Electric Dreams

A Preview of Alchera 4

Harry Bosma

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Harry Bosma (2005 June). A Preview of Alchera 4. Electric Dreams 12(6).

For many years I've been working on a new version of the Alchera dream journaling software. I think that the upcoming version 4 still has the same simple feel as the previous versions, even though internally the amount of program code seems to have exploded. Let me first give a quick overview of the current version before I move on to the upcoming version 4.

Current version

Paper journals have their advantages. Everyone likes the directness of a pen against paper. If you like to travel you know that a paper journal packs much lighter than a computer. Dream software has advantages too. I like to quickly search through years of dreams, to keep notes on recurring imagery, and to index my dreams. I don't really travel that often anymore, so I've become a big fan of dream software.

While many of the longtime dreamers may not really need a symbol dictionary, I get the impression that they still find it fun to flip to the Symbol page to check out to which symbols a dream links to. I plead guilty as well. I keep several custom dictionaries, one of them for numbers and Tarot cards. By systematically entering numbers encountered in my dreams I discovered that they actually make sense. The related dreams frame at the Symbol page automatically shows other dreams with the same symbol. Sometimes I think to see a new image in a dream, only to have the related dreams show me dreams from a long forgotten time.

The Alchera 3.x versions also have bells and whistles that won't all necessarily improve how you work with dreams, but are just fun to play with. Dreams can be emailed directly from within Alchera. Charts can be generated for types of indexed dreams. Plugin tools shows how many dreams you logged per month, or how your dream counts relate to moon phases.

Alchera 4, standard edition

Dream journaling software almost by definition attracts longtime dreamers, but I keep hoping to find ways to draw in novice dreamers and even non-dreamers. Alchera 4 lets people attach small icons to dream titles. These icons come in two groups. The first group contains icons for happy dreams, dreams with success, new friends, new talents, in short dreams with hot apple pie and babies. Everyone likes hot apple pie and babies. The second group contains all kinds of things that go wrong. The suggestion I want to give is that you should celebrate the good dreams, and if you don't like the bad ones, you can perhaps find a way to improve them. I have no idea whether this will catch on, but I can reassure longtime users of Alchera that the use of these icons is entirely optional.

Alchera 4 introduces a special dictionary for names of people and places. This is for dreamers who like to pay attention to people and places, and what they signify. It still surprises me how people and places are the most frequently occurring elements of a dream, yet routinely overlooked. I wonder what it means when people show up in particular dreams, and perhaps I'm not the only one. I also use this dictionary to store the names of all the strangers I meet in dreams. The names dictionary has a few other uses. Among others, the research edition uses it to identify characters in a dream.

There are some improvements. The used word processor displays more image formats, including those found on the internet. Not only the journal entries, but also the symbol dictionaries and the new names dictionary accept pictures. Titles can be sorted in various ways, for example on word count or moon phase. Other Alchera 4 improvements are reserved for the research edition. Current customers are eligible for a free upgrade to the research edition, which is why the release of Alchera 4 depends on finishing the entire line.

The research edition

The research edition improves support for the coding system developed by Calvin S. Hall and Robert Van De Castle. I often refer to this system as the Hall and Van De Castle scales. Alchera 4 supports most of the scales. This means that you can index your dreams for characters, social interactions, success and failure, good fortune and misfortune, and emotions. Support for the remaining and generally less interesting considered scales will most likely be limited.

Manual indexing of the scales is simply a matter of dragging words to certain place holders. That beats writing down codes on score cards. Alchera can index the scales automatically for as far as it only requires recognition of words. The character and emotions scales are relatively simple for automatic indexing. You will still need to manually inspect the results, because it can misidentify a word, or underestimate the count. The moment that sentences need to be analyzed, you're on your own. Alchera can pick up keywords that indicate a social interaction, but can't yet determine all the details. Success and failure, as well as good fortune and misfortune, typically require much human intelligence to detect and classify, so Alchera doesn't even try here. As characters are by far the most common elements in a dream, and central to the main other scales, I feel that significant time is saved even while automatic indexing is partial and needs manual inspection.

Alchera really shines when results get presented. A list of tables and charts can be viewed, comparing results to norms, for all dreams, for specific years only, for search results on words, for search results on index items attached to dreams, and for ad hoc selections of dreams.

The future

The future of Alchera looks good. Alchera 4 has been designed for easy creation of special editions. There already exists a special edition used with Jean Campbell's Dream Scouts project, based on the standard edition of Alchera 4. The release of the regular editions will have to wait a while, because parts of the research edition are still being tested. Existing customers are welcome to try such a test version.

Perhaps you're going to the IASD conference of 2005, in Berkeley. I plan to show previews of Alchera 4 there, so you're warned! If you're not going, then I hope you will check out the website for updates, and - if you haven't done so already - subscribe to the monthly newsletter where I tell about Alchera and other dream projects.

Thanks for reading!

Harry Bosma

The website of the Alchera dream software: http://mythwell.com

For kids (and their parents), check out the Dream Scouts project: http://imageproject.org/dreamscoutsinternational.htm