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Dragon: Voice to Text Software

I spend 8 to 10 hours a day in front of my computer. Usually, typing. And more typing. To the point that my arm and wrist cause me severe pain by the end of the day. I was finally at the point that my lunch consisted of coffee and pain killers.
I used to use weekends to catch up on various projects, again, involving typing. However, the past few weekends I have used to do nothing but rest my arm. I’m not willing to have my income and my career affected by any of this so I knew I needed to find a solution quickly.

I had heard about speech to text software. It is a fifth generation type of artificial intelligence software that had a brief blip on the history work screen, about 20 years ago. Too difficult to program, and too far ahead of its time led to its ultimate demise.

Until a few years ago. A company called Nuance developed a program called Dragon. Initial reviews were sketchy. It was one of these things where you either loved it or hated it; not much in between. They just released their latest version 10 – and this is a dream come true for anyone who just can’t type 10 hours a day.

Having absolutely no patience, after some quick research on their website, I learned that I could buy the product at my local Best Buy store. It was reasonably priced at $99. Actually, the $99 price tag made me a bit skeptical as to its true value. I had read some more recent reviews, and once again it was a love it or hate it scenario.

I realized I was getting the last box on display, so I took the package to the cash register and asked the computer expert ringing up the sale if this was truly a valuable piece of software. He assured me that it was well worth the price and much more, and he was so convinced that it would do more than what I was even anticipating that he took the receipt and wrote on it that I could bring it back for any reason.

As I drove home, my initial fear was that it would take weeks to learn, time I didn’t think I had before my arm and elbow completely gave out. The box was much heavier than a typical box that contained a tiny booklet and CD. I was afraid that weight was comprised of a thick user manual.

Installation was easy and very user-friendly. Once the software is installed, you are walked through a process that helps the program identify your voice and your manner of speech. You have your choice of several languages, including US and UK English, a South American accent and even a deep South accent.

Give it permission to do so, and it will scan your entire computer to look at Word documents and e-mails in order to determine how you write, which helps determine how you speak. Again, if you give it permission, it will also keep track of the corrections you make a as you teach it new words based on your particular voice. These changes are sent transparently to Nuance in order to add this information to future updates and new versions.

The software comes complete with stereo headphones which are needed so you can dictate. The headphones are the added weight in the box that I had originally been concerned about. There is no installation software for the headphones. However, what the instructions don’t tell you is that in order to get them to work you need to reboot your computer after installing the software. I learned this the hard way after spending 10 minutes trying to adjust the volume and screaming into the microphone to be heard.

I was truly amazed at how quickly I could actually begin using the product. It did take a few hours, and a few manual corrections, to get my first article done and a few e-mails sent, but by dinnertime I realized this was the first evening in months I did not have to down Tylenol to get through dinner.

One of the features I like best is the fact that you can add words easily right from the Dragon toolbar. I quickly realized that when the software kept misspelling a particular word, it was because it did not recognize it as I spoke. Once I added the word to the dictionary it then recognized it from then on.

Dragon allows you to type into any document that allows your input. Simply place your cursor where you want to begin typing and start speaking. Not only will it input into any document, it also recognizes some very convoluted commands. It will open an e-mail. It will recognize the recipient e-mail address by name. It will help you search the web. It can even replicate your Google search engine and pull up all the local sales paper towels for instance. Confused? Think HAL in Space Odyssey 2001. The big difference between Hal and Dragon is that Dragon wants to please you!

As you dictate, however, you do need to watch the screen to make certain that what you’re saying is what’s appearing on the screen. As I was editing a document yesterday afternoon I saw some very odd words that I didn’t recognize, and that would’ve been terribly embarrassing for me if I had submitted it to my client. One sentence included the word “butter” although when I went to proof the document it had typed “little bastards” instead.

Notes included in the software state most people type about 40 words per minute and speak about 120 words per. However, as I was speaking at approximately 120 words a minute, I saw that it was having a bit of difficulty keeping up with me and some of the phrases didn’t make it to the screen. I learned that if you speak at the same speed you might be reading a book out loud you’ll be fine.

One word of caution, however. It does pick up background noise which will interfere in how it understands your voice. A Comcast construction crew this morning played havoc with my ability to have one article make any sense at all. When my air conditioning turned on, again, Dragon had a tough time understanding me. If you can manage your background noise you’ll be fine.

Over all, this is probably the best $99 I have spent in a long time for business or pleasure. And even though this is strictly a business tool it is an absolute pleasure to use it. The only drawback would be if you needed to use this on a desktop computer. In that case you might need to buy a separate wireless mic rather than trying to plug the headset into the tower. All depends on space and configuration.

I dictated this entire article, using Dragon while I was able to use my hands to catch up on some filing.

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