Monday, April 7, 2008

Naturally Speaking

Okay, you writers. I need some help. I cleaned out my “Notes File” recently, which I do about once a year, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it just ain’t working. My Notes File consists of a couple of small notepads that I scribble in while driving, and about 30,000 itty bitty pieces of whatever was convenient to write on at the time—deposit slips, receipts, gum wrappers, straw wrappers, parking tickets, and for reasons I cannot explain, a photocopy of my palm with something scrawled on it.

Half the notes I can’t read because either my handwriting sucks or my subconscious knows Sanskrit, and most of the rest aren’t worth the time it takes to decipher let alone type into wikidPad (which is a cool way to electronically store notes, by the way).

So I briefly considered switching to a digital voice recorder, but then I remembered what a pain in the ass that is, because you have go back and transcribe it, and I’d rather paperclip my eyelids together. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if they invented something that would transcribe voice recordings to text, like, magically? And then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if it already existed? So I prayed at the Google alter and to my wonderful surprise, I found Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, which claims to do exactly that. And then I thought, wouldn’t it have been cool if I’d thought of this before they reached version 9?

I’ve tried carrying a recorder around before, and aside from the time consuming transcription process, my biggest problem is I invariably lapse into a CSI medical examiner routine. Victim shows signs of hypothermia and trauma to the lower abdomen with—wait a minute. (Squishy sound effects) What appears to be a partial fish stick lodged in the upper trachea. Better get that over to trace. But if I don’t have to fast forward through that crap or even transcribe any of it at all, I think it might actually work better.

So, has anyone used or does anyone currently use any kind of speech-to-text software? And does it work as good as they say it does? Or, you got any other note taking organizational ideas besides writing shit down on straw wrappers?


Sarah Laurenson said...

Yeah. I've written things down here, there and everywhere. I have little tapes from when I was using a micro recorder and talking into that - um, 20+ years ago - and I haven't listened to them since.

I keep a file in my Writing folder called ideas. It's a bit large. And I hardly ever use anything from it. But I'm sticking all these ideas and notes in there.

I've thought about the VR software. A lot. Haven't decided if I want to go that route. But I'm always on the computer at home and at work. Ideas file works fine for me.

And you have to be or near a computer for the VR software to be any good, unless you use it to transcribe your tapes. Hard to say how that would work with voice quality and all. I listened to a reading software one time a very long time ago and it didn't know the exceptions in the english language. So it pronounced things according to it's limited set of rules. I'm sure they've gotten much better since then. Does it cover regional accents?

pjd said...

I'm wondering what the 1% inaccuracy is that the truth-o-meter reveals.

Anyway, have you checked this out?

OK, so that seems too oriented at homework and schools stuff for teens.

But how about this one?

blogless_troll said...

Sarah, yeah it's no problem when I'm at the computer. I just type them out then. But I drive an hour plus every day, and that's when it I would use something like this.

Pete, thanks for those links. I'll check them out. And the 99% accuracy is what the software claims. As you know, I always tell the truth.

pjd said...

Must be a rounding error. That darn Intel floating-point math processor, I guess.

Robin S. said...

BT- I'm there with you, baby, scribbled -shit-you-can't-read-later and all. I write in notebooks and 3x5 index cards I keep in my purse, along with several pens I have placed all over hells' half acre. And I do some of my best writing this way - I guess you know what I mean, since you do it, too- you'll be driving along, and a phrase floats in there, and it's the one you've been wanting, and you got it because you weren't really looking for it - that's how it found you, just driving along.

So you grab for paper and pen and you scribble down. And you're so happy - until you can't read it later.

I don't have the answer, but I wish I did. If this software thing works - please report on that, OK???

McKoala said...

Yup. Notebook and scraps. The notebook is a new innovation actually, I used to be all scraps, so as you can see I am at an earlier stage of evolution than you.

McKoala said...

Hmmm. Now I'm finding myself concerned with that 1% error rate. Here's a paragraph with just over 100 letters:

The great ship towered above, creaking in the wind. Warm steam from the vents caressed his skin as he breathed in the rich smell of its cargo.

It's 116 characters, according to Word. Now let's change just one of those letters; a less than 1% error rate.

Replace the 'p' of 'ship' with a 't'.


McKoala said...

By the way, I don't know about you, but I totally made myself laugh when I wrote that little para. So I'm reserving the right to make a little writing exercise out of this later in the week. Get your 1%-differences ready!

pjd said...

Along those lines, McK, Agent Kristin had a really good one today.

Whirlochre said...

I've never had any success with programs that claim to whisk the contents of your brain onto disk via the medium of sound - though it has to be said it's been a few years since I last tried anything out or had aliens experiment on me.

Like a lot of supposed time-saving technology, ViaVoice ended up becoming a master rather than a servant.

It took longer to train than a ten tier raccoon pyramid and made so many mistakes that the time saved writing out the first draft was lost twice over on the editing - and in the face of any truly brilliant Must-Get-This-Down ideas (the ones that come to you at 100mph in incomplete sentences and profanity-wrapped dialect while you're having sex or being murdered)it produced gobbledigook of value only to a Klingon heavy metal band casting around for lyrics. Plus, as Sarah said - VR software is dependent on uncluttered sound files for perfect recognition, so unless you record in the same quiet place you transcribe, your ideas will be mangled by the birdsong/traffic/patrol car pursuit etc. I can't think that Walt Whitman would have got on with this technology at all.

In the end, there's no substitute for the donkey work of catching your little flutteries between the pages of a notebook or the bytes of an mp3 and sifting through them later.

It's longhand - but at least we now have QWERTY instead of quill...

Great blog, btw.

blogless_troll said...

Robin, you make it sound so fun.

LOL McK! That would make a great exercise.

WO, the raccoon thing is why I haven't already run out and bought this. I can see spending three days repeating phrases to train it and it still not working. But then, it would be like a challenge so I would waste more time on it and pretty soon two weeks will have gone by and my eyes would be bloodshot because I haven't slept and I'm sitting at my computer croaking "watermelon" into the microphone and the program's still writing "Asia minor." I can see that happening.

Maybe I'll just work on my penmanship.

pjd said...

I can see spending three days repeating phrases to train it and it still not working.

Back when I worked for a tech startup, one of my colleagues attended a technology fair in Toshiba's offices outside Tokyo. They had a voice-activated traveler's kiosk, still under development--but it had most of Tokyo in it already.

My friend was staying at the Hilton, so he walked up to it and said, "Hilton Hotel." No response. After several tries, being a witty sort, he said, "Heer-tun ho-tay-ru." And the thing showed him the location of the Hilton.

I kid you not.

blogless_troll said...


Sarah Laurenson said...

I want to redo my bathroom and create a wall in the shower with an attached grease pen as that's where I do most of my great writing.

blogless_troll said...

That's a great idea, Sarah. I do that too--same room, different plumbing apparatus.

Whirlochre said...

Tattoos worked for a while - until I blossomed to 35 stone and nearly died of ink poisoning.

Regarding open source goodies for writers, theres a great prog at

You can drop text files into it and, thanks to its word frequency count wizardry, discover how many times your characters ejaculate insead of merely saying.

It's a little buggy - not in the sense of wiping your hard drive or inviting unsolicited emails, but on my screen at least, the window doesn't render as it should.

Great tool for purging repetitions.

blogless_troll said...

Hey, that's pretty cool, Whirlochre. I downloaded it and it worked fine for me. And my characters didn't ejaculate at all.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Are you sure it worked then, BT?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hey BT,

My gf sent me this to send on to you. I'm amazed I could remember who was talking about it.

Today's Cool Site of the Day for 5/1/2008:


Converts voice to text. You can sample it on the site. It can convert your voicemails to text so you can see and review them more easily. You can also speak a text rather than type.

Check it out and cast your vote at: