computer-science professors Radhika Nagpal and Fred Kavli demonstrated the ability of 1,000 robots to self-organize into user-selected shapes, such as a five-pointed starfish and the letter K.

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“Increasingly, we’re going to see large numbers of robots working together, whether it’s hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways,” Nagpal said in the press release. “Understanding how to design ‘good’ systems at that scale will be critical.”

One provocative concept is the possibility of building and infrastructure construction that is carried out by thousands of self-organizing modules. Although many technical hurdles remain, this notion is especially intriguing in the case of hazardous and other challenging settings. In the near term, we will likely witness simple, one-story pavilions built from a collection of mobile robotic bricks to create emergency relief shelters following natural disasters.

Hmm … seems I’ve heard about that idea before someplace. Oh, yeah, from Communion of Dreams:

They were, in essence, enclosing the entire planet in a greenhouse of glass fabric and golden plasteel. It was going to take generations to finish, even using mass microbots and fabricating the construction materials from the Martian sands. Tens of thousands of the specially programmed microbots, a few centimeters long and a couple wide, would swarm an area, a carpet of shifting, building insects. As each cell was finished, it was sealed, joined to the adjacent cells, and then the microbots would move on.

But it is pretty cool to see the work being done to bring that about.

 

Jim Downey



Mmm. Cobbler.

Among other things, my Good Lady Wife is the exec of the local chapter of the AIA. And last night they had their annual awards dinner.

Now, you might think that such an event would be formal and fancy. But that would be ‘big city’ thinking. This is where it happened:

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No, I’m not kidding. Here’s another pic:

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It’s the Claysville Store, just off the Katy Trail at mile 150 outside Hartsburg.

Here’s a nice little video about the place:

 

Here it is from the Trail:

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And here are a couple of images taken from the Trail while I was wandering around:

20131018_173235And:

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So, if you find yourself on the Trail, or in mid-Missouri sometime and are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, give them a look. Excellent, simple fare. Limited menu, and hours.

But man, the blackberry cobbler was delicious.

 

Jim Downey



Not brick by brick.

A number of friends and others have asked me how the writing is going on St. Cybi’s Well. It’s a natural question, but it’s a little hard to explain. Here’s the gist of what I have been telling people:

Using the Scrivener software, it really is a different process than what writing Communion of Dreams was like. It’s less linear. But it’s more balanced & comprehensive. Let’s put it this way – I have components now done in all 19 chapters of the book (plus the prelude). Some of it is just landscape descriptions, drawn from my previous travelogues. Some of it is character sketches. Or specific scenes. Or notes about something which needs to happen.  It’s different. It feels more productive. But it’s kinda hard to explain.

This morning, after I got up at 3:00 for physiological needs, as I was trying to get back to sleep I was thinking more about this (well, and thinking through some scenes for the book — I do a lot of that in the middle of the night), and I came up with a couple of analogies which may help non-writers understand what the different processes are like.

First is constructing a building. Writing Communion, the metaphor would be that I picked a nice location for my building, leveled the ground, poured a concrete pad of sufficient size, and then started building a brick wall on one corner, working my way around the entire pad brick by brick as I went, making determinations as to locations of doors and windows and whatnot according to a rough plan I had in my head.  Once the exterior wall was completed, I put a roof on it, then proceeded to do much the same process inside the building for interior walls and all that, using the mostly set exterior as a hard limit to what could be done internally.

With St. Cybi’s Well, the metaphor would be that I went to an architect/engineer, and did all the design and layout of the building in advance. Before a single footing was dug, or materials ordered, I knew pretty exactly how I wanted the entire thing to look. Then once all that was sorted, the actual construction was done entirely differently. Footings were dug, concrete poured. Then a steel framework was put in place for both the interior and exterior walls, and roof trusses positioned. Once this internal skeleton was finished, then I would start to put up sheathing material for the walls and roof, proceeding to finished surfaces.

See the difference? One feels almost organic, and makes sense to the outside observer from the very start. The other feels a little more arcane or artificial, and it isn’t obvious what the finished product will look like until well into the building process.

OK, let’s try another metaphor: art. Specifically, painting.

Some artists work in a way which seems natural and obvious. They pick a subject, usually do some rough sketches on their canvas to help get all the elements sorted out & proportioned. Then they’ll start to apply pigment according to their particular style or technique. Some of which may be a little hard to understand for a casual observer, but the basic process makes sense — you can see the different aspects emerging organically.

But there are artists who work in a completely different way. They have a concept in their head, and will proceed to do a series of fairly random strokes of paint. Each stroke is crucial, each one in the perfect place, but the end result isn’t clear to the observer until the final moments, when the last few elements are done and suddenly the artist’s vision breaks through. Like this:

 

Now, don’t try to over-think these analogies, or to take them too literally. They’re just intended to help illuminate some of the differences in process between this current novel, and the last one.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work on my building.

 

Jim Downey