Learning new software the hard way

A mishap forces me to learn new tricks; dictation software is one of them


I’m writing this post with the help of some software I never wanted to buy but which is proving quite useful under the circumstances. For at least the next several months, I’ll have one working arm, so I’m learning how to use voice dictation software–or perhaps more accurately it’s learning me.

On a trip to Washington last week, I had a mishap that resulted, among other things, in a broken arm. This is a pain both literally (physically) and figuratively (various hassles to deal with). But as I keep reminding myself, but it could’ve been much worse, and lots of other people have many more difficult situations than mine.

The software is called Dragon Dictate, and it works with my Mac computer. It’s hardly perfect, but the more I use it the more I realize that it will be a great help in restoring at least part of my ability to do my work.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what the program can do, and have decided not to even try to plumb its depths. In fact I’m going to break the cardinal rule the program sets out: don’t mix speech with the mouse and keyboard. What seems to work fastest for me is to dictate what amounts to a first draft and then turn off the software while I edit, one-handed, what I dictated. If both of my arms were out of commission, of course, I’d make a different decision.

Some years ago, I looked at voice dictation in its earlier forms. I was unimpressed. But as processing power, memory, and software sophistication have improved, these kinds of products have made immense strides. (Update: I find I have to close and restart the application from time to time; if I don’t it slows to below a crawl, lagging way, way behind my voice.)

The main reason I was in Washington was to visit the New America Foundation, a think tank I greatly respect and which has ties to my university, to have a conversation about my new book, Mediactive. Here’s the video they made of the event:

Now if I could only figure out a good sleeping position…

A longtime participant in the tech and media worlds, Dan Gillmor is director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. Follow Dan on Twitter: @dangillmor. More about Dan here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>