Monday 30 April 2012

Fear Perfect Voice Recognition Software. FEAR!

I was chatting with a friend recently regarding their "smart" phone's voice recognition software. We had a good laugh, mostly about its inability to recognize names.  My first encounter with voice recognition was when I received a phone call from my brother (not the strangest one ever, might I add), that went something like this:

Me: Allo!

Bro: Um, you're not my wife.

Me: ... no. Ew.

Bro: I was trying to call my wife.

Me: Hello?  Hellloooo?

My brother is uncouth. I obviously won out with the couthness gene (truly). He informed me, days later, that he had been testing voice recognition on his car's blue tooth system.  I'm not sure how exactly that worked out, since my name is "Marie" and my sister-in-law's is "Jessica."  I figure he shortened it in his address book to "Jessy" or "Wessy," as she's not one to stand on three-syllable formalities. Or he calls her something else in his address book that I really don't want to know about. Regardless, not close enough to be that easily confused with my name.

Almost every time a new operating system comes out on a "smart" phone, they claim the voice recognition software has gotten better.  (I'm sorry, I can't write that without the quotation marks. If you think a phone is smart, you need to get yourself some smarter friends, is all I'm saying.)

Oh ya?  Sure, why not.  But here's the scary truth (as I see it. It's my blog).  To have perfect voice recognition software can only mean two things.  (I was with a bunch of people at a pub and we came up with a third, but I seriously don't recall, possibly because of those awesome caesars...  It worked with category one, though, so we'll let that stand.)

1. Computers are so smart they adapt to language, dialect and contractions

Oh ya.  No two ways about it.  Language, my friend, is a complex thing.  To truly have voice recognition software that is perfect, and by that I mean you don't have to use canned sentences, you don't have to speak - exactly - like - so - enunciating - e-ve-ry-sy-lla-b-le-per-fect-ly, you don't have to hide you regional dialect, AND you stick to actual ways of speaking, not that canned dictionary shit.

Heck, even Speak Like a Pirate Day should be no deterrent to perfect voice recognition software. Why would it be?  Words are words, right?

Not so. Words are sounds.  Words are living organisms affected by the speaker, and grammar rules need not be obeyed.  Sounds roll and trickle and tumble away in a cacophony of colour echoed by walls, picked up by nearby ears, reflected by windows.  Words, as it stands, are not static, can be screamed or chanted, sung or hurled.

Words are sounds, and sound do not obey the simple "from my mouth to your metalic ear" scenario. Sound picks up other bits from its surroundings and carries it to destination.  Sound always checks extra baggage, unless you're in a perfectly hermetic room with no echoes.  Sound likes, heck, loves company. And sound loves to dance, and the human mouth loves to play with words and make them stern, sexy, angry, loving.  The human mouth and words are long-time lovers, let's face it, and we grow familiar with our lovers. We get lazy about the perfection of the affair. So our words suffer for their familiarity.

When I had an iBook G4, a few years back, I could ask it to tell me a joke. I had to be very precise in how I said it.  "Tell • Me • A • Joke."  Granted, that was a few years ago, and all it could tell me were knock knock jokes (and not very funny ones, at that), but still.  It was a pain.

So, if computers understand us all, all the time (which I certainly don't), then it's smart without quotations.  And all languages, too. Remember, we're discussing perfect voice recognition.  No compromise.

It's a Skynet level of intelligence.  Even on Star Trek the computers didn't get everything. It had its little "I totally have no clue what you just babbled" noise.  And it never tried to destroy humanity, either (well, except when taken over by an evil/sexy intelligence, but that's a few other story lines).

Do you want to live in Skynet's world?  I didn't think so. So dial up your numbers, already.

Okay, what's the second scenario, then?  In what other circumstances could we have achieved this?

2. The world has become such a homogenized place that we all speak the same way

Scary, ain't it?

English is my second language.  At this point in my life, I think it's safe to say that I'm perfectly bilingual.  But throw in any accent, and I'm in trouble. Not so in French.  I can understand all sorts of accents in my mother tongue, can identify where people are from, and can replicate them.

I can't in English. I can't do an accent to save my life (thankfully, it's never come to that). Heck, I can barely do a French Canadian accent, unless I'm tired and it slips in naturally.

I remember in university, watching a film on anti-semitism.  A German speaking man walked us through a Concentration Camp.  I turned to Roomy (in the early days of our friendship, but she was already a Roomy by then), and she was nodding along.  Now, we were taking German classes at that point, since so many archaeological papers are written in German, but still, I was impressed with how much more advanced she was than me.

She looked at me, saw my look of admiration, and said: "He's speaking English, you know."

She always tries to make me feel better about that by saying he did have a strong accent, but I think she's just trying to be nice.

So which one is scarier?  Super intelligent computers or a homogenized human population?

I dunno about you, but I'm willing to fight Skynet, if it means avoiding scenario 2.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Birthday Reflection

Today's my birthday! Sometimes (not often, thankfully), I like to reflect on where I've been and how I came to be who I am.  Most times, those reflections don't get me very far as I get distracted by something shiny.

Then, once in a while, I see something that just tells me "Oh ya, that's totally me!"

This photograph, recently reclaimed from a family member, is one of those things:

Little Marie (in blue), with a maniacal grin on her face, about to stomp her doll.  My two very sweet cousins look on in horror, the youngest clutching her doll protectively...

You have to admit.  It highlights so very, very much.

Thanks to all of you for making each orbit around the sun increasingly more fun and interesting! 

Birthday hugs and kisses to all!

Monday 23 April 2012

The No-Longer-Convent-Convent

I posted before about my writing retreat, a convent, which was recently secularized. I needed to get away for a bit after all of the excitement of cons, book launches, and generally being social. So I headed off to the convent, not certain what I was getting into.

Last time, government workers and photographers infested the no-longer-convent-convent.  I was thrilled to see that it would rain this weekend – great writing weather, and generally good at keeping photographers indoors.

This time, there were few other visitors, but they were all really obnoxious and loud, and they all made jokes too sad, unoriginal and quite frankly painful for me to impose them on all of you. You’re welcome.

My first flower sighting this Spring, at a the convent. A sad little flower. Possibly because it heard the jokes, too.

Regardless of stale, annoying (attempts at) humour, what I finally realized that I didn’t have anymore at the convent is space.

Even the dead ran out of space.
Sure, I still have my little room (which now has a full length mirror – ye gawds, I don’t care to see myself that often, seriously, especially during a writing retreat).  I still have my walks to chat with Giant Jesus, I can still speak to silent tombstones of stacked nuns, I still sit alone at my table for meals, but I no longer have space.

There’s a sense of respect when you know the building’s purpose. Architecture needs not be complex to invoke awe when a purpose is associated with the place.  Tones grow hush when surrounded the weight of history, religion or purpose.  Take that away, especially from a building that evokes nothing beyond its everyday use (it’s no great work of art, let’s face it), and you lose the weight of silence.  You lose that need to speak in hushed tones. You lose the silence of respect.

Buried over someone who died when she was four.  Someone she never met, never knew the name of, probably. Yet someone in 2009 decided they should be stacked together.  Is it just me, or is that freaky neat?
So that’s what I lost, at the no-longer-convent-convent.  People walk up and down the halls loudly. They bang doors, they scream at each other on the front yard, they tell loud, rude jokes in the cafeteria.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy all of these activities. But those are social activities.  Those are humans stomping all over my writing space, with dirty, ugly shoes, to boot.

And I don’t need a lot of space, but I need all of it. I need all of the silence, the fresh air, the head space.  I came to the convent back in the day because it allowed me that and more, something else I’ve yet to put my finger on.

Giant Jesus is still a great listener.  But Giant Jesus needs braces, now.  Giant Jesus isn't as stable as he once was.
I don’t know if I’ll come back.  I get lots done in the city, but I’m easily distracted and I need full resets, once in a while, by myself. It’s the introvert in me.  Give my crazy extrovert too much time to play, and my introvert gets grumpy and wants me to hide, alone, with no one to speak to for days.  

I have a feeling I’ll come back once. Giant Jesus is still my sanctuary, as is the cemetery of nuns.  Those still bear the weight of religion and scare people away.  I can rant and rave about plot there.  The dead and inanimate make the best audience.

Fell asleep writing and woke up to manuscript screaming at me. It wasn't that productive a weekend, unfortunately, but I think this chapter is a keeper!
What's missing is a mystery that I need to figure out, for myself.  To understand the loss fully, I need to understand what it is that I lost.  It’s not the nuns, nor the religion, since those don’t resonate with my soul strings.  But it’s something else. 

I’ll figure it out. Maybe next time. 


Wednesday 18 April 2012

Ad Astra and Brain Fail

Ad Astra was loads of fun as always, but this year was special since I launched my latest novel, Destiny's Fall. 

I saw my new book for the first time at Ad Astra.  I must admit it's the first time I thought "wow, I'm so thrilled to hold you, newest brain babble."  Usually it's "wow, this is finally done, I'm so sick of you, brain vomit."  This doesn't reflect how I feel about the stories or characters (I wuvs them), but rather, I believe, the fact that I didn't have four books come out in two years, which is what happened with my other novels.  Those two years felt like constant edits.  You'd feel like your were vomiting brains, too, if you were in constant edits. 

Gabrielle Harbowy, the Dragon Moon Press Editrix-in-Chief, then surprised me with my Foreword Book Award for Destiny's Blood.

I totally got all emotional when I received this, making both Gabrielle and I uncomfortable. We usually discuss how to make character deaths worse, so this was a bit outside our comfort zone. I believe we both emerged as stronger people for it, however.  

The book launch was super well attended and fun. I can't thank the Dragon Moon Press team enough for their help, especially JM Frey and Erik Buchanan.  Leah Petersen also launched her debut novel, Fighting Gravity, and her reading was beautiful.  It's worth picking up!
Gwen Gades, publisher of Dragon Moon Press, sent us little congratulatory dragons.  How freakin' adorable is that???

The panels were fun, and I got to meet lots of new and old friends.  I also judged the writing contest with Kevin Nunn, Miriam Harrison, Leah Bobet and Julie Czerneda, and the quality of writing was inspiring. Especially after all of our useless (but funny) prompts.  I hope all of the participants keep on pushing their writing, and I can't wait to read more from them!
I made a sign for an end of the world panel.  My nuclear blast looks like a tree, however, so I don't think it sent the right message.  Oh well.  I got kind of scholarly in that panel, too, which was also outside my comfort zone of embarrassing personal anecdotes and nonsensical stories.  I was just pushing those personal boundaries this weekend!  

Gabrielle Harbowy doing a reading from our co-authored story, Deserter, from The Beast Within II.  It was neat hearing her read it (it was her first reading and she did an awesome job), especially since I hadn't read it since it was published.  

I must admit that parts of the con are a bit of a blur, due to a functional but irritating migraine.  So if I did or said anything inappropriate, well, I probably meant it, but I might not remember.  Forward all complaints to the complaints department: (email address may be inactive).  If you tell me a really awesome story of what I did the next time I meet you, I'll buy you a drink for entertaining me.  

So, like my chopped up con memory, here are some snapshots of what happened:

I like this picture, because I look forlorn and lost.  And I might have been, as a bunch of folk were in my room drinking on Friday afternoon, and I imagine I was wondering how that came to be. Or I'd had too much to drink. We'll now never know.

Why people allow me to help out at events is beyond me.  The lovely Leah Bobet, who was launching her novel Above, allowed me to help set up. Or was desperate for help, I'm not sure. What she got out of it was a tower of dead tim-tams, with the two sole survivors going at it on top.  You may think I'm strange, but the real psychos are those who ate the dead tim-tams and the lovers after being told exactly what the chocolate sculpture of yumminess represented. You know who you are... On another, perhaps related note, Gabrielle's assistant, after reading my When the Villain Comes Home story, said that she loved the story, but that I might need therapy.  Weird, I know.
Those are all tidbits of the weekend, but there was entirely too much coolness to capture in a strange picture-infected blog post.  Thanks to all of my friends, new and not-so-new, for making this another memorable weekend.

Now I'm prepping for tomorrow's book launch in Ottawa, and I'm super thrilled about it.  Hope to see you there!  Lieutenant's Pump on Elgin (near Gladstone), from 5 to 9 - come and go as you please. Woo!

Friday 13 April 2012

Ad Astra Schedule

Better late than never - here's my schedule for this year's Ad Astra!

The Writing Contest
- Kevin Nunn, Miriam Harrison, Julie Czerneda, Leah Bobet, Marie Bilodeau -

Join our panel of writers and editors who will give out some prompts and writing tips on Friday night for participants to write 1 page stories (around 250 words) and these entries are due by Saturday afternoon. On the Sunday there will be  a wrap-up panel.


End Time for 2012 Stories? 
- Marie Bilodeau, Timothy Carter, Miriam Harrison, Stephen B. Pearl -

The end of Mayan Calendar has given rise to several pseudo-scientific theories, books, films and other media depicting and predicting the end of the world. What is the attraction to these beliefs and
why do superstitions about 2012 persist?

With my EBI writing buddies, Matt Moore and Derek K√ľnsken.  I've asked them to move this since it coincides with my book launch.  So, um, find me!

Dragon Moon Press Book Launch
DMP will be launching my latest novel, Destiny's Fall, as well as debut author Leah Petersen's Fighting Gravity.  Leah is super sweet and awesome, and we both look forward to seeing you there!


The Writing Contest Results
- Kevin Nunn, Miriam Harrison, Julie Czerneda, Leah Bobet, Marie Bilodeau -

S'gonna be awesome - can't wait to see you!

Thursday 5 April 2012

You're Beautiful. Deal With It.

I'm one of those annoying people who likes pretty things and will mention it. I don't see the point of not telling you that I like your outfit, your shoes, your jewelry, heck, that you look awesome. Life is hard enough as it is, no need to hold back on a few kind words.

I get two reactions to these compliments. Half the time, it's a heartfelt thank you, obviously pleased that someone had noticed the extra care or thought they'd put into their outfit or look. The other half, the half that bugs me right now, is made up of those who don't accept the compliment or don't seem to think it's sincere.

First off - screw you. That's right - screw you for accusing me of lying. There. It's out. My life is not so empty I need to fill it with fake compliments in the hopes of making someone feel good or making a friend. There's always room for more, but trust me, I already have so many loved ones it makes my heart burst with joy. That compliment is solely and entirely for you.

Second off - deal with it. A compliment, I've learned, can be as difficult to take as an insult. In either case, it shows that someone's paying attention, even if you'd hoped to go by unnoticed, to be unremarkable, to avoid a spotlight, no matter how tiny. 

I get it. I do. And that's part of what makes you beautiful, too.

When I was younger, my mom told me (in French, accompanied by a weird story about thighs and dancers. I dunno. But anyway...): "I wish I had seen myself as beautiful when I was your age. I wish someone had told me I was pretty."  Those words struck me as odd.  I'd seen pictures of my mom, and she was a hottie!  I thought (in about these words): "Shit, if hotties don't see themselves as beautiful, what the heck are the rest of us to do?"

So you can all blame my mom.  I see beauty, I mention it.  I guess I figure that if I can spare one person from never or from infrequently hearing compliments, then my job is done.

And I gotta tell you, I've met so many beautiful people that I can't help but gush when I see them. And when I compliment your shoes, your hair, your dress, the way you speak or how you laugh, what I'm really saying is that you're made of win. Totally. I can't say why, sometimes. I just know it, because I've seen you, I've seen the way you approach the world, and it's total, utter win.

And, while doing it, you wear awesome shoes and accessories, a great colour for your skin tone, words flow like water from your mouth and you let your hair run wild and it shapes your face just right.  And yes, I like bling. I *love* bling. Call me shallow for that, if you must. But don't call me a liar.

You're beautiful. Deal with it.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

When the Hero Comes Home - Nominated!

The super cool anthology, When the Hero Comes Home, edited by Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy, is a finalist in the Foreword Book Awards!  This anthology includes my rotten-head-dragging story, The Legend of Gluck.

Last year, Destiny's Blood won bronze in the Foreword Book Awards' SF category.  This year, I hope Gabrielle and Ed will take the gold in the antho category - the anthology deserves it! It's been called a perfect example of what an anthology should be, and I couldn't agree more.

Check it out if you haven't yet.

About When the Hero Comes Home
HEROES come in a thousand guises, and so do stories about them. The only survivor of a war struggles to return to a home that doesn't exist anymore. A rebel leader loses everything she fought for and must start from scratch. A hero who has fought for her village her whole life must retire into obscurity without ever being known for her deeds. A starship returns to an Earth that is much changed, yet too much the same. A soldier is haunted by the very thing that saved his life. And King Arthur returns in Albion's hour of need. Dark fantasy. Urban fantasy. Political intrigue. Science fiction. From the horrific to the heartwarming. Introducing 19 pulse-pounding tales, by luminaries and great new voices. Co-edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood. Featuring an introduction by Susan J. Morris.