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, 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:

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?

The Dragon, the Mouse, and Listening While You Write

This week I’m borrowing an idea from a fellow blogger. I just read a post by John (at his blog “All things books, all the time”) in which he answered the question, “what do you listen to while you write?” You can read John’s post here.

music notesThis question made me realize that I rarely listen to music while I write. I used to. Often it was whatever music happened to be playing at the local coffee shop. At home I prefer a variety of Pandora channels: Feist, Ingrid Michaelson, Joy Ike, classical piano. I find that music provides a soundtrack for the work I do that can be alternatively relaxing or energizing depending on the style I choose and what I need most at the time. I usually only get distracted by it when it’s too loud or too complex.

Dictation software complicates my desire to listen to music while I write.  If the volume is turned up too high, it could lower the accuracy of the dictation. And because I’m already hearing the sound of my own voice, the addition of music can be frustrating instead of a relief. I do still sometimes write at coffee shops where I can enjoy background music, but I find myself more frequently deciding to read in that environment than write because the software tends to experience more interruptions.

This isn’t a sob story. I still listen to music often when I’m reading, driving, cooking. I do this because I love music and the way it can almost immediately make a bad day good. Also, I’ve noticed that I tend to have more writing ideas when I’m listening to enjoyable sounds whether it’s music or the hum of activity at the local Starbucks.

Question of the week: What, if anything, do you listen to when you write?

The Dragon, the Mouse, and Tax Day

I don’t have anything terribly intellectual to offer this week.  My mind is tired after a long day of tax preparation, and so I thought I would write about the thing that occupied me most in the past 24 hours. This may involve a tiny bit of venting.

Tax day. Tomorrow. (Or if you’re not reading this late at night, then today.) I have a bad habit. I tend to wait to do my taxes until the last week (I’ve heard that I take after my dad in this way). On Saturday, when I heard an acquaintance mention that the accounting firm she works for had been quite busy lately, I experienced that all-too-familiar feeling of dread: “oh no! I still need to file.” taxman

Not to worry. I set aside the other tasks I planned to do today (which sadly meant not working on my dissertation) and went about using TurboTax to e-file. This is normally a relatively pain-free process, an hour or two at the most.  I think TurboTax is pretty great and my life is still simple enough that I don’t have many things to report. But this year, I wasn’t just filing taxes on my own. I was filing them with the help of dictation software. Last year I was still using an ergonomic keyboard when I would enter information into forms on the web, but in the last few months I’ve been learning how to navigate the web hands-free and input information with my voice.

It’s actually pretty exciting that hands-free filing is even possible. I have to admit though that frustration got the better of me. I started the process midmorning and quickly discovered that things were not going to go smoothly. I had forgotten my TurboTax login info which required me to open my email account, and then I needed to search for a record of a purchase I had made which required me to login to both my credit card and banking accounts. And then I needed to double check something about my student loans which meant logging into that account. Each login involved the use of at least 6 or 7 dictation commands (or more if I had forgotten my password which I did in a couple instances) and took approximately 10 – 15 minutes apiece.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I realized that Dragon was going to have a finicky day (which sometimes happens but not often). It failed at random times to enter numbers into the appropriate boxes and occasionally the mouse clicking commands didn’t work. I pulled out the actual mouse (or I guess I should say the actual computer mouse since I happily do not have access to the tiny white wiggly kind) and commenced clicking away. I took a break for the afternoon to eat lunch and attend two meetings at school and then was happily met in the evening by my fiancé who came to my rescue by offering to type the rest of the necessary information into my state tax form. Sigh of relief. My income tax forms have been filed.

Question of the week: I realize that this has nothing to do with dictation software, but I’m curious. Does anybody have any interesting tax filing stories to share? And on a topic more relevant to the theme of my blog, what are some tasks you’ve encountered that technology has actually complicated rather than simplified?