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Letter to h0p3 about Hands, Interviews, and Software Stupidity

Published at 11:45:32-0700
Tags: rsi, h0p3, correspondence, computing


I didn't expect to write you another letter so soon, but my mind kept piling up phrases which I could tell were destined only for you.

I have continued to spelunk your wiki. Your turns of phrase give me unceasing enjoyment; it would be clear from your diction alone - if it were not already clear from all of the philosophy that wrestle with - that you are deeply immersed in language. I must also note that I adore your term of art "Fireman Time." I often wake up to find I have unconsciously summoned a monster into attack mode. Yu-Gi-Ohhhhhh...

I am pleased to hear that you thoroughly enjoyed Wizards. I think it's worth a watch -- barely -- for the art style, and for the unbeatable joke at the very end, but that's about it. Bakshi's other well-known movie, Fritz the Cat, is, I think, a bit more worth one's time -- but still, more to marvel at the fact that it exists than for quality in and of itself. I must confess that the connection I saw between "h0p3" and "Peace" was merely linguistic: two mononyms based on abstract concepts. Plus, there is something to the mental image of you as a colorful robot mounted on a mutant donkey.

Regarding carpal tunnel: the shots are essentially free -- the doctor gave me the first round as a matter of course during the appointment where I got my diagnosis -- but after the first dose they fall off in effectiveness. The first dose can last anywhere from three to ten months (depending on the severity of the underlying condition), while the second dose might scarcely last at all (if the first dose wore off after a few months) or might give another half year of relief (in the happier cases.)

Regarding equipment: I have tried the same Anker (no, not "honker," dictation program. If I had a honker mouse I'd never take my hands off it) vertical mouse that you have, and found it wanting. It put my hand at an awkward angle. Happily, a trackball is proving to be an acceptable pointing device. To your question about keyboards: I have indeed tried a variety. I used a Kinesis Advantage for a long time, and when the stars aligned and I got my sitting position just right at my old apartment, I could type on that fluidly with no problems. But that was two years ago or more, and in living spaces since then, with shittier chairs and desks, and with new and shittier carpal symptoms manifesting, I could not get the Kinesis to do me justice. Instead, it would hurt my wrists.

I'm now using an Ergodox something-or-other, but I don't like it either. The keys are spaced too closely together for me, or my hands are too big, and there are these extra keys arrayed around the normal keys, which are so easy to hit on accident. I'd like to experiment with something like the Datahand, or with a vertical keyboard, or with mounting my Ergodox vertically if I could find suitable camera-tripod-type equipment.) I also wish I could get someone to make a keyboard that was a custom fit for me; I would happily pay double or triple the price of even a fancy keyboard like Kinesis or Ergodox. But I must acknowledge that I'm not the best typist. I think my problems and pains have been exacerbated by rushing when I type, and by bad sitting posture.

Regarding speech to text: the programs I've tried have been poor in accuracy, slow to take input, and slow to display output, all of which combine to slow my writing to a crawl, or send me sadly back to the devilish keyboard. To tell the truth, neither accuracy nor input/output lag are the worst problem! The worst problem is that none of these speech to text solutions have had any thought at all put into their user interfaces. It's such a freaking crime. Otter AI, for instance, which I am using to dictate the first draft of this letter, is so incredibly poorly designed that you cannot even edit the transcript as you go.

Furthermore, all the dictation products I've tried do too much in attempting to be complete "no-hands" solutions. All of them, all of them, insist on including command functionality which make the computer respond to phrases like "next window" or "open Firefox." But the problem is that none of those apps make command and dictation mode separate, which means that, while dictating a piece of text, the software might all of a sudden hear incorrectly, assume that you're issuing a command instead of dictating, and blast you off into some other context, leaving you to wriggle your way back to what you were actually doing, timidly resetting the precious working environment which the software has so mercilessly clobbered. I swear it would be harder to program that mix of dictation and command than just writing the sensible, foolproof, far more user-friendly solution of having two separate hotkeys to hold down, one for dictation and one for commands, with "neither held down" meaning the software won't respond at all so you can take a break to talk to yourself, for God's sake, while figuring out what you're going to say before feeding it to the dictation program.

Instead I have to put up with idiocy wrought by the death of user testing in software.

Frustrations like these are compounded by the fact that I am compelled to recombine and invent words and phrases, which activity dictation software, being an electric normie, is not prepared to understand at all. Consider "Yu-Gi-Oh" earlier in this message. At the first utterance, Otter failed to understand it completely -- just gave a blank spot -- and I hand-typed it. The second time, two sentences ago, Otter failed to understand it, then updated the text with the correct word, but hyphenless, and then -- truly irritating -- changed its understanding again, to "ukiyoe." A further failure of hyphenation -- that word is spelled ukiyo-e -- as well as a failure to update the software's "priors" based on my previously typing "Yu-Gi-Oh" by hand (before editing it to complete the joke.)

Notice that at no point is this software attempting to ask my opinion about anything. It's too smart. I am always skeptical of solutions that are full automation. I would rather have 80% automation that is completely, utterly reliable, and then 20% human work at the end, rather than an attempt to give 100% automation which actually creates more work.

Christ. The Otter dictation program is so piss-poor at accuracy that I'm going to have to edit the shit out of this transcript. If I talk carefully it does pretty well, but as soon as I get a little bit slurred or a little bit slack, it totally shits itself. And again, no attention to user interfaces, no experimentation, no, say, hotkey that I can type to drop a target letter or number on all the words in the just-dictated paragraph for rapid editing of precisely-targeted strings. Ridiculous.

So! All this is to say that, on the one hand, there is a ton of ground to be explored here, sort of like how there's a ton of ground to be explored in reclaiming the beauty of the top-to-bottom editable, understandable, startable-stoppable Lisp Machine environment. On the other hand it is incredibly, incredibly frustrating to have to try and hack together everything myself when it is already sorely needed, and frankly my Computer Use skill rating is only barely up to the task.

It's ridiculous. I keep saying that, but it's the only thing I can say in the face of dingdongery of this magnitude. There's so much ground to be covered in software design, and so little of it being covered. I just saw, for instance, that Substack released an announcement about how chuffed they were to be able to offer the oh-so-novel feature of sending emails to a subset of your subscribers instead of the whole set. Truly, an innovation on par with anything produced by Doug Engelbart.

Regarding "no hands." You are correct to remind me that I do in fact have them, and that they are high-bandwidth input mechanism. I agree that "no hands" is a mistake outside pure dictation, and I have updated the plan for what I'm doing to be called "low hands," instead. I aim to build myself a launcher program which can, with one or two keystrokes, get me into the contexts where I would paste text drafted with dictation, then edit it with efficient motions and movements. The launcher program will also be responsible for switching apps, launching websites, adjusting volume, and so on. Yes, there will definitely be re-fabrication of my software ecosystem, but luckily I was already planning on doing that anyway. By the way, the machinery I have planned, the great server-side sausage factory, will also enable me to publicly self-model with more granularity. That excites me. You should h0p3fully be able to see the resulting sausages within one month's time.

Regarding education: yes, I will immerse myself in my degree. I have not yet decided how much I want "low hands" input project to overlap with my schoolwork and research. I'm inclined to say that I only want to solve the problem for myself. It's not that I don't see it as morally good to provide what I do to others; rather, I think that by its nature, this problem has to be solved by individuals, for individuals. Everyone uses computers differently, and with different apps and operating systems and programming languages and interfaces, and it would be architecture-astronaut folly to try and solve the problem for anyone else before I have solved it very well for myself. Once I've done that, I'll try and extract what I can for the benefit of others, similarly to how the Talon voice guy is doing it. It's a pity his code is closed source. (I've played around with that program, by the way, and it suffers from the same muddling of command and dictation paradigms. It even has a so-calld "dictation mode," which ought to just be dictation -- yet it still accepts commands, which can still yank you away from your dictation area, so what the fuck is the point?)

Regarding laying myself down on the wire. I am coming to see my own overarching life project, at least for the next few foreseeable years, as being centered on the use of technology to social ends, and on social activities centering on, or only made possible by, technology. That is why, for instance, I am hosting Homebrew Website Club most weeks. The "host" role for that group has previously been something of a "light touch" role, and at first that's how I played it, too, but I am increasingly reaching out to potential new participants, and to lapsed participants, and drawing them into our meetings. If I am to play the host, I'll play the part to my own satisfaction and strive to do Homebrew Website Club as good a turn as possible. That's one aspect of "laying myself down."

Regarding an interview. A key point to consider is that the people I've interviewed, or asked to interview, typically don't have websites or blogs. The main thrust of The Drongo is to spread thejoy, the fulfillment, the satisfaction of being friendly or acquainted with someone special; as part of that, I'm giving, to people who are not highly online, a platform to talk about themselves and their life journeys at length. I try my best not to stuff them into a box.

You are the complete opposite of not being online -- you are nearly 100% online, or at least your self-model is -- so it's not as meaningful for me to broadcast you as it is to broadcast, say, Chris Stasse or Nick LeFlohic. Broadcasting others creates a good (i.e. a product/project) while serving the Good, but you have no need for a third party to investigate you, or to broadcast you. That said, it would be a supreme drongo who blasted pure h0p3 all over his willing email subscribers; who permitted you to let it all hang out, and droop down into the unsuspecting eyes of people who did, after all, sign up for interviews with strange people. If we do end up conducting an interview for The Drongo, don't worry: I don't want you to compress a goddamn thing. I take your point that we are presently interviewing, intertwingling ourselves. Looking again at the letter on your wiki to which I am responding, that exact kind of thing -- in your own style, with footnotes and digressions and acronyms -- would be perfectly acceptable for an interview. Again, the idea of The Drongo is to present, display, publicize, spread the joy of existing in a particular friendship, and there's a reason I write to you like this.

Talk to you soon, Khal Drongo. You are one bon homie.