Dragon Dictate Tech Support: “Backup Profiles? You can’t.”

Gentlebeings, tech idiocy heads up (the particular example is Dragon Dictation software, but if one company is doing this it may be happening elsewhere). User profile files (the thing you train with your data) cannot be backed up. The file you are happily relying on in your time machine (or other backup) has no info in it. If you think this is nothing, please note that moving to a new computer will mean starting from scratch to train your vocabulary. Work around below:

Vocabulary, user commands, etc, have to be manually exported to produce a file that can be copied, and if/when the software crashes or you move to a new machine, this exported file can then be reimported.

There is no autosave option for this export process; it has to be done by hand. Apparently some part of this software was designed c. 1970. Even MS Word does autosave.

Also note, the basic profile itself, i.e. whatever it builds after you read into it, tell it what type of accent you have, etc., cannot be exported, and cannot be backed up at all. If you lose it, you start over, retrain the application, import the vocabulary files…

So, the heads-up is, check any complex programs you’re running that depend on user defined data input and make sure you have a way not to lose that information.

Dragon tech support seems to think it’s funny that anyone would be bothered by not being able to restore from backup or autosave. So, 4 mice for the dictation part, and minus 1.5 mice from that for this nonsense.

Most other applications (every other app I’ve used) do in fact allow backup of user profiles, so this comes as an unpleasant shock if found out after one has lost data. Forewarned is forearmed.

One final note: users with specialized vocabulary words very similar to words in the standard dictionary recommend (it’s all over the forums) that the standard vocabulary word be deleted. E.g. I use the Indian name ‘Nalini’. To get this to work, I deleted ‘Melanie’ from the built-in vocabulary. If you crash and lose the profile somehow, these deletions have to repeated one by one, by hand, no automation possible.

“Have a nice day. Thank you for calling Nuance tech support.”

Oral tradition versus historical ‘fact’

Working on the WWII book today, making choices: the Indian National Army, as described online, is not the same as the Indian National Army in the oral history I grew up with, stories and unspoken attitudes of my elders who lived through the war. I may of course not be remembering perfectly. I can talk to people who were alive at the time, and have, but I find they don’t remember perfectly either. Some memories are crystal clear and consistent, even down to using the exact same words each time they tell the tale,, others vague and shifting. So it’s up to me. At the end of the day, it’s my book; and I’m fiction for a reason. I will do the research, but I will write from my memory of the oral tradition.

I just heard my father chuckle and say, “What to do?” about these sorts of quandaries. So I’ll stop quandary-ing now, and get to writing.

What do writers, sword dancers, and zombies have in common?

I write. I dance, sometimes with a sword balanced on my head. Google ‘bellydance sword’ if you’re curious what that looks like.

Writers aren’t as interesting to watch as dancers. ‘America’s Top Writer’ is not the hot new reality show for a reason. Paint drying has far more glamor. When I’m trying to get my writer’s head on, I look and sound like a zombie. Most of me is elsewhere.

At this moment, I am trying to send most of my self back to 1941-1945 Malaya, where there was a war and an Occupation on, and once I’m there I am planning on watching and eavesdropping and sniffing out secrets and the scents of wartime food. I will have imaginary people in my head.

Some dancers wear a very serious face as they dance. Dance swords are hollow, but. Drop one on and you’ll see, it has impact. Serious business, like most dropped things in life; something breaks, possibly your foot.

Nevertheless, I personally can’t help grinning like a loon when I do sword. The sheer improbability of the thing makes me feel like a child blowing a first soap bubble, or lighting a sparkler for the first time. A thing turns into something other than itself: I, a perfectly (more or less) normal human being am standing here, dancing, even, with the edge of a blade sitting on my head, and it’s easy.

Yup. Easy. But only after you know how, after you’ve practiced, and only when you’re in the zone. In the zone, magic keeps it up, body and sword and music are one. Unfortunately this is related to the zone where soufflés never fall, stocks yield steady profits, kids never get sick, it never snows more than is pretty but not a nuisance, your nearest and dearest never irritate you…. Impossible and good things happen – for a while.

It’s easy in the zone. It’s hard to get there, and unfortunately it’s all to easy to leave it. (One tiny wrong move of the head, and boom: sword’s on your foot, have a nice day.)

Writing larger pieces is like keeping the sword up for longer periods of time. 20 secs even a beginner can do by a fluke. Couple of minutes, still not so hard. 10 – 20 mins, that’s a real challenge. It takes prep time and focus or a crazy high level of expertise (Google ‘Parri double sword’ to see what crazy high level of expertise looks like. She dances with two swords balanced at right angles to each other, on her head. Extreme expert.)

No writer finds balancing a book in their head easy. But once you’re in the zone, it’s fun. That’s you sledding down that hill, skating on that pond, skydiving, balancing that sword…

Unfortunately, sledding downhill and trying not to fall out is not the best time to, say, balance your checkbook, help a friend decide who to date or figure out why their printer won’t work. Braincells are busy elsewhere and everyday life gets interesting. Trees jump out to ambush your car when you’re parking (really, at least they do me).

In this silly place, company is a blessing. It’s lonely, not to mention slightly loony, to be stuck alone with a headful of imaginary people. But conversations in words of one syllable or less are best, and what someone’s cat did or, ‘Isn’t that a gorgeous tree’ is probably the right speed. Calm voices and emotions are best (sudden loud noise, sword or book on head, isn’t going anywhere pretty). Ladies and gentlemen, assume your writer friends are slightly deranged if they’re inside a book, and be gentle. We can be quite entertaining in that state.


Novel Analysis, IT-style

I had lunch with an out-of-town friend recently, and while we were doing the ‘So, what have you been up to?’ part of the conversation, I said I’d recently done a manuscript analysis on a novel, and described it as something like ‘critical design review’ in software design (the friend has a Silicon Valley engineering background).

He said — part interest, part skepticism — “How do you do a critical design review on a novel?”

I said, “Well, remember I used to be a geek,” (more formally, a NASA tech). And like the elephant, I haven’t forgotten. So when I sat down to read the draft of a novel and comment on it, my report wasn’t quite a PowerPoint presentation, but it did use more headings and subheadings than someone without tech reflexes might have used.

A more flattering way to describe what I did is to say I automatically tried to be comprehensive, and objective.

Comprehensive led to headings, and to trying to cover all the ground: character, voice, setting, story; the story arc, intention, beginning, middle, end; etc.. I drafted 60 pages of notes and cut it down to 18.

Objective led to remembering, it’s not my book. I’m trying to find all the critical issues as well as all the deepest strengths in another writer’s story, and help it become the best they can make it, not think about it as I would if it was mine. (Remembering the useful and not useful manuscript analyses I’d received on my own work did a lot to support this idea!)

In IT land, I also learned to bless people who are clearheaded, and straightforward. And so the final ‘voice’ I tried for in my report can be described as ‘blunt but also encouraging’.

So that’s what I told my friend. I don’t know whether he was convinced; but I’ve since heard back from the client, and the report is apparently of some use. So geek-style literary analysis is not such a bad way to go.

NY, Grand Central: entering the city of dreams

Someday this draft will grow up and become the beginning of a story, perhaps fiction, perhaps memoir. It is the beginning of one chapter of my story, returning to NYC after many years, reentering the dream that is this city:

Grand Central, the is-ness of the space… Streams of light coming in the upper windows, the space so solid and concrete, and yet really a cavernous hall floating about further levels of caverns and tunnels beneath, no one really knew, probably not even the engineers who were meant to know, where all the caverns and tunnels were.

Riding in the train into Grand Central, on the Metro North line from Connecticut with the rich bankers and the city wage slaves wedded to suburban living, was to pass through, on the final approach to this station, sudden openings out of the black tunnels the train was going through. This, starting about ten minutes before the train reached the station. It was the signal for people to get out of their seats and begin collecting themselves. There is a putting on of jackets and folding of newspapers and retrieving of bags and packs from the overhead racks – which, incidentally, are far too narrow for comfort when they’re loaded with heavy bags.

In the middle of all this bustle, for the most part ignored by those habituated to it perhaps from birth, the tunnel opens out into now one cavern, now another. These are neither lighted nor dark: from somewhere, reflections of reflections, scattered photons bounced off walls in upper, lit chambers and so down stairwells and down, finally to be trapped in these caverns, where perhaps there was no further down, and allow just enough diffuse light to glimpse dormant trains and ghosts of trains and other equipment slumbering in the shadows on sidings in the caverns. Passing just as the eye begins to parse the shapes, are darker areas in the dark grey, barely lit dimness. Trains. They seem curiously alive in their stillness, almost more alive for being still, the difficulty of seeing them clearly in the dim light making it seem as if they were on the edge of movement. And there are ghost lines, train tracks running this way and that, and further tunnel mouths.

And then the train we were on would plunge into a tunnel again, a moment of darkness while I wondered about the cavern just left behind, who built it, what those engines were for, why it was now dark… And then another cavern would happen.

And presently one of the caverns, the third or fourth or fifth one in, wouldn’t be dark, but lit by doggedly determined institutional fluorescents in a white, would-be glare that the soot from the trains and the black of the city coats and clothes subdued. And so out of the train, onto a cement platform, giant recycling wire baskets piled high with newspapers, up concrete stairs or through doors, up and out. The closer to the main level and the outside one gets, the wider and more comfortable the corridor or stairs. And then there’s the Deco opulence and high, high ceiling of the Grand Concourse: illusion of dream fulfilled, journey’s end that is really only journey’s beginning.

The place as a whole is a maze, a mountain, a mystery. From the outside, panting around on the wrong street, it can be just a blank concrete wall. From the right street, a building with a dozen openings, a clock-tower, windows….

It is the dwarves hall in the Lord of the Rings, that goes on further than one thinks in every direction.

politics, rice pudding, & the ocean: also, science 101

I’m going on holiday soon and was thinking what to take to read. This morning, I decided: mathematics. A long time ago, I was a math/physics student, and then a NASA science drone. Mathematics, unfolding, is as beautiful as the ocean, alive, intricate, complete in itself. Physics unfolds mysteries, and I don’t mean the God-particle nonsense that people have been getting excited about but the even more wondrous daily mysteries: wind, weather, why there is that odd-shaped shadow on my ceiling, how to park on a hill so your car doesn’t roll away…

Physics enchanted me, as a girl, because it the fundamental rules were essential simple, and clear. Water rolls downhill, ALWAYS. Stuff like that. Studying physics was a way to allow my mind to be simple, and clear. It does not contradict itself. Subtlety exist, but there is always the real to measure against.

For some years now I’ve been a writer. Fiction, mostly cross-cultural, dealing with social, political, and emotional issues. My community is now mostly writers, artists, activists, and nothing is simple, or clear; or rather, much of it probably could be, but people cultivate complexity. To include ALL the data — by which I mean all the facts, not all the opinions — on something, or as much data as one can get, and look at it all in balance, is not a popular sport. Balance, as best I understand it, requires calm. But the troubles of our times, from tars sands to Islamophobia to economic class warfare, call for concern. And most people don’t find concern and calm coexistent within themselves, especially in American culture, which says, subliminally, that we should be able to fix anything. So there is tumult, and shouting: a noise of long-winded thoughts and exhortations that seem to be saying, ‘Care more, care more! Don’t relax, don’t spin down, not for a minute, the world will cease to be if you do, the battle will be lost…’

I’ve tried to get people to care about some of these issues, particularly the race-related ones, without stirring anxiety. I think I have failed. Caring deeply while being staying as calm as we can is an emotional reality in daily life for most people, else we’d never let our loved ones go out the door, never mind become skydivers or firefighters. I think it’s okay, even essential, to deal with political issues the same way — do what you can, everything you can, and then let go and fix dinner. I talk a lot about politics, but I’ve never said this before, and I apologize for not doing so.

I am going to read, on my vacation, not a novel, full of sculpted emotion, or a nonfiction book full of argument, however just, but mathematics: to find a state of clarity in my mind again. It will be like eating fresh fruit, or rice pudding, after too rich a diet. Cleaning, and strengthening. In-between, I will go to California farmers markets, which are a paradise of grounded goodness, and I will cook dinner. I will look at the ocean.

I will be simple.


SubDrift: free-for-all open mic and Desi love fest made wonderful by warmth, camaraderie, and a really awesome quality of performance. This particular evening was NYC SubDrift March 2013. I test-drove a bit of my book with a South Asian audience for the first time and was pleased to find it grip despite the fact that it’s the stuff of our daily lives — the one early S. Asian reader commented that I was writing for clueless white people.

Speaking across cultures seems a reasonable mission statement to me. I grew up in a town where half the population and many of my close friends were Chinese, and yet learned things from The Joy Luck Club I hadn’t known. So I chose, in many places in my book, to state the obvious. There was the possibility of this audience reacting with terminal boredom, but that is not what happen. I am pleasantly surprised

This evening was also my coming out as an auntie-at-large in the diaspora, and considering what Desi aunties can do, it was greeted surprisingly cordially. Possibly because I let on about the secret of our culture: at 30 you get to start thinking what you want, at 40 you occasionally get to do what you want, and at 50 you’ve turned into the enemy (an auntie, or, presumably, an uncle) and can tell other people what to do.

Also my favorite adopted niece gave me chocolate, so all in all it was a fun evening.

Desi Auntie Universal-Interference Disorder

I sent an email yesterday morning:

‘Dear N.: I don’t mean to be pushy. But can’t help myself, I’m past 50 and the Desi-female genetic disorder of universal interference is kicking in. But I have a practical suggestion…” After which I proceeded to tell her how to gather her materials together to prepare for writing a book.

One suggestion, non-stupid, was to use a Wiki or WordPress site like this blog, with the tags allowing an organic swim through any angle of the material, for all those times that one doesn’t really know what one is doing and it’s nice if the structure can spark thoughts.

Another, both profound and silly, was to say, “But it’s good to remember, no one writes a book. We write sentences, sections, paragraphs… and then shake it together into shape.”

This is perfectly true. I am trying this minute to assemble a short story, in rather a hurry, for a submission deadline. I didn’t worry about it because the bits of the story are all preexisting, I just have to assemble and shake. Like an instant energy drink, only hopefully more entertaining.

The silly part of the exercise is this: the preexisting pieces of the story I am planning are quite old, and not organized in anything like a Wiki, but are flat files in a basic file tree. And I can’t find them.

Yesterday also included numerous other emails to young Asian friends — and middle-aged friends, Asian and otherwise — several of them packed with useful advice.

So not only do I have Desi Auntie Universal-Interference Disorder, I am that worst of Aunties, the kind that fails to take it’s own advice. So now you know.



Novel assemblage

Some 2nd draft work — splicing together lots of bits that are good in themselves or good enough, but there’s repetition, contradiction, and a complete lack of punctuation in the right places — is just plain tough, though, get through and it can be lovely: metaphor for life, just as easily seen when baking pie or painting the porch as when writing.

Missing books

Books lost in these many moves: Betrand Russell’s ‘History of Western Philosophy’, the 3 volume Joe Campbell, Frazier’s ‘Golden Bough’,… i.e. most of the philosophy/anthropology/sociology. Thankfully still present, Tagore collected letters & essays, also Lionel Trilling’s essays. But I need to read about Hume and Locke now, and better from my own loved books than unfamiliar resources. Anyone who thinks moving is glamorous should not be a lover of books. Now to hope I remember all the lost titles, that they’re still in print, and that they don’t cost a fortune.

Splinters: between generations

A conversation between generations, Old World and new (from Splinters, novel under construction):

“You’ve really forgotten everything, in this country. Who you belong to, who belongs to you, who you go to when you’re in trouble, those are the things that really matter.”



Khamanee shook her head and pushed sliced cucumbers towards her mother. “I can’t arrange my whole life around who I’m going to go to for help if the sky falls on my head. What if the sky doesn’t fall? And, by the way, Amah, last I heard I belonged to myself.”

WWII Malaya – looking for sources

Looking for info on WW II Malaya, specifically the ethnic purification of Chinese by Occupying Japanese, and came on this on the way. Durian pickers killed as communists by postwar British authorities. And yet, all the Malaysian Chinese I know would think it silly to have issues with either the Japanese or the British. (The subtitle/thesis of my book is, how to survive a war without a legacy of hate.)

Splinters: Home scene

It was a nice room in a nice upper-class family house, lightyears removed from his own bachelor studio, full of little touches, flowers and candles and pictures that only a woman would have chosen. It smelled, lightly and pleasantly, of furniture and brass polish, every glass surface sparkled, and there was, floating out of the kitchen and up from the dishes on the dining table, a mouthwatering aroma full of spices and attentive love.

Dance, then writing

Dance practice last night slightly less resembling a hippopotamus in drink and today a scene, a whole (well, almost) whole scene of a short story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the book, I had forgotten how much release there was in writing new material. and now, proceeding in order of necessity, I go to seek calories, perhaps made out of chocolate.

Slow isolations and poses tonight, I will never understand why this is so much harder than the rapid movement but it is: and also more beautiful.

Writing with Friends

In that high vibrational state where either the arc of a project has to be completed soon or sanity will exit the body as most energy reserves already have. But, a happy, chilly, sneezy afternoon in Central Park yesterday with fellow lunatic and writer Sweta Srivastava Vikram (also warm, melty, fresh from the over densely chocolate cookies) and now, to borrow her accurate and unflattering image to describe the process, I’m off to sandpaper that open wound.


From the marriage ceremony

“Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other…”

Genius words. And quite lovely to have a thought float into my mind and have the reference only an arm’s reach away on my bookshelves and not in storage somewhere on the other side of the continent.

(If any one is wondering, this post is loosely connected to the post on porn and Christianity the other day, also to possible literary chick-lit and/or erotica to come.)