Adventures In Sounds

So I’m having some eye trouble at the mo – I’m constantly getting dry eyes, so that I have to limit my time reading and at the computer; I’ve already got through three tubes of carbomer gel in the last week.
So I thought I’d explore the possibility of text-to-speech (TTS) stuff, so that I can at least keep myself entertained through my ears – even watching TV is a strain. First stop was my Kindle Fire; deep in the settings, I discovered an option for turning on TTS software for TTS-enabled books. I was delighted, as I have several e-books half-read or waiting to be read. But, o dear, when I tried it out….
The software is technically very slick – it was quite hard to immediately tell that the pleasant-sounding American woman speaker wasn’t human. A mere minute or two of listening, however, and it was obviously mechanical. The speech rhythm was arbitrary and didn’t correspond to the text rhythm – there was the same length of pause between paragraphs, sentences and words, and no longer pauses for taking a breath; the tonal range was narrow, with no emphasis or inflection placed where it was obviously needed; the American pronunciation was jarring. That last was especially irritating as the text I was testing it on contained several instances of “apparatus” and the drawn-out middle syllable was making my teeth ache; it was fortunate that there was no mention of “aluminum” as well, as listening to “the appa-RAHH-tus was made of ah-LOO-min-um” would have had me breaking something. It was also fortunate that I was testing it on a rather dry history book (dealing, in that chapter, with “state apparatus”); I don’t want to even think about how Amazon’s robot would read out a British thriller novel.
So I looked at what was available in human-read books; voice actors are passionate about doing justice to an author’s writing. Going to audible.co.uk, I made a pleasant discovery – an extremely wide range of books, together with a no-strings offer of a free audiobook on signing up for a free months trial. An offer too good to turn down! So I signed up and went to download my free book. It was Ian Rankin’s Standing In Another Man’s Grave; having got it out of the library and then finding myself unable to read it, I was looking forward to spending several evenings listening to Detective Michael Jardine’s smooth Scottish tones narrating it.
But, of course, there was a snag. Since Amazon owns Audible.co.uk, I was expecting that I could download their audiobook straight onto my Amazon-owned Kindle, as I’d done with my ebooks. Amazingly, though, it appears I can only get an audiobook onto a Kindle by downloading it onto a PC and transferring it via a USB cable. Now, my Kindle had of course come with such a cable – but never having had to use it, I’d thrust it away somewhere and forgotten it. And could I find it again? Hah!

So here I am, waiting for a new cable to arrive and wishing desperately that my eyes would just sort themselves out.

So Last Night…..

….having another bout of insommnia, I stayed up. With nothing much on the TV, I resorted to my usual nighttime amusement of watching CNN with the sound turned off, trying to guess what they’re talking about purely from what’s on the screen. The culture divide and the insular nature of US news can make it an entertaining little game.
This time, I landed in the middle of an interview. The interviewer (I think he was the interviewer, he seemed to be doing most of the talking) was a fat middleaged bloke wearing a crazed-looking piece of shagpile carpeting on his head. The interviewee looked pretty normal; he was balding and his remaining hair had taken the sensible precaution of hiding at the back of his head, out of sight of the shagpile menacing from the opposite side of the desk. Underneath the shot of these two was a banner giving highly condensed tidbits of what the interviewee was saying. Some of these were so bizarre-seeming that I started writing them down:
LAUER TALKS “TODAY” (Oh good – not “YESTERDAY” or “A WEEK NEXT TUESDAY” then);
LAUER: IPHONE IS MY ALARM (Don’t they have alarm clocks in America?);
LAUER: DAY STARTS QUICKLY (In your part of the world maybe…);
LAUER: “YOU HAVE TO SHOW YOU CARE” (About what? Why should I???? And don’t you tell me what to do!!!);
LAUER: “CURIC HAS 1,000 IDEAS” (does this CURIC person/thing collect ideas? If so, why? Where does he/she/it keep them all? Are any of them any good?);
LAUER: MEREDITH “MOST REAL PERSON” (How was this decided – by scientific analysis or by consensus? Or did Meredith win an actual “reality” show where people voted on how closely the contestants resembled real human beings? If so, what happened to the losers, those unfortunates who were judged to be less-real persons? But what makes one person more or less real than any other person anyway? Especially on TV?)

…And at that point I decided all these existential questions were getting far too much for my poor little brain and I’d better get some sleep.

(Comment spam blitzed in the precious 24 hours: 33 34)

Just Had A Bit of Fun…

….with a spammer. Got this one this morning (URL munged so they don’t get any google goodness):

Hi,

I’ll take this opportunity to introduce myself, my name is Eddie Brown,
very nice to meet you. I’m SEO expert working at iSEO Traffic.

I came across diary.astrologicalassociation.com while making a research for one of
my partners and I have few interesting suggestions for you
like increasing your traffic & improving your rankings.
I would love to tell you more about my ideas.

If you are interested I will be happy to send the additional information
and all the details needed to make it happen.

Thanks a bunch,

Eddie Brown
somespammyspammer.com

So, I wrote back:

Dear Eddie,

Thank you for taking such an interest in my site diary.astrologicalassociation.com. It is heartening to see that people across the world are taking an interest in British astrology meetings. Regretfully though, I doubt that I need your SEO expertise, as I am quite happy with the page hits we are already getting (especially from people such as yourself!)

But, on going to your site somespammyspammer.com, I noticed that the copy is badly written and has a number of glaring grammatical faults. As you must surely know, bad writing and poor use of English are amongst the features that drive potential customers away from a site. It looks unprofessional and gives a poor impression of your company’s competence. So I am taking this opportunity to offer you my copy-editing and copy-writing services. I can work in both UK and US English and my rates are reasonable. Please do not hesitate to contact me for details.

Yours,

Val Dobson

:D

Well, at least that’s cheered me up.

ETA: Got a reply back a few hours later:

Hi
thanks for responding

What I am actually speaking about is making an article exchange between us, I’ll send you my article that will be about ~300-~400 words for you to place as a fresh page in your site.
In return, you’ll send me your article (at any length that you’d like) and I’ll publish your article in the site I’ve promise you on. Inside my article I’d like to have 3 links and of course that I’ll return the same to you.

I think this will be excellent diversity links for both our websites and I’m really looking forward making this exchange with you.

We are offering our services for FREE!
Waiting for your reply
Eddie

Sigh. In his first email, he’d included a link to his LinkedIn profile; according to that he’s American, living in Boston (and with a High School and college education which clearly failed him in the area of English).
It appears to be true that some Americans simply don’t get British humour. Play the game, dammit!

Film Review: Unknown

So, for the Winter Solstice Consumerfest, one of the daughters gave me a subscription to Lovefilm. So I’ve been finally enjoying some of the decent films that I’ve missed in recent years.
But of course, not all of them have been good; the stinker so far has to be Unknown. I wasn’t expecting it to be bad – it stars Liam Neeson (one of my favourite actors) and the basic plot outline is promising. Dr. Martin Harris, a US biotechnology scientist, and his wife Liz travel to Germany for a big science conference; about to check into a hotel, he realises that he’s left his briefcase at the airport, grabs a taxi back there; the taxi is involved in an accident; the scientist wakes up days later in hospital and slowly discovers that his entire identity has been taken over by another man; even his wife, when he confronts her, denies knowing him. Although adapted from a German novel, its premise of shifting identities and unreliable memories sounds very Phillip K Dick. So I had high hopes for it.
The first half-hour, when Harris is discovering that he may not be who he thinks he is, is fine. After that, it starts turning into a pretty stupid action thriller, complete with car chases, gunfights, ginormous explosions and equally ginormous plot holes. Even more ginormous spoilers follow, so I’ve put the rest of the post here: Finish Reading: Film Review: Unknown

Quantum Stupidity

Homeopathy with Dr. Werner

Dr Werner is a homeopath and here she claims that the latest discoveries in science prove homeopathy. Unfortunately, all her video proves is how staggeringly ignorant she is about science.
She confuses mass with density; she gets Einstein’s equation wrong; she thinks that Stephen Hawkings (sic) thought up String Theory (wrong); she says that String Theory means that the universe is full of “energetic particles shaped like U-ies” (eh…?); that electrons, neutrons etc are pure energy (wrong); that disease is the “transformation of our energy state into something different” (AARRRGHHH…..) and so on. Her view is that homeopathy is all about vibrations; we are vibrations, the universe is all vibrations; energy is vibrations; therefore homeopathy is true! (She uses the word “vibrations” in practically every sentence; I wanted to tell her “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)
Why do these New Age types think they can talk about a science subject when they so obviously haven’t even bothered to read a few Wikipedia articles on the topic? Finish Reading: Quantum Stupidity