Communion Of Dreams

Timely references.

The medic examined the wound, looked up at his patient. “Don’t worry, this’ll just take a few minutes. You’ll feel a stinging, like dissonance in nerve feedback from artificial skin, but that won’t last.”

“Um, like what?”

“Oh, right. Sorry. You wouldn’t know that.” He chuckled. “It’s kinda like a first-degree phaser burn.”

“Er …”

“Oops, did it again,” he laughed. He shook his head as he removed the cap on a small tube and shook some paste into the palm of his hand. It started moving.  “It’s like a bad case of poison ivy, but only for about ten minutes. Then they’ll be done with the reconstruction and I’ll be back on my way.”

“I …”

“Just remember to flush the wound with water when the skin is healed, and it’ll all be fine.”



A path out of darkness.

As I’ve noted previously, I’m mildly bipolar, with my ‘natural’ bipolar cycle running about 18 months. I had noticed the start of a psychological downturn three or four months ago, following the intense boost that came with the discovery and correction of my cardiac artery blockage and subsequent recovery. Since I don’t usually realize that I have taken a downturn until it has gone on for a while, I’m guessing that I’m approaching the bottom of the cycle.

* * * * * * *

Some 50 years ago, my father-in-law (who I never met — he passed away before my wife and I knew each other) put in a simple brick walkway around two sides of his garden. OK, that doesn’t sound like too big a deal. But his garden was almost a full acre in size, and the walkway more than 100 yards in length. Yeah, it really is that long.

After his death, the garden was reverted back to lawn. And slowly the brick walkway was reclaimed by that lawn.

But since the house remained in the family, memory of the walkway wasn’t lost. Some time back the walk was uncovered, and for the last decade or so we did a pretty good job of keeping it clear and used. Here’s a pic of some of it:


Note the box turtle in the patch of sunlight in the upper part of the pic.

* * * * * * *

I sent this in a message to a friend this morning who had asked if I was feeling more healthy these days:


I do feel a lot stronger and more … vital. But I really don’t want to be one of those ’50-something year old guys who discover the power of exercise!’ At best, it’s annoying to most people. At worst, it’s obnoxious able-ism. My situation, both my peculiar genetic problem and my lifestyle permitting me to get a LOT of exercise time in, is extremely unusual, and not something I can claim as being due to my own effort.

Yeah, I think a lot about this.

* * * * * * *

For a couple of years we’ve talked about rebuilding the brick walkway, because while we’ve been able to keep it uncovered, it is nonetheless ‘sunk’ relative to the surrounding lawn. Meaning that it collected grass clippings and mud, tended to puddle, and retained ice and snow for a prolonged period. Plus there were sections which had been damaged by construction and heavy  trucks which came into the yard to do utility and tree work.

But redoing a 300’+ length of brick walkway is no small task. To do it correctly would require a lot of work and a fair amount of expense for proper landscape edging, landscape fabric, gravel/chat, and sand. And if we were going to go to the trouble of redoing it, we wanted to do it correctly and expand it a bit.

About two weeks ago we ordered the first four cubic yards of chat, got some of the other materials, and got started. Since the edging material we’re using comes in 60′ lengths, we decided to use that as the operative size of each ‘section’ of the walkway. The first step was to remove the old brick walk:


Then expand the bed, take it down, and level it out:


Then put down the base layer of chat on top of the landscape fabric:

20160912_110315(That’s about 10,000 pounds of chat, by the way.)

And then start putting down brick. Here’s how far we’ve gotten as of yesterday afternoon:


With luck, we’ll finish getting the rest of the bricks laid in this ‘section’ today or tomorrow. Then we’ll be about one-fifth through the whole project.

* * * * * * *

As I’ve noted previously, I’m mildly bipolar, with my ‘natural’ bipolar cycle running about 18 months. I had noted the start of a psychological downturn three or four months ago, following the intense boost that came with the discovery and correction of my cardiac artery blockage and subsequent recovery. Since I don’t usually realize that I have taken a downturn until it has gone on for a while, I’m guessing that I’m approaching the bottom of the cycle.

One of the things I learned long ago is that doing something constructive helps me cope with the depressive part of my bipolar cycle. By focusing on something in discrete chunks, I can slowly ‘walk’ out of my depression, since I can see tangible progress happening on something.

We probably won’t be able to finish the full 300’+ of the brick walkway before winter sets in. But that’s OK. Being able to spend a couple of hours working on the walk each day (when the weather permits) helps. It’s good exercise for my body. And it helps to keep my mind from falling too far into the darkness.


Jim Downey

More than skin deep.

Good article at Scientific American about the coming medical monitoring technology. Excerpt:

“Why don’t we have a similar vision for our bodies?” wonders Gustafsson, an engineer whose team at the Swedish electronics company Acreo, based in Kista, is one of many around the world trying to make such a vision possible. Instead of letting health problems go undetected until a person ends up in hospital—the medical equivalent of a roadside breakdown—these teams foresee a future in which humans are wired up like cars, with sensors that form a similar early-warning system.

Working with researchers at Linköping University in Sweden, Gustafsson’s team has developed skin-surface and implanted sensors, as well as an in-body intranet that can link devices while keeping them private.


Gee, that sounds familiar. Here’s a passage from Chapter 15 of Communion of Dreams about the remote-monitoring of a ship’s crew through their cyberware, documenting medical conditions during a crisis:

“Main drive has been disengaged, transit rotation to new heading begun. All human crew members of the ship are now experiencing severe physiological stress. Attempting to identify source of this event . . .”

“My god,” gasped someone.

“. . . expert Stepan has become unresponsive. Experts Rurik and Rika attempting to establish control of transit. Several human crew members have expired. Medical telemetry indicates cerebral hemorrhage in most cases. Other crew members experiencing symptoms of shock and heart attack. PC systems attempting to cope. All human crew members seem to be affected. None of the standard emergency protocols sufficient to counteract whatever is occurring. Transit has been stopped. Expert Stepan remains unresponsive. Source of event is indeterminate. There have been no detectable changes to any ship systems, nothing abnormal in environmental controls. Only eight human crew members remain alive, all are critical and unconscious. PC systems reporting imminent death of five of those crew members. Prognosis for remaining three is not good, death is expected within an hour. All medical telemetry will be compiled and transmitted on second channel. ”


Another excerpt from the SA article:

To get around that, Strano’s lab has developed synthetic, long-lived detector materials that can be mixed with a water-based gel and injected under the skin like a tattoo. The ‘ink’ for this tattoo consists of carbon nanotubes coated with dangling polymer strands, which have a lock-and-key chemical structure that recognizes biomarkers by dictating which molecules can dock with them. When biomarkers bind to the polymer, they subtly change the optical properties of the nanotube: shine a light on the tattoo, and a glow reveals the presence of the biomarker.


Again, from Communion of Dreams:

She nodded. “You know how the palmkey is installed and works, right?”

“Yeah, sure. It’s a thin film injected just under the skin, forms a fluid web across the palm that is programmed to function as a close-range transceiver. Simple enough.”


Predictions, predictions …


Jim Downey

Thanks to Tim for the heads-up!


Since this blog has recently picked up a bunch of additional followers, I’m going to reiterate something I’ve said in the past: I’m mildly bipolar. Have been all my adult life. My ‘natural’ bipolar cycle is about 18 months, though that can be influenced by outside factors. It’s mild enough that I’m able to manage my bipolar swings without medication, but I keep a close eye on it. I’m thankful that I can manage it without medication, because I have always perceived a connection between this bipolar condition and creativity.

And increasingly, science agrees with me:

Professor Steven Jones, co-director of Lancaster University’s Spectrum Centre, said, “It appears that the types of inspiration most related to bipolar vulnerability are those which are self-generated and linked with strong drive for success.

“Understanding more about inspiration is important because it is a key aspect of creativity which is highly associated with mental health problems, in particular bipolar disorder.”

“People with bipolar disorder highly value creativity as a positive aspect of their condition. This is relevant to clinicians, as people with bipolar disorder may be unwilling to engage with treatments and therapies which compromise their creativity.”


And then there’s this, from an article on apophenia:

Another possible culprit in apophenia is dopamine. A 2002 experiment revealed that people with high levels of dopamine more often extract meaning from coincidences than those with lower dopamine levels. And when self-described skeptics (team “UFOs are fake”) were given the drug L-dopa, which ups the brain’s dopamine supply, they began to perform more like self-described believers (team “I can speak to spirits”) on the same pattern-finding tasks. Likewise, when Brugger and his colleagues administered dopamine to a group of healthy adult men, that group proved more likely than a control group to notice visual similarities between random pairs of shapes.

Personal accounts from manic patients fizz with an almost compulsive meaning-making, but the research on connections between apophenia and bipolar disorder is thin. One clue: Just like people with schizotypal tendencies, people at risk for bipolar disorder often ace creativity tests. They seem to excel especially at the type of “intuitive, open-minded thinking” that results in surprising associations. (Though he hasn’t studied apophenia and bipolar disorder, Brugger says he would “assume that you see connections everywhere in a manic state.”) A symptom of mania known as clanging, in which ideas are strung together not in a logical order but because of how the words sound, has an apophenic aura.

Related, this news about another scientific discovery concerning depression:

The first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults has been developed by Northwestern Medicine  scientists, a breakthrough approach that provides the first objective, scientific diagnosis for depression. The test identifies depression by measuring the levels of nine RNA blood markers. RNA molecules are the messengers that interpret the DNA genetic code and carry out its instructions.

* * *

“This clearly indicates that you can have a blood-based laboratory test for depression, providing a scientific diagnosis in the same way someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol,” said Eva Redei, who developed the test and is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “This test brings mental health diagnosis into the 21st century and offers the first personalized medicine approach to people suffering from depression.”

I suspect that it won’t be long until some similar test is developed for markers indicating bipolar condition.

Oops, there I go, drawing connections again …


Jim Downey

Several things …

First, thanks again to one and all for helping to make my recent promotion a success! We did finish the weekend with just under 500 total downloads worldwide. Yay!

In addition, there’s a new review up over on Amazon. Here’s how it starts:

4.0 out of 5 stars A good story, and an excellent first novel.

This kept me interested until it was finally done.
For a first novel it was very good.
There were a couple of awkward sentences I had to re-read, but most books have that.
The plot was good, and different.

I am a bit amused that some people focus in on the “first novel” thing, and sometimes it seems that they feel like they can’t give a 5-star rating just on that basis. But perhaps they’re just trying to be nice in comments. If you have a chance, and haven’t yet done so, please consider posting your own review on Amazon (or elsewhere). Thanks!

There have been a couple of fairly scary pandemic stories in the news lately. One which has gotten a lot of attention is the Ebola outbreak, and how it has spread more than previous outbreaks. One which is even more frightening (to me) is word of an accidental anthrax exposure which went undetected for upwards of a week at a major supposedly secure research lab, the CDC bioterrorism facility in Atlanta. From one article:

Unfortunately, such scenarios are very real threats to not just lab workers but to the general population should a deadly contagion escape undetected the same way the CDC anthrax exposure remained undetected for possibly an entire week. That much time lapse for a deadly viral infection could prove devastating to the world population.


As it turns out, I am right at the point in St Cybi’s Well when first reports of the fireflu outbreak has hit the news. At first it is thought to be a Sarin gas attack at Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. From the book:

“Jay, I’m here at the Georgia International Convention Center, just west of the airport. Authorities have turned this into something of a command center for the developing crisis, since they have put the entire airport terminal on lock-down.” She was reporting from a large, open room. In the background there was a stage and podium, where a small knot of government officials were standing and taking turns addressing the crowd of reporters and film crews down on the floor in front of them. “As you can imagine, the situation here is very confused at present, with conflicting reports coming from the airport itself about how many people have been injured in the attack, when it likely happened, how it was detected, and what steps are being taken to protect the public. What is certain is that while this airport – one of the busiest in the world – always has a number of arriving and departing flights, that the attack came sometime late at night has meant that the number of victims is much smaller than it could have been. We’re due to receive an update on the situation at 3:00 AM local time, which is in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Back to you.”


Serendipity. Scary, scary serendipity.

Edited to add this tasty tidbit of news which broke just in the last hour:

Smallpox Virus Found in Unsecured NIH Lab

Scientists cleaning out an old laboratory on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., last week came across a startling discovery: Vials labeled “variola” – in other words, smallpox.

* * *

In a statement Tuesday, the agency said scientists did indeed find smallpox DNA in the vials. Scientists are now testing the sample to see whether any of the is still capable of causing disease. That testing will take two weeks.

The laboratory on the NIH campus had been transferred to the Food and Drug Administration in 1972. It was being cleaned out as the FDA was preparing to move that lab to its main campus.


Yeah baby!


Jim Downey

You can never be too rich or too tall.*
May 27, 2014, 9:44 am
Filed under: Health, Humor, Science, Society | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The doctor looked up from her laptop, where the patient’s medical history was displayed. “Have you been doing those exercises we discussed?”

“Every day. Well, most days. I miss doing them sometimes if I’m traveling or if the kids are running late in the morning.”

“You do understand that they’re really important, right?” She looked her patient right in the eye. “Every. Single. Day.”

He looked down at his feet, dangling off of the exam table. “Sorry. I’ll try and do better.”

“I certainly hope so.  Lifespan is correlated with how tall you are. Short people just do not live as long.” She glanced at the laptop again. “Now, how about your meds & vitamin supplements? Taking those?”

The patient didn’t look up. “The vitamins, yes. Religiously. But the prescriptions … they’re *SO* expensive. My insurance company doesn’t cover them, because my shortness is considered a lifestyle choice.”

The doctor shook her head. “Yeah, I know. Medical science still considers height as being only partially due to genetics. But still, you really have to do your best. Take the meds. I’ll get you some free samples — the sales reps are always leaving that stuff for us.”

“Thanks.” He looked up. “Doc, what do you think of maybe the surgical option?”



“Does your insurance cover it?”

“Surprisingly, yes. Well, not here in the States.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’ve got a thing set-up with a clinic in India: for the whole six-month breaking & lengthening process, they cover it. Lots less expensive than here in the US.”

The doctor made a face. “I know they’re supposed to do good work … ”

“Doc, they can add two inches to my overall height.”

“Yes, but at what risk?”

“Not much. Not too different than having it done here.” His face brightened a bit. “I’m not getting any younger. You know what a difference it can make for dating and career. Just think … I could be almost six foot tall!”

The doctor sighed. “Look, I know this is hard. But stick with the stretching exercises and meds I’ve prescribed. Maybe start going to a rack therapist — they can usually add up to an inch in the course of a year.”

“Yeah, OK.”

“And watch your diet. Stay away from those short sugars. Proteins are long. Makes a difference.”


Jim Downey

*With apologies to Her Grace.


The more things change …

“Mr. Jones? This is Jane from Universal Replacements.”


“I was just calling to tell you that your new left ear will be ready for delivery on Friday. Which medical clinic will be doing the installation?”

“Acme Doctors over on … hey, wait, did you say LEFT ear?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“No, no, no, there’s been a mistake. I ordered a RIGHT ear when I sent in the cell sample.”

“I’m sorry sir, my records clearly indicate that you ordered a LEFT ear when you placed your order.”

“That can’t be right, I know I ordered a RIGHT ear! I don’t need a new LEFT ear!”

“I’m sorry, sir … ”


James Downey