Blog Archives

Down with the LMC–let me hear you say Large Magellanic Cloud

Down with the LMC–let me hear you say Large Magellanic Cloud. I took some wide field images of a small portion of the LMC, centered on the Dragon’s Head Nebula (NGC2035), that colorful stretch of star-forming cloudiness in the middle of the pic. Astro specs: 8 stacked 300 sec exposures, Takahashi SKY90 APO, SBIG ST2000 XMC camera, Paramount PME. Now, before you go thinking that I’ve teleported to the southern hemisphere, which is where you have to be to see our nebulous galactic neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud, I assure you I haven’t. I have merely bought a tiny slice of observatory time on some fantastic hardware that happens to be located at the Siding Spring Observatory, New South Wales, Australia. I will also tell you that I can fly from here to Australia seven or eight times–first class–for what that equipment setup costs. It’s so much easier pretending to be there under the stars near Coonabarabran, using some totally badass astronomical gear. And it’s easy, and inexpensive. Besides, it’s pouring rain here, and I miss seeing the sky. Wait, I don’t have to justify my imaginary stargazing trip to Australia to you! Go check it out yourself: (The observatory in Spain is lovely as well).

NGC 2035

Category: Uncategorized

Astro setup update: INDI, Ekos, KStars, on a Raspberry Pi, Oh my!

I spent a few hours this morning installing Ubuntu Mate on a Raspberry Pi3, along with the full Ekos toolset and foundational INDI libraries. And now I’m talking to every piece of astronomical equipment remotely from the Mac–and I mean everything: the Atlas EQ-G mount, Atik CCD, Atik filter wheel, focuser, ZWO CCD guide camera, even the freakin’ Weather Underground API. I leaned heavily on the docs written by James Taylor–find those here:
Of course, this whole Ekos, Kstars, INDI thing wouldn’t exist without Jasem Mutlaq, who has created some seriously cool software and systems here. Info on Ekos: – Ekos is an advanced cross-platform (Windows, OSX, Linux) observatory control and automation tool with particular focus on Astrophotography…
Still some testing and an actual astro imaging session to roll through, but this is so promising. I’ve been an EQMOD guy up to this point, but I’m on the edge of ditching all of that for INDI, Ekos, and KStars. My goal is be able to set everything up way out in the backyard, run 110v AC out there–already doing that, and be able to sit in the cool or warm–depending on the season–house to run complex astrophotography sessions, schedule half a dozen target across the sky, and just let the machines do their thing.
Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 1.16.49 PM
Category: Uncategorized

Aquarium downsizing an automation

NewAquariumStand900I started this aquarium downsizing and automation project a couple months ago, and it’s going to take at least another four to five months to complete–maybe longer. Even if all the equipment is ready, there’s no hurrying the life behind the glass–you never want to rush the beginning of a new habitat.  You have to let it come to life first, let it settle down, find its balance–and that can take anywhere from a couple months to a year. This may actually be the most difficult part of this hobby–the waiting, the patience required to just let things calm down on their own. You provide the stability, the nutrients for coral growth and the spread of that beautiful red and purple coralline algae (Lithothamnion sp. and the like).  But you can’t rush the process and be successful. You can buy all the frags you want, but it’s going to be hell without a mature system.

Okay, back to what I’m working on: You might laugh at the idea of downsizing a 30g/113l tank, which is on the small side in this hobby. (I consider it a “Nano reef” aquarium, as would many of my fellow aquarists). I have had 40, 60, 160, 200 gallon reef systems in the past, but for the foreseeable future I’m going to stick to a nano-sized system, anywhere from 12 – 18 gallons of total water volume, and I’m starting with the foundation, building out a better, higher-tech moveable base for the aquarium, lighting, dosing system, electronics (battery backup), and the automation infrastructure (timers, temperature control, pH, ORP, monitoring). I have all of this running smoothly right now on the 30g, and transitioning it at some point will be a fairly big task.  But back to basics: this weekend I have completed most of what I wanted for the base, the tank stand, with the lighting structure. (I run four Kessil LEDs, an A160EW Tuna Blue (all-day blue, color: 20,000K), A160WE Tuna Sun (Daylight, color: 9,000k), A150W Tuna Blue (Mid-day intensity, color: 15,000K), and an H150 Red (2 hours per day at dusk and dawn, wavelength: 620 – 710nm). I know, a lot for light for a smallish aquarium, but they’re not all on at the same time, and they’re on for varying lengths of time.


Here are a couple free copies of Teller–just click one of the links below and get the book for your Kindle–the actual device and the app. (If the first one doesn’t work, try the second. These are one-time use passes. When they’re gone they’re gone).,Unused,Unused


I have four books on sale for 99 cents through the month of August, and I have been playing around with Amazon giveaways. I’ve seen the “Setup a Giveaway” button at the bottom of Amazon product pages for a while, but I never gave it any thought. Until a couple weeks ago when I setup my first. The way it works–essentially–is you buy the books (or presumably any product–toaster ovens?) and let Amazon run the actual contest and delivery part.
There are options for handing out special purchase codes that have to come back to you, and other fancy stuff. You can require participants to follow you on Twitter (which I recommend), watch a video on Youtube, or take a survey. There are three methods for setting up the contest part, you can specify a number of books and the odds (1 out of n) for winning. There’s also a magic number selection, where you can have every ninth contestant win a book, and then finally you can just have the first n number of contestants win. (I say I have been playing around with these giveaways because I have now tried all three, just to see how fast the books go, and how things work).
Pretty simple, and if your books are on sale, it can also be pretty cheap. I occasionally run Goodreads giveaways, and will typically have 1500 to 2000 participants for a set of books with some art prints (There’s one going right now for Saltwater Witch, as a matter of fact), but the thing with GoodReads is that these are physical copies of books, which a lot of people would love to win (me too!) What it also means is that I’m paying shipping costs, which can be fairly steep if I include the UK or Australia in the mix–and who doesn’t love to include the UK and Australia in the mix? I love running these giveaways, and I won’t stop, but now that I see how easy and inexpensive it is to run giveaway on Amazon, I think I’m going to add it to my publicity components toolbox. It’s just another way to get my books in the hands of readers who may have never heard of me. That’s a good thing, right?
Has anyone tried out Amazon’s giveaways? I would be interested in hearing your experiences with it. Any other sites or methods for setting up book giveaways out there?

Concept art for Salvage Issue2

I have been painting panels for the next issue of Salvage (Issue #2), and I am leaning toward a more painterly style, no hard lines, no pencils visible. Issue #1 on Comixology: –Based on the book Salvage (Masque Books, 2013)


Saltwater Witch Audio Book…

Saltwater Witch audio book chapter 1 test reading (Yeah, this is what I sound like). ‪#‎saltwaterwitch‬ ‪#‎audiobook‬

Category: Saltwater Witch

Astronomy Night – January 5, 2016

I shot my favorite nebula tonight, the Orion Nebula (M42), using the Astro-Tech 6″ f/9 Ritchey-Chrétien–prime focus with the Nikon D750, all of it sitting on an Orion Atlas EQ-G mount. 40 stacked frames, 30 second exposures. And I was doing all of this camera and telescope stuff in a nice brisk 15°F/-9.4°C, has to be the coldest night I’ve been out with a telescope.

Orion Nebula (M42)

Orion Nebula (M42)

Category: Astrophotography, photo

Around the Gulf of Mexico

I finally got around to putting together some interesting industrial shots I took around the Gulf of Mexico–mostly shipping and oil industry stuff.




Category: Ocean, photo, ships

Cover art process










I spent a good chunk of the weekend painting, most of it on the cover art for Mike Reeves-McMillan’s novel Auckland Allies. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of my original concept sketch and something close to the final painting on the right. I’m very late on this one, but I love the way it’s turned out!

Category: art, Books, steampunk

Shooting the moon with Nikon and William Optics

I’m just starting out on this astrophotography adventure, with a nice camera and a nice scope. I’ve been using Nikon DSLRs for a while, moving up to my current main camera, a D750–full-frame, 24MP. I just got a William Optics GT-81 refractor, a beautiful piece of equipment. I’ve added a pic of my camera before putting it on the scope in case you’re wondering what I’m using for the setup. The second pic is my GT81 set up for viewing, with red dot finder, mounted on the AltAzimuth–that’s what I use for the moon because it takes some time before it wanders out of frame, and you’re probably not going to be shooting exposures longer than 1/30.














Here’s my setup for visuals:
























And here’s shot of the moon (Nikon D750, 1/1600, ISO 4000, single shot–no stacking, prime focus with the William Optics GT-81)