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Old 12-18-2007, 08:13 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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DNS9 - How to write a book without typing or writing

As I continue on a theme of presenting a few really great pieces of mobile software that don't get a lot of publicity in the mobile press, I want to share about Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 Preferred.

I've used voice recognition software in the past (an old version of IBM's ViaVoice), and it was so annoying and insufficient that I had pretty much decided to stay away from such things until they became mainstream. Well, when I found out that Vista Professional had voice recognition, I had to consider it relatively mainstream, so I was anxious to see whether it was of any use or not.

Bottom line, I find Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) 9 to be wonderful, and Vista speech recognition to be "almost useful". Let me explain.

In Vista Professional, you can turn on the speech recognition feature and have it listen for your commands and dictation. There is a training program to help you train it how to hear your words and to teach you how to speak to Vista. It was just accurate enough to convince me that if I wanted badly enough to make it work, I could. (But I don't want it that bad!) The commands were straightforward, but it was sort of like learning the syntax for a new programming language. And I think that you would have to use it frequently to do it natural and not forget.

In Dragon Naturally Speaking 9, things worked great for me. The preferred package comes with a headset (the mic is very important for speech recognition). It's a good headset, but not especially comfortable. Others are also available elsewhere if you plan to use it often. But here's the thing... DNS9 actually worked decently without any training, and I didn't have to strain to try to be "understandable to the computer" the way I did with Vista.

Well here's what really got my attention... with the preferred version of the software, you can dictate into a portable device (anything that records decent quality into an .mp3 file, but I used my Treo 700p with CallRec). Then you transfer the .mp3 to your home computer and tell DNS9 to transcribe it for you. It isn't instant, so be prepared to let it run for hours or overnight depending on your processor speed and how much dictation you did. But when I looked at the results, I couldn't believe it -- it actually worked! Not perfect, mind you, but very accurate, requiring only minor corrections.

Back to my article title, think about it. Previously, we had a thread where a lot of people expressed an interest in writing a book. Many of us also want to do the Nanowrimo novel in a month exercise. Can you really think of a better way to do it, than to record it on your phone or personal media device and transcribe it automatically? I think this could be a great tool for writers on the go, and I'd say it sure beats typing it out on a smart phone thumb keyboard!

The bad news? First of all, you do have to spend about half an hour training DNS9 if you want it to recognize your speech recorded on a mobile device. It's just harder to do than directly on the headset, so the training allows it to be effective with the recording. Secondly, the price is a bit of a hurdle unless someone is fairly serious about using it. The preferred version (which has the mobile transcription features) lists for $199.99. And, finally, the killer for many prospective buyers is probably the lack of a trial version. As far as I can tell, there is no such option. And with so many people like me that have had a bad experience with voice recognition in the past, it could make a lot of buyers reconsider.

But I'm pretty sure that most writers who are going to dedicate so much time to their creations, are probably going to be willing to consider this sort of an outlay for the tools of their trade. If you want to do just about anything, you need tools or equipment. I think the price may just be worth it for many writers, because it opens many doors for writing on the go. And if a writer has carpal tunnel from all the typing, it might even be a necessity.

If you've dreamed of a solution like this, but thought like me that the technology was just not ready, maybe it's time you take another look.
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Old 12-18-2007, 10:59 PM   #2
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I can 2nd this app. I have RA which also affects my hands. Typing is quite problematic most days. Heck, some days holding anything in my hands is near impossible (hence my attraction to learning about eReader devices. They can always be set on a plate stand or easel and either auto scrolled or just a fast touch to change pages.) But I dictate much of my work...or even my posts via DNS but I am still on v8 am holding out for v10.

BTW, you can get DNS v9.5 Preferred for about $50 on eBay these days...just did a fast search.

Something many Windows users do not know is XPP has some voice recognition software built-in/included in the OS. I activated that software and used it for few months to see if I found it at all useful before plunking down the cash for DNS. I suspect many folks might be as well served using XP's speech recognition function. But at minimum it is a way to put a toe in the water before moving up the the much better Dragon Naturally Speaking software.

FYI, I have not found anything in the SR arena for technical dictation. Especially so for things such as coding. I did exchange emails with someone at MS and they have considered adding it to Visual Studio at times over the past several versions but it is apparently just danged difficult to get working. So I still pretty much just swallow an extra "vitamin-v" (ask Dr. House) and get to work when I have a coding project to get done. I did suggest it might help MS look great in terms of PR by catering to the ADA as the only package for disabled software developers.

I love the tip of using dictation to my mp3 recording device and sending that to DNS...honestly I never thought of that...very clever suggestion...THANKS!! hmmmm...wonder if it will work with my old Pearlcorder??? Worth a try I think.

Last edited by brecklundin; 12-19-2007 at 10:20 PM.
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Old 12-19-2007, 09:47 AM   #3
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Nice. I've tried Dragon about a year ago and was very impressed by its voice recognition abilities.

Bear in mind, though, that dictating is a completely different beast from writing on a keyboard. My normal writing style is edit-as-you-go. When using Dragon I found myself constantly stopping and revising the sentence I had just dictated, which is pretty tricky if you're trying not to type! Dictating is a completely different approach to writing than typing on a computer, and I just didn't have the mindset for that kind of composition.

A better way (for me) was to use a dictation device to record myself and then transcribe it later. Not seeing the words on the screen made it easier to think of it more as "talking to someone" and less as "typing by voice", if that makes sense. I can talk fluently and communicate my ideas quite well by voice, but knowing that I'm dictating somehow puts the brakes on that and drops me into "typing mode".

In a way, I think this is a generational thing. 50 years ago, almost everyone in business dictated almost everything they wrote to a stenographer, because composition was so clunky that it required a sort of division of labor. (There were other reasons, too.)

In the modern world, many law firms still have a "culture of dictation": older partners dictate their correspondence and expect young lawyers to do likewise. Unfortunately, the young lawyers are so used to typing themselves, on computers, that they find it difficult to dictate. My fiancee is a member of the bar, and she's heard of younger lawyers who actually type up their memos and briefs in advance, and then "dictate" them to a stenographer to satisfy the wishes of the partners!

So keep in mind that dictation is a skill, a way of thinking on your feet, that must be learned over time. But with practice it can be a very effective method for getting ideas on paper!
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Old 12-19-2007, 02:17 PM   #4
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I tried using DNS 8. Is 9 that much better?

My problem is that I could never get the training done right and when I finally did finish, it wouldn't transcribe correctly in the document. I have a Cajun accent and for some reason, for DNS, it simply does not compute.
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Old 12-19-2007, 02:40 PM   #5
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I bought DNS9 for both of my daughters. (Not the "preferred" version, but one a bit less expensive than that.) They both love it. They use it for their school papers, emails, etc. Now my husband is thinking that maybe he wants one, as well.

I don't have the patience for dictation software. I type faster than most people can dictate, and I think and revise as I type. It's much easier for me to compose if I can see what I've written so far. (I don't like audio books, either.) But for people who don't type easily, I'm glad to see that this software has come so far. I just wish there was a version of Dragon for the Mac. (My older daughter is using my old Mac laptop, in addition to a desktop PC.) ViaVoice is available for OSX, but apparently isn't nearly as good.
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Old 12-20-2007, 12:04 AM   #6
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Thanks for the review, Bob.

I'd be curious what would happen if you were to dictate this very article into DNS and then post the raw output!

Regards,

Matt
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Old 12-20-2007, 12:11 PM   #7
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If you look at the Amazon listing for DS9, several people claim to have done that for their reviews.
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Old 12-20-2007, 02:54 PM   #8
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My brother is a Dr. who uses the medical version of the DS. He used to dictate his notes then pay to have them transcribed. He now dictates them has DS transcibe then and pays to have the notes checks. He saves a ton of money and gets his patient notes back a lot quicker.

The only techie thing he can use.
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Old 12-28-2007, 01:53 PM   #9
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How much is it sensitive to the pronounciation?

I could make a relatively good use of it, but the most of what comes out of my mouth is Czech, my first language, which makes my English pronouncation rather untrained. A quite big majority of people with whom I communicated did understand me (to the level that I did not notice any semantic misunderstanding in their replies), but I tend heavily to use the Czech pronouncation of vowels instead of the ones that are more natural.

However, I suppose that for a program it might still be better than the "lazy" pronounciation leaving out rather larger parts of words that some natural English speakers tend to.

As I think of it again, the dictation of my texts seems even more brilliant idea than I first thought - it can help me with writing while also training my pronounciation.
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Old 01-07-2008, 11:57 AM   #10
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That's an interesting question... I am pretty sure there are language modules available, so you might be able to speak Czech. But I don't know how well it handles a "thick" accent speaking English. That would be an interesting add-on... cross language modules to allow a native speaker of language A to be understood when speaking in language B!
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