Wednesday, Jan 19, 2011 7:20 PM UTC

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…