Saturday, June 16, 2018

This is how to earn respect

By doing what is hard for you to do, rather than what comes most easily

Being motivated by selfless actions rather than personal gain

By seeking to inspire others, rather than seeking praise for yourself and your own accomplishments

Friday, June 15, 2018

I wanna be like yoo-oo-oo

It's a sad day when the leader of the world's second largest democracy envies a brutal dictator

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Building a battleship - drawing practicalities

One thing that most distinguished this drawing project from others, is the sheer scale of the drawing.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s the kind of window I am usually working in ...
... it looks small as an image here but this is a snapshot of the drawing window in iDraw that takes up most of my screen. This kind of scale is comfortable to work at, close enough to handle small details but not too close to give me tunnel vision.

And here is the view zoomed out to the whole page, with the previous portion highlighted. You can see that at any one moment I am only working on a tiny fraction of the whole plan.
And this is just page one of three!

A task of this size poses a series of challenges.

The big picture

For fine positioning, iDraw has a grid feature. Helpfully, it lets you set up a two-tier grid, with large and small units. In this case I worked with a 0.5mm fine grid, with heavier grid lines every 5mm. My scale is 0.5mm to 1ft. Yes, I’ve always been weird that way - measuring in metric but thinking in feet, but the latter makes sense in Shayla’s world because I have them talk in terms of Imperial units (miles etc.) to give a sense of tradition and antiquity.

This grid is great when it comes to drawing the detail of rooms and corridors, but to help with overall orientation I add in a broader grid of lines to give me a large scale framework.

You can see that the plan is actually a series of plans - mostly decks, but also profile and section. Laying these out on the page needs some forward planning. I decided on the overall dimensions for the different elements and then worked out how much room each one needed on the page - not so close that they overlap, but not too far apart either. I then laid out my own large scale grid lines to mark out the boundaries. I put these in their own drawing layer behind everything else so they are visible but don’t interfere.

Here is that same view of the page with the grid lines emphasized.

Keeping it together

The next challenge, which applies to any plan but is made trickier working on such a large scale, is vertical integrity. Decks don’t exist in isolation of each other, there are elements that link them together and which therefore have to be positioned correctly from one to the next. I’m talking here about obvious things like elevators and vertical service shafts, stairs, and inner and outer structural members.

Again, this benefits from some forward thinking. I started off with the main structural framework of the ship - keels and horizontal and vertical plates. Again, I put these into a drawing layer of their own for easier handling. Making this ship a fairly boxy shape helped, because there was a lot of repetition from one deck to the next. Once I had worked out the parts of the framework that pierced one of the main decks, it was a matter of copying and pasting to the others.

Even that simple exercise was a bit of a headache until I developed a technique to handle positioning. With such a large drawing, when you zoom out far enough to see the whole deck you are too far out for accurate positioning. And at that distance I also found it next to impossible to “grab” a set of lines I’ve just pasted to drag them into position. My solution was to add some temporary drawing elements to help move and position. You can see one or two red triangles nestling in the corners of my grid. I select the items I want to copy, along with one of these triangles. When I paste into the next deck, the large triangle is easier to grab while zoomed out, so I can get things roughly into position. I then zoom in on the triangle and nudge it until it is precisely positioned against the grid lines and I know everything else - out of sight because I’m zoomed in - is also moving with it into correct alignment.

With the structural framework laid out, I moved on to the outer hull, and then internal elements such as shafts and stairs. This was a game of patience, and checking and double-checking everything before I started filling out the details.

Keeping track

The last major challenge was simply keeping track of the overall plan, and keeping motivated by seeing progress as I fleshed out the enormous amount of detail.

Here I set up a spreadsheet to mark out zones along the length of the ship, and decks down the page.

This became my master plan for what went where. On a copy of this master plan I used traffic-light shading to show which sections were complete, in progress, or still to do. At first this served to emphasize what a daunting task I had embarked on, but it was satisfying to see the steady spread of green as time went by.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Building a battleship - machinery spaces

Armed with a general idea of the overall layout, it’s time to start piecing the main parts of the jigsaw together.

As I said last time, with a seagoing warship you are pretty much constrained by the realities of marine engineering. The general shape and proportions of the hull follow a common pattern and everything fits into that. But with a space craft you have a freer hand to invent your own body plan.

Even so, it helps to pay a bit of attention to basic physics and structural mechanics. It helps to have something that at least looks like it would hang together.

In the case of the Enforcer battleships, my starting point was the structural frame of the ship. I settled on a box frame arrangement. Typical sea ships have a single keel running along the bottom of the hull, to which everything else is attached. Admiral George Leonard has four keels arranged in pairs, upper and lower. Large horizontal and vertical plates link the keels together, forming a series of boxes down the length of the ship.
I placed most of the ship’s tanked storage (water and fuel) and services (e.g. waste processing) in the upper and lower spaces between the keels (click on image for a closer look).

     Down ladders once more to the lowest level, Shayla found the laundry and clothing store. Each deck on a ship like this had its own distinctive look, smell, and sound. The similarities to her old Martha Sandover were uncanny, and brought back sharp pangs of nostalgia. Down here, in a space nestling between the massive frames of the lower longitudinal keels, it felt subterranean. Yellow light glistened off cream walls. Pipes twisted thick overhead. Steam and chemicals tainted the air.

The framework between upper and lower keels extends all the way through the decks in between. Everything else has to work around these immovable structural members.

In this view, you can see that most of the ship is taken up by the two main machinery spaces.

In Shayla’s universe, there is one important design constraint that I don’t have to worry when it comes to the ship’s drive. Most ship designs have to accommodate large rocket (or other) exhausts at the rear. Interstellar technology in this world, however, uses fields that manipulate space and gravity. No opening to the outside world required, so critical machinery can stay safely tucked away behind shields and armor.

     Industrial ear muffs barely deadened the noise echoing back and forth in the cathedral space that rose through most of the height of the hull. She’d grown used to near silence in Blazer’s machinery space, but here the quintuplet of hulking, pot-bellied power units was anything but quiet. The curving shells that filled most of the compartment hummed an almost subsonic note that tingled her bones. Accustomed as she was to technology from the microscopic to the gargantuan, she had never been this up close and personal with the living heart of a capital ship. Despite herself, her skin crawled in awe at the unimaginable power contained a few feet away. Behind layers of armor and magnetic containment fields, humans dared subvert the power of suns.
     She shivered, and returned her attention to the job at hand and the instructions in her earpiece fighting to be heard. From her vantage point high above the deck, the shrieking din of ancillary equipment that clustered at floor level was lessened, but only just.
     A narrow slice of unencumbered air ran the length of the power plant on either side, giving minimally-adequate working room. Canary yellow gantries spanned the engineering space and hoisted the two ton dead weight of the fuel injector high into the air, but it took sweat and muscle, and a constant stream of commands mingled with colorful invective to line the cylinder up with its housing forty feet above the deck.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Paid promotions

Last month, I mentioned that I was trying out one or two paid promotions, a new approach for me. Now I’m coming to the end of my planned stint I thought I’d give an update on my experience.

General strategy

For the last couple of years I’ve priced e-books at $3.99. With the release of The Ashes of Home, I decided to drop the price of Ghosts of Innocence to $0.99 for two months. My hope is that people who are tempted to buy the first book at a reduced price might be enticed to move on to the second.

Note: All prices here are given in US $

During these two months I ran several paid promotions on Ghosts to reach a wider audience.


In each case, Ghosts of Innocence was advertised in an email to subscribers on the specified day. There was an immediate spike in sales on that day, with a small number the following day, then zero. Any further sales after that I’ve regarded as normal business rather than a direct result of the promotion.

Promotion #1: Bargain Booksy, April 22, cost $35.
Sales of Ghosts: 22
Sales of other titles: 2

Promotion #2: Book Gorilla, May 6, cost $50.
Sales of Ghosts: 13
Sales of other titles:  1

Promotion #3: Bargain Booksy, May 27, cost $35.
Sales of Ghosts: 17
Sales of other titles: 0

I also submitted twice to Ereader News Today but was rejected both times.


These kinds of sales come nowhere near to paying for the promotion, but at this stage of the game that isn’t the point. I’m happy to be getting my books into more hands, and even a few sales now and again helps lift my author rank in the arcane Amazon algorithm. This is a long game of patience and persistence.

BTW - Ghosts of Innocence is still at the reduced price for another couple of weeks. After that, I will likely try a slightly higher price point of $4.99 for Ghosts and Ashes.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Building a battleship - general arrangements

When you design a seagoing warship, especially a WWI/WWII battleship, you pretty much have to start off with the general arrangement of big chunks of machinery. Main and secondary armament with their associated shell rooms and magazines demand large unbroken slices of real estate, as do the propulsion units. Together, these largely dictate the overall profile of the ship.

With a traditional ship, you are always working within the constraints of a hull, along with rules of buoyancy and center of gravity.

When it comes to a spaceship, two obvious differences spring to mind immediately.

First, you can abandon the need for streamlining. Depending on how things work in your story world you may have other unique constraints to think about, but spacecraft generally don’t have a dense medium like water to plow through, or depend on aerodynamics for lift. So you can think beyond the ship’s hull or aircraft’s fuselage and go for different shapes - blocky and angular, spindly and fragile - and you essentially have complete freedom over basic body plan. Who else remembers the shock of the first appearance of the starship Enterprise, making a break from sleek Buck Rogers-style rocket ships?

To me, that freedom actually makes it all the more important to start off with some overall concept to work within, otherwise you risk ending up with a mess (unless, of course, a disordered mess is what you actually want)

Second, a seagoing warship is typically designed to afford its main armament as broad an arc of fire as possible. With superimposed turrets fore and aft, the entire main armament can usually be brought to bear on a target broadside on (and for maybe 15 degrees either side of perpendicular.)

Classic big gun broadside

Outside of that arc, you can bring no more than half your guns to bear, either the forward or aft batteries. But you only have to think about coverage over a two-dimensional surface. In space, this problem extends to three dimensions, posing new challenges and compromises.

In the case of my Imperial Swords, I chose to compromise. The ships are designed to attack ground targets, to terrorize rebelling planets into submission, so the primary weapon doesn’t need a broad arc of fire.

     With almost leisurely movements, Hammer rolled away from George Leonard. With a sick feeling in her gut Shayla knew this was no act of submission. The Sword’s primary weapon, her city-wrecking plasma cannon, occupied the full two-thousand-foot height of the battleship from the bulbous upper pod containing hangars and the main battle platform down through the height of the hull to project from her underbelly. She was taking up an attack posture, lining up a kill shot.

Their secondary armament forms a ring around a broad pod spreading above the main hull. This gives almost complete field of view, but there are gaps ...

     Icy fury flooded Shayla. She blinked her eyes clear and brought herself even closer in. From past experience she knew these ships had many blind spots up close, the most extensive being right on top of that upper pod.
     Hammer maneuvered away. Her captain was also aware of those blind spots and determined to bring his weapons to bear.

Unlike the ground-assault Swords, battleship Admiral George Leonard is intended for general ship-to-ship combat so all-round cover is vital.

I started with an image in mind of a fairly slender body, with paired pods of weapons down either side. The pods jut out from the sides and give relatively clear all-round cover, with roughly half the main weapons able to target any given point of space. The feel I was going for was of a narrow and cramped interior surrounded by machinery. As it happens, some of that thinking went by the wayside as I’ll explain in a later post, but this gave me the conceptual framework to build from. What you can see here is a plan view of the frame.

The weapons are mounted in separate modules that dock in the bays on either side.

     Once aboard, the going should be easier. Enforcer-class ships were huge, second only to Imperial Swords, and the mainstay of the Firenzi navy for the last five millennia. A bulky hull contained machinery and accommodation, but farsighted architects had designed them with pairs of vast docking points to mount weapons or more specialized payloads. This flexibility, and the ability to upgrade weapon systems over the years without a massive overhaul, was the secret of the ancient ships’ longevity.
     If Admiral George Leonard was typical of her class, she’d be packing six batteries of beam weapons at those docking points. Shayla hoped to identify the source of the blinding shot that had vaporized the scout. From her stint aboard a similar ship, she had the glimmer of a plan to avoid arousing suspicion.

The main engineering spaces lie between the pairs of docking points, with main crew accommodation forward, and hangars aft.

More of that in future posts ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Building a battleship - look and feel

In both Ghosts of Innocence and The Ashes of Home, Shayla spends quite some time on board warships of one sort or another.

When writing scenes, I find it important to have a firm idea of the look and feel of the setting, the kind of atmosphere I am trying to evoke. For warships, I have always avoided the clean, shiny ultra-modern feel of Star Trek or Star Wars interiors. One possible exception is the vast Imperial Sword-class which are big enough to hide messy machinery out of the way. Apart from that, though, there are few sops to creature comforts.

Everywhere is certainly clean in the sense of not dirty - navy standards are strict - but definitely not clean in the sense of uncluttered. Everywhere, there are hard surfaces, painted metal, and pipes and machinery are exposed. Living and working spaces are cramped. Function comes first. The needs of people have to fit in and around the workings of the ship.

This is particularly true of the Admiral George Leonard. This ship is five thousand years old. Although well-maintained, it is ancient and I wanted to convey some of that sense of antiquity and solidity.

My main influences were twentieth century large warships. These have always held a fascination for me anyway, so it’s only natural that I should want to recreate some of this atmosphere in my writing. Hey! I’m the author! I get to decide things like that :)

So a typical corridor is likely to look more like this ...
than this ...
She headed aft, to where she knew another near-vertical highway connected the ship’s decks. Shiny gray walls reflected yellow-white light. Battleship gray. In her time in the navy nobody had ever been able to explain why this particular shade of gray should be associated with battleships. Tradition, they said, as if that explained everything.

She ducked through an open blast door into another corridor. Pale green decking gave way to dark blue. Refreshed by her brief rest, she bolted up the last three flights to ‘A’ deck.

Crew sleeping accommodation is similar to this ...
Down a couple more decks, the cramped warren of the crew’s mess was a marked contrast to the hubbub upstairs. In between ranks of kit lockers, mess tables lay mostly vacant. A few off-duty crew members lounged, read, played cards. Shayla avoided these oases of light, tuned to the artificial day/night cycle, and scurried through the permanent twilight of the dormitory areas. Past rows of curtained sleeping racks, she counted until she found the rack she’d assigned herself, the lowest of three. Low level racks, inches off the deck, were least favored but also least likely to attract notice. She crawled silently in and drew the curtain.

This could easily be a corner of the kitchens where Shayla works undercover ...

And this could definitely be a model for the officers’ wardroom where she overhears useful information ...

And finally, there’s the place that Shayla always seems to end up in. The brig ...
She woke, head pounding, on a hard metal bench and thought for a moment that she was still on Eloon. Her surroundings came back into focus: white-painted metal walls, a steel toilet and basin in one corner, a sliding metal grille for a door. The door and floor were painted a fetching blood red. The heavy omnipresent thrum of the warship enveloped her. The air was warm and dry, but pricked with a whiff of disinfectant.

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