When Passive Guy practiced law the first time, he became a widely-recognized expert on the use of computers in a law office.
This statement requires a little context. As a group, lawyers are extremely intelligent. However, when personal computers came into the law office in the 1980’s, we learned that, as a group, lawyers who grew up without computers really hated using computers and were not very good at doing so.
So, PG was like the smartest kid in the remedial class.
The one thing computer-impaired lawyers wanted to do more than any other was to talk to their computers. Very few lawyers learned how to type when they were in school. But they all knew how to talk.
PG understands that very few people learn how to type in school today, but spending hours and hours playing around on computers lets people pick up some typing skills. Nobody sat down at a typewriter and played for hours and hours other than professional writers or journalists, so most people who learned how to type fast were students whose mothers forced them to take a typing class in school. (Thanks, Mom.)
During that era, virtually all attorneys dictated a great deal of the written material they produced. They knew that secretaries (that term was still used back then) would turn what they said into letters, briefs and other lovely things. Why couldn’t a computer accomplish the same task? Everyone had watched Star Trek and knew you should be able to talk to computers.
Since PG wrote regular columns and newsletters about legal technology, he regularly received all sorts of free software and hardware from companies who thought lawyers were rich and wanted a piece of the action. Periodically, the latest voice-recognition software would show up in PG’s office.
Understanding the fervent desire of keyboard-deficient lawyers to talk to their computers, PG would always give it a try. After training the software to recognize his particular voice and accent, a process that sometimes took an hour, PG would talk to his computer. After about 30 minutes, PG always decided, unless you were paralyzed from the neck down, voice-recognition was a disaster.
Other than a cheap price, PG doesn’t know what made him purchase the latest version of the Dragon NaturallySpeaking (formerly Dragon Dictate) voice-recognition software program. Maybe he was subconsciously in a Star Trek frame of mind.
Imagine his surprise when the voice-recognition training took about 5 minutes and was optional. Imagine his surprise when the words that he spoke appeared on the screen almost all the time.
Finally, after all the lawyers who couldn’t type died off, a voice-recognition system that actually works had appeared.
So far, PG has found voice-recognition helpful in responding to comments on The Passive Voice, dictating long letters or contract analyses for his clients, creating blog posts and e-mails.
Although PG uses three computer monitors (one for each eye), he sometimes finds it easier to shuffle contract pages that are covered with his inscrutable notes, circles and arrows than he does to look at the same documents on the computer screen.
Sometimes, PG finds it more relaxing to slouch in his chair or walk around rather than hunch over the keyboard.
To be fair, the system is not perfect and if PG is having one of those days when he feels misunderstood, the voice-recognition system will reinforce that emotion.
However, at least for PG, it is a system which is less trouble than it is worth. Finally.
So far, PG has not tried Dragon NaturallySpeaking for book-length documents because he hasn’t completed any lately, but he thinks this will probably be useful. He has found it time-efficient to read excerpts from books into his computer as an alternative to scanning and running an OCR process on them. He hopes this will not lead to rampant plagiarism when he does start writing books again.
His writing style is different when he dictates, however. He is more . . . talkative and finds himself removing a bit more of his first draft than when he creates at the keyboard.
This blog entry is part one of a two-part series on using dictation software to write (and was written with Dragon, but edited mostly by hand). The second part will show up 30 minutes after this one, and is written by Karen Ranney, a novelist who has been using dictation systems to write her books for quite a long time. PG believes you will find Karen’s experience informative. She seems to crank out a lot of words when she talks to her computer.
One important tip if you decide to try Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which may be the only useful stand-alone voice-recognition system still around — you need a good microphone. PG has tried cheap microphones and found they completely destroy the utility of the software system. Go to http://support.nuance.com/compatibility/default.asp and buy one of the microphones that have a high rating.
Karen’s favorite microphone for dictation is a Plantronics DSP400 Headset which PG also owns and formerly used for dictation. PG’s current favorite is a Plantronic Calisto Headset, which he likes because there is no cable.
One additional benefit to purchasing a high-quality microphone is that it provides great audio quality for Skype or other computer-based video or phone conversations. PG’s wireless microphone also works well with his cell phone.
The least-expensive current version of the Dragon product is Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home – Version 11. If you want to use a separate voice recorder like Karen sometimes does, you will need to buy the more expensive Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 11.
Purchasing Hints: Dragon NaturallySpeaking regularly goes on sale. One strategy to consider is to purchase the Home version, install it and then wait to see if you are offered a cheap upgrade to the Premium version. PG bought his wireless microphone in a nicely-priced bundle that included an upgrade from the Home version to the Premium version.
One final story: A few days ago, PG was working on a document using voice-recognition. His work was interrupted by a business telephone call from a chatty Hollywood agent and PG thought he turned off his microphone before he put it down on the desk.
He was wrong. After he finished his phone call, he discovered all sorts of interesting things had happened with his document. Various parts of his phone conversation were sprinkled here and there and every word in the entire document was capitalized.
You have been warned. Turn off your microphone. Don’t be like PG. (If you are like PG, you will come to bless Microsoft for including a robust multi-step undo function in Word.)