Month: November 2017

Help save Net Neutrality

Please take a moment to read this. Think about Comcast. Think about AT&T. Think about how much you hate their service already. I despise these companies. Comcast couldn’t provide me the cable service I paid for and I spent weeks on the phone with their customer service and never got it fixed. AT&T can’t get reliable Internet to my house and they’ve stopped even caring about trying to fix it.

Seriously, fuck those fuckers. Now imagine a dystopian world where they can charge you extra for the sites you already visit.

Want to use Facebook and Twitter? You need the $10 Social Media package.

Want to use Netflix and Hulu? That’s an additional $20 for the streaming package.

ISPs are trying to legislate anticompetitive laws that consolidate their monopoly on the Internet in the U.S. This is a bad thing. An open and free Internet is the engine that has propelled the economy for two decades now, and they want to shut it down.

Are you a writer? Do you make your money by publishing your stuff on Amazon, iBooks, or any of the other ebook sites that have popped up in the past decade and revolutionized publishing? You bet your ass losing Net Neutrality is going to hit you eventually. I’m not sure how, but it’s not going to be good. We’re looking at our business model being upended and potentially destroyed because these large companies can’t compete in the free market so they’re resulting to using the government to strongarm their competition.

Free market my ass.

It takes five minutes to call your representatives. You should do it. Unless you like being fucked in the ass by your cable provider.

Brightness in Skyrim for Nintendo Switch

I love roleplaying games, and Elder Scrolls games are like catnip for me. I’ve been playing through Skyrim on Switch and so far it’s been a wonderful experience except for one small issue.

Brightness is really a problem in some dungeons. Like it’s seriously to the point that you can’t see anything without a torch or using a Candlelight spell.

I did some searching around the Internet to see if other people were having this issue, and of course they are. There are people who inevitably chime in with “Hurr durr dungeons are supposed to be dark use torch lol,” but that’s not a satisfactory answer.

I’ve been playing this game since it launched back in 2011. I’ve invested countless hours and I never had trouble seeing in a dungeon on the PC version. I visited the same locations on PC and Switch and sure enough I could see fine on the PC version and not so well on the Switch. It was frustrating and ruining an otherwise wonderful port of an incredible game.

Turns out the fix is easy though. The issue is the auto brightness setting for the Switch. I’m sure it was put in to preserve battery power, but if you want to play Skyrim and actually see what you’re doing in a dungeon you’re going to have to sacrifice that battery power.

The fix is easy enough:

  1. Hit the Home button.
  2. Go to System Settings
  3. Select Screen Brightness
  4. Turn off Auto Brightness Adjustment
  5. Turn the brightness all the way up

Voila. After doing that I didn’t have nearly as much trouble seeing in Skyrim’s many very dark locations. Hope that helps you out if you’re enjoying portable Skyrim on the Switch!

Ten years without Robert Jordan

I noticed awhile back that it’s been ten years since the passing of Robert Jordan. I was surprised to see that it had been that long. I guess I’m getting to that point in my adult life where things that happened ten years ago still feel like they only happened yesterday as opposed to the eternity that would’ve seemed when I was younger.

I was super obsessed with The Wheel of Time when I was a teenager. I’d chatted with a few people who were obsessed with it over ICQ, which is another line that’s dating me, and I eventually decided to pick up The Eye of the World near the end of my sophomore year of high school. I still remember going out to dinner with my family one Friday night when I was near the end and instead of going in shopping with them like I usually did after dinner I sat flipping pages in my mom’s car reading by the dome light and having my mind blown as I finished EotW.

Jordan’s work was a revelation at the time, and I think it’s one of those things where he was so revolutionary and there were so many people who moved to copy him after the fact that a lot of people look at Wheel of Time now and find themselves wondering what the big deal is.

It’s difficult to describe if you weren’t around the fantasy fandom at the time, but it was nothing short of amazing. Strong female characters. A subtle depiction of a world where women hold the power. I always found it endlessly amusing that people criticized Jordan’s female characters by calling them shrill, shrews, commanding, demanding, etc., and never once do the people leveling these criticisms seem to have the introspection to ask themselves if they would level the same accusations at their fantasy heroine if she was a hero.

Jordan had a well thought out world that felt lived in. He had an intricate magic system where, as he said in a signing I attended, the magic is their technology. He took familiar fantasy tropes and turned them on their ear.

Sure the books start to plod after about book five. Sure it felt like the plot was spiraling out of control with new characters being introduced when you wondered why he wasn’t just wrapping the damn thing up. Sure some of the descriptions can get a little samey after awhile, and he had an obsession with fashion that was a bit odd.

But I still think they’re wonderful books that are well worth exploring. They were groundbreaking in their day, but even these days they’re still a fun read. Maybe skip Crossroads of Twilight since nothing of consequence really happens in there.

I had an opportunity to meet Robert Jordan when he was on tour for Knife of Dreams. I’m so glad that I took the time to go to that book tour because it turns out that was the last one he’d ever go on. He had a presence that filled the room. A severity and an attitude that said he’d been on enough of these tours and dealt with enough fans trying to get him to reveal something that he wouldn’t put up with nonsense, but he still made the room laugh.

At the signing he said he was planning one more book in the series, and that he would make the publisher put it on the shelves even if it was a foot long. Which is a little ironic in hindsight considering they ended up splitting the book into three after his death. He did a rundown of how to pronounce the names, and deftly handled a Q&A where it was clear there was a room full of fans who were eager to get him to reveal something or catch him in a “gotcha” question.

When it came time for the signing itself everything was brief. We got up and I bought hardcover copies of Eye of the World and Knife of Dreams for him to sign. I could kick myself, because once we got to the signing I saw other people there who’d brought giant bags full of their hardcover collections for him to sign. I’d been building my own hardcover collection from used bookstores at the time and I had everything but The Dragon Reborn at that point. Of course the signing was a good three hours away from where I lived so there was no way I’d be able to go back and get those books, and while he was happy to sign more than two books the people who did that had to wait until the end of the night so it’s not like it would’ve been workable.

When I got up to his table he hit me with a look that I can only describe as piercing and severe, but not unfriendly. I stammered something out about how much I enjoyed his books, nothing profound from me meeting this particular hero, and then he signed the books and it was over.

One other thing we remarked on at that signing was how thin he looked. He was definitely more gaunt than he appeared in his book covers, but my friend and I who made the drive out there assumed he’d been losing weight for health reasons or something. It wasn’t until after the tour that his diagnosis was announced and the world realized how bad it was.

I still remember sitting in a computer lab in college browsing Digg, another tell as to what an old fart I am in Internet years, when I read the news that he’d passed. It was a surprise as they’d been optimistic and upbeat in all the updates, but not a huge surprise since his disease didn’t have a great prognosis.

The fantasy world lost one of its giants that day. I still wonder what might have been if he’d been allowed to finish the series. Brandon Sanderson did a wonderful job of tying up a series that had too many dangling threads to count, but fantasy fans are always going to be left wondering how Jordan’s take would’ve turned out.

To Robert Jordan. One of the greats. I’d say he was gone too soon, but it seems like he lived a long and fulfilling life and will be remembered fondly by fans and those who knew him, and can you really ask for more than that once you’ve shed this mortal coil?

Dragon Naturally Speaking: PC or Mac?

Dragon Naturally Speaking is available for PC and Macs. Which version is better?

I realize that this article is going to be a moot point for a lot of people. You’re either a Mac person or a PC person, and you’re naturally going to gravitate towards the version of the software designed for your computer, right?

Not necessarily. It turns out when it comes to deciding between the PC and the Mac version of Dragon Naturally Speaking there are several different options available to you depending on what kind of performance you demand. This is also a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been switching my writing workflow to 100% dictation and I try to figure out a decent way of getting text from my recorder to a word processor.

The problem is pretty simple. I made the switch to Mac about a year ago and I love it. This is coming from a lifelong PC user who grew up on the things. Seriously, my first PC was a monochrome 8086 IBM compatible that my dad spent thousands of 1980s dollars to buy. The only problem with that switch is I still like to use Dragon occasionally, and Dragon for Mac sucks.

Training Your Dragon

Training: This is by far the best reason to get Dragon for PC. If it gets a word wrong then you can correct it and Dragon learns from that correction. If it repeatedly gets a word wrong then you can train it on that word and the problem goes away.

Seriously. I can’t tell you how much of a lifesaver this feature is. I’ve taught my Dragon how to swear. I’ve had it learn specialized vocabulary for fantasy and science fiction stories I was working on. It’s a game changer, a productivity saver, and something that you absolutely need in my opinion.

Dragon for Mac? Not so much. You just can’t train it the same way you can the PC version. I’m not sure what’s going on under the hood that they weren’t able to include the central feature of every PC version of this program going back to its inception, but it was a really boneheaded move. Dragon for Mac is basically a nice way to get your words on screen, but you’ll constantly be correcting the same transcription errors and It. Gets. Old.

Transcription

Transcription is a mixed back between PC and Mac, but it’s a mixed bag that I think leans towards the Windows version even though there is a minor annoyance about the Windows version.

Transcription is how I use Dragon. I have a Philips recorder that I carry with me at all times so that I can utilize my downtime. If I’m on a drive then I’m dictating. If I’m in the parking lot waiting on my wife to do some shopping I can pull out the recorder and dictate. It’s a great tool for getting out a first draft and putting thoughts on the page, and because of that transcription is the thing I focus on the most when I’m setting up Dragon.

The nice thing about transcription in Dragon for Mac is that I can load up multiple files at once and tell Dragon to transcribe them, and then they’re transcribed in the background leaving me free to do other things. Compare this to the PC version of Dragon where you can transcribe multiple files at once by selecting them, sure, but the drawback is Dragon takes control of your PC while it’s doing the transcribing rather than doing that transcription in the background.

So it’s a game of tradeoffs. Dragon for Mac does the transcribing in the background, but remember that training I was talking about in my first point? Yeah, you really can’t do that with transcription. In Dragon for PC you create a separate input for your digital recorder under your existing profile and then you can train that input source as it makes mistakes and it will get better and learn how you talk.

Dragon for Mac? Not so much. It does transcription, sure, but it’s the same old problem where it’s going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again because you can’t train it so it never learns. The end result is you’re going to be spending a hell of a lot of time going back and fixing the same mistakes over and over again and believe you me that gets very old very fast.

So for transcription the tip of the hat goes to Dragon for PC.

Accuracy and the Little Things

Finally there’s accuracy to think of. How good are these programs out of the box?

I can remember a time in the late ’90s and early ’00s when you had to spend a lot of time training Dragon if you wanted anything approaching accuracy, and even then you still had to go over everything you wrote with an editor’s eye to make sure it was coming out correct. This was fine for my dad because he was a lawyer and lawyers employ secretaries to do dictation anyway. Dragon just made life easier for everyone involved.

But what about for an author who doesn’t have a secretary to go over everything? And that’s the rub of it. I’ve discovered that no matter what you do, no matter what version of Dragon comes out, there’s nothing that’s going to be one hundred percent accurate whether you’re talking about transcription or dictating to the computer. There’s always going to be little mistakes that creep in, and you’re always going to have to keep an eye out for those mistakes.

I’ve not done anything approaching a scientific study of this, but I have a general feel between using Dragon for PC and Dragon for Mac, and I’d say that for sitting down and dictating or for transcribing the accuracy is definitely better on the PC version out of the box. And since you can’t really do any training worth the name in Dragon for Mac it’s not like it’s going to get better, whereas in the PC version you can train and it’s going to do a better job of learning your unique style.

Dragon for Mac also has odd idiosyncrasies. The transcription sucks, as I mentioned, but it also capitalizes words randomly and inserts random spaces. There are a lot of little niggling details it gets wrong that adds up to a very frustrating experience for a piece of software that costs so much.

Which version of Dragon should you get?

This is simple. If you have a PC then you need to get Dragon for PC. If you have a Mac? You still want to get Dragon for PC.

Stay with me for a moment here, because this is the solution I ultimately came up with since Dragon for PC is the one piece of software that I found myself missing when I made the switch to Mac.

Dragon for Mac costs $300. That’s a steep pricetag for a piece of software that’s essentially a less functional version of its PC counterpart. This is one piece of software where you’re definitely paying the Mac tax.

But don’t forget about Parallels.

The wonderful thing about today’s Macs is they’re fully capable of running a modern Windows OS, and it’s never been easier to run a virtual machine like Parallels that allows you to run a Windows install within whatever version of MacOs you’re running. Which means you get all the benefits of the one or two Windows programs you need to run while also retaining all your Mac stuff.

The cost makes sense too. Dragon Premium 13 costs roughly $120. Parallels costs $80 to either buy outright or to get a one year SAAS subscription that includes updates. That means you’re only out $200 to get Dragon working on your Mac, which is still $100 cheaper than buying Dragon for Mac outright! You don’t even have to worry about Windows, because Microsoft is giving away Windows 10 right now. The only penalty for not paying for Windows 10 is you get some annoying text in the bottom right corner of your screen and you can’t personalize the background, but why would you want to do that when you’re doing most of your computing on your Mac?

There are two potential drawbacks to this approach:

  1. There is a learning curve to figuring out how to run Parallels on your Mac. I didn’t think it was a particularly steep learning curve, but it’s definitely there. Thankfully there are a number of tutorials out there that will get you up and running, and you can even do a 15 day free trial to see if it works for you.
  2. You have to have a computer that has some resources to it. You’re running two OSes at the same time including Dragon which can be resource intensive. I’m running a higher end MacBook Pro of recent vintage so I didn’t have any problem, but if you’re running older hardware you might have an issue. Then again if you’re running hardware old enough for this to be an issue then you’re also probably running hardware old enough that Dragon for Mac isn’t a terribly viable option either.

In a nutshell

So there you have it. Avoid Dragon for Mac. Get Dragon Premium 13 for PC. If you’re using a Mac then you need to either run Dragon for PC in Parallels or install Windows on your system using Bootcamp and use Dragon for PC if you’re serious about voice recognition as part of your writing workflow.

That’s it for this update. Up next: Why Dragon isn’t the magic productivity silver bullet some people make it out to be, and why it can still be damn useful.