COSMOS Magazine – Science on the iPad.

I haven’t written an app review since leaving my last job, but after downloading COSMOS Magazine on my iPad the other day, I felt compelled share my thoughts with you.

For several years now I have enjoyed reading the print copy as often as I could. I’m a lazy subscriber (which means I never actually got around to to signing up – sorry guys); but when the iPad was released in 2010 I knew it would only be a matter of time before I let the moths out of my wallet. Today I did and frankly, the result is awesome.

The meticulously researched and well-written articles from the print edition are still there and have been enhanced with audio and video content that was previously available only online. Surprises exist on almost every page no matter which way you rotate the tablet device, beginning with a rather disconcerting wink from the half man, half ape on the cover.

COSMOS Magazine provides a visual feast for their readers with hotspots on many of the pictures and illustrations, as well as slideshows to further stimulate your optic nerve. Although much of the photography has been sourced from image libraries, the selection is excellent and the photos themselves are incredibly detailed. The growling grass frog’s antimicrobial slime practically dribbles from the corner of the iPad as the South American hummingbird pauses mid-flight to take a sip of nectar. The skin of the Rancophorus nigropalmatus is bound to give you warts and I’m not quite sure I want to touch the venomous spines on the puss caterpillar’s fluff as I swipe my fingers across the screen to turn the page 😉

The ‘Events’ page features a monthly roundup of scientific exhibitions from the Royal Institution of Australia. Tap on the link and the event is automatically added to your calendar. There is also an interactive ‘Trivia’ page for the true geek. Do you know what the gap between people’s front teeth is called, or what shape the carbon molecule buckminsterfullerene resembles?

The live newsfeed from the COSMOS website allows the reader to access the latest stories, comment on the content and subscribe to the eNewsletter. You can share practically every page on FaceBook, Twitter and email; and bookmark articles for future reference.

Volcanoes erupt in the background as future humans evolve right before your very eyes. Even the advertising has been enhanced for the iPad, yet they haven’t gone overboard with the animations.

From the exceptional illustrations by Lucy Glover to the neat little features such as the ability to follow Editor-in-Chief Wilson da Silva’s twitter stream from the Forward on page 3, COSMOS is a marvelous mobile magazine and a fantastic read for all ages.

Please note: Although I am friends with two of the founders of COSMOS Media, this is not an advertisement for their magazine and I am not affiliated with the company in any way.  I am a subscriber of the iPad version of COSMOS Magazine and the views expressed here are my own.

Pine Gap Teaser 05 – Sex, Blood and Rump Steak

Its been a while since I shared any of my novel with you all, so here’s teaser number 5. In this scene are Colonel Gabriel Drax – Head of Security and resident hero, Admiral Silas Dargan – main protagonist and nasty little herbivore, Chief Science Officer Lilakoi Paige – Gabriel’s love interest, Major Katana May – family friend of the Admiral who is now doubting said friendship, and Lieutenant Nicholas Schiffiletti – Head of Communications.

Enjoy!

Seven hundred and ninety eight million two hundred and forty two thousand nine hundred and thirteen calculations later, Chief Science Officer Lilakoi Paige had done it. Her program had finally learned how to reassemble life by studying how not to; and she was aching to test it out. Mathematically the theory was flawless but common sense called it absurd. Only a proper test would provide the answer so she contacted the Admiral for approval.

“Well done my dear, well done. I really didn’t think you would get this far so soon. Your parents would be proud.”

A backwards compliment kept her in her place and the reference to her parents reminded Lilakoi who was the boss. She hated the Admiral more than any other being she had ever known. All she wanted now was to complete her job and get out of this godforsaken place.

“When can we test it Admiral?”

“Right now of course. When else would you like?”

He always spoke down to her, treating her like a slave instead of giving her the respect she deserved. She had completed a task on her own that has taken teams of scientists decades to get nowhere. Lilakoi reflected on the different management styles of the Commanding Officers she had served under since arriving at Pine Gap. Admiral Silas Dargan was rude and callous, never caring for anyone’s opinion but his own and always treating his charges with contempt. His methods of motivation were through intimidation, fear and the threat of recriminations. There was no respect in the camp for this creature, nor was there any loyalty. Only obedience expressed under duress.

Colonel Gabriel Drax on the other hand had earned the reverence of his peers within hours of his arrival. He only exerted his authority if he perceived the situation to be getting out of hand and he always spoke kindly to Lilakoi no matter how she addressed him. He had united the troops, brought fairness and equity to the duties and effectively encouraged the sharing of skills amongst the diverse range of military experiences.

Reflecting on the handsome Colonel brought a pain to her chest and she began to wonder whether she had handled the situation this morning poorly. Gabriel was a leader, someone that they could all turn to in a crisis, and if Lilakoi wanted to be with him she would have to share him with everyone else.

Now she had identified her problem! She wanted to be with him so badly that sharing was out of the question. And she was jealous. Her irrational outburst at breakfast was due entirely to her own anxiety and the sudden arrival of the green-eyed monster. Lilakoi was ashamed at her behaviour and was at a loss as to how she would salvage a situation that may already be broken beyond repair.

The monster was screaming at her.

“Are you there? What are you doing you stupid woman? I’m giving you an order damn it and you better follow it to the letter. Insubordination is a serious charge you know.”

Lilakoi shook off the sad fog of regret.

“I’m sorry Admiral, there was a problem with the communicator. I can hear you clearly now. What do you need me to do?”

It was a nice save, if he believed it.

He did.

“One more time for the idiot in the room. Go and find Major May, Lieutenant Schiffiletti and a side of beef. I will meet all four of you at the elevators in ten minutes and please place the carcass in charge. Its undoubtedly the most intelligent of you all.”

The belligerent beast switched off the communication without another word and Lilakoi sat seething in the silence for several seconds. When she had calmed herself down she started the process of establishing a direct link between the secure terminal in the converted master bedroom of her terrace and the offline mainframe on level ninety-nine. As the two computers negotiated the encrypted passwords she called Major Katana May over the radio and relayed what the Admiral’s instructions were, down to the point of placing the dead animal in charge.

“I take it you’re learning a few new lessons about my old ‘uncle’ too then?”

“I’m sorry Major, I know he’s a long-standing family friend, but I find the man to be a bellicose bully.”

“He was my father’s associate Lily, not mine. Personally I feel that there are people here at Pine Gap who are more balanced, sensible and pragmatic than the Admiral ever was. Plenty of better choices for a friend I would think.”

Lilakoi knew what Katana was alluding to but she chose not to acknowledge her. Coming to terms with being a jealous troll was one thing, admitting it to others was another.

“Do you know where Nick is?”

“He went to see the prisoner Katarg with the Colonel. I’m not sure if they have returned as yet.”

“Ok, I’ll go find him could you please arrange for the test subject.”

“No problem, see you in ten. May out.”

Lilakoi attempted to raise Lieutenant Nicholas Schiffiletti on the communicator and found him in the process of changing cars on level thirty. She knew if Gabriel were with him he would be going through the psychic torment of the Mombaly madness so she asked after his condition.

“The Colonel? He’s fine. I mean he looks like he’s gone five rounds with a heavyweight champion but otherwise he’s ok.”

Gabriel listened to the conversation and daydreamed about the night he had spent with Lily. In his hand he held the metallic splinter that Katarg had used to identify the destination of the shredders. As his fists clenched in a vain attempt to stave off the violent, extra-sensory assault of the Mombaly convicts the blast-honed edges punctured his palm and he knew he would need more stitches before lunchtime.

By level twenty-eight Gabriel was fine and Lilakoi was gone. He placed his hand in his pocket to hide the injury and remained silent until they all got out on level sixteen. Standing outside the doors were Admiral Dargan, CSO Paige and Major May carrying a rump roast.

Lilakoi was shocked at Gabriel’s appearance. Nick had lied to her and he didn’t look fine at all.

“Your face! What did you do?”

Drax countenance was caked in blood, with black polyester knots holding his cheek together and reddish-brown butterfly clips keeping his eye open. His shirt collar and sleeve were stained a dark vermillion and his neck had long stripes of black coagulate that resembled knife wounds. Even Silas gave a brief look of concern. Lilakoi reached up to touch him but he intercepted her hand with his own, depositing a fresh scarlet river onto her forearm.

“Don’t worry about me I can look after myself. Where are you people going?”

If Silas was ever concerned for the welfare of the Head of Security, it dissipated immediately.

“None of your business Colonel. Come along ladies, you too Nick.”

The Admiral found his path to the elevator blocked by a blood-soaked behemoth, brandishing a loaded pulse rifle and bearing a look on his face that would have scared Satan. Silas, who had only taken one step forward, took two quick steps back as Nick shuffled sideways to get out of the way. Lilakoi placed her hands to her mouth in shock and sorrow. She’d set out this morning to destroy Gabriel’s character, regretfully she may have succeeded.

The nasty little herbivore was taken aback for only a moment. He had been in situations like this before and he knew how to handle them.

“Get out of the way you oaf or I’ll have you arrested.”

“On the contrary Admiral. If you choose not to obey the lawful commands of the Head of Security during a declaration of Sovereign Law, it is you who will be arrested.”

The squad behind Drax took his lead and immediately aimed their weapons at the Admiral. It was a standoff between the indomitable force and the immovable object, the outcome of which would determine the balance of power at Pine Gap once and for all. Unfortunately for Silas the Colonel was technically correct, even though there was no real precedence for detaining a man of his rank or stature during a time when Sovereign Law was proclaimed. Silas was also keen to test out his latest toy, so he backed down.

“My apologies Colonel, you are of course correct. I am simply taking my team here on a little tour of the prison levels to get some exercise and feed the Yowie.”

Admiral Dargan tried to smile after his little fib to give it more credence but he only managed an obsequious sneer. Drax knew he was lying and Katana grimaced at the obvious nature of the Admiral’s untruth. Yet in spite of the evident falsehood Gabriel let him go.

“Thank you Admiral. My squad will accompany you on your tour.”

That was the last straw for Dargan. He had been held up long enough and as his impatience reached critical mass he let his feelings spill out.

“Now you listen to me boy. I will not be dictated to by you or any of the miscreant morons residing at this facility. I will decide if and when I need to use any of your pathetic soldiers and then I will personally choose who I take. Do I make myself clear?”

Drax still barred the path to the elevator and as blood dripped from his hand onto his boot he delivered a cool, calm and calculated reply.

“The only thing clear to me is your ignorant stupidity. My orders demand that all groups travel with a minimum contingent of four armed personnel. Major May is the only member of your team who has a weapon but you have her carrying an armful of steak.”

Both Nick and Lilakoi had retreated behind Silas at this point so he couldn’t see the expressions on their faces. Katana and the other soldiers remained stoic, yet reveling in Gabriel’s admonishment of the Admiral. The Colonel paused only long enough to take a breath and then he continued.

“I will also add for the record that I am utterly sick and tired of your continued criticism toward the staff. Personally I have found all of the inhabitants here to be resourceful and highly skilled soldiers. They work well together without any sign of racial or inter-special schism and they learn from each other. You on the other hand are a diseased dinosaur. An ancient twisted relic, perpetuating a war the cause of which has been long forgotten. So, if you dare to cast aspersions against these people that I have grown fond of, I will charge you with insubordination and incarcerate you in the dankest, dingiest most uncomfortable cell I can find. Do you understand?”

The Admiral was fuming, but Drax had won. It was time to concede defeat.

“Yes, yes I understand.”

“Yes WHAT!”

“Yes sir.”

“Yes Colonel! I’m a Colonel and you are an Admiral remember? Even though we are under Sovereign Law you do not refer to me as sir.”

“Yes Colonel.”

“We have reached an accord then. My troopers will escort you on your tour. Good day.”

Drax watched the lift door close before he allowed himself to laugh. The confrontation had greatly elevated his mood and raised his spirits out of the dark pit from which four trips to Starca had dragged him. He smelled like sex, blood and body odour. It was time for a shower and a change of clothes.

Pine Gap Synopsis

Deep in the heart of the Australian desert an impenetrable military prison is being invaded by an insidious aggressor. Time is running out for the small defence force who are no match for rotting corpses, giant spiders, voracious sabellids and the other alien beasts that begin appearing around the facility. As the indiscriminate killings continue only the arrival of Colonel Gabriel Drax gives the fractured team any chance of survival. But will this brilliant tactician lead them to safety, or is he too late?

Pine Gap is a science fiction / action novel set in the thirty first century. I chose to use Pine Gap as the main setting because of its remote presence in the Australian outback and the fact that public knowledge about what is actually at Pine Gap is more conjectural than fact. A quick search on the Internet will provide the reader with many theories both plausible and fanciful as to the true workings of this facility. Pine Gap’s mystique makes for good subject matter.

In my novel, Pine Gap has been converted into an impenetrable prison where the hardest criminals in the Universe are sent. Its construction is entirely underground and so well defended that it has also become a databank for the intellectual property of all the peaceful nations within the galaxy. Bank accounts, patents, military secrets etc are stored here alongside monsters, terrorists and captured enemy Generals. In spite of all its security however, someone is managing to get in.

The main character is Colonel Gabriel Drax. He is a highly decorated officer and a skilled military tactician who was born in Australia and has been brought to the Gap in order to provide security. Gabriel suffered an accident as a child, which required in experimental surgery to be performed on his brain. As a result of his many operations Gabriel often has vague nightmares warning him about the future. All the while that he is trying to build a defensive position he is bombarded by an abstruse extrasensory perception. He knows that he is going to be betrayed but he does not know if it will be his friend, his enemy or his lover.

The other main characters are:

Admiral Dargan – He is the incumbent commander of Pine Gap who places Colonel Drax in charge. Gabriel knows that Dargan is developing something sinister in the bowels of the facility and it doesn’t take long to deduce what that is. Dargan has a long history of incompetent leadership and as a result he is despised by many of his subordinates especially Colonel Drax.

Major Katana May from Military Intelligence who is Admiral Dargan’s niece. Katana has a fiery temper, which lands her in hot water on more than one occasion. Gabriel develops a fondness for her regardless of her relationship to Admiral Dargan and in spite of the fact he knows she has been ordered to spy on him.

Captain Sebastian Botha who is Gabriel’s closest friend. Sebastian is a loyal soldier and confidant who would follow Gabriel into the depths of hell if need be. Their friendship was forged over years of fighting side by side during various campaigns throughout the Universe. Sebastian enjoys telling stories of their battles to the other troopers and sharing bourbon with his friend.

Lilakoi Paige who is the Chief Science Officer and Gabriel’s love interest. Lily is an incredibly intelligent scientist whom Gabriel is always trying to keep up with. She was brought to Pine Gap to assist Admiral Dargan achieve his insidious goals but she is in love with Gabriel and cannot seem to focus properly on her efforts. The more she falls for him the more she becomes conflicted about her actions.

Lieutenant Nick Schiffiletti who manages the Communications. Nick is a young, small-framed boy in his early twenties with a natural flair for computers. He is in charge of ensuring that Admiral Dargan’s communiqués are kept private and that the experiment remains a secret. He is also somewhat of a military historian with a deep respect for the Drax family. The arrival of Gabriel makes Nick think twice about his part in the Admiral’s deception.

Declan Sharkey, a mercenary who is leading the invasion. Declan is an ex soldier who was too violent to remain in the armed forces. He is an evil, smooth talking murderer who leads a group of insurgents with similar tendencies.

The Jones Brothers are three humanoids from the planet Tortia who are financing the mercenaries. Tortians are a race of people who have been genetically enhancing their appearances for generations. As a result their DNA has changed to the point that they all look exactly the same. The downside is they have become genetically perfect geniuses that are also criminally insane.

Garou, a shape-shifter and tribal chieftain from Scarag. He and his family are being used as pawns in the Tortian’s plans.

There are many other minor characters that will engage the reader in their own unique way. There is Fricassee Phil, the ancient chef who dispenses wisdom alongside his bacon and eggs. The grim Master Chief, leader of the last remaining squad of Red Cap soldiers in the Universe. Mo, the gruff Tullimbar Sergeant who befriends the Master Chief in spite of their differences and General Garorky Katarg a high ranking officer of the Magadatch army who are at war with Earth and our allies.

Throughout the novel the characters develop and change. Friends become enemies and enemies become allies. There is love, death and romance intermingled with jealousy, greed and infighting as Gabriel attempts to unite the troops and repel the invaders. Families splinter and murderers are exposed as the troops learn to trust one another and their leader in a desperate bid for survival.

Pine Gap © Matthew Green 2004

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