Still Waiting for the Kindle

Well, I won’t get my Kindle Touch until Monday, but at least now that the Fire reviews have all posted, people are beginning to talk about the Touch:

Awkward delays arise, and repainting of the e-Ink screen sometimes lags. But, overall, the experience is quite good and, in some situations, noticeably better than using the previous iteration’s buttons. This is especially true of picking items from lists or selecting text in specific areas of the screen—touch, even on a screen that isn’t especially responsive, is simply much faster than navigating via repeated button presses.

Also this: “But if your focus is on reading, I would actually recommend the bottom of the line model. It’s lighter and more comfortable to hold in one hand, and the touch screen doesn’t really make the page turning experience that much better.”

Playing with Evernote

It’s been popular for 2 years, so I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth getting excited about Evernote.

I like Dropbox a lot. (A whole lot, but that’s another story.)

I’ve experimented with Google and Yahoo sites as a way of storing information online, and it’s just too much, because they’re not really filing systems as much as authoring systems. I want something like Dropbox, but for odds and ends.

Posterous and Tumblr aren’t really filing systems either, and, at a glance, they don’t really work for private information.

So I’m experimenting with Evernote. I’m intrigued with its purported ability to OCR text off the images I upload.

(D’oh! that reminds me: I figured out, eventually, how to get Tesseract working. It was about a half day of work, but when I finished, for the sample documents I fed it, it did better than I.R.I.S. Your mileage may vary. I need to locate and write up my notes.)

Reinstalling Vista

I managed to find a buyer for my Inspiron 1525 laptop. (No thanks to eBay and the Nigerian crooks who have made it useless for selling computers.)

But then my buyer tried to install software on it. And he ran into two problems. The first is that the battery seems not to hold a charge for very long. That one is news to me, but, then, I rarely used the battery except as a UPS; mostly I ran the computer off wall-current. Anyway, the buyer (we’ll call him Mr. X) was installing some software into his new computer, when it powered down because the battery went south.

That’s when problem two occurred. It’s called “Vista”. Somehow the crash (I’m told) clobbered the system so he got the NTLDR.SYS message. That means the HD is corrupted. I don’t know if the OS is susceptible to corruption when it crashes due to a power failure. (Poor design, if so.) Or possibly Mr. X was installing some virus-ridden L337 W4REZ and the virus clobbered NRLDR.SYS. I don’t know.

So here I am now, with a laptop I’d allowed myself to hope I was done with, and the task of reinstalling Vista. (So I can figure out what to do about the battery.) What fun that is.
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MacSpeech Dictate – a User's Review

I’ve been using MacSpeech Dictate for about half an hour, once or twice a week, since early spring. My experience is that it is great out of the box and has gotten better as I’ve learned to use it.

The hardest thing about using voice-recognition software is to not watch it guess. I do best reading material (from a book, for example). To compose, I have to turn my head away from the screen, or I … start … speaking … in … single … words.

When I look away and just talk, MacSpeech Dictate does much better. I’ve found that, when I’m reading from another source, I do best when I speak in complete sentences, or at least long phrases. Then I go back and fix whatever it guessed wrong.

I was impressed at MacSpeech Dictate‘s vocabulary. It routinely guesses words that the Mac’s spell-checking doesn’t know. (I remember being impressed when it guessed “Tertullian.”)

I was also impressed that they keep any eye on what people say about it on Twitter. A shocking number of software companies aren’t so clueful.

MacSpeech Dictate does what it claims to do, and does it well. For that reason, I’d give it five stars. But I won’t. I’ll give it four, or more honestly 3.5. Here’s what I don’t like about MacSpeech Dictate.

  • It’s poorly-documented. It’s skimpy, and seems in places to be wrong. (But it’s so skimpy maybe it’s just missing the facts I need.) Why not give me a PDF or URL with extra information about how to do something tricky, like using voice commands to select text?
  • It’s not Spaces-friendly. I’d like to be able to use my other apps in the middle of dictating, but MacSpeech Dictate comes with me wherever I go and jumps in front of my windows. Thanks a bunch.
  • It’s nearly impossible for me to use the voice commands to select and modify text. Sometimes, it even misunderstands “forget that” and “go to end” misunderstood — still, after months of use!

Because the voice selection/modification features aren’t useful to me, I find the recognition window indispensable. But it has UI problems of its own:

  • the transparency won’t adjust down to zero, i.e., become opaque. Why? What good is transparency anyway? just make the whole thing spaces-friendly.
  • the font is too small, and likewise the color of the window. (I know, black HUD-style UI’s are the new black.) Let me choose font size and black-on-white text. Steve Jobs can get away with “do it my way” but you aren’t Steve Jobs.
  • let me double-click a word to fix it. The software works best when I give it long phrases. But if I see a problem and double-click it, the text-entry box acts like a choice button. Why not let me use the choice button you already put there, and have the text-entry box act like a text-entry box?
  • why not highlight the differences between the various guesses? If the phrase in question is 10 words long, and the only difference is between the words “sent” and “cent” and “sense” and “incense”, why not display the differences in bold, or in different colors? Take a look at the Filemerge utility that comes with the Mac’s developer tools for inspiration.

iconv is the heat

I’ve been looking for a software tool that would convert foreign characters into a poor substitute.

Call me Ugly McAmerican. I don’t care.

My language has been worn down — I would say, “polished” — like a river rock to the point where it doesn’t have a million characters or funny accent marks or any of that stuff. Now, I don’t mind if your language uses them. I don’t even mind if we have a common encoding. What I do mind is that none of my tools work with your stupid common encoding. When grep and sed and diff and ruby all know what to do with your ?q???????, give me a call.

In the meantime, I plan to go on working in ASCII as much as possible. Then, when necessary, I’ll use tools to convert ugly-quotes to pretty ones, or turn ... into ellipses, etc.

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MacSpeech Dictate (Review)

We just installed a MacSpeech Dictate on the iMac. I’m using it right now to type this review. I have to say, having used it just a bit, it is an awesome program.

When I first installed the software, I had to train it by reading a few sentences. That only took perhaps five minutes. Then I was ready to go. I goofed around for a few moments, trying to think of sentences to throw at it. I was curious how well it understood church jargon, so I made up a few sentences about the Trinitarian controversy and about Tertullian. It was funny that the speech software knew how to spell Tertullian, which the Mac’s spellcheck service underlined in red.

I was trying to think of a real world test. Here’s what I decided to do.

I recently finished a book called Visioneering, by Andy Stanley. Whenever I read a book, I underline things that catch my interest as I go along. That way, the next time I read the book, the highlights will jump out at me. What occurred to me was that I could read those highlights into the computer and then I would be able to grep on them.

So I did it. I flipped through the whole book, reading everything I’d underlined. There were 97 quotes totaling 1808 words. Reading them in took me about 30 minutes. (Mind you, I’d never used this software before, nor any other voice recognition software.)

But the truly amazing thing is that one of my children was in the next room playing “Lego Star Wars” the whole time, with the volume turned up to 11.

Maybe the reason I’ve had such good luck is because of my Princeton trained voice. After all, I’m a preacher: I use my voice every Sunday. Maybe that’s why the software was able to understand me so well. But considering the technical vocabulary I was using and the noisy environment, I’m still impressed with how good this software is. I look forward to getting a copy to use at work.

Standup Desk at Church

I got rid of the behemoth.

stand-up desk at church

When I moved my day off from Friday to Monday, I still wrote my sermons on Friday, but no longer on my day off. As a result, I no longer wrote them at home. Which in turn meant I came home with all kinds of bursitis and odd aches and pains from trying to type a few thousand words in a couple of hours at a non-ergonomic workstation. Ergo, the stand-up desk (“bar table”) I use at home must be more ergonomic than the gigantic desk at church.

So for my birthday, more or less, Mrs. Mess of Pottage bought me a new desk. My arms feel better, but my feet are sore. (The blue shock-absorbing mat at the bottom of the desk is a late-afternoon addition.)