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Saturday, April 14, 2007

There's Always Irony

Be advised
Coming back after a week away, naturally I find myself inundated in, and nearly overwhelmed by, e-mail. Wading through it all and trying to find the ones I need to respond to is no trivial task. I'm sure most everyone reading this has experienced the same thing a time or three.

However, it reminds me once again that I should periodically advertise my regrettable inability to respond individually to queries and requests. Every week I get dozens upon dozens of questions on every conceivable photographic topic. Is the Canon X or Nikon Y better? What do I think of X lens? Have I ever tried Y film? What do I think of X company's prospects for success or survival? Can I discuss metaphysics or politics? What's the best book on Y? Can I please sign a petition or advertise a show or review a book or link to a website or post a picture or look at a portfolio or recommend a school or advise someone about a career choice?

Don't get me wrong—this is not an annoyance. I read everything anyone sends me, frequently get great tips or learn something from what someone has to say, and the questions I get are almost always thoughtful, the correspondents polite and friendly. And—ach—I usually have to ignore them anyway.

Believe me, I hate appearing to be snooty by ignoring these requests. It's not that I suffer from self-importance. Far from it; yr. hmbl. blggr. would love to help. And it's not just incompetence or ignorance, i.e., that my knowledge is spotty, that I think sometimes well but most always slowly, and that I type like a blind bandsaw operator. No. It's a simple equation: (free hours in the day) – ([numbers of questions] x [time required to answer each]) = less than zero.

That's all.

But: sorry. Really and truly. I wish I had time to answer every question and help everyone who asks for it.

Bedside reading
Meanwhile—speaking of being inundated and overwhelmed—there's been a small disaster chez Johnston. Over time, a massive tower of books had accumulated by my bedside. Don't get the impression these books were organized into neat stacks. Rather, the bedside reading was a great mound of volumes of every shape and size, some opened to where I'd left off reading—a miniature mountain of intricately interdependent structures, in some places weakened by slippery slick-paper magazines, constantly shifting and being shored anew as I occasionally extracted titles from lower down in the pile, jeopardizing everything higher up.

I guess disaster was inevitable. I needed to retrieve a floor lamp to replace a broken switch, and alas, the base of the lamp turned out to be too great a stone in the foundation of the great pile. There was a bookalanche. The whole everlovin' edifice toppled; books slid and skidded every which way, picking up and carrying off other books as they roared by; mountaineers were killed, villages buried, massive conifers snapped like twigs, hikers lost for ever. Send in the brandy-bearing St. Bernards. The floor by my bed and for many feet in every direction is now an undifferentiated jumble of books, shin-deep. It is not a pretty sight.

And the irony? (There's always irony.) Buried somewhere in the carnage, one of the casualties of the incident (only temporarily lost—I hope) is Henry Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf, a fascinating history of the organization and storage of books.

I think I should have read a little further in that one, before letting it disappear into the pile.

Posted by: YR. HMBL. BLGGR.


Blogger david adam edelstein said...

Hah. You need my cats to visit your house. Like skilled civil engineers, they stage controlled periodic landslides on Mt. Biblioteca in order to prevent greater disaster and catastrophic loss of life.

1:28 PM  
Blogger David Kelly said...

Mike: Sounds like you have arrived at the moment to acquire voice recognition software. the NYTime's tech guru David Pogue writes that Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 is by far the best, eliminates most of the tedious learning process, makes corrections a snap and is the next best thing to being Spock on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. If he's right, you'll be able to reply to an email in seconds, look Ma, no hands!

It's for PCs only, of course, and I have just bought a new MacBook Pro, so I will be stuck with iListen 1.7, the best VR program now available for Mac but which Pogue says is not ready for prime time. Anybody who has used both programs please chime in,especially if you can contradict Pogue!

4:42 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Well, I have "MacSpeech" and it's dreadful. I gave it more than the old college try--really spent some quality time trying to get it to work for me. I suspect my older, slower processor might have been partly to blame, so I might have to try again on my new Intel iMac. But if that wasn't it, then the program is next to useless...for me, at least. It took longer to correct the massive number of mistakes than it would have taken just to type it all out in the first place.


4:52 PM  
Blogger David Kelly said...

You are in luck -and so am I. Intel Macs, I have just learned, can be booted in PC mode, and run windows-only programs like NatSpeak 9.Fast. It's like having two computers in one. If Pogue is right, I'm going to kiss off typing both emails and editorial notes forever. Sorry about your horrible experience with the Macspeach program, but thanks for saving me the $150 i was about to spend on a copy of it.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Ctein said...

Dear DK,

There are better options. Parallels and VMWare both have PC emulators that run under MacIntel OSX-- no need to reboot; OSX and Windows run simultaneously with Windows running in a, ummm, window.

On the Gx-processor Macs, emulators ran too slowly for many computation-intensive, real-time tasks (although I had heard of people successfully running voice recognition, the wizards). MacIntel emulators are a whole different beast-- they'll lose a factor of 2-3 in performance over running native, but a MacIntel has many times more processing power than is needed for voice recognition. I think (never tried it) that you'd be fine running ViaVoice or Dragon under emulated Windows.

Helpful Tip 1-- run the oldest version of Windows the app will support. Each successive version of Windows eats up LOTS more system resources.

Also, ViaVoice is available for OSX. It's not Universal code, so there's a performance hit, but, again, a MacIntel has many times as much CPU power as you need to run it (it'll run decently on an under 1GHz G4). It has excellent recognition, but it has to be trained (mondo boring).

BTW, if DDNS9 has a training option, avail yourself of it, despite the boredom. You'll get MUCH better accuracy rates.

I've been doing 90% of my writing with voice transcription for about a dozen years. Two books, myriad articles, innumerable emails. All with IBM products, so please don't ask me how DD compares to VV.

Helpful Tip 2-- If you've not used voice transcription software, be aware that the software trains you as well as vice versa. With practice you learn how to speak in a way that is both comfortable for you and easy for the computer to recognize. The import of this is that after a month or two of use, I recommend starting over as a new user and retraining the software (more mondo boring). You'll get markedly better results when you know how to speak 'computer.'

pax / Ctein

1:35 AM  
Blogger Ctein said...

Dear Mike,

I feel your pain about unanswered email (or maybe I'm feeling the pain you don't).

I'm pretty good about replying. 95%+ of my email gets answered, partly because I really like helping people out (doing the Q&A column for Darkroom magazine was the most gratifying writing I did) and partly 'cause I came to this biz in an age when a letter from a reader was a rare and precious thing. Still I feel guilty as hell when an email goes unanswered, no matter the reason.

Doesn't help that I'm a wordy writer (voice transcription DOESN'T solve this-- takes longer to edit it down than just leave it long). I envy Craig Newmark. He's like the Isaac Asimov of email; he can respond cogently to just about anything in 25 words or less. God, I wish I could.

Some emails are just hopeless-- I got one a few weeks back from a reader of DIGITAL RESTORATION who wants to start her own DR business and has thought about it at great length so she could write me a careful, specific and very-not-dumb list of questions about how to handle certain aspects of the biz.

Problem is she HAS thought about it; a cursory read of her questions tells me it would take me several hours to begin to answer her properly. There's no way that's gonna happen.

I've just ignored her email while I think of apolite way to write back and tell her answering her entirely reasonable questions would just be too much work.

But I still feel guilty about it.

(nobody tell me I don't owe the readers anything. That's not the issue. I just feel BAD when I can't help them)

pax / Ctein

1:47 AM  
Blogger Michael Seltzer said...

I hoped my wife would take care of that for me, but no; and I can't afford to pay someone to do it, so when I must, I find it's best to start with collar and cuffs then move inwards (arms, shoulders, body).

2:06 AM  
Blogger Peter Williams said...

"The Book on the Bookshelf" is a great book I read it a month or so and found it very enjoyable and informative.

4:47 AM  
Blogger ctyankee said...

Mike - from someone who recently sent you an email w/questions, thanks for the time you took to post this !

4:23 PM  

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