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 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

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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?