Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Free this Week on Amazon: Two Road Trip e-Books, from Texas to the Northwest Territories

Free this Week on Amazon: Two Road Trip e-Books, from Texas to the Northwest Territories

Driving North – On the Road to Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories

Have you ever wondered about a road trip to the far north, north of the Sixtieth Parallel?  Well, here is your chance to read about three road trips, through the Peace River country and the northern Rockies, all the way to the shores of Great Slave Lake, just south of the Arctic Circle.

It’s free this week (Feb 22 to 25, 2017) on Amazon, 99 cents at other times (or always free if you have Kindle Unlimited).


The highways in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories give one the opportunity to drive pretty far north, without a lot of elaborate preparations and extreme expense. Starting from Edmonton, one can drive as far north as Yellowknife, NWT, without leaving the hardtop, so an average vehicle can do the trip. There are a reasonable number of fair sized towns along the way, so accommodations are not much of a problem, either. The same goes for food, gasoline and other essentials.

One can also link up with the Alaska Highway, and the Dempster Highway, and make it all the way to the Arctic Ocean. But that’s another story.

Trip number 1 involved driving north through Alberta, visiting several areas of interest along the way, then into the Northwest Territories, to Hay River on the southern shore of Great Slave Lake. The return trip featured a drive through the north-central foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Trip number 2 was a combined air and car trip. We went to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories by airplane, then rented a car to explore much of the area of the north shore of Great Slave Lake.

Trip number 3 was a return to Hay River, with a different travelling companion. This allowed one to retrace steps, compare and contrast, and focus on some areas that we had not had time to explore in depth on trip number 1.

On the Road with Bronco Billy

Read about a fascinating road trip across western North America, with “On the Road with Bronco Billy”.  Sit back and go on a ten day trucking trip in a big rig, from Alberta to Texas, and back again.  Explore the countryside, learn some trucking lingo, and observe the shifting cultural norms across this great continent.

It’s free this week (Feb 21 to 24, 2017) on Amazon, 99 cents at other times (or always free if you have Kindle Unlimited).


What follows is an account of a ten day journey through western North America during a working trip, delivering lumber from Edmonton Alberta to Dallas Texas, and returning with oilfield equipment. The writer had the opportunity to accompany a friend who is a professional truck driver, which he eagerly accepted. He works as a statistician for the University of Alberta, and is therefore is generally confined to desk, chair, and computer. The chance to see the world from the cab of a truck, and be immersed in the truck driving culture was intriguing. In early May 1997 they hit the road.
Some time has passed since this journal was written and many things have changed since the late 1990’s. That renders the journey as not just a geographical one, but also a historical account, which I think only increases its interest.

We were fortunate to have an eventful trip - a mechanical breakdown, a near miss from a tornado, and a large-scale flood were among these events. But even without these turns of fate, the drama of the landscape, the close-up view of the trucking lifestyle, and the opportunity to observe the cultural habits of a wide swath of western North America would have been sufficient to fill up an interesting journal.

The travelogue is about 20,000 words, about 60 to 90 minutes of reading, at typical reading speeds.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Kati of Terra, Books 1, 2, and 3 Free on Amazon Kindle this week (Feb 14 to 18, 2018)

Kati of Terra, Books 1, 2, and 3 Free, for Valentine's week

All three Kati of Terra books are on free on Amazon Kindle this week (Feb 14-18, 2018).  We will soon be coming out with a new adventure in the Kati universe, so we want to give readers a chance to experience all the adventure and romance of one or all of the original Kati books.

Kati 1 - Escape from the Drowned Planet
Kati and Mikal's escape from the alien slaver Gorsh.
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In saving her small son from alien abductors, a 24-year-old Earth woman, Katie, finds herself abducted instead. She awakens from a drug-induced coma on a spaceship, in a room full of children, both human and alien, and two other women, younger than she is. The young women adapt to the situation as best they can, keeping the youngsters calm and entertained. But, when a drugged alien man wearing a uniform is added to the captive cargo, it becomes clear that this is an intergalactic slave operation. 

The slave traders implant their captives with “translation nodes” in order to allow communication among various groups. These are living entities, normally docile, merely enhancing certain brain functions, such as language acquisition. However, Katie discovers that she has accidentally received a very special “granda node”, a long-lived node with its own cantankerous personality, including a fondness for criminality and lethal weaponry. Fortunately for Katie, it also values its freedom. With its help, she escapes on a fringe planet, dragging the peace officer along—also at the granda’s suggestion. 

She finds herself on a strange world, with a somewhat deranged personality, quite possibly a killer, in her head, and partnered with a man from an advanced civilization who abhors killing. He is a Federation Peace Officer, captured by the slavers while attempting to bring them to justice. His task is complicated by the fact that he has sworn to avoid the taking of sentient life during the performance of his duties. He can and does, however, make vigorous use of non-lethal weaponry. Since, before leaving the ship, Katie had promised to help her co-captives gain their liberty, she and the alien peace officer find that they have a common cause. 

But first they must find their way off the primitive planet and get to the Federated Civilization, avoiding the slavers who have been left on the planet to re-capture them. Their flight is complicated by the fact that the planet has had a global warming catastrophe some centuries back – the locals refer to it as the Drowned World. This has forced the inhabitants to revert to a pre-industrial state of development; however, they are a wily and resourceful people, mostly helpful, but they can also be dangerous. 

Kati (to mark her escape, she adopts a slight name change) and Mikal seek a Federation beacon, which had been hidden on this planet ages ago, to aid in situations such as this, (in accord with a longstanding Federation policy for fringe worlds). They must embark on an arduous trek across two continents and an ocean, seeking the temple that holds the beacon. They travel on foot, by cart, by riverboat, by tall sailing ship, and on pack animals, always pursued by the dangerous slavers. 
They must rely on their wits, guile, charm and acting abilities to avoid recapture, while their chasers have advanced technology and ruthlessness on their side. Fortunately, they are able to make many friends who help them along the way, and their quest becomes a series of adventures, both frightening and funny, and involving a cast of engaging characters. 
To complicate matters, Kati finds herself falling in love with Mikal, the strange, handsome and amusing alien. He seems to be reciprocating, though they both struggle against an untimely romantic entanglement. 

Will Kati and Mikal escape from the Drowned Planet? Can they ultimately bring the slavers to justice, as Mikal has sworn to do? Can they free the remaining captives of the slavers, as Kati has promised to do? Read this book and the rest of the series to find out all. 
Kati 2 - On Assignment on the Planet of the Exalted
Kati and Mikal follow the trail of justice to the planet Vultaire.
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After narrowly escaping the pursuit of the slave trader Gorsh on Makros III, the Drowned Planet, Kati of Terra has arrived on the planet Lamania, the home world of her alien companion and fellow escapee, Mikal r’ma Trodden. While exploring her new environment, she is confronted with the realization that Gorsh has spread his tentacles into the Star Federation.

She agrees to take the lead role in an undercover investigation of the venerable Federation planet, Vultaire, which seems to be implicated in the lawlessness. Apparently the members of the planet’s upper class, known as the Exalted Citizens, have grown corrupt, some of them even taking up slave-ownership, alongside numerous other vices. Meanwhile, Mikal, the Federation agent, is sent to explore the Xeonsaur connection to the slave trade.

Kati and Mikal must make their separate ways and overcome separate obstacles and dangers, before re-uniting in the struggle on Vultaire. Together, they need all the resources and ingenuity that they and their companions have, to stay alive, and to help heal the Vultairian society, as well as the very planet itself from the sickness that the corruptions have caused.

Kati 3 - Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers
Kati and Mikal must battle Gorsh on his home turf.
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Kati of Terra and Star Federation Agent Mikal R’ma Trodden join forces with the beautiful female reptilian, Xoraya, and the young Tarangayan mathematics and engineering genius, Lank, to chase down the Slaver Gorsh and bring him to justice. The evil Waywardian Gorsh was responsible for Kati’s abduction from Earth, along with numerous other victims from many other worlds; among these were many small children from Earth and other planets.

Their quest begins on an obscure Fringe Space Station which houses a reputable used space ship yard, the services of which they need if they are to journey along the Space Trade Lanes. Odd and dangerous events start to shadow them while they are on the Space Station, Qupar, and never really cease during the course of their mission. It begins to look like there is much more at stake than merely bringing to justice a slaver, and rescuing the people he has enslaved and sold - an unnatural and unspeakable evil of cosmic proportions may well be at the center of events.

The group gains new members, even while it loses Mikal and Xoraya into Gorsh’s hands - Kati and Mikal are once again separated, and have to struggle to perform their tasks apart from one another. However, neither of them is a quitter; they are resourceful and in love, so no force in the universe can keep them separated for long. The manner in which they and their allies overcome the obstacles that they face makes for an exciting, amusing, and romantic tale.

This is the thrilling conclusion to the dramatic story which began in Escape from the Drowned Planet, and continued in On Assignment to the Planet of the Exalted. Kati and Mikal can now take a breather from adventure - or can they? Time will tell.

This is a full-length novel of about 260,000 words (equivalent to a paperback of about 550 pages). Please note that the Kati of Terra novels are written so that they can be read as stand-alone books, so Kati of Terra Book 3 can be enjoyed by readers who have not yet read Kati of Terra Book 1 or Book 2. Naturally, we encourage people to read the entire trilogy to experience all the adventure and romance of the Kati of Terra series.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Taurus and The Pleiades Photographed with an iPhone 7

Taurus and The Pleiades Photographed with an iPhone 7 – January 2018

I took a few photos of the constellation Taurus and The Pleiades, a few weeks ago.  I should note that the iPhone takes a remarkably good “point and forget” astrophotography, but you generally do have to push it a bit in an image program, like Gimp or Photoshop (or the Apple app provided).  The brightness and contrast filters are the main ones to use, though some of the other enhancements can be useful too.

Taurus and Surrounding Sky

Here’s the result, with a little labelling and photo enhancement in GIMP. I also drew in the imaginary lines, that connect the stars of Taurus and surrounding constellations.

In the picture below, I punched up the stars and other bright elements, using a GIMP filter. 

Taurus is the constellation below Auriga, the vaguely pentagonal grouping of stars at the top of the photo.  It is sort of tucked between Orion (on Taurus’s lower left, though most of Orion isn’t visible in the photo) and Auriga (above Taurus).  Those are both pretty easy to recognize, even in a light polluted city sky.

The easiest marker for Taurus is the red star Aldebaran.  It is usually considered to be the eye of the bull (Taurus is a bull), though the other stars of the bull are not all that obvious in the city.  I assume that the constellation is mostly supposed to be the horns and head of the bull.

If the sky is reasonably clear and your eyes are reasonably good, the open cluster The Pleiades is off to the right of Aldebaran.  The number of stars that you can make out in The Pleiades is often considered an indicator of how good one’s eyesight is.

Close-up View of Taurus and The Pleiades

A closer look at Taurus is given in picture is below.  I used my iPad app, Sky Safari, to identify some of the brighter stars of Taurus and the surrounding areas, as best I could.  The iPhone seemed to pick up a fair number of the brighter stars, though there is always a bit of uncertainty about these things (i.e. is something a camera artifact such as a hot pixel or is it an actual star?).

As you can see, appears to pick up recognizable stars down to magnitude 4.3 or so (some stars in Orion’s shield, for example). 

I also included an enhanced version, with the bright elements emphasized, via the “sparkle” filter in GIMP, as well as an inverted version, where black is swapped for white, and white for black.  

Lastly, here is a zoomed up view of The Pleiades, along with a picture taken by the Hubble Telescope, via wiki.  

These tightly packed stars are all in the 2.9 (Alcyone) to 4.2 (Merope) range.  I don’t know if the elongated nature of some of the iPhone image is related to the reflection nebulae in The Pleiades, or if it is just due to a bit of camera jitter and/or CCD spillover.

I will use Wiki’s article, along with some other references, to give a brief overview of Taurus and The Pleiades:

  • The easiest way to find Taurus is to follow the line of stars in Orion’s belt, until you get to a bright red star, which is Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus.

  • Then, look around to see the rest of Taurus:

o   the stars that make up the end of the horns, towards Auriga.
o   the V-shaped cluster to the right of Aldebaran, the Hyades.
o   the easily recognized tight grouping The Pleiades, which remind one a bit of a dipper.

  • It is best seen in the winter, in the southern sky

  • The association of these stars with a bull goes back at least to the Babylonians.  It has many references to Greek mythology, as well.  As usual, they mostly revolve around Zeus’s amorous nature.

  • The most notable star is Aldebaran, or Alpha Tauri.  It is a magnitude 0.9 star, the 13th brightest in the sky, and about 65 light years from Earth.

  • Elnath (Beta Tauri) is the number 2 star (1.7 magnitude), one of the horns of the bull.  It is actually shared with the constellation Auriga.  It is a hot blue giant, about 130 light years away.

  • The other horn is Zeta Tauri (3.0 magnitude), an eclipsing binary.

  • The V part of the constellation contains the Hyades, a great binocular open cluster.  It is the closest cluster to Earth.

  • The Pleiades is the other open cluster, which is also spectacular in binoculars or a small telescope.

o   The 500-1000 stars that make it up are young (100 million years), and they are surrounded by reflection nebulae.
o   The main visual stars are often known as the Seven Sisters.  This seems to be true in a lot of mythology.  One reference claims that The Pleiades has much the same mythology the world around, and thus the mythology around it is very old.
o   The grouping does seem to often refer to seven people or animals (sometimes girls, women, sisters or wives, sometimes boys or men, sometimes animals).
o   In the Bible, the Lord asks Job if he can “bind the chains of the Pleiades”, whatever that means.
o   The Pleiades are slowly heading towards Orion’s foot.

  • Another very significant object in Taurus is M1, the Crab Nebula.  That’s the remnant of the 1054 supernova, which was visible from Earth.  In the center of the nebula is a young pulsar (rapidly spinning neutron star).

  • The original specimen of T Tauri stars, is of course, T Tauri.  This is a class of stars that are newly born, that vary greatly in magnitude over fairly short time frames.

  • Some stars in Taurus were used to confirm Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, during the 1919 solar eclipse.  Basically, the light from the stars was deflected by the gravity of the sun, which could be seen and measured during the eclipse, since the stars appeared to be offset a bit by the bending of the light.

  • A Star Trek episode was set on Taurus II, the Galileo Seven.  It has lots of good banter between Spock and McCoy.
Sky Safari computer program
Memory Alpha
The Cambridge Guide to Stars and Planets

Now that you have read some real science (astronomy and astrophysics), you should read some science fiction.  Since the blog mentioned Star Trek, here’s one with some Star Trek references (implied).

“The Zoo Hypothesis”, an Alien Invasion Story

Here’s a story giving a possible scenario for the so-called Zoo Hypothesis, known in Star Trek lore as the Prime Directive.  It’s an explanation sometimes given to account for a mystery in the Search for Intelligent Life, known as The Great Silence, or Fermi’s Paradox.
Basically, Enrico Fermi argued (quite convincingly, to many observers), that there had been ample time for an alien intelligence to colonize the galaxy since its formation, so where are they?  The Zoo Hypotheses says that they are out there, but have cordoned off the Earth from contact, until we are sufficiently evolved or culturally advanced to handle the impact of alien contact.

This story takes a humorous tongue in cheek approach to that explanation.  It also features dogs and sly references to Star Trek.  Talk about man’s Best Friend.

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