Voice Recognition in the Work Place

October 24th, 2011

If I could have three wishes, one of them would surely be 100% accurate voice recognition with every electronic device that I interact with. I don’t mind typing but given the choice, I would much prefer to speak my commands rather than have to type them into a keyboard or hammer them out on an iPhone or iPad.

Voice recognition is obviously in its infancy but it is becoming quite good considering the tools we have to work with. In fact this blog post is being dictated into an iPad with the headphones that come with the iPad and so far it has been 100% accurate. I agree it could get confusing for a computer to decipher commands if you’re in a crowded room or there is loud music playing in the background or any other number of situations that might not be applicable to voice recognition.

That said how nice would it be to wake up in the morning and say, “turn on shower”. Or if you’re laying in bed at night and you want the lights off, instead of getting up to walk across the room you say, “turn off the lights”. How about you say, “did I remember to lock the doors” and the computer says “no, the back door is unlocked, would you like me to lock it for you now”.

It almost sounds a little like being lazy on the surface but I think it goes much deeper than that if you really ponder the possibilities. Steve Jobs seemed to be headed in the right direction before his untimely passing and I suspect that in the not-too-distant future, keyboard will go the way of the eight track.

Imagine how much we would save on hand sanitizer and carpal tunnel syndrome treatments.

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The Safety In Identification

August 23rd, 2011

Being an avid road biker, and also a diabetic, I always equip my saddle bag or backpack with a few essentials; Fluids, wallet, phone, protein bars, and emergency sugar packs. I’ve always had a healthy fear of getting into an accident, or having a diabetic episode (Very low blood sugar levels in this case) and no one ever finding me, so keeping all of these items with me seems almost essential. But within the last year, and from running as well, I’ve noticed that sometimes bringing all of that stuff isn’t practical. Jumping on the bike and just going, or slipping on the Vibrams and running just isn’t as easy if you have to carry around all of that.

A few running/biking buddies had already been using the Road ID, so I thought I’d take a look. Needless to say, the price point for their ID bracelets are more reasonable than a smaller metal chain type in some cases, and the information you can keep on them is enough that it offers essential information, but enough to allow EMTs or others to identify you and take action. Mine has my name, DOB,  city, state, and zip, loved ones and doctor’s contact information, and of course, the fact that I’m a type 1 diabetic. They also offer Road IDs in several wrist models, as well as some in ankle, shoe, and dogtag form. They also offer a low profile dog collar tag for Fido, which allows more information, and costs less than the PetSmart tag I bought for my dog at $19.99 that is already broken.

I wouldn’t be anywhere without my Road ID. I wear it even when I’m not playing sports or participating in outdoor activities. Check them out if you’re in the same boat I am, of if you think that keeping identification readily available in case of emergency is a good idea. Road ID

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To Kill a Birthday Girl

August 19th, 2011

I’m a big fan of NPR, and listen to it almost exclusively when I’m in the car.  A few weeks ago on the Diane Rehm Show http://thedianerehmshow.org Diane had a guest on who suffered from extreme food allergies. In Sandra Beasley’s book “Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl” http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Kill-Birthday-Girl-Allergic/dp/0307588114 she writes about growing up, and living with such a debilitating condition. I often times wonder what it’d be like if I couldn’t eat some tasty treats, or devour delicious sammiches. From birthday cakes, to peanuts served on airplanes, Sandra discusses what it’s like to be plagued with food allergies. If you’d like to listen to Diane’s interview with Sandra, feel free to here.  http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2011-08-04/sandra-beasley-dont-kill-birthday-girl-tales-allergic-life

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Recovering a Corrupted Partition Table

August 19th, 2011

There are few things worse than the sinking feeling you get when you boot your computer and find that partitions are missing, or even worse that it won’t boot at all. For sure drives fail due to moving components wearing out over time, but if the drive is mechanically intact there are many options for recovering your data, and not all of them involve spending thousands of dollars to have a recovery specialist deconstruct the drive in a clean room. This option is useful if the drive no longer spins or is unrecoverable by other methods, and in many cases recovery can be too complicated an ordeal for a normal user to approach.

You’d never know the extent of the problem however without doing an initial bit of investigation, Does the drive spin? Yes? Is it making funny noises? No? Well chances are your data is still there, but may have gotten lost by a corrupt or broken partition. You could spend a bit of money on software designed to scan your drive for unmapped data (ie. GetDataBack & DiyDataRecovery’s Diskpatch are a couple of my favorites), though there is a good chance you could recover a backup of your partition table for free if you just knew how.

Enter Testdisk. I first discovered this useful freeware utility when using Insert, a mini-Linux distribution on a live cd focused on security. Since then I’ve found it’s also available on Windows and MacOSX and has helped me out of similar predicaments on countless occasions, and no technician’s arsenal is complete without it.

Full details can be found on their wiki at


with step by step instructions at


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Testing to see if your ISP is blocking outgoing SMTP connections

August 12th, 2011

Oftentimes to reduce the threat of spambot outbreaks coming from their network, ISP’s today will prohibit outgoing connections to port 25 except when connecting to the mailservers designated for their own clients to use. Some ISP’s will make exceptions if you contact them about it, but usually the person who answers their first tier support calls knows little about how SMTP works, or why you’d want to connect to some other SMTP server to begin with.

When sending email using a server on someone else’s network the errors in your own mail client may be less than helpful, saying ‘Server not available’ or something similar, leading the investigation in the wrong direction: towards the server you are connecting to rather than your ISP or local network.

Luckily many servers nowadays will have an alternate port open for this purpose (since a spambot is connecting to an MX server instead of your outgoing server they are much less likely to attempt connections to an alternate port as well). This is often set to port 587 though technically any port could be used.

Assuming SSL is not required, to test whether you are able to connect to a mailserver on port 25 simply open a command prompt and type ‘telnet someserver.yourhost.com 25′ (replacing the hostname with whatever outgoing server is provided by your host):

C:>telnet someserver.yourhost.com 25

220 someserver.yourhost.com (IMail 8.21 57484-4) NT-ESMTP Server X1

If the screen refreshes and you see an SMTP banner as above, then that port is open for you to connect to and the issue lies elsewhere.
If you know that this server is working for other people and the port is being blocked however, you’ll see a connection failure just as if the server is down or not responding:

C:>telnet someserver.yourhost.com 25
Connecting To someserver.yourhost.com…Could not open connection to the host, on port 25: Connect failed


Ask your email provider for an alternate port to connect to and any other relevant settings. Assuming SSL is not required you can test to this alternate port in the same way as above.

C:>telnet someserver.yourhost.com 587

220 someserver.yourhost.com (IMail 8.21 57809-2) NT-ESMTP Server X1

Note: The telnet program is not installed by default on recent Windows operating systems though it can easily be installed through Programs and Features by selecting ‘Turn Windows features on or off’ and checking ‘Telnet Client’, then Ok.

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