Monday, 26 September 2016

The Girl on the Train – Upcoming Movie's Effect on Amazon Book Sales

The Girl on the Train – Upcoming Movie's Effect on Amazon Book Sales 

By now, many people will be familiar with the book “The Girl on the Train, which has been a top seller for most of 2015 and 2016, as can be seen in the chart below. I got his data from the Amazon sites for the specified countries. Basically I was just curious to track a top seller over a long period, to watch nits ebbs and flows, and see what sorts of events affected its sales.

As you can see, the book became very popular, right out of the gate, and stayed in the top 10 or so in the four main English speaking markets for most of 2016. It lost steam late in that year, but was revived by strong Christmas sales, then by being voted a “best book” in the Goodreads reader site, early in 2016. Its sales rank then drifted up into the 25 to 75 range, for much of 2016. Lately, it has moved back to the top 10, as the opening date for the movie version of the story approaches. The movie is scheduled to be released on October 7, 2016.
The graph below has converted sales ranks into estimated sales, based on an Indie writer crowd sourced rankings to sales power law. For the sake of full disclosure, the formula was:
Sales = 20293 * (Rank)-.7071
Naturally, that will just be a rough estimate of actual sales, which only Amazon and the publisher actually know for sure. You hope the writer, Paula Hawkins, also knows this, but it's trad publishing, so she might not be the last to know, or so trad writers sometimes say.

I added a version of the graph that uses a logarithmic scale for the y-axis, so that the different countries can be more easily seen. Note the fairly close correspondence of the curves for the various national markets.
My sales rank to sales figure calculation indicates Amazon sales of about 3.5 million books, mainly in the U.S. and U.K.. That's just Amazon sales, of course. A book like this would have sold a lot of paper copies in book stores, so you could probably scale that figure up to at least 10 million copies sold, possibly many more
As you can see from the charts, British and American sales have tracked pretty closely. As the book is set in London, British sales seem to have punched a bit above their weight.
I read that the movie is expected to do about 30 million dollars on its opening, which would be solid but not astronomical. But the book was a bit of a sleeper hit, so the movie might just be the same. Clearly, the story hits a lot of notes that work on some sort of archetypal level – it's got jealousy, betrayal, substance abuse, and murder, among other ingredients. Emily Blunt plays the main character, Rachel. I gather she's a pretty big name in the acting world. There are some other big names, in the movie as well.
One interesting fact is that the movie writer is listed as Erin Wilson, not Paula Hawkins. I suppose that's not too surprising – after all, a novel and a screenplay are rather different animals. Still, you hope it's not one of those cases where a decent novel gets ruined by ignoring the novelist's creative contributions, being turned from a stylish and relatively unique literary work into a homogeneous movie “product”.
The book is written in an alternating point of view style (yes, I've read it), with many flashbacks, often recalled through an alcoholic haze. So, it will be interesting to see how well that can be translated to the screen.
Oddly, the setting has been changed from London to New York. To me, that's not a good sign, as the book seemed to be very “English” in plot and characters, and the London train system was a major feature of the story. So, his setting change seems like a mistake to me, but you never know.
And here is a graph showing the number of reviews, in each market, over time.  The reviews more or less are a mirror image of the sales graph, though at a much smaller scale.  This indicates that reviews are a fairly constant fraction of books sold.  It would appear that about 1 in 75 Amazon book purchasers do a review.

Here is a log transformed version, again as an aid in comparing the different national markets. 

So, this is another test case of how a movie affects book sales. The upcoming film has certainly give book sales a bounce.  This is just the beginning – in a month or two we will have a much clearer picture, in both senses of the word. 

“The Girl on the Train” is an interesting read, about troubled people with dark secrets. But if you would like some romance and science fiction adventure with a lighter touch, try “the girl on the drowned planet”, Kati of Terra.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

One Year of Solar Energy

One Year of Solar Energy

Dodecahedron Books is your best bet for sustainably produced ebooks, with nearly all of our electricity produced by solar power.  :)  You can see that in the graph below.

Actually this graph represents a single household’s power production and use throughout one year, from summer solstice to summer solstice – that’s because we run Dodecahedron Books from our home.  But, all the energy used to write and format the books is in there somewhere – of course the energy that Amazon uses to distribute the books and that readers use to read the books is another matter, but we can’t control those things.

Our system consists of 16 panels, each about 1 meter by 2 meters (a bit smaller  actually), that are rated to produce 280 watts each when perpendicular to the sun’s rays under a clear sky, on a temperate day.  The panels are located in two arrays on the garage, east and west side, with a roof pitch of about 25 degrees.  The garage centre line runs north-south.  So, in the morning, the east side generates the most power, in mid-day both sides do, and in the afternoon it is the west side that produces the most power.  The house is located in central Alberta, Canada, so it is pretty far north – at about the 54th parallel of latitude.  That means we produce a lot more in the summer than the winter, but over the course of the year we send almost as much to the grid as we receive, as the graph above indicates.

In our area, we have a grid-tie system.   Basically, when the panels produce power, the power goes to the house, which gets first call on the power.  Any excess is sent to the grid, adding to the system’s total power, just like any other power generator.  When the house uses more power than the panels produce, power is drawn from the grid.

The graph above includes that “phantom power” that goes directly to the house, and is not captured by the electric meter.  I estimated the amount produced to the house, from electrical bills in previous years, assuming that the house’s usage has remained approximately constant. Operationally, this is calculated as:

average daily KWhrs for that time period – KWHrs taken from Grid

So, for example, if the house had historically used 13 KWHrs per day during the first half of April, and drew 7 KWhrs from the grid, that would imply that the solar panels supplied 5 KWhrs directly to the house, and the remaining power that they produced went out to the grid.

Obviously, this means that power production peaks during the height of summer and drops very low during the depths of winter.  However, as the graph shows, even in December and January, the panels send power to the house, though not enough to supply all needs.  Our winters are cold, but they are often sunny.  Tiltable panels, that could be optimized for the different seasons, would help quite a bit. 

Of course, from day to day, the power production fluctuates according to the cloud cover.  This can be seen in the graph below.  As you can see, on some days no power is produced (extremely rainy and overcast days), while on others a substantial amount is produced (bright sunny summer days).

If we look at a 7 day moving average (that’s the average of the three days before and after a given day, as well as that day), the data is smoothed out considerably.  The graph below shows that data.  That would be most relevant for someone considering going off the grid, via something like Elon Musk’s Powerwall batteries.  However, even with that, at norther latitudes you would still have a problem generating sufficient power, likely needing a backup supply of some kind (e.g. a small diesel generator).

The graph above also shows a nice summary of the local weather.  The long days of June and July don’t produce nearly as well as one might expect; that’s because we often have quite a bit of rainy weather during those times (it does make for an excellent climate for growing crops and gardens, though).  Conversely, though autumn days are relatively short, they can be very sunny and clear, with very little obscuring dust or haze, and therefore can generate more power than expected.

I will look at some other aspects of the data in another blog.

In Kati of Terra’s universe, the more advanced planets make great use of sustainable energy.  Read them and find out more  :).

Kati 1 - Escape from the Drowned Planet
Kati and Mikal's escape from the alien slaver Gorsh.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Kati 2 - On Assignment on the Planet of the Exalted
Kati and Mikal follow the trail of justice to the planet Vultaire.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Kati 3 - Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers
Kati and Mikal must battle Gorsh on his home turf.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Jupiter’s moon Amalthea

Jupiter’s moon Amalthea

Helena Puumala’s SF Romance series features a planet with seven moons.  This rather unusual setting gives me the opportunity to talk about some of the remarkable moons in our solar system, as I test different moons for the cover of book 2 of the series.

But, more on that at the end of the blog.  Basically, the book gives me the opportunity to do a mini-tour of some of the major moons of our solar system.

This blog is about Amalthea, one of smaller inner moons, which is to say, inside the orbits of the four big Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto).  Of course, when you are in between giant Jupiter and its dramatic large moons, you are bound to be overlooked.  So, let’s give little Amalthea a bit of attention.

Here are a few facts about Amalthea, courtesy of Wiki:

  • It was discovered in 1892 by Edward Barnard (of Barnard’s star, among other achievements), and was the last satellite to be discovered by purely visual observations (i.e. not photographic analysis).
  • It's the biggest of the inner moons, at 250 km by 146 km by 128 km.  That’s far smaller than the Galilean moons, which are in the 1500-2500 km range (radius).  It is the largest of the inner satellites, though.
  • As you can see by the dimensions noted above, it is too small to have “collapsed” under its own gravity, and thus is not spherical.
  • It is very close to Jupiter, at only 181000 km.  Jupiter would be huge in the sky there, subtending over 45 degrees of arc.  That would be about one-quarter of the visible sky, assuming that you were on the Jupiter side, of course.
  • Naturally, Jupiter would appear bright, though no brighter than  our moon, in brightness per surface area.  However, it would be about 900 times bigger, so even when it was night-time on Amalthea’s sub-Jupiter point, the sky would be pretty bright.  I think you could easily read a newspaper, in the short time you had before the radiation levels caused by being so close to Jupiter would kill you.
  • It has a greater eccentricity and inclination to its orbit, than is expected for a close-in object (those usually circularize) – this is a result of gravitational interactions with the Galilean moons. 
  • It is reddish in colour, as the first Voyager photos, from 1979, showed.  It is not known for sure what causes this colour, though sulphur is a likely candidate.
  • It is tidally locked, so that one side always points to Jupiter (the long side of the ellipsoid).
  • It was first assumed to be quite rigid, but measurements by Galileo indicates that it is actually less dense than water.  So, it is thought that it must be made up of ices, and is probably quite porous.  It may also contain organic materials (i.e. carbon).
  • This would indicate that it formed far from Jupiter and was captured and/or migrated to the current close-in orbit (else the heat of Jupiter’s formation would have melted it).
  • It may have tiny moonlets orbiting it.
  • Voyager 1 and 2 took pictures in 1979, as well as other measurments.  Galileo also studied it.
  • A 2005 article said (I hope it is still true):
    It is possible that the imager may also be able to provide images of some of Jupiter's closest moons, including Io and Amalthea.”

Here's a picture of Amalthea, taken by the NASA Voyager 1 probe.

This is colour representation of Amalthea.  Quite red, perhaps embarrassed by all the attention.


And here’s a simulated view of Jupiter, from Amalthea, by “Planetuser” on Wiki:

Some more views from Galileo:



And here’s the most recent (Aug 29, 2016) photo of Jupiter, from the Juno probe as it nears the planet, on its very elliptical orbit.  Amalthea is down there somewhere:



The moon Amalethea and Love and Intrigue Under the Seven Moves of Kordea

Helena Puumala's SF Romance series features the planet Kordea, home to a race of beautiful and powerful psychic aliens, known as the Witches of Kordea.  The planet has seven moons, an extraordinary arrangement for a terrestrial sized planet in its star's habitable zone.

In fact, the moons of Kordea are a central element in Book 2.  The cover below actually borrows the moon Amalthea, one of the moons of Jupiter 

The Witches’ Stones Series

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.

The Witches' Stones, Book 2 - Love and Intrigue, Under the Seven Moons of Kordea

Sarah has taken refuge on the planet of Kordea, where she is also learning how to control her psychic abilities, through the tutelage of the Witches of Kordea.  Coryn Leigh has now taken up the position of Confederation diplomat to the Kordeans, but he is also charged with keeping the Mackenzie girl safe at all costs.  During their time on the planet, an attraction between them grows, though they try to deny it, to themselves and each other.
But The Organization has plans of its own, including threatening the destruction of the planet Kordea, via destabilizing the orbit of Lina, one of its many moons.  The Organization proves that its threats are in deadly earnest, so, ultimately Sarah, Coryn and the Witches of Kordea must take the fight to the enemy.  Thus is borne a dangerous mission, to  a planet where their foe has based the weapon that threatens Kordea, and ultimately, the balance of power throughout the galaxy.  Sarah and Coryn agree that the machine must be destroyed, even at the possible cost of their own lives and growing love.

The Witches' Stones, Book 3 - Revenge of the Catspaw

Sarah and Coryn have become married, under the traditions of the Witches of Kordea.  But the marriage is performed by the Eldest of the most important coven, a rare honour, that comes with a blessing and a curse.  The slow working out of this blessing and curse forms the backdrop to the story.

Having come so close to their goal of enhancing their weaponry via Witches' Stone power, The Organization will not give up.  In order to lure Sarah into their trap, and thus have her become their Catspaw (someone who is forced into helping another, against their will) they need bait, and Coryn becomes the bait.  He also comes under the domination of a particularly nasty Elite of The Organization, one "Evil Evilla" Copoz.

Sarah, and a picked group of companions, must re-enter The Organization space, this time to the very heart of the empire, to rescue her husband, as he has done for her in the past.  They do so at great peril, but nothing can stop the terrible Revenge of the Catspaw.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Okanagan is nice in the fall, so Ride the Kettle Valley Rail-trail

The Okanagan is nice in the fall, so Ride the Kettle Valley Rail-trail

Free this weekend (Aug 31-Sept 4, 2016) on Amazon, A Ride on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.  Ride it for real, or ride it in your imagination.



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.

It's Never to Late, for Love at the Lake

Sure, August is almost over, but it's never too late for Love at the Lake.  In fact, this weekend (Aug 31 - Sept 4, 2016), it is free on Amazon :).  Well, the emotion packed short story by Helena Puumala is, anyway.


This romantic short story (approx. 5000 words) tells about the first days of a summer vacation of two couples with young children, who have cottages on a Northern Ontario lake. Both of their marriages are affected, in different ways, by the arrival of a luscious, blonde eighteen-year-old, at a neighbouring cottage. Janice is a flirt, at the least, and Mary Anne and Doris have to decide how they will deal with the attention that she is showering upon their not unattractive spouses. And their husbands, Tim and Ross have to figure out what is the most important to each of them. Is the opportunity to bed a beautiful young woman more important than an established family of wife and children?


 And here's a nice review by an Amazon Romance reviewer, Irene S:

Friday, 26 August 2016

University of Alberta Talk: Renewable Energy – the German Experience (the “Energiewende”)

University of Alberta Talk: Renewable Energy – the German Experience (the“Energiewende”)

This talk was actually delivered early in 2016 (March 16, 2016), though I have only gotten around to writing it up recently.  I suppose that says something about my own renewable energy, or lack thereof, at times.

At any rate, this interesting talk focussed on the experience of Germany, in its efforts to transform to a renewable, sustainable energy regime, known in German as the “Energiewende”.  The talk was given by Prof. Ralf Ludwig of Ludwig Maximillian University, in Germany.  He is a hydro-geologist, rather than an engineer, but as he said, the energy transition has percolated throughout the German economy and academy.  Mind you, hydrogeology has some fairly obvious applications in the world of energy and particularly renewable energy.

Reasons for the Policy

He stated these as the primary reasons for the German Energiewende:
  • The nuclear phase-out, related to the nuclear accidents in Japan and the earlier accident in the Ukraine.

  • The need to reduce import dependency.  I have heard Europeans repeat this one a number of times.  They seem much more concerned about depending on geopolitically risky fossil fuel sources, such as Russia and the Middle East than we do, here in North America.  Mind you, we have enough of our own fossil fuel supplies (though they are somewhat more expensive), that we can do without these sources, in a pinch.

  •  Climate change.  Europeans seem to have fewer sceptics on the subject, than we do here in North America.  That is probably related to the fact that they don’t have as much vested interests in the domestic fossil fuel industry, as we do.

  •   The need to develop new technology, and stay at the front of the innovation wave.

  •  Generally, they want to demonstrate that a sustainable economy is possible.


Pillars of the Policy

There are two pillars to the German energy transition, renewable energy and efficiency.  The focus of his talk was on the renewable energy pillar.

The German goal is to have 60% of energy produced by renewable resources, by 2050. This should also correspond to a 80-90% reduction in greenhouse gas generation, notably CO2.  For context, it should be noted that 27% of electricity is currently generated by renewables (this actually relates to 2014, so it might be higher now), but the 60% renewable target includes all energy, not just the replacement of current electrical generation (i.e. transportation and heating energy are also to be replaced by renewables).

An important part of the strategy has been the use of feed-in tariffs, for renewable electrical energy.  Essentially, this means encouraging solar and wind power via paying higher electrical rates to producers who use these methods.  This strategy has been highly successful (almost too much so, he says).   Some features of the strategy:

  • Fixed prices (so that producers can budget and plan).

  • Guaranteed grid access (so that producers can be assured of a market).

  • The strategy is modifiable, as technology changes (e.g. more efficient solar panels).

  • The effect on non-renewable sources can be offset by other charges, when it is deemed desirable.

  • Energy intensive industries can get a break on the higher prices during the transition, so as not to harm them unduly.

As noted above, about 27% of electricity was generated by renewables in 2014.  That represents an increase of about 10 times, over the 1990s, so the growth has been substantial.

Solar and wind have been the main renewable suppliers. The type of resource being developed has been optimized for local conditions, with wind prevailing at the coast, and solar in the south (Bavaria).    It is estimated that this transition has prevented 102 mega-tonnes of C02 from being produced.

There has been a movement towards small-scale energy production and distribution during the Energiewende.  Cooperative ownership models have helped in convincing citizens to buy in to the program.  Whole villages are sometimes involved in the cooperatives, for example.  Often, the sources are owned 50% or more, by local people.  Generally speaking, there is wide acceptance of the policy in Germany, though naturally, there are some NIMBY (not in my back yard) elements.



He noted some popular myths about the transition, and gave some clarity on those myths:

·         Myth 1 - It is an irrational response to the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster.
o   No, the roots of the program go long before that, with various strong concerns about the environment and energy security being motivators.

·         Myth 2 - it is immensely expensive.
o   Yes, it has been costly, but it has also generated substantial economic benefits.  For example, solar is now a significant industry, which didn’t exist previously.  About 400,000 jobs have been created around Germany in renewables, and they have been widely distributed around the country, rather than benefitting only a few regions.  Import substitution has also been a major benefit, in terms of trade and geopolitical security (Russian gas has been displaced, for example).

·         Myth 3 - the nuclear shutdown has created the need for imports.
o   To some extent true, though it is a temporary situation.  In fact, Germany is now exporting electricity.

·         Myth 4 - there would be power outages.
o   This never happened (in fact, Canada has had more problems than Germany, in this regard).

·         Myth 5 - Germany would have to increase its coal usage.
o   This was temporary, during the turn away from nuclear.  Coal usage is now back to historical lows.  In fact, though some coal power is still being produced, that is now going down, even below historical lows.


Problems that have been Encountered

Obviously, no policy of this significance can be problem-free, so here are some of the problems that Professor Ludwig noted:

  • These technologies are intermittent by their nature (wind doesn’t always blow, and sun doesn’t always shine), so the problem of grid stability is ever present.

  • There are environmental impacts, such as:

o   Toxic waste in producing solar panels, etc.

o   Land use conflicts, since solar and wind do need land bases, and hydro often means flooding (Germany has developed more hydro in some areas).

o   Resources are consumed, for example in the building of panels.

o   There are potential health issues, such as noise from wind generators that are placed too close to human habitations.

  • There can be a “status quo” threat, that inhibits public acceptance.  That can be by other producers, consumers or bystander parties.

  • Costs can be higher, compared to alternatives.  For example, 44 cents per KwHr is common in Germany, whereas about 12 cents per KwHr is more the norm in Edmonton (in Alberta, Canada, which is a fossil fuel rich province).  Note that this is “all-in” costs; production, distribution, etc.

  • With less “base load” production, power generation can fluctuate more, due to the variation in wind-speed and sunshine (though these tend to even out over longer time spans and distances).

  • This can also create some unbalanced loads, in terms of regional usage and regional demand.

  • New, smart infrastructure is needed (e.g. to distributed power more efficiently) but there is often resistance to big power lines and the like.

  • Climate change can adversely effect renewables, such as low water levels reducing hydro power.


Overall Conclusions

·         The program is well established.

·         It will probably hit its targets.

·         There will be many benefits.

·         The German economy will benefit, by being a first mover in renewable energy innovation.
·         Germany will be a lesson and guide for other countries.

·         With Germany’s issues around energy security and environmental problems, there is really no alternative.

·         From Alberta’s standpoint, there is a rich history of Alberta-German collaboration in industry and the academy, and that collaboration can grow and prosper via the energy transformation in both areas.

Here's a link to the German Energy Transition site, with lots more information:


And now, here's a link to some science fiction (because we can't be reading about renewable energy all the time), the universe of Kati of Terra:

 Kati 1 - Escape from the Drowned Planet
Kati and Mikal's escape from the alien slaver Gorsh.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Kati 2 - On Assignment on the Planet of the Exalted
Kati and Mikal follow the trail of justice to the planet Vultaire.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.:

Kati 3 - Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers
Kati and Mikal must battle Gorsh on his home turf.
Amazon U.S.:
Amazon U.K.: