Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Crossword Puzzle - March 2015 Answers

Well, well, what's there to say? Who's waiting for the answers to my March 2015 crossword puzzle?


Clues

Across

1 Song rhymes with Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star (3) ABC 
4 PW (5) Botha 
8 Cousin (3) cuz 
10 fog signal (8) diaphone 
13 From the French Héloïse (6) Eloise 
14 Of a cat (6) feline 
15 A young goat (3) kid 
16 Spirit (4) gees 
17 Famous game from Microsoft (4) Halo 
19 Promissory note (3) IOU
20 And flotsam (6) jetsam 
23 Smells like dishwashing liquid (6) lemony 
26 Da Vinci (8) Leonardo 
27 Singular (3) one 
28 Care-giver (5) nurse 
29 Peace or World (3) mir

Down

2 Administrative assistant to chancellor (5) bedel 
3 Musical timing (5) duple 
5 Possesses (4) owns 
6 Feeling of being alone (11) abandonment 
7 What you think of yourself (11) self-opinion
8 Commune in western France (4) Caen 
9 Tibetan cattle (3) zho 
11 River in northern France (4) Oise 
12 Expressions of surprise (4) eeks 
17 Body of a ship (4) hull
18 VIP vehicle (4) limo
20 Knowledge (5) jnana 
21 Medieval circuit court (4) eyre 
22 Japanese paper door (5) shoji 
24 Snake-like fishes (4) eels
25 Or nearest offer (3) ONO

See you next week for another puzzle. You never know - maybe there'll be something special in it for you, in commemoration of the April 2015 release of Heaven and Earth!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Tales from Viruda: The Demise of Lucy

© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed
for 
reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
William awoke to the sound of incessant screaming and banging on his front door.

“Mr William, please. Come quick!”

It was the voice of Jeremy, son of Marcus, his next door neighbour.

Looking through the window, William could see that it was still dark outside, although he judged that dawn wasn't far off. He climbed out of bed, stuck his feet into a pair of slippers, and hurried to his front door.

When he opened it, he saw the boy standing there. He had calmed down a little by this point, but was still snivelling, and rubbing his eyes.

“Jeremy, what's wrong?” asked William.

“It's Lucy, sir. Our poor cow. Papa killed him this morning, and I miss her so much. I don't know what to do!”

William was stunned. He knew the family well. Marcus and Cathryn had three sons, of which Jeremy was the oldest. While William was well known for being an abusive father and husband, William didn't think he would ever have killed Lucy; the cow was the childrens' pet, and they loved her dearly. Besides, Lucy had been their only cow, and they needed her for milk. He knew that they'd been trying to find a mate for her and hadn't had much success. Perhaps they had gotten tired of waiting, but it still didn't make any sense.

William sighed and said, “All right, Jeremy. Calm down. Now tell me, why would your father do such a thing?”

“Papa was hungry,” said Jeremy. “He said he wanted meat to eat. Mama told him that we could slaughter a pig instead. He got angry and yelled at her, and he hit her. He said that he was tired of pork, and wanted beef for a change. Then he went out to the barn and got an axe. We tried to stop him.” Jeremy pointed to his left eye, showing a large bruise. William was surprised that he hadn't noticed it before; Jeremy's eye was almost swollen shut.

William held the boy tightly to himself, as Jeremy went on. “There was so much blood, Mr William, and we didn't want to see. Papa made us watch; he said it would turn us into men.”

As Jeremy sobbed and squeezed William tightly, William spoke. “There, there,” he said. “I'm sorry, Jeremy. There's nothing that can be done about it, now. I need to attend to my animals today. Will you help me?”

“No thanks, Mr William,” said Jeremy, and sniffed. “I need to get home. Papa will be angry if I'm not at breakfast.” He turned slowly, and walked away, leaving William staring after him, quietly shaking his head.

***

During the course of that week, William continued to tend his farm, as usual. He did not see Jeremy again, but occasionally heard the unmistakable sound of Marcus screaming at his “stupid boy” for doing something he shouldn't, or not doing something that he should. William's heart was heavy, and he wished that one day, something could be done for those boys and their mother, to take them away from their abusive father.

One morning, as he was working in the fields, he heard a voice, “William, a Virduran farmer!”

William looked around, and saw a tall man with broad shoulders, wearing the uniform of the queen's guard.

As the man got closer, William stood up straight. “Yes? What is it?”

“Come with me,” said the guard. “Your presence has been requested in the throne room at Castle Virdura. You have been accused to stealing your neighbour's cow.”


To find out what happens next, please read the fantasy short story, A Petition to Magic.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Do You Pirate E-Books?

Do you pirate e-books? Whether yes or no, I'd love to hear from you. Click here, take my five question survey, and let me know!

The reason I ask is simple. Earlier this month, South African technology site and forum MyBroadband conducted a survey, asking people whether they pirate content (movies, games, television series, etc.) online, and if so, why. You can read the results of that survey here.

The results were very interesting indeed. It turns out that, of the 4 007 IT professionals that completed the survey, 55% had pirated something in the last twelve months. The reasons why they pirated content was quite surprising to me.

Anyway, you can read the results of that survey by clicking the link above.

What I found disappointing was that the survey didn't give any information about the people that specifically pirated e-books. Even though a follow-up article revealed that 27% of those people who admitted to piracy, also pirated books, it doesn't go into any great detail about that demographic.

I have therefore created my own little survey, and I wonder if you would mind taking a few moments to fill it in. Aside from being specifically about e-books, my readership is also more international than MyBroadband (which is very South African focused), and so I'm also hoping to understand whether the trends reported for South Africans would be mirrored internationally.

If you wouldn't mind taking my survey, I'd really appreciate it. Click here to fill it out; it should take less than five minutes!

You can also join the conversation, and let us all know your feelings about e-book piracy, by posting your comments below. Just remember that, while the survey is completely anonymous, the commenting system is not!

The image for this post comes from a 2011 article by CNET, entitled Kindle e-book piracy accelerates.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Crossword Puzzle - March 2015

Here we are again, at the last Tuesday of the month. It's also the last Tuesday of the first quarter of 2015!

But, the question is, will it be your lucky day? It just might, if you can correctly complete the following crossword puzzle. Print it out, fill in the answers, and e-mail them to me before Tuesday, 21 April 2015. If your answers are correct, and you're the first, I'll mention your name in the blog post on that day, along with the answers. Not only that, but it'll also go into my April 2015 e-mail newsletter.

You'll be famous. How does that sound?


Clues

Across

1 Song rhymes with Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star (3)
4 PW (5)
8 Cousin (3)
10 fog signal (8)
13 From the French Héloïse (6)
14 Of a cat (6)
15 A young goat (3)
16 Spirit (4)
17 Famous game from Microsoft (4)
19 Promissory note (3)
20 And flotsam (6)
23 Smells like dishwashing liquid (6)
26 Da Vinci (8)
27 Singular (3)
28 Care-giver (5)
29 Peace or World (3)

Down

2 Administrative assistant to chancellor (5)
3 Musical timing (5)
5 Possesses (4)
6 Feeling of being alone (11)
7 What you think of yourself (11)
8 Commune in western France (4)
9 Tibetan cattle (3)
11 River in northern France (4)
12 Expressions of surprise (4)
17 Body of a ship (4)
18 VIP vehicle (4)
20 Knowledge (5)
21 Medieval circuit court (4)
22 Japanese paper door (5)
24 Snake-like fishes (4)
25 Or nearest offer (3)


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Story: Stacey's World

Author's Note: What? Two posts in one week? Yes, indeedy! Don't get used to it, though. This is just an extra-special bonus story for you to enjoy, but in reality it serves as my entry into The Short Story and Flash Fiction Society's "Short Story #6". Please head on over there and tell them in the comments how much you want me to win!

On to the story. I hope you enjoy it!

“How dare you talk to Mistress Stacey that way!”

Cap'n Stacey held her arm out across Jack's chest. “Easy there, Jack,” she said. Her First Mate was loyal to a fault, but he could also be impulsive and stupid sometimes. “I'll handle this.”

Turning to the old crone, she continued, “Now, old woman, if you will just give us what we came here for, we shall be off this island, and on our way. The sword, if you please.”

The old woman threw her head back and cackled. “You mean my island, lass,” she said. “And as I told you, the price for the sword is five hundred gold pieces.”

Stacey drew her sword, and lunged towards the woman, but was stopped dead in her tracks when she heard a loud bang to her right, where Jack was standing. She spun around to see what it was, only to discover that Jack had disappeared.

The captain's face went blood red, and her fist tightened on her sword. “You old crone,” she said, “what have you done to my first mate?”

Ribbit.

Stacey looked down. Sitting there on the floor of the old crone's cave was a large bullfrog. The frog looked up at her and blinked, and the miniature cocked hat sitting on its head cocked just a little further to the left.

“Jack?” said Stacey, and her eyes went wide with incredulity. “Is that you?”

The crone cackled once more. “As I said, dearie,” she said, “this is my island, and the price for the sword is five hundred gold... oh, and that adorable little frog.”

“I don't know what you've done,” said the captain, “and I don't really want to know. We're getting the hell off this island!”

“Not so fast!” boomed a loud voice, previously unheard. “It looks as though you're now in need of a First Mate, my dear.”

As Stacey watched, it became obvious from whence this new voice came, for the sword in question began to levitate off the stone table it had been lying on. Once it had reached a suitable height, it rotated, and hung in the air, pommel facing the floor, blade pointing towards the ceiling.

This was all getting a little too strange for Stacey, and she began to back away slowly towards the open doorway to the cave.

The sword moved, so fast that it seemed to disappear, and re-appeared behind Stacey's back. She spun around to face it, and it waved menacingly at her in the air.

“That was not a suggestion. Pay the woman.”

Stacey's jaw dropped. Her hand opened and the sword she was holding fell to the floor with a clank. She turned around and removed the pouch of gold from her belt. Not even bothering to count out the money, she tossed it on the table in front of the old woman. Then she turned and moved swiftly out of the cave, with the talking, levitating sword flying closely behind her.

***

Waiting patiently on the beach beside the landing boat, Otto and Terry were casually chatting away, waiting for their captain to return. Hearing a rustle in the jungle, both sprang alert, expecting to see Stacey and her First Mate, Jack, emerge.

Stacey came rushing out of the trees, her ample bosom bouncing pleasantly up and down in her bodice. The two men stared at her, little drops of saliva beginning to form on their lips.

They were snapped out of it no more than a second later, when their captain began shouting to “Get it off me!” The two looked at each other quizzically, before they saw a disembodied sword floating behind her.

“What's this, Cap'n?” asked Otto. “And where is Jack?”

“Never you mind,” snapped their leader. “Take this sword down, now!”

Unsure how they were going to fight a sword with no wielder, Otto and Terry nonetheless drew their own swords and leapt forward. Each of them took a swing, but the disembodied sword deftly dodged both attacks. Stacy drew a knife from her belt and joined the fray, but her attacks were also easily avoided.

“Where's... your... sword?” huffed Terry.

“Lost it,” grunted the Captain, as she took another lunge towards the floating weapon.

“Mistress, please,” came a voice from the direction of the sword.

Otto and Terry immediately stopped.

“Can it talk?” asked Otto.

Stacey also stopped fighting, as she realised it would do no good. “Apparently so,” she said.

“Please,” continued the sword. “It is not my wish to hurt anyone. I only wanted to get away from the clutches of Miss Martha. She is an evil, evil woman.”

Stacey spoke up. “You seemed pretty intent on harming me back at the cave.”

“I had to put up a show,” said the sword. “If she had let you take me without payment, or without a fight, who knows what she would have done. Probably destroyed me, at the very least. She can do that, you know.”

“I see,” said Stacey. “And just what am I supposed to do with you?”

“My name is Promo,” replied the sword. “I am a very capable fighter, strategist, and tactician. And I wasn't joking when I observed that you were in need of a First Mate. If the position is available, it would be my honour.”

With that, Promo gave a deep bow by bringing his point almost level with Stacey's chest.

Stacey considered this a moment. “Very well,” she said, after a long pause. “I suppose it could be useful, having a magic sword around. And besides,” she gestured to the empty scabbard at her belt, “I seem to be short a sword, as well.”

When the unlikely group of Captain Stacey, her men Otto and Terry, and her magic sword cum First Mate Promo, were in the boat, about ready to shove off, another rustling could be heard coming from the jungle. As they looked up, they heard a voice:

“Wait for me!”

A moment later, a large ginger tabby-cat came bounding out of the trees. It did not stop running until it reached the boat, whereupon it hopped aboard.

“Oh please, mistress,” said the cat. It's mouth moved comically as it spoke, much to the surprise of Stacey and her men. But, she reasoned, if there are talking swords in this world, then a talking cat isn't very far fetched.

“Let me come with you,” continued the cat. “My name is Spice, and I've been trying to get away from old Martha for the longest time. I'll be very good, I promise.”

Stacey looked at Promo, who gave the closest approximation to a shrug that a disembodied weapon could possibly give.

“Might as well,” he said. “Martha doesn't treat her animals too well, and I shudder to think what might come of old Spice, now that I'm not around to protect him.”

Stacey sighed. “Very well,” she said, “As long as you don't make a nuisance of yourself.”

***

Over the next several days, Stacey, her First Mate Promo, and Spice the cat, sailed the Seven Seas along with their motley crew. As Spice had predicted, they heard nothing from the old witch, Martha, who never really liked her cat anyway, and was in fact quite pleased to see him go. Spice did express, with some sadness for Stacey's part, his concern for how the witch would be treating Jack, the cock hat wearing bullfrog, and Stacey's former first mate.

It didn't take long, though, for it to become apparent to Stacey why Martha hadn't minded the loss of her cat. Spice was a nuisance. Aside from lamenting Jack's likely fate, he insisted on complaining about absolutely everything.

He complained that there wasn't enough to eat. When he caught a rat, he complained that it was tough and scrawny, and not succulent and juicy like the rats he used to catch back in the jungle. When he was ignored, he complained that he was not given enough attention. When Stacey would reach down from her favourite chair to stroke Spice, he would complain that she was smothering him.

Promo suggested on more than one occasion that they throw Spice overboard, or slaughter him, and on more than one occasion, Stacey was inclined to agree with him. However, she simply could not bring herself to get rid of the wonderful talking cat.

One evening, during a terrible storm, Otto was running around the deck, shouting orders on behalf of his captain, and supervising the reefing of sails and the battening down of hatches. In his haste to run to one of the men to explain to him how to do it properly, he accidentally kicked poor old Spice, who was cowering against the mast.

The cat went flying through the air, over the edge of the ship, and into the water. Realising immediately what he had done, he raced to the railing in time to see Spice treading water in the choppy sea. Lightning flashed in the distance, and Otto didn't know what to do.

He called for the captain, who arrived just in time to see a massive whale ascend from the deep and swallow Spice whole.

***


The captain had been livid that day, but overall she was pleased at how well they had weathered the storm. That evening, she had sat in her armchair, sipping a healthy glass of rum, enjoying the silence, and quietly saying goodbye to the cat who wouldn't stop complaining.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Crossword Puzzle - February 2015 Answers

Phew! It's that time of the month again... and what a month it's been! It was my birthday last Friday, and my wife treated me to a wonderful weekend getaway, at a beautiful luxury tented camp just outside Pretoria. I didn't suspect a thing, and had an amazing weekend!

But enough about me, let's get on with the point of this post: the answers to the February 2015 crossword puzzle. How did you find it? Too difficult, or perhaps too easy? Well, if you've been waiting with bated breath for the answers, wait no more:


Answers

Across

3 Indian conference (6) powwow 
9 backbone (5) spine 
12 evil (6) unholy 
13 having muscle definition (5) toned 
14 The Isle of Death (6) Thanet 
15 old (3) eld 
16 almond (8) amygdale 
17 god of strife (3) Tyr 
19 capture (3) nab 
22 he causes consternation (8) agitator 
25 account (3) tab 
26 she died for love of Pyramus (6) Thisbe 
29 tobacco cylinder (5) cigar 
32 Gretel's brother (6) Hansel 
33 paradise in the desert (5) oasis 
34 envelop (6) engirt 

Down

1 upon (3) upo'
2 denoting an inhabitant (3) ene 
3 throwing the shot (3) put 
4 receptive for mating (6) on heat
5 a silly person (6) whally 
6 panaceas (11) wonder drugs
7 old (3) ole 
8 departing (6) wyting 
9 crazy (4) stir 
10 representing God in human form (11) incarnating 
11 writing that pushes the boundaries (4) edgy 
18 cut teeth (6) teethe 
20 tennis player Andre (6) Agassi 
21 regular drinker of wine (6) bibber 
23 folded tortilla dish (4) taco 
24 on either side of your head (4) ears 
27 Solo (3) Han 
28 Extract, Load, Transform (3) ELT 
30 Ian (3) Ian
31 aim (3) aim

30 and 31 Down were just to see if you were paying attention: the question was the answer. Did you get those?

See you next week, for the March 2015 puzzle.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Smashwords E-Books: A New Book Recommendation Site for Readers

Readers: Are you tired of book recommendation sites that focus almost exclusively on Amazon? Do you buy and read books from Smashwords?

What about book recommendations where it's clear that the authors of those books paid a premium to get their books listed, but you have no idea if they're actually any good?

I have started a new initiative to solve these problems. It's called Smashwords E-Books. Three times a week, I tweet links to great books available on Smashwords.com, from the official Smashwords E-Books Twitter Account. Once a week, I post those links, with covers and descriptions to the Smashwords E-Books blog. Then I send out an e-mail to all my subscribers with those links. This is a separate e-mail to my monthly newsletter, so even if you're already subscribed to that, you'll have to subscribe separately to the other list (click here).

The beauty of this system is that authors have no say whatsoever in what books get featured on Smashwords E-Books. Only books that I have personally read and vetted get posted there.

I make my money exclusively off of affiliate income at Smashwords, when people click on those links and buy books. If you'd also like to earn money in this way, you can, by the way. See this blog post, from back in February, for more information.

Sound like something you as a reader might be interested in? Then please, go check out the blog, and see what I've got. Then sign up for the mailing list, and finally, don't forget to follow the dedicated account on Twitter!

What do you think of this idea? Will you make use of it? Why or why not? Feel free to comment below, and let me know.

Note: The new service is not in any way endorsed by Smashwords.

To see the official press release about Smashwords E-Books, click here.