Audio Book Excerpt: Timing, Extracts B & C (Richard Abbott)

Excerpts from Timing, Book 2 in the Far from the Spaceports series by Richard Abbott

Click image for book description
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Today I’m pleased to present to readers what’s next up in our series featuring author Richard Abbott, whose space jaunts have so delighted meand many others. Of course, I’d previously reviewed Abbott’s debut sci-fi novel, Far from the Spaceports, followed up by another for its sequel, Timing. The audio excerpts below come from the second novel and, like our previous entry, utilize Amazon’s Polly software, which is enabled for text-to-speech in multiple accents and intonations. This compares to Alexa, a single voice.

Before moving forward, for those unfamiliar with the novels and their plots, I’ve linked the book covers to their respective Amazon blurbs. Abbott’s world-building opens a new type of sci-fi, one accessible even to those not typically enamored of the genre (such as myself), and Mitnash, along with his partner Slate, originating from artificial intelligence (AI), will capture your imagination as they seek to solve the mysteries of high-tech crime in space. Last time we listened in as a group discussed data they’d studied; today we pick up our place within Timing at a moment when Mitnash and Slate are perplexed about Callisto, then continue as the pair are joined by Parvati and Chandrika, who share their conversation regarding the loss of Selif’s ship.

Owing to the limitations on the range of voices offered just now, as Abbott points out, one voice’s accent isn’t quite where it should be. Will you spot it? Readers with previous experience in this technology, unlike myself, are likely to agree with the author, who expresses his fascination at “just how much the field has moved on since the first ‘computer voice’ some years back.” He adds that the wording is “broadly the same as the book, but changed in a few places where it sounded more flowing to move words around (funny how different spoken-aloud can sound than read-in-your-head).” (Indeed, that is so!) I’ve indicated changes in red, with words omitted from the original text in brackets and red font, and any added text (just one spot, in this instance) in red.

Note that there is more omitted text than what I’ve indicated, and can be seen in the paperback edition on pages 38-43. Toward the end of Extract A, however, while Abbott’s choice of excerpt makes perfect sense, I added in the rest of Mitnash’s statement (Maybe. But I’m not convinced. Is there any way to see if there’s any crossover of personnel?) as a point of interest to indicate some text that does not yet transfer as smoothly within text-to-voice. However, if I left out the rest (see red below) the remaining text on its own would be unclear as to who is speaking, and the missing text would be sensed. Hence my longer addition here, where I did not do it elsewhere.

Finally, related to this technology are two articles pertaining to development, limitations and what awaits in the margins of progress, for better or worse. “Computer-dictation systems have been around for years. But they were unreliable and required lengthy training to learn a specific user’s voice[,]” writes The Economist at the start of this year (click here and see note below). By June, Baidu, Inc.’s Deep Voice 2 text-to-speech technology was being reported on following a paper presented the previous month, detailing its ability to “listen to hundreds of voices to learn certain speaking styles. After less than 30 minutes of time listening to each speaker, Deep Voice 2 then can recreate the style perfectly[.]” (Click for article.) Where do we go from here?

And without further ado, simply click the arrow to listen–and enjoy!

 Extract B

After that debacle, [we] Slate and I gave up investigations for a while, and just had fun. But eventually we both decided it was time to start work properly.

“Slate, perhaps we should go through the details of the problem on Phobos?”

She cleared the wall screen, and scattered a whole array of documents across the surface.

“Where shall we start?”

With a top-level summary of the losses, compared with the ones we saw on Callisto.”

A chart opened, with two traces spilling across it. Red for Phobos, blue for Callisto. They were mostly flat, with irregular spikes showing the discrepancy pattern. Irregular, but averaging out at more or less one a week when you looked at the big picture. Callisto came out slightly more often,  Phobos slightly less. Other than that, there really wasn’t a great deal of similarity. Different days, different amounts, different principal components.

I was missing something.

“Slate, we did leave the old code on Callisto running in parallel with the new, didn’t we?”

“Absolutely. With triggers to send an alert down to us, if ever the problem surfaced again.”

“And have the triggers fired at all?”

“Not at all Mit. Not even once.”

“But why not? We never found the root cause. Why isn’t the same problem happening every few days still?”

Slate was silent for a while.

“That’s a really good question. I have no idea. Maybe, whatever situation was causing it has gone away?”

“That would be an absurd coincidence.”

“Or maybe it was an insider job, and the person is keeping a low profile? Maybe we frightened them off?” [In which case Jo’s coding style has nothing to do with the problem.]

I wasn’t convinced, but we lacked information. [Maybe. But I’m not convinced. Is there any way to see if there’s any crossover of personnel?]

[I can request the staff roster. But remember Callisto: the records are very skimpy. I’ll ask Khufu what he can find out.]

[Meanwhile, is there any chance of getting a look at the code repository on Phobos?]

[No. I asked last night while you were asleep, and they won’t open a remote link. Not for anyone, not for any reason. You’ll have to wait until we get there.]

“So, is there any more we can do for now?”

“Not really. I can show you the same data in different charts, but you’re not going to learn anything helpful by looking at them.”

So we didn’t do that. We cleared the screens, out of habit, then Slate got on with whatever she did when I was not conversing with her.

 

Extract C

I wanted human company again, so I stretched, and went in search of Parvati. She was brewing chai as I wandered in to the kitchen. Seeing me, she doubled up the amounts, found a second mug, and arranged some savoury crackers and a red and yellow striped cake on a tray.

“Did you and Slate get anywhere?”

I shook my head.

“Total blank. The figures don’t tell us any more than the basic alert message we got from Finsbury, and they won’t let us access the code yet. There’s almost nothing we can do until we get there.”

We moved back to the bridge, and enjoyed the snack together.

“Chandrika just picked up the latest from the wreck site for Selif’s ship, if you’re interested?”

I very definitely was interested. We finished the crackers, and she sliced two generous portions of the cake.

“They’ve made available the results from the data recorders. There’s nothing at all unusual until about three minutes before the crash. At that point, Selif took the vessel’s riding lights offline, and uploaded an amendment to the nav plan. [Anyway,] The upload was completed successfully, taking only the expected lag. Except that a couple of seconds later, both recording devices ceased gathering data. At the same instant. That is unheard of.”

I looked at her.

“How did that happen?”

“The maintenance log for the recorders showed that Selif had skipped two routine services. So they highlighted that in the report, and almost immediately the manufacturer put out advisory notices, basically denying all responsibility if people ignore the recommended schedule. So the official version simply lists an open verdict.”

“Is there an unofficial version?”

She grinned.

“Of course. Chandrika, why don’t you tell them?”

“To be sure. I heard this from one of the personas on Martin’s. He works part-time with a man who’s an expert on the embedded systems in boat engines.”

I nodded. It was a highly specialised area, and one that I knew next to nothing about. But it made sense that a man with those skills would have an opinion on data recorders.

“Well, he said two things. One is that a full restart cycle for those boxes is about half a second longer than the time from the point of failure, up until the impact on Tean. And the second thing is that there are only two known exploits for that model of recorder which could bring down both boxes together. One of them cannot possibly have anything to do with this case: a different ship configuration altogether. The other one happens to rely on a routing plan change.”

I sat there, absorbing the news. It made sense that these units would go into an automatic reboot mode if they went dark for some reason. Normally, that would restore them to full operation in plenty of time to carry on doing their job. But in this case, the boat had hit Tean before they had started up again. I stirred in my seat, but Slate beat me to it.

“That’s very precise timing on someone’s part. Does anybody think it is just a coincidence?”

“Oh, Slate, the official verdict is open. Nobody is suggesting anything.”

We all laughed together.

“Either it was phenomenally bad luck on their part, or…”

I paused, and Parvati continued.

“Or else someone wanted rid of them, and found a clever way to do it.”

*********

Click here for the previous entry in this series, Extract A, and stay tuned for my review of Half Sick of Shadows as well as more from Richard Abbott!

About the author…

Richard Abbott writes fiction set in two very different places. First, there is science fiction, set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships. The second area is historical fiction set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC.

His first science fiction book, Far from the Spaceports, introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His historical fiction books explore events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, including Polly and Alexa, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

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Note: The Economist link loads slowly, if at all, though I’ve noticed a direct copy/paste of address to bar, as opposed to linkage, seems to do the trick: https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21713836-casting-magic-spell-it-lets-people-control-world-through-words-alone-how-voice

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Audio Book Excerpt: Timing, Extract A (Richard Abbott)

As readers recall, I’d previously reviewed Richard Abbott’s debut sci-fi novel, Far from the Spaceports, later returning for more Mitnash and Slate in its sequel, Timing. Today the author graces our pages with an audio excerpt from Timing—the first for us here at the blogola! It was rather exciting listening to it, and I am so pleased to have the opportunity to share it here, along with some author comments as to the linguistics involved in setting up the pieces.

First, for those unfamiliar with the novels and their plots, I’ve linked the book covers to their respective Amazon blurbs. Abbott’s world-building opens a new type of sci-fi, one accessible even to those not typically enamored of the genre (such as myself), and the above-mentioned duo will capture your imagination as they seek to solve the mysteries of high-tech crime in space.

Click image to read plot description
For more about Timing, click the pic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today you’ll hear—and can read along—a bit of discussion between Mitnash and Slate, along with another pair, Rydal and Capstone, as the group talks about oddities in the data they are studying. It comes from a narrated portion utilizing Amazon’s Polly software; Abbott points out that unlike Alexa, which is a single voice, Polly can do text to speech in several.

Previous to hearing this excerpt, I was still in marvel mode at any of this, though my conversation with the author brought me forward a bit, into a place where I began to distinguish characteristics and contemplate the mechanics of setting it all up.

“[I]t’s like all programming really… a slow start to get all in place, then once it’s there, you kind of just turn the handle.” Of course, I know very little about programming—probably readers are way ahead of me on that—but his comments enabled me to view it more as technology rather than something huge and undefinable. While constraints remain, it nevertheless is exciting to “witness” the process unfold.

“In this case [included are] limitations of the text-to-speech engine, which at current state of the art can’t correctly parse some complex sentences! I often put a qualifying clause at the end of a sentence instead of earlier on, and Alexa and Polly don’t know how to say it within the overall shape. So [in places] I’ve moved some phrases around in a sentence to give better flow.”

In today’s excerpt the audio remains faithful to the text, but as we move on in this series, we’ll catch glimpses of the accommodations. Listen, however, for the nuances that appear: accents, pronunciation inconsistencies (I thought I heard at least one), vocal pitch and so on. At post’s bottom, see the link to an article about using technology for far more than entertainment.

And without further ado, let’s listen up. Simply click the arrow below to start.

Extract A

Rydal’s gig, the Heron, was moored in amongst half a dozen vaguely similar craft. I had expected something about the size of the Mermaid, in which Nick had ferried me, last time I was here.

The Heron was considerably smaller though, and it would be a squeeze getting more than the two of us into her. A purist would say it was more of a scull, than a gig.

We sat side by side in the bridge to look at her analysis. It was rather less roomy there than my bedroom at the Rileys’, but since the Harbour Porpoise was still with Boris, there wasn’t much choice.

Rydal first got Capstone to display the increments as a kind of contour map, overlaid onto the Isles of Scilly. It wasn’t very revealing. There were certainly some minor local variations from island to island, but it looked random to me.

Then she pulled back to show the whole asteroid belt. That was different. Just as she had said, Ceres and Vesta showed huge peaks – Ceres was the larger – and the amount across the Scilly Isles was dwarfed in comparison. I nodded.

“That looks convincing. But it doesn’t tell us much about the cause.”

“Now see what happens if we scale for population size rather than show simple totals.”

The red planet as seen from the ESA Rosetta during its 2007 flyby [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo], via Wikimedia Commons
The display changed. This time the Ceres and Vesta peaks were almost identical in size. The total values might be different, but the subsequent disbursements had been chosen so as to make the amount per recipient the same. That spoke of careful planning. Meanwhile, Pallas was flat, and the various other domes here and there, around the belt, showed nothing as well. That was really interesting.

“You mentioned Mars?”

“Well, yes. There’s a few places on Mars itself, and a tiny scatter on Phobos. Nothing on Deimos. Here…”

The Martian system appeared. As she had said, Deimos showed the same low-level random splutter as the Scillies. Phobos showed a little bit more, but nothing very definite. Mars, with its wide diversity of settlements in different places, showed an equally wide variety. In amongst that, were several peaks, reaching almost the same value as Ceres and Vesta, but the data was patchy. I leaned back.

“Slate, what is there in common between those places?”

“I’ll see what I can find out. And I’ve just fired off a query to Khufu down in London to see if we have any similar data on the Jovian system. Capstone tells me that he and Rydal have no details for there.”

Khufu was the main Pyramid installation supporting the Finsbury Circus office, together with those other scattered souls who, like Slate and I, were on detached work off planet. Vaster than a persona and more capable, he was also more serious, less easily sparked into lively debate, and not really the sort of individual you would want to spend time with. He did, however, have access to a colossal amount of information, and was able to leverage this to make connections the rest of us might miss.

At any rate, a query going down to the Finsbury Office and back would take the better part of an hour, given the relative locations of Bryher and Earth just now. So we had time to spare. Time to see what we could do for ourselves with this puzzle.

While waiting for Slate’s analytics to initialise, I half-turned to look at Rydal. Her skin was darker than mine, and as we had boarded the Heron, she had gathered her unruly ringletted hair back into a more orderly bob. She glanced at me briefly, and I looked back at the screen. It was ready now.

“Any ideas?”

“We need to find the common factor. Let’s see what Khufu comes up with.”

To my surprise, it was Capstone who answered.

“Slate and I have been working together on this, Mitnash. You see, I have a lot of demographic data that isn’t relevant for your normal investigations into fraud. But it fits very neatly with what Slate already knows, and means we can eliminate most possibilities. So far as we can tell, there’s only one common feature that appears to have any relevance to the matter. Ceres and Vesta use a twinned Sarsen pair as the main financial deal hub. Deimos and Pallas do not. Mars has a lot of different systems here and there, so it’s harder to tell.”

Artist’s concept of the Dawn spacecraft with Vesta and Ceres. NASA image. (Click image for details; once there click “open in media viewer” for a really fantastic closeup. Also see link for NASA gallery)

“He’s right, Mit. Pallas has a single Sarsen with a lot of upgrades to quicken her up. Deimos has a routing engine down to Mars, based on a cut-down Ziggurat. No real local processing at all. The main Mars site at Elysium Planitia has a full Pyramid, but there are a lot of sites elsewhere on the planet which do have twins. A couple of them are reasonably close to the peaks, but there is no direct connection that I can see yet.”

“From memory though, the twinned pair is a fairly common configuration. We mainly see it in finance, but it’s very widespread beyond that too. Ship navigation and all. I’m not surprised that there are several like that on Mars. Slate and I can send a query to get a full list across the system, if we think it would help. But does anyone here on the islands use twinned Sarsens?”

“Oh yes. The main financial hub on St Mary’s. You remember, we talked about it, last time we were here.”

Rydal stirred.

“Actually there is another, though hardly anybody knows about it yet. Back on Martin’s we have one as well. I’m telling you this in absolute confidence, but there is a move by some of us there, to take the islands’ deal processing away from Mary’s. We’re putting together a proposal right now, listing a number of occasions when the Mary’s hub has either underperformed or thrown errors. Acquiring the twinned pair was part of the proof of concept.”

This was news to Slate and I. At a guess, it would be news to Elias as well, but Rydal had effectively sworn us to secrecy, for the time being.

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Click here to read about some remarkable advances used to help people with autism enjoy higher levels of productivity, meaningful interactions and privacy. 

About the author…

Richard Abbott writes fiction set in two very different places. First, there is science fiction, set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships. The second area is historical fiction set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC.

His first science fiction book, Far from the Spaceports, introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His historical fiction books explore events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, including Polly and Alexa, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

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Stay tuned for more excerpts, my review of Richard Abbott’s next book, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot,” and some conversation with the author!

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This post has been updated to include an embedded audio box for excerpt as opposed to the hyperlink previously created.