Speaking to write in Windows

Last week we discussed using voice dictation on your iPad or iMac. This week we’ll look at the Windows version of dictation.

compputer roomIn the Windows environment, dictation is available as an accessibility feature. That makes it a little more challenging to activate than the Mac’s function key access. But not impossible.

Both Windows 7 and 8 use a similar system for turning on dictation. Once dictation is available, it works in any application that accepts text.

The simplest way to turn on dictation is to press the Start button, type Speech and wait for it to show up in the search. A small window will appear. You click on the microphone button to turn listening on and off. You can also configure Speech Recognition by right-clicking the Speech Recognition button in the notification area of your task bar.

Another route to Speech Recognition is to press the Start button and selecting All Programs>Accessories>Ease of Access.

Microsoft offers a tutorial for using dictation.

If you don’t like Microsoft’s free dictation program, consider other add-on programs. The best-known is Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon not only can turn talk into text, but can follow commands. You can launch programs, open files, and much more by speaking to Dragon.

Dragon packages range from $75 to $180 so it’s pricey but highly regarded.

Whether you don’t type well or you’re plagued with a problem such as carpal tunnel or, dictation options in either the Windows or Apple environment might make your writing times a whole lot easier.

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Keeping all the people happy

Very early in my writing career, I learned to dread Thursdays.

136410_4758 In those days, I worked as the editor of a small weekly newspaper in a rural community that knew not only everyone’s name, but how they were related to one another and who had dated in high school. Our entire circulation was under 1,000 subscribers and our office smaller than some living rooms.  A secretary went through the mail and handled the financial side of things. The reporting staff consisted of me.

The newspaper hit most people’s mailboxes by Thursday morning each week. Shortly after lunch on a particular Thursday, a white-haired woman with a bright polyester dress and heavy jewelry pushed her way through the front door and leaned over the front counter. My desk sat furthest from the front but the secretary ducked her head, leaving me exposed to our readers.

“I want to talk to you,” Mrs. White-hair said. Tone of voice was everything in how quickly I moved from my desk. When she spoke, I bolted.

“How may I help you?” Maybe politeness would stem the flood.

“I just got my paper,” she said. “And our club news wasn’t in the social section. I am very disappointed.” How could the word very drip like icicles?

“We were short on room but it will be in next week.”

Her eyes narrowed and she leaned in. “You had room for the sports section. Who do you think wants to read about the football game? You had two pictures of that game. Two big pictures. We are very disappointed. This is a sorry state for our newspaper.”

And she shook her shoulders, gathered her bulging purse, and stomped out the door.

An hour later, the door opened to welcome a man in a polo shirt and sweat pants who leaned over the front counter. “I have a complaint,” he said.

My feet were like lead as I walked to the front of our office. “How may I help you?”

“I just got my paper,” he said. “And there are no pictures of the junior high football game. No pictures. How are these boys supposed to feel like we support them if you can’t even cover their games?”

“We were short on room–”

“You have room for all that club news. Who cares about the clubs? Nobody. We need better stories of our sports. Got that?”

Yep. On that Thursday, I got it.

Speaking to write

If you write at all and own an iPad or iMac, the dictation feature is enough reason to upgrade to the Mountain Lion operating system if you haven’t yet.

keyboardWhat dictation offers you is writing without typing. In general terms, when using any program where you would normally type in text, you can do dictation instead. You can now respond to an email without putting your hands to the keyboard. You can write a report while leaning back in your chair, keyboard out of reach.

dictation_micWell, not totally. You do need to trigger dictation by hitting either the function key or a custom key (I use F5). Once you do so, a small window containing a tiny microphone appears and will then record your voice for up to 30 seconds before taking a break to transcribe what you said. You can press the “done” button anytime before dictation times out.

The text will appear and you can approve what’s been typed before adding another chunk of text.

For writers who struggle with carpal tunnel or other hand/wrist issues, this can be a great way to give your hands a rest. And if you don’t type very well, this can be a nice tool to allow you to skate by without learning how to type better.

There are many dictation terms which help insert punctuation and minor formatting. You can, for example, say “period” at the end of your sentence and a period appears. The same with comma, question mark, and explanation mark. You can even insert an inverted question mark by telling your device “inverted question mark.”

Apple provides detailed instructions on how to initiate dictation and also a lengthy chart on dictation terms. Note that you do need an internet connection for dictation.

Not only can you use dictation to transcribe words, but the same feature can read the text back to you as well. Proofreading often is more accurate when you hear the sentences rather than see them. Plus the read-back feature allows you to hear the rhythm of your sentences. Some sentences look great on paper but sound clunky when spoken.

First, highlight the text that you would like to hear. On the Mac, right-click to produce a drop-down menu which includes the option, Speech. Select “Start Speaking” and listen to your computer read the text to you. By going to Settings>Dictation & Speech, you can change the “Text to Speech” speaker and the speed at which he or she reads to you.

The more you use dictation, the better it will understand your voice and accent. If you have a Mac or iPad, check it out.

Next week, we’ll look at dictation in the Windows environment.

Don’t say butterball

Summer softball games in the cool of the evening provided the best gathering place for a small town with limited entertainment choices. You could watch TV summer reruns, hang out at the local bar or take in the games.

softballSo we gathered in the wooden bleachers to watch the neighbors play ball.

This was serious stuff. Once, a young farmer broke his ankle sliding into second and a new mom nearly had surgery on her hand after she absorbed a swinging bat on her catcher’s glove.

This might be a small town ball but competitiveness doesn’t run small. Players came to win and the fans came to watch them win. This was serious fun.

So one evening we sat in the stands for a tightly-contested battle with spectacular plays. The shortstop fired a hotshot to first that beat the runner by milliseconds. Or at least that’s the way the umpire saw that one. A batter put the ball over the center fielder’s head for a big base-clearing hit.

The score teetered back and forth. The crowd hung on every pitch.

There usually wasn’t an abundance of ballplayers so right field was often reserved for that ninth player who needed a little more seasoning.

My team had a right fielder of the needed-seasoning variety. He was shaped like a fire hydrant but he crouched with his glove in place like he was ready for any hit. We all knew that he appeared prepared but he was as quick as a fire hydrant, too.

The gal sitting next to me leaned over. “He looks just like a butterball.”

“Shush,” I said. “His wife is sitting right down there.” I nodded toward a blonde sitting a row below us and to the right.

“Oops.” Jill lowered her voice. “She’s interviewing me tomorrow.” We both knew in a small town that we were all known including our voices. No hiding behind anonymity.

Then the tight game took my attention away. We were in the ninth. Bases were loaded and tension high. The pitcher leaned in and then swung his arm in an arc, delivering a sizzling strike that the batter turned on too late. The bat cracked as the ball skied into right field.

Jill didn’t hesitate. Leaping into the air, she put her hands around her mouth like a megaphone and shouted out to our right fielder: “Go get that hit, Butterball!”

We didn’t get the win that night. And Jill didn’t get the job, either.

Writing on the cloud

My first computer was an Apple II and I sprung for the newest innovation: two disk drives. In those days, there were no hard drives and, in a sense, saving data was simpler.

Your program was one disk and the data on the second. It was easy to save a file to yet a third data disk because we all understood that a document stored on a sheet of plastic was less secure than one saved in a file folder beside one’s desk.

1411719_31336857Saving documents has not gotten easier with the addition of hard drives and flash drives. They can fail, too, and we’re forced to do multiple backups to secure valuable files.

Backups have gotten easier now that many of us use multiple devices to write. I am writing this post on an iMac but could be composing on my laptop instead. Or even my smartphone.  I’m writing in Evernote, which means this document will be synchronized to the Evernote site on the internet so that I can read it on my desktop, my laptop or my smartphone.

Even if my hard drive crashes, this document is secure.

There are a number of synchronization programs available which, although they are designed to allow me to access documents from different devices, also archive the files on the internet as well.

I’ve discussed some of them before in this post but let me review them:

Evernote – I can set up any number of notebooks (think folders) and then place notes within the notebook. Not only does Evernote contain my own writings, but I can clip articles on the internet and save them in Evernote. I can even forward emails with pertinent information to Evernote. This is a nice synchronization tool and one which also backs up my information on the internet. I can access it there from any computer simply by signing in to my account.

Dropbox – Dropbox appears in a folder on my desktop and I save files to the sub-folders. I can check out those folders from any device that’s signed into my Dropbox account.

Sugar Synch – similar to Dropbox and I haven’t used it as much but it also allows synchronization and access from many devices.

Google Drive – this is a new player and an interesting one, since Google Drive accesses Google docs if you have a Google account. Not only can you store documents, you can create them through Google Drive.  Google offers word processing and a spreadsheet as well as email address. Google Drive, when installed on my desktop, looks just like a another storage unit.

There are more of these but the key is to consider both synchronization and backup. The synchronization across devices only works when the device can access the internet but that gets easier and easier as wi-fi is more common at many businesses.

Do you use a synchronization program? Have you written on the cloud?