Computer ethics

Damsels in distress. Every time I turn around, there’s a girl who needs her computer fixed. Not that I’m complaining. I was having a beer the other night with the music director from my church and told him about it, to which he said, “That’s not a bad situation at all to be in.” He’s right.
So that’s what I was doing Thursday. I don’t exactly get it, because I always have great luck with the PCs I build myself, but when I build a PC for a friend, we always manage to get a bad power supply, or a bad video card, or something else–even though I use the same type of components in their systems as in mine. That’s why I’m not in the computer building business, and I may get out of the business of building them for my friends. I’ll find ’em a good deal if they want, and I’ll play hardball to get a good price and the best components for them, and I’ll gladly set it up for them, but when it comes to procurring all the parts and assembling them, it may be time to give it up.

But I got dinner out of it last night and got to meet some interesting people. That was good.

Computer Ethics. I found out last night that this friend once dated an IT professional I know. I don’t know him well–I didn’t put the name and the face together until she showed me a picture (he knows me better than I know him, apparently). She knew him about eight years ago.

Eight years ago, a typical date for them was him taking her to a weekly 2600 meeting. He evidently learned everything he knew by hacking. We’re not talking writing code here. We’re talking infiltration of systems illegally. At one point he had a notebook full of private phone numbers: people like the Pope and the Prime Minister of Canada. For kicks, he’d call the numbers and record the conversations. He also had her address and phone number in the notebook. One day he left the notebook on top of his car in a parking lot, then drove off. Someone found the notebook, couldn’t believe what was in it, and turned it over to the authorities. Since hers was the only non-VIP address in it, the Secret Service showed up on her doorstep. Her parents were less than amused.

I don’t really understand this. This guy isn’t the only “reformed” hacker I know who has a high-paying, high-security, high-integrity job. And that’s a real problem. If you didn’t have integrity at 18, you probably don’t have it at 25 or 26 either. You can’t count on eight years giving you any measurable amount of maturity, let alone integrity. If you have no respect for other people’s property at 18, you won’t have much a few years later. I don’t understand why anyone hires these kinds of people. You can sum up my run-ins with the law really quickly. I’ve been pulled over three times since the age of 16. I recieved two verbal warnings and a written warning. That’s the extent of it. But I’m not sure I’d trust myself in these peoples’ jobs.

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From: Paul S R Chisholm

There have been a series of excellent articles, written by Martin J. Furey and published at Byte.com, describing how the sound cards and microphones can effect the success of using Dragon Naturally speaking. Rough summary: 128 MB RAM or better, PIII or Athlon (speech recognition is one of the few applications that can use that much power, and the latest versions have installation options with executables tuned to those processors), very good mike or headset, very good sound card or USB headset, perhaps Win98SE. More detail:

http://www.byte.com/feature/BYT19990720S0003
http://www.byte.com/feature/BYT19991020S0004
http://www.byte.com/feature/BYT19991103S0001

In particular, a PIII or Athlon is supposed to greatly reduce the training time. It’s not clear how much its power is needed once the software is fully trained.

I ordered my Dell system based on these recommendations. (I got a 700 MHz PIII.) Since I didn’t want to spend the time putting a computer together, and since Dell didn’t have much of a sound card choice, I got the USB version of NaturallySpeaking Preferred, which comes with a USB mike in a headset form factor.

I haven’t tried writing a book this way. I did write up technical review comments for a book. In my experience, I could get a rough draft out much faster than if I’d typed it; even after making a review pass, something I probably would have done anyway, and which found some truly odd typos, I think I saved time.

It’s not STAR TREK. One Byte.com reviewer “had to speak like Queen Amidala of the Naboo to make it work right”. I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d lean in that direction.

I had less luck using NaturallySpeaking for total control of my PC. Mouse-clicking was surprisingly good. Saying “Press” and the name of a key was surprisingly bad. (My office mate tried this for a few weeks and had even less luck.)

I’ll leave the final word to John Ousterhout, creator of Tcl/Tk, who dictates even code but still “mouses by hand”:

http://www.scriptics.com/people/john.ousterhout/wrist.html
Good luck! –PSRC

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Yes, I read those articles myself after David Pogue suggested I try Naturally Speaking. So I’ve ordered an Andrea ANC-600 mic, which got good marks in the series, from www.speechcontrol.com (good price and quick delivery; the makers of the highest-rated mics say 6-8 weeks for delivery, while speechcontrol.com can get the ANC-600 to me in 4 days and the owner answers questions very quickly). Now that DNS 5.0 is out, I’m going to order it and an SB LIve! Platinum, the successor to the Sound Blaster card that came in second-best (I’m leery of buying the best-rated card, since it’s ISA and there’ll come a time when my fastest PC won’t have ISA slots), and we’ll see how that works. As for a P3 or Athlon system, that is something I’d probably get anyway, but I’ll see if the C400 has enough punch first.

As for ViaVoice, I guess I can hang it on the wall along with all those AOL and MSN CDs.

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