Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lighthouse via drone

While I should have been laboring on the as yet untitled sixth Steve Martinez novel, I have been playing with my Phantom drone instead. (My fellow Phantom pilots insist that it be called a "quadcopter UAV," but everybody else in the world calls it a drone, so I will as well.)

The other day Bruce Johanson, president of the Ontonagon (Michigan) Historical Society, invited me to bring the Phantom out to the old Ontonagon Lighthouse, the society's crown jewel, and get some video and photographs of the place. It wasn't terribly windy, but it was gusty, and the video turned out to be jumpy and shaky, not very usable.

But I also programmed the GoPro camera the drone carries to take still photos every ten seconds, and here are two of the better ones. (Click them both on for large, detailed versions.)

The one above looks toward the south. It was midafternoon, so the sun was not on the front door of the lighthouse, but I used Lightroom to open up the harsh shadows as well as straighten out the horizons, sharply curved because of the GoPro's semi-fisheye lens.

The one below faces north toward Lake Superior. One can see how the Ontonagon River silt built up the shoreline until the lighthouse, once directly on the lake, became landlocked more than 200 yards to the south.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but I really should get back to work on that book.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book jacket elements

While the fifth Steve Martinez novel, Tracking the Beast, goes through the hoops at Five Star Mysteries, I'm fooling around with possible jacket elements.

There must be four basic elements for the cover: the title, an illustration, a background, and the name of the author.

The title and illustration together set the theme: homicide involving railroad cars, specifically covered hopper cars. So, for the announcement of the book on my website, I cobbled up a new home page with the title printed on a hopper car and a human skull replacing the railroad company herald.

Knowledgeable readers will notice that that's not an illustration of a real hopper car, but a photograph of a HO scale model car. That'll work for the website, but not for a book jacket. I'm sure the designers will come up with something entirely different, as well as professional—and maybe not with the same elements.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Steve Martinez No. 6 in the thinking stages

Now that Steve Martinez Novel No. 5, Tracking the Beast, has leaped the first hurdle at Five Star Mysteries and is in the hopper for presumable publication some time in 2015, I've begun work on No. 6.

It hasn't got a title yet, but it will deal with race and murder in the Upper Peninsula. Right now I'm shaping the character of the victim. Creating a personality out of whole cloth is fun, but the devil is in the details.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Off to the agent

The third and final draft of Tracking the Beast, my fifth Steve Martinez mystery, went off to the agent yesterday. From there it'll go to the publisher.

Now all I can do is wait and see if it's accepted. If it is, I expect either summer or fall 2015 publication.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


As you can see from the view from our cabin's front window above, ice has choked the shoreline in front of our cabin and for miles and miles to the west and east for the last few days. We'd never anticipated seeing ice on Lake Superior as late as the Memorial Day weekend, but now they're saying it will linger into June and in some places even into July.

Winds and currents have caused the lingering floes to collect in several places along the southern shore of the lake, according to the two-day-old map below. They're pretty, but they're affecting boaters and fishermen whose craft aren't sturdy enough to shoulder their way between bergs. We hear that in Bayfield, Wisconsin, off the Apostle Islands, the harbor is so choked with ice that the ferry to Madeline Island is having a hard time, and both commercial fishing craft and pleasure boats are remaining ashore. As a consequence, Bayfield is all but deserted on what should be the opening weekend of the tourist season.

I've thought that maybe in a future novel Steve Martinez could chase a bad guy through ice floes in the sheriff's Boston Whaler on Memorial Day. But would anybody believe that?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Spy in the sky

This morning I took my Phantom drone for another drive in our backyard, this time with the GoPro camera set to take a photograph every 10 seconds. Here is an example. (Click on the photo for a larger version.)

There was a little wind, but if I took my hands off the two joysticks on the controller, the drone would hover in the same place and at the same altitude, thanks to the GPS inside it. Cool.

Notice the ice in Lake Superior in the background. Hard to believe it's still around on Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


The other day I flew my new drone for the first time. It was a success, although I did manage to fly the thing into a tree and then the woodpile, scuffing up the propellers in the process. No squirrels or chickadees, however, were harmed.

The machine is a DJI Phantom, one of the most popular hobbyist Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The Phantom is a radio-controlled quadricopter (a k a quadcopter) with four propellers that carries a GoPro sports-action camera. With it one can take photographs or videos of things on the ground.

Naturally some folks of a leftist bent get upset at the mention of the word "drone," because they bring to mind the U.S. assassination of al-Qaeda and the accompanying deaths of innocent civilians in the Islamic world. Others who embrace rightist views think of drones as black-helicopter government spies in the sky.

But drones are also useful tools for civilian search-and-rescue and law enforcement operations. They can do most anything a helicopter can do, and at much less cost. In my novel-in-progress, Tracking the Beast, Sheriff Steve Martinez employs a drone the size of a garbage can lid to search a vast area in a criminal case, and I bought the Phantom for research purposes.

And for fun, too. It helps make up for having to give up flying my airplane five years ago after a heart attack and triple bypass. (Flying a hobbyist drone is also a lot cheaper than owning a 50-year-old lightplane.)

Here's a Phantom:

So far I've flown the drone only in the tree-shrouded backyard of our Lake Superior cabin, but soon I plan to go to the Porcupine County airport, where a portion of the field is set aside for radio-controlled model flying.

More later.