Thursday, May 23, 2019

At the edges of Middle Earth

I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan, have been for years. I loved the book and I loved the movies. Yes, sometimes the plot and the characterisation in the movies wasn't what Tolkien described, but hey ho. Different media, different times. I particularly liked the scenery, which as everybody knows, comes from that tiny island nation three hours East of Australia as the 737 flies. I've made a few short trips to the North Island effectively on business, but I really would love to do a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit tour, visiting the locations.

It has been made abundantly clear by family and friends that I can do that on my own and sometime I'll do just that. Meanwhile, the OH and I went on a ten-day trip seeing some of the sites on the South Island.

I've written the blogs on my own site, so if you're interested in a look at Middle Earth, join me at A ten-day small group South Island tour.

Oh - George. How could I forget to mention George? Here he is.George came, too.

Monday, May 20, 2019

My Watch Has Ended...Badly

So, after eight years (actually nine if you count the two years we waited for the final season after season 7), the great epic of our times, Game of Thrones, came to an end last night.

I honestly couldn't wait to see it! I waited all week, thinking about it. The next-to-the-last episode really left things up in the air...or...down on the ground, in many ways.

A major character had run hopelessly amok. A life-long sibling rivalry had ended in a bitter battle to the end that left no winner. Another sibling who had started down the right path, suddenly did an about face and plunged right back into disaster. Probably the most trustworthy and upstanding character of them all was faced with a horrible dilemma. And then the symbolism of one who rode out of the aftermath on a pale horse...

There were deaths. Question marks. More question marks. Flames. Fear. Horror. Grotesqueness. Some brilliant acting. And some absolutely state-of-the-art cinematography. Including a jaw-dropping scene that gave a character wings.

And last night all of those stories and deeds and histories and deaths came to a final, grinding halt.

How do I feel about how it ended? About investing all my time, thoughts, hopes and expectations into a series that concluded in the way that it did?

Let me put it this way...

I'll add one final thought.

Please, oh please, don't ever, ever, ever let me do this to my readers.





Please try to have a good week.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Apparently aliens from another planet judged this week's blog post unworthy and invalidated a key portion of the data I'd hoped to share with you today. But, never fear! I am hard at work making sure the evil creatures don't destroy ALL my recent creative output. Tune in next week for some exciting news on the Interstellar Rescue front--if the aliens don't get me first!

In the meantime, enjoy this photo of my cats doing what cats do. (Hey, if John Scalzi can get away with posting cat pictures, so can I!)

Shadow sleeping with one eye open, because Blanca.
Cheers, Donna

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Forget jet lag. What about planet lag?

When you’re watching movies like Star Wars (any of ‘em) or Star Trek, do you ever wonder (as I do) what it would be like to planet-hop? Many of us have suffered from jet-lag on planet Earth. You get on the plane in Australia and you get off the plane in London and it’s all different.

Okay, so what’s all different? Well, the time, for a start. Good grief, I got on the big bird at 2pm and arrived in Europe at 5am the same day. I travelled for 25 hours and lost half a day. (As a small aside, this is a perfect example of why ‘time’ isn’t real. It depends entirely on where you happen to be – but that’s another story.) This displacement of the day’s routine does terrible things to our body clock, of course. It takes a few days for you to adjust to the time where you are and get back into the cycle of day and night. Time is just one, obvious, aspect of travel. There are so many other things that vary from place to place on our own little globe.

Have you noticed how every city smells different and that’s particularly true if you leave your comfort zone? For people like me, of European descent, going to Asia, for instance, where the lifestyle is… different? There’s the clothes they wear, the customs, whether people look you in the eye, the currency, the trees, which side of the road they drive on… Even if they speak the same language, it’s different. US, British, Australian English all vary from place to place even within their own countries, let alone one to the other. Let’s not forget the food, the music, the houses… I could go on and on. So could you.

Now let’s take that to a planetary level. All of the above may well be true, even where each planet is populated with humans. Let’s keep it simple and not add aliens. What else is different? What if the sun the planet revolves around isn’t the same G class sun as our dear old Sol? The light would affect your perception of colour. Gravity may vary, so you’d weigh less or more and the air would be different. Think about how that works just on our own planet. The atmosphere thins rapidly as you climb higher. This is a real problem for mountaineers who must acclimatise or wear oxygen masks, but the locals are used to it.

I've tried to hint around at some of these things in The Iron Admiral : Conspiracy when Allysha arrives at a new planet.

"Good grief, it was like walking into a sauna. She hesitated until Sean’s hand on her back urged her forward. Moisture began to bead on her face, her shirt stuck to her skin and she was certain she could feel her hair begin to curl. The air tasted different, too; a little bit earthy and sweet. Not unpleasant; just not what she was used to and different again to the arid, dusty air of Brjyl, the only other planet she’d been to apart from home.
The ship had landed on a platform above purple and green forest that spread to the horizon on three sides. Blues and greens seemed brighter, somehow, and reds and oranges more subdued."

Back to our planet and ‘time’. The length of the year (the time it takes the planet to travel around its sun) and the length of the day (the time the planet takes to turn on its axis) will be different. Can you imagine what that would do to the brain’s perception of reality? Then there are seasons, or lack of them. We can assume a planet where people can walk around unprotected has a magnetic field, otherwise we’d be fried on the spot.

I guess, in a way, all this explains why your Star Wars and Star Trek movies rarely venture down the path of real planetary differences. Sure, the scenery is different but the assumption seems to be that the air is breathable and thick enough not to exhaust anybody and the gravity’s fine. Otherwise it might end up being a pretty boring story.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Trip Through Time

This last couple of weeks, I've been doing a bit of time-traveling, though not in the sci-fi sense.

Long, long ago--after the popularity of the TV mini-series Roots inspired millions to investigate their ancestry--I had a pretty good start on my family tree. I knew there were Scots, being descended from the Bruces, and possibly some English nobility, along with French-Canadians, Germans, Irish, Welch and Dutch mixed in, according to my mom.

But I was most intrigued by an old family legend from my father's side that a branch of our family was Native American from one of the Algonquin tribes of the New England/eastern Canada area.

As I started digging, I found my mom was right on many counts, but what I didn't find were the illusive Native Americans, though they might be there and just disguised under their given English or French-Canadian names. 

I took great pride in my accomplishment of tracing my family back to the 1700s. The 1700s! Wow. And I did it all via scouring census and other old handwritten records--many captured on microfiche (remember that?)--and only available in library archives or other official sources. The internet wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eye at that time.

In the last month, I've had a renewed interest in my family tree. A big reason for that is I have a DNA test in process. I'm still hunting for those Native Americans roots! But out of curiosity, I started frogging around with's family tree app.

Within just a few hours time, I had some pretty boggling results!

My forebearers include scores of colonists in the Massachussetts area, a sea captain, a major general, one greatgreatgreatgreat born on a voyage to the New World and given the name of Seaborn, and a branch of Deweys who apparently produced the famous Admiral.

But it's when my bloodlines skipped back across the pond to Europe that things really got interesting.

I was expecting a few exciting discoveries back-tracing the Bruce line, but that line went cold in the early 1600s and I wasn't able to link it back to Scotland to find the proof of my connections to King Robert the Bruce. Though I did have one big surprise in turning up a Bruce line on a completely unexpected branch of my family tree--my father's side! And possibly a third occurrence on another limb under the spelling Bruse.

Statue of Oliver Cromwell
It was actually my mother's paternal side that turned up ancestral gold. I discovered I'm descended from the Cromwells. As in Sir Oliver Cromwell. And the Cromwells, being who they were, have left quite a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back through the centuries. Wayyyy back through the centuries.

The 1700s? Ha. I've now tracked branches of my family back in time to the 400s! Over 1,600 years ago.

My digging to date has revealed I have half a dozen kings, multiple dukes, barons, counts and lords, several knights, a lord mayor of London...and two saints (that was unexpected!) my predecessors. It's a twisting path that weaves through the histories of England, Wales and France--where at one point two members of French and English royalty were married.

But what may be my most exciting discovery of all surrounds one of the very oldest records of that line, which shows that my "47th great-grandfather" (according to may have been a Welch-born Knight of the Round Table during Uther Pendragon's time. According to some accounts, he later rebelled against King Arthur.

His name was Caradoc Freichfas, sometimes also shown as Vreichvras which is the more ancient Welch version and means "Strongarm." I can't be certain yet, because things get very muddy in the ancient past where family names are concerned. They don't follow more modern conventions, and facts and legends are co-mingled and might or might not speak of people who actually existed.

But what I do know is that my sainted ancestor, Saint Amaethlu was born in Wales circa 520, and he did indeed have "ap Caradoc" after his name. In that century, "ap" is the designation for "son of." At least one ancestral record reference identifies the "ap Caradoc" specifically as Caradoc Freichfas.

My research turned up that Caradoc was born circa 500 in Wales, so the dates and locations mesh for them being father and son. I also discovered mentions that Caradoc was a king himself and reportedly founded the line of the Kings of Gwent, and is supposedly depicted in an old painting showing a few select knights in the presence of the Holy Grail (you can see the image of this painting in the bolded Caradoc Freichfas link above).

If I can crosscheck the information I've found and verify he was indeed the father of my last recorded ancestor, Saint Amaethlu (it's looking very good, so far), the trail of that particular bloodline will end with Caradoc's father, designated as "Enynny (also Yrnyr, born ferch Synfarch.)" born in 476. (See what I mean about the confusion of family names?)

There the trail goes cold, at least for now.

My DNA test isn't going to tell me who my specific ancestors were, but I now expect it's going to reflect a lot more Welch and French lineage than I ever anticipated. Of course, this is just one limb in a very large tree, so I may have quite a few other surprises ahead.

And I'll be more than intrigued to find out if that Native American DNA turns up after all. I'll let you know the results in a future blog.

Have a great week.

Friday, May 10, 2019


One of the most alarming aspects of the increasingly negative impact of humans on our overburdened Earth is the weight of indestructible plastic in our landfills and, worse, in our oceans. Only about 20-30 percent of even the most recyclable of our plastic waste can be refashioned into usable form. The rest must go to the landfill (where it remains forever or leaches out into the environment) or be incinerated.

We’ve seen the horrible results of plastics that find their way to our oceans: floating garbage islands many meters across drifting with the currents; whales and other sea creatures dying with their bellies full of micro-bits of plastic that contaminate the plankton and krill the creatures use as food.

Lost in a sea of plastic garbage.
In the U.S., where plastics based on petrochemicals are ubiquitous, calling for reducing use of the material is a hard sell. Individuals can cut back on their own use of plastic at home, but the problem is bigger than that. Even municipal recycling programs are having a difficult time finding a market for their plastic now that China has stopped accepting it.

Technology, though, may provide part of the answer.  According to a post in Science Daily News, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a new type of plastic that can be recycled by taking it apart at the molecular level, and putting it back together again in any shape, texture, and color. The process can be repeated again and again without loss of performance or quality. Discovery of the new material, called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, was reported in the journal Nature Chemistry.

The PDK process strips plastic polymers down to their constituent monomers by dunking the material in an acid bath. This also allows for the removal of any additives that might have given the old material its color, flexibility, toughness or other special characteristics. The new material is like a basic building block that can be recombined in all sorts of new ways. PDK can be torn down and built back up multiple times, making it reusable in a circular process, not just a one-time linear process as is true of conventional plastics.

Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, was lead author of the study that announced the discovery. He admits, “Most plastics were never made to be recycled.” But that was before the team he was part of looked at recycling from “a molecular prospective.”

Christensen’s multidisciplinary team was led by Brett Helms, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry. The DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reports the other co-authors were undergraduate researchers Angelique Scheuermann (then of UC Berkeley) and Kathryn Loeffler (then of the University of Texas at Austin) who were funded by DOE's Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program at the time of the study. The overall project was funded through Berkeley Lab's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

Team leader Brett Helms is clear about the potential impact of the discovery of PDK on our environmental future. "We're at a critical point where we need to think about the infrastructure needed to modernize recycling facilities for future waste sorting and processing," said Helms. "If these facilities were designed to recycle or upcycle PDK and related plastics, then we would be able to more effectively divert plastic from landfills and the oceans. This is an exciting time to start thinking about how to design both materials and recycling facilities to enable circular plastics." 

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post taken from: “Plastic gets a do-over: Breakthrough discovery recycles plastic from the inside out,” Science Daily News, DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, May 7, 2019.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Seven Years Published #scifi #romance

Once upon a time, a tired, overweight mum who had lost herself sat at her computer listening to The Rasmus with an unfinished short story in hand and her three little monsters playing in the garden. I think she'd be quite surprised to look forward and see her 18 titles listed on Goodreads and a handful of print copies sitting on her bookshelf. She might also be a bit cross to see all the unfinished files on the computer and a zero word count for 2019. Oopsie?

But today on the 7th day of May I celebrate my 7th year as a published author. I feel a bit sad that over the past couple of years writing has slipped away from me to the point where I probably won't publish anything this year, but that's in large part down to my slightly earlier than expected return to full time work. I love my job as a science technician, but right now I'm not finding any way to carve out any writing time. I even had to turn down a dream project earlier this year because of it. But real life has to come first.

So what can I promise? Only that I don't intend to leave Keir and Quin's series incomplete, and that there are other stories to come. It's just going to take rather longer than I imagined back in 2012 when Keir first released. I can't abandon them. I just can't tell you when...

Like most of my stories, nothing has quite gone the way I'd planned or imagined. But isn't that the fun part?
Meanwhile, I do still have all those published works available...
Chook Update
It's been a sad year so far. Unfortunately I've lost two of my girls: sablepoot Jasmine, just a year old, to leg paralysis, while little black Firefly (our hatchling from 2017 and surrogate mum to my three little madams who hatched a year ago) disappeared without trace. And white Effie, who fought so hard to reach number three hen, suffered a respiratory illness which has strangely left her blind in one eye and back to the lower ranks.

Firefly with her babies

Jasmine helping me edit

Effie in her former glory
We also lost our gecko Yoshi.
And little madam Trinity not only went missing for 24 hours but suffered egg binding, although she now seems fully recovered.
We also have new babies, six weeks old today. This is little boy testing out his crow.
So it's all go on the chook side. And there are things afoot in cosplay too.
But that's a surprise for later... ;)

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