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Archive for July, 2010

Who Do You Write Like?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Over the past few weeks, several people have pointed me to a brand new site: http://iwl.me

iwl.me — short for “I write like” — is designed to give people an idea of what authors have a similar style to the writing that’s submitted. It uses this through a technique called Bayesian classification.

However, don’t think that you can get a good comparison just by submitting a few sentences or paragraphs.

A Bayesian classifier looks for word and phrase frequency, and to get a good comparison, you’re going to need a longer sample than just a paragraph. If you submit a long enough sample (at least a couple of pages), you’re more likely to get useful feedback.

It’s kind of like a blind person tasting a chef’s salad in a single bite. If you dig in on one side, you might say, “Oh, this tastes like egg and lettuce.” If you dig in on another side, you might say, “No, this tastes like tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce.” If you dig in yet another side, you might say, “this tastes like ham, chicken, and bacon.”

However, if you eat the whole salad, you get a delicious blend of flavors. With just a paragraph, the algorithm is like the blind person taking a small taste of the salad.

Sorry, guys. As I write this, it’s nearly time for lunch. I’m looking forward to it.

I submitted several sample chapters of my novel-in-progress, and received back a fairly consistent result of James Joyce. I’m actually glad that it has a consistent style — it shows that the book at least is internally consistent.

While this can give you some useful feedback, I wouldn’t rely on it as the only source for finding similar authors to your writing voice. While this does look for word choices, sentence structure, and sentence length, it doesn’t take into account genre or topics. Make sure to read some of the author’s work before bragging too much.

And, for the curious, this blog post sounds like Cory Doctorow (likely because he’s a famous blogger). I can live with that.

Interested to find out who you write like? Check out iwl.me!

Goldilocks and the Three Desks

Monday, July 19th, 2010

My wife and I recently bought new furniture, and part of that included a new desk for me.

My old desk was a hand-me-down from my parents, and I’ve used it for over ten years.  While the desk served me well, there were several things that have been bugging me for a while:

  • I’m taller than the average bear, which means my knees were often jammed into the keyboard tray.
  • The desk was made of pressboard, which tends to be damaged more easily than hardwoods.
  • The hutch on the desk often got in the way rather than helping me out.
  • I occasionally like to work standing up, which was nearly impossible on this desk.

Of course, the desk was free, so I couldn’t really complain.

While we were shopping for a new couch, I thought I’d take some time to go investigate the office furniture to see what might be available.

There were also desks perfect for my work standing up.  They were designed to be used sitting at a stool.  Using the stool, I found my knees to (again) jam right into the bottom of the desk.  This got me closer (at least I could type comfortably standing up), but still not close enough.  I tried a standard office chair and found that my knees fit, but my hands were just a little too high to be comfortable.

In other words, these desks were too big.

I also found plenty of desks at a standard height, and all of them — even the $3000 wonder I sat at for a moment just to see how it felt — had the same problem.  My knees jammed into the bottom of the desk.

How frustrating.  All of them were too small (err.. short).

Then, with a spotlight shining with a heavenly gleam, and the music over the speakers reaching an awe-inspiring tone, I spotted the Portland Loft Architect’s desk.  Hallelujah!

The desk was at the perfect height for my hands when I stood up, and also had a nice pull-out drawer that folded into another table — this desk was perfect for work standing up and sitting down.  Even better, my knees didn’t jam into the bottom of the desk.  I’d stumbled into one of the few stores in North America that actually carries this item in their store, and even the guys who delivered it said they had never seen one before.

And that’s not all.  Beyond the primary features of not jamming into my knees and allowing me to work standing up, the desk top lifts up, which can allow me to adjust my keyboard to a more ergonomic position.  This is also useful if I get more seriously into drawing — another hobby I’d love to get better at.

The desk arrived last week, and when fully extended, it takes up a good portion of the wall.  As I started working, I ran into my next problem.  Working standing up meant that my head was tilted down to see my laptop screen, and I could feel that it was going to end up straining my neck in the long run.

Luckily, as a computer guy, I have a second monitor I often use as an extended display.  I decided to try taking advantage of a second lucky feature of my split-level house–a built-in shelf on the bottom floor.  This shelf is the perfect height to place a monitor.

Standing set-up

New Desk in Standing position

Success!  I’m now comfortable working both standing up and sitting down.

In other words, this desk is just right!

If you have the same problem I do, consider investing in an architect’s desk.

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