Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Okanagan is nice in the fall, so Ride the Kettle Valley Rail-trail

The Okanagan is nice in the fall, so Ride the Kettle Valley Rail-trail

Free this weekend (Aug 31-Sept 4, 2016) on Amazon, A Ride on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.  Ride it for real, or ride it in your imagination.



The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is one of the longest and most scenic biking and hiking trails in Canada. It covers a good stretch of the south-central interior of British Columbia, about 600 kilometers of scenic countryside. British Columbia is one of the most beautiful areas of Canada, which is itself a beautiful country, ideal for those who appreciate natural splendour and achievable adventure in the great outdoors.

The trail passes through a great variety of geographical and geological regions, from mountains to valleys, along scenic lakes and rivers, to dry near-desert condition grasslands. It often features towering canyons, spanned by a combination of high trestle bridges and long tunnels, as it passes through wild, unpopulated country. At other times, it remains quite low, in populated valleys, alongside spectacular water features such as beautiful Lake Okanagan, an area that is home to hundreds of vineyards, as well as other civilized comforts.

The trail is a nice test of one’s physical fitness, as well as one’s wits and adaptability, as much of it does travel through true wilderness. The views are spectacular, the wildlife is plentiful and the people are friendly. What more could one ask for?

What follows is a journal of two summers of adventure, biking most of the trail in the late 1990s. It is about 33,000 words in length (2 to 3 hours reading), and contains numerous photographs of the trail. There are also sections containing a brief history of the trail, geology, flora and fauna, and associated information.

After reading this account, you should have a good sense of whether the trail is right for you. If you do decide to ride the trail, it will be an experience you will never forget.

It's Never to Late, for Love at the Lake

Sure, August is almost over, but it's never too late for Love at the Lake.  In fact, this weekend (Aug 31 - Sept 4, 2016), it is free on Amazon :).  Well, the emotion packed short story by Helena Puumala is, anyway.


This romantic short story (approx. 5000 words) tells about the first days of a summer vacation of two couples with young children, who have cottages on a Northern Ontario lake. Both of their marriages are affected, in different ways, by the arrival of a luscious, blonde eighteen-year-old, at a neighbouring cottage. Janice is a flirt, at the least, and Mary Anne and Doris have to decide how they will deal with the attention that she is showering upon their not unattractive spouses. And their husbands, Tim and Ross have to figure out what is the most important to each of them. Is the opportunity to bed a beautiful young woman more important than an established family of wife and children?


 And here's a nice review by an Amazon Romance reviewer, Irene S:

Friday, 26 August 2016

University of Alberta Talk: Renewable Energy – the German Experience (the “Energiewende”)

University of Alberta Talk: Renewable Energy – the German Experience (the“Energiewende”)

This talk was actually delivered early in 2016 (March 16, 2016), though I have only gotten around to writing it up recently.  I suppose that says something about my own renewable energy, or lack thereof, at times.

At any rate, this interesting talk focussed on the experience of Germany, in its efforts to transform to a renewable, sustainable energy regime, known in German as the “Energiewende”.  The talk was given by Prof. Ralf Ludwig of Ludwig Maximillian University, in Germany.  He is a hydro-geologist, rather than an engineer, but as he said, the energy transition has percolated throughout the German economy and academy.  Mind you, hydrogeology has some fairly obvious applications in the world of energy and particularly renewable energy.

Reasons for the Policy

He stated these as the primary reasons for the German Energiewende:
  • The nuclear phase-out, related to the nuclear accidents in Japan and the earlier accident in the Ukraine.

  • The need to reduce import dependency.  I have heard Europeans repeat this one a number of times.  They seem much more concerned about depending on geopolitically risky fossil fuel sources, such as Russia and the Middle East than we do, here in North America.  Mind you, we have enough of our own fossil fuel supplies (though they are somewhat more expensive), that we can do without these sources, in a pinch.

  •  Climate change.  Europeans seem to have fewer sceptics on the subject, than we do here in North America.  That is probably related to the fact that they don’t have as much vested interests in the domestic fossil fuel industry, as we do.

  •   The need to develop new technology, and stay at the front of the innovation wave.

  •  Generally, they want to demonstrate that a sustainable economy is possible.


Pillars of the Policy

There are two pillars to the German energy transition, renewable energy and efficiency.  The focus of his talk was on the renewable energy pillar.

The German goal is to have 60% of energy produced by renewable resources, by 2050. This should also correspond to a 80-90% reduction in greenhouse gas generation, notably CO2.  For context, it should be noted that 27% of electricity is currently generated by renewables (this actually relates to 2014, so it might be higher now), but the 60% renewable target includes all energy, not just the replacement of current electrical generation (i.e. transportation and heating energy are also to be replaced by renewables).

An important part of the strategy has been the use of feed-in tariffs, for renewable electrical energy.  Essentially, this means encouraging solar and wind power via paying higher electrical rates to producers who use these methods.  This strategy has been highly successful (almost too much so, he says).   Some features of the strategy:

  • Fixed prices (so that producers can budget and plan).

  • Guaranteed grid access (so that producers can be assured of a market).

  • The strategy is modifiable, as technology changes (e.g. more efficient solar panels).

  • The effect on non-renewable sources can be offset by other charges, when it is deemed desirable.

  • Energy intensive industries can get a break on the higher prices during the transition, so as not to harm them unduly.

As noted above, about 27% of electricity was generated by renewables in 2014.  That represents an increase of about 10 times, over the 1990s, so the growth has been substantial.

Solar and wind have been the main renewable suppliers. The type of resource being developed has been optimized for local conditions, with wind prevailing at the coast, and solar in the south (Bavaria).    It is estimated that this transition has prevented 102 mega-tonnes of C02 from being produced.

There has been a movement towards small-scale energy production and distribution during the Energiewende.  Cooperative ownership models have helped in convincing citizens to buy in to the program.  Whole villages are sometimes involved in the cooperatives, for example.  Often, the sources are owned 50% or more, by local people.  Generally speaking, there is wide acceptance of the policy in Germany, though naturally, there are some NIMBY (not in my back yard) elements.



He noted some popular myths about the transition, and gave some clarity on those myths:

·         Myth 1 - It is an irrational response to the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster.
o   No, the roots of the program go long before that, with various strong concerns about the environment and energy security being motivators.

·         Myth 2 - it is immensely expensive.
o   Yes, it has been costly, but it has also generated substantial economic benefits.  For example, solar is now a significant industry, which didn’t exist previously.  About 400,000 jobs have been created around Germany in renewables, and they have been widely distributed around the country, rather than benefitting only a few regions.  Import substitution has also been a major benefit, in terms of trade and geopolitical security (Russian gas has been displaced, for example).

·         Myth 3 - the nuclear shutdown has created the need for imports.
o   To some extent true, though it is a temporary situation.  In fact, Germany is now exporting electricity.

·         Myth 4 - there would be power outages.
o   This never happened (in fact, Canada has had more problems than Germany, in this regard).

·         Myth 5 - Germany would have to increase its coal usage.
o   This was temporary, during the turn away from nuclear.  Coal usage is now back to historical lows.  In fact, though some coal power is still being produced, that is now going down, even below historical lows.


Problems that have been Encountered

Obviously, no policy of this significance can be problem-free, so here are some of the problems that Professor Ludwig noted:

  • These technologies are intermittent by their nature (wind doesn’t always blow, and sun doesn’t always shine), so the problem of grid stability is ever present.

  • There are environmental impacts, such as:

o   Toxic waste in producing solar panels, etc.

o   Land use conflicts, since solar and wind do need land bases, and hydro often means flooding (Germany has developed more hydro in some areas).

o   Resources are consumed, for example in the building of panels.

o   There are potential health issues, such as noise from wind generators that are placed too close to human habitations.

  • There can be a “status quo” threat, that inhibits public acceptance.  That can be by other producers, consumers or bystander parties.

  • Costs can be higher, compared to alternatives.  For example, 44 cents per KwHr is common in Germany, whereas about 12 cents per KwHr is more the norm in Edmonton (in Alberta, Canada, which is a fossil fuel rich province).  Note that this is “all-in” costs; production, distribution, etc.

  • With less “base load” production, power generation can fluctuate more, due to the variation in wind-speed and sunshine (though these tend to even out over longer time spans and distances).

  • This can also create some unbalanced loads, in terms of regional usage and regional demand.

  • New, smart infrastructure is needed (e.g. to distributed power more efficiently) but there is often resistance to big power lines and the like.

  • Climate change can adversely effect renewables, such as low water levels reducing hydro power.


Overall Conclusions

·         The program is well established.

·         It will probably hit its targets.

·         There will be many benefits.

·         The German economy will benefit, by being a first mover in renewable energy innovation.
·         Germany will be a lesson and guide for other countries.

·         With Germany’s issues around energy security and environmental problems, there is really no alternative.

·         From Alberta’s standpoint, there is a rich history of Alberta-German collaboration in industry and the academy, and that collaboration can grow and prosper via the energy transformation in both areas.

Here's a link to the German Energy Transition site, with lots more information:


And now, here's a link to some science fiction (because we can't be reading about renewable energy all the time), the universe of Kati of Terra:

 Kati 1 - Escape from the Drowned Planet
Kati and Mikal's escape from the alien slaver Gorsh.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Kati 2 - On Assignment on the Planet of the Exalted
Kati and Mikal follow the trail of justice to the planet Vultaire.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Kati 3 - Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers
Kati and Mikal must battle Gorsh on his home turf.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Friday, 19 August 2016

Jupiter’s moon Io

Jupiter’s moon Io

Helena Puumala’s SF Romance series features a planet with seven moons.  This rather unusual setting gives me the opportunity to talk about some of the remarkable moons in our solar system, as I test different moons for the cover of book 2 of the series.

But, more on that at the end of the blog.  Basically, the book gives me the opportunity to do a mini-tour of some of the major moons of our solar system.

This blog is about Io, one of the four large moons of Jupiter, and an interesting one, as it orbits closest to Jupiter and the interactions with Jupiter cause it to look pretty dramatic.

Here are a few facts about Io, courtesy of Wiki:

  • It's bigger (about 1800 km radius) than Europa, but smaller than the other two of Jupiter’s four Galilean moons (Ganymede and Callisto).  It is just slightly larger than our moon.
  • As noted above, it is one of the four original moons discovered by Galileo in 1610 (thus, referred to a Galilean moon).
  • It is the closest to Jupiter of the four Galilean moons.  It is easy to find in a small telescope.
  • It is the most geologically active object in the solar system, with more than 400 volcanoes – even more active than the Earth.  Essentially, this is caused by the friction created by the constant gravitational tug of war on Io, between Jupiter and the three other big moons (i.e. tidal heating).
  • While Europa is notable for its water content, Io is the driest object in the solar system.  Thus, Io is much denser than the other big Jovian moons.
  • It is mostly composed of silicate rock, and probably has a liquid iron or iron sulphide core.
  • Its distinctive yellowish-brown colour is due to sulphur and sulphur compounds.  The huge volcanoes spew sulphur and sulphur dioxide high above (500 km) the surface.  They also produce extensive lava flows (500 plus km).  Changes in these lava flows have been detected between different space missions (Voyager and Galileo), indicating lava had flowed up to 100 km in less than 20 years.
  • The extensive tectonic activity means that the surface is constantly regenerated – thus the surface is young and crater free.
  • The material ejected from the volcanoes plays a role in enhancing Jupiter's magnetic field, and thus contributes to the high radiation environment, via capture of the solar wind.
  • At 36 sv per day, the radiation dose at the surface would be fatal within hours.
  • Honestly, the word “hellish” seems appropriate for Io.
  • Io participates in a 1:2:4 orbital resonance with the two Galilean moons that it is nearest to, Europa (second from Jupiter) and Ganymede(third from Jupiter).  That means, for every one time Ganymede goes around Jupiter, Europa goes around twice and Io goes around four times.

Here's a picture of Io, taken by a NASA probe.

This is claimed to be a true colour representation of Io.  Quite the moon.


Here's a recent picture of Io and some other moons, taken by NASA's Juno probe, on July 5, 2016.  Granted, the moons are pretty small, but this is the first reasonably close-in picture from the new Juno probe.  Hopefully, we will get some more interesting photos of Jupiter’s moons, though I believe the probe’s science mission is mostly focussed on Jupiter itself, the atmosphere in particular.

The moon Io and Love and Intrigue Under the Seven Moves of Kordea

Helena Puumala's SF Romance series features the planet Kordea, home to a race of beautiful and powerful psychic aliens, known as the Witches of Kordea.  The planet has seven moons, an extraordinary arrangement for a terrestrial sized planet in its star's habitable zone.

In fact, the moons of Kordea are a central element in Book 2.  The cover below actually borrows the moon Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter 

The Witches’ Stones Series

The Witches' Stones, Book 1 - Rescue from the Planet of the Amartos

Young Earth woman and spaceship mechanic, Sarah Mackenzie, has unwittingly triggered a vast source of energy, the Witches' Stones,  via her psychic abilities, of which she was unaware.  She becomes the focal point of a desperate contest between the authoritarian galactic power, known as The Organization, and the democratic Earth-based galactic power, known as The Terran Confederation.  The Organization wants to capture her, and utilize her powers to create a super-weapon; the Terra Confederation wants to prevent that at all costs.  The mysterious psychic aliens, the Witches of Kordea also become involved, as they see her as a possible threat, or a possible ally, for the safety of their own world.

A small but fast scout-ship, with its pilot and an agent of the Terra Confederation, Coryn Leigh, are sent to rescue her from a distant planet at the very edge of the galaxy, near space claimed by The Organization.  Battles, physical and mental, whirl around the young woman, as the agent and pilot strive at all costs to keep her from the clutches of the Organization.

The Witches' Stones, Book 2 - Love and Intrigue, Under the Seven Moons of Kordea

Sarah has taken refuge on the planet of Kordea, where she is also learning how to control her psychic abilities, through the tutelage of the Witches of Kordea.  Coryn Leigh has now taken up the position of Confederation diplomat to the Kordeans, but he is also charged with keeping the Mackenzie girl safe at all costs.  During their time on the planet, an attraction between them grows, though they try to deny it, to themselves and each other.
But The Organization has plans of its own, including threatening the destruction of the planet Kordea, via destabilizing the orbit of Lina, one of its many moons.  The Organization proves that its threats are in deadly earnest, so, ultimately Sarah, Coryn and the Witches of Kordea must take the fight to the enemy.  Thus is borne a dangerous mission, to  a planet where their foe has based the weapon that threatens Kordea, and ultimately, the balance of power throughout the galaxy.  Sarah and Coryn agree that the machine must be destroyed, even at the possible cost of their own lives and growing love.

The Witches' Stones, Book 3 - Revenge of the Catspaw

Sarah and Coryn have become married, under the traditions of the Witches of Kordea.  But the marriage is performed by the Eldest of the most important coven, a rare honour, that comes with a blessing and a curse.  The slow working out of this blessing and curse forms the backdrop to the story.

Having come so close to their goal of enhancing their weaponry via Witches' Stone power, The Organization will not give up.  In order to lure Sarah into their trap, and thus have her become their Catspaw (someone who is forced into helping another, against their will) they need bait, and Coryn becomes the bait.  He also comes under the domination of a particularly nasty Elite of The Organization, one "Evil Evilla" Copoz.

Sarah, and a picked group of companions, must re-enter The Organization space, this time to the very heart of the empire, to rescue her husband, as he has done for her in the past.  They do so at great peril, but nothing can stop the terrible Revenge of the Catspaw.