Talking to computers

by Yule Heibel on June 12, 2005

On Thursday I installed Skype on my iBook and by Friday morning I was talking to my friend Betsy Burke in Florence, Italy, all via computer, all for free. The technology works well. Sort of. The problem lies in the interfaces: I simply shouted at my iBook, in the general direction of where I think the microphone is located, and cranked the built-in speakers up high enough so that I could hear. Ideally, I should of course have a headset with mike & earpiece, right? Except that Apple requires USB connectors, and to get a headset with those, I’d have to pay about CDN $80, according to the folks at CompuSmart. London Drugs doesn’t even bother getting them in, because they’re too pricey to sell.

This is something that drives me buggy about technology. It doesn’t work unproblematically across platforms, and it comes with built-in tariffs and barriers and drawbridges and moats. It’s full of crocodiles.

It’s all about what happens at the edges, the fringes, the places where two or three different sectors (or applications) meet — to agree or disagree.

It made me think of urban planning, …

…which in turn made me think of Shelley‘s recent entry on Neighbourhood, which had these great photos of a racoon working hard to get its daily meal, which made me think of Betsy’s book, Hardly Working (which tackles environmental issues — yup, chick-lit crusaders for the environment, right on!), …

…which also made me think of a really brilliant cartoon Shelley‘s entry included. It was drawn by Pippa, blogger AKMA‘s very talented daughter, and it’s just terrific. (Hope Pippa doesn’t object to my reproducing it here….):

But now I’ll turn my reading briefly (for I’m tired and need to sleep, too) to Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser (in German: Der Untergeher). Interesting to see, on the Amazon “look inside” feature, that the English translation has paragraphs — sort of like neighbourhoods, platforms, points where you can rest your brain before jumping on to the next idea. The German original has no page breaks, no paragraph breaks, no short sentences. It’s a bit like being shouted at, quietly. From the inside out.


Marja-Leena Rathje June 13, 2005 at 11:07 pm

My husband has been an avid Skype user for months! He bought a Logitech Internet Chat Headset with built-in microphone for PC from Staples for about $30 and uses it with an iMike USB adaptor for Macs. It works very well and is a bit cheaper than the $80 headset.

Yule Heibel June 13, 2005 at 11:09 pm

Hey, thanks, Marja-Leena! That’s an excellent idea — I had forgotten all about USB adaptors, d’oh! (We have a headset for PC since my kids use that for their internet/ distance ed courses, so all I really need is the adaptor…) Good tip!

Shelley June 13, 2005 at 11:37 pm

I should try Skype out. Just think Yule, we could have a real life conversation.

BTW, I want to check out your friend’s book. Love that cover.

Yule Heibel June 14, 2005 at 1:27 pm

Yes, try it, Shelley — I might yet expand my telephony horizons (I’m notoriously bad about using the phone, preferring to hide behind script instead!). Skype also has the option (which I want to explore) of opening an account into which you put some money, which you then can use to phone people from your computer, but to their telephone. I like that option a lot, for overseas calls especially, or for calling people who aren’t on their computers 24/7. On the other hand, if you’re on the computer a lot and are in a mood to be interrupted, you can set yourself to be visible, available, online, etc. (or conversely, invisible, unavailable, offline), which makes it a bit like Instant Message chat for telephony. But once I have the headset problem straightened out, and can open an account with a couple of $s or Euros in it, I want to try the computer-to-phone option out. I could call my sister in Spain! Olé! 😉

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