#meanjin280: The Trolley Problem


Taking Dictation: Testing Windows 10 Speech Recognition Software

Edited post

Hello everyone, it’s been a very long time between posts.  To be entirely honest, I only decided to do this post because I am trying out speech recognition software. My Surface Pro has Windows 10 which includes a free Speech Recognition program.

I decided to give dictation a go after reading a number of other blog posts espousing* the benefits of dictating into speech recognition software as a way of improving writing speed and output.  I read a few from The Creative Penn – check out this link for a list of Joanna’s posts on the topic: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/tag/dictation/ .
I’d recommend her YouTube videos on the topic as well.

This blog post is divided into two sections:

  • The first half (i.e. this half) – under the heading ‘Edited’ is the blog post proper. I have done my dictated draft, pasted it into WordPress, and then undertaken a reasonable edit. I expect it is what you are reading now.
  • The second half is my original – the dictated text pre-edit. Whilst I did correct terrible errors as I went (see below), it is still somewhat ‘raw’. It might be useful as an example of output.

At the time I dictated this, I was terribly uncertain as to how it would go. Sitting here doing my editing, I can say right now I am kinda impressed. I understand that before I will see any improvement in speed or accuracy, that the voice recognition software will requires a certain amount of ‘training’ – meaning that I will need to edit as I go.  I expect that editing as I go will slow things down in the short term, but in the long term I hope that windows 10 be accurate enough correctly capture me speaking naturally and without requiring constant self editing.  I figure I will need to give it a few weeks to see well it learns.

Apart from this experiment I’ve been trying to keep focus on my writing, doing my 350 words a day, and (broadly) I have achieved this. I recently started to push this out to 500 words a day.  All up my writing is going OK. The story I’m working on at the moment is up to 30,000 words – all terrible of course – but still sitting there, ready to go all the same.

I haven’t done too much more of the homework set by the Writing Excuses podcast crew, mainly because I found it chewed up more time than I was willing to dedicate to it.  I think the activities they suggest are valuable, but only if doing it doesn’t eat into the time of actually writing something.

I’m going to close off the blog post here – it was just intended to be a practice run after all.  Overall the experience while talking hasn’t been too bad (although it does feel unnatural to write out loud like this). I think my head is firmly in a mindset where I think as I type, and thinking and speaking feels really weird. 

Let me know if you’ve tried speech to text dictation. Have you used free software like the Windows 10 one I’m using, Siri, or perhaps some of the more powerful paid software like Dragon Naturally Speaking?  I’d be interested in your experiences, as if I can get this free program working reasonably well and start seeing the benefits it, I’ll look into buying Dragon.


*I absolutely threw in the word ‘espousing’ in an effort to trip up the software, and was both impressed and also a little miffed that it got it correct first time.

Original (raw speech-to-text dump)

Strictly this is attempt two.
Hello everyone, a long time between the blog posts. To be honest I’m only doing this one is an attempt to try out a speech recognition software. I have read a number of other blog posts, espousing the benefits of dictating writing into speech recognition software as a way of improving overall output. So this is me, giving ago.
The way I see this blog post working is as follows;
– Half the post will show the roar unedited results of my little experiment
– The other half will semi-final edited result.
I am not sure how this will go, and whether I will see any improvement in speed as I understand that voice recognition software requires a certain amount of “training”. And even if some doing this on finding it very hard not to automatically as I go. In the beginning I expect that editing as I go will slow things down in the short term, but in the long term I hope that windows 10 will learn how I speak. Eventually though, it will be important for me to be I was speaking naturally and without self editing. I figure give it a few weeks and see how things go.
What have I been doing recently? Apart from my regular work activities, I’ve been trying to keep focus on my writing, doing my 350 words a day, and recently have tried to push them out of 500 words a day. This going OK, the story I’m working on at the moment is up to 30,000 words space – all terrible of course – but still set down all the same.
I haven’t done too much of the homework set by the writing excuses crew, mainly because I found it chewed up more time and was willing to dedicate to it. I think it’s valuable, but only if a dozen key in the time of actually writing something.
I’m going to close off the ball post here, this was after all it just intended to be a bit of a practice run. Overall hasn’t been too bad although it is still a bit of fresh an unnatural to to write in this matter. I think my head is firmly in a mindset we are I think as I type, and thinking and speaking feels really weird. If
Let me know if you’ve tried speech to text dictation whether the free windows software, siri, or some of the more powerful paid software like a dragon naturally speaking. If I can get this working reasonably and can see the benefits in that, I’ll look at buying that software.

Writing Advice Book Review: ‘Reading like a writer’ – Francine Prose

A selection of the classic novels that my wife owns and insists be put in front of my Warhammer 40k Books

A topic I know I have dealt with before (See Reading with intent: Musing on Writing), but after listening to Ms Prose’s audiobook, I thought it was worth revisiting briefly.

I picked up this audiobook on the Libby Library app, on a whim essentially, as I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. I’m happy to say it has been 9 hours well spent, as Ms Prose’s book of writing advice – nay – her book of reading advice is both entertaining and inspiring. And I mean inspiring – as soon as I finished the book I hunted through my bookshelf at home for the volumes of classic books I knew that my wife owned, and that were now acting as the respectable disguise for my ’embarrassing books’ (30+ Warhammer 40K novels). 

Reading like a writer is logically set out. Almost like a physics text book it starts with the smallest particles (words) before working its way up to more macro concepts (sentences, paragraphs). Nothing is missed by Prose as she targets character, narrator (i.e. point of view), dialogue and gesture. And each topic is illustrated by quotes from classic authors (she has a strong preference for your long dead white guys – the only women authors I can remember she mentions are the Brontës and Woolf.)

The main lesson she gives here though – the underpinning conceit of the whole book – is that writers need to learn how to read closely. How it is critical to look at the work of the masters of writing, or even just authors we love, and consider what is it about their work that we love, that makes them masters? How do they decide to break up paragraphs? Why are their sentences beautiful? What are the characters saying in this section, and what are they NOT saying? She asks us to look at how the authors use, or misuse, individual words. This close reading is apparently a learned skill, but an important one for writers trying to improve their craft.

So I’m going to try it and do exactly this. I am going to try and read short stories and novels, and even dip into my wife’s list of classic books and try to specifically identify the words and the sentences and the dialogue that they write, and try to figure out why it resonates with me. 

At the very least, I hope to pick up a few nice turns of phrase.

It’s a fantastic resource, and I recommend you pick it up. The audio book was great, but I’m going to grab a physical version to use a proper reference.

Funnily enough, thought I would start this practice of close reading with a short story from the Weird Compendium – a massive volume of short stories that was edited by the Vandermeers. (On another note I’ve also decided I will finish reading this book in 2019 – it is too early for new years resolutions?).

The story “the Aleph” is by Jorge Louis Borges, and it has some beautiful writing in it:

On the burning February morning Beatriz Viterbo died, after braving an agony that never for a single moment gave way to self-pity or fear, I noticed that the sidewalk billboards around Constitution Plaza were advertising some new brand or other of American cigarettes. The fact pained me, for I realised that the wide and ceaseless universe was already slipping away from her and that this slight change was the first of an endless series.

The Aleph, Jorge Louis Borges (available here: http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/borgesaleph.pdf )

I love that line ‘ceaseless universe was already slipping away from her‘, the pain of realising that even though someone you love dies, life moves on, other people move on. I feel like I can appreciate that pain, that grief, as it reminded me of my father’s death, and then the mundanity of living that just kept going on despite his absence. The person is gone, and eventually memory of them will be gone too.

Beyond this somewhat bleak introduction to the story, I actually found the Aleph pretty funny. The main character is talking with a person he clearly hates, one who is as pompous as he is fatuous and who is in the midst of writing a poem encapsulating the whole world. This generates some great lines that I felt carry a dry sarcasm:

So foolish did his ideas seem to me, so pompous and so drawn out his exposition, that I linked them at once to literature and asked him why he didn’t write them down. As might be foreseen, he answered that he had already done so…

The Aleph, Jorge Louis Borges (available here: http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/borgesaleph.pdf )

Even better is this section, that could almost be a warning about over-reliance on a thesaurus:

He then reread me four or five different fragments of the poem. He had revised them following his pet principle of verbal ostentation: where at first “blue” had been good enough, he now wallowed in “azures,” “ceruleans,” and “ultramarines.” The word “milky” was too easy for him; in the course of an impassioned description of a shed where wool was washed, he chose such words as “lacteal,” “lactescent,” and even made one up — “lactinacious.”

The Aleph, Jorge Louis Borges (available here: http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/borgesaleph.pdf )

I was tickled by the coincidence that the first story I looked at with the aim of interrogating the writing had sections picking on the writing of one of the characters!

So going my 2019 Goal is to look for beautiful sentences, paragraphs and words in my favourite stories. I may even drop a few of them here on this blog! Feel free to drop a few of your own favourite bits of writing in the comments.

(Secret 2019 Goal: to slip the word ‘lactinacious’ into a work email.)

So, its been a few days since I posted last (checks notes) ah…2 or 3 weeks then. Eep! Oh well. I haven’t been lazy – I’ve actually been doing some writing:

  • My directionless primary wip is sitting at 18,850, although a lot of this writing has been outlining and world building. Progress nonetheless.
  • My secondary wip is sitting at 7,200 words. This has also advanced through outlining etc, but it already had far more structure than the primary wip, so this feels a bit more advanced, despite the lower word count.
  • I just started revising the short Lovecraftian story The Envelope that I finished a zero-draft on a month ago. I figured it was time to open the vault on that one, and get up in its guts.

Homework Sux

Hi folks,

Another quick post – I havent spent much time blogging, but I have spent time writing. I gave my stats earlier in the week, and these have continued, slowly. I keep pumping out my 350 words a week on my (directionless) primary wip (‘Pussy Alternator’), and then throwing more words towards anything else I happen to get an interest in.

After finishing my short story to zero draft stage, this means I’m hitting a new secondary wip that I’m calling ‘Vermi’. This story is that I’m going to try and make funny. Despite having a reasonably high opinion of my own sense of humour, I rarely try to be funny in my writing in any sustained manner. Oh, I drop a joke or few silly comments on my blog, and have pumped a few flash fictions that were basically 100-to-1000 word buildups to a punchline – but nothing long form. I think that writing humour is hard to do well, and I’m not convinced I’ll be able to pull it off. But its a challenge, which is what this is all about, right?

As for the homework…I don’t think I’m going to do this month’s homework. I know, I know.

I’m slack.

But…two things.

The homework itself doesnt really inspire me.

Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.


Meh. This is a weak excuse. Just because the homework isn’t particularly sexy isn’t a reason to not do it. Still, its particularly uninspiring…

I’m actually getting proper writing done, and I kinda don’t want to lose the momentum

This is a far better excuse, and the one I’m going to hold up as my ‘reason’ for being slack.

That said, the gang is still going through the podcast, and I will be spending the month focusing on the characters I have in my current writing. I may not walk them through a dead drop, but I will be thinking about them in their scenes, how they interact with people and the surrounds, how to convey their personalities through this interaction.

I will also be thinking about character arc – which I think is a challenge for comedic challenges, as character growth isnt necesarily something comedic characters are known for. Let’s see how that goes 🙂 .

Till next time.

A Productive Month

This last month has been a lot of fun. Listening to the podcasts, trying the homework activities, chatting to my writing group, and – most significantly – actually getting some writing work done, has been deeply satisfying. So I thought I might have a quick look at my output over the month.


This month has been more productive for my writing than any period since I started even thinking about writing. I’ve dropped:
 – roughly 10,000 words on my primary WiP
 – 5,000 words on a short story (to zero draft stage) and 
 – around about 2,000 to 4,000 words on the blog.  

This doesn’t count the planning work on a new story idea that hasn’t involved any writing yet but I’m still pretty enthusiastic about. I attribute much of this motivation to my little writing group. So thanks lads, appreciated. Some of it though, was thanks to Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses: Month One

We started (as recommended) at Season 10 of Writing Excuses, and the first month was on Ideas, including:

I found these episodes, and particularly trying homework activities, to be very useful. They kick-started my own process of idea generation, which had been laying somewhat ignored and unloved for some time. Back when I  was blogging frequently I would stretch the creative muscles often – the Friday Fictioneers exercises were like a creative gym session, a mental circuit class. Deliberately sitting and thinking about being creative woke up some long stagnant imagination-muscles and whilst some ideas were thin or weak or just had limited options, there were a few there that I really felt could work.

So if you’re looking to spark the creative process, I recommend trying these homework exercises. At a minimum, you’ll stretch your brain into the right frame of mind. At best – you might come up with your next project and be infused with a new round of inspiration and motivation.

Do you have any other suggestions? How do you get your ideas? Writing prompts? Random photos? Flipping through the news channels? Let me know!

Cheers all


World War Wizards: Character Audition 5

Whew. Last one.Previous days can be found here:
One – Desecrating Druid
Two – Necromancer War Criminal
Three – Spellshocked Sorcerer
Four – Despairing Demonologist

Character 5: Soulburnt Saint


Diametrically opposed to the nation of Elsrelm in almost every way possible is the Theocratic Confederacy of Niahm, ruled by the ‘unbending and incorruptible’ Church Hierarchy. Government and Church are the same in nations that worship Niahm, and Niahm’s control is pure and absolute – and frequently merciless. The Hierarchy is insular and defensive, shunning ties and treaties with any nearby nations that does not follow the worship the one god and submit to Hierarchy Rule. Indeed, many Alignment nations believed that the Confederacy would have stayed out of the War if not for the involvement of Elsrelm, as the Hierarchy’s intense hatred of Elsrelm far outweighed its distaste for their heretic neihbours.

Nations in the Confederacy use very little magic outside of their rituals and prayers to Niahm and his servants. These servants – the Celestials – are understood to judge the purity of belief and the cleanliness of a worshiper’s soul before granting any prayers. Only the purest can beg the attention of the more powerful Celestial, and if you fail their judgment then the penalty is swift and brutal. In times of war the Hierarchy forms the Martyrs – a handful of the purest and most powerful warriors are bonded with Celestials in a process called Soul-Riding – and together the bonded soldier and angel become a powerful combination, capable of taking on whole armies on their own.

Character concept

A patriot, a warrior, three times Martyr. She has responded to the call of war three times and been the sole survivor of the Martyrs each time. A woman, young looking and strong, is actually nearly 200 years old. At the end of the prior wars she has unbonded with her Celestial, and retired, aging naturally. But when war came anew, she felt her duty was to bond again, and the her body was restored to youth and power. She is proud of her service, but after the war she decided determined that enough was enough – she was sick of the bloodshed.

This time however she has been asked to not unbond, but rather to remain with the Celestial ‘until the world settles’, to protect the Confederacy’s interests. Dutiful, she did so, but she has started struggling with this request recently, as the Celestial’s influence over her is increasing as her soul is consumed in the angel’s purifying holiness. Her view of her fellow citizens is becoming increasingly negative as she sees sin and corruption and weakness everywhere, even in the holy Hierarchy itself. The purity expected by the Celestial is unachievable for humans, and she fears that she will one day take action to purge the church of impurity, and baptize the nations of Niahm in blood.

What does she want?
She wants to unbond with the Celestial before she loses her humanity. She wants to put down the sword and get away from the blood. But she is also mad at the corruption she sees in the Church, as every lie told by a politicking priest is a spit on the grave of one of the Martyrs who died in Niahm’s name.

Thanks folks, let me know what you think.


World War Wizards: Character Audition 4

Day four of the character auditions!

Previous days can be found here:
One – Desecrating Druid
Two – Necromancer War Criminal
Three – Spellshocked Sorcerer

Character 4: Despairing Demonologist


Elsrelm was a small but powerful nation, one of the four that originally formed the Nexus. Mages here were specialists in the Demonology; a school of magic involving the summoning of mystical energies and entities from the Hell Dimension. Elsrelm had always been an unpopular nation due to its connection with the evil realm and the fact that its government and bureaucracy is populated by a mix of humans and demons, resulting in a terrible system of control and oppression. The powerful families and demons in Elsrelm acted with almost total impunity, whilst the low born and powerless were at the mercies of a corrupt structure.

Demonology is as much negotiation and persuasion as it is art or science. Practitioners summon entities and energies from Hell, and must be precise in their gestures, chants and symbols to ensure that a demon of appropriate power is summoned – as raising an unmanageable demon is death for the demonologist. But once the demon is here, the summoner must then strike a bargain to get what he or she wants. Negotiations are complex arrangements, and many demonologists must summon a single demon multiple times, to make offers and counter-offers in order to secure their desires. Once agreement is reached however, the demon is bound to it, totally. The strength and power of a demon makes the demonologist almost certain to get their desires.

Character concept:

An ancient summoner, this man is an academic, not a War Wizard, at least not in the traditional sense. He is physically weak, frail of health …and is a traitor to the Nexus. The old Demonologist saw the World War coming thanks to an old deal he had made with a powerful demon who gave him advance warning of the destruction of his guild. Knowing the ruin that was to come, the old man stole as many ancient tomes as he could carry and escaped to a safe country within the Alignment, where he continued his research.

Whilst in the tiny country (which specialised in mind-control magic), he came to the theory of scaled-uncontrolled summoning. He postulated that a series of mind-controlled and mind-linked mages could be compelled to undertake a powerful summoning over a large area that would cause that area to temporarily transition to Hell, whilst a similarly sized chuck of hell would transition here. This might be enough, he posited, to cause significant damage to military infrastructure, as well as killing many Nexus combatants (both those who transition to hell and are attacked) and those around the affected area which is now swamped with raging demons.

This idea was regarded very warmly by the Alignment commanders, who gently supported his research. He worked on it for years, with nothing but gentle prompts and encouragement and almost total autonomy. In the end, he completed his academic paper, the Alignment military thanked him for his service, and promptly conducted a mission using mind-controlled POW demonologists on the very capital of Elsrelm, at a scale that dwarfed the old man’s ground tests.

The demonologist was mortified when he discovered his work was to be used at such a scale, and against civilians, but his protests went unheard. Unexpectedly the power of the uncontrolled test increased exponentially with the increases in scale (not on a straight line as his theory anticipated), and fully a third of the land mass of Elsrelm (and a not insignificant chunks of neighbouring countries) flipped over to hell to be replaced by a demonic hellscape of smoke blood and brass. Unlike his prior experiments, the two locations have stayed flipped ever since. The nation of Elsrelm ceased to exist at this point, and a new kingdom (Dark Elsrelm) dominated by uncontrolled and unbound Demons is rapidly rebuilding in its place.

The war ended within weeks of this, with all Nexus nations surrendering rather than face a similar fate. But many eyes are now looking at the demon rulers of Dark Elsrelm nervously.

What does he want?
The old man wants to undo what he has done. He has been summoning progressively stronger demons to flip the two locations back, to sink the nation into the ocean, or even turn back time, but no entity he is brave enough to summon has this level of power. He is tortured by the hundreds of thousands of civilian lives he condemned to Hell, and fears what has now been unleashed on the world. His greatest fear is the trickles of reports that indicate that the boundary of Dark Elsrelm is growing.

Whew. One more to go. See you tomorrow.