Monday, January 29, 2018

Bright Light City #2

I'm back, and had a ton of fun.  Quite a bit of it was unexpected.

For starters, the planning issues I spoke about earlier took an unexpected twist.  My cousin and my friend spent pretty much the whole trip with me, sharing a two bed hotel room, with one of us sleeping on the floor.  As I was the one who paid for the hotel room, it wasn't me.

I expected to do a bit of gambling.  Normally I start gambling with the intention of losing some amount of money, then stopping.  I was so busy, I never really did much.  I stopped to do a few $3 pulls here and there, hit a $165 payout, and ended up leaving $50 or so up.  We also got a free walk through of how to play Craps, which was fun.

The Venetian is a hotel with some very expensive shops.  Normally I would have no business shopping there.  In a surprising turn, Godiva brought back my favorite candy bar, and a friend asked me to pick something up at Mont Blanc.  It was pretty neat doing some actually shopping at such a fancy place.

"How's your night going?"  It delighted me to no end being asked how my night was going, whenever I ran into someone before dawn.  I too have always considered dawn the start of a new day.

Something that really surprised me was Las Vegas is a city that definitely does sleep.  Walking around the city at 5:30 am, wishing that Starbucks was open, was not part of the plan.

Lyft surprised me.  They did the shared ride thing there.  It was kind of a gamble.  Once it added 30 minutes to my trip.  In general, it took about 10% longer, and saved a couple of bucks.  They were usually within 3 minutes, when I needed them.  And in Vegas it was a legitimate job; one you could support yourself on entirely.  Conversations were often interesting, and they knew a lot about the city.

Self driving cars.  They were around.  Probably mostly for CES, which had wrapped up a few days before I arrived.  Pretty cool to see people sitting in the driver seat, looking around the strip instead of where they were going.  Safely, of course.

I do want to talk about the shows, but that will be another post.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tempermental Butler versus Servant

"Your temperamental butler is listening."

My last post spoke about my helping a friend with Dragon speech recognition software, so she could speak rather than keyboard her story to create an editable text computer file. I frequently speak into my phone to create text rather than use my swype keyboard ( which I love dearly ) but have not done so with my computer. At least recently.

My experience with Irma and Dragon re-whet my appetite for speaking to rather than keyboarding at my computer. I recalled that the capability is built into my version of Windows and I had successfully experimented with it sometime ( likely a long time ) ago. I could see speaking to my computer for at least two things I do virtually daily: making journal type notes in a free program called iDiary; writing … I have, in spurts of success, committed to writing for at least ten minutes, on any topic that seems of interest to me, every day, in either my paper journal or in Microsoft Word. I could easily see speaking as making both tasks easier, more fruitful and, therefore, more rewarding.

It was not hard to resurrect what I knew.  The application is called, appropriately enough, Windows Speech Recognition.  I opened the program and went through the tutorial.  This gave me all kinds of options about commands and what not, all of which may someday be of some interest, but all I wanted to do was speak and obtain editable text as a result.  Doing that was very straight forward … and getting the program to be ready to listen to me or turn that off reminded me very much of how Dragon both worked and looked.

I opened iDiary, told Windows Speech Recognition to listen and spoke. Nothing happened.  Nothing. As though the microphone were disconnected. To say that was disappointing would be a significant understatement.

I thought I would try Microsoft Word. Microsoft makes the speech recognition software I was using and it also makes Microsoft Word … a natural, eh? You would think. You'd be wrong. It was better than using

Figure 01 - The editable text in a pop-up Insert Box window.
iDiary ( nothing happened there, remember? ) but speech did not directly enter text into the Word application. Instead, speech entered text into a pop-up window, which text I could edit and review and then enter into the document by clicking the Insert button … see Figure 01. This is clearly better than my experience with iDiary, but not a great deal better. I got disgusted and left the project for the day.  

I decided to write a blog post about this experience. Wondering if Windows Speech Recognition would work directly with the Google blog creation tool, I tried it. It worked. Perfectly. The spoken words appeared in the tool just as though I had keyboarded them. This was exciting
( "Wow, I can speak my blog post material!" ) and disappointing ( "Why can't I speak and obtain text at all with iDiary??" ) at the same time. 

Being a stubborn techie, I thought I'd try speaking with iDiary once more. This time it worked … the text didn't enter iDiary directly, but via that same pop up window of Figure 01. While I consider this less than ideal, it is far superior to nothing happening. 

I tried Microsoft Word again; guess what?  My spoken word appeared directly in the document that I was creating!  To show you, I am going to dictate a sentence and put it after the colon here just as it came from Windows Speech Recognition: "I dictated this sentence as an example for my block polls." The correct sentence is, "I dictated this sentence as an example for my blog post." Whereas Dragon seemed to be saying, "Speak, your servant is listening," this system seems to be saying, "Your temperamental butler is listening."

This system is not perfect.  There is possibly work that must be done.  I realize that my phone converts my speech into text far more reliably than this configuration does.  I wonder if that is because the microphone I use here is relatively cheap and old or whether the speech recognition software in my phone is much newer and much better … or some combination of both.  Time will tell.  Either way, temperamental or not, I'm excited about this development.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

This is not a Medieval Dragon

"Speak, your servant is listening."

My friend Jane has a friend (  Irma, not her real name ) who is interested in turning her lengthy story into a memoire, or book, or something; but first she has to turn it into some sort of editable electronic record.

"My friend has asked me to help her," Jane, told me, "with Dragon. Do you know anything about it?"


"Yes, Dragon."

"Could you provide me some help … like what's the context?"

"Computer. Software."

I don't mean to disparage Jane. She is a generous person, willing to give you the blouse off her back. A computer whiz she is not. If Irma is asking her for computer help, Irma is in desperate need. ( You might remember Jane and I really got acquainted because she needed some ( computer ) help, first with Windows 8 and then with her genealogy project. ) Two prior stories are here and here.

"Yes, I know something, though nearly nothing, about Dragon. It's about speaking to your computer instead of keyboarding."

"She needs help installing it. The instructions don't make any sense to her."

After a large amount of hemming and hawing at home, I finally told my wife I knew enough about it that I was willing to see what I could do. Soon enough she, Jane and I were at Irma's house, munching on the pizza she offered in exchange for the help I was about to provide.

First sign of trouble: I noticed that the laptop on the kitchen table, which seemed to be the unit on which we'd be working, was an Apple machine and the box for Dragon said it is for IOS. I am a Windows guy.

Next, it wasn't installation Irma was having trouble with; it was use. Opening the laptop, I saw that the dragon icon was open and instructions opened. It seemed straightforward enough. I was able to get the microphone icon inside the window to turn on and off in response to my wanting the microphone to listen or not. Irma's daughter had shown her how to use it and had dictated into an application and Irma saw the text in the document. Dragon worked; but Irma's daughter had done everything so quickly nobody knew more about how to use Dragon after she left than they did before she showed up.

Finally, I realized the problem was understanding the entire procedure for opening a document, entering data, editing it, saving it and opening it later to continue. Irma had no idea what applications she had which might offer this functionality.

After poking around as best as I could ( which likely was not very good on the Apple computer ) I thought, "Google Docs!" Irma has a gmail account, so I asked her to log into her account. I then took the machine, clicked on the nine-dot icon to get to Google docs, opened a new DOC document, and we used Dragon to enter text into the document. ( Metaphorically, Dragon said to me, "Speak, your servant is listening." ) Having done that, I closed Google Docs, closed gmail, and I told her Google would automatically save the document, and she could later return to open it and edit it as needed. Having closed Google Docs and her gmail, I had her reopen gmail, click the nine-dot Google tools icon, find and click the Docs icon within, and open the document we had just created. Viola! It was there, she opened it, and she was happy as a clam.

My wife and I were able to go home with a sense of accomplishment.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sour Grapes

My last post about becoming a flight attendant was hopeful.  I had some ideas to spruce up my resume.  Trying not to let my first rejection get me down.  The problem is, I have a severe case of sour grapes.

It started with the idea of getting a part-time job at the airport.  I was thinking a job as a ticket taker or ticket seller might be the best thing to get me in the door at a major airline.  It could be a spring board.  And that got me thinking.

My job is a lot better than those.  It pays better.  It has consistent hours.  It requires technical ability that I have.  I can walk there.  And that got me thinking.

My job is pretty great.  I've never made so much.  I'm appreciated for my ability to do it, and my reliability.  I'm exactly where 2008 Benjamin, working hard to put himself through school, wanted to me to be.  Designed for me to be.

So I ask myself if I really do want to be a flight attendant, and the answer is "Yes, but... I also want the job I have.  The life I have".  And that job has the benefit of being the one I already have.  I'm sure I'll have more thought in a couple of weeks when I get back from visiting with my cousin.  For now I'll walk to work, whistling a happy tune.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Cord(ial?) Mix-up

"Have I got a tale of woe for you!"

My wife has a Fit Bit and she very much enjoys the data she gets from it. This model has a replaceable strap and the connection to the device disconnected the other day. She thought that a little strange, but reconnected it and went about her business. It happened again a day or two later, then again more quickly. Eventually she was unable to reconnect it.

This caused her much angst. It was just after Christmas, very cold, and we anticipated that the Best Buy to which we'd go would be overrun, both generally and especially the Customer Service desk. Both the frigid temperatures and the prospect of large crowds were very off-putting, but she didn't want to be without her Fit Bit.

Adding to the downside of going, Ellie didn't share my optimism that we'd walk into the store, tell our story and walk out satisfied. "It's never that easy. We'll have to wrangle with them." So she thought, even though we had Geek Squad Protection ( GSP, as I've learned they affectionately call
it ).

She addressed this very creatively. She clear packing taped the strap to the device. Except that didn't work. She tried masking tape; that worked like a charm. It looked funky at the edges of the device, but the device was completely functional, didn't separate from the strap and, uncharacteristically, she was unconcerned about appearances. Still, she was antsy to get a replacement.

The day after New Year's was only moderately cold, a significant improvement over frigid, and it was long enough after Christmas that we figured the crowds would've dispersed. So we bundled up and set out. We got to the Customer Service person quickly, showed her our receipt for the GSP and told our story. "Well, you can just go get another one," she said, without batting an eye(lash).

"Just like that?" Ellie asked.

"Yup," she said. "Just bring it back here. I'll hold your old one."

We quickly found another copy of the same model ( our calculation about minimal crowds was spot on ) and took it to the Customer Service desk. The rep quickly worked her register and, just before finishing, said, "OK, I think that's it. The GSP covers the cost of the device. Do you want GSP on the new one?"


"Very good," she said as she touched the touch-screen a few more times. "Do you have the charging cord for your old device? If not, I'll have to take the charging cord from the box as I have to have a charging cord to return."

We figured we'd need this; Ellie got out her charging cord, gave it to the clerk, and we left … happy campers.

At home, setting up the device, Ellie realized two things: she had two black charging cords to choose from, her original one and the new one; her Smartphone charging cord was missing. We realized, simultaneously, she had given the clerk a white cord, her Smartphone charging cord.

Ellie called the phone number on the receipt, hoping to talk to the CS desk, or, better, the woman who had helped us, whose name we remembered. Unbelievably, that was not possible. The person on the phone suggested returning to the store as soon as possible.

Being very gallant, I said I'd go; "You wait here, keep the home fires burning, stay warm."

The Customer Service clerk was not the one we had spoken with. I smiled at her, "Have I got a tale of woe for you!"

She returned my smile, "Shoot."

I told her what had happened; she said, "Hmmm," went to a cart full of stuff, rummaged around a bit and pulled out what looked like a long narrow baggie with a white cord in it. "Is this it?"

Grateful as I could be, I looked at the cord, saw that it looked like Ellie's, and saw the LG stamped on the USB connector. "Yes, that's it!" I exclaimed.

"So … ," she said in somewhat measured tones, "you have the old Fit Bit charging cord?"

"I am prepared for that question!" I gave it to her and left the store thanking both the digital gods and my God for being with me that night.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bright Light City

I'm less than two weeks away from my trip to Vegas, but it's definitely not the trip I intended.  The original plan was to spend five days alone in Vegas on my way to visit my cousin in Long Beach California, where I will spend three nights on his couch.  Then I told people.

The reason for stopping in Vegas was to have fun, but also scout out the city.  I'm thinking of moving there.  The first wrinkle is, my cousin wants to join me in Vegas too.  I'm happy to have my cousin with me, but that did mean less scouting.  Then he tells me, "Vegas is fun anytime, but you gotta be in Long Beach for the weekend."  Then another friend wants to join us.

Okay, I guess I'm only spending three days in Vegas, and with a couple of friends, so probably not a lot of scouting.  But lots of fun, and I'll get to bum around California.  Not a bad way to spend a week of Minnesota winter.  As I write this it's below zero.

I paid $90 for my flights.  I paid $190 for three nights at a 4 star hotel in Vegas, which I may be staying in alone, or not.  I'm gonna try to see Penn & Teller while I'm out there, and we're definitely planning on an airplane tour of the Grand Canyon.

And a whole 'nother trip to Vegas at a later date for scouting.