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June 2020 Crossover Newsletter

Update on the Crossover saga (and a request)

Collapse Update:

  • Collapse is at the editor’s for a preliminary evaluation. (Yes, this is a long process).
  • Meanwhile, I’m reviewing the characterization in Conflict (but no plot changes!).
  • And pondering the year, location, characters, and plot of Conquest, book four in the Crossover Series. And this pondering leads me to…

Request Some Help:

As discussed in a previous newsletter, it’s not too difficult to determine latitude:

Ah, but navigating East or West isn’t easy: The problem is that back in the Middle Ages (and earlier), not only was there no GPS/satellites, there were no clocks accurate enough to maintain an accurate time on the rough seas of an ocean voyage. And that meant that there was no ability to determine longitude.

So I’m thinking: what if Haven could send radio signals? Say at high noon every day? In that case:

  • If someone at sea received that Haven-High-Noon radio signal at 3PM (not too hard to determine the passing of time locally)
  • And if they knew the latitude, say 45 degrees North.
  • Then they could calculate how far east (or west) they were relative to Haven.

Some numbers (apologies!):

  • Circumference of the earth at equator: 24,901 miles.
  • Circumference of the earth at a latitude of 45 deg North = [circumference at equator] times [cosine of 45 degrees] = 24901 miles times 0.7071 = 17,607 miles.
  • So if our intrepid travelers are sailing at 45 degrees North and they receive the Haven-High-Noon radio signal at 3PM, then they would be: 3/24 times 17,607 miles = 2,201 miles east of Haven.

So back to the question:

Is it reasonable for Haven to develop a radio system from scratch in a couple of decades?


  • Access to copper.
  • Brent’s trip to the Yucatan (in Collapse) will enable Haven to access rubber (for insulation).
  • Primitive Vacuum tube diodes and triodes are possible (using Brent’s rubber for gaskets in vacuum pumps).

Your thoughts? Please send to

Know any Electrical Engineers or old time radio freaks? Please feel free to forward this newsletter to them!

The Puzzle:

Here’s another puzzle. It’s only 48 pieces so it goes together in a jiffy when you drag the pieces around on your screen.

1. Just click HERE for the puzzle.

2. Click and drag the pieces on your device. If you leave the sound on you’ll hear a satisfying “click” when the pieces fit together.

3. Can you guess where this photo was taken? And why I considered it important when writing Collapse?

4. Email me the answer at

The Solution to the Previous Newsletter’s Puzzle:

Diorama of Susquehanna hut in the State Museum of Pennsylvania

This photo was taken in the Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

I chose it because it depicts the living quarters of the Susquehanna peoples back a millennium ago.

December 2019 Newsletter

  • Delays
  • Details about which an author must worry
  • A book for you to read while you’re waiting for book three
  • And a new puzzle

Collapse Update:

More delays. I won’t bore you with the details. But 2020 is still valid for release.

Picky Little Details:

Besides the external plot and the internal struggle, each novel in the Crossover Series contains a myriad of minor details.

One example is the difference between a dock and a pier.

We landlubbers may think a dock is the same as a pier, but to a professional sailer the dock is the water adjacent to the pier to which he ties his vessel. A dock is a watery parking space, while a pier is like a sidewalk.

Hence, in book three, Brent ties up the Argos to a pier. Not a dock.

Book Review:

Against the Tide of Years: A Novel of the Change by S. M. Stirling

From Amazon:

It’s spring on Nantucket Island and everything is perfectly normal, until a sudden storm blankets the entire island. When the weather clears, the island’s inhabitants find that they are no longer in the late twentieth century…but have been transported instead to the Bronze Age! Now they must learn to survive with suspicious, warlike peoples they can barely understand and deal with impending disaster, in the shape of a would-be conqueror from their own time.

From Wikipedia:

At 9:15 pm EST on March 17, 1998, the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts and the United States Coast Guard cutter Eagle, are transported by an unknown phenomenon (called “The Event”) back in time to the Bronze Age circa 1250s B.C. (corresponding to the late Heroic Age of the Trojan War).

As the truth of what has happened sinks in, panic grips the island. Chief of Police Jared Cofflin is given emergency powers and begins organizing the people to help produce food for the island so they can feed themselves. Meanwhile, Captain Marian Alston takes the Eagle to Britain, with Ian Arnstein and Doreen Rosenthal as interpreters, where they trade Nantucket made goods with the Iraiina, which translates as “Noble ones”, a tribe that has been steadily invading the island, for grain. The Iraiina are just one of the many Sun People Tribes. As a gift the Iraiina chief gives Marian a slave, Swindapa, a captured female “Earth People” warrior. Swindapa is freed and decides to stay with Marian. The Eagle leaves for Nantucket but takes with them Isketerol, a Tartessian merchant who hopes to learn from the Americans.

While the people of Nantucket work for their survival, the ambitious and ruthless Lieutenant William Walker of the USCGC Eagle, decides that with modern technology he could become a king in this time…

My take:

Not only does Mr. Stirling do a great job of taking Nantucket Island and plopping it back into the Bronze Age, he captures the life and people of that ancient time.

My complaint:

He gave his characters an entire island of technology (including machine shops and a Coast Guard sailing ship!) for their trip back to the Bronze Age. Whereas, my poor characters only had what they could take on horseback. (Joe, the Protagonist in Conflict, was quite jealous when he found out about all the tech. And no way can I repeat what Larry said…).

The Puzzle:

Here’s another puzzle. It’s only 48 pieces so it goes together in a jiffy when you drag the pieces around on your screen.

1. Just click HERE for the puzzle.

2. Click and drag the pieces on your device. If you leave the sound on you’ll hear a satisfying “click” when the pieces fit together.

3. Can you guess where this photo was taken? And why I considered it important when writing Conflict?

4. Email me the answer at

The Solutions to Last Newsletter’s Puzzle:

Rocks in Susquehanna River

I chose this image was chosen to illustrate the shallowness of the Susquehanna River.

Joe and his friends spent a day searching for a safe route for the horses to cross. There’s a lot of hidden crevices out there!

November 2019 Newsletter

  • Crossover Series Updates
  • Walt’s World
  • Guns, Germs and Steel Review
  • and the Puzzle

Collapse Update:

Based on discussions with a new editor, my schedule for Collapse will certainly be pushed out. Its launch will likely be in March, 2020 at the earliest. (Update: further delays expected)

Walt’s World:

Where did I get my interest in things historical?

The book 1632 by Eric Flint.

In summary: part of present-day West Virginia, complete with a whole lot of good-old union boys, finds itself plopped somewhere in Germany in 1632 – right in the middle of the 30 years war.

It’s an entertaining read. And the author, a historian by education, draws the reader into 17th century life. It certainly drew me in.

Review: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

One version of my elevator pitch is as follows:

The Crossover Series explores what happens when 21st century characters take knowledge of “Guns, Germs and Steel” back to 11th century, pre-contact, indigenous cultures.

So what is this book titled Guns, Germs and Steel?

From Amazon:

In this “artful, informative, and delightful” (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion –as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war –and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of California’s Gold Medal.

My take:

Dr. Diamond’s premise can be dramatically supported by considering animal-related diseases.

In the Europe/Middle East/Northern Africa, human populations had access to multiple domesticable animals with cows, sheep, pigs being the predominant ones.

And those cultures then became exposed to disease crossing the species barrier from those animals to humans. Smallpox from cows being one well-known problem. While smallpox caused many deaths, the European/Middle East/African populations, while not becoming immune, were able to survive this disease mostly intact.

But in the Americas, there were few domesticable animals (except turkeys and llamas). And no prior exposure. And no immunity at all.

So when the Spanish landed, their animal-originated diseases spread like a shock wave through the indigenous peoples, killing off 90+% of the population, sometimes even before physical contact with the Europeans. Hence, it wasn’t European civilization that dominated the Americas – it was European diseases that did.

The Puzzle

Here’s another puzzle. It’s only 48 pieces so it goes together in a jiffy when you drag the pieces around on your screen.

1. Just click HERE for the puzzle.

2. Click and drag the pieces on your device. If you leave the sound on you’ll hear a satisfying “click” when the pieces fit together.

3. Can you guess where this photo was taken? And why I considered it important when writing Conflict?

4. Email me the answer at

Last Month’s Puzzle

Last month, you got to assemble a photo take from the approximate location of the lookout tower in Conflict.

I “found” this view while checking out the location back in 2012. And was thrilled when I realized that this is the exact view (except for the local gravestones and freeway cuts in the distance!) seen by Joe, Larry, and Brent.

Crossover Update: October 2019

Collapse Update

Wondering about the third book, Collapse, in the Crossover Series? Well, I’m into the editing phase. The schedule looks like:

  • Oct: self-editing
  • Nov: professional editor
  • Dec: ARC (advanced reader copies) to the Street Team (more on this next month)
  • Jan: Launch Collapse

Trade Items

Collapse takes place on a small island off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Why do the characters from Haven want to go there?

Trade! They know that Mesoamerica has:

  • Cocoa (chocolate)…luxury trade item (okay, some would say it’s a necessary item!)
  • Cotton…practical trade item
  • Rubber…needed to further industrialize Haven and it’s areas of influence
  • Peppers…!

Mesoamerica also is a stepping stone to South America where the Havenites hope to find:

  • Quinine…necessary for interacting with Africa (hmm…foreshadowing?)
  • Silver…from the Aztec lands

Review and Homework assignment:

Order/check out the movie “Apocolypto” from your local library or online movie source and watch it.

From Amazon:

Forget any off-screen impressions you may have of Mel Gibson, and experience Apocalypto as the mad, bloody runaway train that it is.

The story is set in the pre-Columbian Maya population: one village is brutally overrun, its residents either slaughtered or abducted, by a ruling tribe that needs slaves and human sacrifices.

We focus on the capable warrior Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), although Gibson skillfully sketches a whole population of characters–many of whom don’t survive the early reels.

Most of the film is set in the dense jungle, but the middle section, in a grand Mayan city, is a dazzling triumph of design, costuming, and sheer decadent terror.

The movie itself is a triumph of brutality, as Gibson lets loose his well-established fascination with bodily mortification in a litany of assaults including impalement, evisceration, snakebite, and bee stings.

It’s a dark, disgusted vision, but Gibson doesn’t forget to apply some very canny moviemaking instincts to the violence–including the creation of a tremendous pair of villains (strikingly played by Raoul Trujillo and Rodolfo Palacias).

The film is in a Maya dialect, subtitled in English, and shot on digital video (which occasionally betrays itself in some blurry quick pans).

Amidst all the mayhem, nothing in the film is more devastating than a final wordless exchange of looks between captured villager Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) and his wife’s mother (Maria Isabel Diaz), a superb change in tone from their early relationship.

Yes, this is an obsessive, crazed movie, but Gibson knows what he’s doing. –Robert Horton

My take: it’s fairly accurate. The movie dramatizes the social pressures experienced by the Maya society due not only to overpopulation and inter-elite warfare but also to the environmental devastation caused by the making of concrete.


Here’s something fun to try right now…a puzzle for you made from a photo I took while exploring the location of “Conflict,” the first book in the series. It’s only 48 pieces so it goes together in a jiffy when you drag the pieces around on your screen. Here’s what you do:

  1. Just click HERE for the puzzle.
  2. Click and drag the pieces on your device. If you leave the sound on you’ll hear a satisfying “click” when the pieces fit together.
  3. Can you guess what Joe and his friend built at this spot? (Note: I was thrilled to find this open area and its view!)
  4. Email me the answer at

Why read Alternative History?

First: how can Alternative History be defined?

The Collins English Dictionary defines alternative history as “a genre of fiction in which the author speculates on how the course of history might have been altered if a particular historical event had had a different outcome.”

From Wikipeida:

These stories usually contain “what if” scenarios at crucial points in history and present outcomes other than those in the historical record. The stories are conjectural, but are sometimes based on fact. Alternate history has been seen as a subgenre of literary fiction, science fiction, or historical fiction; alternate history works may use tropes from any or all of these genres. 

My first exposure to Alt History was “Guns Of The South” by Harry Turtledove. From Wikipedia:

In January 1864, the Confederacy is on the verge of losing the war against the United States. Men with strange accents and oddly mottled clothing approach Robert E. Lee at the headquarters of the Army of Northern Virginia, demonstrating a rifle far superior to all other firearms of the time. The men call their organization “America Will Break” (or “AWB”). They offer to supply the Confederate army with these rifles, which they refer to as AK-47s. The weapons operate on chemical and engineering principles unknown to Confederate military engineers. The AWB establish a base in the little town of Rivington, North Carolina, making it into a combined fortress and arsenal. 

The books continues with an adverture/military thriller plot.

The second exposure was Eric Flint’s “1632”. Wikipedia:

The fictional town of Grantville, West Virginia (modeled on the real West Virginia town of Mannington) and its power plant are displaced in space-time, through a side effect of a mysterious alien civilization.[2]

A hemispherical section of land about three miles in radius measured from the town center is transported back in time and space from April 2000 to May 1631, from North America to the central Holy Roman Empire. The town is thrust into the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, in the German province of Thuringia in the Thuringer Wald, near the fictional German free city of Badenburg. This Assiti Shards effect occurs during a wedding reception, accounting for the presence of several people not native to the town, including a doctor and his daughter, a paramedic. Real Thuringian municipalities located close to Grantville are posited as Weimar, Jena, Saalfeld and the more remote Erfurt, Arnstadt, and Eisenach well to the south of Halle and Leipzig.

Grantville, led by Mike Stearns, president of the local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), must cope with the town’s space-time dislocation, the surrounding raging war, language barriers, and numerous social and political issues, including class conflict, witchcraft, feminism, the reformation and the counter-reformation, among many other factors. One complication is a compounding of the food shortage when the town is flooded by refugees from the war. The 1631 locals experience a culture shock when exposed to the mores of contemporary American society, including modern dress, sexual egalitarianism, and boisterous American-style politics.

Dr. Flint is a historian, so he was able to both make the middle ages interesting as well as historically accurate. (Well, except for the part where part of West Virginia plops into the Thirty Years’ War).

Warning: reading Alternative History can get one interested in real history.

So back to the question: Why read Alternative History?

My answers:

  1. Entertaining as well as informative.
  2. Makes “history” alive as opposed to just memorized (and boring) names and dates.
  3. Expands one’s knowledgable of different cultures and customs.
  4. Enables one to realize that a lot of people worked, suffered, and died to get our world to where it is now.

Okay, I can’t leave you without mentioning another Alternative History series. Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series.

  • Thursday Next is the female protagonist.
  • Setting: alternative England. Roughly now.
  • First book: “The Eyre Affair” in which Jane Eyre is kidnapped out of her book.

Okay, there’s less “alternative” than fun in this series. But it got me into writing…as I figure the author must have really had a lot of fun writing this series.

Not to worry: I’m not gonna kidnap anyone out of their book.


Questions and comments to

Maya Numbers

The ancient Maya developed a positional number system based on groups of 20 (“base 20”).

Positional number system? Base 20?

Let’s look at our modern number system to understand those terms:

  • Our system is sometimes considered Arabic (even though Arabia obtained this system from India). I will indicate if a number is Arabic (or base 10) for clarity.
  • Our system consists of ten symbols: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and the null value “0”
  • Our system is positional. Each number has a different value depending on its relative position.
  • Our system is base 10. Each positional number is a multiple of some power of ten. 

For example, take the number 126. Each digit means a different value depending on position. Starting from the right-most digit:

  • Six times one (Note: ten to the zero power is “one”).
  • Two times ten (or ten to the first power)
  • One times ten squared (or ten to the second power).

Twenty Maya Numbers

Twenty Maya Numbers

The Maya number system is base 20. It is positional. But it only uses dots, lines, and a special null symbol which are combined to make twenty symbols:

Larger numbers require extra positions which the Maya stacked vertically (in the following figure, the square are added to help differentiate a lower value from the upper for clarity – the Maya did not use these squares!):

Large Maya Numbers

Large Maya Numbers

Revisiting our number “126”: To convert 126 (Arabic) into base 20, we first need to determine how the Arabic number 126 can be divided up into groups of twenty:

  • twenty times twenty = 400: but there are no groups of 400 in 126 (Arabic)
  • twenty: there are six groups of twenty in 126 (Arabic)
  • ones: there are six groups of ones in 126 (Arabic)

126 as a Maya Number

126 as a Maya Number

So 126 in our Arabic system is equivalent to six groups of twenty and six ones. And we know that six is represented by the Maya with a bar and a dot. So we need to use a bar and a dot twice.

In our modern (Arabic) system, the positions are written horizontally, with the ones on the right and the groups of 10 to the left.

But we know that, in the Maya system, the positions are written vertically, with the ones at the bottom and the groups of 20 above the ones.

So the value of 126 (Arabic) is written in Maya as 
…where the squares are again added for separate the two symbols. The upper symbol gives the number of groups of twenty (6 x 20 = 120). The lower gives the number of ones (6 x 1 = 6). Hence, the two symbols (in the given orientation) describe our Arabic value of 126.

For additional study (and how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide), check out:

Contact: Monastery North of Ros’s Farmstead

While writing “Contact,” I had a scene in which a couple of my (not-so-nice) characters discussed the acquisition of local “assets” north of Ros’s farmstead (the location of modern-day Dingle, Ireland).

The few farmsteads to the north have been stripped of food and fodder. But even this side will soon be barren unless we obtain more thralls to work the land.

But, from a tour of Ireland, I knew there was a Monastery in the same region, hence I knew I had to add a line to that paragraph:

The few farmsteads to the north have been stripped of food and fodder. Even the small monastery is now barren. But even this side will soon be barren unless we obtain more thralls to work the land.

So what did/does this Monastery look like? Here is an encompassing view showing the surviving church:

Gallarus Oratory

Monastery North of Ros’s Farmstead

No doubt, the stone church was surrounded by less permanent structures such as residences, cattle pens, storage buildings (made of wattle and daub), and fencing.

It’s quite interesting that the church’s door and the only window line up:


Looking East through Gallarus Oratory

The construction is also of interest. No mortar. Only gravity holds it together:

Gallarus Oratory's Stonework

Morterless Construction

An interior view showing the intersection of ceiling and walls:

Gallarus Oratory's Stonework

Interior View of Stonework

A much more elaborate religious structure stood a few miles away. But as it was built in the 1200’s, it didn’t make it into the story:

Church of Kilmalkedar,

Church near Gallarus Oratory

Collapse: status

I’ve got a rough outline of the main plot. But as I write (I’m only at 9000 words…90,000 is typical book length), all sorts of sub-plots are slipping in.

This is a complicated story. Especially since the Maya civilization is so alien to us/me.

Also,  they had larger cities than Europe in the middles ages. And larger populations. And they are one of the few civilizations that developed (on their own) the concept of “zero” in their number system.

Need a read while waiting for Collapse? May I suggest:

“1632” by Eric Flint

From Amazon:

In Flint’s novel of time travel and alternate history, a six-mile square of West Virginia is tossed back in time and space to Germany in 1632, at the height of the barbaric and devastating Thirty Years’ War.

Oh, and the eBook version is free on Amazon.

“Island In The Sea Of Time” by S. M. Stirling

From Amazon:

It’s spring on Nantucket and everything is perfectly normal, until a sudden storm blankets the entire island. When the weather clears, the island’s inhabitants find that they are no longer in the late twentieth century…but have been transported instead to the Bronze Age! Now they must learn to survive with suspicious, warlike peoples they can barely understand and deal with impending disaster, in the shape of a would-be conqueror from their own time.

Finally, my all time favorite (and rather weird) series:

“The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel” by Jasper Fforde (not a typo!)

From Amazon:

Fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse will love visiting Jasper Fforde’s Great Britain, circa 1985, when time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously: it’s a bibliophile’s dream. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection. But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career. Fforde’s ingenious fantasy—enhanced by a Web site that re-creates the world of the novel—unites intrigue with English literature in a delightfully witty mix. Thursday’s zany investigations continue with six more bestselling Thursday Next novels, including One of Our Thursdays is Missing and the upcoming The Woman Who Died A Lot.

Hey, any story in which Jane Eyre is kidnapped from her book has gotta be great…

For questions, comments, and general BS, please drop me a line at

PS…link to information on the Monastery:


Thatched Roof

So I’m writing away (or trying to) in my alternative version of 11th century Ireland., when my characters had to thatch a shelter. Yikes, so how does one thatch a roof?

Screen shot 2013-12-24 at 5.06.01 PM

Note the straw/reeds are cut side down. Ahh…the aluminum ladder may be a bit difficult to find in 11th century Ireland…

A common reed (phragmites communes) is one typical plant used for thatching. Also wheat straw is used but care must be taken not to damage the straw during threshing (removing the grain from the stalk).

Modern construction:
Was surprised to find that the bottom (thicker) end of the reed is placed “downhill”.

And when you get done, you can trim the roof:

Sulfur and Alternative History

Gunpowder played a critical role in history of warfare. In European history, it resulted in the decline of importance of mounted and armed Knights as a “commoner” with a matchlock could take out the medieval symbol of wealth and power.

Along with the Knight, the stone castle fell before the onslaught of cannon fire and explosives.

A blacksmith hammers a white hot iron ingotTwo factors limited in the development and use of gunpowder. The first concerned the metallurgy required to fabricate the guns and cannon. This will be the subject of a future post.


The second factor was the acquisition of gunpowder components, which consists of a mixture of 75% Saltpetre (Potassium Nitrate), 15% Carbon (charcoal) and 10% Sulfur.

Remains of saltpeter miningSaltpetre (Potassium Nitrate) can be found in caves, the result of nitrate in the soil being dissolved and percolating downwards to anaerobic soils. There it is converted into ammonium. If caverns are present, it can evaporate at the cave surfaces, where it can be oxidized to potassium nitrate by bacteria (1).

In the absence of the appropriate geology, this process can be artificially produced by letting wood ash and organic material soaked in urine age in a barn or other shelter (2). These sources are limited. But with the event of global trade, Saltpetre could be obtained from India and South America.

The making of charcoal is a well known skill, the only question being the choice of wood. Dogwood, willow and alder are commonly used (2).

Hot springs with sulfur depositesSulfur is an element. This ingredient was probably the limiting factor in the use of gunpowder in European history. Two main historic sources were Sicily and, later by the 14th century, Iceland. The source in each location being volcanic vents.


Of Metallurgy, Charcoal, Saltpetre and Sulfur, it would be hard to control the first three. Sulphur however is extremely localized resource. If a group or state could exert dominion on two relatively small regions of Europe, they could control gunpowder and thus warfare.

An excellent scenario for alternative history would be introducing the technology of metallurgy into pre-gunpowder Middle Ages. Access to one of the sources of sulphur would insure the availability of gunpowder. Exclusive access would insure domination. From there, it’s an adventure story.

1. “Geology and History of Confederate Saltpeter Cave Operations in Western Virginia”, Virginia Minerals, Vol. 47, November 2001, No.4.

2. “The Big Bang: A History of Explosives” by George Ingham Brown, November 1998, Chapter 2 “Making Gunpowder”

3. General reference: