Trying to Dictate (a little bit of a finished story)

This is not much of a post, but I was actually almost hard at work earlier, attempting to defy the continual and continuing issues created by Mountain Lion and the app that forced me last October to “upgrade” my system, Dragon Dictate (version 3). After I experienced one crash/forced hard restart mid-morning, I tried some dictation about 11:00 AM…

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Test. I started to dictate “Taking the Plunge” about a half an hour ago. I got the first two or three sentences done, but when I proceeded to orate into the Dictate window the remainder of the first paragraph, suddenly we were in spinning beach ball territory! Endlessly. I finally forced the computer to shut down and restarted.

Naturally, this time Spotlight began to run even before everything in the Menubar had loaded. (I just checked, and it is still grinding away. As always. Endlessly.) QuicKeys at first would not finish not loading so I force-quit it, and on the second try the (essential, for me) program did eventually load. So I moved on to try Dictate.

At first, as it did before the computer restart, Nuanceʼs program jumped straight to the Dictate text window (I am not sure if I feel altogether happy that it did retain the sentences I had uttered before the beach ball and forced quit), but this time it also tried to open the Load Profile window (which is supposed to be the first step when the program launches), and when I clicked on the JRB profile, we just got beach ball. Again? However, this time around, I was able to get Force Quit to force quit Dictate (the previous problem had been that intervention did not work, and so I had to physically forcibly shutdown the computer). I tried again. And after some stalling and closing the still-remembered Dictate window from before the crash, here we are with me successfully dictating (directly into MacJournal). Hurrah!

“Taking the Plunge” is a Tourist story, the second one completed. The first (and a segment from that story is one of the oldest posts on the blog) was set in London. “Plunge” takes place in San Francisco, written in the fall of 2009 in the first flush of freedom and getting “Underground” completed and typed (and unsuccessfully off for publication). Hereʼs how it starts:

Taking the Plunge

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

San Francisco sunlight, a surreal gift of certain bliss after days of fog and rain. The sun came out my fourth day in the city, my vacation having reinvigorated the old Mark Twain observation, “The coldest winter I ever endured was one summer in San Francisco.” My early experience this trip had been wet, cold and dismal.

The worst day had been Sunday, my second, when I had determined to take a ferry across to Sausalito, an excursion Marsha Kay and I had only contemplated when we were on the bay many years ago. Weʼd gone on a local tour (Dolphin Tours) to the wine country and Muir Woods, and the van in which we and five other couples were loaded had dumped us all on the highway through Sausalito to fend for ourselves for lunch. That had been one sunsparkled, bay-brilliant day — so thoroughly unlike my chillingly dismal return — and we both had discussed the pure California loveliness over lunch in a fish house on the water whose name fled from me in the hectic years since.

But I treasured the sensual bliss of my memories — yellowbright, windscoured and catarchingly warm — through the too-many midwestern winters we shared and then I suffered in weary lonesomeness since. Shoveling through eight inches of heartbreaking snow for myself alone in bitter predawn dark just to be able to get a car to struggle, swerve and skate over icy, scarcely cleared roads to work — among others only those fragments of solarkissed bliss on a July afternoon in Sausalito.

But the bleak reality of this return chilled me more thoroughly than any black midwestern morning, that well layered for the subzero darkness, I had endured in patient expectation of renewing the California sun. So I had suffered disillusionment those first days — dark, cold, drizzling — unimaginably worse weather than back at home, until that fourth morning frothed with solar effervescence in my uncurtained hotel windows, alluring me before 7:00 to awakened alertness, anticipating at last the day to come.

Showering I relived the bay crossing less than forty-eight hours previous. Icy drizzle from the moment I awoke — not quite so early on Sunday, not as early as I had intended, either — about 9:30. The boats I had explored started running at 8:45, and I had intended to cross the bay as early as possible and really explore Sausalito for most of the day. But the grey rain had soothed my mind, evidently, and the touch of frost in the air made me unconsciously snuggle deeper into bed as this most unsummerly summer day had dawned.

Noises in the hall, a family departing for the day, whining brats complaining loudly about the dank weather, stirred my consciousness again well after 9:00. I felt groggy — aware I was late to my schedule, but too dull to care much. And what did it matter? I only had myself to amuse.

So I lazily showered, shaving, dressed and prepared to leave the room for the maidʼs casual attentions in my absence, closing the door about 10:20 and heading off uphill to cross down to the ferry building, at least a twenty-minute hike. I figured Iʼd be in Sausalito for lunch by 12:30.

The ferries didn’t keep to my schedule, however. And the sea-spray, rainy crossing — me on deck, almost alone, drenched and shivering (at least, after the icy hike to the waterfront, Iʼd decided to purchase a fleece at one of the businesses in the ferry building — overpriced but warm enough, though by the time we docked it was much more than damp), brought us across the bay about 1:30. In my misery, I had even missed Alcatraz in the dreary damp. Late for the lunch I had come for, I elected with rare wisdom to forgo the nostalgic waterside deck and eat indoors, too utterly iced through already for more freezing drizzle so soon.

I got busy with other stuff after that. But apparently dictating works again (although with at least a dozen quite strange errors I had to catch while posting), and I have plenty of digitzing talking ahead of me when I donʼt choose to really write (fresh material).

Come on, computer, keep with it: do your job, finally.

What do you know? No footnotes. Almost a first in the past year or more.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


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.