Dragon Dictate in action, creating todayʼs post

Software poses an interesting problem. Without it our personal computers (and for all of those cooler than myself, other digital devices) would be worthless. On the other hand, somehow the software ingenious geeks produce seems almost invariably, spookily to work in ways completely counterintuitive to the rest of humanity. And softwareʼs so glitchy!

I spent some time this morning using MacUpdate to get my installed software into the most current versions. As I done the very same thing just last Friday, there were only a few programs lagging behind the times. Keeping current is supposed to keep your software more stable and predictable, and it usually does. But sometimes it doesnʼt.

The case in point is the program Iʼm using to create this text, Dragon Dictate, which I originally purchased back in February 2010 as MacSpeech Dictate when the Macintosh product had not yet been acquired by Dragon. Although dictation software is incredibly tempting and miraculously capable, and although Dragon Dictate is supposed to be incredibly accurate*, it is probably the quirkiest program with which I deal. (And The Lovely One apparently agrees, her boss having gone to using Dragon Dictate for Windows to create some of the many things he needs her to “type up” for him — sheʼs muttered about the miserable dictation software more than merely a few times in recent weeks, evidently almost preferring to listen to his recorded voice and do the word-processing herself.)

Although itʼs only a minor quirk/irritation, Dictate annoys me the most by forcing me to use its own text-editing window instead of permitting me to dictate directly into, say, Scrivener. (My other most frequent irritation with the dictation software being entirely my own fault when it fails to recognize either my own vocabulary — i.e. that “quixotically” in the footnote below**, which it failed to recognize again here — or my speaking too fast or too unclearly.) This speak-directly-Dictate issue shouldnʼt bother me because I work in Scrivener on the blog only to export HTML to import into my WordPress window in my browser. Taking that one other step to copy and paste what Iʼve said into Dictate into Scrivener should be minor. And it would be except for one thing: when dictating a possessive or contraction the text inserts an ugly typewriter-ish straight apostrophe instead of the elegant, typographical curly apostrophe that I prefer and wish you to see here in the blog. It takes a Find-and-Replace step to change the straight to the curly.

The Dragon version of the software to which I was upgraded about a year ago, has an even harder time than the original MacSpeech version attempting to insert text when Iʼm working in other programs. I used to be able to dictate quick e-mails, but with Dragon Dictate even such short messages end up confused, with text inserted in peculiar places, particularly if Iʼve had to try to correct or fix what it thought I had said. In the programʼs own text-editing environment, I can usually edit and correct at will — at least, until sometimes the program freezes and quits (a good thing in those otherwise calamitous occasions: the text-editing autosave feature usually has me right back where the freeze occurred when I restart the program).

The Recongition window, offering some alternatives

Dragon Dictate is designed to let one edit regularly and even frequently. The Recognition window shows not just the text the program actually is inserting but a variety of possible alternatives so that the dictator can quickly fix what the program has misheard simply by commanding the software to “Pick four” or whatever would be the correct number. (And at least with me, the program mishears frequently.) Sadly, even that quick correction can cause all kinds of havoc when not working in the Dragon Dictate environment — the cursor seems to jump around wildly and even at random, overwriting and inserting text in totally inappropriate ways and places, even when the dictator simply says, “Pick three.”

Dragon Dictate includes features for dictating in Microsoft Word, which makes one hopeful of being able to escape the programʼs own environment. Unfortunately, and wisely, I pretty much loathe Word, preferring naturally Scrivenerʼs wonderfully more flexible and comprehensive environment. In fact, I havenʼt even used Microsoftʼs omnipresent bloatware for anything since the first weeks after buying this computer. I almost immediately adopted the OpenOffice-based NeoOffice*** software for all my word processing — until I discovered Scrivener. 

Experimentally, I began this post in Scrivener, my favorite word-processing software — dictating rather than typing. Everything worked fine for about sixty words, and then the peculiar insertions and overwrites began. So I copied the good part of what I had said over to Dragon Dictateʼs text-editing window and tried to go from there. Unfortunately, a wild hare tempted me to try another word-processing program, coincidentally-out-of-the-past, OpenOffice, which was upgraded as a part of this morningʼs MacUpdate session, only to have the same dictation-editing issues commence almost instantly. And somehow when I tried to copy back to Dragon Dictate I lost the initial piece of what I had begun in Scrivener. 

Maybe that loss wasnʼt a tragedy. As I had begun to simply ramble, I took the missing text in stride and just started over with what youʼre reading here.

Sometimes, I suppose, the text a reader encounters results not so much from consciously chosen but from accidental and necessary, glitch-driven revision.

* (and with training and keeping my eye on what the dictation software chooses to insert, I find it usually is accurate — “usually” meaning that I only have to replace/edit one, or a few, out of every twenty to thirty words; for example, changing Dictateʼs “usually has” before the dash directly above and quixotically, as I had thought Iʼd reset the preferences a week or so ago to keep numbers as words up to one hundred, changing the “twenty” above from digits, the “50” the program had inserted automatically becoming the word as I edited “twenty” — evidently the reset preferences kicked back in)

** The parenthetical remark in the first note above was originally dictated as a part of the sentence where its asterisk appears. I was going to just cut it out altogether, but the observation seemed useful as evidence. And now, ironically, the whole has, quixotically, an irregularly circular structure, except for adding the following third footnote.

*** (strangely, although I did try using Open Office for a while, I find I prefer — and returned to — NeoOffice, even though itʼs directly derived from the Oracle program) 

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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