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, 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, 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.

….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: 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)

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


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 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

So, I wrote back:

Dear Eddie,

Thank you for taking such an interest in my site 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, 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.


Val Dobson


Well, at least that’s cheered me up.

ETA: Got a reply back a few hours later:

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

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!

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: Continue reading

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? Continue reading

I do a lot of online consumer and marketing surveys – it doesn’t pay much, but every little helps (most of the cost of the new mattress we bought last month came out of my survey money).
Having been doing them for years, I’ve come across far too many badly designed surveys that don’t ask the right questions and don’t give enough options. For instance, most consumer surveys assume that everybody does all of their food shopping in one of the big supermarkets, never cooks from scratch, never brew their own wine and beer, and never grow their own fruit and vegetables. So I find quite a lot of surveys about shopping and food quite hard to fill in accurately; lists of supermarkets only occasionally include the Co-op, corner shops rarely feature, and as for street markets and farmers markets….
One particularly clumsily-designed survey was asking questions about furniture-buying; the first question was “Have you bought an item of furniture in the last 6 months?”, to which I replied “A kitchen table”. Then I was asked which shop I had bought the item from and presented with a long list of furniture retailers. But I hadn’t got it from a shop – we had bought it from one of our neigbours, and there was no option to say so. There was only a box at the end of the list, marked “Other”. So I entered “Our neighbours” in that. As a result, I had to answer a further twenty or thirty questions on the “Our neighbours” furniture shop – was their shop well laid out, were the staff helpful, was I offered different payment options, did they have a catalogue, did I go to their website etc. etc. Not a complete waste of my time – I got 50p for it – but certainly a waste of the marketers’ time.
Another useless survey I remember was one on energy utility companies. Continue reading

Just been looking through the listings on a freelance writing jobs website. One that caught my eye:

Horror torture tour scripts require someone with expieriance [sic]

Experience of what, exactly…?

Living in a remote(ish) rural paradise far from the milling wotsits, I tend to miss quite a lot of things going on in the rest of the country. For instance, I’ve only just become aware of this anti-terrorist poster poster campaign going on. It sounds like something dreamed up by a satirist; unfortunately, it’s not. People really are being told to watch out for and report people photographing CCTV cameras (because they could be terrorists reconnoitring a bomb target!!) and neighbours who put an unusual number of empty cleaning products bottles in their bin (because they could be bomb-making terrorists!!)
Well, of course, terrorists are ALWAYS out photographing CCTV cameras, aren’t they? And of course they want us to think that they use all these cleaning products because they like a clean house.
Hopefully, it won’t last. The CCTV poster has already been reported to the Advertising Standards Authority. And an internet campaign to ridicule them is gathering momentum – parodies of the posters are appearing everywhere (there’s even a group on Flckr). If you want to make your own parody, there’s a tool here.
Here’s my own effort:CCTV poster

Long ago, in some history of advertising, I read that 70s British ad-makers had shorthand codes for the various TV commercial setups. The most-used setup of the time – two women in a kitchen discussing The Product – was called “Two Cs in a K”; ‘K’ standing for kitchen and ‘C’, well…..
For some reason, this has always stuck in my mind. Which is why, if you are ever in my house on a Saturday morning at 9.30, when I’ve just switched on BBC’s News 24 and hit the beginning of the regular five-minute trailer for Saturday Kitchen (BBC1’s asinine Saturday morning cookery programme featuring a grinning himbo and some Z-list slebs pretending to cook) instead of anything that remotely resembles news, you’ll find me shouting “Cs in a K! Cs in a K!” and throwing cushions at the screen until it all stops.

There’s a website called Fundies Say The Darndest Things! devoted to recording the inane/insane stuff that religious fundamentalists come out with on t’interwebs. It’s a pity there isn’t an equivalent site for Global Warming Denialists, as this (from one of my elists) would be a fine candidate:

If a weatherman can’t get the weather right, how can scientists tell us the earth is warming and we are the cause of it.