Communion Of Dreams


Three weeks in Wales, Part 3: Under ancient skies.

Part 1. Part 2.

After a very nice breakfast at our B&B in Kidwelly, we decided to hit a couple of our favorite places as we worked our way north to Dolgellau, where we had a cottage for the next week.

First was the National Botanic Garden of Wales, home of the Great Glasshouse, where you can find the most amazing collection of Mediterranean plants from around the world:

We also checked out the butterfly house, the walled gardens, and the broadwalk water feature. We even visited with the guardian dragon:

From the Garden, we decided to backtrack a bit east, to one of my favorite Welsh castles, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons: Carreg Cennen.

I love the views of the surrounding countryside from the castle:

And of course, the interior of the castle ruins is also about as atmospheric as you could ask for:

From there we headed to Pembrokeshire, and one of the most iconic neolithic sites in Wales: Pentre Ifan. Here’s a brief passage from St Cybi’s Well describing the roads leading to this amazing site:

This was widely considered the most important megalithic site in the entire country, yet all it got was this simple sign on a country road smaller than just about any subdivision road in the US. It was frustrating, yet somehow also endearing, because it showed just how much the Welsh assumed that locals would know about the area … and how little interest outsiders would take.

And here’s the passage describing what the protagonist sees when he arrives there:

Darnell came to the ‘parking area’: an extra strip of asphalt, with room to park perhaps half a dozen cars along the road. There was a simple gravel path, a wooden gate, and a very small metal sign from CADW that said “Pentre Ifan.” Darnell pulled over and parked. His was the only vehicle there.

He got out of the car, slung his bag over his shoulder, plopped his hat on his head. The slight mist wasn’t heavy enough to require digging out either umbrella or rain gear.

Stepping onto the path at the gate, he realized that it wasn’t a gravel path, but was instead made of crushed stone. Crushed … bluestone, from the looks of it, when he squatted down to get a better look.

He continued on. Alongside the path was a tumble-down wall separating fields, partially overgrown with hedge and briar. He went past cattle in the field, grazing and occasionally lowing to one another, who took little interest in him as he walked along. Through another kissing gate, and almost suddenly he was standing there before the structure, bare to the sky. One great slab of stone several meters long and a couple wide, supported by three menhir, high enough that he would have to stretch a bit to touch the underside of the capstone. There were a couple of additional uprights at the south end, and several largish stones which had tumbled over. He just stood there for a moment, taking it all in.

Standing there, it is easy to imagine yourself looking over the landscape at any point in the last thousand … two thousand … five thousand years. Because Pentre Ifan is estimated to date back to approximately 3,500 — 3,000 B.C.

Which is the same time period for the initial construction of Stonehenge.

And speaking of Stonehenge … another brief excerpt from SCW, between the protagonist Darnell and Eleazar, a somewhat mysterious old wanderer he has crossed paths with several times, and who he meets at Pentre Ifan:

Eleazar considered Darnell, then stepped around to the side of the dolmen, gesturing for Darnell to follow him. He pointed off to the southwest. “About a mile that way.”

“That’s where the portal leads?”

“No, that’s not where the portal leads. But it is where it came from. It’s where the first circle of stones at Stonehenge came from, as well.” He nodded at the phone still in Darnell’s hand, which was now by his side. “Does that have a map on it? Of this area?”

“Yes.” Darnell raised the phone, tapped the screen a couple of times, then cursed. “Damn. Sorry, no signal.”Eleazar smiled slightly. “Not to worry. When you get away from here, just look up Craig Rhosyfelin, right in the bend of the Afon Brynberian. It’s easy enough to find.”

“Huw at Pistyll Rhaeadr mentioned that place. What is it?”

“In some ways, it is the source. Just as there is a source for a stream which becomes a great river. The source cannot do the things that the river can do, and it cannot be used for good or ill in the same way that a river may be used for good or ill. But it is worthwhile – critical, in fact – to know the source, to know where to begin.”

Craig Rhosyfelin is indeed now known to be the actual source of at least some of the inner bluestones at Stonehenge, something which has only recently been scientifically established. Here’s the description of Darnell driving to the site, and then examining it:

The small back roads from Pentre Ifan to Craig Rhosyfelin were, though it was difficult to believe, even worse than what had brought him to the dolmen. They were little more than cart paths in a slight depression between hedge rows. But it was a pleasant, pretty area, and as he came out of the trees from the west, heading down the long gentle hillside, everything seemed to open up. He was just to the north of the main Preseli Hills. The light mist which had been coming down earlier threatened to turn into real rain, and the local radar had shown heavier storms moving in.

Eleazar had been correct; Craig Rhosyfelin was easy to find on the map, and wasn’t at all far. Furthermore, the site had recently been in the news as having been identified as a source of the inner Stonehenge stones, the oldest part of the structure. He followed the directions Andi gave, and after making a sharp right bend he saw it there in front of him: a lump of rock poking up above the narrow little valley floor. Thirty meters ahead there was a hairpin turn of a switchback, and just at the point of the turn was a small area where he could pull off and park the car. He did so. There was no signage, no formal public access path down to the exposed crag. But he pulled off the road, and got out of the car. He walked over to the fence. It was simple cattle mesh with a strand of barbed wire on top, supported by rough wooden posts. Allowing access over the fence was a small, new-ish ladder that went up one side and then down the other. The sort of thing you’d see countless examples of in the Welsh countryside.

He went back to the car, grabbed his shoulder bag. Then glancing up at the sky, decided that taking an umbrella would suffice for the current amount of rain. Opening it, he went to the fence, then over the ladder to the other side. The way down to the little valley floor was clear. He descended.

Standing there, before the lump of rock, it was easy to see why others might have picked this as a possible source for the Stonehenge bluestones. The whole base of the outcrop was exposed stone, in fractured slabs two to three meters in height. Above that was more such rock partially obscured by gorse and other vegetation. Here and there were suitable stones already about the size and shape of the bluestones of the inner circle of Stonehenge, ready to be split off and carted away.

Though there was still evidence of recent archeological digs, there was nothing fresh, and no one in sight. Darnell went down the length of the outcrop to the left, figuring that he would just walk around the whole 60 or 70 meters of the crag to take the entire thing in. He got down to the point of the outcrop and turned back up the valley on the other side.

Compare that to the images we took on this trip:

I think I did a pretty good job describing the site. Especially considering that I’d never actually been there previously.

OK, this is a weird thing. Prior to this trip, I would have sworn that I had actually been to the site before. When we got there, I knew where to park, where to go, what to expect. There were some changes from my memory, with a new gate entrance, etc, but you might expect that with a few years between visits.

But my wife swears that we’ve never been there before. And had I gone, I would have done so with her. In checking back over my previous travelogs, there’s no mention of Craig Rhosyfelin. My memories are nonetheless vivid of seeing the place.

The only conclusion I can draw is that I spent so much time going over the site on Google Streetview and Google Earth, in looking at images of it online, that I manufactured false memories of having visited it in person. It is a very strange feeling to have both the memories and the knowledge that they are not real. Very strange.

After visiting this magical place, we went north, to the cottage where we’d stay for the next week, in the hills above Dolgellau, just behind Cader Idris. Here it is:

More later.

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.



Pop-up phantasmagoria*.

This is completely delightful:

 

Lots of news from the world of my life. Most of it good. I’ll share in a few days.

 

Jim Downey

*Reference



Excerpt.

It’s been a couple of months. Let’s have a bit from the current chapter I’m working on.

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

It was full dark before he passed through Llangynog again, and headed up the Tanat valley. It was just past the first quarter Moon, and the sky was clear and brilliant. One of the things he always loved about visiting Wales was that the light pollution was minimal and he could see the stars almost as well as when he was on a shuttle run. About halfway up the valley to Pennant Melangell he stopped the Rover, shut it off and got out.

He stood there, leaning back against the cold metal and glass, and looked up, letting his eyes adjust. Slowly, more stars emerged, and he was able to trace the passage of several satellites in low orbit. There were plenty that he couldn’t see from the ground, ‘darks’ which were in the service of different intelligence agencies and military forces, but he knew they were there, watching, listening, perhaps even waiting to hunt on command.

And it struck him just how much this echoed something Megan had told him less than three weeks previously: “Look at it with new eyes,” she had said. “Try and see it as the believers see it.”

Was this the same thing?

He could pull out his hand-held, call up the appropriate app, and hold the camera pointed at the sky, and it would show him the satellites his eyes couldn’t see. But to do so would necessarily block his direct vision, his direct experience of the real sky above.

He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jacket to protect them from the cold, and relaxed a little as he leaned against the vehicle. For now, he’d just take in the whole of the now-visible Milky Way as it arced high above.

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

This image will give you an idea of how dark the skies can be in Mid-Wales:

Wales Dark Skies photo WalesLightPollutionMap.jpg

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.



Except Seth is named “Tim.”

Interesting post on LinkedIn which may sound familiar:

Here’s how Native works: every time I need to do anything related to travel, I just ask Tim to handle it. Tim lives inside Native and while he appears to be a human, I’m not 100% sure he is. For all I know he may be a bot, artificial intelligence, or any number of people working behind the scenes under the persona of the fresh-faced Tim. To be honest, I don’t much care. Every time I need him he’s there, ready to assist me.

For example, I recently had to book a gnarly itinerary in and out of two countries using various airline loyalty points. Normally, booking this sort of trip would have taken me hours of comparing prices, flight times, connection difficulty, and frequent flyer point requirements. Instead, I just opened the app and told Tim what I needed in plain English — like sending a text message. Then, I went about my day and an hour later I received a notification from Tim telling me he found the best two options. Would I like itinerary A or itinerary B? I picked one and he booked the flight. Done!

I didn’t have to use any dropdown menus, sift through hundreds of options, or spend half an hour attempting to pay for my ticket only to learn that the price I wanted was suddenly not available. Nope! I left it up to Tim to handle everything.

Perhaps this will help jiggle your memory a bit:

“What do you want, Seth?”

“Sorry to bother you, Jon, but you’ll need to come back immediately. Business. I’ve made the arrangements. Transport waiting for you in town, take you to Denver. Then commercial flight home.” Audio only. That meant a lot. Tighter beam, easier to encode and keep private. Security protocol.

He wondered if something had gone wrong with the Hawking, the experimental long-range ship undergoing trials, based out at Titan. That was about the only thing he could think of that would require his cutting short his first vacation in four years. No use in asking. “All right. Give me a few minutes to pack my things, and I’ll get started.”

“Understood.”

“And contact my family, let them know I’m on my way back. ”

“Will do. Anything else?”

“Not at present. See you when I get there.”

That’s from page 2 of Communion of Dreams. Same thing, except Seth is named “Tim” in Native.

Hmm … perhaps I should start selling my services as a futurist … 😉

 

Jim Downey
Thanks to my friend and co-author John Bourke for the tip!5



Let your fingers do the dancing.

From the beginning of Chapter 6:

There was just one other person in the room, standing at the side of the holo platform, hands dancing over a control board only he could see.

* * *

Jon looked to the dance Ng’s hands played in the air. “About ready?”

Ng said nothing, but just his fingers tapped a command in the air. Instantly, there appeared an image above the holo projector. It was the artifact, pretty much exactly as Jon remembered it from the first meeting a week ago.

There are many such passages in Communion of Dreams, just part of the augmented reality technology which exists at the time of the book. The basic explanation is that the user is wearing contact lenses which allow one to see a virtual reality overlay on the real world, and then within that overlay you can manipulate virtual objects/controls thanks to hand-tracking. When I wrote the book I figured that such technology would be available eventually …

… and here it is, even sooner than I expected:

Google’s new finger control technology is straight out of a science fiction movie

* * *

The company’s lab for advanced projects showed off new technology on Friday that lets users move their fingers in the air to control objects in the virtual world.

It’s called Project Soli, and it uses radar waves to detect precise finger movements or finger “micromotions.”

The result is something that looks like it’s from a science-fiction movie such as Minority Report or Her, in which characters manipulated virtual objects by gracefully moving their hands or fingers in the air.

Bingo.

 

Jim Downey