Collimating WIYN

About a week ago, I was assigned the task of collimating the primary mirror on the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Large telescopes like the WIYN work by using large mirrors to collect and focus light from distant stars onto a camera or a spectrograph. When the telescope is disassembled for regular maintenance, the mirrors have to be precisely realigned so that we get the very best possible image quality. Here you see a photo of me with my daughters in front of the WIYN primary and tertiary mirrors.

With Daughters at WIYN

Although I work with optical telescopes all the time, my specialties are more in the electrical and mechanical aspects of telescopes than with the optics, so this precision job was, to be honest, pretty scary. Sure, I’d helped the site engineer collimate the telescope plenty of times, but this time he left me with a set of instructions and went off to bed. I did my best, followed the instructions and everything seemed to go well. It was especially gratifying over the next three nights when the visiting astronomers reported getting half-arcsecond images. What that means is that stars subtended no more than half a second of arc on the sky, which is pretty tiny. That also means we’re minimizing the blurring one would expect to see from the atmosphere. I have to say, it’s the kind of thing that makes me feel pretty good.

The whole idea of characters being challenged to do new things they didn’t think they could do is an important part of my fiction. Recently, in Lightning Wolves, Larissa Crimson is challenged to find a way to make a set of unwieldy lightning guns portable enough to be practical in combat. She’s not sure if she has the skills necessary to do the job, but she gives it a shot and finds a solution.

WIYN’s newest instrument is a camera called the One-Degree Imager. It’s a camera that takes pictures of a large swath of the sky at high resolution, which means you can see things at great detail. If the telescope mirrors are misaligned, the camera cannot take pictures with the kind of detail it was designed for. So, the litmus test for the alignment exercise came this past Monday, when an observer took images of globular clusters with the One-Degree Imager. She also reported half-arcsec images, much like in the photo below. This photo, by the way, was taken with WIYN, but with the old mini-Mosaic camera before the One-Degree Imager was implemented.



Globular clusters such as the one shown above, are immense balls of ancient stars that orbit our galaxy. As it turns out, they feature prominently in my Old Star/New Earth series. Those novels are:

The ebook of the first novel is free. The paperback editions feature wonderful illustrations by Laura Givens. So, why don’t you start an epic voyage to the stars today!

Mind Your Manners

In recent weeks, my wife and I have been fielding questions from our daughters about the behavior of boys. Without getting too specific and to minimize embarrassment, I’ll just say that it’s reminded me that “boys will be boys” is a phrase that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It also made me realize that a part of me would have liked to have had a son, just to show that it’s possible for boys to be raised as gentlemen.

My friend, Loretta, and I are here to remind you to mind your manners.

My friend, Loretta, and I are here to remind you to mind your manners.

As my wife and I approach our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, one question I get frequently is, “How have you made your marriage last?” I actually find myself pointing to a quote by Robert A. Heinlein’s character, Lazarus Long: “Formal courtesy between husband and wife is even more important than it is between strangers.” In short, we do our best to always say “please” and “thank you” and try not to interrupt each other. We try to remember to check with each other when making plans. We don’t always succeed. Sometimes we hurt each others’ feelings, but the fact that we try and even succeed much of the time has made for a relationship that has lasted for many years.

To me, manners are less about Emily Post and more about remembering to respect the other party in a relationship—whether it be personal, casual, or business. Really, I could care less what side of my plate the forks are as long as you respect my feelings. In turn, I’ll do my best to respect yours. My wife and I have done our best to convey that lesson to our daughters and encourage them to seek out companions that respect them in turn.

At one point, I was on a convention panel that discussed whether the appeal of Steampunk was a desire to return to an era of more formal manners. I think there is something to that as far as the appeal of Steampunk to me. If you follow me here and on social media, you’ll find that I don’t speak a lot about politics. Part of that has to do with a tendency of people to forget their manners, especially when discussing politics and social issues on line. Rather than disagreeing and giving reasons for their opinions, they’d rather call the person they disagree with an idiot.

In the novel Friday, Robert A. Heinlein writes: “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, I certainly find the lack of common courtesy in some on-line discussions discourages discussion of many issues for me. Certainly in this case, a loss of gentle manners becomes a way of shutting down political discussion, which of course, is utterly detrimental to our society. I hope this is an issue that will rectify itself with time. In the meantime, if you want to discuss politics with me, I’ll be happy to do so in person. I find people, for the most part, are still more polite when they have to look you in the eye.

The Pirates of Sufiro

As you can probably imagine from the quotes I’ve presented, Robert A. Heinlein has long been an influence on me and my writing. I think that’s most apparent in my Old Star/New Earth series and its first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. The novel is free from my publisher Lachesis Publishing. Won’t you please give it a try?

Different Dragons II

Wolfsinger Publishing has just released the anthology Different Dragons II, which includes my short story “The Dragon’s Keepers.” Here’s the description of the book.

What happens when dragons are dropped unexpectedly on your front door step from a company you’ve never heard of? In China, a dragon comes up with a unique solution on what to do with all those maidens! Different-Dragons-II An amusement park is hounded by a sea monster the Indians had been feeding for centuries. Haunted by a ghostly dragon, a young woman flees across the snow wilderness, terrified her slaughter of the beasts means her own death. A family is murdered in the Middle East, and a dragon promises a young girl vengeance for their deaths. Are there dragons on a spaceship? You bet! Not to mention an usual dragon ride one pilot will never forget! And let’s not forget, how dragons can appear to be something they’re not, when protecting themselves or their family, from hidden magical dangers. These and other tales await within these pages of Different Dragons II.

In my short story “The Slayers,” I imagined a world where airship crews hunted dragons for the fuel that allows them to breathe fire. In “The Dragon’s Keepers,” I imagine that an airship captain of this world has come to realize dragons are intelligent and must be preserved. He has joined the fight to prevent the wanton destruction of dragons. With the help of a wizard’s daughter, he must find a way to stop a ritual dragon slaying.

Here’s the complete table of contents for the anthology:

  • “Introduction: These are the Tales” by Dana Bell
  • “The Dragon’s Keepers” by David Lee Summers
  • “The Stalker” by Lynn Donovan
  • “Such is the Jungle” by Quincy Allen
  • “Changling” by Rebecca McFarland Kyle
  • “Suntosun Shipping” by G.L. Francis
  • “Of the Generation” by Therese Arkenberg
  • “Dot’s Lunch – The Watchers along the Line” by Dave With
  • “His Lucky Color is Gold” by Rebecca Leo
  • “Hargmir, Ghost of Dragons” by David Turnbull
  • “Space Wings” by H.A. Titus
  • “Asim’s Gift” by Kathryn S. Renta
  • “Mr. Long’s School for Girls” by Rob S. Rice
  • “Bessie Returns” by Christine Hardy
  • “Amélie’s Guardian” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt


Different Dragons II is available at and Smashwords. What’s more, if you buy the book from Smashwords enter the code ED26N on checkout for a 25% discount as long as you visit before October 15. If you’d like to go back and read my other story set in this fantasy world, “The Slayers” is available as a stand-alone short story at and Smashwords.

Finally, as a reminder to those friends in Las Cruces, I am signing books today from 10am until noon at COAS Books Downtown. I hope you’ll drop in and say “hi!”

Schedule Cadence

Autumn has arrived, which means my working nights at Kitt Peak National Observatory will start getting longer until we reach the winter solstice just before Christmas. Autumn also heralds several other changes. Among them, I have a new supervisor and the National Science Foundation is no longer providing operational support for the 2.1-meter telescope. One upshot is that I’ve been looking at my schedule cadence with my co-workers. Here’s what that cadence looks like:

schedule cadence

Basically, my shifts at the observatory follow a fifteen day cycle. There are three “Available” or “on-call” days. I don’t work all of those, and most of the time I’ve been on call to help astronomers start their observing runs at the 2.1-meter telescope. Then I work at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope for three nights. After that I work at the Mayall 4-meter telescope for three nights, then I get six nights off, and the whole thing starts all over again. Because it’s fifteen days, my schedule drifts through the work week. If one cycle starts on Sunday, the next one will start on a Monday, and the one after that a Tuesday.

Right now, it doesn’t look very likely this cadence will change much. Perhaps the only change is that instead of supporting the 2.1-meter, I may be set up to work from home periodically on the never-ending task of telescope and instrumentation documentation. The reason it’s never ending is that we’re routinely getting new instrumentation and to keep the telescopes cutting edge, they are often modified and upgraded.


Of course, between writing, editing and astronomy, I don’t really get many days off. I get to go home and shift gears. This upcoming break is pretty exciting though. I’ll be shipping out volume 10, issue 1 of Tales of the Talisman Magazine to subscribers and contributors. Although we’re taking a break after this year, we’re not letting up on quality. This is our tenth year and we want to make it a special one!

As a reminder, there are only four more days on the Lachesis Publishing Anniversary sale. All ebooks are half price. This would be a great time to try my science fiction novel, The Solar Sea, which tells the story of the first solar sail voyage to the outer planets. My novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, which tells how a group of vampires came together to form a team of mercenaries in the middle ages is also on sale.


Finally, on Saturday, October 4, I will be signing copies of Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, Vampires of the Scarlet Order, and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at COAS Books Downtown in Las Cruces, New Mexico from 10am until noon. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by!

Scientists of the Wild West

I’m a proud graduate of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology located in Socorro, New Mexico. The school was opened in 1893 as the New Mexico School of Mines. The first president was a chemist, Dr. Floyd Davis. Of course, in 1893, Socorro was still very much part of the wild west. For that matter, New Mexico and Arizona wouldn’t achieve statehood for nearly two decades. Now, I’ll hazard a guess that when you picture the wild west, your first image isn’t of scientists. Nevertheless, there were many scientists who found the west an attractive place to work. Among them was Mr. Steampunk himself, Nikola Tesla.

Tesla in Colorado

Tesla opened a laboratory in Colorado Springs in 1899 so he would have room to conduct his electrical experiments. He conducted experiments in wire telegraphy and electrical generation. At one point, he is said to have generated an artificial lightning arc over 135 feet long that created a thunder boom which could be heard over 15 miles away.

At one point, Tesla aimed his wireless receiver at the night sky and was surprised to hear faint beepings. Tesla believed he was picking up evidence of extraterrestrial communication and the press reported it as evidence of life on Mars. The truth might be far more interesting. It turns out that modern scientists who have experimented with Tesla’s designs have discovered that Tesla’s receiver was outstanding at detecting any kind of electrical discharge. People have used Tesla receivers to detect lightning on Jupiter, for instance. Such lightning is hard to distinguish from a telegraph signal, so it’s possible that Tesla actually made the first detections of extraterrestrial lightning.

Percival Lowell

Another scientist who was very interested in the possibility of Martian life was Percival Lowell. A former foreign secretary to Korea and scion to a wealthy Eastern family, Lowell could build an observatory wherever he wanted. Traditionally observatories had been built near the universities that housed astronomers such as Harvard, Yale, or Cambridge. Lowell decided to conduct one of the first surveys to determine the place where he could obtain the most clear nights on sky with a telescope. In 1894, Lowell decided to build his observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona. Lowell observed Mars extensively from the site. Years later a young astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh would discover Pluto while working at Lowell Observatory.

The wide open spaces and clear skies of the west clearly appealed to certain scientists in the late nineteenth century. In fact, Dr. Floyd Davis’s closing remarks from his inaugural address as president of the New Mexico School of Mines could, with only minor adaptation, apply to many homesteaders and ranchers of the period. “Education for such professional service is a knowledge of how to use the whole of one’s self, to apply the faculties with which one is endowed to all practical purposes. A liberal technical education broadens our views, removes prejudice, and causes us to welcome the views of others, and we no longer consider our methods the only ones worthy of adoption. It keeps us out of ruts and makes us desirous of being benefited by the experiences and teachings of others. SummersLightningWolves It stimulates great mental activity, and thus leads to skill, investigation, discovery and improvement.”

If you’d care to read about my fictional wild west scientists, check out Owl Dance and its sequel Lightning Wolves. The novels are available both in paperback and as ebooks.

Taurin Tales


The anthology Taurin Tales is scheduled for release on October 15. Edited by J Alan Erwine, Taurin Tales is a shared world anthology featuring many authors I’ve enjoyed working with over the years including Ian Brazee-Cannon, Tyree Campbell, Anna Paradox, Laura Givens, and Rick Novy. The Taurins were created by science fiction writer, editor, and game designer J Alan Erwine. Once he had created them, he invited some of his favorite writers to play in the universe, and further flesh out these new aliens. Thus Taurin Tales was born.

The stories in this collection cover a large aspect of Taurin life … grand space adventures, small character studies, the tackling of difficult social issues, the past and the future of the Taurins.

My story in the anthology was inspired by something J said in the guidelines for the anthology. He said, Taurins have five eyes. They have two on the front of their heads that give them stereoscopic vision. They also have one eye on each side of their head, and one on the back of their head. Their front eyes are able to see into the near-infrared, but their other eyes are completely color blind, and they can only see about 100 yards before things become to blurry for them.

In my work at Kitt Peak, we frequently work in both the visible and the near-infrared. I decided to tell the story of a threat to a Taurin space station that was only visible in the near-infrared, meaning the Taurins could see it with some of their eyes, but not the other. Also, given the way atmosphere can scatter infrared light, this might be a danger not visible from the ground, only to those Taurins in space.

Here’s the complete table of contents for the anthology:

  • Hiding in Plain Sight by David Lee Summers
  • Something Alien by D. Moonfire
  • A Peaceful Evening by Ian Brazee-Cannon
  • Fade to Green by Tyree Campbell
  • Blindspot by Anna Paradox
  • Surf’s Up by Laura Givens
  • Sorting Through the Rubble by Ian Brazee-Cannon
  • Across the White by Rick Novy
  • The Iphis Crisis by Tyree Campbell

The print version of Taurin Tales is now available for pre-order, and if you order before the release date, you can get it for $1 off the cover price:

The e-book version of Taurin Tales is available for pre-order in a number of formats from Smashwords at You don’t even need an e-reader to read it … you can read it right on your computer screen.

Lachesis Birthday Celebration

Lachesis Publishing is nine years old this month. I’ve been with Lachesis ever since they acquired LBF Books back in 2008. As a matter of fact, they just announced their plans to acquire my horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. To celebrate their birthday, Lachesis is having a 50% off sale for all their e-books that are not already free or 99 cents during the entire month of September. The following six novels are available from the Lachesis Website. The titles are links, which will take you to pages where the ebooks may be purchased for the special sale price!

The Pirates of Sufiro

The Pirates of Sufiro – Free

This is book one of the Old Star/New Earth Series.

The Pirates of Sufiro is the story of a planet and its people—of Ellison Firebrandt, the pirate captain living in exile; of Espedie Raton, the con-man looking to make a fresh start for himself and his wife on a new world; of Peter Stone, the ruthless bank executive who discovers a fortune and will do anything to keep it; and of the lawman, Edmund Ray Swan who travels to Sufiro seeking the quiet life but finds a dark secret. It is the story of privateers, farmers, miners, entrepreneurs, and soldiers—all caught up in dramatic events and violent conflicts that will shape the destiny of our galaxy.

Children of the Old Stars

Children of the Old Stars – $1.49

This is book two of the Old Star/New Earth Series.

The Cluster is a vast alien machine that destroys starships indiscriminately in its quest for something or someone. Commander John Mark Ellis, disgraced and booted out of the service when he fails to save a merchant ship, believes the key to stopping the Cluster is communication. Clyde McClintlock believes the Cluster is God incarnate. G’Liat is an alien warrior whose own starship was destroyed by the Cluster. All together these three set out to solve the mystery of the Cluster before it finds the object of its quest.

Heirs of the New Earth

Heirs of the New Earth – $1.49

This is book three of the Old Star/New Earth Series.

The Earth has gone silent. John Mark Ellis and the crew of the Sanson are sent to investigate. When they arrive, they find vast alien machines known as Clusters in orbit. Fearing the worst, they land and discover that the once overcrowded, polluted Earth has become a paradise of sorts. The problem is over half the population is dead or missing and the planet’s leaders don’t seem to care. As Ellis works to unravel the mystery, sudden gravitational shifts from the galaxy’s center indicate something even worse is in the offing. Can Ellis save the galaxy from the heirs of the new Earth?

The Solar Sea

The Solar Sea – $1.49

This is a prequel to the Old Star/New Earth Series.

Humans settled the Moon and satellites orbiting the Earth were a common sight, but with the abolition of NASA, humans had no desire to go further and space exploration died.

Then, a technician from the Very Large Array, a radio telescope in New Mexico, discovers powerful particles orbiting Saturn’s moon, Titan, which could be a new energy source. Strangely enough, following the discovery’s announcement, whales around the Earth changed their songs overnight.

As scion of the powerful Quinn Corporation, Thomas Quinn builds a solar sail to find the source of these particles in Titan’s orbit. He gathers the best and brightest team to pilot his craft: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist specializing in whale communication; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. All together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination.

Dragons Fall

Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order – $2.49

This is the origin story of the Scarlet Order vampires. Read on, they are not your ordinary vampires!

Three vampyrs. Three lives. Three intertwining stories.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books after becoming a vampyr, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampyr sets her free, and then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampyrs, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampyrs … and their ultimate nemesis—Vlad the Impaler.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Vampires of the Scarlet Order – 99 Cents

Vampires of the Scarlet Order is an action-adventure novel about an elite cadre of vampire mercenaries who have worked throughout history as pinpoint assassins. Under the command of Desmond, Lord Draco, the Scarlet Order was involved in wars with the Ottoman Empire, The French Revolution and even the conquest of the Americas. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, vampires are too expensive, too untrustworthy, and frankly, too passé for governments to employ any longer. Nanotechnology can be employed to engineer more reliable super soldiers. What’s a vampire got to do for job security?

I hope you’ll check out one or more of my titles from Lachesis Publishing! They have done a fine job with my books and the ebooks they sell directly are my favorite electronic editions. While you’re at their site, be sure to check out some of their other titles as well. There’s great science fiction from other authors such as Greg Ballan and Ann O’Bannon plus numerous romance titles. Their blog has many great tips for writers as well!