The Dragon, the Mouse, and Dictation for All

It’s soapbox time. I think some people might have the perception that speech recognition software is just for people who have carpal tunnel syndrome or some other kind of injury or limitation. So not true. This week’s post contains a list of three reasons why dictation could be good for everyone.

1. Be Healthy: Preventative care is the way to go, right? If you know there’s a risk of incurring some kind of injury or illness, you wear knee pads and helmet, eat extra vitamin C and wash your hands frequently. So why not care for your body preventatively as you use technology? Using speech recognition software whether it’s on your phone, your iPad, or your laptop can help you avoid repetitive stress or postural injuries to your wrists, fingers, neck, shoulders, back . . .

2. Be Efficient: I recently wrote a post about the ability Dragon offers for a user to create custom commands. Any dictation software that offers this feature allows users to create shortcuts and avoid typing or speaking the same text repeatedly.

3. Be on the Edge: I’m convinced that speech recognition technology is the new sliced bread. More and more technological devices have the capacity for it, and companies are creating new and better versions of dictation software all the time. They’re also beginning to allow users to control their computer by voice rather than just typing by voice. I’ve discovered that by becoming intimately familiar with my dictation software, I’m finding other technologies that were confusing before to be more intuitive for me now. In fact, this summer I was able to demonstrate to my new employer that I’m tech savvy by explaining that I do all of my computer work by voice. Using dictation software whether by choice or because you have to can definitely be advantageous.

Question of the week: Now that I stepped down off my dictation soapbox, it’s your turn. What’s your favorite new technology and why?

The Dragon and the Mouse at Work

I started a new job this week! I’m excited to report that I’m now working as an instructional consultant for TAs with Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. I’ll still be writing my dissertation, but I’m now able to devote 15 hours a week to talking and writing about one of my favorite things, teaching. This is so good!

My new employers were kind enough to provide me with the latest edition of Dragon premium on my work computer so I can continue my quest to go hands-free. In this week’s post I offer a tip on using Dragon at work.

I’ll call this the password protection and shortcut tip. It’s certainly easy to have your web browser store your passwords to sites you use frequently, but not everyone sees this as a secure solution to the problem of having to input login information often. And when you start a new job, like I did three days ago, you begin from the ground up without any Internet memory of your favorite sites or your most cryptic passwords. So I’ve been making my adjustment to a new set of responsibilities easier by relying on Dragon’s ability to produce customized commands.

Here’s how it works: In the Dragon toolbar under “tools,” I select the option “add new command.” I can then link an easy-to-remember phrase to text that I don’t want to have to frequently repeat out loud. For example, it’s quite cumbersome to say “www dot Outlook dot com slash duq dot edu” whenever I want to access my work/school email. And besides being cumbersome, for some reason Dragon always leaves a space between “u” and “q” which requires me to then say “insert before q,” “backspace,” and “press u.” So using the “add new command” feature, I made it possible to say “go to Duquesne email” and then have Dragon respond by typing the appropriate web address. The only catch is that you have to be careful not to name your new command using a phrase or single word you dictate very often. For example, I wouldn’t want Dragon to type the web address for my email every time I said the word “email.”

Back to passwords. I’ve created similar commands for passwords I find myself having to reenter frequently. The interface that I interact with most often at work/school is called Dori and it frustratingly refuses to save my password. So now all I have to do is say “Dori password” and Dragon types the appropriate string of characters into the text field. Part of my plan this week is to create similar password commands for each program I use as part of my new job. I now no longer have to choose between speaking my password out loud or causing myself pain by typing it each time.

So if you dictate but haven’t yet created custom commands, give it a try! You’ll find yourself even more inclined to call Dragon friend rather than foe the more you use features like this one that help you save time and increase privacy.

Question of the week: what are your favorite shortcuts made possible by technology?

The Dragon, the Mouse, and Losing My Voice

This week’s post is going to be rather brief. I don’t know if what I have is actually called laryngitis but I’m definitely losing my voice and my throat hurts. That leads me to perhaps the greatest challenge for a writer who relies on dictation. What happens to work when you can barely squeak out enough sound to make Dragon hear you over the fan that’s attempting to make a muggy June morning feel cool?

I can already tell that Dragon is making more errors today than usual. It’s used to my pronunciation, the volume of my voice. Today I just don’t sound like myself. My brain is in good working order. In fact, I have a ton to say and feel rather frustrated that it’s painful to do so.

This is when I wish Dragon had the ability to dictate what I’m thinking and not just what I’m saying (though I can see how that would often get me into trouble). For now I will close this brief post, enjoy the relief that not talking brings for this sore throat, and store up all of my writing ideas for a day when I can speak loud and clear.

Question of the week: when I teach writing to college freshmen, I encourage them to find their own “voice” as a writer. What’s the relationship between the voice produced by vocal cords and the one conveyed in writing? In other words, what’s the relationship between speaking and writing?

The Dragon, the Mouse, and Privacy

Like most people, I need a certain level of privacy. It wasn’t until I started dictating that I realized just how much I value privacy in terms of my writing. Sure, I blog and I use Facebook, but I’m very selective about what I publish/share on or off the Internet. I keep a paper journal, for my eyes only. And even now, after years of receiving feedback on essays in school, I struggle to share the rough drafts I produce for my dissertation with my committee. I love to write, but I don’t like to share it with others until I’m confident about both the content and style.

privacy keyboard

Photo Credit: italianvalley.wired.it

Almost two years ago when I started using dictation software, I very quickly realized that writing privacy was going to be more difficult to come by. This difficulty has changed when and where I write. Sitting up late at night in my room working on an essay at my desk, I am hyperaware of the volume of my voice, not wanting my work habits to keep other occupants of the house awake. The desire for privacy when I write is another reason why working in coffee shops is more difficult than it used to be. I mentioned in an earlier post that noise level decreases dictation accuracy, but it’s also simply quite awkward to speak my ideas when I’m sitting next to a number of complete strangers who can overhear them.

The dining room table has presented the biggest problem. It’s one of my favorite places to write. Thankfully I have an easy-going roommate who doesn’t mind if I’m sitting there talking to my computer (though she admits it’s sometimes tricky to decipher when I’m speaking to her and when to the Dragon). I used to write here most often in the evenings when she was home, bustling around the house. I like the company. The occasional pleasant interruptions actually help me focus more on my work. I still work at the dining room table now, but I tend to save my composing for daytime hours when no one else is home (though I admit that I’ve become increasingly comfortable dictating in front of friends, my roommate in particular). But if I want to type a journal entry, compose a message to my fiancé, or send an email to my supervisor, I retreat upstairs to my room.

I’m not worried about people stealing ideas or giving unsolicited input. Here’s the problem: I feel self-conscious when I’m speaking my writing around other people. This keeps me from composing freely, experimenting with vocabulary and ideas. Before I used dictation software, I could write a sentence and then revise it without anyone ever seeing awkward wording or redundant ideas. Now I feel like I have to revise it first, before I speak it, so that what I’m saying out loud is something I’m proud of.  Perhaps this makes me a more conscientious writer, increasingly unwilling to commit to cumbersome or uncreative word choices. But I do crave the freedom that comes from composing in private. This means that instead of seeking out public spaces in which to work on a draft, I seek out the private ones: the individual study rooms in libraries, the little-used room upstairs at my fiancé’s house, the picnic tables in remote corners of the public park, and the solitude of my own home during the day.

Question of the week: If you use dictation software, in what ways has it changed when and where you write? And whether you are a typer or a dictator (hmm, perhaps I need to think of a better nickname) do you need privacy in order to write or do you find it easy to share with others?

The Dragon, the Mouse, and Typos

The dreaded typo. It’s hard enough to catch all of the pesky little errors when I actually physically type a document. It’s always good for a writer to have someone else read their work in the proofreading stage. A new set of eyes will see a lot more than eyes accustomed to the words and their message. The process of proofreading is all the more important when I use dictation software. I haven’t figured out why yet, but I find it exponentially more difficult to catch all of the “typos” when I dictate than when I type. I’m not even sure what to call them. Dictationos?  Perhaps they’re harder to notice because when I type, I correct the errors as I go. If I do that when I’m dictating, my thought process is too interrupted.

I’ve experienced some horrifying moments in the past couple of weeks. A couple times, I’ve been ready to send an email, the mouse hovering over the send button, when I realize the crucial error. Email dictationos usually involve proper names. I cringe when I admit that I have almost sent uncorrected emails to professors with names that Dragon has a particularly difficult time understanding. The latest last-minute proofreads have saved me from sending messages addressed to Dr. Pretty and Dr. Mowgli. Yikes! Imagine the follow-up conversations. I shudder when I think about it.

My need to proofread is heightened when I dictate. It’s no longer a matter of catching a misspelled word or a “their” that should have been a “there.” It’s a matter of changing words that Dragon misunderstands, far more egregious (and humorous) typos than simple spelling mistakes. I was talking to a writer the other day who said he tried dictation software but didn’t like it because it so frequently resulted in nonsensical sentences. I think he gave up too soon. Dictating in short phrases can cause this problem and so can speaking unclearly or around other loud sounds. It’s true though that Dragon does produce multiple misunderstood words each time I sit down and create a document, even in the perfect dictating environment. That’s why I usually proofread once after I complete each paragraph and again once or twice when I’m finished composing. This prevents me from returning to my document only to find that I no longer understand my original intent.

While dictation software creates more work in the proofreading stage, it doesn’t do so at a high enough cost that I want to walk away. I’d rather turn into a super proofreader, one who reads each document carefully multiple times in order to ensure that only the highest quality leaves my desktop.

Question of the week: I’m looking for stories! What was your most embarrassing typo? What strategies do you have for full-proof proofreading?

The Dragon, the Mouse, and Interfacing with Life

A few weeks ago I read an article in Scientific American about how people tend to retain more information when they read a physical book or magazine than when they read on the screen. I felt justified in my appreciation for the book as a physical object and fascinated by the article’s suggestion that our brains read books similar to the way in which they read landscapes around us, by creating a map of the terrain (where text appears on the page, how many pages come before it, etc.). But the thing that initially caught my eye and has held my fascination about this article was the opening anecdote about a young child who thought she should read a magazine by poking and swiping it with her finger (see a video version of the anecdote here). In other words, having grown up around iPads and smart phones she assumed a paper magazine would work the same way.

This made me curious. How has technology changed the way we interface with the world around us? How have our expectations changed?

I’ve had a similar experience to that of the child. I sometimes find myself tapping the screen of my laptop with my finger and wondering why it isn’t working. When I realize that it’s not a touchscreen and never has been, I’m surprised by how easily I expect each technological device to interact the way I want it to. But I’ve also had this experience with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Not surprisingly, I often speak voice commands to my computer before I’ve turned Dragon on for the day. And I’ve also found myself using voice commands with the iPad. While the iPad has dictation options in every window, it does not respond to voice commands (unless you buy and download a particular Dragon app which I have not done). So when I’m finished dictating an email and then I say “click send” and nothing happens, I’m immediately disappointed and then called back to the reality that not every device is going to obey me.

A related phenomenon is the infiltration of formatting commands into my everyday speech. I recall one particularly embarrassing moment when teaching a class a year ago. In a moment of excitement about the material we were covering I ended my sentence by audibly saying “exclamation point.” I found myself inserting commas into sentences that I speak and using capitalization commands to indicate proper nouns or words at the beginning of sentences. Socially this creates moments of laughter with those around me, but it also reminds me that as we become increasingly surrounded by technology and as we interface with it in more and more convenient ways, our expectations about how we interact with the world around us change.

Question of the week: How has technology changed the way you interface with the world around you? What does it mean when technology shapes our expectations about how we interact with our environment?