Writing text with my voice

Posted By Pamela on Sep 18, 2008 | 11 comments

I’m playing with a bit of new technology. I’ve been doing so much typing lately that my wrists started to hurt. I love to write. I needed to find a solution, so I googled. Eventually I landed on some dictation software, MacSpeech. I’m attempting to write this blog post using that new software. I’ve been playing all day and I have to admit my friends have been very patient – More patient than I deserved. I accidentally rang up Chris on Skype, and while IMing to Fraser mass chaos ensued in a text window. Of course there is a certain irony in me talking to my Skype text message when I could just as easily ring him in Skype. And eventually we did just talk. And now I’m just talking to you. Part of me wonders if I shouldn’t just podcast this, but then I know I’d be spending my time trying to edit the audio. Editing text is so much faster.

There is a certain intimacy to writing my blog. It’s me and the words in my head spilling out across the screen. I work in silence, no one knowing what I’m saying, until I hit the publish button. And then it all goes live at once. As I sit here talking to my computer, talking to Firefox, I feel this terrible urge to pace and rant and use my arms to talk. I’m not giving in to my desires, I’m sitting quite still at the kitchen table, speaking softly to my computer while my husband plays Wii in the living room. I’m not sure what will happen to my writing style – I’m not sure how my language will change as I speak to you rather than letting the words spill across my fingertips. I’m going to take a risk, I’m going to try and figure it out.

I’m not sure how I feel about the software, but after using computers almost every day since I was in the fifth grade, I a realized who is running up against maximum number of uses numbers. My joints only had so many tries left in them. I needed to find a new way to communicate to my software before my parts demanded replacement. This is a compromise. There are some things I can’t speak to my computer, at least not easily, like when I’m coding, when I’m drawing, when I’m creating things for the Web. But at least this is a partial solution. I want to keep working online for another 40 years. It’s a good fantasy at least.

I have to admit, mostly I like the software. Nevertheless, I have to reprogram my brain. I can think, I can speak, I can do many things faster than I can type. This software spells better than I do – I don’t have to keep going back to figure out what I’ve done that has caused little red lines under my every fifth word! It’s odd though, my internal wetware is struggling with this new device more then the software is struggling with my voice. As I speak I feel my brain pausing in ways it doesn’t do when I’m speaking in front of an audience. It’s an interesting challenge, changing how I do this thing have been doing so naturally for so many years.

I am really impressed with MacSpeech. While there are certain things I just can’t get it to do consistently, it’s not too bad except when I’m using Mail. For instance, deleting an e-mail message just doesn’t seem to work. There is something about how I say deleting, that causes it to hear “leading” most of the time. I think I’ve crashed mail 20 times today. There are other interesting errors it makes occasionally. But than there are no more errors than I make myself. I’m guessing most of you have read my posts that weren’t correctly proofread. This seems to be doing a better job than I do when I try and type. I’m going to try and work through this, and see if I can adapt. So far so good.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to try and see what its astronomy vocabulary looks like. Tomorrow I need to think, and write about something that challenges my brain. Write about something that challenges your brain, maybe? And that will definitely challenge the software.


  1. As long as you aren’t sitting there holding the mouse going (in a scottish burr), “Hello Computer” I think you’ll get along just fine with speech to text.


  2. You should post some unedited bits so we can see how accurate it really is. I’ve looked at some of that software, but never played with it. I’m interested in how it all works for you, keep us posted!

  3. I must admit it spells better than you, but I’m something of a spelling Nazi. Only one error leapt out at me, and that’s a near homonym.

    Hey, can you use audible punctuation?

    Victor Borge


  4. If you write in the same location here’s a good hardware solution: http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/ I’ve use a Contoured keyboard for a bunch of years and it’s the one thing I’d replace in a New York minute if it ever stopped working.

    — jerry

  5. I sometimes have bouts with carpal tunnel syndrome. It was worst when I was pregnant with my daughter. That’s when I started wearing wrist braces at night to keep my wrists unbent. Every so often if I’ve done a lot of typing, I wear them again for sleeping. They really help.

    I also switched to mousing with my left hand when using my desktop machine. And I do finger and hand stretches I learned in grad school. Force yourself to take breaks from typing.

    As for talking to the computer, I haven’t done much dictation, but I’ve tried reading mail and web browsing. You can do a lot with the Mac including defining your own shortcuts. But it gets annoying after a while especially if you are up late and don’t want to disturb your family. But your blog sounds good. I read it as though you are speaking. You could dictate it and then go back and proofread. Proofreading’s a good idea anyway.

    I don’t think it would be fun trying to code verbally. I’m doing circular doubly-linked lists in C++ in my data structures class, and the pointer dereferences would be a pain to get right.

    I was going to suggest you investigate Dragon Naturally Speaking, but I see that MacSpeech uses their engine. It looks like it did a pretty good job – or your proofread.

  6. This is just another reason I love having you as a friend. You are always ahead of the curve and blazing a trail through the woods for me to follow.
    I type like I play keyboards– loud, hard and rhythmically. And I just hate the keyboard on my MacBook. Love the notebook, hate the keyboard.
    I would pay good money to bypass this piece of crap. I feel a trip to the Apple store coming tomorrow.

    Have a good time at .astronomy conference.


  7. Sorry to hear you have become a keyboard victim. I was struck down with the same problem in 1989. Almost cured now. Take heart, with good care of your hands and patience you will get better.

  8. Don’t you just love technology when it works? Maybe you can use this to make instant transcripts for Astronomy Cast and give Preston’s hands a break too.

  9. “… feel this terrible urge to pace and rant and use my arms to talk. I’m not giving in to my desires, I’m sitting quite still at the kitchen table, …”


    People are wired to speak with their whole body. How many times have we seen people on cell-phones, speaking to people miles away, walking down the street, gesticulating wildly? For some odd reason, it seems to help the thinking process.

    When you’re talking to the computer (is that a treatable ailment?), your hands are free – use them.

    At least, give it a try.

    More than a few doctors dictate workups to a speech-to-text PC in their offices.

    I think one of the things is, we can talk faster than we can type (well, most of us). Having the brain a sentence or two ahead of what we’re putting down is a great help (I backed up at least twice in that last sentence, and had no idea of this parentetical when I started).

  10. Hi, Pamela! Saw you at Dragoncon, IIRC. Can’t believe you need any parts replaced!

    Have you tried ViaVoice?

    And how is the Finder at recognizing speakable items? Small differences in mic quality and placement matter, too.

    Hook your mic up to a recorder, speak to it, play it back and crrank up the volume to listen for inadvertent phonemes.

    Maybe you’ve done that. Mere moments at D*C, and I had the impression, “pretty sharp”.




  11. didja lose your voice? just kidding 🙂 I check here everyday for your blog but haven’t heard from you in awhile and miss it. Still working through the past episodes in astronomy cast and the more I listen the more I enjoy them. Thank you and Fraser for your tireless efforts!

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