SHORT STORY

“Comrade Stalin Goes to Mars”

New Short Story Release: “Comrade Stalin Goes to Mars”

I have a new short story out under the Kindle Select Program.

 This short story can be purchased at  http://amzn.to/2fp4KON

 About the story:

 The scientists created him, a clone of Comrade Stalin. The politicians deployed him, a weapon to vanquish the rising tide of global chaos. He smiles, everyone’s beloved Uncle Joe, and goes back to work.

 The music rings from his dacha, and the screams ring from the Lubyanka.

 The cowards hadn’t counted on that. No, indeed. And so they exile Comrade Stalin to Mars.

 And he goes.

 Happily . . .

 After all, where better to renew the Great October Revolution than on the red planet?

 “Comrade Stalin Goes to Mars”, part science fiction and part political thriller, explores the surprising junction between terror and opportunity.

 

NOVEL

NOW PUBLISHED: THE VIEW THAT DISAPPEARED

I am pleased to announce the publication of THE VIEW THAT DISAPPEARED, a contemporary mystery set in the Seattle, Washington, USA, metro area.

Due to the success of my previous Goodreads giveaways of advanced reading copies, I am now sponsoring a giveaway of the published version of THE VIEW THAT DISAPPEARED.

About the book:

He couldn’t wait to see the headline: Old fart dies in bid to recapture youth.

Octogenarians Jack and Betty Luckner have an iron-willed sense of justice and a street-smart fearlessness.

When one too many of their friends dies unexpectedly, Jack and Betty confront the possibility that a serial killer stalks their jolly retirement community. Armed only with old newsletters and a willingness to bend the law, they set out to stop the killings, but what’s to stop the killer from adding Jack and Betty to the body count?

Blending the gritty styles of hardboiled mystery fiction and a satirical edge reminiscent of Mel Brooks or Terry Pratchett, THE VIEW THAT DISAPPEARS delivers an exciting, page-turning romp through one couple’s struggle for justice.

Good luck and good reading!

Purchase this book HERE!

 

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FREE FICTION: THE CHINESE PANDA VASE (A NOVELLA)

FREE FICTION: THE CHINESE PANDA VASE (A SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA)

(Novella, Science Fiction) When two violent home invaders steal a family heirloom from Johnny Rohgan, the police threaten to arrest him of having used excessive force in his efforts to prevent the theft. As for Johnny’s stolen property, the police make it abundantly clear that they have more important things to do than attempt to recover a Chinese panda vase. They also tell him that if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll forget all about it. Undaunted, Johnny sets out to recover the vase, while steering clear of the boys and girls in blue.

This story is available for free download in either MOBI or EPUB formats.

It is also available through AMAZON and SMASHWORDS for purchase.

 

FLASHERS

MY NEW OLD DEPTH SOUNDER—PART 4

Digital depth sounders display depths as numbers: 125.6, 23.9, 45.7, and so on—one number at a time.

Flasher depth sounders, often called flashers, display depths as flashes of light around a gradated circular display. The gradations come in various scales: feet, fathoms, and so on; and often it’s possible to select between them. More often than not, flashers display multiple “depths” simultaneously.

What?

Isn’t there only one depth?

No, actually, there isn’t.

Hang tight and I’ll explain.

DEPTH FINDER 2
A Flasher Showing a Depth of 15 Feet

The flasher depth sounder creates a flash representing the depth from which each “significant” echo has returned, and as indicated above, often multiple flashes, that is, multiple depths, are displayed at the same time. The operator can determine what is and what is not “significant” by adjusting the instrument’s gain and sensitivity controls.

The picture to the right shows a flasher indicating a depth of 15 feet.

Usually, the strongest echoes come from the bottom and make the brightest flashes. Weeds and fish return weaker echoes and make duller flashes.

This isn’t really as confusing as it might at first appear to be.

For example, if the bottom is at 45 feet, the top of the weeds are at 35 feet, and a fish is cruising along at 24 feet, then a flasher will display flashes at 45 feet, 35 feet, and 24 feet. If you don’t want see the weeds and the fish, you can, mostly, adjust the unit so that it doesn’t display them.

With a minimal amount of experience, it’s duck soup to tell what’s important and what’s not and to adjust the depth sounder accordingly. I’ve almost always been able to adjust flashers so that the only echoes reported are the ones coming from the bottom. Yes, there can be stray flashes, but it’s easy to tell whether or not they can be ignored.

Also with a bit of experience, it’s possible to tell what sort of bottom is down there: rock, mud, sand, and so on. Often there’s a layer of mud or debris over a hard bottom. With more experience it’s possible to figure that out, too, and how thick it is, using the intensity and pattern of the flashes.

On the other hand, current-generation fish finders use the returning echoes to paint a picture of the entire water column and, to some extent, the bottom. They display that picture on a television-like screen.

Some fish finders display a fairly abstract image, while others display detailed renderings. Some are so fine-detail oriented that they can show the wheels on Junior’s discarded bicycle, the position of a lure in relation to the fish, and, I guess, whether or not the fish look hungry.

Which is all the good, but what I’m primarily interested in is, how stinking deep is the stinking water? And I need to know that reliably, time after time, regardless of turbulence, kelp, algae, plankton, jellyfish, and changes in water temperature.

In and of itself, however, depth often isn’t the whole story. Many beautiful anchorages were at one point log-booming areas or built-up in some way. Depending on how long they’ve been abandoned, the bottoms of such areas can be littered with deadheads, broken-off pilings, and other debris.

In such places it would be nice to have a fish-finder’s rendering of what is on the bottom: deadheads, pilings, outlying rocks, etc.—things that can foul an anchor or punch a hole in the boat’s hull.

In such situations, I don’t know of anything that is quite as good as a high-quality fish finder.

On balance, however, I’ve decided that my next project will be to install a flasher depth sounder on my boat. No, it won’t tell me whether or not the fish are smiling or where the remains of the wrecked docks are lurking, but it will tell my how deep the water is . . . time after time after time. And therein lies its value.

 

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Free Fiction: Honest John’s Fine Used Spaceships

When a customer demands a spaceship that can do the absurd, Honest John feels compelled to live up to his reputation for honesty and tell the guy to take a hike. On the other hand, as the saying goes, the customer is always right, especially when there’s a pile of money involved.

You can download this story in a variety of formats:

EPUB

MOBI

PDF

This story is also available through SMASHWORDS and through AMAZON

FLASHERS

MY NEW OLD DEPTH SOUNDER—PART THREE

Digital depth sounders, sometimes called digital depth instruments, report depths as a series of single numbers. For example, 23.0, 23.5, 23.7, 22.9, and so on.

Herein lies the key to the problem with digitals. They can only report one depth at a time. By their very nature, digitals display those numbers one after another, like the times displayed on the face of a digital watch: 12:31, 12:32, 12.33, and so on. Whether that one depth is the depth you’re interested in or, effectively, noise is another matter.

So, where do those numbers come from and why all the guessing, or what amounts to guessing?

Digitals, like all depth sounders, send out pulses and measure the time between when the pulse was sent out and when the echo of that pulse returns. Let’s call that difference the delay.

Using the delay, the depth sounder can then calculate the depth of the water. The longer the delay, the deeper the water. The shorter the delay, the shallower the water.

Makes sense, right?

Wrong.

You see, there’s a fly buzzing around in the ointment. Well, several flies, actually. For every pulse sent out, a whole bunch of echoes come back: echoes from the bottom, from nearby rocks, from weeds, from fish, from kelp, from just about anything that can return an echo. That’s a whole lot of stuff; that’s a whole lot of echoes.

Once received back at the depth finder itself, that buzzing swarm or echoes is fed into a highly complex and equally sophisticated algorithm. In go the echoes, the machine goes crunch-a, crunch-a, crunch-a, and out comes a number: 21.7 feet, for example.

Pretty cool, huh?

Yep, pretty cool . . . until something goes wrong. When that happens—and in my experience it happens a lot—reliability flies out the old porthole. (The trick at that point is to make sure that the keel doesn’t slam into the old mud!)

Sound behaves differently in salt water, brackish water, and fresh water. It behaves differently in warm water, tepid water, and cold water. It behaves differently in water that swarming with algae and water that’s clear.

And that poor little algorithm, despite its sophistication and decades of development by the finest minds in the industry, often can’t cope. It has to make assumptions, it has to pick and choose, it bases current calculations, in part, on past calculations, and a lot of the time, it literally, for lack of a better term, gets lost.

I’ve found that when I’m in cold, clear water, my digital works just fine. I’ve also found that when I’m in deep water, rather than report “no bottom,” it tells me I’m in impossibly shallow depths. In the relatively warm, relatively cloudy waters of Puget Sound, it often delights in telling me that I’m in less water than my boat draws. Frequently, it can’t decide whether I’m in 158, 126, 75, 58, or 3.5 feet of water—all within the course of a few seconds. You can imagine how much fun this is when I’m trying to nose into bay to drop the hook.

Complicating matters still further, there’s no way for the user to adjust the gain or sensitivity of the units. That is, there’s no way to “tell” the digital that there’s a lot of “crud” in the water and to pay attention only to the strongest echoes. Think of this as being the rough equivalent of having a volume control.

Overall, digitals are fine units, but they do have their limitations, and often, those limitations make the difference between an enjoyable day on the water and a day spent in the enthralling anticipation of becoming suddenly and intimately familiar with the local underwater landscape, be it mud, rock, sand, kelp, or Junior’s discarded bicycle.

 

 

FLASHERS

MY NEW OLD DEPTH SOUNDER—PART TWO

To review . . .

When it comes to being out on the water, one of the better ways to ruin a perfectly good trip is to run out of water, that is, to run aground. Just ask Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the ill-fated Exxon Valdes. Hell, just ask me. Ask just about anyone who’s been boating for any length of time.

Eventually, almost everyone runs aground.

Ah, yes, but how to avoid this potentially lethal calamity? (And running aground can be and often is lethal, even in a small boat.)

The simple answer to that one is that you have to make sure your boat has more water under her than she needs float. If your boat draws six feet of water, as mine does, then you have to make sure you keep her in water that is over six feet deep. Duh! (Frozen water doesn’t count.)

So, all in all, you have to know how deep the water is.

Reliably.

Which brings me back to the close of Part One.

When I’m out on my boat, I want to know how far down the bottom is, and, if possible, what sort of bottom is down there: rock, mud, sand, gravel, weed, or some combination.

Reliably.

R-E-L-I-A-B-L-Y!

Enter the problems with digital depth sounders.

By and large, these are fine instruments, and I am certainly not about to remove the one I have on my boat.

However, digitals do have a couple of critical weakness.

As far as I can tell, these spring from their nature as digital instruments, that is, they report depth as a number.

“What’s the big deal?” I hear you ask.

Hang tight, and I’ll tell you.

Depth sounders work by sending out sound pulses, waiting for the echoes, and then measuring the elapsed time between sending out any given pulse and receiving back the echo from that pulse.

Simple.

You wish!

The root of the problem is that sound will bounce off, echo off, a lot more than just mud, rock, sand, gravel, weed, etc. It will also bounce off fish, turbulence in the water, the layers between water masses of varying temperatures, baby jellyfish, adult jellyfish, plankton, whales, seals, submarines, garbage, and a lot of other stuff.

And we’re only getting started.

The pulses that depth sounders shoot into the water spread out, and as they do, they trace a cone-like shape. Therefore, by design, they strike a much wider area than would, say, a focused beam of light travelling through air and hitting a wall.

Moreover, sound waves do not bounce off only one thing. Indeed, they bounce off anything and everything they can. They’re very conscientious in that regard.

So, for example, a depth sounder sends out a pulse. A short time later, back comes the return. But it’s not just one echo. Rather, it’s a mass, a swarm of echoes, all originating from that one pulse.

Some of these echoes are strong, some are weak, some are slightly ahead of or behind the others, and so on. Those wildly differing echoes could have come from water turbulence, fish, weeds, debris, soft mud, hard mud, rocks, algae, eel grass, kelp, and the bottom—in multiple places and at multiple depths.

Oh, goodie!

Now, in one way or another, to one extent or another, flasher depth sounders and fish finders report all, or most, of these echoes, ether as a series of flashes around a scale or as a television-like “picture” of what’s under the boat. (More about this in Part Four.) The point here is that the report is visual. The operator gets to interpret and adjust the display.

With digital depth sounders, the report is strictly digital: a number. What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it. Period. Believe it, or don’t.

That number results from feeding that buzzing swarm of echoes, their delays and probably their strengths into a highly complex and equally sophisticated algorithm. In go the delays and the strengths, the machine goes crunch, crunch, crunch, and out comes a number: 21.7 feet, 245.9 feet, 34.6 meters, 61.2 fathoms.

Pretty cool, huh?

Yep, pretty cool . . . right up until the time that something goes wrong and reliability flies out the old porthole.

And that, girls and boys, what can and does go wrong, will be the subject of Part Three in this series of posts.

 

FLASHERS

MY NEW OLD DEPTH SOUNDER—PART ONE

Depth Finder Showing a Depth of 15 Feet
A Flasher Depth Finder Showing a Depth of 15 Feet

When it comes to boating, let’s take it as read that knowing how deep the water is under your boat is pretty important. Any mistakes in this regard can ruin your whole day.

You already know how much water your boat draws, don’t you? Of course, you do. It’s right there in the owner’s manual, under the heading “Draft.”

So, how do you know out how deep the water is?

In lots of ways.

For example, if you can plot your position on a nautical chart, you can read the depth of the water where you are, right off the chart—maybe not for your exact position, but certainly for positions nearby.

You do know how to determine your position and plot it, don’t you?

Another way to find out how deep the water is, is to use a lead line. Lead lines come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the traditional to the improvised. Essentially, they consist of a heavy weight and a long, stout line with marks on it. Traditionally, these marks are spaced at one-fathom intervals along the line and are marked with things like strips of red cloth, strips of leather, and so on.

The lead line I carry aboard my boat consists of a fairly heavy fishing weight tied to a braided cord that I’ve knotted every fathom—one knot for one fathom, two knots for two fathoms, and so on.

It is not a very long lead line, but then I don’t need very long lead line. I use mine to make sure that I have enough water under the stern of my boat when I’m stern tying, when I want to make sure my depth sounder is working properly, and so on.

A more convenient method is to use a depth sounder, also called a depth finder. Because sound bounces, or echoes, depth sounders can use sound waves to determine how deep the water is.

It works like this. The depth sounder emits a high-frequency pulse of sound that is shot into the water by a transducer. That same transducer then picks up the returning echo of that pulse and feeds it back to the sounder itself. The sounder then uses the length of the delay between the pulse and the echo to calculate the depth of the water.

That depth can be displayed in a variety of ways. Early on, depths were displayed as lines on a piece of paper or as flashes of light on a circular scale. These days, depth sounders that used the flashing-light method are called “flashers,” not to be confused with the other sort of flasher.

During the 1970s and 1980s, these flashing displays gave way to digital displays, which reported the depth as a number. My digital depth sounder displays three digits plus the decimal.

Digital depth sounders are still very popular and, for the most part, quite handy. They can be configured to display depths in feet, fathoms, or meters, and they can be configured to compensate for the depth of the transducer below the boat’s waterline.

I had one of these “depth instruments” on my previous boat, and I have one on my current boat.

However, depth sounders have come a long way, baby. Early on, like a tree branching, they evolved into fish finders.

Flashers were also sold as fish finders, and, indeed, there are currently several brands of flasher fish finders on the market, for use, primarily, in ice fishing.

Today’s common fish finder is an entirely different bread of catfish. Using multiple frequencies and television-like display screens, fish finders “paint” a picture of the water column beneath the boat, showing the bottom, rocks, logs, weeds, debris, and, oh, yes, any fish present.

Once introduced, it wasn’t long before screen-display fish finders were integrated into chartplotters, or, conversely, chartplotters were integrated into the fish finders.

These combination units can be optimized to show the contour of the bottom and the fish, or they can be optimized to show a stunningly detailed image of the bottom. So far, the units I’ve seen can’t really do both, owing, roughly speaking, to the way sound wave behave in the water, etc. The prices for one of these units can also be fairly stunning, too.

Hold onto that topic: the way sound waves behave in the water.

Anyway, this is all fine and dandy, but I just want to know how deep the water is under my boat. I’m not looking to kill fish, nor am I looking for the wreck of the schooner Hesperus.

I just want to know how far down the bottom is, and, if possible, to come by some idea about its composition: rock, mud, or sand.

Reliably.

R-E-L-I-A-B-L-Y!

And there by hangs a tale.

Which I will take up in my next post in this series.

 

 

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About Writing THE VIEW THAT DISAPPEARED

Writing a novel can begin with anything: with a theme, with an image, with a snippet of dialogue, with a premise, with a real or imagined event, with a regional accent . . . with with whatever gets the writer’s fingers dancing.

The View that Disappeared began with the conjunction of a few lines of imagined dialogue and various stories that have been handed down in my family. Those lines of dialogue morphed into the Jack Luckner’s voice, his character, his attitude. As for the family stories, they were my grandmother’s tales of her time as a cook in an “old folks’ home” in Portland, Oregon. Needless to say, these stories were not happy little ditties about honored seniors living out their sunset years, or days, in a state of jolly and spritely tranquility.

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BOATING

RUNNING AGROUND FOR FUN AND PROFIT: THE PROFIT

It’s time to wrap up this series of posts on running aground and move on to other topics. “What other topics?” I hear you ask. Depth finders, anchoring, kayaks, crab pots, the release of my newest novel, hiking from one bay to another, mornings on the water, “Juneuary” weather in British Columbia, navigating rapids and narrows, writing, and so on.

Yes, fine, but what about the profit side of running aground for fun and profit?

Well, here goes.

We went aground in the Octopus Islands in the summer or 2015. (By rights, I ought to say that we went arock.) We figured at we’d taken some paint off the bottom of the keel, but that other than a patch of missing paint, we’d come through pretty much unscathed.

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