Unrecognized life of speech recognition

I will show you the great power of SCIENCE!

I’ll show you the great power of science! (By dictating this entry in Dragon NaturallySpeaking.)

Robert Fortner has an article called “Rest in Peas: The Unrecognized Death of Speech Recognition“, which unfortunately has gained some attention. Unfortunately, because even though it may be factually correct, it is highly misleading. There is a graph early in the article, where the reader’s attention is still fresh, showing that the error rate in speech recognition reached a minimum in 2001. Presumably this is correct according to some kind of research. But then he follows up later in the article with repeated mention of a specific product, Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This projects the impression, at least unless you read very carefully, that the accuracy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking has not improved since 2001. This is exactly the opposite of the truth.

As it happens, 2001 was about the time I first tested Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which was then in version 5. I was not impressed. In fact, I compared it to a drunk and homesick Asian high school exchange student. Unless your body was seriously damaged, this software had little more than entertainment value, was my conclusion. While you could probably not type faster with your feet, I think it might have been a close race.

I skipped version 6 and tried again at version 7. It had improved, but had still mostly entertainment value to me. It continued to improve with version 8, at the end of 2004. Then in version 9, in 2006, it actually became useful even to me who has a noticeable Norwegian accent. The improvement up to version 10, in 2008, was less dramatic. Even so, it was with this version of the program (at least to me) crossed the “uncanny valley” and became comparable to talking to a fellow human. Version 11 did not change the speech recognition engine, as far as I know. It was mainly an interface and usability update, and in my opinion it does not deserve a new version number, but should have been called 10.6 or some such. So it does indeed seem that the accuracy of speech recognition has reached a limit – but in 2008 rather than 2001.

Meanwhile, Microsoft keeps improving its own speech recognition which is inherent in its Windows operating system. It is still lagging behind Dragon, but the distance is less than it used to be. It is not impossible but Microsoft may overtake Nuance, if Nuance can’t make their speech recognition engine more accurate than it is today.

But even today, speech recognition is far from dead. It doesn’t actually understand what you say, but it is able to take dictation with the best of them and use your computer hands-free (demo on YouTube). That’s pretty impressive for something that’s supposed to be pushing up daisies, don’t you think?


Responsibility for our own health

"I aim to become a tropical girl, fruit juice running through my veins!"

“I’m aiming to be a tropical girl so fruity that fruit juice runs trough my veins!” That’s more like it. As long as there are toilets within running distance, at least.

There is a tendency in America, and increasingly in other countries as well, to expect medicine to fix our health, while we otherwise destroy it with our poor life choices. Not every person is like this, and there is a gradual awakening to the truth in this matter, but this is still mostly limited to the well off and the intellectual. Most of the population is still caught in a very dangerous situation: They take a short-term view of the long-term challenge of staying healthy.

It is natural that children don’t think far ahead. Even being 30 is old to them, so they hardly give it a thought. But for adults it should not be a great surprise that they may want to live, and live a good life, some decades into the future as well.

We know some of the greatest causes of poor health in adults are caused by lifestyle choices:  Smoking, inactivity, eating lots of fat or sugar, casual sex, abuse of alcohol and pleasure drugs, stress and conflict. Oh, and not washing your hands.

Yet when public health is discussed, it is mainly a discussion of money, of insurance and the quality of health care. Of course that matters too, but once you need health care, things are already pretty bad.  There are so many things that can be done to prevent illness, for most of us. Of course some are born with the disposition for certain illnesses, and there are accidents. But this is not the most common.

There is nothing flashy about preventive health maintenance. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator when feasible, keeping the snacks in the opposite end of the house from the TV or computer, taking a walk every day or two or having some physical activity as hobby, working through feelings instead of drowning them in booze or worse… none of these things are likely to bring you praise if you do them or consternation if you don’t. Nobody notices anything until you seem to be more lucky than other people.

Is it really worth it? You could be lucky. Perhaps you have the kind of genes that let you smoke all your life and never get cancer, gorge on fat and never get heart disease, may be you are even naturally resistant to HIV (some people are, especially those of Nordic ancestry, but still only a minority). You never know until you try, right?

But on behalf of society it would certainly be a good thing if people didn’t try their luck in this regard. And for those who don’t have unusual luck, it is likely they will regret their lifestyle choices. Of course, most of us have done things we regret. But every time we avoid it, we do a service to ourselves, our families (if any) and the society as a whole. It is not too late to start… probably.

The quest for Schuon

An artist’s impression of the six-dimensional Realm of Light. The balls of light probably represents Higher spirits, who receive beams of spiritual Light from above and send their own beams of light down to those below, in an intricate pattern of Light.

It must be over 5 years now that I have been religiously following the weird and wonderful blog One Cosmos, which alternates between neotraditionalist metaphysics and mocking socialism and materialism in all their forms. These are really two modes of the same thing, since materialism is incompatible with metaphysics of any kind: If you are simply the electrical fluctuations in your brain, you can never know it. Or anything, really.

There is much one could say about this, but my point today is that this is where I first heard of the mysterious Frithjof Schuon. The blog will occasionally brandish quotes by Schuon, and they are generally held to be the final and perfect crystallization of metaphysical truth. Whenever something is true, Mr Schuon will have summed it up in such clarity that it cannot be said better for the duration of languages as we know them. Or that is the impression I get. Not that the author agrees with Schuon on everything (Schuon evidently believed that modernity was an unredeemable descent into barbarism, and that ancient cultures were superior in all the ways that count.) But for the vast stretch that they do agree, Schuon says it best.

Now if this was just one lone tax-cutting blasphemer on the Net, it would be unremarkable. The quotes themselves are remarkable, but they are dug out from a huge number of articles published over many years, so it could be just the occasional lucky strike. But then I read Huston Smith, the famous hands-on teacher of comparative religion. And he too had this fawning respect for Schuon. More than once when he was about to teach about some specific religion, he discovered that Schuon had already written about it with great clarity. Schuon himself, however, was aloof and barely approachable. He certainly had no interest in building any kind of relationship with famous people who looked up to him. I find this a very endearing trait.

My own attempt at reading Schuon, however, failed spectacularly. His writing is simply too hard. His words are used so precisely that you need not only a good grasp of the English language with its many nuances, but you also need to know what he is talking about before you read it. Metaphysics is necessarily far removed from the concrete world as observed by the senses, since fundamental metaphysics lies above even the world of archetypes, of which our daily objects and actions are instances. So it’s never going to be “beach reading”, as you say in English.

At the time, I was widely read in science, religion and mythology; but my knowledge of philosophy was limited to early college level. This must by necessity be so simple-yet-fuzzy that it can be understood even by socialists. Unsurprisingly, Schuon proved too hard for me. I understood some of it, but not enough to put the pieces together.

A couple more years have passed. I have continued to read One Cosmos religiously, but also Ryuho Okawa (cautiously), Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, A. G. Sertillanges, James V. Schall, Pope Benedict and saints Athanasius and Teresa, to name but those that may be relevant for the topic. (I tried Sri Aurobindo as well, but he is harder to read than Schuon; I suspect he is doing it on purpose, as only superhumans are likely to benefit from his thinking anyway. I may return to it later.)

Finally I am prepared to assail the diamond towers of Frithjof Schuon again. This time I know what I am up against, and have prepared. I have also found a book about a topic I am already familiar with, namely Christianity. The Fullness of God by Schuon has providentially become available for the Kindle. Wish me luck.


Two chapters later:

I see now why Schuon must write in an inaccessible manner! Whether by his own choice or by divine providence, it is necessary that these teachings be hidden for the unlearned and inexperienced. For such words could cast the unprepared into fear and confusion, even into perdition. I believe those who may benefit from this are few, compared to those who may take harm from it. Most would shrink back, I believe, and this for their own good.

That is not to say that this book should not have been written, for “one man’s medicine is another man’s poison”. But I have more understanding now for gurus who retreat to the Himalayas. Sometimes it is required that you have gone far.

St Teresa, prayer and me

It will work if I pray to God!

It will work if I pray to God! That’s a big if, though. I mean really pray, not recite a wish list. Most people probably don’t even know what this “mystical prayer” is which really works, really changes people. So it is twice ironic that I still shrink back from it. But I do, most of the time.

Well, the recent entries should be enough fluff to convince even the casual observer that I am not the next St John of the Cross. So let me briefly return to the more interesting topic of prayer and the inner life, this time illuminated by the autobiography of St Teresa of Avila.

It was eerie to read her many-sided attempts to describe the first and second stage of “mystical prayer”, and realize that she was putting into words what I had not been able to express accurately myself. I have mentioned occasionally that “I was taught meditation directly by God”, something I found strange and  nearly unique. That may not be the case at all. Rather, this seems to have been a fairly natural thing in the time of St Teresa. (What I and most people today call meditation is closer to what the saints call contemplation. The two words seem to have swapped meaning since then.)

The saint expresses her sincere hope that she was the only person who, having experienced the sweetness and consolation of the second stage of mystical prayer, still fell back into an idle and lukewarm spiritual life for many years. Unfortunately, she was not heard in this prayer, for the same thing happened to me, only more so – deeper and for longer. Then again she was purer from the outset, and all the way. Some of this may be ascribed to the difference between men and women as concerns the nature of their temptations, but even adjusted for this, she was definitely a purer person even as a child, as a youth, and throughout the desert years before her great awakening nearer to the middle of her life. Well, saints will be saints, I guess.

But despite never having been a saint (except in the generic sense that the word is used about all Christians, and even then only under doubt), I still recognized her description so far as to this second stage. In it, the will is taken into a lock or embrace (my words, not hers) so that one does not particularly want to pray or stop praying, but one is just there and the experience of much stronger than usual heavenly presence happens while one is there. The activity of memory, imagination and understanding is as if on the outside, words and thoughts seeming superficial and irrelevant, not even worth suppressing… anyway, you should read St Teresa, she explains it much better.

Many arrive at this stage, says the saint, but few proceed further. And I am certainly not one of those few. When she moves on to write about the third stage, it is utterly unfamiliar to me. I may have seen it as from afar, but I have no experience with it, of that I am pretty sure. She writes so clearly that I should have recognized it. But no. I may as well stop reading right there, for from now on we are in spoiler territory, secrets unknown to me.

And no wonder. I have been wandering far astray, it seems now. And still am, if perhaps now partly from habit.

I see it now as if I was thrown a lifeline when I happened across Fr Dubay’s book on the two great Carmelite saints and their teaching on prayer, Fire Within. Despite a general awareness of imperfection, I was fairly OK with my prayer life. After all, I experienced (and still do, thankfully) the presence of God or some fully authorized representative, day and night, even when I least deserve it. It did not occur to me that God being present to me might be less important than me being present to God.

(By using the word “God” here rather than my common phrase, the Light, I seek to stress the personal aspect of this relationship. Also this usage is closer to that of the saints and their biographers. I am however aware that the word “God” is very saturated today, and often in an unfortunate way, as people have their concept of God from newspaper cartoons and similar misleading sources. Perhaps I should adopt St Teresa’s favorite phrase, “His Majesty”, to express the personal aspect? Or the Jewish “King of the Universe”? Perhaps “All-Father”?)

Anyway! Even now, knowing better, I find it hard to prioritize “actual prayer” (or “focused prayer”, as opposed to “continual prayer” which is, I guess, best described as “non-exclusive”. Wherever one is and whatever one does (at least within a wide range), one can be aware of the Divine presence and communicate accordingly; but that is like being at a party together with your Beloved – it is a very different thing from being together two-alone! That last one is what I mean by “actual prayer”. Get a room!)

If I sought literally first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, then I would be very quick to spend time apart from other things, alone in the beams of the Light, seeking to learn there the Truth as it concerns me, and let the Light burn away what is not compatible with itself. But rather than first, it seems to be “seventh and last” as we say in Norway. Even idle amusements slip past before the one thing necessary.

There is a saying that “Hell is the absence of God”, and that is certainly how it felt to me as well, for the brief times I have experienced such an absence. But to my sinful inclinations, and my lower nature in general, it would almost seem like Hell is the presence of God, the way my mind squirms and wriggles to get away from the more concentrated form of it.

So that is why I hesitate to read any further. I am not at this time one of those who can benefit from it, but rather from rereading and reflecting on what concerns me right now.

I don’t mean to be all depressive here. In fact, I don’t feel that way. I have been unreasonably blessed despite not deserving it. But there are also blessings even much greater, not only for myself but which could have brought happiness to many, that I not only don’t deserve (that doesn’t seem to stop the Heavenly Brother) but that I am not even capable of receiving, much like someone who is still crawling does not have the hands free to carry something, no matter how freely it is given.

Google: not evil, just stupid

Actually, I already have used hundreds of thousands of words to describe what kind of idiot I am, but Google is too dumb to get it.

Right now there is an uproar about Google merging data from its many different services. Evidently it has not done so before, for whatever reason. If so, it is a wonder the company has even survived.

I have used Google products since I first heard of the small upstart company some years ago, when Altavista and Hotbot were fighting over the search engine market. I have given Google as much information about me as I could, to the point of even indexing my hard disks with Google Desktop for years. (Unfortunately, that product is now discontinued. I really enjoyed it, since even I cannot remember all the thousands of journal entries I have written!)

Even though Google should know nearly everything about me, from the frequency of my shoe shopping to my darkest (and brightest) desires, their ads never indicated that this. No matter where I come upon Google ads, they are simple keyword association with the nearby text. That probably works well enough to allow them to get paid for showing the ads, and it did help me discover Project Meditation back when I was reading up on Holosync, so it has caused one purchase in all these years. That is not a very impressive record, though. Actually, it is right up there with a thousand monkeys with typewriters trying to make the next Shakespeare. Not exactly Intelligent Design.

People are worried that Google knows too much about them. I say it knows too little. It is a waste of their resources and my screen space to serve all these useless ads. Over the years it must be thousands and thousands of them, all useless except for one or two. (I think I clicked on another without actually buying anything, but I don’t remember which. It’s been a while.)

Let me just take the ads surrounding a recent e-mail discussing sci-fi books. The most visible add is for Mastercard Gold, no doubt derived from the mention of Orson Scott Card. *facepalm* Then we have an ad for luxury timeshares; I honestly have no idea where they pulled that out from, but anyone who knows me would correctly expect me to feel disgust at this.  Then unspecified good deals in Oslo, presumably because I have a Norwegian IP address – the text here is in Norwegian, as it is on several ads, even though 99.9+% of my writing is in English. Oslo is indeed the capital city of Norway, but that doesn’t mean I visit every year.  Onward to an ad about toilet solutions for cabins (like wood cabin, not planes). And this should interest me because? Not all writers live in a cabin, only highly trained professionals. ^_^ Then comes the first ad that is relevant to the context (“Instant Grammar Checker” – which, by the way, is an incomplete sentence). It is still not relevant to me. Next comes a purveyor of Russian books.

I don’t know about you, but it certainly does not look like Google knows anything about me at all, except what they can glean from the IP address and keywords in the nearby text. If they saved no data about me in their immense server cloud, the result would be exactly the same.

A human reading all the info Google has about me would know me better than their own family. But anyone can do that simply by reading the entire Chaos Node website, yet only one has done it (as far as I know).  And she has already forgotten most of it. ^_^  As have I, probably.

I would suggest the reason why people are so excited about the Google consolidation is that they think they are important. This is a very common delusion. But there are very few important people in the world, except to themselves and their loved ones (at best). If you plan to become a congressperson or above, and have dark secrets (which seems to be alarmingly common among such people), you may want to opt out now. For the rest of us, I think the chance of actually seeing a relevant ad once a year or more is worth it.

“Come a little closer”

“You can come a little closer.” Look at his face! I know that feeling. ^_^ 

On the commute bus in the morning, the radio was playing, distracting me from my hagiography reading off and on. Toward the end of the trip, it played a love song which sounded like it was performed by an underage girl. This tends to creep me out, knowing human nature as well as I do now. Luckily (thanks to the miracle of Google and catching some of the words) I now know that the girl was Frida Amundsen, and definitely not as underage as she sounded, even back then. Finding the song was a bit of a challenge, because there sure are a lot of songs asking someone to come closer, closer to me.

I guess this is one of the most common human emotions. I can kind of understand it, even if I don’t feel it myself. During my attempt to regain my humanity, in my late 30es and early 40es, I learned a lot about human emotions. I should use this more in my writing.

I have always been in love with you,
But, you are unable to see that
I have felt this way, every night and day
Wishing that you would just come
A little closer
Come a little closer
Come a little closer
Closer to me.

Already when I heard it on the radio (and only caught a few words), it reminded me of a favorite Japanese song that I bought some years ago, after hearing it in the anime Midori no Hibi. The song Mou Sukoshi (“just a little more”) is also sung by a girl who sounds a bit childlike, and in fact expresses a wish to get a little closer to your heart. Just a little more, just a little more…

I have however never understood why people keep thinking and feeling this and never say it. In Heaven everyone may know what you think, but not on Earth. Men in particular Really Are That Dense. This is a scientific fact. We are not studiously ignoring you. Well, I might have been anyway, but it wasn’t necessary, back then.

Understanding humans is new and fascinating to me. I was not born like that. I thought humans were like me, and misunderstood you constantly. This upset me greatly. But as I grow, even as I become more aware of how different I am, I also come aware of how you really think and feel. And that lets me come a little closer. Just a little more.

Rose and Butterfly

screenshot anime Goshuushou-sama Ninomiya-kun

But if you hesitate with your choices, another chance may not come again.” That is one interpretation of it, I guess. Or two.

Listening to a collection of popular songs in Norway from 1955, I heard one I remember from my childhood (some ten years later). It begins with a rose speaking to a butterfly: “Soon the summer is over” she says to him, “and my beauty will be scattered by the winds. Come stay with me, and you will find shelter for the autumn storms.” But the butterfly disregarded this, and fluttered by. Eventually, however, he regretted his decision and came back. Too late, too late! Now the rose was dead, and only thistles offered him rest. And that’s why, with the rise of the dawn, a butterfly was found among thistles.

As a kid, I remember mangling this song to make one about tractors. OK, I may have been a pretty big kid, I was always childish for my age. But I definitely knew that the song was allegorical. It was not really about roses and butterflies. My suspicion was that it was about men with fear of commitment, and the vengeance that the natural order would wreak upon them.  (The unnecessary use of gendered pronouns in the song certainly made it clear who was the rose and who was the butterfly.)

Listening to it again, I am not absolutely sure. It may be a more generic message to not let good things pass you by. But I still think my first impression was mostly right. Little did I know back then that I would listen to this for the first time in decades, alone in a family apartment, at a time when the summer of my life was ending.

Of course, back then, I did not expect to live this long, what with the illness that harried me since I was a toddler.

Book review: The Mission

Book cover


This is a more complete review of Shaun F. Messick’s book, Worlds Without End: The Mission. A shorter review was posted on Goodreads, where I first was made aware of the book.

While I don’t read much SF anymore, I used to read them before, and occasionally still do if they are recommended or seem particularly interesting.  I liked the idea of worlds without end, which is in fact some of the appeal of the genre. Good Science Fiction should ideally convey a sense of awe, of majesty and grandeur. This certainly does not happen with every book, but at least it looked like an attempt. Besides, it was cheap.

Unfortunately, this book is cheap in more ways than one. The authors seems to have been too cheap to use a professional editor, which shows in many ways. In fact, I believe a professional editor would have said “Nice first draft” or words to that extent, sending the author back to the computer for a thorough rewriter. But what is more baffling is that the author has not even got three older relatives to read through it, otherwise it would not have been published with numerous spelling errors of the kind that are not redlined by word processors (for example, “window pains”). For the love of your reputation, such as it is, get some old English teacher to read through your book before you publish it, OK?

Occasionally I have met Mormons, members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, wandering around trying to push their add-on Holy Scripture. The author of this book is one of them. You may have wondered what they are like off-duty. This book will not give the answer to that. It is studded with references to how the Book of Mormon is the Truth, and how people who earnestly pray to God about the Book of Mormon will know in their heart that it is the Truth, and various quotes from Mormon Holy Scripture. It is, in short, Mormons! In space!

This is actually one of the more charming traits of the book.  It also has some actual drama starting a bit before the middle, drama that is neither predictable nor seemingly random. After a cringeworthy amateurish start, the book does pick up speed. It looks like the author may after all have a complex plot that is under his control. This may well be true. Unfortunately, we won’t know until the next book comes out – and I, for one, am not likely to find out even then, unless the book is free and I am more bored than I have been in decades. You see, the end… isn’t there. It looks like the author, while writing one of the chapters, realized that he had hit the word count necessary for a novel. He hastily wraps up the chapter, with rather more brevity than usual, and stops writing.

Let me say this again: The book has no ending. It is basically like the first part of a bigger book, which someone has cut in two (or more?), but had the decency to cut between two chapters. Perhaps the author does this to ensure that the readers buy the next book. But there is an even easier solution: Don’t buy this one.

It is a sad fact of life that we don’t all excel at everything. Most of us aren’t very good at writing novels. Messick is one of this majority, but despite this he has gone off and published a book without the necessary professional assistance.  This is kind of like cutting your own hair: A few people can pull this off, but if you don’t, you may want to get some assistance before going out in public.

Now that we have established that it is a lousy book, let us zoom in on the fact that it is a lousy sci-fi book. It is set in the relatively near future, and the tech level seems mostly realistic. So far, so good. But the science is weak, so weak that it is showed aside without so much as “by your leave” whenever religion decides it wants the space for itself. Evidently the Mormon religion establishes that there are other inhabited planets, as shown from the (uniquely Mormon) Scripture quotes that explains why there are two planets populated by humans 22 light years from Earth. Not only are they human, they are indistinguishable from humans on Earth, except that the population on one of the planets have a “god gene” that makes them stronger, healthier and with psychic powers.

I don’t know enough Mormon theology to say whether it would be blasphemy to make the space people green or furry or otherwise distinguishable from Earth humans. I kind of hope not, given the pretty wide variation there is among Earth humans. But I am pretty sure even theology does not demand that they use the Latin alphabet (something that is described repeatedly and in detail in this book). Or that their architecture looks like ours did a couple centuries ago. On a world with two moons, and with different continents.

There is, I sincerely believe, a pretty broad line between “Mormon” and “moron”. The alphabet thing crossed that. This was just dumb. I hope for the sake of the author’s high school teacher that he or she has passed on in peace or left for some non-English-speaking country before this book was let loose on the public.

I generously awarded this book two stars out of five. That may sound a lot after the carnage of this review. But let us face it, the supply of books about Mormons in space is very low, and Shaun Messick has courageously set out to fulfill the demand. The book is also without the now almost mandatory sex scenes which other authors seem to insert randomly. I appreciate that. If you are a Mormon who would normally feel bad about reading SF, this is your chance. Certainly that deserves some credit. You may want to delay reading it until the ending is out, though.


Sims 3 update

Screenshot Sims 3

I will banish unhappiness from this land! Eventually.

Since I have already mentioned that I play The Sims 3 several times a week, what am I up to there? Well, a while ago I started a game in the Nightlife version of Los Aniegos, a Sims 3 version of Los Angeles. Obviously on a much, much smaller scale! By my estimate, it won’t be until around Sims19 that the Sims games will be indistinguishable from real life. ^_^

Even at the much smaller scale, this particular map is huge for a Sims3 map. As such, it will eventually provoke an Error 12 when saving, and the only reliable solution to this is to exit the game and start over from your last successful save, so save frequently. The longer you play a map, the more saved information, and the shorter time you can play before getting the dreaded Error 12. Eventually more time is spent loading and saving than playing the game, so it stops by itself. But it hasn’t reached that level here yet.

If you use a smaller map, you can play longer before it becomes unplayable. Another alternative is more memory, but I already have as much as Windows 32-bits can handle; I am not sure whether my computer can handle 64-bits; in any case I will probably not mess greatly with it for the purpose of a game. This machine has served me pretty well; I have replaced the power supply when it broke, replaced the video card when it broke, and replaced the C: disk with a SSD when it broke. Both the video card and the SSD were dramatically better while not costing too much, as technology marches onward. Perhaps I will replace the main board and processor one day, rather than buy a new machine, what with all the parts I have bought for it. ^_^ But until then, I am limited to 3.25 GB of RAM.

The plot to my Sims story this time is that Hermes Trismegistus, the Hellenic god of wisdom, has reincarnated in Los Aniegos and is aiming to banish unhappiness from the land. Starting from the ordinary, he is currently a humble high school teacher, hobby sculptor and gardener of exotic fruits. But that is just the beginning… unless the game crashes beyond repair, or I need the time for something else. ^_^