Enabling Dialogues

Nov. 17 - Dell had called me on Monday to notify me that my new computer would be arriving between 8am and 3pm Wednesday, so naturally I spent last Wednesday pacing anxiously around the apartment until the computer arrived at 4:30pm.

I had it unpacked, set up, and running within half an hour, then spent the next few hours trying to make it understand that it was connected to our home network.

"I can't find a network connection," it kept telling me.

"It's plugged right up your ass," I kept responding. But computers don't understand that kind of language. They don't appreciate colorful idioms. They have no sense of humor.

And yet they're supremely sensitive. The physical connection to the network wasn't enough. The computer had to have more—an emotional connection. I had a talk with the router.

"Tell the computer a little more about yourself," I said. "Try to get to know it better. Help it get to know you."

I did everything I could to facilitate their conversation, but I no sooner got one of them to open up than the other stopped listening. As if that weren't bad enough, my old computer gave into a fit of jealous pique and refused to share anything at all with anyone.

At last I persuaded the router to abandon its self-esteem and surrender itself entirely to anything with a jack. At that point the two computers dropped all pretense of snobbery and began yakking it up with one another. From that point on the only conversational glitches came from their different dialects.

As soon as the old computer finished spilling its guts to the new one I killed it.

* * *

I spent most of the next few days installing old software onto the new computer, then tweaking the software to run the way it had on the old computer. By Saturday morning the transition was pretty much complete: the new computer could now do everything the old one did. It was time to start letting it teach me what it could do that the old computer couldn't.

One of the cool new things it was supposed to be able to do was listen to me. And not just listen, but respond, take notes, and even talk back.

I bought a Logitech headset, plugged it in, and got to work. I spent 15-20 minutes training the computer to understand my voice, then began trying to use its voice recognition capabilities. It obeyed simple commands well enough but wasn't very good at dictation. I ran two more training sessions and it got a little better.

This is great, I thought, I don't have to type any more! From now on I can just tell the damn computer what to write!

"But the computer isn't very good dictation," I dictated a moment ago. "It only here's what it wants to hear. It has problems with homonyms. But it's spelling isn't too bad. Even if it's gray market is."

I'm not ready to hand in my keyboard just yet.

* * *

A lot has gone on since last Wednesday, and there's plenty to write about, but I'm way the hell behind on everything as it is. I apologize to everyone who's written me since Wednesday—I still haven't caught up on email.


One hundred years ago today, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's stubbornness split his Russian Social Democratic Labor Party into two factions: the slim majority who sided with him, and the vast minority who opposed him.

The Russian terms for majority and minority are bolshevik and menshevik, respectively, and so these factions took their names.

Later the Mensheviks became the majority party, meaning that the Mensheviks had become bolsheviks and the Bolsheviks mensheviks.

This was confusing. If you asked someone what they were and they said "bolshevik," you'd have no way of knowing whether they meant Bolshevik (menshevik) or bolshevik (Menshevik). This state of affairs quickly became intolerable. All sorts of remedies were suggested—placards, ID bracelets, hats, tattoos—but it was impossible to arrive at a consensus until Lenin clarified matters by having all the Mensheviks shot.

It was easy after that.

* * *

Today is the birthday of RuPaul (1960), Danny DeVito (1944), Lorne Michaels (1944), Tom Seaver (1944), Lauren Hutton (1943), Martin Scorsese (1942), Rock Hudson (1925), Lee Strasberg (1901), and Louis XVIII (1755).

It's Memorial Day in Germany, Constitution Day in Macedonia, Flag Day in Morocco, and Armed Forces Day in Zaire.

Happy Monday!

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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