Cover Reveal – The Enclave!

I am very proud to present my newest cover!

The Enclave is due out mid May 2014 and will be available from your favourite online bookseller.


Cover Design by Cheryl Ramirez,


Katherine Kirk lived only for vengeance.

Vengeance against the man who destroyed her home, her family and her life.

Sent on a babysitting mission to Junter 3, RAN officer Katherine Kirk, finds herself quickly embroiled in the politics between the New Holland Government and the Val Myran refugees claiming asylum.

After an Alliance attack Kirk and her team hunt the enemy down and discover that they have finally found the lair of the man they have been searching for…

And the captive who has been waiting patiently for rescue.

“What would you do to the man who destroyed every important person in your life?”

I hope everyone loves this cover as much as I do 🙂


“Mhm” and other sounds that help in conversations

Sounds that fill in the spaces in conversations serve a vital function.

 By: Ida Kvittingen

We have all confirmed what others say with a frequent use of mhm, uh-huh or if you are a Scandinavian, a wheezy “ya” made while breathing in, rather than out.

These sounds are more important than we might think, according to Mattias Heldner, a professor in phonetics at Stockholm University.

“We use the sounds to show that we are listening and that the message from the person we are talking to is getting across. It creates a common ground within the conversation,” says Heldner.

This is particularly important when talking on a phone, when the lack of visual signals makes it hard for either party to tell if they are being understood.

Heldner has led a project called Prosody in Communication, which ended last year. In linguistics prosody is the study of the rhythm, stress, intonation and the melody of speech. Linguists think that melody and rhythm are so vital to communication that children learn it before learning to ever utter a word.

We are humming 

 Hedner explains that most languages have sounds that aid in the flow of a conversation.

Some are listed in dictionaries, others are just sounds.

Heldner calls it humming when we say “mmm”, “mhm” or “uh-huh” in a conversation.

“Maybe ‘mmm’ should be in the dictionary. It has a big function in a conversation,” says Heldner.

Heldner and colleagues analysed 120 Swedish conversations lasting a half hour each to see how the sounds were used.

The researchers noticed that the conversational partners have a tendency to mimic the person they are speaking with. Their hummings were in the same pitch.

They also have seen that this humming arises as interplay between the conversational partners.

The Swedish researchers also looked into how long people wait for such feedback.

“The person talking gives room for the humming with occasional halts,” says Heldner, and pauses a little so that the journalist can also let out an “mmm-hmm.”

Waiting for those who don’t understand

 But the listener in a conversation already knows before the break in speech what is coming – perceives that it is time for humming.

“The melody rises in the last syllable before the speaker’s pause. We also signal this to the other person with eye contact,” says Heldner.

Jan Svennevig, a professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo (UiO), doesn’t wholly agree.

“As a rule, we don’t wait for the humming. It often comes while we talk. The person speaking only waits when he thinks the other person isn’t picking up what’s being said. It’s to ensure that the message has been received,” he says.

Norwegian variations

 Jan Svennevig says Norwegians have many of these sounds too. He prefers to call them acceptance signals.

“We actually need to say ‘mhm’ when the other speaks for a long time, to signal that they can continue,” says Svennevig.

His colleague Hanne Gram Simonsen, another professor of linguistics at UiO, concurs.

“I think these sounds are totally necessary. We have become so used to them that we get nervous when they are left out,” says Simonsen.

Keeping the ball in your court

Such sounds are not always confirming, explains Svennevig. They just say something about how the communication is progressing. If you get a “huh?” that means it isn’t going so well.

Other sounds like this are signals to keep the verbal ball in your court, to continue speaking if you don’t want to let the other have a turn yet. You can utter an “uhhh” or “ehhhh”. But these are not confirmations.

The sounds mustn’t be used inappropriately. Actually such sounds and this conversational behaviour are not supposed to be given real attention, or be consciously noticed. If the sound deviates from the pitch in the conversation, or comes at the wrong time, it will disturb the discussion.

“The person who hums incorrectly can be perceived as a nuisance,” says the Swedish researcher Heldner.

Making robots more human

 The finer aspects of perception are among the things that separates a machine from a fellow interlocutor of skin and bone.

The goal of Heldner’s research is to create computers which can converse with us in a human way. But it’s currently impossible to program a computer with all the nuances found in a normal conversation.

“We have far to go before computers comprehend as much as people. But we can get them to act as if they understand,” says Heldner.

Computers have already been talking to us for some time in games and in customer service centres. Heldner thinks a little humming interjected in the right places will make it easier to conduct conversations with them.

Service telephones should be able to gather information better if the computers ask open questions and let the customer talk, following up with the occasional “mhm”.

Heldner and his colleagues plan to do further research on the unspoken parts of a conversation – things that happen face to face. This includes the direction of eye focus, head motions, facial expressions and the ways we breathe. It could be much harder to make machines that can duplicate these aspects of conversations.


Click the link to see this article on Sciencenordic

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Book Review – Chronicle of the Roman Emperors

Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome by Christopher Scarre

This is an excellent history book.  It is well organized and a useful reference work for projects and information purposes.  It is also well enough written to be an enjoyable read. It does not pretend to be a general/complete history of Imperial Rome; instead it covers the emperors themselves, giving a coherent unbiased picture difficult to get from most traditional histories.  It gives an account of each emperor from Augustus to Romulus Augustulus.

This book provides a history that acknowledges the reports of historians from all areas (including enemies of Rome), these are critically analyzed for their biases (e.g., that of senatorial authors against emperors who ignored the senate, or of Christian authors against the persecutors) to attempt to give a balanced account.  The author does not blindly accept what either group has to say about emperors who they either demonize or deify. This is a very worthwhile practice, and so overall the book is a very helpful primer for a novice on the subject.

Especially interesting was the family information as well as the timelines, maps and illustrations. This book is concise and complete for its size and also manages to include text sketches of other prominent people of the day as well as each emperor’s most famous construction projects, laws or other interesting tid bits.

The smaller details of imperial titles, etc., are pulled out into handy sidebars where they can be ignored if desired or enjoyed by those who like that sort of thing.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of portrait busts of most of the emperors as well as the monuments they built. There are also many drawings and plans showing reconstructions of their palaces and monuments.  It is very easy to read and Latin concepts are easily explained.  An excellent book for author research or school projects.

Recipe – ‘Spuds’

Here is a simple recipe that I made tonight – they are basically sweet coconut balls rolled in coco powder which makes them look like freshly dug up potatoes (Spuds) – NOT for people on diets!  Perfect for sugar addicts.

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

1 bag of desiccated coconut

1 cup of Icing (Confectioners) Sugar

Cocoa Powder

In a large bowl,  mix together the condensed milk and the coconut (start off with 1.5 cups of coconut, then add more for individual tastes – I like about 4 heaped cups).  Then add the icing sugar – add this a quarter of a cup at a time until the whole mix becomes thick with a consistency like play dough.

Pour some of the cocoa powder onto a plate.  Wet your hands and take ping pong ball size spoonfuls of the mix and roll it in your hands until it becomes a ball, then roll this in the cocoa powder until the ball is coated. (The wet hands stops the mix from sticking to them – if you wear rings I recommend you remove them before you do this step).

Place these onto a plate and let them sit in the fridge for about an hour to set.  Then they are ready to eat 🙂

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Book Review – The Cold Dish

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

I just read this book and loved it.

Sheriff Walt Longmire is a beautifully drawn character.   Longmire is a likeable, gruff and a very decent man who is just trying to do his job and hang out with his mate – Henry Standing Bear.  He is also a man just emerging from mourning the death of his long time wife and missing a daughter who works in Philadelphia.

The reader is drawn effortlessly into his world.  The author skillfully immerses the reader in the rhythms and mores of the West, smoothly integrating history and folklore into the evocative landscape of the Big Horn Mountains.  You can sometimes feel the wind and cold and taste the winter in your mouth as you read.  (Or I could just have a good imagination 🙂 )

Longmire’s small town enforcement duties are suddenly interrupted when a murder forces him to revisit an old case that had left a rather sour taste in his mouth. His search to find the murderer is a compelling story that both unravels a mystery and reflects Longmire’s inner struggles as he seeks to regain control of his life and maybe find a little justice along the way for everyone involved.

But, once you hit the middle of the story however, it does slow down and seems to get bogged in the nitty gritty of life in small outback regional centres.  It is probably amusing if you haven’t experienced this for yourself but for those of us that have, this just felt like padding to make a little time pass before the next break (or shot) in the case.  It did make me want to put the book down and wait until I was in a more suitable mood to want to read all the small town nuances.

However, I’m glad I pushed through with the book. Things really started coming together in the last third, but it’s more the land and the history of the place that brings the edge to the story and the writing. There are some really nice touches that echo the Old West and the supernatural without ever stepping over the line and becoming ‘cheesy’.  And there’s enough action and adventure to finish out the rest of the story nicely.

I highly recommend it to anyone who likes Westerns, Mysteries, well developed characters and language that is written well in the American vernacular.


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What is Anthropology?

By Owen Jarus

Anthropology is the study of humans, early hominids and primates, such as chimpanzees.

Anthropologists study human language, culture, societies, biological and material remains, the biology and behavior of primates, and even our own buying habits. It’s a broad discipline that constantly incorporates new technologies and ideas. As technologies are developed that allow exoplanets to be detected and studied in greater detail, anthropology may eventually expand to include the study of non-human civilizations.

“Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four areas: sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics,” writes the American Anthropological Association on its website. “Anthropologists often integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their research, teaching, and professional lives.”

To an anthropologist, “anything is available to inspection, including the most ordinary, mundane items and events such as a McDonald’s hamburger, a pair of blue jeans, a cell phone, a birthday or New Year’s Eve, and so forth,” writes Carol Delaney, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, in her book “An Experiential Introduction to Anthropology” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). “Each of them provides a window into a much larger set of beliefs, power relations, and values,” she writes.

In thinking about ordinary things from our culture, we can help understand those of others. “For example what would you make of a community that celebrates death days rather than birthdays? How might that fact relate to other facets of that society? What other kinds of questions would you need to ask to begin to understand not just that practice but also the culture in which it occurs?”

Sociocultural anthropology

“Sociocultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning,” writes the American Anthropological Association.

It’s a broad discipline that explores human behavior in all its diversity, from hunter-gatherer societies to the habits of shopping mall visitors.

For instance, Richard Lee, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, is known for his studies of the !Kung people that live in several countries in southern Africa (the ! represents a sound). The !Kung are one of a small number of modern-day societies that live as hunter-gatherers, providing a window into how ancient hunter-gatherers lived.

On the other side of the coin is the growing field of business anthropology where anthropologists study consumer behavior, including how people act in shopping malls. It’s something that can help companies produce and market products to meet their needs and desires.

“Business anthropologists have influenced market research by pointing out that, to be successful, marketers must understand people — what they do and how they live,” writes Shirley Fedorak, of the University of Saskatchewan, in her book “Anthropology Matters” (University of Toronto Press, 2013).


Archaeology is the study of humanity through the materials — the stuff — we leave behind. This can be in the distant past, such as the pyramids at Giza, or very recent times, such as a 21st-century marriage proposal carved near a closed quarantine station.

Many archaeologists do not call themselves anthropologists, and archaeology’s relationship to anthropology is a matter of debate. Archaeologists examine past societies using some of the methods and theories that sociocultural anthropologists work with. Additionally, physical anthropologists work closely with archaeologists to investigate human remains.

Physical anthropology

Physical or biological anthropologists study the remains of human beings and hominids using a variety of techniques to investigate human disease, diet, genetics and lifestyle.

Some, such as Jane Goodall, specialize in the study of primates, such as chimpanzees. By studying these creatures, which are closely related to us, we can learn much about ourselves and how we came to be.

Another important sub-branch is forensic anthropology, which tends to focus on helping authorities solve crimes and identify human remains found at crime and disaster scenes.

A 2008 article published in the magazine Chico Statements tells the story of Ben Figura, who “worked in the foul waters of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in Thailand in the aftermath of the 2005 tsunami that killed some 230,000 people.” He also led “a small team of experts from New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner working to put names to the thousands of human remains still being found at Ground Zero. Most of the remains at this stage are bone fragments, some very small.”

It’s a tough field to work in. “Working at the site of a historic tragedy and in such intimate contact with its victims, as well as its survivors — Figura often calls family members when his team identifies remains — can be emotionally wrenching,” the article notes.

Linguistic anthropology

In some ways, linguistic anthropology can be the hardest branch of anthropology to identify.

The American Anthropological Association states that it “is the comparative study of ways in which language reflects and influences social life. It explores the many ways in which language practices define patterns of communication, formulate categories of social identity and group membership, organize large-scale cultural beliefs and ideologies, and, in conjunction with other forms of meaning-making, equip people with common cultural representations of their natural and social worlds.”

Linguistic anthropologists can be found analyzing languages, both verbal and non-verbal, around the world. They do things like study American presidential debates to determine how candidates use non-verbal hand gestures to communicate with voters. They can also be found analyzing the books and movies read by young teenagers (the “Twilight” series, for instance) to determine how they affect the teenage mind.

By studying the usage of language, these anthropologists can determine what cultures value.

“The everyday language of North Americans, for example, includes a number of slang words, such as dough, greenback, dust, loot, cash, bucks, change and bread, to identify what an indigenous native of Papua-New Guinea would recognize only as money,” writes William Haviland, a professor emeritus at the University of Vermont, in his book “Anthropology” (Harcourt College Publishers, 2000).

“Such phenomena help identify things that are considered of special importance to a culture.”

How do you become an anthropologist?

Anthropologists tend to have either a master’s or doctoral degree. There are many universities in the United States, Canada and Europe that teach the discipline. Often those studying anthropology will specialize in a specific area.  Fieldwork is often required to complete a degree.

Where do anthropologists work?

Anthropologists can be found working for a wide variety of employers. These include museums, police departments, marketing companies, cultural resource management firms, government agencies and research institutes.

How much do anthropologists earn?

It is hard to give a salary range for anthropologists. A junior anthropologist doing fieldwork on contract may earn a low amount of money, perhaps not much more than minimum wage. On the higher end, a tenured professor at a large university may earn over $100,000, while those in senior positions at large private companies may earn considerably more.

How did anthropology get its start?

In some ways anthropology is in itself an ancient discipline. Writers in the ancient world often analyzed the cultures of various peoples in an attempt to understand their practices.

For instance, in A.D. 43, the writer, Pomponius Mela, examined the Druid religious beliefs of the Gauls and noted how it prepared them for the many wars they fought. “And yet, they have both their own eloquence and their own teachers of wisdom, the Druids. These men claim to know the size and shape of the Earth and of the universe, the movements of the sky and of the stars, and what the gods intend…” he wrote. “One of the precepts they teach — obviously to make them better for war — has [become] common knowledge, namely that their souls are eternal and there is a second life for the dead.” (Translation by E.F Romer)

As the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution spawned new technologies and ideas, anthropology grew as a discipline. For example, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution paved the way for the skeletal remains of hominids to be better understood, allowing for a new understanding of how humans came into existence.

Click Here for the link to the article

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Language structure … you’re born with it

Humans are unique in their ability to acquire language. But how? A new study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences shows that we are in fact born with the basic fundamental knowledge of language, thus shedding light on the age-old linguistic “nature vs. nurture” debate.


While languages differ from each other in many ways, certain aspects appear to be shared across languages. These aspects might stem from linguistic principles that are active in all human brains. A natural question then arises: are infants born with knowledge of how the human words might sound like? Are infants biased to consider certain sound sequences as more word-like than others? “The results of this new study suggest that, the sound patterns of human languages are the product of an inborn biological instinct, very much like birdsong” said Prof. Iris Berent of Northeastern University in Boston, who co-authored the study with a research team from the International School of Advanced Studies in Italy, headed by Dr. Jacques Mehler. The study’s first author is Dr. David Gómez.


Consider, for instance, the sound-combinations that occur at the beginning of words. While many languages have words that begin by bl (e.g., blando in Italian, blink in English, and blusa in Spanish), few languages have words that begin with lb. Russian is such a language (e.g., lbu, a word related to lob, “forehead”), but even in Russian such words are extremely rare and outnumbered by words starting with bl. Linguists have suggested that such patterns occur because human brains are biased to favor syllables such as bla over lba. In line with this possibility, past experimental research from Dr. Berent’s lab has shown that adult speakers display such preferences, even if their native language has no words resembling either bla or lba. But where does this knowledge stem from? Is it due to some universal linguistic principle, or to adults’ lifelong experience with listening and producing their native language?


These questions motivated our team to look carefully at how young babies perceive different types of words. We used near-infrared spectroscopy, a silent and non-invasive technique that tells us how the oxygenation of the brain cortex (those very first centimeters of gray matter just below the scalp) changes in time, to look at the brain reactions of Italian newborn babies when listening to good and bad word candidates as described above (e.g., blif, lbif).

Working with Italian newborn infants and their families, we observed that newborns react differently to good and bad word candidates, similar to what adults do. Young infants have not learned any words yet, they do not even babble yet, and still they share with us a sense of how words should sound. This finding shows that we are born with the basic, foundational knowledge about the sound pattern of human languages.

It is hard to imagine how differently languages would sound if humans did not share such type of knowledge. We are fortunate that we do, and so our babies can come to the world with the certainty that they will readily recognize the sound patterns of words–no matter the language they will grow up with.


Article title: Language universals at birth – Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS)

Article link from PNAS

Authors: David M. Gómez, Iris Berent, Silvia Benavides-Varela, Ricardo Bion, Luigi Cattarossi, Marina Nespor, & Jacques Mehler

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement n° 269502 (PASCAL) to Jacques Mehler.


New Short story posted

Just a note to say that I’ve added a new short story to my scriblings page.

Click Here to read it.

I hope you enjoy it 🙂


Mars alignment tonight!

Mars will be exactly opposite the sun in the sky in a rare cosmic alignment set to take place Tonight (April 8 2014).

Called an opposition, this happens with Mars from Earth’s perspective every 778 days, or 2 years, 1 month and 18 days. Think of Earth and Mars as two cars racing on circular tracks. Because Earth is closer to the sun, it travels faster, completing a circuit in 365 days. Mars is farther from the sun and takes longer, 687 days. By the time Mars has completed one circuit, Earth has a lot of catching up to do to get to a point between the Red Planet and the sun.

This is complicated by the fact that the two racetracks are not exact circles. As Johannes Kepler discovered in the 16th century, the planets follow slightly elliptical paths around the sun, sometimes closer to the Sun (perihelion), sometimes farther away (aphelion).

Some planets, like Venus and Earth, follow paths that are almost perfect circles. Other planets, like Mercury and Mars, follow more elliptical orbits, which are described as being more eccentric, or differing from a circle.

On the day of opposition, Mars, Earth and the sun fall on a straight line. Six days later, both planets will have moved a little along their orbits, but, because of the eccentricity of its orbit, Mars will be slightly closer to Earth than it was before.

If you look at the complete orbits of the four inner planets, you can see how Venus and Earth follow almost perfect circles centered on the sun. The orbits of Mercury and Mars are slightly askew.

From a practical point of view, Mars appears as a very tiny object in most amateur telescopes, almost always a disappointment to a beginner looking at it. The detailed images you see online are almost always made by combining hundreds of individual frames by a process called stacking, which minimizes the “noise” caused by the turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere.

To see that sort of detail at the eyepiece requires tremendous patience, waiting for the rare instants when the Earth’s atmosphere steadies, allowing the fine detail to pop into view. At those instants of clarity, you will see Mars’ polar cap and traces of its subtle differences in terrain.

From The Weather Channel – If you have a telescope it might pay to go out and see Mars 🙂