Writer Gear Review: Microsoft Speech Recognition

It should come as no surprise that I’m a fairly prolific writer, turning out thousands of words every day. It’s my job and I love it, but sometimes my wrists fail to share that same enthusiasm. I’ve tried ergonomic keyboards, cushioned mouse pads and taking frequent breaks, but it didn’t occur to me until recently that maybe the system of text entry was the real problem.

After being bombarded by ads for the Dragon NaturallySpeaking program, the part of my brain that had relegated Dragon to service in the court reporting and medical transcript sectors started pondering a little deeper. I can certainly talk a great deal (just ask my husband!) and I began to consider the usefulness it might hold for me. After all, I owned a set of headphones with a swing-down boom mic for my video gaming habit (even a writer needs to take a break!) and it certainly couldn’t be that hard to set up.

However, Dragon NaturallySpeaking costs money. When you freelance for a living, you learn to do without a lot of bells and whistles in the lean times, and a fancy program was not a strict necessity. I hit the trusted roads of Google to seek out a free alternative, and was delighted to discover my computer already held a speech-to-text gem of a program called Microsoft Speech Recognition. I booted it up, strapped on my headset and waded through an especially trying tutorial before I got to dip my toe in the futuristic waters of talking directly to my computer.

I didn’t imagine it would have more positive implications beyond staving off carpal tunnel, but boy was I wrong. Even with my 65+ WPM typing speed – a fairly impressive rate, in my opinion – I can’t keep pace with this wonderful program. It’s intriguing to watch the words simply pop into existence as they leave my lips, not form slowly letter-by-letter as they do in manual typing. I timed a few pieces and was surprised to find that I was finishing assignments faster by using Microsoft Speech Recognition. I could select, delete and even replace words with a simple spoken command, jump to the end of the document, and even spell out words that my muddled former-jersey accent couldn’t communicate properly.

The best part of the program is that it learns. While this does not bode well if Terminator ends up being prophetic rather than simply an entertaining movie franchise, in the short term it makes my life easier. Eventually “are roddick” became “erotic” consistently and I was making less and less corrections to the sometimes-hilarious and autocorrect-like renderings of the program.

There are times, such as this one, where I prefer the “old fashioned” way of typing, but for my work it’s become a 70-30 split between Microsoft Speech Recognition and manual typing. If you freelance, I highly recommend you try it out!

Writer Gear Review: Chad’s Carolina Corn

Chads Carolina Corn Homepage Snapshot

 

When you spend hours in front of a computer every day, especially while working from home, breaking up the monotony with delicious snacks becomes that much more important. When procrastination threatens to send me rooting around in the fridge, I tend to buckle down and invest in some tasty snacks to keep my butt in my chair and my brain focused on the task at hand.

A recent transplant to NC from NJ, I’ve come to enjoy the plethora of Farmer’s Markets my new southern living affords me. It was at one of these markets that I ran into the affable and eponymous Chad, who so kindly insisted I sample some of his popcorn. There were a lot of flavors in his booth, but my inherent need to smack around my palate now and again drew me to the dill pickle version. I got a little dixie cup and munched on my sample on the way back to the car. Halfway home, I regretted not springing for a bag.

Dill Pickle Popcorn from Chad’s Carolina Corn is the best thing to happen to popcorn since caramel, and that’s saying something. The light, crispy crunch of well-prepared popcorn meets the salty, tangy kiss of a really good deli pickle, with none of the “pickle juice” cleanup to contend with. You know how really great popcorn starts out piece by piece and ends with cramming handfuls into your mouth like someone’s going to take it away from you? Chad’s Dill Pickle is like that, only you’re further moved to growl, doglike, at anyone that comes too close to the bag.

I killed damn near half the foot-and-a-half high bag on the way home from the market, and my partner and I made quick work of the other half while I was typing out some articles. With our propensity for food experimentation, I would love to pair this up with something else in the near future – maybe a dill-pickle-popcorn covered apple, or chocolate covered dill pickle popcorn for when I crave a bunch of different tastes at once.

Bags start at an astoundingly affordable $5, so pick up your bag (and your newest addiction) asap.

Writer Gear Review: Cabin Pottery

Kitty Coffee Mug from CabinPottery.com

Kitty Coffee Mug, $21.50 at CabinPottery.com

I may not be the charmingly earthy writer holed up in a sweet little log cabin working on the great American novel, but I do like to feel the part now and then. Hailing from the land of log cabins and charmingly earthly writers (at least according to the happy half of most Stephen King novels), the aptly-named Cabin Pottery adds a little Maine magic into their awesome stoneware. Producing everything from platters to steins, they have a unique method that leaves striking silhouettes of animals like cats and herons in organic browns against blue and greens.

I was given a green cat mug in a secret Santa swap a few years back, and damned if the thing hasn’t towed the line every day, taking cup after morning-motivating cup of tea without complaint. While its lesser mass-produced cousins have fallen in the line of duty, chipping and cracking under the pressure of my tea addiction, my cat mug has stood firm, issuing forth just enough warmth to the surface to soothe my keyboard-strained fingers. I love everything about this little sidekick of mine, from the thick sides to the pawprint-embellished thumbprint at the top of the handle.

If you only get one mug for your coffee/tea habit, you want one of these babies hanging out beside the keyboard, trust me.

This mug, with motifs that include lobsters and maple leaves, can be purchased over at CabinPottery.com for $21.50 – $24