They'll be a reckoning for this, my friends. A heavy reckoning indeed.
Still, it gives me some time to answer a few questions before I walk the dog. So, the Kanto plain. Sparty (whom MacSpeech Dictate refers to as Spicy) is correct. I was thinking about an invasion of Japan at the end of Final Impact. There were a couple of reasons I didn't go down that path. Murph has covered a few of them in his notes, but there was also the complicating factor that I wanted to save an invasion of Japan for entirely separate series of alternate history novels set in the 1980s but with a point of departure at the end of the second world war when the Manhattan Project failed. I've done some work on that project but haven't presented it to any publishers or agents yet. Some of you may recall a brief extract I ran from it at the old cheeseburger back at journal space. Bottom line however, an invasion of Japan would have required an entire book all on its own. And I'm pretty happy with the way I wrapped it up. Nuking the Imperial Palace after all, what's not to love about that?
A few people asked about whether there would be any more books set in the AOT universe. That's hard to say. The books are very profitable, and still deliver a royalty stream, but both publishers here and in the US are very keen for me to do something with a single ongoing character in what ever series I do next. And I happen to have a project along those lines that I've been itching to do for about 10 years. However, that doesn't mean AOT is dead. If and when I push ahead with my plans to start releasing stories and books via the app store (and its non-iPhone equivalents) it will be that particular universe that I work in. And that could happen as soon as next year.
Timmo asked way back at the start of the thread about the naming of the incidental characters. He was wondering whether all of the non-historical characters were blog buddies, mates, minor literary figures and so on. Answer, no not all of them, but yes lots of them. It's a series in which hundreds of characters appear over the course of the three books and it's hard work naming them all. As for the second part of his question, asking whether Weapons Of Choice grew out of a bit of frivolous fuck knuckling around while I was working on Leviathan, yes, Nick Earls was correct. That is exactly how it came about.
Mr. havoc (Whom MacSpeech just referred to as 'haddock') is also correct. Capt. Halabi is entirely jumpable.
Right now, however I have to walk the dog. So I'll answer a few more of these later.
54 Responses to ‘Answers! Answers! Precious answers.’
With that in mind I was probably a bit too enthusiastic, a bit too forgiving in my early assessment of MacSpeech Dictate. Or rather in my assessment of my own abilities to use it straight out of the box. This is an unusual product in that it really asks a lot of the user. If you're not willing to do the training, if you're not willing to understand the parameters of the software, and most importantly if you're not willing to read the fucking manual then forget it. It's not a cheap bit of kit and you'll do your dough cold. If you are willing to invest the time learning how to use MacSpeech (or its Dragon-based Windows equivalents) and training the software to work with you then it could be a really powerful tool.
First question, does it work?
Yes, and it's awesome. It is freakishly accurate, much more accurate than my own typing. And there is no need, as I mentioned in a previous post, to speak in an American accent, Shatner style. (And yes it recognizes the word 'Shatner').
But it's not Star Trek. It won't do all these things out of the box. You do need to train it to listen to your voice, and the software needs to train you to speak to it. The more time you spend using MacSpeech, or Dragon, the more accurate it will become. But only if you take the time to update your profile.
Your profile is the software's understanding of how you speak, and to a lesser extent how you write. Think of it as a super-avatar. It also includes a lot of environmental information, so you might record one profile for dictating in a quiet room and a different profile for a noisy room. When you first start dictating, the program will make errors and just as importantly you will make errors because you'll probably try to speak to it like a person, not just a bunch of code. If you mumble, cough, slur your speech, whatever, it'll all be transcribed.
The first couple of days you'll spend a lot of time pointing and clicking in what's called the Recognition Window. In this little box you'll find the programs interpretation of what you just said, and up to 10 alternatives. Option number one is always Dictate's best guess but if option number six was the right choice you just click on that and it swaps out the copy. If none of the options were accurate you can choose one to edit and use that. After a couple of hours of doing this and of saving your profile as you go, you'll notice a marked improvement in the program's ability to understand you. As you get more confident and you relax you'll also find you're able to speak much more quickly and conversationally until you do get to the point of that Star Trek moment where you just speak at the computer and the words magically appear on screen.
That's dictation, it's not editing. And editing is way more important than composition in terms of whether your finished product is readable. I had real fears that MacSpeech Dictate would be crap at editing, and in one sense it is. If I simply opened up a huge manuscript and tried to edit the thing via voice command I would fail. There is just no way that telling a cursor where to go and what to do is anywhere near as efficient as using a mouse and keyboard. But as all of the reviews and a lot of the documentation that comes with MacSpeech makes clear, you're in for a terrible hiding if you try to mix keyboard and voice commands. It just won't work, and you'll crash the program. As I did at least half a dozen times during one very frustrating hour this week.
Its all down to the cache. MacSpeech/Dragon keeps two things in its mind; what you said and what it wrote. If you fuck up that delicate balance by using your mouse and keyboard instead of your voice you'll blow the cache apart and overwhelm the program.
That could be a deal killer, because of the unwieldy nature of using voice command to edit. There is however a caveat. The software comes with its own notepad, a very very basic text editor in which you can compose your documents. Again most reviews and the software's documentation emphasize the ability to use MacSpeech with most of the other bits of software on your computer, with MS Word, with Firefox, whatever. But here is JB's tip... Don't Do It.
Yes, MacSpeech Dictate can work with all of these programs, but it probably won't. It will almost certainly crash within the first few minutes.
The notepad on the other hand is an exceptional environment into which to dictate. It is stable and robust and most important of all it allows you to edit with your mouse. You can just place the cursor wherever you want, define whatever text you want, and dictate right over the top of it. The essence of editing.
Unfortunately for me, I only figured that out after a couple of very frustrating days of constantly crashing the system. It got to the point where I was so pissed off, so depressed and so fucking desperate that I went back and did what I should have done in the first place. I Read The Fucking Manual from start to fucking finish. In doing that I learned of at least half a dozen very basic errors I'd been making over and over again, and I picked up a whole bunch of obscure but powerful pointers for getting the most out of the program. If I hadn't done that I reckon I'd have thrown it away and there'd have been tears before bedtime.
Bottom line, it works and it can work brilliantly, but whether it does is down to you.
There is one final point I'd make though. It feels weird. I am so used to 'thinking with the tips of my fingers' that, as lobes pointed out earlier this week, I just wasn't writing like normal when I used the dictation program. I'm still not, but I am getting past the initial strangeness where I constantly felt as though I was thinking about thinking about dictating the writing. I suspect that will take a bit longer to get used to than simply mastering the mechanics.
Anyway, my apologies. I am not a software reviewer and this entry has been a useful exercise in teaching me that if I ever wanted to be I'd have a lot to learn. There's so much more I could tell you. Some good, such as its ability to inhale vast slabs of your writing for syntactical analysis which then gets fed into MacSpeech's memory, allowing it to better understand how you write. And some bad, like its tendency to 'hear' your breathing as dictation (mostly a problem when you're sitting, staring at the screen, saying nothing).
So perhaps I should just throw the floor open to questions.
39 Responses to ‘MacSpeech Dictate, a potted review.’
AFTER THE WAVE: JIMMY’S TALE
It happened when Jimmy was in Calgary, rummaging through an alley behind a strip mall on 1st Street: he found a crate labeled “Novelty Nose and Glasses.” Jimmy opened the crate and found it full of rubber noses attached to black plastic horned-rimmed glasses frames. His hands shook as he placed a pair on his face. He ran into an empty store and found a mirror and, as he looked at his reflection, Jimmy suddenly knew what he was supposed to do.
The Wave killed Jimmy’s parents. They were out of town visiting family in Calgary. Jimmy’s parents left him with his Aunt Mona. Then the Wave hit. Jimmy’s Aunt ordered him to stay with her in her house. But when the riots began, Jimmy left, hell-bent on protecting his home. He left his Aunt and ran across town to his house. He used the key hidden in the garden to get into the house and he went right to the closet where his father hid a gun.
“Guns are dangerous,” Jimmy’s father explained. “And no one is supposed to know we have this one. But I want you to know how to load it. Just in case.”
Jimmy loaded the gun like his father showed him and then sat vigil in the darkened house, ready to use deadly force to defend it against anyone entering without his consent. He almost shot his aunt who came by in the morning to make sure he was all right. Three days later he returned to his aunt’s home, taking only his father’s gun and collected ammunition in a brown grocery bag.
Then the Wave vanished, and the need to find his parents overcame Jimmy. He stole his Aunt’s car and drove south on Highway 2, teaching himself how to drive as he traveled.
As he drove, he watched the needle on his gas gage slowly drop towards empty. He stopped at gas stations along the way, but none of the pumps functioned. He ran out of gas near Leduc and hiked back to a gas station he passed just prior to running dry. He found a Mercedes sedan parked at one of the pump islands under the canopy with the pump handle sticking out of the fuel fill tube as if, just before the Wave hit, the Mercedes owner left the pump to go into the mini mart to buy a cup of coffee while the pump continued to gush gasoline into the Mercedes’ gas tank.
The doors was unlocked. Jimmy ignored the crusty piles of clothing in the front passenger seat. By then such refuse was nothing new to the little boy, even if he had not yet completely accepted what it meant.
Food became a problem. The smell of rotting meat and decaying produce made every supermarket unapproachable. Eventually hunger superseded Jimmy’s revulsion, and, after that, it was an endless feast of junk food that evolved into a diet composed primarily of canned goods.
He found companionship. Jimmy stopped at every supermarket he passed and he fed the dogs and cats gathered outside each supermarket’s entrance, drawn to the death stench. There was plenty of cat and dog food in every market Jimmy plundered and, before he drove off, he broke enough windows to let the dogs and cats into the stores to scavenge what they could, delaying the day they would start eating each other.
After two weeks in Calgary, Jimmy gave up searching for his parents. By then he knew they were dead – he knew that everyone was dead – but he kept looking for them, harboring the romantic notion that it was his duty to find and bury their remains. When he could no longer hold onto that illusion, he finally grieved his parent’s death and the end of the world. Great tremors battered his very small, very young mind and body as he sobbed and screamed, completely alone and utterly terrified.
The next few weeks were dark indeed. Jimmy discovered the numbing virtues of distilled ethyl alcohol in many varieties and the incredible pain associated with drinking too much of it. He somehow lived through the ordeal, and slowly began devoting his days to exploring any part of Calgary that caught his momentary fancy and wasn’t on fire.
In an alley behind a strip mall on 1st Street, Jimmy found a shipping crate he decided to open, and when he did he discovered it was filled with novelty nose and glasses. Jimmy never saw such things before, but he wasn’t stupid; he realized they were some kind of joke. He slid a pair from their clear, crinkly cellophane packaging, unfolded the black plastic frame arms and slid them onto his face.
He found a mirror and looked at his new refection. He didn’t notice his filthy skin and ragged, filthy clothing. All he noticed was his eyes staring out from the black plastic frames and the large flesh colored rubber nose covering his.
And, at that moment, Jimmy knew what he was supposed to do. He found a bag and stuffed it with nose and glasses. Then he drove about three miles north on Macleod until he reached those stupid statues.
There, on Macleod, between 5th and 6th, stood ten statues of what looked like people who were starving. They were three times as tall as Jimmy, standing in a circle, holding hands, and dancing. Jimmy hated those statutes. He didn’t fully appreciate the concept of irony, but he instinctively understood what he was too young to intellectually grasp, and that basic understanding encouraged him to hate those emaciated, faceless, tall dancing human caricatures. Every time he drove past them he hated them more, until eventually he worked hard to avoid them.
But now he avidly sought them, and when he found them, Jimmy used a tall ladder to climb up and place a novelty nose and glasses set on each of those ten statutes. And when he climbed down and walked far enough away to see them all standing there sporting his handiwork, he laughed and laughed until he fell to the ground holding his stomach and rolling on his back on the grass. Eventually he stopped, only to start up again. Jimmy gleefully convulsed thus until long after the sun set.
That night, sleeping in a home he chose at random in the bedroom of people who were surely dead, Jimmy dreamed. In his dream he found himself walking down a path towards a shadowy figure sitting on a rock next to a campfire. As Jimmy drew closer he saw that the figure was an old man with shoulder-length hair, a cropped iron-gray beard and wearing old nondescript clothes.
“You’re welcome to share my fire,” the old man said. His voice was like steel-cut rolled oats and reminded Jimmy of his third grade teacher, Mr. Henderson, who was fired after he played the “nude movie star” game with the class one afternoon.
“Call me Wanderer,” the old man said and smiled. “I knew your father.”
“Ed Finklestien?” Jimmy asked.
“What? No, not Ed Finklestien. Mike Havel. Wait – wait a minute - are you Artos?”
“No. I’m Jimmy.”
“Jimmy? I thought –“ The old man stood, reaching into a pocket and removed what looked like a cell phone. He flipped it open and rapidly punched a series of keys on the phone face. The old man peered at the small, glowing display screen.
“Damn it,” the old man hissed and rapidly punched another series of keys, lifting the phone to his ear. “Cindy?” the old man said into the phone. “Yeah, its me. It happened again. No. Listen. Wait… look , I want her fired, okay? It happened again. I know. It’s a hard job. More alternate realities every day. Right. Uh huh. Yeah, the Assiti. Look, I don’t care. It’s the wrong universe again, God damn it. I want a new appointment secretary right away, okay? Okay.”
The old man angrily snapped the cell phone shut, shoved it back into his coat pocket and looked at Jimmy.
“Sorry, kid,” the old man said, “but this mystical experience is over.
Jimmy woke up. He was a little afraid and didn’t understand what happened, but somehow the dream stiffened his resolve to continue defacing statues. He drove back to the alley where he found the packing crate. He loaded up his car with all the novelty nose and glasses he could find and, with a long ladder tied to the car roof, with no regrets, and armored with a sense of purpose, he left Calgary driving south on Highway 2.
41 Responses to ‘Perfesser B's fan fic.’
Still, I'm writing and filing blunty today and if I overnight in the hospital, which I'm thinking of simply because I really like the idea of having a bed with a TV suspended over it, then it'll be apres lunch time Tuesday at the earliest afore I get to reply to any comments. Also, I'm pretty sure the wrangling of the blog will move from BT down to Sydney to the new National Times Death Star. For us, that's not necessarily a good thing because the BT blog mavens have been well acculturated to the ways of the Instrument and its band of brigands and camp followers. I was surprised at drinks the other night to find out just how closely they follow the regulars and indeed how much of a celebrity cult has built up around some of you.
Anyway, we lose that familiarity on Tuesday because of the new format. But, on the upside, we gain potentially millions of new slouchbikers and vegans to harass.
As I understand it there'll be some new and bothersome Fairfax Digital registration process to begin commenting. Haven't used it myself yet, but I suspect market forces will see it evolve into something more akin to the current email and pin system very quickly. I can only ask for your patience while that happens and while I get back up to speed after the op. It's unlikey I'll be able to post a link here in the morning however. I dont think they'll let me take my lappy into the ward.
Still have no real concerns. You guys are widely recognised are the gold standard in blog crews.
So. Arm yourselves. Stand to. And prepare to kill like champions.
72 Responses to ‘Helluva week to go national.’
The beauty of the interwebz though... I was able to spend a few hours yesterday cruising reviews and youtube demos of the software, and i downloaded the manual in pdf. MacSpeech Dictate is a ground up rebuild based on the Dragon engine which has been powering the vastly superior performance of windows based dictation programs for a while now. From the reviews, both pro and amateur, the rebuild looks very impressive and altho there are some genuine flaws (such as an inability to integrate mouse and keyboard based editing with the program's voice commands - a major problem, that one) many of the frustrations that some amateur reviews in particular experienced seemed to come from not having trained the software properly (which takes about 10 mins) and not having read the manual.
I suspect the real secret to getting the most out of this program will not be training the dictation elements, but the editing commands. They, unlike, simply speaking what I want on the page, are not at all 'natural' and will take a few days to become ingrained. However, having invested the better part of a day studying this program I have some high hopes for it actually increasing my productivity.
When it finally arrives.
Until then I have some books to read for review (surprisingly difficult one handed - perhaps i shouldn't have dissed the kindle so badly). And of course exercise. I'm greatly afeared of putting back all the flab i took off this year. To that end I've been walking a lot - about to trundle into the city to see my sawbones in fact. And I've worked out a pretty basic routine of lower body work and some core strength exercises. Some kicking drills. And I'm also doing some free weights on the uninjured arm, which should give me a nice lopsided look when the plaster comes off.
Two things I've discovered in the last twenty-four hours though. I cant do right handed chopstix. And my xbox controller is going to have a long, well earned rest.
For now, my neck and arm are all cramped from this cap'n hook style of typing. so, l8r.