Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 4 of Cyborg Wars

Continuing the Saturday Funnies, here is part four of my on-going Sci-fi tale.  Remember: this is offered just for a bit of fun.  If public opinion is that it holds any promise, I’d be happy to rework it and try it as a short eBook.  If it stinks… well, why waste the time?  If you want to start at the beginning [just click here]


Troopers Kim, Barklay and Rodrigues work quickly as they double check each others gear: body armor strapped on, photon grenades clipped to waist band and on safety, phaser rifles loaded and on safety, extra clips secure, Comm set on and working.   The ship is still at red alert yet the call went out for all ground assault troopers to suit up.   Barklay, the squad leader, notices Kim fidgeting.   It’s Kim’s first active G.A. mission.   Since Kim joined the squad, fresh out of the academy, they had participated in one boarding party against a Birdman ship, and called to stand ready in three other skirmishes, but saw no action in those.

“So, Kim, are you ready for your first taste of true G.A. action?”

Kim grabs his rifle and brandishes it threateningly, “You bet!”

Barklay smiles, “Good man.   Just remember; don’t get close enough they can touch you.    If they inject you, holler for one of us and we’ll off you.   If they get one of us, you do the same for us.”   A look of doubt crossed Kim’s face.  Barklay pressed the point, “Have you ever seen anyone get assimilated? Believe me, it isn’t pretty.   You would be doing me or Rodriguez a favor.”  Continue reading Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 4 of Cyborg Wars

Book Review: The Second Ship

The second ship The Second Ship (The Rho Agenda) by Richard Phillips was a slam-dunk 5 star book.

Technically excellent, characters that draw you in and cause you to care about them – even the bad guys are compelling.  Dialogue is perfectly natural and flows effortlessly.  The story includes a lot of advanced communications and physics concepts and Mr. Phillips does an excellent job of keeping them understandable and believable.

There were several nights I was kept up late because I did not want to put the book down yet. The entire concept of the story is a clever new twist on the “alien spacecraft recovered at Roswell” theme.  The ongoing juxtaposition of good elements versus bad elements also keeps things interesting.  This is not a farmers versus the government story.  Some elements of the government are good, some bad, some you’re not real sure about.  One ship is good, one bad; but which is which?  Even among the story’s main characters, some are good, some bad, some change sides.  It never got boring, it was never trite.

This is the first book in a trilogy, so the story ends in an open-ended manner, but THIS story does conclude with most of the major factors resolved.  It does not end in such a cliff-hanger that you feel cheated.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys science fiction, and especially if you have a fascination with alien conspiracy theory.  I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series.

** My Simple Formula for Book Reviews was used to review this book. **

Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 3 of Cyborg Wars

Want to Start at the beginning?

cyborg invasion,Our operative’s report included coordinates: coordinates which had been transmitted to the entire Birdman fleet as a rendezvous point.   Something big was about to happen.

There had been quite a debate over whether this report could be trusted.   It could be bait set out by the Birdmen to trap our best ships far from help, but discussion quickly dimmed the luminance of that possibility.

Hastily we pieced together an assault fleet and ordered them to proceed to the coordinates given.   The Executioner, a Dreadnought class battleship, was patrolling in my vicinity and I took command of her as my flag ship.   My fleet was scattered all around the quadrant, a well coordinated, cohesive assault would be nearly impossible, but we would do the best we could.   Continue reading Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 3 of Cyborg Wars

Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 2 of Cyborg Wars

Start at the Beginning?

Romulan Warbird, Star Trek, Paramount
via Paramount Studios

Wing Commander Ulan broods in her command chair, listening to the sounds of the war bird around her.   They are the usual unobtrusive sounds of a star ship in flight; the soft whoosh of life support, the small chirps and beeps of computer equipment as it tracks and monitors a billion circuits throughout the ship, hushed voices as her crewmen confer on this matter or that.   And under it all the deep, barely perceptible thrumming of her ship’s engines as they propelled her though space with unimaginable speed.   She has sat, listening, a hundred times before.   It’s a habit she developed when on important missions; listening for any small sign that there was a problem.   It’s silly she knows, the computers would alert her crew of any malfunction.   But still, she liked to feel in control, even while waiting for events to play out.

This mission was especially important.   The wing she now commands consists of every last war bird the Empire could muster.   Cloaked, and traveling at top speed toward a date with destiny.   Continue reading Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 2 of Cyborg Wars

Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 1 of Cyborg Wars

Long, long ago in a galaxy far away I used to play a game called VGA Planets.  It was a mult-player, on-line, roll-playing game of space conquest where each player had to build their race’s home planet’s economy and industry then develop space ships, then go and explore and, generally, kick butt to keep other races from over-running them.  If you were good, or lucky, or a little of both you could expand your empire.

I wasn’t especially good at it, but I enjoyed it so much I kept playing.  At one point, I decided to chronicle a game and create a story from it, posting the story for other players to read as the game progressed.

Earlier this morning on Twitter some of us were discussing the way as kids we used to look forward to Saturday morning and cartoons.  That conversation gave me the idea of posting part of that VGA Planets chronicle here each Saturday morning as a bit of fun.

Understand, that this was never slated for publication, it is not polished. It does contain references to and take-offs from most every Sci-Fi series ever made.  All characters are fictitious, so if the Romulan commander reminds you of your Aunt Mable, don’t go trying to sue me.  I never even met your Aunt Mable.  The images used are the artwork of various people I knew at the time and could not possibly remember now.  If anyone wants to complain, I’ll delete them.

Ready?  Here’s part one:  Continue reading Saturday Fun Stuff: Chapter 1 of Cyborg Wars

The Fat Lady Sings

fat ladyThere is a saying: “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”  Apparently coined by sports information director Ralph Carpenter during a 72-72 tied game between the Raiders and the Aggies in 1976 and reiterated any time someone is in a close contest.

For most of us recently life has been a close contest.  Economic disaster has pushed many to the brink of ruin.  And some have gone over the brink.

I’ve been building furniture for over 30 years.  It started as a hobby, making things for my own home, then friends and relatives.  Eventually word got around and my friends’ friends began calling on me to build things for them too, and furniture making moved from hobby status to side-line business.  This side-line grew until I cut my full-time employment to part time to test the waters as a full time woodworker, then quit my job altogether.  That was about 12 years ago (1998) and I’ve been working full time as a self employed custom furniture maker ever since.

There have been a few lean spots where things got particularly tight, and there have been times when demand for my work has been so great that I had a 12 month long waiting list in spite of the fact that I was working 12-14 hours a day 6 days a week for weeks on end.

Yet, somehow we never seemed to reap the benefits of all this work.  Even when our busiest year came to a close and we tallied up all the numbers in our annual report to Uncle Sam, profitability was disappointingly low.  How could that be?

Then I found a series of articles in Custom Woodworking Business magazine written by consultant Anthony Noel in which he addressed this very issue, pointed out many expenses that often slip through the cracks to feed upon your profit margin and taught us to build a spreadsheet for tracking those costs and calculating them back into our hourly shop rate.  I awaited each installation of that series with much anticipation and when it was complete I had my spreadsheet and began tracking down all those misplaced profits.

We recalculated our shop rate based on the results of that study and were confident that we would now be able to start tucking away a little for retirement.

Then the economy tanked (2008).

For a while people who still had money to spend on quality furniture were finding us and we were getting along, but last July either those people started feeling the need to hang onto their money or we were no longer able to get our name in front of them and things began to get really tight.  But, the fat lady hadn’t sung yet.

Almost another year has passed and nothing is getting better.  I believe I hear that buxom soprano starting her aria.  It’s decision time.

Having furniture custom designed and built for you is expensive.  It’s much like the difference between selecting a suit off the rack at your local department store or going to a tailor and having a suit specially fitted to your physique.  A tailor made suit will be many times the cost of an off the rack suit.  More so if you choose a particularly spiffy fabric.  But there are men who feel that $500 to $1000 (sometimes more) for one suit is money well spent.  Marie spent many years as a seamstress in a popular dress shop in St. Louis and she knows first hand the extraordinary amount of money women will put into custom made gowns.  And we hope to meet some of those people again soon as they will be the ones who are willing to spend money on high quality furnishings that are designed to their specific needs and tastes and built to last for generations.

But those are not the people who have been contacting us lately.  As an example, there was the fellow who wanted a table and benches designed for his children’s use.  After discussing his needs with him I estimated the job at around $1,000.  His budget for the project was $350, and that had to include delivery to the east coast!  This was just one example, it is typical of most of the dealings we’ve had lately.  We’re just going to have to move in a new direction if we are to survive.

Over the years there have been certain items that have been very popular and have sold consistently.  The higher pricing dictated by the need to actually show a profit as cooled the enthusiasm for even these items.  But if I can get pricing back down to the previous levels, we may be able to revive interest in those pieces.  How do we do that? Volume production.

I have always considered myself as something of an artist and as such have always considered production work to be distasteful.  But then, so is starving to death.

If I can produce our most popular items in batches of 10 to 12 pieces I can economize by making the parts of these pieces in runs, and saving labor overall.  How does that work? Well, it takes time to set up a tool to make a particular cut.  Depending on the tool and the cut being made, it can take 20 minutes to fit the jigs and make test cuts to home in on perfection.  If making parts for a single piece of furniture, all that work will go into making one or two finished cuts on parts (which may take all of 30 seconds to make the actual cut) and all that time gets billed to the one piece of furniture.  If making 12 of those pieces of furniture, once the set-up is done it can be used to make parts for all of them and the 20 minute set-up time gets split between the 12 pieces.  Instead of adding 20 minutes of shop time to each, less than 2 minutes is billed to each.

This is not to say that we will be able to slash our pricing to ½ of the current rate, for assembly and finishing of each piece of furniture will still consume most of the construction time and that must be done one piece at a time, with careful attention to detail or the quality of our work will suffer greatly.  And it does not take 20 minutes to set up for every cut made.  But if economizing in the parts making stage will help us reduce costs, maybe we’ll get some of that business back.

This will mean that what we build will not be customizable.  Asking us to make a set of tray tables 2″ wider than the ones we normally make seems a simple enough request, but it would in fact require re-designing and re-making all the jugs and templates for most of the parts used to make those tables.  So, full custom work is being sent to the bench until the game turns around for us.  The fat lady has sung.

Stepping up to a 3D Book Cover

Writing for Profit or Pleasure: Where to Sell Your Work - book imageToday I took the next step in the full-publication process of my latest book. That step being to produce a PDF version that I can sell on my web site. Most people who buy and read PDF books are accustomed to seeing snazzy, 3D book cover images that look like a photo of a real book. So the flat 2D image that I’ve been using in the bookstores isn’t going to be quite good enough if I want to look “professional” as an author of PDF books. But, I can’t spend $700 on Photoshop (the most popular software for doing this) nor do I have the time to learn it even if I could afford it.  So I went looking for alternatives.

I found a bunch.  Several were plugins for Photoshop to make setting that up easier – no good if you don’t have Photoshop. {Gong} They’re disqualified.  Continue reading Stepping up to a 3D Book Cover

The Voice of the Appalachians

I’ll call this Tribute Tuesday, and talk about a powerful writer and local (former) resident who loved this region, it’s people and it’s heritage.

Wilma Dykeman, who passed away at age 86 at her Asheville North Carolina home in December of 2006, has been heralded as “The Voice of Appalachia” for her literary works about the history and people of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Brief Biography

Wilma_Dykeman PHOTO Asheville Citizen-Times
Wilma_Dykeman PHOTO Asheville Citizen-Times

Wilma Dykeman was born on May 20th 1920 to Bonnie Cole Dykeman and Willard Dykeman in the Beaverdam community of Buncombe County, North Carolina, which is now part of Asheville N.C.  Her father was 60 years old when Wilma was born and he passed away when she was 14.  Dykeman would later credit both her parents for instilling a love of reading and her father in particular for arousing in her a love of nature and a curiosity about the world around her.

She attended Biltmore Junior College, graduating in 1938, and Northwestern University, in Chicago where she graduated in 1940 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech.

In August 1940 Dykeman was introduced to her future husband, poet James R. Stokely, Jr. a  Newport, Tennessee resident and a son of the president of Stokely Canning Company which become Stokely-Van Camp Inc. The couple married just two months after they met and produced two sons, Dykeman Stokely and James R. “Rory” Stokely III.  Both sons grew up to become writers as well, co-authoring several books with their mother.  Continue reading The Voice of the Appalachians