Sunday, August 12, 2007

Penelope Draws Near: Prepare to beta test!

And now Penelope's time is drawing near! As of 8/9/2007 the first public beta was reported to be "a few weeks" from release. This release will be a great way for lovers of Eudora to pitch in and help the developers by providing feedback.

If you're not following any of this, check my previous posting on the retirement of the Eudora email client and the evolution of the Penelope replacement.

And some readers may be asking "Why all the fuss about Eudora?" Let me try to explain. As an email client Eudora is fast and efficient. It lets you filter messages into mailboxes very easily and it lets you search any or all of those boxes in a flash, using as many criteria as you can imagine. Furthermore, it stores all of your mail and attachments in a very logical manner. All attachments go in the Attachments folder. All messages for a particular box go into an indexed text file named after the box, readily readable in an ASCII editor. I cannot recall losing a single message in 15 years due to the program 'eating' it the way Outlook is apt to do. The simplicity of file structure lets me move Eudora from one machine to another (or to a new one) without any fuss.

Eudora also does a great job of not losing or scrambling messages when a connection is dropped mid-POP. And there is a very good Junk filter. And Eudora will check all my different addresses at once. I don't think there is anything else out there that does all of that. But if there is, please let me know. I can compare it to Penelope as she enters beta.

Bluetooth Turn On: Mystery solved for Sony Vaio SZ360P and others

Over the last 30 days or so I have been breaking in a new Sony VAIO. As I have done several times in the past, I purchased one of the not quite new models (in this case, the SZ360P). This strategy lets you get a pretty decent feature set and price without paying an excessive premium.

One of the reasons I chose this model is the built-in Bluetooth. I had a Bluetooth dongle that I used on my previous Sony VAIO, but the performance was quirky at best.

When I say breaking in, I mean the process whereby you remove all the built-in rubbish that you don't need and add the programs that you do need plus the data from your previous machine. (Yes, yes, I know, if I bought an Apple Macintosh I wouldn't have all this work to do, but that is a bit of us an over-simplification, as any truly honest Mac owner a would acknowledge.)

One of the things that annoys me on any Windows machine these days is the proliferation of icons in the tray in the bottom right-hand corner. In an effort to clean this up on the new machine I apparently removed a control for the Bluetooth radio. Little did I realize how difficult it would be to get my Bluetooth capability back. The past few days I have been experimenting with voice recognition software and was considering using a Bluetooth headset to do my dictation. When I came to mate the Bluetooth headset to my Sony VAIO I kept getting a message that a Bluetooth radio was not turned on. Seeing no switch by which to turn on the Bluetooth radio I was perplexed. I went online to find out if anybody else had this problem.

Isn't it wonderfully comforting to find other people posting messages about a problem? Apparently the Bluetooth radio switch is so non-obvious that some folks had been doubting whether or not their machine actually had Bluetooth installed.

So, in the hopes of helping anybody else who has questions about the Sony VAIO Bluetooth radio switch, the following pictures are posted, starting with the Vaio Central utility seen here (this can be accessed from the Start menu or the Vaio Support Central app.

Warning! Every Sony VAIO comes with a host of built-in utility programs which clog up the Start menu. I am in the habit of either removing these from the menu or bunching them all together in their own folder. In the past some of these utilities have turned out to be quite frivolous, however, the one that turns on the Bluetooth radio is quite essential, as there is no hardware switch to do this.

What you need is the Wireless Switch Settings. This brings up a dialog which is pretty obvious. If you "Enable the Bluetooth device" you turn on the Bluetooth radio. But it would help if it actually said that, and if the "Bluetooth settings" applet which you access from the Control Panel explained that.

Success in this endeavor is at least rewarded with a cool blue light on the keyboard, just above the mechanical switch that turns on/off the Wi-Fi radio. (I guess that one extra switch for the Bluetooth would have broken the design budget).

As you exist this dialog you are treated to another, which alerts you to the addition of the new icon in the taskbar. Despite my dislike for the clutter these icons create, I am leaving this one in place. Otherwise I might have to search my own blog for instructions on how to get it back.

Note: as with Bluetooth on other devices, it is a good idea to check your settings whenever you have Bluetooth active. You don't want your notebook to be discovered and access by an unauthorized user.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Naturally Speaking I'm Blogging

This is my first attempt to write a blog posting using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I have only spent about an hour using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. So I don't think the program is fully trained yet. However, what the program is able to achieve so far is quite surprising. Everything that I have dictated up until this point, has been correct.

I am having slightly more trouble using the commands, however, they promise to be extremely useful, if for example, I am able to dictate a blog posting, copy it, then paste it into a blog post. At the moment, I am using the DragonPad application to do my dictation. It seems that the DragonPad is optimized for taking in spoken dictation. Later on I will try dictating directly into the blogger application.

The ideal situation would be to sit looking at the screen surfing the web with voice commands, and then using the Google toolbar to send webpages to my blog where I can add text and then post.
One of the things that I am interested in finding out is whether or not some of my recent reluctance to do typing is related to the pain it generates either immediately or after the fact. (Ever since the end of last year, my left shoulder and upper on inheriting during an off to typing.) Whether or not the pain has been a deterrent to typing, I am more determined than ever to pursue computed dictation as an input method for my writing.

I have tried this several times in the past, using previous editions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and the main competitor, IBM ViaVoice. (Interesting to note, Dragon NaturallySpeaking very easily recognizes both its own name and that of IBM ViaVoice.) Each time, I eventually gave up.

In my recent reading about voice recognition software, which I can remember testing at least 10 years ago, I noticed that several people stressed the need to persist with a voice recognition program in order to get the best performance from it. Apparently, Dragon NaturallySpeaking continues to learn as you use the program. The more you use the program, the better it works. This added incentive may be enough to keep me going through some off the rough patches.

There are several surprising side effects to using voice recognition software. Personally, I am getting quite a kick out of making the computer do something with just my voice. Having something, albeit an inanimate object, obey my every come on, well it's just rather satisfying.

(Notice that in the last sentence I used the phrase "obey my every come on" but in fact what I said was obey my every command, so you can see that there are some interesting wrinkles to be worked out.)

To review, I have now dictated thus far with only one or two mistakes. Not bad for $89 (at Staples) with fairly comfortable headset included.