Archive for September, 2010

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

September 9th, 2010

I realized today that there is no main antagonist in the Leviathan/Behemoth series. It’s straight character vs. self and character vs. society. I wonder if that’s why students don’t quite get into the action. The only complaint I’ve received is that there’s so much focus on the history and not on excitement.

The “focus on history” comment is an interesting one, considering the book is about giant flying whales and steam-powered mechs.

Behemoth is a great sequel to Leviathan. It continues documenting the travels of the airship crew as they delve into the Ottoman Empire. There’s a little bit of airship combat but mostly it’s adventuring in the streets of Istanbul as Alek tries to find help to overthrow the German presence. Real ships and vehicles, like the Goeben and the Orient Express, show up, but in steampunk glory.

There is a cutesy mascot that gets added to the party, in the same vein as Gurgi from the Prydain Chronicles. Lots of babbling, lots of cuteness, and I must admit that, until I knew its true purpose, I sided with Count Volger on killing the thing.

In Behemoth, Westerfeld built up the revolution in Istanbul so that it explodes within the last 50 pages of the book. Students who are looking for battles galore are going to be disappointed that it takes such time to develop. Students who love character interactions and a believable world, though, will enjoy it without a doubt.

I’m marketing this book as an adventure, more like Indiana Jones, where there’s running and crashing and stuff like that alongside witty one-liners. We’ll see how it does in October when it hits the shelf.

Google Instant

September 9th, 2010

Autocomplete is a tricky thing.

In Word, I get frustrated when the computer automatically capitalizes new lines. I know that I can turn this off in the Preferences, but I’m usually working on a project when I sit down to Word and don’t want to take time to search the settings.

I think Google Instant will work better because it doesn’t change your text, it just tries to predict it. As long as the typing is not slowed down, I don’t think users will be annoyed.

When you do a Google search on, it now will pull up results as you type, changing as the search words change – even before you press Enter.

How does it work? My guess is elven magic. But my second guess is that it uses the data for which searches are most popular and uses that probability to suggest the terms and results. On the main page for Google Instant, it mentions that it is only on certain browsers. I wonder if it uses cookies to remember searches or if the browsers were just a requirement for which version of HTML the site uses.

Either way, it will be interesting to see if this speeds up people’s searches, thus making people 2-5 seconds happier, or if it will go the way of The Wave.


September 4th, 2010

My technology handbook was published by the district and I’ve had a couple of book reviews published (aside from what I write here). The last time I’ve had fiction published was when I won my elementary school’s district writing competition in 5th grade.

It’s very exciting that a short story I wrote this summer was published by 5923 Quarterly. Check out my story, Hiccup, by clicking here. (Students, the link is fine, but some of the other stories on the site are intended for adults. I only guarantee my story.)

Mac VoiceOver as an audio file

September 2nd, 2010

Sometimes you need a computer voice reading text. GarageBand does great when you supply the voice, but what if it’s a big chunk of text that you want as an AIFF and don’t have time to record?

In Terminal (found in Utilities) type in:
say "Hello"

You can change the voice. The names of the voices can be found in the VoiceOver utility (like “Bruce” or “Cellos”). Use the -v option in Terminal to choose the voice:

say -v "Bruce" "Hello"

To have it output as an audio file, add -o and then the file name (with the .aiff extension). It will save the file in your home folder (in Finder, it’s the folder that has your name with the house icon).

say -v "Bruce" "Hello" -o hello.aiff

Instead of just simple “Hello”, you can have the voice read from a text file by using the -f option:

say -v "Bruce" -o article.aiff -f article.txt

If the text file is in your home folder, you can leave it as is. If it’s in a different folder, you need to specify the location. ~/Desktop tells Terminal the file is on the desktop, ~/Documents lets it know it’s in the Documents folder. You can also use that same syntax for where to output the audio file.

say -v "Bruce" -o ~/Music/article.aiff -f ~/Documents/article.txt

Here’s the audio file I just created using the text from this article:
(I saved it in GarageBand as an .m4a to play well with browsers.)

Now to figure out how to write a program to run Terminal. I know it’s possible; I’m just not cool enough yet.

There’s so much great accessibility stuff out there. Click here to see what more VoiceOver can do.

Have you seen a Braille monitor? Very cool stuff:
braille monitor