Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Friday, February 17, 2017

&^$&%$*^& Illegal Immigrants

Ok, let's all admit right up front that we have an illegal immigration problem.  Until we do that, there's no way we can devise a solution to that problem.  Ignoring it will only make it worse.  It's a costly problem, and it kills and maims citizens in this country.

In my opinion, we have three kinds of illegals that are coming to this country:
1)  "Americans born elsewhere" that want to be a part of the United States, that come here and work to make a place for themselves.  Many come here legally, and many more come here illegally.  That includes those that simply overstay - permanently - their visas.  The majority of these make good citizens, and we need to find a way to work them into our national fabric.
2)  People who come here to live off of the nation's citizens:  welfare recipients, people who work the gray labor market, people that take advantage of our "free" education system, "free" medical care, and a higher standard of living than most places elsewhere, but without contributing anything to being a citizen.  Round them up, and except for a very, very few exceptions, ship them back home.  Period.
3)  People who come here to destroy our society and our way of life.  That includes EVERYONE who wants to force the US to recognize Sharia law.  Sharia law and the US Constitution are totally incompatible.  Anyone who wants to live under Sharia law can go somewhere where Sharia law is the "law of the land".  They don't belong in the United States.  This also includes everyone who comes here and continues or begins criminal ways.  If you're an illegal and a criminal, the US needs to simply lock you away for as long as you deserve, and deport you.  If you come back, we should simply shoot you and be done with it.

I'm a retired Air Force imagery analyst.  I spent 26 years looking at overhead imagery.  I loved my job, and still spend countless hours at Google Earth -- far more than I should.  There's a shot of the US/Mexico border just south of Deming, NM, taken Feb 23, 2016.  It shows the border fence ending at a gully.  Less than a mile north of there, there are 29 people walking north -- illegal immigrants entering the US.  All they had to do was walk around the end of the fence.  If anyone else wants to look at the imagery, the coordinates are 31.47.05N 107.57.75W.  Look for the end of the loop of the road that runs along the border, then follow the gully north.  Those little dots walking along the gully are people.

Illegal immigration costs us billions every year.  It also puts the lives of people in danger, forces up the costs of government, and destroys jobs for local citizens.  There is a growing pool of evidence that illegals are voting in our elections.  One California politician bragged that half his family is here illegally.  This is destroying our nation from within, and can no longer be tolerated. 

I'm Baaaaccckkkk!

It's been quite awhile since I posted last.  Life just got in the way.  I hope to get back to posting on a regular basis. 

Friday, January 01, 2016

A New Job

 I'm going to pin this to the top for the foreseeable future, and all new posts will be beneath it.  The one thing I didn't include in this post was contact information.  If you want to contact me, but not through this blog, email me at mike dot weatherford at gmail dot com (words used to confuse the spambots). 

I've been one of those Christians that has always said, "Use me, Lord, in whatever capacity you wish."  Well, don't do it unless you mean it, because He'll find a job for you.  He's found one for me.

I spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet.  I have some physical problems that make it difficult for me to do most things.  That keeps me from doing most of the things normal Christians do -- volunteer in one or more capacities in their spare time.   But God will find a way to use us in whatever capacity we're able to be used.  He has tasked me to minister to the Internet communities I belong to.

There are some things that I can't do.  I can't marry people, since I'm not an ORDAINED minister (if you need an ordained minister, I'll refer you to my brother-in-law).  I'm not to preach.   I'm not to make any distinction about creed -- in fact, faith (or even the absence of it) is not a criteria.  And I'm not to take any money, even for others.

What I CAN do, and what God wants me to do, is to minister.  To pray for the sick, the lonely, and those in pain.  To listen.  To provide a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to hold in the dark. 

The Internet has brought people together from all over the world, into online communities.  There are many people who prey on such communities, but there are few who minister to them.   God has tasked me to minister to those communities I belong to.  I will do my best to serve Him, and my communities.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

An open letter to all my friends and family.

I wasn't able to make it to the family reunions in July and September.  I'm not going to make it to my 50th High School reunion this October, no matter how much I'd love to, or how much I'd love to connect to the people I spent twelve years of my life with.  Many of you have asked "why".  It's not from lack of desire.  There is so much of my life I'd really like to share with my family, and with the people I went to school with.  It's not that I don't want to, but that I just plain CAN'T.  Thus, this open letter.

I live 1200 miles from the place where I went to high school, and where the family reunions are held every year.  I've made the trip down there more than thirty times in the past, so why not one more time?  I have plenty of friends and relatives I could stay with, and it really doesn't cost that much to drive down and back, so why not?  Or why not fly?  Airlines today goes just about everywhere.  Flying isn't as stressful as driving, is it?

The truth is, my body won't allow me to make that trip unless it's a dire emergency, such as a major death in the family, or some other catastrophe.   I might be able to make it down there, but it would be very difficult to make it back in less than a week, regardless of whether I drove or flew.

What's so terribly wrong I couldn't drive or fly to Tioga?  It's complicated!  Mostly, though, it's that my back (and much of the rest of my body) has taken a terrible beating over the last fifty years.  Much of it is from things I did during my military service, although there were - and still are - other contributing factors.

It probably began with my birth and childhood, but the first major damage I can point to occurred when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy, in 1964, right out of high school.  I suffered what today would be described as a "closed-head injury" during a boxing match right after Thanksgiving, 1964.  I was having constant, unremitting headaches by the the first week of December, and spent the last three weeks of the semester in the Cadet hospital.  My grades, which hadn't been stellar before that, took a nose-dive, and I was sent home.  The headaches were mostly gone by June, 1965, and I rejoined the Air Force as an enlisted member.

With Basic Training and tech school behind me, I had three rather eventful assignments:  to Enid Air Force Base (AFB), in Enid, Oklahoma (a pilot training base), to Albrook AFB, Panama Canal Zone, and to Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, New Mexico.  I got married just before I went to Enid, to Jean Smith, the daughter of a retired AF Master Sergeant, in Denver.  Our year-plus there was more or less a honeymoon.  I didn't have enough rank to be accompanied by my then-growing family to Panama, so Jean stayed in Denver, and I went south.  I spent the 18 months I was in Panama going to college, serving in the USAF Southern Command Honor Guard, and learning about Latin America.  Mitzi, our oldest daughter, was born five months after I went to Panama.  At Holloman, I met a number of my old classmates from the Academy!  I was surprised by the warmth and openness of their acceptance of me as an enlisted troop.

In addition to my military duties, I did a number of other things, mostly on my own.  In Enid, I was the next-to-lowest enlisted person, and E-2.  I made E-3 just before I departed for Panama.  I was promoted to E-4 down there, and E-5 (Staff Sergeant) shortly after I arrived at Holloman.  My income as an E-2 was pitiful - a massive $185/month, BEFORE taxes and deductions.  We needed more work than that, so I took a couple of part-time jobs.  One was as night mechanic at a bowling alley, and the other was as a general yardman for a mobile home sale facility.  Both taught me quite a bit.  My honor guard duties kept me from working in Panama, but by then we were being paid a bit better and I really didn't have to work a second job.  That freed up time for school, for exploring the area, and for doing things I normally wouldn't have been able to do.  There just WEREN'T any part-time jobs in Alamogordo, which was good.  The extra time allowed me to go mountain climbing and camping with a few friends.

I went to Vietnam in October, 1970, and spent a year there.  Twelve-hour shifts, six days a week (or more), left little time for anything else. I worked in an imagery intelligence facility, and the only danger we faced was the possibility the Viet Cong would try to ambush us on our way to the burn facility (never happened), or getting hit by some of the rockets and mortar shells they tossed at the base from time to time.  I worked nights - 8PM to 8AM or whenever the morning 7th Air Force intelligence briefing was over.  The biggest danger I faced during my tour was almost being run over by a Vietnamese learning to drive.

Jean and I went to Germany in 1971, with our daughter Mitzi.  I had a very unusual job (still classified), and learned a half-dozen new skills.  Again, I ended up working shift work:  From somewhere around 3PM until the work was done.  During the winter, that could be as early as 5:30PM.  In the summer, I've seen the sun set and also rise on the same shift.  Twelve to fourteen hour shifts weren't common, but neither were they non-existent. 

Jean's parents came over for a visit when we were in Germany in 1973.  We (four adults and a 6-YO) spent eleven days driving my little VW 411 from Wiesbaden, Germany, down through Switzerland to deep within Italy, then back through Austria home.  We covered more than 4400 kilometers (2750 miles) in those eleven days, and visited more than a dozen different cities. We have more than 4000 slides and photos from that trip.  It wasn't the only one we took, but it was the longest, and the most memorable.

We ended up in Omaha, Nebraska, when we left Germany in 1975.  I worked a shift were I worked days one week, then nights the next.  That made it almost impossible to go to school, but somehow I managed to take a 12-hour load at the University of Nebraska at Omaha one semester.  I hadn't managed to get promoted beyond E-5 while I was in Germany, or at Omaha.  Then President Carter introduced a freeze on promotions in the military.  Jean and I talked it over, and decided to take our chances on the outside.  One reason we made the decision is that we hadn't managed to have any more children, and it looked like we couldn't.  We wanted more, and were willing to adopt, but military people weren't high on anyone's list.

We moved back to Littleton, Colorado (Jean's home), in 1977, and bought a house.  I found being out of the military uncomfortable, and joined the Air Force Reserve.  We stumbled into a deal as therapeutic foster-parents, and managed to adopt Joe.  We would have adopted more, but the Carter Recession was killing jobs left and right, and there just wasn't enough money for a second adoption.  Even my promotion to TSgt (E-6) in the reserves didn't help.

I took a long reserve tour to Washington, DC, in 1980, working at the National Photographic Interpretation Center (It's changed names three or four times since then, now going by NISC, NMIC, or NCMI, or something).  I was part of an eight-man team that supplied imagery intelligence to the Air Force Director of Intelligence.  Just as my tour was ending, I was given the opportunity to re-enlist at my then-current rank (not at all normal), and take a specific job in Germany (unheard of).  I, of course, took it!

During that three years, from December, 1980, to December, 1983, I had three different jobs.  The first was the job I'd been offered to re-enlist -- working with the main computer system as resources manager.  The second was a two-week special assignment.  The third was as a team leader for a team that needed some advanced training.  I enjoyed the last job the most.

We went to Sumter, South Carolina (Shaw AFB) from Germany.  Needless to say, I was not thrilled, even though I made Master Sergeant (E-7) while there.  Our son Joe needed some schooling he couldn't get in South Carolina, so we were transferred back to Omaha, to Offutt AFB (SAC Headquarters), back to the unit I'd been assigned to before.

The schooling for Joe was good, but the jobs for me were the pits.  We survived, but after 15 months, we left for Merrie Olde England, to RAF Alconbury and the 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.

I knew when I took the assignment that the 1st TAC would be closing within two years.  Thanks to my tour in Washington, I also knew why it was closing, and it wasn't all because of budget cuts.  One of the decisions I made when I took that assignment was that I would prepare the 22 people working for me for good follow-on assignments.  We worked well together, and made that last 18 months memorable not only for us, but even for the NATO troops that visited us.

From England back to Germany, and the last two and a half years of my military career.  I was beginning to have more and more problems with my back, and ended up having surgery in 1990.  That surgery was a two-level cervical (neck) fusion of the C4-5 and C5-6 vertebrae.  The problem was caused by a build-up of calcium inside the spinal column, pressing against the spinal chord.  There was already quite a bit of calcium forming osteophytes (calcium growths) on the vertebra, pinching the nerve roots that come out in pairs all along the spine.

I retired in March, 1991, and spent the next couple of years working odd jobs until I finally began working for NCR Microelectronics, in August, 1994.  That job stuck!  In fact, I found the job -- testing electronic physical and software components for compatibility and functionality -- something I was both good at and interested in.  By 1997, I was a team leader, and had gone from part-time work as a temporary employee to full-time salaried employee.  The pay went up with the responsibility.

Unfortunately, the medical problems I'd begun to have at the Air Force Academy had continued, and worsened.  I injured my back at least eight or nine more times between 1964 and 1996:  diving into a ditch to keep from being hit by a truck, falling down ice-covered steps in Omaha, grabbing a Mosler 4-drawer safe from tipping off a dolly during an office move, being hit in the back by part of a collapsing shelter, and others.  By 1997, I had developed osteoarthritis in every joint of my spine, and in most of those in the rest of my body.  Working in noisy, enclosed environments, with noisy, electronic equipment and early computers, and working close to active, NOISY flightlines had also caused me to develop tinnitus, a high-pitched, constant ringing in my ears.  By 2001, I was no longer able to work.

I had received a 20% Veterans' Administration disability when I retired from the Air Force in 1991.  That had been increased to 30% in 1997, and to 70% by 2005.  Also by 2004, I had applied for and was granted a 100% disability by the Social Security Administration.  I had to have a second surgery on my cervical (neck) spine in 2009, and surgery on my lumbar (low-back) spine in 2011. I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in February 2009, and the VA raised my disability to 90%.

Most of the problems I have are degenerative in nature -- they get worse over time.  That's the problem we face today.  My back is hurting more, and more often.  I'm having peripheral problems (aches and pains, muscle cramps, numbness and tingling, etc.) from my back problems, from my osteoarthritis, and from my diabetes.  We (my doctors and I) are trying to find an effective treatment that doesn't include surgery, although that remains an option.

It's not all been bad news.  Jean and I have been married for 48 years now.  We've adopted two children (in addition to our daughter), and have a third we hope to adopt early next year.  I've earned three Associate's degrees, and have the credits for a double major/double minor Bachelor's degree.  We've seen a huge amount of the world -- more than the average American, for sure.  We have friends all over the world.

My medical problems caused me to look for a way to make a little money that didn't require hurting myself.  That led me to writing science fiction novels.  I currently have eight ebooks complete and posted on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I have two more finished novels I need covers for, and then I'll post those.  I have eleven or twelve more in the works!  They do help me forget about how much I hurt, and how limited I am in what I can do.

I just can't travel very far.  Or reach over my head.  Or lift over 20 pounds (I fudge that one almost daily...).  Or touch my toes.  Or go over 4 hours without eating something.  And I have to take a fist-full of pills every day.  There's still the Internet, and chat rooms, Facebook, and eBay.  There are things I'd love to still be able to do, but there's still enough I CAN do to keep me interested, and moving ahead (including working on my stamp collection that I began in 1956).

So, for all those I didn't or won't be albe to meet in person, look me up online, and say HI!  Twist my arm, and I'll even share some of the amusing things that I've seen, experienced, and enjoyed during all those years.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Planetology 101

"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth."  Gen. 1.1
"It all began with a big bang... "  Carl Sagan

Whether you're a Christian, or you even believe in a god at all, the place to begin in planetology is at the very beginning - at the formation of the universe.  Most astrophysicists will acknowledge that within minutes (possibly), but certainly within 36 hours or less, the rules governing the universe were operating pretty much as they are today.  Stars are born from hydrogen gas, live a certain length of time based on their size, and then die.  When stars die, either with a bang or a whimper, they release  all the complex elements (larger than hydrogen) that currently exist, from helium to the heaviest natural elements ever discovered.  This is especially true of very large, hot stars that explode as supernovas.

Stars more or less clump together in galaxies and clusters.  Our current knowledge of astrophysics says that planets form around stars.  The Hubble Telescope and other new astronomical tools are now showing us that planets are far more prevalent than previously thought.  There is some evidence, discovered in the last decade, that even multiple-star systems may have planets.  That has forced a number of disciplines to begin considering some questions that only a decade ago were the sole property of mystics and science-fiction writers:  can any of those planets support life?  Even more to the point, can they support our kind of human life?  That is forcing quite a number of scientists to re-think what for them was truth, before new information changed the equation.

We have a really GOOD example of what kind of planet would be suitable for humanity to settle in the one we currently possess.  The question remains, however, how far could a possible prospect stray from the template and still be suitable for people to live on.  Let's take a look at some of the factors.


The biggest factor to consider is the sun that particular hypothetical planet revolves around.  Some of the factors we want to look at are size, output (actually, total solar irradiance.  The Wikipedia definition is so poor I won't use it.), and variability.

Size:  Stars vary from extremely stable and long-lived red dwarfs to hyper-unstable very large (and very bright, hot) "O" and "B" spectral class suns that would be very poor choices (See Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram for a discussion on stellar classes).  There is a general rule of thumb that the larger the star (actually, the greater its mass), the brighter and hotter it is.  White dwarfs don't fit this definition well, which is one reason they're not on the main sequence.  Most stars that mankind would expect to find habitable planets around would be on the main sequence.

There are also some unusual types of stars that might be worth visiting for scientific purposes, but wouldn't be very good for colonization.  This is especially true of variable stars, such as Cepheid variables and the even more exotic RR Lyrae variables.  Other types of stars that might be worth examining, but would definitely not be worth living near would include neutron stars, brown dwarf stars, possibly white dwarf stars, red dwarf stars, and black holes.

Output:  There are three things at work here:  the overall radiative output of the star, the stability of that output, and the planetary orbit.  These three characteristics define  the subsequent habitability, or "Goldilocks" zone. 

A star on the main sequence probably has a total solar variance similar to our sun, or about 0.1%.  Earthlike life could probably survive if total irradiance varied by up to about 0.5%, but not much beyond that.  Stars that are not relatively stable, where the radiative output varies by more than about 1%-10%, are not good stars to try to live around.  Solar output is one of the determinative aspects that establish the Goldiliocks Zone where liquid water could be expected to be present.    Solar output should be mostly in the visible and infrared (heat) portions of the spectrum. 

Free water is an essential ingredient for any type of earth-like life.  How much free water is available is also a limiting factor on the amount of life a given planet can support.  A star that is not relatively stable would oscillate between a hothouse atmosphere such as that of Venus, or a frozen ball similar to Earth during an Ice Age.  If the variability was severe enough, or frequent enough, the planet could experience both in a very short time -- as little as three or four days.  Even if the period was years long, the cycle would be too rapid for evolution to allow any plant or animal life, except perhaps in deep oceans, to survive.  Let me explain:

Most types of plants on Earth grow from seed, and have a life cycle that includes initial growth, maturity, and death and decay.  The soil temperature must be above a certain point for seeds to sprout, within a set range for a minimum time for the plant to grow and seeds to develop and mature, and there has to be some mechanism to disperse those seeds.  This is best exhibited by the concept of "treeline".  Treeline is not a constant:  it varies by lattitude (there are other factors, but latitude is the most predominant).  At the equator, treeline may be above 16,000 feet above sea level.  In Colorado, it's around 12,000 feet, and in Alaska it's at around 4500 feet.  It also varies by the amount of sunlight the slope gets, but that usually accounts for less than 400 feet between east-facing, west-facing, north-facing, or south-facing slopes.  The limiting factor is how much irradiance the slope receives, so that seeds can sprout and grow sufficiently to survive the coming cold.

The "treeline" for a star whose output varies by 1% or greater could change so rapidly that the seeds could not sprout, mature and disperse without some truly extraordinary differences from Earth-type plants.  Animal life would require similar, rather extreme modifications.  Larry Niven handled this very well in his short story, Flare Time.  Niven also highlights how the significant increase (or decrease) in non-visible radiation could require some significant adaptations, as well.  We on Earth are shielded from most non-visible radiation by our planet's magnetic field.  We'll get into problems with that in a later paragraph, but needless to say, unless the magnetic field strength also increases with increase in radiation, more and more harmful radiation will leak through to the planet's surface.  That could make life very, very difficult.

The habitability zone for a planet lies within a range from the associated star that corresponds to the ability of water to exist as a liquid, and thus for the planet to have weather driven by the water cycle.  This is primarily a relationship of the planet's orbit and the sun's output.  Planets would have to be very, very close to a red dwarf, farther from a sun like the Earth's, and even farther still from hotter, brighter stars.  The average surface temperature of the planet would have to be above the freezing point of water (32ˆ F/0ˆ C), and below the boiling point (212ˆ F/100ˆ C).  These temperatures would have to be relatively stable (trying to calculate how plants and animals would have to adapt to rapid changes from ice-age climate to hothouse climate, possibly in less than a decade would be quite a challenge) from year to year.

Orbit:  Several other factors would also affect whether a particular planet would be capable of sustaining life -- any life, but especially, Earth-type life.   One key factor is the planet's orbit around its star.  If the orbit is too eccentric, the effect would be similar to being in a stable orbit around a modestly-variable star.  The planet is too near its primary for part of its orbit, and too far away during other parts, resulting in a huge fluctuation in average planetary temperature.  The Earth has an eccentricity of 0.0167, which isn't terribly bad, but which contributes to Earth having Ice Ages and Warm periods.  If you're terribly interested in this, and want to learn more, check out Kepler's Laws and this.


Let's assume that we have the means to visit other star systems at will, and we've weeded out all those suns that don't meet our criteria for size, output, and stability.  We've surveyed the rest of the stars, and discovered several candidates that meet our criteria, and have planets in the so-called "Goldilocks Zone".  Our next task is to determine if those planets can support Terrestrial life, or have compatible life of their own.  What should we be looking at?

Size:  One of the major considerations is planetary size.  We can ignore any Jupiter-sized planets automatically -- we couldn't tolerate the gravity.  We need something about the size of Earth - about 8000 miles in diameter.  That would give us approximately one earth-gravity, as well.  Before we begin eliminating planets larger or smaller than this, we have to determine one other factor -- the planet's total mass.  That is determined by the planet's composition.

Earth is relatively dense.  In fact, it's the densest planet in our solar system at 5.51 grams/cubic centimeter.  Much of that mass is located in the core, which is considered to be mostly iron (Check here for more information on the density of planets in our solar system.).    Our search for an Earthlike planet, then, would be one about the same size of Earth, with a density between 4.75 and 5.8. 

Planetary gravity is determined by both size and density.  A planet slightly larger than Earth, but less dense, could be inhabitable.  One slightly smaller than Earth, but made of denser materials, may or may not be inhabitable, but surface gravity wouldn't be one of the stumbling blocks (click here for more discussion of gravity in relation to general relativity).

Magnetic field:  Another major consideration is whether the planet we're examining has a magnetic field.  The Earth's magnetic field protects us on its surface from gamma rays from space, and other harmful radiation from the sun itself.  It also provides a defense from the solar wind stripping away more of the Earth's atmosphere (see below). The Earth's magnetic field originates from the rapid rotation of the Earth's iron core.  We'll come back to magnetic fields later.

Atmosphere:  All stellar bodies have an atmosphere.  Some are so dense they make life impossible (Jovian type planets), or so tenuous life can't exist (the moon, for instance).  Having and keeping an atmosphere is dependent on two factors:  the size of the planet/object, and its distance from its illuminating star.  The larger the planetary mass, the greater amount of gas it can capture for an atmosphere.  The distance from its sun will determine whether the planet in question can keep its atmosphere, as the solar wind can strip atmospheric molecules away.  This (distance) is why Mars has a denser atmosphere than Mercury, even though surface gravity is slightly higher on Mercury than it is on Mars.   This lecture provides some excellent information on planetary atmospheric evolution, and why some planets approximately equal in mass have different atmospheres.

Having an atmosphere is just the beginning of our examination, however.  We also need to determine if it's the right kind of atmosphere to sustain Terrestrial life.  Something very close to Earth's atmosphere is what we're looking for.  The Earth's combination of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gasses provides an ideal atmosphere for terrestral life, since that's where it developed.  If the nitrogen were replaced with another gas, for instance florine or chlorine, terresteral life would be impossible, as both are extremely corrosive to water-based life.  Also, if the concentration of what are referred to as "noble gases" was greater, it could change not only what kind of life developed, but how terresteral life would respond.  Nitrogen is an essential element for plant development.  If the partial pressure of nitrogen was substantially lower, there might not be enough converted to nitrites, nitrates, or nitrides to sustain terresteral plant life.

Another major goal our explorers would have to determine is what stage of atmospheric evolution our target planet was in.  Some stages can be "hurried along" through terraforming; others just have to be waited out, which could take eons.  Our Earth went through at least two, and perhaps more, evolutionary stages.  Only the last one can support life as we know it today.

Surface:  Most planets in the size and distance category we're looking for should have a combination of land and water areas.  The ratio on Earth is approximately 70/30 -- 70% ocean and 30% land.  While this may be ideal for Earth, significant variations could be suitable for Terrestrial colonization.  Anything less than about 50% ocean would create some unusual stresses, however.  Oceans provide the thermostat for planets.  Heat them up, and they produce more water vapor and more clouds, increasing the planet's albedo and cooling them off.  Cool them off and the relative humidity drops, more sunlight passes through the atmosphere, and it begins to warm back up.  As the temperature warms, more moisture is released into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect, and further warming the planet (water vapor is the major greenhouse gas in Earth's atmosphere, contributing to 96% of our current warming).  Oceans also retain and transport heat via currents from one area to another, and can have a substantial effect on the local climate.  A good example is the heat transported by the Atlantic Gulf Stream from the warm waters of the Caribbean to Iceland, England, and northern Europe.  Average temperatures in these areas would be as much as ten degrees F cooler without the Gulf Stream.

Land surfaces don't have to be as extensive as ocean surfaces, but colonization can't take place without them.  Land surfaces provide direction for ocean currents.  A mixed surface of land and water enhances the water cycle, provides additional nutrients in oceans from runoff, and provides the foundation for a greater diversity of ecologies than pure ocean environments.  In fact, the oxygen/CO2 balance can't be maintained by oceans alone  -- land-based plants are essential.  They're also what the majority of us are used to living upon.  In fact, the absence of large land areas would be sufficient in itself to affect the colonial potential of a planet.  We'll go into that further down below.

Finally, there's one more thing our potential new home needs -- a sizeable moon.  There may be more than one, but at least one sizeable moon is essential for the type of planet needed for terrestral plants and animals.  Here's why:

Tides:  Tides "stir the oceans", help form currents, act to both build and erode land areas, and do many other things.  Tides are even part of the "braking mechanism" that is slowly lengthening our day.  Tidal drag from the sun and the moon also play a part in plate tectonics, an essential function of the redistribution of chemical elements in a planet's surface environment.

Planetary rotation:  A moon revolving around a planet can increase or decrease the planet's speed of rotation.  This is thought to have happened to Earth in the past, with the tidal effects of the moon lengthened the planet's day.  Tidal forces can cause a satellite to show only one surface to the planet it revolves around, and can even destroy a satellite if it approaches too close to the planet's surface.  More on this later.

It may take us a long time to be able to go to other stars.  What if we need more space in the meantime?  Are there any possibilities in our own solar system?  Yes, but...

There are two planets we can consider terraforming:  Mars and Venus.  Both have good potential, and both have serious drawbacks.  Let's start with Mars.

Terraforming Mars

Mars has both significant potential and terrible problems for terraforming.  As we saw earlier, Mars has a much lower density (3.98gm/cc) than either Earth (5.51gm/cc) or Venus (5.2gm/cc).  This is the first of many problems Mars has that would have to be changed to convert it into an Earthlike planet.  Some of the other problems that would have to be overcome include the planet's size, atmosphere, moons, surface temperature, and a few hundred others.  Yet it's not inconcievable to convert Mars into an Earthlike planet.  It would be expensive, time-consuming (on the scale of 10,000 years or more), and difficult, but not impossible.  Luckily for us, and for any terraforming attempt, much of the solution is close at hand in the asteroid belt.

The first consideration in terraforming Mars, not just camping on the surface (which is all living in a habitat would consist of), would be to increase both its mass and its density.  This would best be done by bombarding its surface with tens of thousands of chunks of rocks from the asteroid belt.  Special consideration would have to be taken to select rocks of high density, especially those consisting of nickel-iron, and some radioactive elements (radium, thorium, uranium).  Terraforming would not only have to expand the general size of Mars, but also its density.  It alsos need to work that nickel-iron and those heavy elements into the planet's core, where through the mechanism of gravitational compression and radioactive decay, the core will heat up and eventually again liquify (or become more liquid).  This is necessary to increase the weak magnetic field of Mars to the point where it can protect unexposed human beings on its surface, trigger plate tectonics in the crust, increase volcanism to release both water vapor and other atmospheric gases, and generally begin to turn Mars into a new Terra. 

In the process, the gravity of Mars would increase to approximately that of Earth, giving it the ability to maintain that earthlike atmosphere.  This process would require adding as much as 1800km to the radius of Mars, and take a substantial part of the material currently in the Asteroid Belt.  If sufficient material isn't available in the Asteroid Belt, or if that material isn't suitable, it would most likely have to come from the Oort Cloud, or the leading and trailing trojans from Jupiter's and Saturn's orbits, significantly increasing both the time and cost of the project.

Without increasing the diameter, mass, and chemical content of Mars, any other attempt to terraform the planet would be less than successful.

The second consideration would be to move the two small moons of Mars (perhaps adding them to the surface), and replace them with a single large moon, or two or more medium-sized moons.  The two small moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos, are part of the problem with Mars, as they orbit so close, and so fast, that they help whip atmospheric particles to escape velocity, thinning the existing atmosphere.  At the same time, they're not large enough to create crustal tides, which would help develop plate techtonics and crustal evolution.

Third, it's going to take time -- tens of thousands of years.  It's also going to be turbulent.  There will be earthquakes as the internal structure of Mars is reconstituted.  Volcanos will sprout along weak zones in the crust.  It will take centuries for the heat of compression, radioactive decay, and other processes to bring the newly-added high-density materials to the core of the planet and heat that core to a significantly high temperature.  Then things will have to cool down.  Once liquid water begins to accumulate on the surface, the planet can be seeded with special bacteria to release free oxygen.  Over the years after that, additional plants, then animals, can be added to the biosphere until Mars is a fairly close reproduction of Earth.  Altogether, it would be expensive and time-consuming, but workable.

Terraforming Venus

Venus presents significantly different challenges of terraforming to that of Mars.  The problem with Venus is that it has too much atmosphere, of the wrong kinds of gases, and is too hot.  The only mass that terraforming would have to add to the planet would probably be water and other gases, but not immediately.  The first thing that's required is to provide Venus with a suitable satellite, one approximately 75% as large as the Earth's moon, but orbiting closer than our satellite.  The best orbit would have to be calculated, but about half the orbit of the moon around the Earth (~230,000 miles) would probably suffice.

The addition of a large satellite around Venus would do multiple things.  First, it would help strip some of the excessive atmosphere from the planet.  Secondly, it would increase the rotation period of Venus, probably triggering the planet's magnetic field (which is currently extraordiarily weak).  Thirdly, it would help initiate plate tectonics that would help both redistribute material in the crust, increase volcanism, and add other chemicals to the planet's atmosphere (especially water vapor).

This would not be a fast project.  It would take thousands, perhaps even millions of years, to strip the excessive atmosphere of Venus, increase its rotation to something capable of supplying a significant magnetic field (even more necessary on Venus than on Earth or Mars, being closer to the sun), and reworking to crust to allow liquid water to form.  Even then, the planet would be inhabitable mostly around the polar regions, with minor excursions into the lower lattitudes.  There may be other problems to be overcome, but we won't know until we can actually explore the surface.

All things considered, it may be better to construct artificial habitats than to try to terraform Mars and Venus.  Some of those habitats would undoubtedly be placed on the surface of those two planets for scientific exploration, but long-term living there would be problematic.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Insults, injuries, and illnesses

It seems like a larger number of people than normal are hurting this year, whether financially, physically, or emotionally.  This is the time of year, though, when celebrate a great gift -- the gift of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  No matter how badly you feel, no matter how much you hurt, no matter how empty your pockets may be, each of us is richer because of His birth, life, and death.  I pray for all people everywhere that this Christmas season will ease that pain, that something will happen to bring joy and happiness to each one's life.  

Friday, August 09, 2013

Thank You

I wish to express my sincere thanks for all of you that came to the Human Wave Garage Sale.  I hope, after reading the book I offered, that you'll try some of my other stories.  Just as a tease, there are three more in the works... 8^)

Good news???

I received a letter from the Veterans' Administration this morning, informing me that, since I was a service-connected disabled veteran, and I had signed up for veteran's medical benefits, I am covered under Obamacare, and that my coverage meets the "minimum requirements" of that program.  I expect a similar letter soon from the Department of Defense, since I'm covered under Tricare for Life as a military retiree. 

I've never used the VA medical benefits, since I do have Tricare (and now Medicare, since I'm over 65), but it's nice to know they're there if I ever do need them, especially when traveling.

That said, I do wish that Congress would "find a little of the Cowardly Lion's lost courage", and defund or repeal the Obamacare monstrosity.  I see nothing good coming from it.  I also expect to see the Democrats push for a "single-payer" program -- totally government-run health care similar to what they have in Britain -- as a "solution" to the problems they created with Obamacare.   I hope there are still enough patriots in this nation to rise up in arms against such a "solution".

Thursday, August 01, 2013

A Bleg...

Just a comment on the Garage Sale  (previous post):  If you read something you like, please do the author the extreme favor of leaving a favorable review wherever you downloaded the book.  It will help them, and help you get more books you like.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Human Wave Garage Sale

The Hoard has Descended!

     Sarah Hoyt and friends have decided to have a Science Fiction Garage Sale -- free or greatly-discounted ebooks with a future that holds promise and reward for people who work hard.  There's no dystopia here, only excitement, pleasure, and plain, naked FUN.   Many of the writers below are fairly new to publishing, but not new to knowing what they like.  Unable to find it in today's print world, most of us have decided the only thing to do is to write what we'd like to read, and allow others to decide, one way or another, what THEY like.  The Garage Sale is a chance to sample the works of these new writers at a greatly-discounted price, or for free.  
     Most of us are Facebook Friends of Sarah Hoyt and others, and spend time together online as part of a group affectionately known as Hoyt's Hoard (sometimes as Hoyt's Huns, but that's only when there's beer involved).  Join Sarah and the Hoard at According to Hoyt, and Sarah, Amanda Green, Dave Freer, Kate Paulk, and others at The Mad Genius Club, for updates on electronic publishing, writing, and more.

Read and enjoy!

When did it become fashionable for published fiction to be full of self-loathing for qualities most intelligent humans value? Where's the adventure, the courage, the fun? We suppose it was about the same time that Literature Majors because the arbiters of what was good and right in publishing.
Fortunately their reign of grey goo and boredom is at an end.  Having gone Indie, authors can choose to write humans as they wish.  And since most authors are (allegedly) human they can even write heroic humans who fight for things that have meaning.
The ennui of the cognoscenti no longer holds sway. The new bad boys on the block are Human Wave authors, whose characters might sometimes be trapped in dystopia but never helpless. And if they must go down fighting, they do so gloriously and for principles bigger than themselves.
Be daring.  Be creative.  Be revolutionary.  Read (and write) Human Wave.

Ill Met By Moonlight -- Young Will Shakespeare is a humble school master who arrives home to find his wife and infant daughter, Susannah are missing, kidnapped by the fairies of Arden Woods, the children of Titania and Oberon. His attempts at rescue are interrupted and complicated by a feud over throne of fairyland, between Sylvanus, king regnant, and his younger brother Quicksilver who is both more and less than he seems. Amid treachery, murder, duel and seduction, Shakespeare discovers the enchantment of fairyland, which will always remain with him, for good and ill. Free from the 1st to the 5th of August.
Spinning Away -- In a world where the ability to pick what news will interest most people is very real power, Layna Smythe strives to stay ahead of her rivals and alive. She often forgets that she's also lonely, until an attack reminds her of the man she left behind. Free from the 1st to the 5th of August.
Crawling Between Heaven and Earth -- Sarah A. Hoyt’s first short story collection, initially published by Dark Regions Press in 2003.  Contains most of Sarah’s early published work. Free
Wings -- Second short story collection. $2.99

Michael Hooten
Cricket's Song, Book 1: The Cricket Learns to Sing -- Cricket is a young orphan growing up on an obscure farm in the country of Glencairck.  He wants to be just like Harper, who plays for the people through the winter, but Harper is not content to let him just learn how to harp.  He teaches him the ancient traditions of the Bards of Glencairck, a noble order that is responsible for not just entertaining the people, but for providing impartial judgement to their disputes.  When Cricket is old enough, he enters the wide world  and finds that not everyone knows the old rules, or follows them.  He has to decide for himself what is right--and how far he is willing to go to defend his beliefs. Free for Kindle August 1-5

Alien Frontier -- Fifteen-year-old Norma Teague must avoid getting drafted into an alien army. However, her home village demands that she go since she has a magic belt that lets her destroy any armor made of matter. $1.99

Hitchhiking Killer For Hire -- A border gang beats Ex-Special Forces soldier Sam Harper and leaves him for dead in the desert. Sam must discover “Why?” in this story of government corruption and human smuggling in the near future west. Dedicated to Louis L’Amour. Free for Kindle August 1st through 5th

Flash of Fire -- A collection of super short stories (1000 words or less) on the subject of fire. Ranging from the love of a volcano goddess to natural phenomena encountered as humans explore a distant planet, these stories evoke a sense of wonder and awe at the nature and power of fire. $.99 for Kindle August 1 through 5th

Battlehymn -- (Also Barnes & Noble)  It's a story of giant robots, forbidden love, princesses in danger, and the power of rock 'n roll. If you're a fan of Macross, you might enjoy Battlehymn. $1.99

Snow Angel -- When a child's imagination leads his mother to a startling discovery, she must then protect him and his guardian from unknown danger. A human mother is fiercer than angels! Free July 31 to August 4
Little Red and the Wolf-Man -- Little Red wears a red cloak, and keeps her shotgun hidden under it. But Grandmother has the biggest secret in the forest, and she is dying… can Little Red help the forest dwellers? $1.49

Cynthia -- (Also Barnes & Noble) Cynthia was a nice girl from a prestigious family, with a "nice-girl" education.  That didn't help much when she found herself chased by an organized criminal element, captured by pirates, and stranded on a planet that was so deadly human government had declared it forbidden.  Luck, in the form of Rat - a trained survivalist - can help, but will it enable her to survive? $0.99

Kiti Lappi
Fourth Sword -- A portal fantasy: woman from our world gets transported to one with an ongoing generations long war and working magic, and finds out, after some adventures and to her chagrin, that she was taken there for a purpose. $ 1.49
The Demons of Khemas -- A tavern wench has fallen for a barbarian swordsman (not that she admits it). When he disappears she needs to find out what happened. $ 1.49

Short stories:
Nights of the Wampyrs -- A small town has problems with a couple of vampires, and the only people who figure out what is going on realize they have to become vampire hunters. Old school vampires, based more on the European folk tales than the later fictionalized versions. First story tells of the birth of one vampire, the two others concentrate on the hunters.
    Raven’s Night $0.99
    After Night Descends $0.99
    Night Work  free from 1st of August to 5th, $ 0.99 after that

Dealing with Elves -- A young woman is drawn to a forest where elves live. Urban fantasy, mostly a mood piece. Free from 1st of August to 5th., $ 0.99 after that.
The Task -- A ghost story set in a traditional fantasy world, a peasant girls shelters for a night in an abandoned castle. $ 0.99

Bureau of Substandards Annual Report -- (B&N)Five short stories of that pearl among pan-dimensional bureaucracies, the Bureau of Substandards--and the stalwart security janitors, attack admins, and bemused subdirectors that serve there. $1.99
The Long Way Home -- (Book 1 of the Sequoyah trilogy) (B&N) Webspace pilot Moire Cameron is one of the best--but even she can’t fly her way out of a catastrophic drive failure that triggers a time-dilation bubble. Left suddenly eighty years out of date, she is on the run in a world she no longer knows, caught in the middle of a human-alien war while agents of Toren hunt her for the information only she has--the location of the pristine world of Sequoyah.$1.99

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I had an idea yesterday evening after reading a post at Sarah Hoyt's weblog after the group's normal commenting yesterday.  I don’t know if this would work, but I’ll toss it out here to be kicked around.

Many (most?) of us that comment regularly on that page write SOMETHING from time to time. My idea was to write short pieces — ten to thirty pages — and post them on Amazon for $0.99. Write about anything you know, from English to History to Geography to Math to computer programs to… well, you get the idea. Aggregate a list of what’s available, and where. Maybe give away something now and then to get people interested. It won’t make anyone rich, but it would certainly help destroy the education monopoly, and give home-schoolers another, non-PC source of study material.

If anyone reading this wishes to contribute, remember three rules:

1).  The new material must be original work, but you can reference other material if you follow fair-use principles and footnote your work extensively.  You can't just pull something out of the hat (without references), or extensively copy someone else's work.

2).  Whatever you write can't use Wikipedia or other similar online works (a -  they're not reliable enough, being subject to rewriting and editing that can change the entire slant of a document, and b) - you want what you write to be your own work, so you can claim it). 

3).  List the references you do use, and do enough research that you're able to list some articles and sources for further study, but that weren't used to prepare your article.

You can post your work elsewhere, other than the normal ebook publishers, but you should always keep your price the same everywhere you do post it.  An outline at the beginning would be exceptionally welcome to students, just as your bibliography would also be helpful.

As I said, you won't get rich, but maybe we can undo some of the more horrible things that have been done to our education system.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Free Books

I really need to work on this weblog more often, but there are just so many things demanding my attention -- and a really PAINFUL bad back that make many hours unusable for anything.  One of the things that has attracted my attention and taken quite a bit of time is the number of very good FREE books for Nook and Kindle.  I've used many of them, and each of them supplies something the rest don't.  NOTE:  Remember to match the format you're downloading with your reader.   Here's a handy chart copied from, that shows what formats are available for what ereaders.  I've added Kobo, since their file didn't include it.

  • Kindle / Kindle Ereader App - Opens files that end with .azw (from Amazon), .mobi, .pdf, .txt, .prc.
  • Nook / Nook Ereader App - Opens files that end with .epub, .pdf., and .png.
  • Sony / Sony Ereader App - Opens files that end with .epub, .pdf, .png, and .txt.
  • Apple iBooks App - Opens files that end with .epub and .pdf.
  • Kobo - .epub, probably .pdf.  You might also check to see if your Kobo reader will open .txt files or .png (graphic) files.

Even if you don't have a reader, you can enjoy these free books.  Just go to Barnes & Noble or Amazon, and download their free application to allow you to read these books on Android, IPhone, or PC.  You may also like to download the free Kobo reader, which is compatible with Nook.

One thing that you'll find out almost immediately is that you'll need some way to manage your ebooks, as well as converting some that you download (those not DRM-protected) from one format to one that's compatible with your ereader.  The best program I've found so far is Calibre.  Not only is it relatively easy to use, it will open books in whatever format you download them in, including some of the more arcane ones -- and, it's free.

If you'd prefer to do this on your own, here's one simple method to "open Pandora's box":  simply type in $0.00  into your favorite search engine.   That brings up 167 million hits - too many - but it does give you somewhere to start.  A better search string is "free Nook books" (replace Nook with Kindle or other sources to search for your particular reader).  This search string will bring up 78,000 hits under Bing, and 1.4 million using Google.  I'll make it even easier, and provide links to some of the best sites on the web.

The first place you'll want to check for free Nook books is with Barnes & Noble.  B&N doesn't list how many free books they have, but it's a bunch!  WARNING:  Open each book in a new tab and make sure it's the whole book, and not just a "free preview".  You'll also be able to determine if it's a book or just a short story (the query won't separate them).  B&N says they have 1850395 free books, but a large number of those are previews or short stories.  There are plenty of different books available, in multiple genres.

Another excellent source is Reading Fanatic.  This site requires you to register, but it's free.  They also supply a free toolbar that you can use to sign in or search their site. 

You might also want to try BookBub.  This one works a little differently:  you have to register (enter your email address) in order to get their daily listings of books, or you can try browsing their recent listings.  BookBub doesn't sell or distribute books themselves, but aggregates the offerings of other sites that do.  Please be careful visiting these sites, as some of what's available won't be free.

One of the best places to find free ebooks is Project Gutenberg.  Project Gutenberg has as its primary goal placing all public domain works online in multiple formats.  Don't think these are just books from the 1800s by unknown authors!  Some of the works listed by Project Gutenberg were originally published in the 1950's and 1960's.  There are plenty of classics, also - books from such authors as Alexander Dumas, H.G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Willa Cather, Edgar Rice Burroughs, William Shakespeare, Jack London, and hundreds of others.  Definitely worth your time!  Make sure the copy you download is compatible with your reader device.  Project Gutenberg usually offers more than one format, but not always.

Another excellent source is Many Books.  This is another site where you have to be careful, checking the format the books are available in, and whether they're books or short stories.  They don't usually list previews.

My second-most favorite site (after Project Gutenberg) is  Feedbooks.  They have several thousand free books, as well as books for sale.  Make sure the price is "$0.00" before you download.  They have several built-in searches by genre, and you can also search by author.

Open Library is another site that requires you register, and books are only available to be borrowed.  It functions more or less as an online library.  A number of public libraries also offer ebooks that can be downloaded.  You might wish to ask your local librarian if they participate, and how.

Here's another one:  Bookyards.  They have quite a few authors listed, but I haven't used them yet, so I can't guarantee how well they work.

GoodReads is another site that offers free ebooks that I personally haven't used.   I have a good excuse -- I already have over 400 books downloaded, and have read maybe five or six of those.  My personal "TBR" (To Be Read) list grows with each passing day.

You might also want to check out Smashwords .  Most of the books on Smashwords are from newer authors, but there are a few titles by best-sellers.   I hope to have my books listed here in the future, but not for free.

Kobo also has a listing of free books compatible with its device (which usually means it's also compatible with Nook) at this location.

If you're a history or political science buff as I am, the Federalist Papers has a large list of books that can be downloaded, mostly in .pdf format.

Here are a few other sources.  I haven't done much with most of them, simply because there is far too much available from the ones I've previously listed that I still need to download and read.   These are listed more or less as I grab them.

Internet Archives
Google Books
Sony eBookstore Free ebooks
Obooko (British site)
Ebook Directory
Open Culture
Book Depository
Ebook 3000 Free books, including textbooks.
Ebooks to Go
Best eBooks World  Many non-fiction, some fiction and poetry.
eBook Mall Free books.  They have others for sale.

There are also lists you can join to get a daily offering of free ebooks and bargains.  Two of these are listed below.  If anyone has any additional suggestions, please feel free to post them in comments.

Pixel of Ink
eReader News Today

I wasn't aware myself what all was available when I first started this.  Since then, I've found quite a few sites that, while they don't always provide free ebooks, they do provide some very useful information ABOUT ebooks, and links to more.  Here are a few discovered with a search for free ebooks:

Freebytes  page on free ebooks.

This is something else I hadn't seen before, but worth taking a few minutes to preview.  This is a discussion net on free ebooks.  Check it out if you're interested.

Free e-Book Download Net

I could probably continue this list indefinitely (most queries for "free ebooks" bring up between 35 million and 40 million hits), but that would be exhausting, and some of the links aren't really for "free" books.  If you do such a query, read the page very carefully, as some of them only allow you to "preview" a particular book, or to download an exerpt (usually a couple of chapters).  Others require you to "subscribe", and that may open you up to a constant flow of spam email.

In the meantime, enjoy!