Dictation software

I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about dictation software these days. I was very interested in it when it first started becoming a real possibility 20, 25 years ago. Dragon NaturallySpeaking was the market leader back then as I recall and this hasn’t changed in all this time. I recall that it would do 75wpm way back when, which was fair, but not great: most people speak at 125-175wpm and I know that I speak pretty quickly, so dictation with NaturallySpeaking would be.




Even with this shortcoming, I knew that Dragon NaturallySpeaking would get better, smarter, and faster fairly quickly as faster generations of software came out and there were better codecs for processing audio. And it did. Checking out it’s capabilities for this post, I found a video of Dragon NaturallySpeaking handling 200wpm. It’s also very good with specialized vocabularies (such as medical and legal transcription), which makes it a godsend for specialized applications and fields.

And with all that wonder and power, I’m still not interested in using it to write books. The basic problem remains, and it’s not with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

I type.

I type for a lot of reasons:

  • I type because it’s fast. I can type at 120-130wpm when I’m really cruising (that’s because of decades of power typing and also these fancy-schmancy Avant Stellar super-clicky keyboards I buy). That’s nowhere near as fast as Dragon NaturallySpeaking can process these days–and good for it–but it’s as fast as I could probably talk comfortable for hours on end.
  • I type because I don’t have to think about it. My fingers are automatic. So automatic, in fact, that they become spooled devices, like a printer. I recall when I was writing my first book back in 1987 that I was thinking ahead a couple paragraphs while my fingers were running automatically to get things down on paper as fast as I could. I didn’t have to interrupt the creative flow at all: the process of getting things out of my head was not a real-time operation. (This is also why I hate using the mouse for things: it stops the stream of thought and kicks me into a real-time mode where nothing’s automatic.)
  • I type because I can listen to music or the tv or be talking on phone. When I’m working, I live for having background noise. I can also do a lot of pro forma writing while I’m talking about something else (that “spooled” thing again). Having background noise (music) or other voices (TV) or trying to talk on the phone while dictating (ha!) just ain’t gonna work. But the music, TV, and phone calls are all a part of the writing process for me.
  • I type because I simply cannot talk into a microphone for 12 hours at a time. I don’t think you can, either. And I don’t think you could do it for 4 months at a go. Your tongue would dry up and turn to dust.
  • I type because it uses a different part of my brain. This is a little hard to describe, but I know that I simply can’t listen to certain types of music or have the TV on when I’m trying to write specific pieces. It keeps feeling like the part of my brain that’s processing the words in the song or TV is the same part that I’m using for some very nitty writing tasks, and the two tasks keep bashing into each other. I usually have to put on Chopin or a Hearts of Space show or something. Trying to speak while I’m trying to create would be equally difficult, perhaps even more so: I’ve noticed that I frequently don’t like talking at all when I’m working on a section like this.

So far all these reasons and probably more, I type. I am very pleased that Dragon NaturallySpeaking has gotten to be such a monster product and I may find a use for it some day, but I type well and I type quickly, and I just don’t feel a need to dictate my books.

The books I always recommend

There are a few books that I recommend to everyone who’s a writer, everyone who’s a freelancer, everyone who’s a captive employee, and everyone who works in high tech. Yes, they’re that meaningful. And none of them are “The Secret” or “Who Moved My Cheese?” or anything insipid like that. These books are:

Okay, now I’ll tell you why they’re important.

Clutter’s Last Stand” is at the top of the list because everyone needs this, no matter who they are. Don Aslett defines “clutter” as anything that you’re not using and have no immediate plans for but that you’re hanging on to for whatever reason. This includes things you’re hanging on to because they might be worth something someday, you may have a need for it, or just because you don’t want to throw it out. In fact, most of the time, clutter is filling up space in your life and using up time, blocking out things that you really want to do or get to and can’t. The message of “Clutter’s Last Stand” is that if you’re not using it and you don’t have plans for it and it doesn’t make you feel good to keep it, get rid of it! It’ll save you time, it’ll make it easier to move around, and you’ll feel incredibly free for the doing of it.

The Richest Man in Babylon” is the first book you need to read about making and saving money. There’s an updated version “for the 21st Century” but you don’t really need that; stick with the basics. This is good, solid advice that I recommend. It works. And as you’re reading it, your internal dialog is going to be saying “Yes, but….” here and there. Here’s how you deal with that: the book is right. You’re wrong. Shut up and keep reading. Then do this. It works. It really works. It’s all that simple. If you stick to it, you’ll be in good shape. You can follow up by reading “The Millionaire Next Door” (which is also pretty good and along the same lines) if you need more financial smacking around. “The Richest Man in Babylon” has been around for longer than you or I have been alive and is readily available in the library if you don’t want to buy it.

Up the Organization” was the foundation of “Theory Y” management: the idea that people want to work and they want to work hard and well given the opportunity. It’s a bunch of little pieces of no more than 200 words each that Townsend would jot down in a notebook. There are surprisingly few things that are dated. I have often found myself quoting things from this. There are a few additional books he wrote in the same style, all of which are equally good. You can find Townsend in the public library, too.

The Secrets of Consulting” is a book that anyone who wants to get into freelance work of any kind needs to read. I like most of what Gerry Weinberg wrote, but this is my fave of his. “The Secrets of Consulting” presents many different lessons about consulting using stories and parables. They all end with a moral you can remember, such as Rudy’s Rutabaga Rule: “After you solve your #1 problem, your #2 problem gets a promotion.” (See how easy that was for me to remember?) This is a book that is fun to read. BTW, if you’re working programmers, I strongly recommend “The Psychology of Computer Programming.”

Peopleware” is a seditious book. It may not quite as much use to you if you’re working in a non-technical environment, but it’s still valuable. The premise of the book is that it’s rarely the technology that kills projects, it’s managing the people. Their example of this is accounting software. Accounting software is not rocket surgery; it’s the antithesis of rocket surgery, in fact… yet 9 out of 10 accounting systems are never completed. Ergo, it’s a people issue. They’re right, too. But I think I can sell you on the book by telling you how I was sold on it: Chapter 8 is entitled [insert drumroll] “The Furniture Police.” That oughta tell you everything you need to know about the book.

There are lots of other books that I can recommend, and probably will as I think of them. But the fact that I always think of these books when I list books that people should read says to me that these are the books that you should read, too.

Resource for home workers

I’d like to recommend WHY Magazine. WHY is an acronym for Work.Home.You and, as you might guess, it’s aimed at home workers. It’s pretty interesting. If you’re a home worker of any kind, take a look.

The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation

Baseline Briefing ran an article by Ericka Chickowski on 7 ways to ruin a PowerPoint presentation, who said “PowerPoint is not inherently evil, but it sure feels that way when you are trapped in the audience for a bad presentation.” There was nothing much new in it, but they did have a link to Peter Norvig’s excellent piece, “the Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation,” a good demonstration of how not to do PowerPoints.

The Online Etymology Dictionary

There’s an online etymology dictionary that my beloved drama teacher from high school turned me on to. They describe themselves thus:

This is a map of the wheel-ruts of modern English. Etymologies are not definitions; they’re explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.