Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Did You Know That Your Voice Can Be Your Own Worst Enemy?


Around December of last year, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I needed help. Not just with my short story writing, or my book writing, or even my blogging, but with everything that I do using my hands.

So when my mother and wife asked what I wanted for Christmas this past year, I said, "Gift cards."

They asked from where and I said, "Staples."

So I got gift cards from Staples and from Borders. I went out shopping and picked up some new software for my computer. The software that I bought was Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-recognition.

Note: for those of you who may be just visiting here for the first time and do not know what kind of problems I have with my hands, I was diagnosed with C-M-T back in January 2008.

After spending about a week or so staring at it, I decided to load it into my computer. Then, after five minutes or so, I stopped the process and put it back on the shelf, where I spent another three or four days staring at it.

Finally, I decided to once and for all, to load the software and get on with it. In the meantime while all this waffling was going on, I happened to mention in this post that I picked up this particular software over the holidays. Well, my good blogger friend, Mama Zee, asked in the comment section of that post that she couldn't wait to read my review of this software, and my good blogger friend Jane Turley, happened to ask if I was able to get it to do a particular something that she wasn't able to get it to do.

So as to kill two birds with one pebble, here is my personal take on the Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 voice recognition software. This review will contain some pluses and minuses, and the fun part of this review will be you the reader trying to figure what are the pluses and what are the minuses.

1} It took overall about 15 minutes or so to load.

2} The basic tutorial took about twenty minutes or so. The one main thing that the tutorial does is that it analyzes the way you speak, and adjusts accordingly on what it thinks you need to use. For instance, I talk relatively fast. If you ever get the chance to have a verbal conversation with me, the one main thing that stands out is that I talk fast. I also talk like I got marbles in my mouth and talk in incomplete sentences. So the system was initially set up that speed was more important than accuracy. That lasted, oh about one day. I'm a major perfectionist and I quickly adjusted it so that although the speed was still there, there was a little bit more accuracy to it.

3} It's not quite user friendly. The handy dandy user guide that you can download is about 130 pages, most of which I don't really use with this Standard version (there are Professional and Medical versions available as well). Also, the online help guide that you can use whenever you get stuck, is about as crystal clear as say, the help guide that you get when you're using Word or Excel. Some of the commands I had to learn by trial and error, which was fortunate for me, since I can still use my hands on the keyboard. I hate to think what kind of grief a person would go through if they used this product and didn't either have any use of their hands at all or at the very least minimal usage

4} You can schedule data collection, accuracy training and even have it fine tuned to your writing style. Problem is, in order to do that, you need a password for Windows. If you're like me, chances are that when you bought your computer/laptop, you had the main operating system (in my case Windows XP) already loaded and/or you're the only one using your computer, thus no password is necessary. Another potential problem in not having a Windows password (and thus not being an Admin on your own computer) is that if you ever need to uninstall the software because you bought a new computer, you'll have a problem in doing so.

5} It does take up a bit of memory. Initially it takes up, according to the box, 2 GB of memory. This may be true, but I'm not quite sure about this, at least as it applies to my computer. Also, whenever you decided to save the updates of your user file, it uses each time .1 GB of memory. And speaking of computers, if you have a notebook, it does make it bit sluggish and act weird.

6} You have to close out programs in a particular order. I discovered that if you don't close out those out in a particular order (usually anything first, then Dragon last), the Dragon program has a tendency to make your programs go through that wonderful thing called "Program not responding" aka the Deep Freeze/End Non-Responsive Program Now. If you close out your Dragon first, please wait for about one full minute before you close anything else out. And yes, that includes shutting down your computer.

7} As for actually using it, I've mostly confined myself to re-writing short stories with it and a few blog posts. I've also used in the comment section on both my blog and other people's blogs (good idea), and I've used it in the chat rooms (bad idea). The problem with using it with original stories, is that it forces you to completely change your writing style.

This is the normal formula for writing: Brain to fingers to keyboard to screen. Pretty simple and straight forward.

The formula for writing with Dragon is this: Brain to mouth to microphone to screen.

Essentially, it makes you not only think about what you want to write, but how you want to say it. I don't know about you, but my writing style is a complete 180 from my speaking style. This forces you to adapt your speaking style to your writing style.

8} Vocabulary. As the system gets more in tune to your style of speaking (the English version actually contains five different English dialects: US English/Canadian English, UK English, Australian English, Indian English and Southeast Asian English), the vocabulary expands and modifies greatly. You can tweak the formatting styles to your personal preference, but for the most part, it's pretty good.

And Jane, to answer your question, I can't get it to recognize George Carlin's 7 dirty words you cant' say on television. The only dirty word that it will recognize without me manually fixing it, is Damn

In spite of all the grief I've gone through and some of the unpleasant surprises I've discovered (note, do not go clicking the various menu items if you don't want to go through the aggravation of a fifteen minute tutorial to reset your user file again, because it will force you to do just that in before you can continue to use it), I do enjoy using the software. It is an excellent tool for me, because usually when I get home from work, my hand are basically shot for the day. And it is an excellent tool for anyone who has problems with their hands, be it genetic (like mine) or non-genetic.


  1. Golly - that would be so difficult to speak what you want written rather than type it. But I am grateful for this software and the value it adds for those who need it.

  2. I am so accustomed to translating my thoughts to words via my fingers I don't know how I could do this. I have been interested in trying, though.

  3. Well, first of all I'm sorry to hear that your use of your hands by the end of the day is nil. I'm glad you found this program.
    I assumed that there was something out there but way too expensive.
    My fingers are getting stiffer and stiffer, with age. I suppose down the road I'll be using something like this. Good to hear about the good and the bad. :)Bea

  4. Hang in there with the technology...btw, I have carpal tunnel and at one point it was so bad I couldn't even move my arms much. Acupuncture has been a big help.

  5. Not voice to text but using your voice to control your computer functions is a softward that is free that a guy I know created.


    Haven't used it myself but it may be good.

  6. Lynn: You ain't kidding. Especially this weekend, I finally got fed up trying to write the new way and went back to the old way. Overall though, it is something that I will appreciate in the long run.

    Charles: After spending some four years writing the normal way, it's starting off as a major headache in writing with the voice. It has been fun do a certain degree, but man, I may be pulling my hair follicles out with a pair of tweezers soon.

    Bea: Thanks. It was something I really wasn't looking forward to acquiring, but I decided to go with this one, simply because a writer with the quarterly mag from MDA gave it a decent review. It goes for about $110 at Staples, but I'm sure you can find it cheaper elsewhere.

    R.K.: I've some horror stories about people with carpal tunnel. Glad to hear that accupuncture has helped you in the long run.

    Sometimes, it really sucks having to use the latest technology.

    Bearman: Thanks for the tip. Might be something that other people would be interested in.

  7. I think I would find it very hard to keep focused using the voice software.

    What's it like to edit with? I think that is the bit I would find the hardest.

  8. MCL: I don't think that focusing is the issue I have at the moment. I think the problem I'm having is trying to translate my thoughts through my voice, as opposed through my hands.

    Having to relearn how to write using the voice has been so far, a major pain in the butt.

    As for editing, because I can still use my hands, it hasn't been much of a problem, yet.

    I have driven myself a bit nutty because the system is still butchering my vocabulary to a certan degree, but that stems from the fact that I sometimes talk like I got marbles in my mouth.

    I haven't gone exploring the edit function yet, beyond using the basic commands like "undo that"; "scratch that"; and "backspace". I do find myself using "select that" in order to "spell that" because the system keeps choosing the wrong words.

    Again, that stems from the fact that I have a tendency to talk fast and with marbles.

    I think editing can be a snap if you have a decent voice and that your speaking style isn't rushed or garbled like mine is.

  9. I'm glad you're giving it a whirl, G. Stick with it and it will become more natural. I tend to write first drafts by hand and use the Dragon for the second run-through. It's been a great help for me with my nerve damage and I've been using it for about 6 years now and have grown accustomed to it, but I've never been able to write off the top of my silly creative mind with it yet - lol! It's been great with emails, though.

  10. Talon: I tell ya, it's been a tough go right now.

    So far, I've been able to write okay if I'm doing like you do, which is write out the first draft by hand then dictate. I haven't used it for e-mails, but have used it for Blogger.

    There is a difference when you use it on Blogger. For instance, this post I wrote the normal way, and you can see that the spacing of the lines are normal and tight.

    If you look at the post "Please Query...", that one was written exclusively with the software. The one thing that stands out is the spacing of the lines aren't tight, like it's a cross between 1 and 1.5 for spacing.

    I haven't gotten it to work with the stripped down version of Word that I have called MS Works, which would be nice because I write a lot of my correspondence/blog posts with it (use Word just for writing).

    Original creative thinking with it is very difficult, as I'm so used to doing it the other way that when I try it this way, I freeze up.

  11. A friend with a dyslexic son has been using Naturally Dragon Speaking on his computer for years. I understand it can be prohibitavely expensive (if you get all the bells and whistles version?) and can be a bit daunting the first time you set it up and get it properly responsive to your speech patterns and voice.

    But I have heard nothing but good about how the program functions. It's a godsend for people with dyslexia, vision problems, or inability to type.

    I suspect, however, that a writer of novels would have some difficulty using the program specifically in the realm of edits, where you slash, cross out, make notes, cut and paste sections, etc.

    Me, if I got carpal tunnel again I'd get it. But until I cannot type, I'll stick with keyboarding, as it helps me think. Habits make for comfort level, and I think I can write and edit faster with a keyboard.

  12. I think my problems stem from two basic issues:

    1) my personal comfort level.

    2) changing my writing habits.

    I agree with the premise that with keyboarding, the thinking is much easier and the writing more flowable (is that even a word, "flowable"?).

    I also agree with the comment about writing and editing faster with a keyboard. In spite of the condition of my hands (and yes, they are getting that bad), I can still keyboard about 35 wpm.

    With the software, I have a tendency to get annoyed when some of my writing and editing doesn't go the way I want it to.

    Once I can get to my personal comfort level, that's about 75% of the battle already won. The remaining 25% will be relearning how to write.

  13. I once helped an acquaintance set up Dragan Naturally Speaking on her laptop. I also had to help her learn to use it because besides Carpal Tunnel Syndrome she also struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder. It seemed like a pretty good program, and a great help to people who can't depend on the use of their hands.

  14. S.R.: I can't argue with you there.

    I'm a bit of a perfectionist when comes to using new things, in like I want something to work the right way, right off the bat.

    Doesn't work like that with this. This you need to learn, fine tune and have patience with.

    I'm sure that over time it will grow on me and I'll be able to use it comfortably for writing stories, blog posts and even this.

  15. I know that I would talk to fast for the software. I'm glad to hear that you're having some fun with the software. I bet you'll capture a lot of great ideas that way. Enjoy!

  16. Ain't technology great? It both giveth and frustrateth to the point we want to choke the living (censored) out of whoever designed it while simultaneously bowing at their feet and worshiping them for their magnificent creation.

    Hope it smooths over for you

  17. Kelly: The system does make you read a five to seven minute something so it can initially determine the speed and accuracy levels. Then you can manually tweak them depending on what you need more of.

    As for the ideas, they're more or less the same, whether I hack them out by hand or by voice. The challenge is overcoming my natural inhabition to elaborate on my ideas via the voice.

    Darth: Yeah, technology is just wunderbar. I work in state govt. and what we use for software was touted as a monster paper saver, because we wouldn't need to print out so much superfluous garbage.


    We generate more paper with the new software than we ever did with the old.

    BTW: You can use select adjectives here, so feel free to use them when needed.

  18. I bet you wish someone told you all this stuff before you began-

    Sounds like quite an oddyssy you need to go thru to be profficient.

    Good luck with learning to say what you want to write, I know it'd be difficult for me also

  19. Well...at the very most, I was able to read a short three paragrpah review of it in a mag put out by the MDA, and the person who reviewed it gave it a thumbs up.

    Granted, it will be an adventure, and one that I'll experience with much trepidation.

  20. Yeah, that dragon sure can mess up my Texas drawl, purdy good.
    I use it, carpel tunnel both; right 5 years ago, left was done in Oct 09; right Ulnar Nerve Transposition (sp?) in Dec.
    Holy Freakin Cow- use the software often and it will get the hang of you and you will get the hang of it.
    Just sure is weird talking out loud to write.

  21. Paige: Thanks for stopping by.

    It's very weird talking out loud, yes. Having to learn a whole new way of writing was definitely not high on my list of things to do when I got.

    I don't have a problem with an accent, so much as I have a tendency to talk like I got marbles in my mouth.


  22. Hmmm... it sounds like that apart from the naughty words DNS is actually working..... That is soooooo unfair G!!! My attempts amounted to absolutely nothing but complete utter gibberish. I guess I better give it another go....

    ps - Thanks for the mention:)

  23. Jane, you're more than welcome. I should add that the only bad words it will recognize is damn and hell.

    No other stand alone swear words or swear word combinations will it recognize.

    Bit of a pain really, at least for the writer in me.

    DNS is working okay for the most part. I still talk like I got marbles, so it still misunderstands certain words that start with the letters "F", "D", "T" and "W".


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