Tag Archives: Research

Amazing Mr Fox

I’m hosting an un-christmas tomorrow so busy cleaning and cooking, but all work and no play is boring, right? So I did a quick jigsaw puzzle of a fox. Note the eyes:

Slit pupils

Those slit pupils sent me off on a search of the internet where I discovered that fox vision allows them to hunt at dawn and dusk…much like cats. But foxes are related to dogs and wolves. What gives?

The similarities between foxes and cats doesn’t end there. You can find a host of fascinating facts in the article below:


One of those facts is illustrated in the following video:

Amazing Mr Fox!

Okay, well play time is over, got floors to mop… -sigh-… Enjoy your weekend. I’ll have food pics tomorrow πŸ™‚



Seeing in Infrared

I’ve been doing some research on different types of vision, and apparently what we humans see is the visible wavelength of light – i.e. the colours you see in a rainbow. But many animals, and especially insects, see things we can’t. For example, the humble goldfish can see in both infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Without getting too technical, think of wavelengths as a line of spaghetti of different lengths, from shortest to longest. The shortest bits are in the ultraviolet wavelength. The longest bits are in the infrared wavelength, and there in the middle are the colours we humans can see. Blue is longer than ultraviolet and red is shorter than infrared.

For the purposes of my research, infrared was what I was looking for, but what is it, and what does it look like?

We can’t see infrared, not with the naked eye, but we can feel it because infrared is basically the wavelength of ‘heat’. In visual terms, the colder something is, the darker it appears. The hotter something is, the brighter it looks.

Confused? Good, so was I. As a visual creature, I needed to be able to visualise something that is essentially, invisible. Luckily, we have developed special cameras that can:

  • detect infrared wavelengths, and
  • translate them into colours on the visible spectrum – i.e. into colours we can see.

Generally speaking, infrared cameras translate cold images into dark colours such as dark blue or dark purple. As areas of an image warm up, the heat is translated into brighter colours – from red to orange to yellow to white.

In the screenshot below, the infrared camera shows a cold frying pan on a stove top [the yellow labels are mine]:

To get an idea of what the camera sees as the pan heats up, please have a look at this short video on the National Geographic website:


It’s only a very short video [1.18 minutes] and well worth the look [if you have a phobia about mosquitoes, avert your eyes for the first twenty seconds or so]. Isn’t that amazing?

More on why I’m doing this research at a later date. πŸ˜€




Jewellery from Meteorites

I’ve known that some meteorites contain iron for a long time – the starrock of Vokhtah is metal made from ‘found’ meteorites. But I was just guessing when I imagined that the gems worn by the Council of Seven [including the Blue], also came from meteorites. I’ve just learned that I was right, about some of them at least. God, I love research!

Have a look at this:

This is a peridot cut from the Jepara meteorite. A green gem for The Green. πŸ™‚

“Very rarely, meteorites will contain facetable mineral material large enough to actually cut a gemstone, since the heat and impact of the fall can easily destroy most gemmy material or shatter it into tiny fragments. For example, the olivine material in stony and stony-iron meteorites can sometimes yield beautiful peridots.”


Green is more rare than yellow, which works perfectly for me as there are three Councillors in the Yellow faction but only one Green. I haven’t found anything about a blue gem but a little fantasy is okay, right?

While I’m prepared to do a bit of hand-waving [fudging the science] over the colour of the gems, my tolerance does have its limits, so it was wonderful to learn that these gems can ‘fall out’ of the metal matrix due to the presence of water in the environment – i.e. the water makes the iron corrode away leaving the gems behind:

“This Brenham piece was found in a damp, muddy part of the strewnfield and much of the iron-nickel has terrestrialized, while the olivine crystals remain intact. Corroded specimens such as this are unofficially called meteorodes.” [Under the picture of the meteorite].


This is important as the iVokh Smiths have barely made it into Iron Age technology; they needed some way of extracting the gems from the starrock. Plus, it so happens that Vokhtah goes through a season of torrential rain every year [Kohoh].

-pats self on the back-

And to prove that meteorites were used to make jewellery right here on Earth, here’s a picture of a bead found in an Egyptian tomb. It dates back about 5,000 years:

That bead may not look like much, but it is most definitely made from a meteorite. You can find the whole article at the following link:


If anyone is interested in extraterrestrial metals and jewels, the link to geology.com will take you to a brilliant article that gives a very detailed, in-depth explanation of these beautiful visitors to Earth.

But wait, there’s more. πŸ˜€ I wasn’t actually researching gems today, I was researching the metal in meteorites to see if I could find some property of meteorites to ‘identify’ a Healer’s chain that is becoming pivotal to the story of Kaati [Vokhtah book 2].

Iron and Stony-iron meteorites contain both iron and nickel. Earth does have some iron-nickel but it’s rare. Meteorites have it in abundance [one way of identifying them]. For my purposes, the following is of great interest:

“Iron-nickel (terrestrial or extraterrestrial) develops a coating of rust if washed or if kept in a humid area. If a specimen must be washed with water, it should be thoroughly dried.”


I knew that terrestrial iron would rust if not protected, but its nice to know that I was right about starrock as well :

“Left alone in the empty bathing cavern, the Voice sighed as it picked up the discarded cloth and dried the large starrock medallion that hung from its neck.Β  Starrock did not like water. It hoped the na-Seneschal would remember that, but suspected the young iVokh would not. There were still a great many things the na-Seneschal did not know about being a Voice. Foremost among them was knowing when to bend and when to stand firm.”

[Vokhtah, book 1]

Getting back to the Healer’s chain, however, I think I may have found what I’m looking for in a type of meteorite called ataxite. It has an exceptionally high nickel content which gives the metal a strange, almost white colour:


“Today, modern blacksmiths are still following the tradition: a blacksmith from historical re-enactment group ASBL Lucilinburhuc created a sword incorporating a chunk of ataxitea type of meteorite with an unusually high proportion of nickel, at least 18 percent.”


The red emphasis is mine. If you’re interested in the process, this is the video made of the creation of the sword:

The truly interesting thing is that the meteorite wasn’t melted. It was heated and then hammered to gradually remove the impurities. This is called forging and is a technique that my iVokh Smiths could have mastered quite easily!

The following is a screenshot taken from the very end of the video. It shows the amazing colour [almost white] and the patterning left behind after the ‘etching’ process [an acid bath to bring out the folds]:

The video includes other techniques that the iVokh probably wouldn’t have had access to, but then they weren’t making a sword, just the links for a simple chain. An unusual chain that fits my plot perfectly.

I have the degree of possibility I need. πŸ˜€





Did you know that…?

Okay, I’m sure you’re all sick of my love affair with odd bits of information so…I promise, this will be the last [for now]. πŸ˜€

Allow me to introduce you to the Harpy Eagle of Central America:

See that Harpy Eagle chick? See its talons? If you watch that amazing video you will learn that the feet of a fully grown Harpy Eagle are more powerful than the jaws of a Rottweiler. You will also learn that the back talon is used to stab the eagle’s prey:


Guess who’s going to have killing talons like the Harpy Eagle? Mwahahaha!



Eagles…and their feet

Although I was happy with the iVokh having ostrich ‘legs’, I wanted them to have more powerful looking feet. Today, I found those feet attached to the body of giant eagles capable of carrying fully grown mountain goats. If you don’t believe me, have a look at these pics:

I took those screenshots from the Youtube video below:

The narrative of the video was that a snow leopard was hunting the goat. The leopard missed, and the eagle flew in to capture the goat instead.

My interest centred around the ability of the eagle to capture, hold and fly away with a creature much bigger than itself [not counting wingspan]. Something similar played out in Vokhtah when the Six [the Vokh ruler of the eyrie], lifts and kills a huge to’pakh.

At the time I wrote that scene, I was working from imagination only. But to make the iVokh and Vokh truly come alive, I had to prove to myself that such a feat was actually possible. Today I did just that. It is possible, and my respect for eagles has soared [excuse the pun].

Now I’m off to add some eagle feet to my concept drawing.



And then there were…ostriches?

Yes, I’ve been researching ostriches today, but only for their legs. In particular, I wanted to find out why their knees bend backwards.

Well, it turns out that ostrich knees don’t bend backward at all; the thing that looks like a knee is actually an ankle. But who am I to criticize a bird that’s capable of running between 60 and 70 km per hour!

If you’re interested in this amazing bird, you can find a really good article about it right here. For me, though, the point about ostrich legs is that they make the bird look as if it’s standing upright, more or less. This makes the leg structure perfect for the Vokh as I want them to walk upright as well.

I’ve only just started to work on the Vokh legs so you’ll have to use your imagination rather a lot. First I traced around a pair of ostrich legs:

[Note: I found the Corel Draw B-Spline drawing tool really handy for tracing the outline.]

Next, I found a picture of some black opera gloves, you know, the kind that go half way up to the shoulder. To my great joy, the elbows were shown as slightly bent. I traced around them too, but this time, I used the tracing to cut out the glove I wanted:

Yes, it’s the same glove flipped horizontally. πŸ™‚

Fitting the glove texture into the ostrich legs is going to take some tricky re-engineering, especially as I need to add ‘proper’ raptor feet complete with killing claws, but that’s for another day. I’m thrilled to have solved the problem of the legs so easily.

As always, thanks for joining me on these odd detours into research and graphics. πŸ™‚




The Eye of the Spine

I have a bad cold and my brain feels like cotton wool, so rather than doing productive work, I’ve been doing jigsaws on screen. This is what I just found:

It’s a lake in the caldera of an extinct, or at least, inactive volcano. If you were to flip that image vertically and then rotate it a little, you’d end up with something like this:

Now, let’s just draw a rough outline of the lake and fill it in…

And finally, compare it to the eye of a cat…

…and…hey presto! You have the Eye of the Spine!

Many years ago, when I was working out the geography of Vokhtah, I came up with this rather crude map:

The blue blob at the top of the map [just above the label for ‘The Spine’] was my idea of how the ‘Eye of the Spine’ might look. I never imagined I’d ever find a real picture that actually looked like the eye of a Vokh! -dance-

As a quick explanation, the map is drawn from the perspective of a Vokh, one of the flying alien species in the story of Vokhtah. The eyes of both Vokh and iVokh have vertical pupils similar to those of a cat. Unlike cats, however, their nictating membrane [semi-transparent, inner eyelid] opens and closes vertically rather than horizontally.

Thus, from a certain angle, a Vokh flying high above that lake would see the shape of an ‘eye’, its own eye. Hence the name given to the lake.

I’m going to count this amazing find as ‘research’ rather than play. πŸ˜€




More research – sky diving!

I’m terrified of heights so just watching this made me queasy, but…Kaati has to fall backwards from a height and somehow flip right way up so it can fly instead of splatter. Yeah…

I tried springboard diving, gymnastics diving, even looked at some jetman videos but this one gave me exactly what I needed. Watch!

Okay, that was very quick so let me break it down for you. He starts with his back to the fall and does a swan dive away from the plane, but not straight back. He’s leading with his left arm and twisting his body to the left as soon as he’s airborne [keep your eye on that watch on his left wrist]:

Can you see how he turns on his vertical axis until he’s belly down towards the ground? Now he can do acrobatics or open his parachute because he’s facing the right way. Same with Kaati; even iVokh can’t flight ‘inverted’. πŸ™‚

You’re probably wondering why such a small point should matter…but you see it’s these small points that make sci-fi or even fantasy feel real. Plus I am anal. Thank god for DuckduckduckGo and youtube. πŸ˜€

Have a great Sunday!


Kaati & the Bulb Tree

The subconscious is a wonderful thing. I needed a tall, alien-looking tree that could survive the season of hunger on Vokhtah…and I found it!

May I introduce a baobab tree you may not have seen before:

You can find more pictures of this amazing tree here:


The reason this particular picture excites me so much is that in the story, Kaati can’t find shelter in a cave. Instead, it heads towards a waterhole and lands in the middle of a ‘Bulb Tree’ [clearly my subconscious remembered the ‘bulbous’ shape of the baobab]

As with the real baobab, Bulb trees shed their leaves in summer and survive extremely harsh conditions thanks to the water stored in their bulbous trunks. There’s that lovely word again. As in the picture, it’s the very end of Tohoh on Vokhtah [the Dry or the season of hunger], and the river is reduced to one or two waterholes, but the tall, smooth-trunked bulb trees provide a safe haven from the to’pakh because the great beasts can’t reach the canopy, even with their long, spiked tongues.

It’s absolutely perfect, and I’m thrilled. Even though a great deal of Vokhtah is fantasy, I love being able to base much of the world building on reality.

Hope your Friday is as good as mine. πŸ™‚





Vokhtan calendar – complete

This is the final version of the Vokhtan calendar. It shows the interactions between the two suns and the planet with respect to seasons [roughly] and the day/night cycle [also roughly].

For the days, I made an executive decision and decreed that the Vokhtan day would comprise 24 ‘turns’. I chose the number 24 because I needed to dissect a circle into ‘wedges’ of time. Now, a circle has 365 degrees and a ‘wedge’ of 15.2 degrees goes into 365 almost exactly 24 times. This is something Corel Draw does very easily:

Now, when I place these wedges of time over the visuals of the planet, I get a kind of clock that tells me how many turns of bright light, red light, orange light and dark there are in the day at different times of the year:

Bright light = yellow sun Takh alone in the sky.

Red light = red dwarf, Takhti, alone in the sky.

Orange light = both suns in the sky at the same time.

Dark = truedark, i.e. when neither sun is in the sky.

This is a representation of a day in the middle of Piihoh. The red dwarf is completely eclipsed, so Vokhtah has just a simple, day/night cycle:

This next graphic is from the middle of Tohoh:

The day begins with almost 2 turns of Takh [yellow star] alone in the sky [because the planet rotates to the east]. Then Takhti rises and creates an orangey kind of light. When Takh sets, Takhti is alone in the sky for a couple of turns and it’s like a red twilight. When Takhti finally sets, truedark begins.

This next graphic is what the Vokh see in the middle of Kohoh – half red twilight, half bright yellow day, no truedark:

And finally, the graphic from the middle of Tuhoh. This is a mirror image of the same time during Tohoh but…this time, it’s the red dwarf that ‘rises’ first [because the planet rotates to the east]. It’s alone in the sky for a couple of turns and the inhabitants experience a red, gloomy morning. Then Takh [yellow sun] rises to brighten the gloom. At the end of the day, Takh shines alone. When Takh sets, truedark begins:

So there you have it. Time on Vokhtah has been tamed. Most days start with firstlight, progress to secondlight, peak at midlight, dim with firstdark and end with truedark. Middark is the halfway point of any dark cycle, while deepdark is the ‘dead of night’ and corresponds to the time between middark and firstlight.

Was all this work worth it, given that it was all based on guesswork?

Yes, for me, because I’ve never been good at ‘fudging’ things, and I desperately needed to know what Takh and Takhti might feel like, to a creature living on the planet.

Why didn’t I just get an astronomer to help me?

Because I don’t know any, and none of the websites I visited had what I was looking for. So I made my own. πŸ™‚

As this post is more for my benefit than yours, I’ve turned comments off. πŸ™‚



%d bloggers like this: