Tuesday, 9 December 2008

What Did You Just Say?

I’ve been typing every day for twenty five years, often for long stretches at a time, and as a result I’ve developed RSI in both my hands. It’s painful and disabling: I can’t open bottles very easily (and with a gin habit like mine, that’s a terrible thing); I struggle to carry heavier things; and my grip is dreadful. I drop things very easily, particularly if they’re cold (which also plays havoc with the gin). It’s no fun, and I strongly advise all of you to take better care of your hands than I have of mine.

Because my hands are so bad, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred from Nuance to do most of my typing. This program had a bit of bad reputation a few years ago: the earliest versions were challenging to use, and required their users to Sound. Like. The. Queen. And. Speak. In. Single. Words. Dictating was time-consuming, frustrating and dull, and the accuracy of the results was very poor. But my, how Dragon has changed.

I’ve used v8 since it was released and it’s great: it gives very accurate results; it’s simple to use; and it’s quick. I liked it so much that I missed out v9 completely, and was doubtful that v10 would be significantly different: but I was completely wrong.

I’m amazed by the difference that v10 has made for me. It responds phenomenally quickly to my commands; its accuracy is amazingly good (I’m using it to write this and it’s made just one error so far, despite all the cut-and-paste editing that I do as I work); and it’s incredibly simple to use. I’ll accept that as a long-term Dragon user I’m going to find it more intuitive to use than a complete newcomer would but honestly, it’s a very easy program to learn to use and if my eight-year-old son can sneak my headset on when I foolishly leave my computer unattended and manage to fill a whole page with a Zen-like stream of consciousness, liberally studded with swearwords, before I discover what he’s up to, it’s got to be good. He hadn’t even trained it.

Dragon isn’t just for typing: you can navigate the internet with it, and use it to move from program to program, and window to window. All I now have to do with my hands is start my computer, put my headset on, and stop the cat from clambering about on my keyboard as I try to get any work done.

And (without wishing to sound like an infomercial), that’s not all. Previous versions of Dragon required ultra-high quality headsets if you wanted to get a decent level of accuracy, and they’re expensive: I spent around £140 on a Sennheiser ME3 headset and Andrea soundpod to use with v8, which gave me far greater accuracy than the headset that my Dragon was packaged with. But v10 is far less temperamental: I got the wireless version which comes with a natty little bluetooth headset, and I get better results with it than I used to get from v8 with my Sennheiser. I tested them alongside one another yesterday and while v8 made fifty-seven mistakes over a 587 word test, the cordless v10 made just twenty-one: not only that, but I completed the test more quickly with v10 than I did with v8 (I’m sorry, but for once I wasn’t obsessive enough to keep a proper record of the times: it’s not like me to be so lax). And when I use v10 with my Sennheiser headset, the speed and accuracy are abso-bloodly-lutely brilliant.

There’s just one downside. When I was tethered to my computer by the cable of my Sennheiser I did at least remember that my computer was listening to me. With this new little bluetooth headset I keep forgetting that I’m on, and have subsequently managed to dictate several pages of text in which I advise my children to sharpen up their acts and tidy their bedrooms, tell the dog to get off the kitchen table, and suggest to a double-glazing salesman that I’d chew my own feet off before I’d put uPVC windows into my glorious house. At least this has this proved that the headset has a greater range than either Dragon or Plantronics advertise. I can only hope that I’ve edited all of it out of the book I’m working on at the moment.

So, would I recommend it? You bet I would. If you’re considering Dragon NaturallySpeaking but wonder whether it’s worth it, stop wondering. Just buy it. Now. It’s wonderful.


Justus M. Bowman said...

I'm glad speech recognition software is working well. I had heard a lot of bad things about it, but I think it's a tool worth developing.

Jane Smith said...

Justus, it really is fabulous. Dragon has improved tremendously since its early days, and is well worth considering. So long as you don't expect it to do the impossible it's now a very valuable tool which helps most its users to work more quickly and accurately than they could do without it. I love it!

Paul Lamb said...

Would those of us over the the States have to talk like the President to use this? If so, which President?

rxvenomqueen said...

I learned of this product when I met a friend online who was a teacher for physically handicapped children. I never used it before, nor have I ever seen what the program looks like.
There has been a few times where I wondered if it would benefit me since I sometimes have a difficult time with the entire thought process; getting the words I want to write onto paper rather than just coming out and saying the words verbally. Truth be told, I think my struggle perhaps stems from my ADHD problem.
After reading this blog -and laughing about the downfall of forgetting that the program is still listening and writing your every word- I'm now all the more tempted to try it than I was before.

December/Stacia said...

Yes, but what BRAND of gin?

We're Bombay Sapphire drinkers, in our house. :-)

Jane Smith said...

Paul, you may talk like the President if you prefer, and I don't mind which one you choose: but I take care to ALWAYS talk like the Queen. It has a strange and wonderful effect, especially when booking a table for dinner.

"I sometimes have a difficult time with the entire thought process; getting the words I want to write onto paper rather than just coming out and saying the words verbally."

RX, there are various issues connected to every way of getting your words out: I prefer to write fiction longhand and in silence, while I can write non-fiction under almost any conditions. But if you prefer speaking to writing or typing then I'd have thought that Dragon would be a wonderful help for you.

And as for you, Stacia: you're right. Bombay sapphire, with plenty of ice, a little Schweppes tonic (full-fat, NOT low-calorie), and a twist of lime. In a nice, BIG glass. Obviously.

December/Stacia said...

YES!! Diet tonic is an evil thing*, and so are lemons in a nice g&t. Lime all the way. I add a splash of Rose's Lime to mine, actually. Looovely.

(I believe all artificially sweetened products are evil, to be honest. Artificial sweeteners give me migraines. But even if they didn't, they taste gross and they're gross chemical concoctions. *shudder*)

writtenwyrdd said...

RSI/carpal tunnel = Ouch! I suffered that and it took a couple of years to get past the dropping things, inability to open jars and my hands going to sleep all the time. I still have problems, but, amazingly, having given up a secretarial/admin role where I typed all the time I no longer have problems. I'm so grateful for that, and I don't envy you having to go through the healing process or the limitations that will follow.

A friend's son uses Dragon (he's dyslexic) and it's vastly improved his grades in school. The cost was something like $1,800 for the full program, however, which is way out of most folks' price range.

writtenwyrdd said...

PS, I happen to love diet tonic. I also love diet coke.

Jane Smith said...

Writtenwyrd, the price you give is probably for the Professional version, which is the top of the range: the Preferred version, which I use, is much more affordable, at under £200 (I'm not sure how much that would be in dollars, but certainly under $380 I'd have thought).

And although I like diet Pepsi, I still think you're wrong about diet tonic!

Penny Manning said...

Thanks for the article on Dragon, I came across a version in Target for 40 U.S. dollars. Can't remember which version...and why is the price so much less than those quoted above...must be a novice's version... By the way, the Dragon link did not work. Something about the page bein unavailable. I search through Google for more info, however.