Communion Of Dreams


The title of the next chapter is “Llangelynnin” (which refers to the church/churchyard, rather than just the holy well at this site — this is a change from what I had originally planned), and in doing a little research I found this nice bit of video:


The holy well isn’t shown in this video, but is basically directly below the drone at about the 0:13 mark. It can be seen at the very southern point of the wall enclosure here, and in an image in this entry. Some of my source material is drawn from this travelogue from 2006 (towards the bottom of that post). And I think the video gives a very nice feel for the remoteness of the site, and why I have wanted to include it in the story I am telling.

Oh, I haven’t said in a while, but I now have approximately 85,000 words written (that’s actual novel, not including notes or reference material), with about 25,000 – 30,000 to go before I’m finished (and a fair amount of that is partially done already in notes and reference material). So I’m not in the closing stretch, but am getting there. It’s progress, anyway.


Jim Downey

“Uh, he’s already got one, you see.”

Happy 25th Anniversary to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has rightly been called one of the most important scientific tools in human history. It has brought the cosmos closer to us, just as it has helped to drive home an understanding of precisely how far away those twinkling lights in the sky actually are … and connected to that, just how old our universe is:

The depth of Hubble’s data, however, has touched or rewritten nearly every area of astrophysics. Ever since the discovery of the expanding universe in the 1920s, astronomers had struggled with the rate of expansion and what it means. The so-called Hubble constant, the universal rate of expansion, was much in doubt, with two factions arguing very different conclusions from the data. The Hubble constant is also inversely proportional to the age of the universe, another key holy grail of science. One of the primary goals of Hubble was to measure the Hubble constant accurately, using a variety of distance indicators, and by the turn of the 21st century, this helped define a relatively accurate Hubble constant of 72±8 and an age of the universe, which the more recent European Planck satellite has refined further to 13.8±0.04 billion years.


It’s an amazing piece of technology.

But I can’t help remembering that even as amazing as it is, a few years ago it was revealed that it was considered so … obsolete … that US spy agencies had just given NASA two other surplus Hubble-type instruments they no longer wanted to bother to store. As I noted at the time:

…we’ve just found out that what we thought was at the limits of our technology is so obsolete that it can be handed off as so much surplus junk. And the implication is that while NASA is currently without the means to launch and service something like Hubble, that there are plenty other agencies within our government which are not so inconvenienced.


Which brings me around to the title of this blog post. Monty Python fans may recognize it from this scene in the Holy Grail:

Which I just happened to watch this week, and snickered over, remembering the news item about the HST from 2012. Though of course, in this case I hope that the National Reconnaissance Office wasn’t *quite* so taunting of NASA …


Jim Downey

Damn, that’s FAST.

Watch a laser beam bounce:

From the YouTube description:

A video captured by Washington University’s Lihong Wang’s new imaging system, known as “compressed ultrafast photography,” shows a laser pulse propagating in air and being reflected from a mirror. The movie is slowed down 10 billion times to make it visible to the human eye. (Video courtesy of Washington University in St. Louis)

A good article explaining this new technology is here:

New Ultrafast Camera Invented At Washington University Could Help Turn Science Fiction Into Reality

Very cool. Take-away quote:

Wang’s new technology improves on previous ultrafast cameras in two important ways.

Up until now, streak cameras could only take a one-dimensional snapshot ― think of it like trying to take a picture of something flying by really fast behind a vertical slit.

And the fastest cameras had to have an external light source to work.

Wang’s technique doesn’t need special lighting, and it produces two-dimensional images ― more like a regular photograph ― but at a rate of one every 10 trillionths of a second.

Damn, that’s FAST.


Jim Downey


And the sky, full of stars … *

I should have some interesting news to share in a couple of days. But for now, I thought I would share this amazing post from Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy:


Yesterday, I posted an amazing Hubble Space Telescope picture. I don’t think it’s too soon to post another shot from Hubble… and I think you’ll agree when you see it, especially after you get an understanding of what you’re seeing.

First, the eye candy: The magnificent Andromeda Galaxy, as seen by Hubble.


And as Plait notes, that’s the low-resolution image.

Go enjoy the article, and marvel at the images he has/links to. Seriously — it is worth your while, if you’re any kind of a space-geek at all.


Jim Downey

*With apologies to JMS.

Spinning wheels, got to go ’round.*

The reviews have been mixed, but one aspect of the new movie Interstellar is pretty cool: the rendering of the black hole depicted in the movie.  Even moreso since it is as scientifically accurate as possible, based on close collaboration with noted astrophysicist Kip Thorne:

Still, no one knew exactly what a black hole would look like until they actually built one. Light, temporarily trapped around the black hole, produced an unexpectedly complex fingerprint pattern near the black hole’s shadow. And the glowing accretion disk appeared above the black hole, below the black hole, and in front of it. “I never expected that,” Thorne says. “Eugénie just did the simulations and said, ‘Hey, this is what I got.’ It was just amazing.”

In the end, Nolan got elegant images that advance the story. Thorne got a movie that teaches a mass audience some real, accurate science. But he also got something he didn’t expect: a scientific discovery. “This is our observational data,” he says of the movie’s visualizations. “That’s the way nature behaves. Period.” Thorne says he can get at least two published articles out of it.

The video is remarkable. Seriously. Go watch it.

And in a nice bit of serendipity, there’s another fantastic bit of astrophysics in the news just now: actual images of planetary genesis from ALMA. Check it out:

A new image from ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star. ALMA’s new high-resolution capabilities were achieved by spacing the antennas up to 15 kilometers apart [1]. This new result represents an enormous step forward in the understanding of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form.

ALMA has obtained its most detailed image yet showing the structure of the disc around HL Tau [2], a million-year-old Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Taurus. The image exceeds all expectations and reveals a series of concentric and bright rings, separated by gaps.


That’s not computer-rendered theory. That’s an actual image, showing the formation of planets around this very young star.



Jim Downey


House horrors, part two: rebuilding the monster.

Three weeks ago we started a “small” home repair project.

Well, we thought it was going to be small. And then we discovered the horror within. As I said in my first blog post about this:

When you start a project like this, you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you actually start getting into it.

Boy, howdy.

Well, it became much more of a project than originally envisioned. If you want to know why I haven’t done a lot of blogging recently, this is almost entirely the reason: we wound up replacing everything about the original porch except the two upright posts, and those we altered. We even wound up having to clean up and put aright some of the work which had originally been done to tie in the porch roof to the house roof, which was a real horror.

And when I say that “we” did it, I mean that literally: my wife and I.  We actually did every single aspect of the work. My wife is an architect, and we’re both very used to working on smallish practical repairs — the sort of thing you always have pending on a house which is 130+ years old. Had we known that this job was going to turn out being so big, we might have opted to put it off until a contractor we trust was able to work it into his schedule. But once we got started, we were committed to doing the work all the way through, not according to someone else’s schedule. So, we did it.

What follows below is a step by step photo documentation of the work, just for grins. We finished the work this weekend (well, except for the painting, but that’s pretty minor and will get done in a week or so when we have a chance), and I’m really pleased with how well it all turned out. So, if you’re interested, take a look.

And with a little luck this week I’ll get back to a more normal posting schedule.

Jim Downey

Continue reading

Revisiting a very old friend.

My profession of being a book conservator is fairly unusual, and since I write about it and post images occasionally, I tend to get questions about it fairly often. The other day I got a nice query from graduate student Aaron Hain at the University of North Texas about a research assignment which included this:

The assignment is to include “a general discussion of major theories and practices and the controversies” in relation to dealing with different historic bindings. As the paper is only about 4-5 pages long, it’s obviously only able to be either very general or to cover only a couple of binding types. Could you give maybe a brief coverage of how you would deal with the conservation/preservation of a couple of different binding types and possible issues that you can run into when dealing with those bindings? In particular, the 1518 Ovid in limp vellum on your projects page caught my attention and was the one that got me to e-mail you.


Since it’s been 5+ years since I last posted about that, I thought I would share my brief response here.

* * *

Current practice in book conservation is to respect both the original structure as well as the history of what the book has had done to it over time. Basically, that means that I seldom try to remove all traces of damage, or rebinding, or repairs, or notes from a book and try to turn it into some pristine example of what it was when first made. Usually I try to accommodate those changes, to preserve the character of the book insofar as possible. They are, after all, part of the book’s provenance, and can teach us a great deal.

But sometimes it is necessary and appropriate to remove previous bindings/repairs, if they themselves extensively damage or threaten the continued existence of the original book. When I encounter such a book I will confer with the client and discuss options. One such case about five years ago was a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses printed in Venice and dated 1518. I have documented the work performed here: 1518 copy of Ovid

As you can see, we decided to put the book into a limp vellum structure, which was fairly typical for a simple and relatively inexpensive binding at that time.

Why this choice? The 19th century binding the book had been in was completely breaking down. The sewing structure was failing. The leather was deteriorated. There was nothing particularly noteworthy to the style or type of binding, and the materials it was made of would continue to cause damage to the text block. So the client elected to remove that binding, though I believe that they have kept it (separately) as part of the book’s history.

But since we had no records of what the book would have looked like its binding originally, we decided to go with a very simple and neutral structure. A blank slate, as it were, so as not to suggest a false history to future readers/custodians/conservators. While the style and material of the limp vellum binding are fairly timeless in themselves, the archival endpapers I added would clearly date the era when that binding had been created, without imposing an early-21st century aesthetic on the book. And if need be, all or part of the structure and materials could be easily removed in the future.

* * *

Just thought I’d share that. And I do love how that binding turned out.


If you haven’t yet, be sure to take a few minutes to enjoy the full set of pictures and text about the project.


Jim Downey



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