Monthly Archives: April 2011

Casey Calouette: “The Little Black Gas Book”


Hello Casey, could you please describe yourself in five words?

Fragmented engineer with a cause.

What can you tell us about The Little Black Gas Book”?

Back in 2008 during the height of the financial crisis I was working on ways that I could try to save a few bucks on gas, which was becoming increasingly expensive. What I found online was a wealth of knowledge, though fragmented, so I began to compile it and review it with an engineers eye and found a good deal of it to be nonsense, junk, lies, and outright fraud.

As my list grew I thought other people could get some use, and hopefully enjoyment out of it. It began as something to point out what worked to save you money on gas but turned into a bit of economic theory on the pricing of gas, what does work and to what extent and my favorite chapter on what doesn’t work. It was really entertaining to see the junk science that some people tried to sell others with no regard for the science.

The key idea at the center of the book is to know how much gas you are using. If you become aware of your usage you will reduce it. A medical study was done on weight loss and proved that if you tracked your caloric intake you ate less food, so why couldn’t that hold true for fuel usage? I tested it myself and was quite stunned at how much gas I used, and I thought I was careful!

Later in the book I got into the alternative fuels and where they stand today along with potential fuels for the future. There is some really exciting technologies at work right now and it’s going to be interesting to see which technologies end up lasting and which go away. 

Who’s your favourite author?

Matt Taibbi has been getting a lot of my reading time lately. He tells it like it us and isn’t afraid to pull any punches. For someone who covers Political stories he is refreshingly honest, not taking a side but pointing out stupidity, fraud, and lies. It’s nice to get someone to tell it to you straight these days.

Do you have tips for budding writers?

Write, read and know your subject. If you don’t write none of the other points matter. If you don’t read you won’t learn from others. There are tricks in prose and style that you become aware of once you start writing that you don’t notice as a reader. Knowing your subject guarantees you won’t sound like a fraud. Try to BS your way through a story and the reader will know.

Also know your style, if you sound too strange you become an oddity but if you sound like everyone else you become a commodity. Striking that balance is what makes for a fresh, unique story. 

What are you working on now?

A collection of outdoor short stories based on fly fishing, kayaking and the outdoors. After technology my love is for the outdoors so I’ve decided to spend some time writing fiction in that genre. I also found that nonfiction doesn’t generate the buzz or readability that fiction does so I’m going to step out of my Engineer writing shoes and putting my fishing waders on for some inspiration. 

Where can we find you online?

My primary haunt is at http://www.geektechnologist.com 

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Shangri-la / Zhongdian (Tibet) – 香格里拉/中甸(云南)


Shangri-la is located in a Tibetan county in northwestern Yunnan Province in southwest China, about 1,000 kilometres east of Lhasa. It is the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, close to the Myanmar and India borders. In other words, quite a remote place, but well worth a visit! Shangri-la used to be called Zhongdian until 2001 when it was renamed after the fictional land of Shangri-La in the 1933 James Hilton‘s novel Lost Horizon, in an effort to promote tourism in the area. The local Tibetan population refers to it by the name Gyalthang. I have just spent a few days there, at the end of my stay in Yunnan, and I loved it! It is quite high in altitude (3,300 metres or 11,000 feet) so you often find yourself out of breath. In fact, you can take a cable car to Shika Snow Mountain, where there are everlasting snows; at 5,000 metres high (16,500 feet) you feel on top of the world, trust me! The area is mostly Tibetan. There are few Han Chinese and everyone speaks and writes Tibetan. Of course they also speak Mandarin, even if heavily accented at times. The people are delightful, polite, curious and very friendly. The  food is divine. Songzanlin monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region. Construction of the monastery began in 1679 and was completed two years later. The monastery is composed of two lamaseries, and hosts 700 monks. A trip to the Pudacuo National Park is also worth a visit. There are two beautiful lakes that you can walk around, Shudu and Bita Hai lakes; at times the landscape reminded me of Alaska. Shangri-la is truly an enchanting place, so much so that I found it really hard to choose which pictures to post here!

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Street dancing in Shangri-la


One of the things I love about China is how people dance in public, mainly in the morning or in the evening. People gather in a park or in a public area, someone turns on the music, and sometimes up to a hundred people will dance together. There is usually someone who leads the group. What is fantastic, apart from the spectacle itself, is that the Chinese are not as self-conscious as most people are in the West: you will have people of all ages, males and females, young (sometimes very young!) and old dancing together. I can’t imagine many male Westerners doing the same thing. I was surprised to see that it also happens in Tibetan China, as was the case in Shangri-la last week. I am posting two short videos here to give you a taste of what it’s like.

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Paul M. Schofield: “Trophy”


Hello Paul, could you please describe yourself in five words?

“Born with rich inner imagination”

What can you tell us about “Trophy”?

“Trophy” is about struggle, not only on an individual level, but on an epic scale involving the very existence of the human race. Our hero is Lieutenant Janet Rogerton, orphaned at an early age, and raised by the Planetary Control Corps, the military arm of the New Victorian Empire. The Empire began in the late 21st century after the collapse of civilization as we know it, and is managed by the massive computer system, known as CENTRAL, and overseen by ten ruling women, the Guardians. For nearly five hundred years the Empire has successfully governed the Earth and Solar System, but mankind is now on the brink of extinction, a consequence of the collapse centuries earlier.

The Empire is convinced that time-travel is the only means of salvation. Lt. Janet Rogerton is part of an intense effort to capture Louis Franelli, a brilliant ex-Empire engineer, now in the employ of deadly rebel Galen Bestmarke. Franelli alone has unraveled the complex secret of time travel through the mysterious Keyhole, an anomaly in space located in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. Bestmarke is trying to use the Keyhole to develop his heinous plan of a slave trade through time, and has captured and turned both animals and men into living trophies during his test journeys through the Keyhole. Now the Empire is hot on his trail. During a daring surprise attack on Bestmarke’s ship as it exits the Keyhole, Lt. Rogerton successfully rescues two of the trophies and captures Franelli. In a series of rapidly moving plot twists, Franelli and a Guardian are abducted by Bestmarke; the two rescued trophies, the 20th century man Martin and a magnificent black panther, are revitalized by the Guardians with cybernetic bodies forming a formidable mind-linked team; and the sinister businessman Izax enters the story with dreadful consequences for CENTRAL and Martin. The Empire unveils a superior new ship, the Clipper, which Lt. Rogerton and her dynamic team use to boldly chase after Bestmarke in a desperate attempt to rescue the Guardian and Franelli, on whom all hopes for mankind’s continued existence depend.

What happens to cause the collapse of civilization in the 21st century? How and why are women ruling the New Victorian Empire? What position do men play in the Empire? How is Martin captured by Bestmarke and how does he escape? Why is Lieutenant Janet Rogerton uniquely important to mankind’s survival? Is Louis Franelli ultimately successful in preventing mankind’s extinction? Find out in “Trophy” and following sequels.

Who’s your favorite author?

That’s a tough question … but I’ll nail it down to two, with different reasons for each. J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. Tolkien is a master of description in the milieu style of story where he has created a complete world. The characters are important but not developed to the degree they are in character stories. The world around the characters is the focal point and Tolkien is superb in his descriptions of everything animate and inanimate. Jane Austen, on the other hand, is unsurpassed in dialogue and character development. To read her dialogue, with all its subtlety and nuance in works like Pride and Prejudice, is breath-taking … to me it doesn’t get any better.

Do you have tips for budding writers?

First of all, you have to love to write. Period. The odds are against you that you will ever make much money, so if you’re writing to make money, don’t write novels. If you love to write, then keep at it. Employ professionals to edit your work. All writers fall in love with their own creations and need their dreams shaken up a bit by cold reality. A good editor with be truthful with you and tell you if it’s good or if it stinks. They will also tell you what can be done to improve it. You will need humility and you must be able to take criticism. If you can’t handle that and rejection, you’re in the wrong business. Be prepared to rewrite over and over. Good writing is a craft that is slowly learned and developed if you keep at it. If you love to write, and I haven’t scared you away, then go for it. You will be successful.

What are you working on now?

The first sequel to “Trophy”. It’s called “Trophy: Rescue”, and it starts where the first book ends. My goal is to have two sequels and two prequels in the Trophy Saga, five books total. It’s a lot of work … but it’s a lot of fun.

Where can we find you on-line?

Please go to my web site: www.paulmschofield.com

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Tiger Leaping Gorge (Yunnan) – 虎跳峡(云南)


What a beautiful name! And what a beautiful place! The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a canyon on the Yangtze River, one of China’s longest rivers. The gorge is located near Tibet, where the river takes its source, about 60 km north of Lijiang. It is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site. Around 15 km in length, the gorge is located where the river passes between the 5,596 metre (18,360 foot)high Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the 5,396 metre (17,716 foot) high Haba Xueshan. The legend says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (30 metres). The gorge is supposed to be the world’s deepest river canyon. In any case, with 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) high cliff towering above your head, it feels very deep indeed… 

You can hike the entire gorge’s length. It takes two full days to do so, but if you prefer to take it easy, you can stop mid-way and go down until you reach the road, and from there either go back to Lijiang or continue to Shangri-la. The lower level trail has disappeared and been replaced by a bitumen road (unfortunately) which travels along the gorge. It allows access for tourists who just want to have a look at the rapids and are not interested in hiking. An observation platform has been built at the bottom; it offers little interest. The road has just opened but is not used much because of impressive rock falls (see photo below).

We drove round those rocks with our wheels only inches from the ravine… scary! However, the upper trail is still intact and is a paradise for hikers. You will hardly come across anyone except birds, goats and villagers. The landscape is stunning and the gorge impressive. High peaks tower over your head, and if you are lucky, the sun reflects in the snow above. In spring the area is covered with beautiful flowers. The air is pure (a bonus in China!) and the high altitude gives your heart an excellent workout. You can sleep in farms turned guest-houses, which offer delicious food and great company (practice your Chinese!). After hiking the gorge for two days, we felt on top of the world. We then continued our trip to Shangri-la, in Tibet, a mere 100 kilometres from the end of the gorge. Highly recommended!

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Each Angel Burns, by Kathleen Valentine


I posted an interview of Kathleen Valentine on this blog a little while ago (You can read the interview here). The last few weeks have been crazy but I have now found the time to read her novel, Each Angel Burns. I usually don’t read books in the romance genre, with the exception of Twilight, which I still found hard to finish, so this was a bit of a novelty for me. I really enjoyed Each Angel Burns and read it very quickly. Valentine’s writing is beautiful. Her descriptions are evocative and make you feel you are there. In fact, after reading the book, I bet you will want to see the place for yourself. The story takes place in Massachusetts, where the self-titled “wild bunch”, who played football together back in high school, gather every Thursday night for dinner and beer. More than thirty years have passed and the group has changed, but they are still together. The novel takes us through their journey, a journey of friendship, of loss, and of love. There is also a mystery to be solved. It’s easy to get into the characters’ heads and to like them. They’re real. The plot is good, with an interesting twist at the end. The only negative for me was one or two weird jumps in time; these flashbacks themselves are not the problem but it is how they are placed in the story that feels weird. It does not affect the story however, and Each Angel Burns is a beautiful read.

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Yvonne Joye: “Ten Fingers and Ten Toes”


Hello Yvonne, could you please describe yourself in five words?

Wife, mother, writer, grateful, optimistic, laughter

What can you tell us about “Ten Fingers and Ten Toes”?

Ten Fingers and Ten Toes is a true story and though it is my own personal story, it is a story that belongs to so many. It is a snapshot of 13 months when our lives unravel culminating in the death of our fourth child and third son, Matthew. However, it is a story as much about life as it is about loss and tells of the strains and humour of trying to have it all in Celtic Tiger Ireland, trying to be the uberparent and the perfect wife. This is not a book about how to deal with the loss of a child but rather a narration of a time when we did! It is a short book with most people reading it in one sitting!

Who’s your favourite author?
Very very difficult to answer that, as difficult as whats my favourite book… All depends on what I need, where I am and how I am feeling.

Do you have tips for budding writers?
Just sit down and start. The writing will come.

What are you working on now?

Another book, another snapshot of life and another story that belongs to so many.

Where can we find you online?

Read the first chapter of Ten Fingers and Ten Toes and why I wrote the book here.

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