04 September 2006

Phil explained abstractedly.

I've been having fun playing with Word's AutoSummarize feature. As the online help explains, this would appear to work by counting which words appear most often and then extracting in their entirety the sentences which contain the highest proportion of high-scoring words. As this response suggests, it's probably a better tool for checking a document's linguistic biases than for actually writing anything resembling an intelligible abstract.

Summarising my Guardian article in ten sentences produces the following:
On first reading a Philip K Dick novel, many people wonder what kind of twisted mind could come up with such ideas. The answer is a very twisted mind indeed - even when writing science fiction, Dick wrote from experience. Dick's insights into the true nature of reality were spectacular and varied. A break-in at Dick's house in 1971 – not altogether surprising given the proclivities of his recent house-guests – took on great personal significance. Now, for all we know, Dick might have been predisposed to such delusions whatever his lifestyle, but the drugs can't have helped – and Dick realised this. That March had been an eventful month for Dick. For the rest of his life, Dick was obsessed with explaining these events. Dick based his final novel, The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer, around his extraordinary life.

Dick's interpretation of his visions changed on an almost daily basis. It's not a theology that more conventional Christians would recognise, but Dick worked it through in detail.
The trouble with this is that it's deceptively coherent: it appears to be telling a connected story, but misleads in at least two important respects (The break-in didn't happen in March, and Transmigration is based around Bishop James Pike's life, not Dick's).

The tool isn't very good at avoiding section headings (to get the above I had to cut out the title and the sidebar), and it seems to have a strong bias towards short sentences. Trimming "Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants" to 20 sentences comes up with:
Jason frowned. ‘Jason has library books?’ Bernice asked, puzzled. Bernice frowned. This copy must be Jason’s own, she guessed. Benny closed the book and sat down gingerly on Jason’s rumpled, sweaty duvet.

‘I’ll tell you why I ask,’ Benny told Jason later. ‘Benny, I can explain,’ Jason protested weakly. ‘Of course you can explain, Jason,’ she retorted. ‘You faked your academic credentials once,’ said Jason sulkily.

Bernice subsided, fuming.

‘Snotty-nosed cow,’ Jason said now. Benny rolled her eyes. Benny asked him. Jason appeared hurt. Jason told her.

Jason Kane

Jason was standing up. ‘To full Jason Kane standard, natch.’

‘Yeah, well,’ the nearest Jason concluded miserably.
...which is actually surprisingly fair, although I'm not sure how some of those sentences scored as highly as they did.

Annoyingly, the feature seems happy to repeat entire sentences. An attempt to put Of the City of the Saved... through it mostly produced a string of chapter headings reading "The City".

Summarising "The Long Midwinter" in 20 sentences gives us the hauntingly Beckettian:
II. Samson

Samson Griffin’s suit itched.

‘Well then, Kebalau,’ the Doctor said. Samson’s eyes bulged. ‘Happy Midwinter Festival, Kebalau.’

The Doctor crossed his arms. It was my idea, Doctor. The Doctor frowned. Samson muttered.

Gemma frowned. V. The Doctor

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. The Doctor nodded sadly. Heskiu pulsed assent. The Doctor smiled softly. Trees of life, trees of knowledge, trees of good and evil... not to mention a midwinter festival. The Doctor struggled to understand. Heskiu began.

‘Nonsense,’ the Doctor said. Time passes.
Again, I'm not sure why "nimbus", "manyfold" and "Yesod" aren't in there, although at least it's correctly identified the main characters.

My favourite, though, is "The Ruins of Time" in 20 sentences:
Ian considered. ‘Ian!’

Barbara smiled. ‘Barbara!’

Susan asked. Barbara asked.

Ian protested. Ian sighed. Susan?’ said Vedirioi. Susan pouted. Susan looked back. Vedirioi spat. Susan shuddered. Ian groaned. Vedirioi paused. Susan was shocked. Horrified, Susan stood.

Ian demanded. Susan gasped. Ian muttered.
Or even better, in ten:
Ian considered. Susan asked. Ian protested. Ian sighed. Susan pouted. Susan shuddered. Ian groaned. Ian demanded. Susan gasped. Ian muttered.

To read the rest of it, you'll have to wait until the book's released. Suffice it to say there's rather more to it than that.

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