Science Fiction Writer

dmk

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In a little while we’re going to have the “Great American Eclipse”–say it loud and proud and wave those flags! This will be the first eclipse contained entirely within the US, and as such offers the people there a fantastic opportunity to steep themselves in understanding the science and physics behind the event. Unfortunately, some people can’t apparently deal with that..

A few days ago, I stumbled across a video on youtube (I’m not going to promote it by linking to it), claiming that the moon is only seventy miles wide and that the eclipse was some kind of NASA promoted hoax. The “why” aspect of this is naturally 100% sense-free).

The argument goes something like this. If you look at children’s science books discussing the sun’s rays hitting the earth, they are parallel (or as someone put it “at ninety degrees”–hmmm on a curved surface?).. If the sun’s rays are indeed parallel, then the shadow of an object can be no smaller, than the object itself and so, as the path of totality (total eclipse) is around seventy miles wide, then the moon can be no larger than that.

It sounds reasonable at first glance perhaps. But the truth is very different. Here, I’ll let Father Ted explain it:

In simple terms, the moon is very small (compared to the sun) and very close, while the sun, is MUCH larger than the moon (or the earth for that matter) and much further away. The one time that a shadow can appear smaller than the object itself is when the light source is bigger than the object producing the shadow. The light rays”creep” around the edges of the object, producing an area not fully shadowed (the region of partial eclipse called the “penumbra”) and an area fully shadowed (called the “umbra”). Here’s an explanatory diagram:

Pretty straight-forward, huh? Yes, this is a Father Dougal eclipse explanation! 🙂

The other thing that has apparently fueled the shrieks of “conspiracy” is the fact that the eclipse will start in the west and travel across the US to the east–with cries of how can this be, when the moon rises in the east and sets in the west t (like the sun).

The explanation for this is just as simple. The eclipse is nothing more than the moon’s cast shadow hitting the earth’s surface. So when the moon is to the east with the sun, the cast shadow can only be in the west. Like this:

The sun and the moon BOTH rise in the east, so the cast shadow is over to the west. Then, as the sun moves further overhead during the eclipse, the shadow is cast more directly down on the earth’s surface, having moved to the east.

Finally, the sun’s position relative to the earth and moon has moved west, casting the shadow east. I think even Father Dougal could understand that!

No conspiracy required, just a basic understanding of the real world. The big blunder in all these conspiracy theories is this. The first person (known) to estimate the size of the moon was the Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, who used some clever geometry (and an eclipse!) to estimate the moon and sun’s relative distances and size.

The figure he got for the moon was between 0.32 and 0.40 times the diameter of Earth–which would give the moon a diameter of about 4000-5000kilometers–not a bad estimate considering the limits of the instruments and data he had available (the actual size is around 3500 kilometers.)

So, if there’s some kind of “NASA conspiracy,” it had to start back in ancient Greece–around 2500 years ago!

I’ve been working on some of the assets that I’ll be using in the book trailer for the sequel to Mathematics Of Eternity. Although the first book is largely earth-based, the sequel sees more off-world locations, including a facility near Mercury, Lunar Free State, and also has our heroes heading off to the asteroid belt.

I decided it would be fun to put together a little scene using some of these assets, and below is the result. All work done in Blender 3D as usual, with a little bit of post production using Gimp. I used the opportunity to learn and practice a few more techniques, and I’m pretty happy with how it’s come out.

Click on the image to see it at a larger size.

I’ve bought two Garmin hardware GPS units in my time. The displays were a little small by modern standards, but they worked well enough and were a wonderful enhancement to our frequent road trips. The additional comfort of knowing you can always find your way somewhere (even if you miss the occasional turn) is very liberating and a definite safety benefit as it frees you from worrying about maps etc. The GPS turned our sometimes frazzled cruises into carefree joyful pleasures.

A few years ago I decided to buy the Garmin Viago phone app. This looked very promising–offering the same navigation software as the dedicated units but in the handy package of your phone. I tried it a few times and it was okay. The app was a little glitchy perhaps Continue reading

I was at the Sudbury Graphic-con yesterday and had a great time. There were some amazing costumes that must have taken so much effort to make. It was great to meet everybody and make new friends and I hope everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I did.

To anyone who picked up my free ebook postcards, there’s been a glitch in the free status on Amazon. It was free yesterday but isn’t today when it should have been. It will be back to free status tomorrow, so if you check then you’ll be able to get it. If you ended up inadvertently buying it, please get in touch so we can work something out. You can contact me via email on: writing@davidmkelly.net.

It’s safe to say that as a writer, I spend a lot of time at the keyboard. Actually let’s rephrase that; actually I spend huge amounts of time at the keyboard…. nope, that’s still not accurate… Being an author, I live on the keyboard. Every single day, in fact I’m attached to my computer in a symbiotic relationship like Jadzia had with Dax. There is literally not a single day goes by where I am not here click-click-clicking away.

The first keyboards I used were the old IBM model M keyboards. Man those things were heavy, I mean physically heavy. So heavy that there were special versions of Clue(do) where the result of the whodunit was Colonel Mustard, in the living room, beaten to death using an IBM Model M keyboard.

And that sound they made was awesome. Clack. Click. Clack. Clackclick. You really knew you were in the business of typing something important just from the sound alone. The typing equivalent of a Rolls Royce door shutting. Click Click, Clack Clack Click. Thirty years on, these are still available and even now make a great choice for any committed keyboard ninja.

After that, most PCs switched to the cheaper, membrane keyboards. Those horrible blancmange-filled devices worked… sort of… I mean they put letters on the screen when you pressed them, but it wasn’t the same.

So when I started writing professionally, I looked around for something that would bring back that rich auditory memory of serious typing. This wasn’t entirely self-indulgent (honest!) — a good keyboard can really help your typing speed, your creative thought, and they last significantly longer than those cheap membrane things.

After much research I settled on the incredible DAS Model S professional. This stout beastie makes use of the Cherry MX Blue switches, to give you that resistive feel and satisfying CLICK whenever you press a key, and I quickly fell in love with it. I’ve used it happily ever since I bought it several years ago. (If you want the firm feel without the click go with the MX Brown switches.)

DAS does a range of keyboards from the (extremely daunting) Ultimate models with no lettering, to more friendly professional models like the one I chose. Here it is:

While it looks extremely stylish and feels great, more recently I’ve found the small lettering difficult to read. Also the text is more of a gray on white effect that isn’t obvious in the photo and that also makes it awkward for me (I struggle a little with low contrast colors).

So what to do?

I shopped around and found some vinyl sticker overlays in a large font that looked like they would do the trick and initially I was quite pleased with them. They weren’t especially cheap, but after a few months of (ab)use, I found the downside. The glue isn’t very robust and they started to come unstuck, sliding around on top of the key like an unruly child and needing regular re-positioning. Not ideal for a permanent keyboard jockey like me. Here’s a picture of the mess:

Notice how the lettering isn’t straight and that several are twisted and overhanging? (especially the left CTRL key and in the W and E areas.) And yes, this is a wired keyboard! 😉

So recently I did more research (Yeah! Writer research!) and found several companies that make custom keycaps for Cherry MX switches. In particular, Max Keyboard offered a wide range of styles that looked good, and when I contacted them were extremely helpful and friendly. I didn’t want anything very complicated–large font, pure white on black keys but it turned out that there was a slight hiccup.

I didn’t realize when I bought the DAS Pro that it had a slightly non-standard key set-up that didn’t match the keycap layouts offered by Max. I thought I was out of luck, but after a few emails were exchanged, I found they could do a custom set to match my keyboard for a modest price. The helpful and quick responses made it an easy choice, and I ordered my set happily. The great service continued and the keycaps arrived quickly, despite my out-of the-way location. Then all that was necessary was to swap the keys over.

This was relatively straight forward. First, I arranged all the keycaps in their correct layout to make it easier to swap them over correctly. Max supplied a puller to make getting the old keys off fairly easy. One thing to be aware of on the DAS keyboard:the larger keys (Shift, Enter etc.) have a wire stabilizer that hooks onto two white “eyes” that plug into holes on either side of the central mount that presses onto the actual switch itself. Unhooking these and reattaching them is a little tricky. Also, the eyes have to be transferred from the old keys to the new and they’re “handed” –they have an offset that only works if it’s the same way as the original way they were mounted –so make sure you copy the way they’re facing when you move them. If you don’t, the keys will bind.

Overall, it took me about an hour to switch everything. Be prepared to find out just how much gunky debris there is under the keys on a typical keyboard and clean it out!

Here’s the final result:

I’m very pleased. The keyboard looks much better than the vinyl stickers and feels just as good as ever. Plus with the large font and pure white, they’re easier to see than the original ones. All in all, a great update.

Max Keyboard does a range of colors styles and even graphic designs if you want. They also offer a complete bespoke service if you want to go wild, or have a keyboard that matches a specific app, or set of gaming keys, I’d heartily recommend them. Here are a couple of the more brightly colored options:

Have fun upgrading your keyboard and feel free to share pics of your custom set-up if you upgrade! And if you don’t have a mechanical keyboard yet… well, what are you waiting for? Max Keyboard offers their own version that looks just as good as the DAS version, but with all the benefit of the custom options.

And if that doesn’t convince you, how about this?
Yes, old -school typewriter keys on a modern cherry MX keyboard! You can find these on Ebay and similar sites, I have no idea how good they are, but they sure look cool!

And to think, at one time a keyboard was just something for typing on! Have fun!

It’s time to announce the official release of my short-story, Atoll. It’s not my latest story written. I’ve had it ready or a while but wanted to get my novel out before releasing this one.

The story is loosely connected to my novel Mathematics Of Eternity, taking  place a few decades before the events in the novel. Both stand alone, fully independent of each other–you don’t need to read one before the other, and there are no spoilers. Atoll partly shows how the world got to be the way it is in the novel and in that sense provides some extra detail and history. Here’s my cover design.

That’s not the only news though…

The cover on my short story collection Dead Reckoning And Other Stories has always had a mixed response. Personally I like it (or I wouldn’t have used it!) and think it suits the lead story well, but others have seen it as not being “sci-fi” enough, and some have said it looks more like a horror cover. So I’ve been working for a while on giving it a makeover.

As I’m planning to go to a sci-fi conference in a couple of months, I thought what better time to give it a makeover in time for that. So without further ado (or adon’t!) here’s the new cover. I hope you like it and makes the genre more obvious.

The new design is still taken from a scene inn the lead story. How that ties in to the original cover, I’ll leave for you to figure out 🙂

The new version is available now in ebook and will also be available soon in print.

One of the things that frustrates me sometimes is the limited functionality of the author platform on Amazon. Sure you can log in and monitor things, see how many sales you have and check for reviews, but it’s a pain having to switch between the different local sites.

I think a lot of indie authors, especially in the early days, hang on every sale, and every review they get–these are like golden nuggets to treasure and celebrate because they’re signs that you’re making progress.

Well, being a curmudgeonly somewhat ex-techie, I decided I wanted a better way to spot these things as soon Continue reading

It’s my birthday and you can help me celebrate! How? By reading one of my short-stories that I’ve posted free for everyone to read on my site.

Atoll is a sister story to my recently released novel Mathematics Of Eternity. It’s set a few years before the novel and shows some of the situations that led up to the world you can see in the novel. Be quick, though, it’s only there for today and tomorrow!

Have fun reading 🙂

(No, that’s not really my cake, but I wish it was!)

I’ve finally finished my debut novel and I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished. But it’s involved far more work than I would have ever imagined.

The delay in getting it into production has been a mixture of work related stress, lack of time to work on it, plus my many doubts about my ability. You see, this isn’t my first novel. Depending on how you count it, it’s actually my fourth (or maybe three-and-a-half’th!) So, what happened to the others?

For that, we’ll have to go back to the beginning.

I’ve always wanted to write stories, ever since I was in school devouring every book I could get my hands on. I’d take every possible opportunity to turn class assignments into an opportunity to write a story. This was frowned upon by my teachers and I certainly wasn’t encouraged in my “literary” efforts–quite the opposite in fact.

So I put the idea away and tried to do other “normal” things though it was always latent. I was part of an early games company start-up and as well as programming, 3D, and the other duties (we did everything in those days!), I was always the one writing backstory, creating the world environments and fictional histories.

Jump forward a few years and I found myself commuting to work by train. This journey was supposed to take around forty-five minutes but in reality was usually closer to double that. So that was two or three hours a day of mind-numbing boredom. Something had to be done.

I could have put in extra work for my job, but as I wouldn’t get paid for that or receive any other benefit, that wasn’t going to happen. (If I could have done job work and had a shorter day because of it, I’d have happily taken that option.) So, after some thought, I decided I would try my hand at writing.

I had no real plans at this point as to Continue reading

It’s finally here! The day the world has been waiting for! After many eons in development, Mathematics Of Eternity, the first in an explosive SF thriller series is available! Be the first kid on your block to get your hands on a copy! 🙂 It’s got everything: flying cars, mysterious women,spaceships, genetic engineering, sinister space villains, and a conspiracy that’ll make your hair curl! (Did I get in enough exclamation points? 🙂 )

Ebook and paperback now available on Amazon.

Meet former space engineer, Joe Ballen. These days, he’s scraping a living flying cabs in flooded-out Baltimore, trying to avoid the clutches of his boss and the well-meaning advice of an old friend. When one of his passengers suffers a grisly death, Joe is dragged into a dangerous web of ruthless academic rivalry centered on a prototype spaceship.

As the bodies pile up, Joe becomes suspect number one, and his enemies will stop at nothing to hide the truth. With the help of an enigmatic scientist, a senile survivalist, and the glamorous Ms Buntin, can Joe untangle the conspiracy and prove his innocence before it’s too late?

Mathematics Of Eternity: The future’s about to get a lot more action-packed!

Watch the book trailer

Chapter One

“Negotiations between the assembled Earth nations and Atoll negotiators broke down today, with no relaxation of the restrictions on Earth-based extra-orbital operations. General Chadwick, from the combined Atoll security forces, stated there would be a vigorous response to any attempt by Earth to increase operations outside Low Earth Orbit, other than the Mars mining operation. He also said that this boycott included the starship—”

I stabbed the off-button hard enough to make the plastic click sound like a gun had gone off inside the car. The news shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did. The fact that I used to work in space was part of it—the fact that I couldn’t any longer was another. But mostly it was because the Atolls were right—we didn’t deserve another chance.

I pulled up outside The Kase waiting for the traffic lights to change. The rain on the windshield distorted the garish neon and holo-projections from the bar into painful tracks that burned ghostly afterimages on my retina. I rubbed my face to ease the ache in my eyes, a two-day growth of beard rasping against my palms. Time to polish yourself up a bit, Ballen, otherwise someone’s going to think you stole this cab. It had been that kind of night. The only thing keeping me going was the thought that my tour was over for another twelve hours.

The cab bucked and I grabbed the shuddering controls, wrestling the car into a level attitude. The door hissed open as someone slid in the back. The turbines whined as the stability systems fought to compensate for the shift in weight distribution and for a second I thought we were going to plummet to the ground. […] Read More