Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 175 15/10/11


Speech Impediment

I have made several voice recordings on my laptop which now need to be turned into a text document. Doing it manually is complicated and time-consuming. Can you tell me is there is a simple program, which can convert the recordings to words on the screen?

M. Churchill, by email


If you and your billions of brain cells, highly developed hearing and language skills and years of education find it difficult to transcribe speech into text, think how hard it is for a mere machine? The only software that comes even close to managing this incredibly demanding task is Dragon Naturally Speaking (around £80 online). This can turn clear speech from a good quality microphone, close to the speaker’s mouth, into text that shouldn’t require too much editing, but only after the program has been extensively trained to understand the user’s voice. Expecting it to be able to do the same with a recording of a voice that it isn’t used to, is simply asking too much. Even if the recording quality is exceptionally good, with no background noise or incidental sounds I suspect you will still spend significantly longer correcting the mistakes, than it would take to type the words in manually. 



Protect Your PINS

On several occasions you have warned that it is inadvisable to write down PINs and passwords and you have spelt out the dangers of storing them in a computer or smart phone. Like most people I have standard short and long PIN and passwords that I can memorise but I also have many others that have to conform to varying rules such as length, letters or numbers, upper and lower case etc. or in some cases have been given to me and are not alterable. How do you suggest these should be stored?

Ron Foulkes, by email


I only caution against storing them on PCs and devices in plain sight or in plain text. The best way to keep your PINs and passwords safe is to hide or encrypt them, preferably both. Hiding is only suitable for low-level passwords, such as forum membership logins and so on. The easiest way to do that is create a text or Word file (which you can password protect), give it an anonymous sounding name, something like dss756.dlg, and it bury several layers deep inside a system folder. Just don’t forget where you put it. If you really want to be clever you can use a technique called Steganography to invisibly conceal your file within a JPEG image. A good place to start is a freeware program called SilentEye (http://goo.gl/AaPFr).


PINs and passwords for online banking and other important sites and services should be stored within an encrypted and password protected container or ‘vault’, so you only have to remember the one password to get at them all. These come as standard with some smartphones and portable devices, otherwise they are readily available as downloadable apps. For Windows PCs I suggest a couple of freeware programs called KeePass (http://goo.gl/dO1Ro) and Password Safe (http://goo.gl/Z5HQ7).



Holiday Emails

I am self-employed and work from home, using Outlook for my professional emails.  Before going on holiday recently, I set up an automated Out of Office reply in Outlook but no messages were sent until I returned home and opened my laptop. I had left it switched on, but as is now obvious, it went to sleep. How do I overcome this, bearing in mind my laptop closes itself down automatically when not in use?

Philip Chandler. By email


You can set your laptop to remain permanently on from the Power Options section in Control Panel on the Start menu.  In Vista and Windows 7 click Change Plan Setting and select ‘Never’ under Put the Computer to Sleep. In XP select Never under System Standby and System Hibernate. In all versions of Windows set the display to turn off after a few minutes, so you don’t waste power and needlessly shorten the life of the screen or monitor’s backlight.


The big problem with automated replies is that it tells everyone who sends you an email that you are away, which can be inadvisable from a security standpoint, especially when you work from home. It’s also off-putting to clients who may want to contact you in a hurry. Nowadays it’s easy to pick up and respond to your emails when you are away from home. The simplest method (if you don’t fancy lugging your laptop around with you) is to set up a free webmail account with Gmail or Yahoo. These can be configured to access your POP3 email account so you can access your messages almost anywhere on a Wi-Fi or 3G equipped netbook, smart phone, tablet PC, any web connected PC or at a pinch, in an Internet Café. If the PC isn’t yours always remember to delete the browser history when you have finished a session.      



Commit to Memory

Is it possible to save a large number of emails to a memory stick en-masse (i.e. not one at a time)?

Hugh Williams, by email


Yes it is and in most email programs all you have to do is highlight the messages in your Inbox that you want to save by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking each one in turn. Right click the highlighted messages, select Forward and this opens a new message window with all of the selected messages attached. You can now save this multiple email in your chosen location or drive by going to File > Save As.



The Dating Game

On my Windows XP computer, it is of course possible to order the files in a folder according to the 'Date Modified', but can you tell me if it is possible to list them according to the date they were created?

Stuart F, by email


Yes, and this applies to all versions of Windows. In Windows Explorer, My Computer or Computer right click anywhere on the column header bar (Name, Type Date Modified etc) and you will see a set of standard columns, including Date Created and if you click More at the bottom you’ll see dozens of other column choices. 



© R. Maybury 2011 2609


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