Saturday, June 29, 2013

Aerial Drones Part IV: Made in China

It should not be surprising that the Chinese have jumped enthusiastically on the aerial drone bandwagon.

Models of Chinese-made drones

With the market for these unmanned aerial reconnaissance, observation and attack vehicles exploding here in the US, it only makes sense that the Chinese want a piece of the high-dollar action.

During a Mainland technology trade show, Chinese companies recently displayed a striking number of UAVs. Some of the models looked a bit too-much like those assembled by US factories.

And what might be the reason for their drones resembling American-made craft?

Since 2006, an adventurous cadre of malicious Mandarins has hacked into the databases of over 140 companies, including those focusing on aerospace and defense initiatives, and absconded with hundreds of terabytes of somewhat-classified information. Mandiant, an information-security service group, continues to monitor this little spy ring.

Now isn't it interesting that this information has been used not by the Chinese military but by industrial entrepreneurs to sell this information as well as the UAV technologies that goes with it to the highest PRC bidder?

A greater irony is that the money awarded to these spies has come from a nifty percentage of the US dollars traded for Sino-made goods? Yes, that's right. Foxconn along with dozens other China-based companies are reaping the rewards for the heisted technological secrets.

It wouldn't surprise me that the Obama administration will soon shrewdly decide to buy these Chinese-made drones over those more-expensive UAVs produced by US laborers.

Take, for example, the two most-prominent drones in China’s inventory: the CH-4 and Wing Loong, or Pterodactyl. Both closely resemble the US’s MQ-9 Reaper which serves as the US’s main attack drone and is itself a larger version of the better-known MQ-1 Predator. The Pterodactyl, which is believed to have been tested carrying out ground strikes with anti-tank guided missiles, has a flying time of 20 hours and a range of 4,000 kilometers.

Considering that the average Chinese factory worker makes about 1/10th of that of the union-proud American laborer points even more-strongly to this obvious conclusion. In the midst of threatened military budget cuts, why not exchange even more American debt for Chinese-made aerial drones?

Nor is China’s deployment of home-made but cloned UAVs limited to the military realm. The government of Liaoning Province appears to be using UAVs to monitor the North Korean border. That's right! The PRC is actually spying on their North Korean brothers! China is also said to be establishing two coastal UAV bases from which it will oversee its areas of jurisdiction in the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Gulf. Meanwhile, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) – one of China’s main maritime agencies – announced in August that it is setting up 11 UAV bases, one in each of China’s coastal provinces. It expects to have these bases up and running by 2015.

So what is the Obama Administration doing to foment the PRC's drone activities? Let's take a look at what's happening in the Philippines.

At a naval base around 13 kilometres (eight miles) southwest of the capital Manila, US Navy SEALs have been training Filipino soldiers in the use of drones. Part of the training includes launching one from a boat out at sea after which it has circled the base and landed in the water. US maritime civil affairs officer Jeremy Eden said these were the smaller Puma drones used only for surveillance and not the more lethal, armed versions, like the Predator, employed in Afghanistan. "They (the Filipinos) are very interested and highly motivated to learn and if they acquire the systems, they will use them effectively," Eden said.

"Say what? You mean those things fly on their own?"

My my! Isn't that encouraging news? The Filipino military is using US-made drones to gain greater awareness of the PRC's use of Sino-made UAVs ... drones that have been constructed with the help of US technology stolen by Chinese hackers?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

No Filet Mignon for Me this Fathers' Day

To all of the fathers of the world: Happy Fathers' Day!

And to Joe Scraper Sr. of Baldwin City KS, I hope you're having an extra-special one! (Joe is Wifey's 82-year old dad who also happens to be the only man I can now logically refer to as "Dad" since both my birth-father Harry McLaren and adopted-father Dean King have taken leave of the planet.)

So what in the world am I doing slapping together a blogpost on Fathers' Day? Shouldn't I instead be feasting upon a 2" filet mingon, grilled to medium-rare perfection, of course, while watching Tiger Woods struggle his way back from a 10-shot deficit to win this year's US Open?

Or at least enjoying the quiet afternoon to work on the next iteration from The Land of Betrovia?

And then there's this interview with Christian romantic fiction writer and overall inspirational Laura "SuperMom" Marshall I had hoped to have uploaded a few days ago ...

Bah! It's Fathers' Day! I'm a dad of nearly 25 years! (Got that right! Ethan is almost that old!) I can do whatever I want (even though my Fathers' Day lunch centered around a lukewarm Sonic cheeseburger and a little iced Folgers Colombian).

Now who is this Laura Marshall person? Even though one of her younger fans called her "Lois Lane" not too long ago, she may prefer to be referred to as "Wonder Woman."

According to her author website, one thing Laura has aspired to do since she was quite young is write: "Since I was a child, I have loved to write and dream up my own stories. Several years ago, I decided to explore, study, and learn the craft of writing, my passion, hoping to transport the reader to another place and time; to help readers experience life outside of their own four walls."

On another somewhat-related note, Laura, via her blog, recently posted a curious allusion to door-to-door salesmen: "When faced with someone who walks up to me and asks about my book or inquires after it online, I can have confidence that I am helping that person. I can have assurance that I'm not selling snake oil or sugar pills."

What?!? Tiger's not going to storm back to win this thing? Bad day for Tiger!

Anyway, before I get completely sidetracked, here's the actual interview ...

Complete this sentence: "Self-publishing compared to working along side traditional publishers is like ... "

Since I have not worked with a traditional publisher other than some great feedback from a reputable publisher and an agent, I’m not quite sure. However, I know self-publishing to be a lot of hard work and a lot of being your own cheerleader. I trust God has put this love of writing in me for a reason though, so who am I to squander it?

How did you come to the realization that you wanted to write Christian fiction? Or be a professional writer of anything?

I started writing children’s stories and it grew from there. I realized when I couldn’t find a particular type of book on the bookstore shelf, that the story was in my head and if I ever wanted to read it, I best get about writing it. That story was Christian Fiction and what became Persistent Love.

Along the same lines of the previous question: with the literary landscape cluttered with a glut (nearly 6000 listed on Amazon alone!) of Christian romances, what is your goals for hoping to make your books something that will stand out in the crowd?

Wow, is it “cluttered with a glut of Christian romances?” I had no idea. I write the stories that are in my heart. I’m writing a Christmas story, a devotional, a contemporary summer romance, and a historical romance. I also have written the beginning of a historical fiction story about a woman in Stalin-era Russia at the time of the Gulag. I’d love for them to sell and touch hearts and lives, but that’s all in God’s hands. I’m just being obedient to the calling I believe that God has placed on my life ... to write.

Persistent Love, your first venture into the Christian suspense/romance genre, is not quite long enough to be considered a novel. What were your original plans for PL as you started writing it?

My plans were to write the story as I saw it in my mind’s eye; other than that, maybe to see if I could indeed write it. I originally wrote Persistent Love with a different ending, yet it didn’t quite fit where Tara was by mid-story so I revised it.

For those wanting to read more about Laura's literary journey into the past, the novella's Goodread page is a "good" place to start: Persistent Love.

"Christian writers should only focus their craft on bringing the lost to Christ, not so much entertaining/enlightening those who are already following the Lord."  Agree or disagree? Why?

Disagree. We are to build each other up as well as reach the lost for Christ. I’ve been encouraged in my faith through stories, fiction and nonfiction. You never know where God is going to use your words to minister to another, either of the faith or someone who has yet to accept Jesus as their Savior.

You've decided that the setting for A Heart's Home is 18th Century India. Why India? And why that particular time period?

I have a fascination with other parts of the world. I love to read about the heat, the food, the beautiful people of India: the cadence to their speech, the love they have for their country. It’s a way I have of visiting the country without really going there. For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to the days of castles, gowns as day-wear, and Lords and Ladies, so that is inevitably where I began in writing.

Do any of the Kenward sisters, Tara, Rachel and Kate, the sisters from Persistent Love, make an appearance in A Heart's Home? Tara wanting to take off for India in search of their mother's killer makes me wonder if she just might be the protagonist of this new book.

They do not make an appearance. A Heart’s Home is a stand-alone book. I toyed with the idea of a trilogy, but I had some second thoughts on that as they are novella length. Kate from Persistent Love will have her own tale, however, called Reckless Kate which I have started writing. There is a sneak peek of Reckless Kate at the end of A Heart’s Home.

Ravens, those wonderful flying creatures made famous by that quirky poem, were a major symbol in Persistent Love. Give us a preview of an important symbol we can expect from A Heart's Home.

A white stone is an important symbol in A Heart’s Home. It appears in the beginning and is representative of certain things in the story. It is also found in scripture in Revelation 2. (What an interesting coincidence! Pastor Lowell via his sermon this morning talked about that very thing!)

One of Persistent Love's reviewers commented that there were some historical errors/miscalculations in the novella. What research have you done to help keep readers like that reviewer on track with the conflicts and characters of A Heart's Home and not be distracted by any factual missteps?

I did read that review; it mentioned a piano not being available at that time. It pained me to read that, as I did do extensive research to be as accurate as possible. I considered revising the manuscript, but at this point am happy with the story as it stands. I do not believe it takes away from the experience of the time period. I do the best I can with my research.

A Heart's Home is now available via Amazon! Woot!

Now for some FUN with a few totally-unrelated questions!

What's the most-irritating thing that the people in your family too often do that distracts you from your writing?

Breathing, moving, crunching, fighting, watching TV, being awake, laughing, gulping. I don’t generally write when my children are awake. I have five sons, with four still home and three quite close in age and in the tumble and wrestle stages.

Tell us about your favorite "creative foods/drinks," the goodies that best "fire you up" for a productive writing session.

Hmmm, chocolate is good and Jelly Belly Jellybeans. However, as I try to stay on a low-carb diet, a nice iced coffee can usually do the trick.

Complete this sentence: "Writing is like ... while editing and revising is like ... "

Writing is like that long-awaited slow dance with your first crush while editing and revising are like having your older sister hold you down and pluck out each individual hair out of your eyebrow. No, but seriously. I actually love the editing stage ... adding layers of the scene or making sentence more compact and effective.

What famous author (or infamous, if you so choose) who is no longer around would you love to "resurrect" to recruit to be a beta reader for your novels? Explain.

Barbara Cartland. I found her books after I started writing and I believe I’ve read about 50 of them, all in the name of learning. I love her covers and the way she draws you into the story. She is my secret romance writer crush.

What book from the last few years would you love to jump into and become a part of? Explain.

I’m a tough cookie when it comes to finishing a book. If I don’t love it, I don’t continue reading after the first 10-15 pages. I’d say the best book I read last year was Where Treasure Hides by Johnnie Alexander Donley. I don’t know that I’d want to jump into it though. I’d love to jump into my own stories, but that’s why I write what I write.

To conclude, here's a peak at yet-another kind of fiction Laura seems to be working on: Faith, Love and Fried Chicken.

So much for sticking to Victorian-type Christian Romance, eh, Laura? :)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Read any good Steampunk lately?

A little over a year ago, about the time that I decided that Betrovia, book one of the trilogy, drastically needed a new cover, I somehow stumbled upon a group of indie writers using Facebook to share their writing ideas, successess, fears and failures.

One writer in particular made an immediate positive impression: Mary C. Findley.

What was so impressive about Mary is the number of novels and non-fiction books she and her husband Michael have published. Another wonderful thing is her ability to give positive, constructive feedback whenever it is asked for.

And it seems like she is never not logged into her Facebook account!

Not too long ago, Mary begged for an interview. Through many days of frantic soul-searching and  antagonizing introspection, I finally relented.  :)_

And what can be found below is that interview.

In a nutshell, who is Mary C. Findley?

If I have to be in a nutshell, I prefer almonds, thank you. Seriously, I grew up in the Catskill Mountains of upstate NY, number 5 of 6 kids. I loved to draw, read, and hike in the woods. I went to the same small school K-12, got a BA in English from Bob Jones University in SC, where I met my husband. We have lived all around the country, homeschooled, taught school, and did a little of everything to earn a living while raising 3 children. I also love to do crafts, including making wall art, puppets and designing costumes. I study and imitate accents -- British, Yiddish, Western. I have the smartest husband in the world, and I'm not just saying that to be nice.

According to your author's biography, you have created nearly everything media-related: TV commercials, instructional videos, and of course novels. At this point in your career, explain what you like to do the most.

I like to illustrate and design book covers the most, but getting into the video aspect for book trailers is also enjoyable.

What is at least one particularly-interesting adventure you have experienced while riding shotgun for your truck-driving husband? Might one of these adventures ever end up in one of your books?

We picked up animatronic dinosaurs at a workshop in Mickinney TX. Even though the life-size T-Rex would not "lie down" and get rolled into the trailer for four hours, it's still the most fun load we ever had. We got to watch the workers make dinosaurs and take pictures and videos while we waited. I am planning for one of the books in a series I'm writing to include dinosaurs so those pictures just might come in handy.

At this point in your writing career, what is your greatest strength and how did you come to learn that this is your strength? 

I have really learned to listen to other writers and reviewers, as well as graphic artists and cover designers. I didn't have that opportunity for many years, but in the last year or two I have been blessed to be exposed to these accomplished people, and that has become a strength -- the ability to change and grow into a better writer.

Along that same line: what are you doing to shore-up any, if at all, weaknesses in your writing process?

People have said some of my stories are hard to follow at the beginning. I have been working a lot on consolidating my Point of View, leaning more toward first person, and trying to make that a way of improving my readers' experience. I don't want them to be jumping around in different people's heads or to different locations, so I'm trying for a linear flow from one person's perspective.

In what ways does riding in an 18-wheeler all over the continental US "get your creative juices flowing"?

Frankly, it doesn't, for the most part. It's tiring, and there are so many distractions. But we do see a lot of beautiful scenery and get to observe so many different kinds of people. Those can be inspiring. Even the rougher roads and changeable weather can be inspirational, helping me broaden my ability to describe all these things more accurately.

If a well-financed movie producer asked you which of your novels you would like to see made into a feature-length film, which one would you choose and why?

Oh, what a hard choice. I really think I want to see Chasing the Texas Wind as a movie. It deals with the Texas battle for independence. It reinforces our need for patriotism, for friendship, to know who you can trust, to be honest and willing to sacrifice yourself for a cause. It also teaches that we need God so much when life gets hard and we don't know what to do.

What are your writing goals for the next year? For the next 10 years?

My husband and I are working on a series called The Conflict of the Ages. It combines History, Science, and Literature in modules to teach the truth about God, creation, and man's place in it. I also hope to continue a fiction series I'm writing and to complete a contemporary romantic suspense work in progress. I have quite a few sequels to existing books in bits and pieces, and I want to try to finish some of those as well. That may all go past the ten year mark.

How difficult is it to write fiction that entertains as well as leads your reader to Christ? Explain.

My goal is to make it a natural part of my story. Everyone has opportunities in their lives to witness, even if they're not preachers or Sunday School teachers. I have one character who has dealt with evil to the point where he doesn't consider the possibility that the next criminal he confronts will break down and beg to hear the gospel because of his example of courage and moral character. No one is beyond redemption. Be ready always to give an answer.

Thinking about the books you have co-written with your husband Michael: what has been the process for starting and finally publishing those books? Along that same line, what do you think you and Michael will be collaborating on next?

We each do independent research and writing on a project at first. He is the hard science and history guy. I am the literature and "factfinder" person. Sometimes it gets frustrating, because we think so differently, and we pass things back and forth with endless changes, it seems. Our Conflict of the Ages project is our main focus right now. We have a burden to help homeschoolers and to teach people to recognize and confront Secular Humanism before it destroys us.

Tell us about Sophronia Belle Lyon and where you would like to see her writing career go?

Sophronia is a corset-wearing, bustle-bottomed, tea-drinking Victorian mechanicals lover. She writes a genre most people haven't heard of, partly an invented one. Steampunk Literary Tribute means creating an alternate world in Victorian times with "What if?" technology, airships and mad gadgets made of bronze and powered by steam and gearwork. She also includes beloved literary characters like Dickens' Oliver Twist, Mowgli from Kipling's Jungle books, and even some folk from Louisa May Alcott's books. The purpose of the Alexander Legacy series is to reach people who love Science Fiction, Fantasy, Great Literature, and Classic Adventure. Steampunk includes all those elements. She hopes to write books from the point of view of all eight main characters in the series. So far Florizel of Bohemia and Oliver Twist have had their turns. Next will come Sluefoot Sue, a character from the American Tall Tales about Pecos Bill. The series explores human trafficking and the need evil men have to dominate others, to seek immortality, and to explore every means to become as powerful as gods and bury the truth of the God Who is real.

And now for some "way-out-there" questions!

You have three choices for breakfast and can only select one: Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Post Raisin Bran. Which one will you pour into that bowl and why?

Oh, Cheerios and Raisin Bran! I love them both. But I think today I will have Cheerios. Why? Because the raisins get stuck in my teeth.

You're the captain of a pirate ship and it's time to decide how to divvy up the gold. The problem is your crew consists of some of the meanest, nastiest men (and women!) who have ever sailed the seven seas! How to do this and to make everybody happy and still give you the largest portion (since you are, of course, the captain)?

I will borrow Oliver Twist's pet tentacled monster, Beastie, and let him decide who gets what.

You've probably been to every state in the Union at least once (excluding maybe Alaska and Hawaii). If you were granted the power and authority to kick one of the 50 states out of the Union, which one would it be and why?

I think the states are full of pretty good eggs, but there are quite a few cities I'd like to try to do without. Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Boston -- They are nasty to trucks but still want their stuff.

What type of music best describes you?

Tchaikovsky writes music that soars and plummets. That's me. And I love his stuff.

What one thing about your life do you wish you could change and why?

I want us to stop driving truck. We need to live in a geothermal cave and have goats and a garden. And I'd like to invite in a community of friends and family where we could teach and learn the Word freely.

If President Obama and his wife Michelle wanted to come to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for them and why?

Humble pie comes to mind, but I know they would never eat it.

When you were a kid, what did you dream about doing when you finally "grew up" but now, in retrospect, have no desire to do?

I read the biography of Mary Slessor and briefly wanted to be an African missionary. I am now convinced I never had any such calling.

Thanks, Mary, for becoming part of The Land of Betrovia! 

I hope you enjoyed composing your responses
 as much as I did writing the questions!