Monday, May 25, 2015

Here There Be Dragons!

I'm dictating this blog post using Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software. As promised, my brother Bill came to Charlotte this weekend and installed the software and I've started playing around with it. It's really quite remarkable. The bundle he bought also includes the Dragon Naturally Speaking For Dummies book. According to the book, right out of the box the software is about 99% accurate. I found this to be largely true. I can update my Facebook status, and I'm learning how to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate text, and eventually, I hope, to resume work on my fiction writing without even touching the keyboard and mouse; or at least touching them as little as possible. The ultimate goal is to be able to dictate stuff while I'm tilted back in my wheelchair. I'm getting there! It's exciting. I still can't order the computer to produce a cup of Earl Grey tea (Ha! The software even automatically capitalized Earl Grey! Captain Picard would be delighted); but with the next generation of Dragon software, who knows?

Friday, May 15, 2015

More Adventures in Dictation

A few days ago I tried an interesting little experiment. Just for fun I tried dictating a snippet of a fiction project I'm working on using the ListNote dictation app and my Android smartphone which uses Google's voice recognition technology. It's surprisingly accurate, but there are some limitations. You do have to speak slowly and carefully and pause frequently to see if the software correctly interpreted what you said. As you speak, the words you say (or more accurately, the words Google thinks you said) slowly appear in a tiny text window in the app. The app *DID* distinguish between "Wales" and "whales" (the word I wanted was "Wales"), but not between "wore" and "war." (The word I wanted was "wore"). The app and Google working together do recognize many proper names (such as for characters and specific places) and and will automatically capitalize them. Google also has a certain ability to learn specific, unusual words you use frequently and learns to reproduce them correctly. You also have the ability to type in corrections manually using the phone's virtual keyboard. All that said, however, dictating a lengthy document such as an entire short story or chapter of a novel might be a lengthy and perhaps tedious process, but with time and practice it might become easier.

When using the ListNote app and Google's voice recognition capabilities, you do have to pronounce commonly used punctuation marks: period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, and colon, for example. In most cases, you simply say the word and you get the punctuation mark you want. The spoken commands "new line" or "new paragraph" will insert the equivalent of a line break or paragraph break into your document. However, for some unknown reason, the command "quotation mark" works less than 50% of the time. Sometimes, particularly near the beginning of a document, when you say "quotation mark," you will get the desired punctuation, but more often you will get the words "quotation mark" fully spelled out. I have no idea why this might be. Obviously, this poses a problem if you are writing fiction and using dialogue between characters. It's possible that the developers of this app imagined that it would be used mostly for nonfiction expository writing, such as business and professional purposes, so indicating, creating, or reproducing dialogue would not be an issue. I can only hope that future versions of the software will correct the problem. Another thing that puzzles me about the app is the seeming inability to automatically capitalize the first word after a period. Sometimes, if you pause for several seconds between the end of one sentence and the beginning of another, the software will capitalize the first word of the new sentence, but not always. Capitalization for the first word of a sentence is a basic rule of English grammar, and I don't understand why that rule isn't written into the software somewhere. Back to the drawing board, software developers!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Great Dictator

I'm continuing to experiment with Blogger's dictation feature. I've been advised to sit with my wheelchair seat tilted up and back as much as possible in order to relieve pain in my back, legs, and feet. Unfortunately, however, when I do this, it becomes difficult or impossible to use the computer keyboard and mouse. Therefore, I'm using my smartphone, Blogger's android app, and the app's dictation feature as a way to continue to blog even without using the keyboard or the mouse. It takes a bit of getting used to, I must say. Sometimes the voice recognition software will mistake one word for another or will fail to capitalize a word when I would like it to. If I keep at it, however, I suppose I'll get used to it after a while. My brother Bill has promised to install Dragon Dictation software on my desktop computer so that I can blog, write, or operate the computer as much as possible by using voice commands. I don't know if I'll be able to simply speak into the air and order the computer to produce a cup of Earl Grey tea the way Captain Picard did on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it's fun to imagine and to realize that idea may be closer to reality than we thought.

I'm also trying to recover my old habit of reading for pleasure. This is also something I can do while the chair is tilted back. It's an embarrassing thing for an English major and former librarian to say, but somewhere along the line I lost the habit of reading for pleasure. I think it was the result of years of work as a cataloging librarian, a job I eventually came to despise. After being surrounded by books all day long, the last thing I wanted to do was to read more books when I got home. Also, I think I couldn't face the silence when I came home to my otherwise empty apartment in the evenings. This feeling was especially acute when I knew my parents were dying of cancer. I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts and my grief, so I turned on the television or surfed the Internet to create the illusion that I had company or activity in the apartment. Now, however, I'm becoming much more comfortable with the idea of silence, and I'm rediscovering the joys of reading.

Recently I reread Gregg Taylor's first Red Panda novel, The Crime Cabal, and really enjoyed it. Then I decided to read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, a series of children's fantasy novels loosely based on Welsh mythology. I read one of these books years ago when I was in grade school but never got to read the entire series. I'm making up for lost time. I'm now about halfway through the second book in the series and I plan to complete the series in short order. Then for a change of pace, I think I'll read Wayfaring Strangers, Fiona Ritchie's account of Scottish and Irish immigrants to the United States and their enormous influence on the development of American Old-Time, bluegrass, and country music. I have many varied interests, and I'm trying to learn to move between them without thinking about whether or not they're consistent. Ralph Waldo Emerson was in many ways a pompous, blithering gasbag, but I do recall one useful thing he said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

One benefit of getting older is the realization that you can read what you want, watch what you want, or listen to what you want without worrying about whether or not it's "cool" or consistent or fashionable. When we are young, we often think about what other people think of us and if we are reading the right sort of books, watching the right kind of movies and TV shows, or listening to the right kind of music so that the cool kids, whoever they are, will approve of us and think that we're also cool. Eventually, however, we realize we can stop worrying about what's cool and simply like what we like and enjoy what we enjoy. Ideas of what's cool are constantly changing, but the things in life that give us true joy and pleasure seldom do and are much more important.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Test post

This is another test post of Blogger's  dictation feature. The first post seems to have frozen up on me and I can't delete it or publish it. It seems to be stuck in some sort of electronic limbo. Let's see if this post is more successful.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Restart, Reboot, Reset, Re . . .

Niall rolls up to his blog, blows away the dust, sweeps away the cobwebs, taps it gently, and says:

"Hello? Is this thing on?"

Well, after what could be one of the most epic blog fades in history, I've decided to restart this crazy blog thing. I really have no explanation for my absence (except possibly a serious addiction to Facebook). My previous blog post was in August. Late Summer faded into Fall, Fall faded into Winter, and now Winter has faded into Spring. April showers and all that, dontcha know.

Usually after Christmas I go into a kind of blue funk that lasts through January and February, but usually in March and April I feel myself coming back to life. I wouldn't exactly call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but sometimes it sure feels like it. I feel as though I really don't have very much to say that's interesting, either about myself or about the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church or any of my other passions or interests. What has been said about the Catholic Church has usually been said better and in a more timely fashion by writers far better than I. I've thought about shutting the blog down or at least moving to another blogging platform for a new look and a fresh start. For now though, I've decided to keep the blog where it is and keep going.

Now that Spring is here, however, I feel the itch to do some writing, and I thought perhaps it would be best to start small with some new blog posts. I have been working a tiny bit on some unfinished fiction projects that have lain dormant for a long time, and perhaps I'll have more to say about that later. My renewed interest in writing isn't helped by the fact that I'm frequently hampered by pain in my lower back, legs, and feet that seems to be getting steadily worse. About the only things that really help are prescription pain relievers and sitting with my wheelchair seat tilted back at an angle. Unfortunately with the wheelchair seat tilted back, it's impossible to use the keyboard and mouse. However, I'm thinking about possible solutions including using a lap tray and wireless keyboard or even dictating my stories to at least get them out of my head.

It also didn't help that in the last few days I discovered my computer was infested with malware, spyware, and for all I know, under-ware, that made it nearly impossible to use the internet without millions of annoying ads and pop-ups appearing. Desperate for a solution, I had to call HP, renew the warranty on my now aging desktop machine, and get a couple of technicians to take over the computer  remotely and purge it of all the offending unwanted software. A whole afternoon and at least $50 later, the computer is now malware free, at least for the moment. The whole experience has made me skittish about using, and especially downloading, anything from the internet, at least for the time being. It made me nostalgic for the days of manual typewriters or the pre-internet days of the late '80s and early '90s where each computer was a standalone machine and one could use it without fear of being infected by something evil.

So that, Dear Reader (if I have any regular readers left), in a few brief paragraphs, is a summary of where the blog is today. I will do my utmost to be a more regular and faithful correspondent. Until next time, friends.

Your humble and obedient servant,
Niall Mor

Monday, August 04, 2014

So Where Have I Been?

My Precioussss!
Nowhere much, but the blog has suffered, unfortunately. In May I received an Amazon Kindle Fire from my brother Bill, something I'd been hoping for and hinting at for quite some time whenever possible birthday and Christmas presents were mentioned. I am ready to proclaim this thing the coolest gadget in the history of gadgets. Being able to take a library of e-books, apps, and podcasts, with me anywhere I go on one little easily portable device has been enormously liberating for me. On these lazy summer days, I can read, chat on Facebook, play a game, or surf the web from anywhere in the house, including my nice comfy bed if I so choose. Interestingly, I find myself downloading a slew of superhero-themed e-books and comics, returning to an old interest of mine. The Kindle revolutionizes  the experience of reading, so I'm dusting off some old, unfinished superhero writing projects of my own and daydreaming about the time when they just might appear on an e-book reader near you. We shall see.

Stratford Caldecott, RIP

Stratford "Strat" Caldecott, the British Catholic author, speaker, and Marvel Comics fan that I blogged about in my last entry, has died. He passed into eternal life July 17 with his wife and daughters at his side. Here is a link to the obituary published by Second Spring, the journal he edited. I had not heard of him until recently, and of course I did not know the man personally, but I wish I had. I shall have to read one of his books. Any man who loved Marvel Comics, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Catholic faith is someone I would like to have met.
From all accounts, he was a man of deep faith, profound intellectual insight, and a gentle sense of humor. I am sure he will be missed by those who knew and loved him. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Avengers (And I) Assemble for Stratford Caldecott!

I #CapforStrat!
I heard about this yesterday on Facebook, and I thought it was so cool I had to join in.

Catholic writer and Marvel Comics fan Stratford "Strat" Caldecott is in the last stages of a long fight against prostate cancer. In order to make his remaining time as pleasant as possible, his daughters have asked Marvel Studios for an advance copy of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier DVD because Mr. Caldecott was too ill to go to the theater and see the movie. They've also reached out to stars of the Marvel superhero movies and the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. via Facebook and Twitter asking them to tweet photos with messages of love and support with the hashtag #CapforStrat. Mr. Caldecott's daughter Sophie reports that Marvel executives have arranged for a private screening of the film, and that many Marvel stars and ordinary people alike have tweeted their support. I'm not a movie star, but I'd like Mr. Caldecott and family to know I'm with them.