Monday, May 25, 2015

Here There Be Dragons!

I'm dictating this blog post using Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software. As promised, my brother Bill came to Charlotte this weekend and installed the software and I've started playing around with it. It's really quite remarkable. The bundle he bought also includes the Dragon Naturally Speaking For Dummies book. According to the book, right out of the box the software is about 99% accurate. I found this to be largely true. I can update my Facebook status, and I'm learning how to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate text, and eventually, I hope, to resume work on my fiction writing without even touching the keyboard and mouse; or at least touching them as little as possible. The ultimate goal is to be able to dictate stuff while I'm tilted back in my wheelchair. I'm getting there! It's exciting. I still can't order the computer to produce a cup of Earl Grey tea (Ha! The software even automatically capitalized Earl Grey! Captain Picard would be delighted); but with the next generation of Dragon software, who knows?

Friday, May 15, 2015

More Adventures in Dictation

A few days ago I tried an interesting little experiment. Just for fun I tried dictating a snippet of a fiction project I'm working on using the ListNote dictation app and my Android smartphone which uses Google's voice recognition technology. It's surprisingly accurate, but there are some limitations. You do have to speak slowly and carefully and pause frequently to see if the software correctly interpreted what you said. As you speak, the words you say (or more accurately, the words Google thinks you said) slowly appear in a tiny text window in the app. The app *DID* distinguish between "Wales" and "whales" (the word I wanted was "Wales"), but not between "wore" and "war." (The word I wanted was "wore"). The app and Google working together do recognize many proper names (such as for characters and specific places) and and will automatically capitalize them. Google also has a certain ability to learn specific, unusual words you use frequently and learns to reproduce them correctly. You also have the ability to type in corrections manually using the phone's virtual keyboard. All that said, however, dictating a lengthy document such as an entire short story or chapter of a novel might be a lengthy and perhaps tedious process, but with time and practice it might become easier.

When using the ListNote app and Google's voice recognition capabilities, you do have to pronounce commonly used punctuation marks: period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, and colon, for example. In most cases, you simply say the word and you get the punctuation mark you want. The spoken commands "new line" or "new paragraph" will insert the equivalent of a line break or paragraph break into your document. However, for some unknown reason, the command "quotation mark" works less than 50% of the time. Sometimes, particularly near the beginning of a document, when you say "quotation mark," you will get the desired punctuation, but more often you will get the words "quotation mark" fully spelled out. I have no idea why this might be. Obviously, this poses a problem if you are writing fiction and using dialogue between characters. It's possible that the developers of this app imagined that it would be used mostly for nonfiction expository writing, such as business and professional purposes, so indicating, creating, or reproducing dialogue would not be an issue. I can only hope that future versions of the software will correct the problem. Another thing that puzzles me about the app is the seeming inability to automatically capitalize the first word after a period. Sometimes, if you pause for several seconds between the end of one sentence and the beginning of another, the software will capitalize the first word of the new sentence, but not always. Capitalization for the first word of a sentence is a basic rule of English grammar, and I don't understand why that rule isn't written into the software somewhere. Back to the drawing board, software developers!