Pogue’s attitude is unfortunately far too common

According to David Pogue, since hacking a car is “nearly impossible,” we shouldn’t talk about it anymore.

That, my friends, is precisely what’s wrong with security and security awareness today. Flying to the moon is nearly impossible, after all, and you could easily kill yourself trying. David Pogue has never done it. But Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did.

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In case anyone\’s wondering why I don\’t run an open forum anymore…

I think David Pogue sums up what’s wrong with online etiquette pretty well.I know I got sick and tired of ducking rocks from anonymous know-it-alls. That irritated me as much as spam. My blog is a hobby. It brings in a little bit of money, but I’m not sure that the money covers the increase in my electric bill. I run my blog because I enjoy writing and because I’ve found a shortage of some types of useful information, so I tried to remedy that shortage when and where I could.

So I started requiring registration. In the process I pretty much ruined the blog, because I ditched b2 in favor of the software I’m using now. Of course, a few months after I made that change, b2 evolved into the lovely and wonderful WordPress, which now everyone and his brother is using.

Then Southwestern Bell started blocking SMTP traffic, preventing my software from sending out registration notices. There’s a workaround out there for that, but I still haven’t convinced myself, two years after I became aware of the problem, that it’s worth fixing. I’m sure I’m losing readership because people who want to be able to sign in and comment can’t, but I find I rather enjoy not having to deal with idiots. The dozen or so people who are left are nice people who say intelligent things.

Don’t get me wrong, I deal with some rude and poor-intentioned people at work. The rudest and most difficult, not coincidentally, are the people I’ve never seen but only spoken with over the phone and e-mail. But even they control what they say a little bit. There’s always the danger that we’ll run into each other someday, after all.

I remember about seven years ago when I wrote something that made the front page of Linux Today. It was a thrill. I even ended up exchanging e-mail with the president of Mandrake, and some suggestions I made for features found their way into later versions of that Linux distribution. Those were fun times.

What goes through my head when I realize that I’ll never make the front page of Digg?

One word: Good.

I still love to write, and I may have even figured out how to make enough money writing to make it worth my while to write regularly again. To be honest, right now I don’t have time to write regularly, but when it’s worthwhile, I can always find ways to make time.

Blogging fits into that equation, so I guess sometime between now and then, I’ll have to figure out some way to deal with the trolls.

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.

———-

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

———-

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.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition. The great David Pogue e-mailed me over the weekend, at Tim O’Reilly’s urging, to talk a little about Dragon Naturally Speaking, which he says is better than ViaVoice. He says he gets about 110 wpm out of it.
So I did a ton of research to see what kind of hardware you want for Naturally Speaking. Consensus seems to be the SoundBlaster Live! Platinum is what you want (retail $199), plus a noise-reducing condenser mic, which can be had for around $75, and as much CPU power as you can muster. David’s had good success with a PII-300, so my Celeron-400, refitted with the SB Live! and a good mic, ought to be OK. If it turns out to be inadequate, the AMD Duron-600 is dirt cheap and suitable mobos are finally widely available.

With a good mic and a sound card with clean audio inputs, many people claim 95-97 percent accuracy out of the box, climbing to 99 percent accuracy within 1-2 weeks of heavy use. We’ll see. I’m still skeptical, but willing to take the risk. As I told David, sound cards and microphones are cheaper than wrists.

If you’re interested in taking the plunge, wait. Naturally Speaking 5.0’s release is imminent. Don’t race out to buy v4 only to find v5 on your next office supply run.

Attention, bargain hunters: The SB Live! Platinum, SB Live! MP3+, and SB Live! Gamer are all the same card. Avoid the SB Live! Value (now discontinued), as it used a different chip. The difference between the three remaining cards, besides the bundled software, is the 5.25″ bay insert that replicates all the jacks and puts them up front. I like that, so that’s the direction I’ll go. That insert costs as much as the card, however, so if you need a high-end sound card but don’t want to pay $200 for it, get one of the other cards in the SB Live! series.

You can upgrade later by adding an insert, but you’re looking at $150 to do it.

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