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My Best Reads of 2020, Part 2: More Book Reviews

Some great reviews by Audrey Driscoll, Vokhtah included, but also an excellent review of The Old Woman and the Mad Horse. It’s written by an Aussie buddy of mine, Cage Dunn, and I can attest to the fact that it’s a great read.

I haven’t read the other two books, but my TBR pile is starting to look rather thin so…:) Oh! And while you’re looking at all these books, check out Audrey ‘s Herbert West quartet. One word: awesome. 🙂

Cheers
Meeks

Audrey Driscoll's Blog

Here are my thoughts on four more books I read and greatly enjoyed in the first six months of 2020.

First, books by writers from Australia, which seems to be a beehive of creativity in the 21st century.

Book cover image for The Old Woman and the Mad Horse by Cage Dunn & Rose Brimson

The Old Woman & the Mad Horse – Case File for: The Big Three Mining Investigation by Cage Dunn and Rose Brimson
The tension starts on the first page and doesn’t let up until nearly the end. Hella Solaris is an investigator for a shadowy organization opposing a mega-corporation’s efforts to gain technological domination of the earth’s population. Her intent to step back from active service in a small rural community is thwarted, first by the presence of an angry horse, and then by a criminal element who wants to drive her away, and finally, by discoveries and developments that entangle the personal with the professional.

This is a thriller of sorts…

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Pink tea, pizza and glasses

I don’t normally do plugs for brands, but I’ve totally fallen in love with this Nerada, Organic Rosehip with Lemongrass and Ginger Tea. It has no tea in it, which means it contains no caffeine, which means I can drink it after 12:00 midday without losing sleep at night. But the best thing about it is the flavour. It actually tastes nice…as in, I actually look forward to drinking it.

Who’d a thunk a herbal tea could taste good?

Apologies to all my Greenie friends. You were right. I should have listened.

Next, I’d like to draw your attention to the artfully displayed slices of pizza next to the tea. The filling includes tomato paste, homegrown basil, Greek fetta and homemade caramelised red salad onions. Oh, and the pizza base is homemade too. Click here to be taken to the recipe.

The Offspring made it all last night for dinner, and because it isn’t super greasy like commercial pizza, we could reheat it for lunch without feeling as if we were swallowing bucketfuls of grease! But the Offspring didn’t stop there. This morning, my clever Offspring fixed my computer glasses for me!

Back in the old world, I would have hopped in the car, driven down to Warrandyte village and asked the nice people at Eyes-on-Warrandyte to fix it for me. But the old world is gone. We’re not quite into a doomsday scenario, but it’s still not safe to go shopping, whatever the politicians may say. So what was I to do?

DIY, of course. I got out my trusty computer tools and a small magnifying glass and quickly realised that the screw holding one arm to the frame was close to falling out. Part of the reason for that was that a small thingumajiggie was bent.

I won’t bore you with the, um, technical details. All I’ll say is that I took the screw out and straightened the thingumajiggie, but could not get the damn screw back in. I simply could not see what I was doing, even with the magnifying glasses. See for yourself. These are my specs next to the tools:

Now, this is a closeup of the screw that goes in the glasses to hold the arm in place:

I was swearing in a very ladylike way, “Oh poppycock and balderdash!” when the Offspring came to my rescue. Said Offspring did some swearing too, but in the end…ta dah…my glasses are as good as new!

Thank you, Offspring. You will eat tonight. 🙂

And there you have it. An eccentric post for the new era of Do It Yourself. 🙂

cheers
Meeks


Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore – Author Updates #Reviews -#Shortstories Cathy Cade, #Science Fiction A.C. Flory, #Historical Apple Gidley

Three author updates from Sally’s Smorgasbord Cafe & Bookstore…and Vokhtah is one of them! I’m so thrilled.:)

Stay well,
Meeks

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the first of the author updates with recent reviews for authors on the shelves of the Cafe and Bookstore.

The first author today is Cathy Cade for her short story collection Witch Way and other Ambiguous Stories.

About the Collection

Characters who aren’t all they seem – or are they? You decide.

A tale inspired by the White Rabbit, one set in the shadow of Vesuvius, and one in a garden pond.

Meet Mirlings and Brownies, a misguided confidante, an unlikely Samaritan, a trainee mortician, and a witch  …or not.

A recent review for the collection.

Phil 5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant collection  Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 12 May 2020

Cathy is an excellent writer. The well written short stories and poetry in this book are varied and eclectic, the product of a wonderfully fertile imagination.

My favourite but only just, is probably…

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Alternatives to Killing People for the Economy

I barely know how to balance my household budget, let alone fix the economic crises facing the world, but…I do understand the social contract that got us all here in the first place.

That social contract goes all the way back to the earliest days of homo sapiens, and it’s based on co-operation /within/ the group which allowed the group to compete with the ‘outside’. In other words, the group was stronger than each individual and therefore protected the majority of individuals within the group.

Even today, herbivores that can’t fight off predators on their own congregate in large herds. The sheer size of those herds provides a measure of safety to every animal in the herd…except those on the very edge. Yet even they have a better chance with the herd than if they were on their own.

Humans are herd animals whether we want to admit it or not, and all the rules and structures we’ve invented over the millennia evolved to allow ever increasing numbers of humans to live in our herds without turning on each other.

Thus protection from the ‘outside’ always required an element of compromise. For example, to allow the herd to survive, individuals are banned from killing each other. When that rule is broken, punishment follows.

No one wants to be punished, but we accept it because it’s still better than being deprived of all the benefits society [the herd] provides.

This, at its most basic, is the social contract. It’s what we expect of our governments and institutions. It’s the reason we accept rulers, the Law of the Land [herd] and pay taxes.

Unfortunately, being human, we always want more. More goods, more safety, more power, more ego stroking. And that’s okay too, up to a point.

What point? The point at which the desires of individuals start to threaten society as a whole.

I believe we are at one of those points now. The primary role of government, any government, is to protect the lives of its citizens. Instead, our governments are sacrificing lives to protect an imaginary concept called ‘the economy’.

The following article by Cynthia Kaufman explores the idea of the ‘economy’, how it works now, and how it could work in the future. As she says “The economy exists to serve our needs, it isn’t a god which requires sacrificial victims.’

Cynthia Kaufman

As the U.S. begins to reopen after being shut down to protect us from spreading Covid-19, many people are beginning to talk about a choice between what is good for the economy and what will keep us healthy. Much pain and suffering has come as people have lost their livelihoods and their homes, and so we need to move quickly to put into place the things that will ensure that people have what they need to live. But rather than sacrificing people for the economy, we need to rethink what we mean by “the economy.” No one needs to be killed for us to have a healthy economy.

We live in a world where there is enough of everything we need for us all to live well, and to do so within the ecological limits of the planet. And yet, as the Covid-19 crisis has laid bare, the social systems…

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Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore – New Book on the Shelves – #SciFi Innerscape Omnibus: Books 1 to 3 of the Innerscape trilogy by A.C. Flory

Just checked my email and discovered that Sally has the Innerscape books in the Cafe. -dance- Please pop in and say hello. There are a lot of very talented writers there so I’m thrilled to be included. 🙂

Meeks-doing-a-happy-dance

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Delighted to welcome another author, A.C. Flory to the Cafe and Bookstore with her books. I am featuring the Innerscape Omnibus: Books 1 to 3 of the Innerscape trilogywhich was released on April 12th 2020.

About the Innerscape omnibus

Innerscape: a virtual paradise where the terminally ill live out their lives in young, pain free bodies.

But Miira Tahn discovers paradise is an illusion. An assassin stalks the Burning Man.

Lies masquerade as truth.

Together with her friends, Miira plunges into a deadly game of cat and mouse.

If she loses, she loses everything.

Her life – Those she loves – All of Innerscape.

One of the reviews for Nabatea (Innerscape Book 3)

D. W. Peach 5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome sci-fi series

Oooh, I loved this series, and now that it’s over, I’m suffering from a book hangover.

Nabatea is the final book in the Innerscape…

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Teacup Fairy Gardens — My OBT

Teacup Fairy Gardens — My OBT

These tiny gardens were just too gorgeous not to share. 🙂


New Book Page

Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve changed my book page. Instead of listing links to my books on non-Amazon sites, I’ve simply provided links to those books which are free for download as epubs [suitable for Kobo etc].

As before, the free books are available via the sync.com site and no registration or sign-in is required. Click the ‘Free Books by acflory’ tab at the top of this page to access the links.

I currently have two ebooks available for free download:

  • Miira, book 1 of Innerscape
  • The Vintage Egg

Please feel free to download both of them.

Okay, that’s it. I’ve done my admin., vacuumed and mopped all the floors, washed and disinfected surfaces, soothes disgruntled cats and generally been very productive…now it’s time for play!

cheers
Meeks


Covid-19 – a young patient

I just started watching the WHO video on the declaration of Covid-19 as a pandemic. The screenshot below is taken from that video. It’s something all young males should see:

A young Italian Covid-19 patient on a ventilator

Look at his chest. This is not the chest of an old man. It is the chest of a young man who was probably fit and healthy. Yet there he is, hooked up to a ventilator, his lungs full of fluid, unable to breathe on his own.

The old bullshit about how you’ve got nothing to worry about is not true.

Change your behaviour NOW.

The life you save may well be your own.

Meeks

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ebooks – for memoirs, cookbooks, picture books, etc

I haven’t written any how-to’s on how to create an ebook because I assumed there were countless how-to’s out there already. I was both right and wrong; there are lots of people providing helpful information about text-based ebooks such as novels, but there are not that many devoted to graphics heavy ebooks.

This distinction was brought home to me when one of my blogging friends needed help with a picture book. He was trying to create an ebook with both pictures and carefully formatted text.

It can be done, but the digital technology we have at the moment is limited when it comes to integrating text and graphics.

Before I start on possible solutions, and/or workarounds, I want to explain what those limitations are, and why they cause problems with graphics heavy ebooks.

Things ordinary ebooks can do

Ordinary ebooks are great with text but just barely okay with pictures. That’s because they’re not really ‘books’ at all. They’re more like rolls of toilet paper with words projected onto them.  The story literally unrolls in an ebook.

This has significant advantages. For starters, as ereaders don’t care about the size or number of words shown on their screens, the reader can make those words as big, or small, as they please…for the whole ‘book’. I use this feature all the time because my eyesight ain’t what it used to be.

Things ordinary ebooks can’t do

Unfortunately, the very flexibility of ebooks can create problems when it comes to adding pictures to the text. Pictures don’t ‘flow’ the way text does, so getting them to fit the screen requires that they be sized for the screen.

But which screen? There are dozens of different digital devices from smartphones to dedicated ereaders to tablets of various sizes. Making an image to fit one screen almost guarantees that it won’t quite fit another.

Another problem with pictures is that not all digital devices are in colour. Dedicated ereaders, such as ordinary Kindles and Paperwhites, only do grayscale.

To display a picture in colour, the digital device has to be some kind of tablet [like the Kindle Fire] or a mobile phone. So again, which device should you optimise for?

And finally, because of their ability to ‘flow’ the text, ebooks don’t do precise formatting. Unfortunately, graphics heavy books like memoirs, cookbooks, picture books etc, look best when the formatting is controlled and the pictures are in colour.

To work around this fundamental problem with ebook design, Amazon created a number of specialist programs:

  • Kindle Kid’s Book Creator
  • Kindle Comic Creator
  • Kindle Create

I took a quick peek at Kindle Kids, and I couldn’t quite work out what it was doing [the manual approach]. I suspect it’s a lot easier if you use the PDF option and simply pour everything into the app in one go.

Kindle Create

Of the three, Kindle Create is the one I find most useful. In its current iteration, it is actually two programs in one:

  • The first allows you to ‘format’ Word .doc and .docx files into text-based ebooks like novels. There is help for creating a Table of Contents as well as Front and Back matter pages, and you can add pictures although the image manipulation is basic to say the least.
  • The second is the old Textbook Creator app. which turns a PDF document into an ebook.

Kindle Create for text based ebooks

This version of Kindle Create allows you to include all the standard elements of a book as well as pictures, but all you can do with pictures is adjust the size, and sometimes the location. That’s it. You can make the image small, medium, large, or full, but you can only adjust the placement of small or medium images. Large and full images seem to be placed automatically and can’t be changed.

One nice thing is that Kindle Create automatically wraps the text around the image as shown below:

But again, only if the image is small or medium.

This does not constitute ‘total control’ over the way text and images display, but it’s not bad. More importantly, when I did a preview of the page, it seemed to display quite well on tablet, phone and Kindle devices.

Something I was not expecting was that the colour image was automatically changed to grayscale on a Kindle device:

Given that this option works with standard .doc or .docx documents, I was pleasantly surprised by how it put everything ‘together’.

The old Textbook Creator

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to call the second option of Kindle Create by its old name – Textbook Creator.

Textbook Creator doesn’t try to integrate text and pictures at all. It creates an ebook out of a sequence of pictures.

If you’re nodding your head and saying, “Ah, she’s talking about PDFs”, you’d be right.

To quote from one of my own how-to’s:

PDF stands for Portable Document Format. With PDF documents, each page is like a ‘snapshot’ of the original Word page. That’s why it’s called WSIWYG – what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

Basically, everything on the Word page becomes a composite ‘picture’ that cannot change. This is how you make sure that what appears on the screen of the digital device is exactly the same as what you originally created, including the positioning of both graphics and text.

It’s the difference between ‘some control’ and ‘total control’.

“But…PDFs can’t be edited.”

That would normally be true, if you were dealing with a PDF document as a whole. But Textbook Creator cuts the original PDF document into its component pages, and each one those pages can be swapped out, individually.

To make this a bit clearer, let’s say you have imported a 20 page PDF document into Textbook Creator. Then you discover that you made a small error on page 15.

Rather than redoing the whole, 20 page document, you can:

  • go back to the original,
  • make a change to page 15,
  • export page 15 as a new PDF document
  • swap the new page 15 for the old page 15 inside Textbook Creator, and voila!

Okay, I admit the process is convoluted, but it does make working with PDFs a little less frustrating.

So what is the downside of using Textbook Creator?

The text in the ebook created by Textbook Creator cannot be resized. You can pinch-and-zoom to see details at a larger size, but you cannot specify that the text in the entire ebook be at a certain size.

This means that the original document has to be designed in such a way that it will suit most readers and most ereaders.

In paperbacks, this is kind of standard, and expected, but not so in digital devices. Plus getting the document to fit can be rather tricky.

Getting the size right

As mentioned before, there are a lot of different ereaders out there, and screen sizes are not the same either. Designing a document to fit all of them is a case of picking something ‘average’ and basing the sizing on that.

But what do I mean by ‘sizing’?

The easiest way to explain is to show you. The following is a preview of this post, in Textbook creator:

Can you see how tiny the text below the image is?

All I did was export a standard Word file to PDF and then import that PDF into Textbook Creator. The font size of the Word document is 12.

Now have a look at this preview. Same document but with a font size of 28:

To get the document to display like that, I had to radically change how the Word document was setup. Basicallly, I simulated the Kindle Fire screen in Word so that I could place text and images to their best advantage.

The following screenshots show my page setup in Word 16.

1. Paper size

The dimensions circled in orange create a page size that exactly fits the screen of my Kindle Fire 6.

2. Margins

Again, those margins are designed to make reading the Kindle Fire 6 screen visually ‘comfortable’ without wasting too much space.

3. Layout

Note: there are no settings selected in Layout. You need clean, minimal formatting in the original Word document. This includes not using things we normally take for granted, such as manual ‘spacing’.

For best results, you should always create styles – for the effects you must have – and use only those styles in the formatting.

Why?

Because Word is an old program, and Microsoft never throws anything away, it simply buries it under new code. This means that there is a lot of…[expletive deleted]…junk in Word that lurks in the background and can seriously mess with other programs that attempt to read/use Word documents. So keeping the document ‘clean’ is important.

But wait…there’s more. Remember how I said I’d changed the font size to 28? The next screenshot is of the Normal Style I created just for Kindle Fire 6 documents:

I can’t tell you why translating text from Word to a small digital device shrinks the text. All I know is that it does, and we have to manually compensate for it.

The other thing you might want to notice is that the alignment is set to ‘Justified’. Not only does it make the text look more professional, it also saves space on the screen.

To change the Normal Style on your own version of Word, right click on the style [on the Ribbon] and select ‘Modify’ from the drop down list of options [see here for step-by-step details]. That will get you to the Modify Style dialog box shown above.

Once the Modify dialog box is open, change the font size and alignment and then click ‘Save’.

We should now have a document that is optimised for an ebook.

Once the Word document is as perfect as we can make it, save the document as a Word file, and then Export it as a PDF.

Your book is now ready to import into Textbook Creator.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the Textbook Creator software.

cheers
Meeks


Cobwebs and superglue

Fascinating post about the use of cobwebs as part of a natural healing treatment. I’ve known about some of the medicinal uses of honey since I was a kid [great for sore throats], and vinegar as a mild antiseptic, especially for cleaning, but I didn’t realise that cobwebs had a bonafide use as well!

As writers, these are gems of information we should all keep and pass on to others. 🙂

Jim Webster

spiders-web-sword-fantasy-wallpaper-preview

I remember, many years ago, watching the vet treat a cow which was tied in a stall in the building next to the milking parlour. Because it was easy to separate a cow from her mates there, after she’d been milked, this was the stall we used for cows the vet needed to see. It was light and easily pressure-hosed off so was always clean.

The vet looked up at the ceiling. To be fair we’d been wary of pressure hosing that, if only because the roof was a fair age and we didn’t fancy taking the risk of loosening the slates. The vet surveyed the thick cobwebs with some enthusiasm. “Always handy to have some of them about if you have a bad cut to treat.”
It’s actually a very old technique. Wash the wound with honey and vinegar, than gently pat it dry with a clean cloth, put…

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