Monday, July 31, 2017

My Virtual Vacation: A PhotoJournal

Hey, it's the last day of July! How did that happen? Can you believe the year is already 7/12th over! Only a third yet to go.

Wow! Old twenty-seventeen is really flying by.

This past week I was able to experience a little nostalgia via my spouse. By osmosis. :) He made a trip back to my (and his) former stomping grounds, while I stayed behind to tend to the animals and the ranch. Still, it was kinda fun sharing the trip back to good ol' Michigan with him as it happened, via texts, photos and videos.

Here are a few highlights.

A trip to the U.P. (Michigan's upper peninsula) always includes a crossing of Big Mac--the beautiful Mackinac Bridge (pronounce "MACK in naw"). Built in 1957, the bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac, the stetch of water between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron that divides the upper and lower peninsulas.

The bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It's quite similar in construction and aesthetics to the Golden Gate bridge and is truly an unique and majestic landmark.

Side view of distant Big Mac

Crossing the bridge

A big Great Lakes freighter passing beneath the bridge

The destination was Uncle Bob's cabin near Trout Lake, where the family traditionally gathers every summer for swimming, skiing, boating, cook-outs and fun.

Some ducks who stopped by for breakfast--I think they're female mallards.
The metal work next to them surrounds an outdoor fire pit.

A beautifully serene U.P. sunset

This is Uncle Bob and Chippy. Uncle Bob is 92 years young.
Chippy is--you guessed it--a somewhat-tame wild chipmunk.

A close-up of Chippy.

After the family get-together, David and company continued north to Pinestump Junction near the old family cabin on McTivers Lake.

Pinestump Junction's name dates back to lumberjack days, when the postal service was instructed to leave mail for the lumberjacks "by the big pine stump at the road junction." Here are two shots from one of the local restaurants.

The sign for the Pinestump Cook Shack and Drinkery reflects
the colorful history behind the placename.

A wonderful old fireplace in the restaurant was
fashioned from local river stones.

After visiting their property and the shores of Lake Superior, they also walked along the Cut River Bridge Trail.

David's trip back downstate to the family home near Mason included a stop at Higgins Lake--my hometown (except it's really not big enough to be a town). Here's a photo of David with my nephew, Tyler, who now runs a store near the lake with his family.

David and Tyler in front of the lake store.

Another view of the store, which is located very near the
lakeshore in a State Park.

A view of Higgins Lake. This is where I grew up. It was named
by National Geographics as one of the six most beautiful lakes in the world.
It's also a (fictionalized) setting in one of my upcoming novels. :)

David spent a few days relaxing at the old homestead where he grew up. The neighborhood is south of Michigan State University. Before the trees got tall, they could see the old smokestacks with MSC on the side from the house. MSC stands for Michigan State College. The smokestacks were built before the college became a major university.

Front entry to David's childhood home, south of East Lansing.
This is a shot of the lovely courthouse in Mason, Michigan. It's David's hometown but I also wax nostalgic about the place because I spent a lot of time here as a teen and young adult. My Dad owned a home in Mason.

Mason Courthouse on the town square


David was also able to make a trip down to meet with friends--and platoon commander of the U.S. Blue Devil Horse Platoon--in the Chelsea area southeast of Mason. This is where our Irish Sport Horse, Midnight Mission (aka "Velvet") was located during her career with the platoon.

During his time with the Blue Devils as a Reserve Lancer, David rode with the British Royal Household Cavalry and participated in equestrian drills and training for the Queen's Jubilee in the Netherlands with the Cavalerie Ere Escorte.

The Roon Farm Arena -- Home of the U. S. Blue Devils Horse Platoon

Old photo of our Midnight Mission (aka "Velvet") as the Blue Devils'
riderless horse--ala the famous Black Jack. Velvet is an
Irish Sport Horse which is half Thoroughbred, half Irish Draught.

David astride Buddy (on right) for the Silver Bells Parade in Lansing, Michigan.

Buddy has since passed on (just this last January), but Capito and Piet Hine are still in the barn, now aged 20 and 21.

Photo of Capito (far left in painting) in his stall at Roon Farm.

Photo of Piet Hine. He's the second horse from the
far right in the painting. David took these photos
of both horses last week.

Needless to say, it was a very nostalgic time (for both of us) thinking back to the Blue Devil days.

And meanwhile, back at the ranch...

After a dry spell, the monsoons came back with a vengeance.

July monsoon thunderheads forming over the ranch.

David returned home safe and sound, though not without an airline glitch or two--and we celebrated his trip with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Pappadeux.

If you're vacationing this summer--virtually or otherwise--here's hoping you have a wonderful time.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 28, 2017


Exciting news in the world of science and technology today, dear readers! Or, as we SFR authors like to say, “Here be plot bunnies!”

--“Wetware” coming soon.  That is, if the Department of Defense has anything to say about it. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding six teams to create an implant that can record the activity of as many as one million brain cells (neurons) at once and send basic signals back into the brain. This is a fraction of the brain’s power (the average brain contains 80 billion neurons), but it’s a big leap from the few neurons we can monitor currently. Researchers say the tech could one day be used to restore senses, read thoughts or “even create consciousness itself.” (Or, more probably, it will have us all wired to the internet 24/7/365.) Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has also dropped cash on a company working on a brain/computer interface. Can the world SF author William Gibson (Neuromancer) envisioned be far off? (Adam Piore in as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

--Talk to the hand. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have developed an electronic glove that can translate the movements of American Sign Language into text. By “interpreting” the signs in text on a smartphone or computer screen, the innovation makes it possible for the hearing impaired to make themselves easily understood by persons who do not sign. The glove could also be used to manipulate objects in virtual reality sometime in the future. The best news of all—the prototype glove cost only $100 to build. (Avery Thompson in as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

--No time for cruises near the Antarctic. In the exciting conclusion to a drama scientists have been watching for years, the Larsen-C Ice Shelf calved an iceberg the size of Delaware last week as a huge rift in the shelf widened and split the berg from the continent. Antarctica is 12 percent smaller because of the loss of the piece of shelf, which scientists calculate weighs one trillion tons. The iceberg had no immediate effect on sea levels, but experts point out that the Larsen-C shelf plays a crucial role in holding back the flow of Antarctica’s glaciers into the sea. The event could trigger a chain reaction, with more ice sliding into the ocean and raising sea levels by as much as four inches. All scientists will say with any certainty is that the future stability of the Larsen-C shelf is at risk. ( as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

--Like coffee? Drink up! In welcome news to writers, editors and agents everywhere, two new studies show significant health benefits to drinking coffee. In fact, the more you drink, the more you benefit in terms of lower risk of death from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. A study of 186,000 adults by Veronica Setiawan of the University of Southern California and her team showed mortality risk dropped 12 percent for those who drank just one cup of coffee per day. The risk dropped 18 percent for those who drank two to three cups per day.  A second, 16-year study conducted on over 500,000 adults in Europe indicated the men who drank the most coffee had a 12 percent lower risk of death. For women, the risk dropped by seven percent. No one knows yet why coffee has such beneficial effects, although it is known that the drink contains strong antioxidants. Both studies agreed caffeine was not the secret ingredient, however. Decaf produced similar benefits. ( as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

--But decaf only after 4:00 p.m. A new study shows poor sleep quality may increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The study asked 101 people who already had genetic risk factors for the disease (but no symptoms) to complete a questionnaire about their sleep habits. Then samples of their spinal fluid were taken. Those who reported sleep problems had more biological markers of the brain disease—buildups and tangles of toxic proteins (such as beta-amyloid and tau), brain-cell damage and inflammation. Researchers admit the link between poor sleep and later Alzheimer’s is not clear. But it is known that the brain uses REM sleep time for “housekeeping”, clearing out harmful toxins and organizing information. Sleep loss could interfere with this process. (New York Times as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Come and meet Puss

It must be something in the ether. When I decided to add a pet in space to my latest WIP, Pets in Space 2 wasn't a thing - as far as I knew, anyway. I needed something new to add interest to my couple from Eye of the Mother, Tian and Brent. I loved Linnea Sinclair's furrzels in Games of Command, I loved the Pets in Space stories, so I decided to introduce a non-human to the action.

Puss isn't a pet per se. She's certainly a feline in appearance. Having loved and been loved by a few Siamese cats in my time, it stands to reason Puss is like one of those Oriental cats - sleek, short fur, triangular head, lean body. She has emerald eyes, though, and she's almost completely black, except for a small patch of white on her chest. That's a sort of fingerprint for her species - every individual's patch is slightly different.

The species is alien. They're called auralfangs, and they have a few characteristics which set them apart. Their long tails are prehensile, wonderful for their jungle natural habitat. They don't purr, or meow. They communicate telepathically, in colors. Puss does an excellent job of understanding human speech, but naturally, she can't respond in words. She's smart, though. Here's a snippet from the first draft of the story. (First draft - please ignore typos and such)

"What in hells happened there?" Brent sank into a chair.
"Looks like she can do what we can do, only better." Tian sat opposite him, while Puss took up a spot on the table between them. The auralfang's mental images were of reassurance. "We can reinforce a thought, but she touched them and they changed their minds. It was almost like watching a mind-wipe."
Brent stretched out his hand slowly and touched Puss. She pushed her head into his hand and he scratched under her chin. "She likes it." His lips stretched into a silly, goofy smile, like a little boy.
Tian smiled. "Most felines do. Did you ever have a pet?"
He shook his head. "Not with a father like mine. Have you noticed she's never made a sound?"
He was right. She'd never growled or meowed, never purred. "Maybe the mental thing is how they communicate with each other." Puss broadcast green. So that was right. "She just said yes."
Brent's eyes widened. "She spoke to you?"
"No. But the waves of color mean things. Soft mauves and pinks are soothing, murky reds and deep blacks are fear, blue is anger?" She waited for the green approval signal and got it. "And green is yes. Puss understands our speech and responds in color and images." Another wave of exuberant green. "This is one clever Puss." Tian smiled as the feline blinked at her. One more thing to check. "You changed what those two people wanted?" Another flood of green.
Brent straightened. "She can do that? Would she do that to us?"
The flood of green changed to a soft, bright red. Let's take that as no.
Tian held the auralfang's gaze. "But you could?"
The green swirled. A flash of red intruded. Yes and no? The cat sent an image of the ice bear, a Dron, a Yrmak, all overlaid with the distinctive shade of 'no' red. Then an image of Wong, with the green of 'yes'. And then Tian and Brent, with green and red.
"Wow. And she's been sending you this stuff all the time?"
"You're getting this, too?"
Brent nodded. "What do you think it means?"
"It doesn't work on aliens." Green.
"It does work on humans." Green
"She could affect us." Green and red.
Tian sat back. "I don't get it."
Puss's tail switched from side to side, then she pounced on Brent's hand and bit.
He snatched his hand away. "Bad Puss. Don't bite."
Puss gazed steadily at Tian, then back at Brent's hand. The substitute blood oozed, but Brent wasn't hurt. In moments the marks faded and the skin healed. "You didn't hurt him." Green.
Okay. Try this. "You can't hurt him." Green.
Oh shit. "She knows we're cyborgs." Green. Triumphant green. Puss pushed her head under Tian's hand.

So there you have it. A very clever alien feline has joined the fray. If people like her, she might be in other adventures. We shall see. 

For the Greater Good should be out around September.