Friday, June 29, 2018

A Grammar checker.

I’ve just tried Grammatik, a grammar checker built into WordPerfect. To say it’s bad is an understatement. The only actual error it flagged was a typo. All the other errors showed that Grammatik could not parse sentences correctly, and so mistook verbs for nouns and nouns for verbs; demanded modifiers where none were needed; confused proper names with common nouns; didn’t recognise objects; and on and on and on.

One example: “A voice from on high spoke:...” Grammatik said it should read “A voice from a high spoke...”

I don’t know if the other wordprocessors have equally bad grammar checkers. I suspect so. Avoid them, they will thoroughly mislead you.

BTW, Grammatik flagged eight errors in this short screed.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Oliver Sacks: The River of Consciousness

     Oliver Sacks. The River of  Consciousness (2017) Posthumous collection of essays assembled from notes and edited from drafts. As the title suggests, Sacks is thinking about consciousness, the hard problem of philosophy and neurology. In one essay he wonders if consciousness is a discontinuous sequence of moments.
    Vision seems to be discontinuous he says, citing experiments measuring the response times to changes in the visual field. I think it's obvious that vision is discontinuous: the light-sensitiva molecules in the retinal cells decay when struck by light, and must be rebuilt in order to decay again. This process takes about 1/10th of a second. Then the nerve signals generated must be processed so that the human can see. This can take longer than a 1/10th of a second, since objects must be recognised, etc. The fastest conscious reaction times to an expected visual stimulus is about 1/6th of a second in children and teenagers, and double or triple that in adults. Responses to unexpected visual stimuli take much longer. Thus the visual contents of consciousness are constructed from perceptions that take a sizeable time to assemble. the same applies to the other senses. The unbroken stream of consciousness is an illusion. It can be a dangerous one, since what feels like an instantaneous reaction takes at least half a second. At highway speeds a car travels about 14 metres in 1/2 a second.
     Sacks also has interesting observations of the subjective passage of time. His patients vary enormously in the rate at which they process sensory information, and that processing relates to the feeling of time passing. He tells of taking photographs several  minutes apart of one of his post-encephalitic patients, then binding the prints into a flip-book, and seeing the patient slowly lift his arm. Conversely, some of his patients entered a high-speed phase, and reported that they found the world around them moving unbearably slowly.
     The book feels unfinished. Most of the essays consist of extended notes. Sacks didn’t have time to rewrite for continuity, style and clarity, and this sometimes shows in a banal or cliche phrase. However, for any fan this is an essential book. For the general reader it serves as a very good introduction to some of the conundrums of consciousness and mind. ***½
     Correction 2018-11-10: At highway speeds of about 100km/h, a car travels about 14 metres in 1/2 a second.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

If you want ot be a writer: Stephen King On Writing

     Stephen King. On Writing (2000). Subtitled “A Memoir of the Craft”. I’m not a fan of Stephen King, not because he’s a bad writer, but because horror fantasy doesn’t move me. I read some of his short stories way back when, and thought they were well done.
     King writes both about the nuts’n’bolts (grammar and style, narrative pace, character, etc) and his own experience as a writer. The book is worth reading for both. If you need some guidance to improve your writing and work habits, read this book. If you need some inspiration and emotional support because you’re not sure you can hack the writing life, read this book. You will improve your mastery of the craft, and you may discover your writing groove. Or you may discover that you’re not a writer after all. Either way, the book is worth reading.
     More take-aways: Writing is a compulsion, it’s what you have to do to maintain your sense of self.
     Reading a lot is essential to your development as a writer.
     A story is out there, like a fossil to be discovered. Writing it is uncovering the fossil.
     Interesting for any Stephen King fan, and for anyone who's curious about the writing life. ****

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

What did your lfe mean? The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom)

     Mitch Albom. The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003) Albom made his name with Tuesdays With Morrie, which was made into a successful movie. I’ve seen the movie, it teeters just this side of sentimentality.
     This book (also made into a movie) teeters over, which is a pity, since it’s a lovely idea: Eddie, the hero, dies while saving a little girl when a gondola on an amusement park ride falls. The story tells of how in the afterlife he meets five people who affected his life in ways he didn’t fully understand or didn’t know. He needs to discover how his life made sense and had a purpose before he can live in his own corner of heaven.
     Eddie had a harsh upbringing, went to war, came home a changed man, and didn’t have the children he and his wife wanted. He ends up working in maintenance in the Ruby Pier Amusement Park, a job his father held, and which he thinks marks him as a failure. The five people he meets show him otherwise.
     Albom writes well, if occasionally too consciously ironic, and with sometimes too much authorial commentary. If the book causes the reader to reflect on how minor and major incidents shaped his own life, it will have succeeded. As a story about a likeable man who finally understands his own value, it’s well-done. Read it. ***