Replacing Otter transcription with Word 365 Online

When I was a reporter, one of the most tedious jobs I had was transcribing my interviews from a handheld cassette recorder. The only way to make the chore a little easier was to use a Radio Shack foot pedal to start and stop the recording. Still, transcribing a 2-hour interview would take at least twice as many hours.

I find that I still have a use for transcribing audio, whether for the interviews I do for the Bull City Commons newsletter or for random podcasts and recordings where I want to keep a specific quote or passage in Evernote.

Thank the Lord for automatic transcription, surely one of the good things that AI has wrought. No more foot pedals!

I was quite happy using, but I maxed out the free tier recently and needed an alternative. I did not want to pay a large subscription fee for an occasional service.

In searching for alternatives I was surprised to discover an automated transcription feature in Microsoft Word 365 online, which I already subscribe to. If you have an Office 365 subscription, then you have access to this really neat feature. (The transcribe feature is for the online version of Word only, not the desktop app. You can dictate into the desktop app, but it cannot transcribe an audio file.)

As the Microsoft support page says:

The transcribe feature converts speech to a text transcript with each speaker individually separated. After your conversation, interview, or meeting, you can revisit parts of the recording by playing back the timestamped audio and edit the transcription to make corrections. You can save the full transcript as a Word document or insert snippets of it into existing documents.

I used Word’s transcription feature recently to transcribe the audio from a Zoom interview with two other people, and also a 90-minute online conference with about six different speakers. The transcription was excellent, certainly on a par with Otter if not a little better. Highly recommended if you need this niche service.

Rethinking Your Personal Library: An Introduction To Quantum And Antilibrary

A fun post by Mumbai-based writer Phorum Dalal.

The Quantum library holds the books you love rereading, while the Antilibrary holds the unread books that you know hold something in store for you – even if you never get around to reading them.

I have far more unread books, and I seem not to reread books as time goes by. So much wonderful new treasure floating my way all the time, I rarely go back, though I do hold on to books that evoke a sharp memory of joy or a time and place. My personal time capsules.

Using DVD Player to play ripped .dvdmedia contents

I use RipIt to rip DVDs to my hard drive. Depending on the DVD, I will tell RipIt to create an MP4 of the movie or contents or I’ll use Handbrake to process the ripped contents. 1

Ripping a DVD to the Mac creates a .dvdmedia file, which is actually a set of subdirectories packaged to look like a file.

DVD Player, though, does not like to play a .dvdmedia file. My usual workaround was to use VLC Player, an open-source video viewing utility that is serviceable, but crashes at the least provocation.

Lots of searching on this issue uncovered the following interesting facts:

  • Although the DVD Player app is not in the Applications folder, it is still on the Mac, albeit well-hidden in System/Library/CoreServices/Applications. (Other apps in this folder include Archive Utility, Wireless Diagnostics, Network Utility, and a few others.)
  • You can make an alias of the DVD Player app and put it in your Applications folder or – more convenient – use Spotlight to call it up.
  • There is, in fact, a way to make DVD Player open and play ripped media.

Thanks to a comment on a years-old Apple discussion thread, here’s the procedure:

  1. In Finder, right-click on the .dvdmedia file and select Show Package Contents.
  2. Select and copy the VIDEO_TS folder.
  3. Elsewhere on your drive, create a new folder with the same name as the .dvdmedia file. (Not necessary, but may help lessen confusion.)
  4. In the new folder, paste the VIDEO_TS folder.
  5. Open DVD Player.
  6. Within DVD Player, navigate to and open the VIDEO_TS folder you just pasted.

The video should play just fine in DVD Player. You can delete the original .dvdmedia file.

  1. In RipIt, select the Compress button to create both a compressed playable file and a .dvdmedia file. [return]

Update Microsoft apps using the Mac App Store

I have been using Microsoft Word since the early ‘90s when it was a DOS-based application. There are areas of the application I never use – mail merge, drawing tools, creating bibliographies.

But there are others I’ve used so heavily I dare call myself expert with them: styles, templates, macros. I’ve been using Word for literally decades to draft large user guides and documents of all kinds, and I continue to collect macro code snippets to help me create products in my $DAYJOB where Microsoft Office is the standard.

In my Bull City Commons Cohousing work, most everyone has used the Microsoft Office products in their previous work lives, so Word, Excel, and PowerPoint still have a place in my toolkit.

As a result, I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365. For a long time, I purchased the products directly from Microsoft and Office’s updater application would check for updates and download them. But the app had the eerie habit of interrupting me with an update notification when I was most busy and its operation became quite erratic: it would tell me there was an update but wouldn’t download it!

I can’t remember where I saw this tip – I think a MacMost video – but the workaround was to delete the Office apps from my hard drive and instead install them through the Mac App Store.

The Mac App Store now handles all the updating chores for me. It works more quietly and efficiently than Office’s own updater app, and it’s a more Mac-like experience. The Mac App Store shows me which apps need updating, their sizes, and I can easily start the update before I go to bed, since they tend to be huge files that clog my bandwidth.

Johnny Decimal

For you file management and organization nerds, a decimal-based categorization system for projects and files.

My first thoughts: admirably complete, high-setup cost, high-maintenance, and unsustainable in the long-term without dedication and understanding of why you’re doing it.

I’ve tried similar systems in the past, when I was younger and wanted to categorize the world, and they collapse under their own weight.

I can see this working in places like design or photo studios, or similar workplaces where the types of jobs, processes, workflows, and handoffs are well-known and routine.

But for my personal digital garden, I prefer to optimize fast filing over fast finding. Text-searching – by filename or file contents or both – via Spotlight or Evernote or Windows Explorer tends to find what I want faster than any system I could cook up.

I just added my name to Duke Health’s COVID-19 vaccination distribution waiting list. Hurry up and wait.

Update 2021-04-07: Got my first Moderna jab last week via Walgreen’s. My second is due at the end of April. I’d added myself to several lists, so am now in the process of removing my name from them.

On downsizing our DVD collection

In our house, we have embraced streaming video. It’s convenient and mostly reliable.

So, as part of our downsizing, I took a lazy Saturday to sort our DVD collection into three piles:

  • Yes (keep)
  • No (discard)
  • Maybe

I thought, with so much content available via streaming, I would be able to discard a good number of those DVD titles. This shows my naiveté, I expect. I was surprised at how many of our favorite and precious movies and shows are not easily accessed via the streaming services.

We live in the future, where you can watch a movie from a small plate of glass in your hand, but the future is not evenly streamed.

As I pondered whether or not to keep a title, I used the JustWatch site/app. Enter a title and JustWatch tells me which services offer the title for subscription, rent, or purchase. 1

For example

Mrs. Dalloway and Topsy-Turvy are two movies that we like trotting out every few years to enjoy the stories’ now-familiar contours and textures.

Mrs. Dalloway is viewable only on odd platforms like Hoopla 2, Tubi, PlutoTV, and Filmrise, or on Amazon Prime Video via its IMDb TV channel (ad-supported, which for me is a hard no).

Topsy-Turvy cannot be streamed at all, on any platform.

And there other favorites from our – ahem – curated collection that are not easily available online:

  • The BBC’s 1967 series The Forsyte Saga, which is cozy wintertime viewing, at least up till Old Jolyon’s death. Only the 2002 BCC update is available on BritBox.
  • 1978’s The Norman Conquests plays with Tom Conti. Available on Amazon via a subscription to something called BroadwayHD. I could sign up for the free 7-day trial, but, no.
  • John Cleese and Connie Booth’s 1975 comic and touching short film Romance with a Double Bass. The DVD is long out of print.
  • The charming Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows is available via Acorn TV, a service available via our public library. That’s OK, but there is a bit of overhead involved to log in to Acorn TV. Slipping the DVD into the drive is more convenient in this case.
  • BritBox does not even carry the classic Leonard Rossiter series “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,” though there are fugitive episodes on YouTube. I have a Region 2 DVD of the series that I ripped to my Mac long ago (the Superdrive will let you play a non-Region 1 DVD up to five times, I think, and then no more).

And so on. I have some DVDs I’m keeping because they are really good, out of print, and available nowhere else. Others I’m keeping because they have special features that cannot be accessed via streaming, like the Criterion Collection’s edition of F for Fake and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.

It’s not a large list of DVD titles – about 25 or so – but still, I was surprised that they aren’t ALL online in a more easily accessible way. Their absence from the streaming services means I will be holding them close for some time yet.

The Maybe pile

The Maybe pile is for the 20 or so DVDs I’ve either never seen and want to see at least once, or they have some interviews or behind-the-scenes feature I’m curious about, or I want just one more look before making a final decision.

Some of those DVDs are the very arty or obscure foreign movies I picked up for cheap when the late lamented Visart Video chain went out of business over a decade ago. I always think I have a more refined taste for the esoteric than I really do.

Still, before I decide whether to keep or discard, I’d like to see Chekhovian Motifs and Decasia: The State of Decay. But right alongside those worthies I also want to see the dance numbers from Follow the Fleet and The Barkleys of Broadway 3, plus the featurettes for Top Hat and Batman: The Movie (Adam West is my Batman).

The future comes with a price tag

I remember one of Ramit Sethi’s rules being to pay as you go rather than subscribe to services you pay for and don’t use. Most streaming movies are rentable for $4 or $5 from the major platforms, and not much more to purchase. So if I have a hankering to see The Dark Knight Rises again (um, doubt it), then I don’t mind paying a few dollars to see it. And so The Dark Knight Rises Blu-Ray goes into the discard pile.

Despite Ramit’s advice, though, I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and AppleTV 4. We also have access to PBS Video, Hoopla, and Acorn TV. The chances of finding a streamable movie from one of those platforms is pretty good. So I’m not worried about meeting our entertainment and distraction needs.

  1. Back in the day, we re-purchased favorite titles to upgrade to better technology: from vinyl to CD or from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. And we owned them; they were ours. Now, we pay for the right to view or listen, and who owns what is murky. [return]
  2. Hoopla is available via our local public library and has its own AppleTV app. But Hoopla imposes a daily cap on the number of items – ebooks, video, music – that Durham Library patrons can check out. So, if you decide to check out a movie at 7 pm, you may find that the daily limit has been reached and you’re locked out. [return]
  3. DVDs have this very much in their favor: scene selection. Scene selection makes it dead easy to jump to the song-and-dance numbers in musicals, whereas I cannot hop around with that amount of precision while streaming. [return]
  4. Good thing I don’t pay for cable too, huh? ‘Cause that could get expensive! [return]

Libib for cataloging books, DVDs, and CDs

As part of my downsizing, I’ve looked at the shelves of graphic novels and wondered how I could quickly create a list of them. In case I want to sell them or even give them away, I’d like to be able to hand over a list of what I have so people know what they’re getting, or so a buyer can tell me what they’re most interested in.

Of course, I thought, “There’s an app for that.”

I’m not sure why I spent hours today searching for and trying out apps to scan a book or DVD’s barcode to generate a list quickly and easily. But my intuition said to do it, so I did.

All I wanted was…

All I wanted was an app that I could use to scan the barcodes of books and DVDs, match those barcodes to book and DVD names, and then export the list. And ideally, they’d be easy to use without me puzzling over settings or help pages. (No fear there: only one or two of these apps even had support pages or FAQs, however skimpy.)

My first path was incorrect: I searched for iOS-based barcode scanners and this created a whole morning and afternoon spent reading app reviews, downloading and testing a few apps, and generally just being displeased with the whole exercise. These tend to be consumer-level price-finding apps. The apps tend to be adware, or buggy, or just generally difficult to work with.

After stepping away for a bit, I hit on the second path: look for book cataloging apps, or cataloging apps that could do books and DVDs – and why not CDs, while I’m at it.

After more Googling, I found Libib, which was the answer to my dreams.

Libib did all I wanted…

Libib has two components: 1) a mobile app that can scan barcodes and 2) a website where those entries can be tagged, metadata entered or edited, etc. For personal use, the app and site are free at Standard level; if you’re a small library, there is a Pro level with more admin features.

Libib can show you the entire contents of all the libraries you have created, or only the library you select. Libib offers four types of libraries you can create: Books, Movies, Video Games, and Music. I assume that each library type is associated with its own set of catalogs or custom searches, which improves the speed of the barcode matching.

On the web site, I created two libraries: Graphic Novels and DVDs. I downloaded and logged in to the iOS app on my iPhone. And then I picked a few DVDs for testing.

My tests worked great. The iOS app read barcodes and returned product info as fast as the camera took the picture – and MUCH faster than any of the barcode-scanning apps. Refreshing the web site showed those entries on my DVDs Library page. (That may not sound like a big deal to you, but so many of the apps I tried today lacked such basic competence in design and function that I almost cried with joy to find something simple that simply WORKED AS EXPECTED.)

I eventually found the Export capability: from your account page, select Settings, select the Libraries tab, select Export Library (.csv), and then the library you want to export. I was impressed by the amount of metadata included with the DVDs; and it’s probably possible to customize the metadata further.

What’s to love?

What I love about Libib – the site and the app – is the speed, the cleanness of design, proper Support pages so I can troubleshoot problems myself, and its own general soundness and sanity.

There are social functions that I don’t care at all about and don’t see myself using, but that’s fine. Libib does what I want, as I expect it to, and I am now – at long last – looking forward to cleaning out those shelves of graphic novels.

Libib One of the nice touches of the Libib interface is the ability to view your library’s items in a plain list view, as large icons, or a hybrid view, as shown here, with full description and metadata on the DVDs.

Puzzle Montage Art by Tim Klein

Puzzle Montage Art by Tim Klein

A typical jigsaw puzzle manufacturer uses the same die-cut pattern for many different puzzles. This makes the pieces interchangeable, so I sometimes find that I can combine portions from two or more puzzles to make a surreal “puzzle montage” that the manufacturer never imagined. I take great pleasure in discovering such strange images lying shattered, sometimes for decades, within the cardboard boxes of ordinary mass-produced puzzles.

Great gallery of surreal montages to scroll through!

INTJ catchphrase

I remember once reading through descriptions of MBTI personality types. For each type, they included a short catchphrase characteristic of that personality. I identify as INTJ, and the catchphrase for that type was “Well…what did you think would happen?”

I shared this with a friend, also an INTJ, and we both marveled at how this expressed our often unspoken reactions when we would hear other people complain or wonder about this or that event happening to them. For us, what happened to them sounded extremely logical based on the starting point, and why couldn’t you have worked that out for yourself beforehand??

Since discovering this catchphrase, I try to notice when I think it and stop myself saying it out loud. There’s such an “I told you so” superiority vibe to it; even if I don’t say it, I’m sure people can feel it.

Now, when it’s appropriate, I will lay out my expectations for something (a movie, a project, a meeting) before the event starts. Because, anyway, who’s to say I’m right? But at least I’ve said out loud what my personal and emotional logic is laying out before me, imaginary though it may be.

I also try to notice when I am starting a sentence with “At least…” and stop it from passing my lips.

Sherlock Holmes: observations and deductions

I have been listening to the Sherlock Holmes stories read by Stephen Fry.

As one would expect, Fry does a marvelous job of it. He’s a lifelong Sherlockian and his love for the series comes out in some of the personal essays he wrote to accompany each book, and also in his narration.

I’ve long been acquainted with the Holmes stories – I’m sure I read the Adventures and Memoirs volumes in my pre-teen years – but they never quite stuck in my mind and I never progressed much farther. I depended on other media (TV, movies, comics) to fill in the gaps.

The whole realm of Sherlockiana on the other hand – the annotated volumes, the encyclopedias, the books about Sherlock – seemed a bit more fun. And, in fact, I think I absorbed most of what I know about the Sherlock Holmes universe that way.

So it’s interesting to hear the stories as an adult. As a kid, I remember really trudging through the long other story inside A Study in Scarlet and wondering why it was there. I can stand those digressions a little better nowadays.

So far, I’ve heard A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, Adventures, and am about halfway through Memoirs. Here are some stray thoughts I’ve had listening to them:

  • The most interesting bits of a Holmes story happen before the plot gets started. The description of Sherlock’s world, his habits, his table-talk, and so on, are what I find most interesting because Sherlock is typically the most interesting character. Example: the first few pages of “The Greek Interpreter” where Watson meets Mycroft and learns more of Sherlock’s family history. They do not contribute to the story’s plot or theme, but they color in more of Sherlock’s universe, and that’s fascinating.
  • Which underlines that it’s Sherlock we’re really interested in, not the stories.
  • Good lord, but so many of these stories are resolutely undramatic. All tell and no show. This makes the stories feel quite inert despite their sometimes lurid content. “The Engineer’s Thumb,” for example, is a thrilling bit of pulp melodrama as Victor Hatherley finds himself isolated, escapes being killed by a metallic press, and attempts the rescue of a young lady. But we’re not there with him as the action is happening, only being told about it afterward. So I finish the stories feeling rather cool toward them.
  • The Ian Richardson version of “The Sign of Four” actually improves on the original story in a few respects, particularly the boat-chasing climax and the capture of Jonathan Small. Doyle painted himself a rich canvas but did not take advantage of some of the details to make the stories a little tighter and more thrilling.
  • The stories typically bring one-off characters onto the stage where they recount long monologues and deep background information on the characters’ life histories, Sherlock is involved to a minimal degree, and then – poof – story’s done. I’m thinking here of “The Yellow Face” and “The Copper Beeches”: intriguing setups, but Holmes is a secondary player on those stages. Also, these monologues stop the story’s momentum stone dead.
  • Which leads me to wonder whether Doyle really was more interested in telling those stories of thwarted passion and conflict rather than neatly trimmed and tidy mystery stories.
  • There are a few stories where we travel along with Holmes the bloodhound as he investigates the case in real-time, as it were: “The Red-Headed League,” “The Speckled Band,” “Silver Blaze,” and “The Resident Patient,” for example. Those are fun. But there aren’t as many of those as I remembered.
  • There is the wizardry of Holmes’ deductions, of course, but since the reader is rarely given the clues, the reveal is always a bit of a cheat. The hardest thing about writing a detective story is finding a good clue (the creators of both “Sherlock!” and “Columbo” have said as much). So as I listen to the stories, I listen for the clues that Doyle deploys so Holmes can characterize, say, the owner of a hat (“The Blue Carbuncle”):

…That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him.

He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect … He is a man who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream. These are the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat. Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that he has gas laid on in his house.

  • How did Doyle devise such rich and wonderful names for his characters? Jabez Wilson, Hosmer Angel, Enoch Drebber, Joseph Stangerson, Thaddeus Sholto, Fitzroy Simpson, Hall Pycroft, Neville St. Clair, Jephro Rucastle, and – my favorite – Dr. Grimesby Roylott.
  • Doyle’s vocabulary amps up the thrills because they aren’t really there in the stories. Characters feel forebodings of horror, dread, unease, monstrous, hideous, etc. Doyle was really writing some potboiler stuff: the colorful, lurid, melodramatic, and pulpish back stories of the characters or the culprits are tamed and made presentable in the genteel sitting room of 221B Baker Street.

"Hope is like honey"

A passage from the actor Terence Stamp’s memoir, Rare Stamps. There are the usual ups and downs of an actor’s life – from being celebrated when he first appeared onscreen, he was broke by 1984 – funny backstage moments, and lots of soul-searching as he travels to India trying to find the answer “out there.” The answers he finds seem to be the answers that are always there.

What can I tell you that I haven’t already told you? Only the essence of what artists finer than myself shared with me.

Engage in what life presents. It has its own reasons. Maybe it isn’t what you’ve hoped for, but hope is like honey. Don’t indulge in it. Just eat it when it’s on your spoon.

Be present and notice when you’re not. This being present and knowing when you’re present usually has its roots in a heightened state of work. Allow it to flow over into your life—anytime. It is the cog that only appears to turn; yet its radiant presence is the foundation for all the atoms in what we call our body.

Aim high; life will support you: It is resonating in your own heart. Have faith in it; be courageous.

Disregard your doubtful thoughts. As William Shakespeare wrote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Let doubts pass like clouds in the sky.

On hearing "Carmina Burana" this afternoon

Many years ago, we had a work friend who was a member of a community chorus; they usually performed popular or light programs of songs.

One year, the director really wanted to flex his muscles so they studied, practiced, and performed Carmina Burana, with key soloists and some instrumentalists hired for the performance.

It was challenging for her – different from the normal “pops” style of concert programming and difficult musically, especially such an odd piece that she was not familiar with before. By the end of it, she was enjoying the musical and theatrical challenge of the piece.

We met with her after the concert and asked what the next concert would be.

“It’ll be a concert of Gershwin music. It’ll be good,” she said. She paused, and added, a little wistfully, “But it won’t be Carmina Burana.”

Loose verse

Loose verse written sitting in an outdoor chair, under an awning of the car repair place, during a warm all-day rain

When did I become my grandfather,

an old man whose only pastime is

sitting in a chair on a sidewalk

watching the weather

looking at people passing by

looking at his thoughts passing by

not distracting himself with a book,

a phone, a game, a podcast,

food, not even coffee (well, apart

from my thermos sitting on the ground beside me)

Sitting waiting on my car to be worked on,

I’m content not feeding my mind with

others’ ideas or imaginations

Just sitting quiet and still

part of the landscape

part of the weather

On today's agenda

Liz just finished weeding a section of the front yard; we’ll see if Home Depot has mulch later.

On today’s agenda: I’ll vacuum the house, we’ll get groceries, order a pizza, watch a movie.

I always thought being an adult would give me a ticket to a glamorous life of non-stop excitement and stimulation. But I find much so pleasure in the day-to-day ordinariness of life that I never noticed how my dreams and vision changed.

Not a good or bad thing, just a thing to notice and wonder at.

Plausible Reality

Liz just came in to tell me today’s Cryptoquote (she does the crypto and Jumble puzzles daily). Something from Mark Twain about how fiction is obliged to be plausible, whereas reality has no such restriction. I’ve used that quote a lot in the last four years.

At 59, do you start counting up or start counting down?

Sunday's Readwise quotes

The Relationship Handbook by George Pransky

Emotions are never a statement about the world around us. They are always a statement about our momentary perspective on life. Emotions are a quality-control device that measures the quality of our thinking. They tell us whether or not we are viewing life dispassionately—and how sound our judgment is. When we experience black emotions like anger and despair, we know that we are taking things too personally and have lost touch with the big picture. When our feelings are positive and light we know we are viewing life with more wisdom and perspective. (Location 883)

The Underground Guide to Success

The Theory of Action as defined by me states that if something is moving, you are getting closer to your goals. This means your mouth is moving while you call prospective employers or clients, your feet are moving as you walk to an appointment you set up, your eyes are moving as you read a book to improve your skills, your fingers are moving as they type up a business plan you will present to investors to attract new capital to a business, your feet are moving as you exercise to lose weight. The corollary to The Theory of Action is equally as important. If something isn’t moving, you probably are not getting closer to your goals. (Location 3,398)

The Arnold Bennett Calendar by Arnold Bennett

A talent never persuades or encourages the owner of it; it drives him with a whip. (Location 1,080)

An Ignorant Highbrow via

So is that what architectural sophistication means – knowing what buildings you’re supposed to like and not like, according to people who know a lot more about the subject than you ever will? I hope not. Architecture merits close study, even if amateurs like me sometimes get it wrong and miss the finer points, for the reasons that all culture merits close study: to take nothing for granted, to resist complacency, to notice things, to be more awake, to be more alive. Close study of skateboarding may well provide the same advantages; I really couldn’t say. Maybe what matters as much as the things we love is the quality of attention we bring to the things we love.

How To Write The Great American Novel by Jim Behrle

And the only thing that’s interesting about most writers is just the tap tap tap of keys. Otherwise they’re just as boring as the rest of us.