Rube Goldberg Would’ve Been Proud

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It’s kind of shocking for me to state, but I’ve been using personal computers for a third of a century now (good GOD……..). I’ve used many different machines, had many different experiences, and have ascended a wide variety of learning curves.

1201-rubeThrough all that, I’ve become fairly resourceful at solving problems. I had an interesting one that is, I think, amusing enough to share.

A family member needed help with an academic project that required the transference of a huge amount of numeric data from one program to another. The “normal’ solutions – – opening a file, or doing a file conversion, or otherwise finding some way to export and then import the information weren’t workable. The receiving program had a custom binary format which demanded that a human being laborously sit down, read the input with their eyes, and then type it in manually.

Doing it this way would have taken many days. As I began this project, I started trying to think of what could save some time (and agony) from this task, because having a human doing the import/export is very prone to error and so much boredom that one might be tempted to leap in front of the next CalTrain.

I then hit upon the idea of using the receiving computer’s speech recognition. This would go a long way to eliminating data input errors. By it was still really slow, and I calculated that I would have to utter the word “Press” (which the speech recognition program requires) followed by a digit, nearly 12,000 times. I further calculated that, working without interruption, it would take me ten hours. No thank you.

I then wondered if I could get the computer with the data on it to actually speak it, cutting me out of the picture altogether. I decided to farm this part of the problem out to my young son, who created a custom little program that would read from a text file and, at the right pace, utter the necessary words. It took some fiddling with pacing and format conversions, but we got it working.

It still took ten hours, but I was spared the misery of reading numbers out loud all weekend. The solution was, I think, comically clever: