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?

The Dragon and The Mouse, How It All Began.

This is a blog about writing a dissertation without using my hands, about working within limitations and capitalizing on them, and about making lemonade no matter what ingredients life offers.

My name is Rachel and I’m an English PhD student. I do all the normal things graduate students do. I stay up late studying; I read in my spare time; I wake up in the middle of the night to write down ideas that for some reason won’t come in the daytime; I procrastinate; I don’t sleep enough; and I hope against all hope that at the end of this degree I’ll find a job. But there’s one thing I don’t do that almost all grad students do: I don’t type.

In September 2012, in the midst of studying for comprehensive exams, I was diagnosed with significant muscle and nerve injuries in both of my hands. Poor posture at the computer and too much typing had finally taken their toll. I saw a specialist, signed up for occupational therapy, and began wondering how on earth I was going to take my second exam let alone grade student papers, respond to emails, and write lesson plans.

A colleague came to my rescue and suggested I try dictation software. I purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking and began to train the program. Things were a bit rough at first. It took over a week to convince Dragon that my name is not Mitchell and that Debbie Debbie Debbie is not how a web address begins.  But after only a couple weeks I had trained Dragon in the basics and taught it the pronunciation and spelling for all of the authors on my specialization exam list.

It’s a year and a half later and I’m still dictating. What I thought would be a temporary fix has become a lifestyle change. Because of the recent development of tendinitis in both of my wrists, I made the decision this week to begin going hands-free. Up until now I’ve been dictating but using my mouse and ergonomic keyboard to navigate the web and make corrections in Word documents.  I’m now learning voice commands that will allow me to operate the mouse without touching it. Hence the title of my blog, the Dragon and the Mouse.  The more I can operate my computer using my voice, the more I’ll be able to use my hands to play piano, cook, and paint instead.

I realized this weekend that I have a choice. I can be frustrated and angry or I can make the most of the way things are and invite others into the experience. My hope for this blog is that it gives me a chance to reflect on the peculiar experience of dictating an entire dissertation and that it will help me connect with other individuals who rely on dictation software in order to complete their work, whether they’re graduate students or lawyers or professors or doctors. I’ll be writing blog entries on a regular basis sometimes about the frustrations of dictating, or about the good things it’s done for my writing, or about how it changes my daily routine.

I’m going to be optimistic and hope that this project attracts some readers. I’ll finish each blog entry with a question and I look forward to seeing your answers in the comments below. Let the hands-free blogging begin!

Today’s question: do you dictate and why?