Communion Of Dreams

Out for a stroll.

I mean, who doesn’t want to get out now and again, stretch your legs a bit?

More info here:

Recently, NASA released some pretty spectacular footage captured by an astronaut wearing a GoPro camera while spacewalking around the International Space Station. In the videos, Earth slowly rotates below the space station while astronauts fiddle with cables, install antennae, and work on the robotic arm.


Jim Downey


“Welcome to Wales”

More than ten years ago I wrote the first version of what is now the opening page of St Cybi’s Well:

Darnell Sidwell had just crossed the Severn Bridge on the M4, heading west.  He read the highway sign:

Sound Sculpture Ahead.  Move to outer left lane, maintain speed of 70 kph.  

He pulled the little GM rental hybrid into the left lane carefully, and thought about setting the cruise control, but was unsure where to find it on the unfamiliar vehicle. The car crossed the first warning rumble strips.  Darnell turned his attention to the sound of the tires, and a few moments later was treated to a long, drawn-out rumble over a series of carefully spaced and specially shaped strips, which distinctly said: “WWWWW-ELLL-CCCCOOOOOMMME-TOOOOO-WWWWWAAAALLLESSSS”.

Playing with rumble strips is nothing new (and wasn’t when I first came up with the idea mentioned on my archive site above), but it’s fun to see that it is now being used more in the way I envisioned:

The Singing Road of Tijeras

Sounds emanating from 1,300 feet of roadway just west of Tijeras have been listened to around the world, and it’s more than just tires on pavement catching international attention.

The Singing Road, installed last week, uses rumble strips to play “America the Beautiful” for drivers who obey the speed limit as they cruise down Route 66.

The National Geographic Channel approached the New Mexico Department of Transportation about the project last June, asking if they could construct the road for an upcoming series. The project was privately funded by National Geographic and NMDOT didn’t make – or spend – any money on it. Since the road was finished last week, Melissa Dosher, the public information officer for NMDOT, said she’s fielded questions from television stations as far away as Australia.

There’s a video (with sound) at the above site, so you can hear it. Fun stuff.


Jim Downey

HT to ML for the initial link last week.

“It’s a way to frame the problem,”

As something of a follow up to my last post, there’s a great little item about the development of the Drake equation over on National Geographic. Here’s a good passage:

It’s this kind of guesswork that tends to inflame the Drake equation’s critics, those who complain that the equation isn’t predictive, is too open-ended, and doesn’t provide any answers. But “predictive” isn’t really what Drake ever intended.

“It’s a way to frame the problem,” says MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager, about the equation. “In science, you always need an equation—but this isn’t one you’re going to solve. It just helps you dissect everything.”

Definitely worth reading, as well as thinking about.

Jim Downey

Go for a joyride in somebody’s brain.*

Carl Zimmer has put up a really interesting piece about recent developments which allow for visualization of brain structures which I would recommend:

Flying Through Inner Space

It’s hard to truly see the brain. I don’t mean to simply see a three-pound hunk of tissue. I mean to see it in a way that offers a deep feel for how it works. That’s not surprising, given that the human brain is made up of over 80 billion neurons, each branching out to form thousands of connections to other neurons. A drawing of those connections may just look like a tangle of yarn.

As I wrote in the February issue of National Geographic, a number of neuroscientists are charting the brain now in ways that were impossible just a few years ago. And out of these surveys, an interesting new way to look at the brain is emerging. Call it the brain fly-through. The brain fly-through only became feasible once scientists started making large-scale maps of actual neurons in actual brains. Once they had those co-ordinates in three-dimensional space, they could program a computer to glide through it. The results are strangely hypnotic.

Yeah, they are, and also very cool. One of the most interesting developments is a new program called the Glass Brain which is powerful enough to allow you to see how the brain is working in real time. From the article:

Imagine, if you will, putting on an EEG cap and looking at a screen showing you what’s happening in your brain at the moment you’re looking at it. That’s what this system promises.

The diagnostic and training potential is obvious. And if you consider the implications a bit, this could be a big step towards a true mind/machine interface. And then all bets are off for what could happen next.


Jim Downey

*Referencing Dust to Dust.

And a side-note. While I don’t make a big deal of it in Communion of Dreams, if you stop and think of the descriptions I use for the super-conducting ‘gel’ found on Titan, and what is revealed about it, you might notice that it would seem very similar to how neurons in the brain are structured and behave, though on a vastly different scale … 😉

Scraping by.

I’ve been entirely preoccupied with a big book conservation project which landed in my lap unexpectedly and needed attention right away (and trying to keep work going on St. Cybi’s Well), but a news item I saw the other day has been kicking around in my head. Er, so to speak. It’s the notion that the quality of dental hygiene & health in the modern era is *much* worse than it was before the advent of civilization. Here’s a good passage from one of the better articles which sums this up:

Our mouths are now a gentrified shadow of their former selves. And as Carl Zimmer described earlier this week, ecosystems with an impoverished web of species are more vulnerable to parasites. He was writing about frogs and lakes, but the same is true of bacteria and mouths. The narrow range of microbes in industrialised gobs are more vulnerable to invasions by species that cause disease, cavities, and other dental problems.  “As an ecosystem, it has lost resilience,” says Cooper. “It basically became a permanent disease state.”

Of course, current thinking is that this is due to a fairly radical change in diet between the two time periods, with our reliance now on domesticated grain crops.

But I know the real reason:

“He had a nutty theory that early man had been shortlived, but impervious to disease. Something about being able to trace back mutation clues to some proto-genes that suggested a powerful ability to heal.” Jackie frowned.

Yeah, that’s from almost the end of Communion of Dreams. And is a topic we’ll revisit in the prequel.



Jim Downey


This is lovely.


Jim Downey