Sunday, 15 April 2018

Kati of Terra Book 1, and The Witches’ Stones Book 1, on Kindle Countdown this week

Kati of Terra Book 1, and The Witches’ Stones Book 1, on Kindle Countdown this week

Books 1 of the Kati of Terra and Witches’ Stones Romance SciFi series are on Kindle Countdown this week (April 16-23, 2018), both great values at 99 cents each (regular $3.99).  Enjoy all the adventure and romance, in a galaxy far, far away (Kati of Terra) and in our own future Milky Way (The Witches' Stones).


Kati 1 - Escape from the Drowned Planet

Kati and Mikal's escape from the alien slaver Gorsh.
In saving her small son from alien abductors, a 24-year-old Earth woman, Katie, finds herself abducted instead. She awakens from a drug-induced coma on a spaceship, in a room full of children, both human and alien, and two other women, younger than she is. The young women adapt to the situation as best they can, keeping the youngsters calm and entertained. But, when a drugged alien man wearing a uniform is added to the captive cargo, it becomes clear that this is an intergalactic slave operation.
The slave traders implant their captives with “translation nodes” in order to allow communication among various groups. These are living entities, normally docile, merely enhancing certain brain functions, such as language acquisition. However, Katie discovers that she has accidentally received a very special “granda node”, a long-lived node with its own cantankerous personality, including a fondness for criminality and lethal weaponry. Fortunately for Katie, it also values its freedom. With its help, she escapes on a fringe planet, dragging the peace officer along—also at the granda’s suggestion.
She finds herself on a strange world, with a somewhat deranged personality, quite possibly a killer, in her head, and partnered with a man from an advanced civilization who abhors killing. He is a Federation Peace Officer, captured by the slavers while attempting to bring them to justice. His task is complicated by the fact that he has sworn to avoid the taking of sentient life during the performance of his duties. He can and does, however, make vigorous use of non-lethal weaponry. Since, before leaving the ship, Katie had promised to help her co-captives gain their liberty, she and the alien peace officer find that they have a common cause.
But first they must find their way off the primitive planet and get to the Federated Civilization, avoiding the slavers who have been left on the planet to re-capture them. Their flight is complicated by the fact that the planet has had a global warming catastrophe some centuries back – the locals refer to it as the Drowned World. This has forced the inhabitants to revert to a pre-industrial state of development; however, they are a wily and resourceful people, mostly helpful, but they can also be dangerous.
Kati (to mark her escape, she adopts a slight name change) and Mikal seek a Federation beacon, which had been hidden on this planet ages ago, to aid in situations such as this, (in accord with a longstanding Federation policy for fringe worlds). They must embark on an arduous trek across two continents and an ocean, seeking the temple that holds the beacon. They travel on foot, by cart, by riverboat, by tall sailing ship, and on pack animals, always pursued by the dangerous slavers.
They must rely on their wits, guile, charm and acting abilities to avoid recapture, while their chasers have advanced technology and ruthlessness on their side. Fortunately, they are able to make many friends who help them along the way, and their quest becomes a series of adventures, both frightening and funny, and involving a cast of engaging characters.
To complicate matters, Kati finds herself falling in love with Mikal, the strange, handsome and amusing alien. He seems to be reciprocating, though they both struggle against an untimely romantic entanglement.
Will Kati and Mikal escape from the Drowned Planet? Can they ultimately bring the slavers to justice, as Mikal has sworn to do? Can they free the remaining captives of the slavers, as Kati has promised to do? Read this book and the rest of the series to find out all.
At about 200,000 words (equivalent to a paperback of about 400 pages), the book is an excellent value.

The Witches' Stones, Book 1 - Rescue from the Planet of the Amartos

Young Earth woman and spaceship mechanic, Sarah Mackenzie, has unwittingly triggered a vast source of energy, the Witches' Stones, via her psychic abilities, of which she was unaware. She becomes the focal point of a desperate contest between the authoritarian galactic power, known as The Organization, and the democratic Earth-based galactic power, known as The Terran Confederation. The Organization wants to capture her, and utilize her powers to create a super-weapon; the Terra Confederation wants to prevent that at all costs. The mysterious psychic aliens, the Witches of Kordea also become involved, as they see her as a possible threat, or a possible ally, for the safety of their own world.

A small but fast scout-ship, with its pilot and an agent of the Terra Confederation, Coryn Leigh, are sent to rescue her from a distant planet at the very edge of the galaxy, near space claimed by The Organization.  Battles, physical and mental, whirl around the young woman, as the agent and pilot strive at all costs to keep her from the clutches of the Organization.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Thinking of an Adventure? Bike the Kettle Valley Rail Trail or Hike The Grey Owl Trail, Free this Week on Amazon

Thinking of an Adventure? Bike the Kettle Valley Rail Trail or Hike The Grey Owl Trail, Free this Week on Amazon

It’s getting warmer, so it’s time to start thinking of an outdoor adventure.  So, pick up either of these e-book trip journals for free this week, April 11-15.

A Ride on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is one of the longest and most scenic biking and hiking trails in Canada. It covers a good stretch of the south-central interior of British Columbia, about 600 kilometers of scenic countryside. British Columbia is one of the most beautiful areas of Canada, which is itself a beautiful country, ideal for those who appreciate natural splendour and achievable adventure in the great outdoors.

The trail passes through a great variety of geographical and geological regions, from mountains to valleys, along scenic lakes and rivers, to dry near-desert condition grasslands. It often features towering canyons, spanned by a combination of high trestle bridges and long tunnels, as it passes through wild, unpopulated country. At other times, it remains quite low, in populated valleys, alongside spectacular water features such as beautiful Lake Okanagan, an area that is home to hundreds of vineyards, as well as other civilized comforts.

The trail is a nice test of one’s physical fitness, as well as one’s wits and adaptability, as much of it does travel through true wilderness. The views are spectacular, the wildlife is plentiful and the people are friendly. What more could one ask for?
What follows is a journal of two summers of adventure, biking most of the trail in the late 1990s. It is about 33,000 words in length (2 to 3 hours reading), and contains numerous photographs of the trail. There are also sections containing a brief history of the trail, geology, flora and fauna, and associated information.

After reading this account, you should have a good sense of whether the trail is right for you. If you do decide to ride the trail, it will be an experience you will never forget.

 On Grey Owl’s Trail – A Hiking Journal, free on Amazon, this weekend

This weekend (April 11 to 16, 2018), the travel book "On Grey Owl’s Trail – A Hiking Journal" (a detailed journal of a back-country hiking trip, along with historical notes on the controversial mid-20th century conservationist Grey Owl and his wife), will be on a free promotion on Amazon.  At other time’s it is 99 cents.

While not as spectacular as some of the more well-known Canadian coastal trails (e.g. The Juan de Fuca Trail) or mountain trails (e.g. The Kettle Valley Trail), the Grey Owl Trail, in north-central Saskatchewan, has a charm all of its own. It is a very fine hiking or canoeing route, that can be done in a leisurely three days, or faster, if one prefers. It is also part of a much larger national park, Prince Albert National Park, which includes a variety of other trails and canoe routes, as well as a pleasant small town-site (Waskesiu), which includes many “civilized” amenities, such as restaurants, hotels, cabins, stores, and pubs.

Those qualities also make it a good site tor a family hike, as it is only moderately physically challenging, and therefore a nice introduction to the activity of multi-day hiking. At any rate, that was my family’s experience.

The journal is about 20,000 words, a length that can usually be read in an hour to 90 minutes. It includes notes from the trip, some history of Grey Owl and the trail, as well as selected quotations from the writings of Grey Owl and his wife Anahareo (who were both excellent, humorous and engaging writers).


Thursday, 5 April 2018

Social Media Wants to Sell You Stuff (or Sell You)

Social Media Wants to Sell You Stuff (or Sell You)

Lately, there has been an uproar about a company named Cambridge Analytics mining Facebook data to use in a political advertising campaign, which may have helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election.  It’s all quite the over-reaction, in my opinion.
Of course social media wants to know all about you, and sell that information.  That’s how they make their money.  They all do it, and they do it all the time.  Below are a couple of examples from my own experience.
Just last week, I was temporarily blocked out of Twitter, because their bot thought I might be a bot, as well.  Interesting concept, that, proving your humanity to a machine – sort of a reverse Turing Test.
But to be honest, who really knows what the bot to human ratio is on Twitter.  Twitter seems to drive a reasonable amount of traffic to this blog, which makes one think that their must be a reasonable proportion of humans out there.  At any rate, whenever I don’t bother with Twitter, traffic does fall off noticeably.
But maybe a good proportion of the visits to the blog that Twitter generates are just more bots.  It’s the internet – it could be bots all the way down, to borrow a phrase from philosophy about the concept of infinite regress.  Indeed, maybe the movie “The Matrix” could be best interpreted as a virtual world of internet bots, that have evolved and been taken to their logical extreme.  But for some reason, they quit trying to sell each other stuff and now they just like to fight in highly stylized ways and have a fetish for slow-motion bullet trajectories.
Anyway, in order to unlock my account, I had to send Twitter my mobile telephone number.  If it was just a matter of proving my humanity, a Captcha session should have sufficed.  Alternatively, an email exchange with a code would have worked.  Those are the usual practices.  But, they wanted my mobile number, which they didn’t have, since I signed up with Twitter at a time when I didn’t have a mobile phone (or it was an old one that I rarely used).  So, I am suspicious that they just wanted my phone number, as that has value to advertisers and merchants.
Then, a few days ago, I answered a Quora question (something about probability theory).  Before I knew it, Quora (owned by Google, I believe) wanted to know more about me.  So, now they know that I am a statistician and work at a university.  No doubt, that information has value to advertisers and merchants as well.
The upshot being, social media companies aren’t charities – as they say, if you don’t know what the product is, the product is you.  It’s a variation of the old poker saying, “if you don’t know who the sucker in a card game is, it’s probably you.”
That being said, as someone with some limited experience with targeted internet advertising, I think the whole idea is seriously overblown.  In my experience with advertising books on Amazon, I have found that about 1 click per thousand impressions is standard.  So, I very much doubt that many people that saw the political Facebook ads paid any attention to them.  Most would have just scrolled past.
The ones who did click through, were probably committed to their choice anyway.  Those sorts of ads are great for confirmation bias, but I doubt that they change many minds.
In my case, for those who people who do click on an Amazon ad, I have found a little under 10% actually buy a book.  So, again, the idea that targeted ads are a magic bullet, that persuades people to go along with your product or idea is seriously overstated.  People just aren’t that easy to manipulate. 
Of course, everyone in this controversy has their own self-interest to be considered.  The so-called mainstream media is appalled by the idea that Facebook has been used for political manipulation, and is therefore advising everyone to avoid Facebook.  That would be handy for them – a lot of readers would come there way if they weren’t spending time on Facebook, as would a lot of advertisers.
Various political players probably also have ulterior motives.  There was some talk that Zuckerberg might pull a Trump, and run for president, by using a takeover of the Democratic Party as his vehicle.  Clearly, the status quo would prefer that not to happen.  This controversy might well sink such plans for Zuckerberg, assuming that he really was inclined that way.
On the other hand, you have to wonder if Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t smiling to himself, just a bit.  After all, a lot of potential clients might be thinking “If Facebook advertising is so powerful that it can turn the election to Trump, surely it can sell my handbags (or whatever)”.

Anyway, now that I have finished that social media opinion piece, I will prove that the hidden purpose of “free” social media is to try to sell stuff to you, either now or in the future.  That includes this blog, so, you should buy my book. :):)
Seriously though, it is an interesting read for those who like to think about cultural matters.  It’s about a fascinating road trip through western North America, in a big rig.  It covers a lot of cultural issues, pertaining to actual working class life.  That’s  real life, a lot different from social media life.

On the Road with Bronco Billy, A Trucking Journal

Here’s the summary: =======================================================
What follows is an account of a ten day journey through western North America during a working trip, delivering lumber from Edmonton Alberta to Dallas Texas, and returning with oilfield equipment. The writer had the opportunity to accompany a friend who is a professional truck driver, which he eagerly accepted. He works as a statistician for the University of Alberta, and is therefore is generally confined to desk, chair, and computer. The chance to see the world from the cab of a truck, and be immersed in the truck driving culture was intriguing. In early May 1997 they hit the road.
Some time has passed since this journal was written and many things have changed since the late 1990’s. That renders the journey as not just a geographical one, but also a historical account, which I think only increases its interest.

We were fortunate to have an eventful trip - a mechanical breakdown, a near miss from a tornado, and a large-scale flood were among these events. But even without these turns of fate, the drama of the landscape, the close-up view of the trucking lifestyle, and the opportunity to observe the cultural habits of a wide swath of western North America would have been sufficient to fill up an interesting journal.

The travelogue is about 20,000 words, about 60 to 90 minutes of reading, at typical reading speeds.