Dispelling Myth about Dictation / Speech Recognition

When I first started writing this I had just finished listening to episode 156 of The Bestseller Experiment; as a patron supporter I get early access to episodes, as well as being a member of the wonderful BXP Team. The marvellous episode focused on interviewing the author Julian Barr about his new book The Way Home. Julian is also a long time listener and member of the BXP Team. I highly recommend Julian’s book, a gripping tale that was well paced, characters with connections and motivations. His book has also now earned an Amazon bestseller tag! I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

Important paranoid associated thought: like many writers I feel like a fraud that just needs to write more and thus I feel awkward about asking for advice, after all I’ve already answered my own request for advice “Write more!” Anyway, later in the episode the two Marks discuss writing using Speech Recognition (SR) and gave a call-to-action regarding listeners experiences with writing via dictation. I was surprised to find that I felt empowered and not a fraud, since this is a topic I know quite well.

As someone with long-term chronic Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in both of my wrists I have a lot of experience with speech recognition, going back nearly twenty years to the horrendous days of massively inaccurate software; the frustration and stress of trying to use the software often made me feel even worse! Fortunately the various programs have improved so dramatically in the last ten years that I find dictating to be dramatically faster, easier and shockingly more efficient. The vast improvements have come about because of the following factors:

  1. Understanding of what is involved in analysing language (technical).
  2. Improved code efficiency (technical).
  3. Substantially increased computer processing power (brute force).

This also means that modern speech recognition is better are recognising accent and voice differences. With training, software should adapt to work near perfect for most users; I appreciate that is quite a bold claim.

As someone that used to be able to maintain a decent enough typing speed of between 70 to 80 words per minute (WPM), having that ability taken away from me was devastating; I was unable to work or partake of most of my hobbies. Having struggled through the horrid early years of dictation I can appreciate why people are loathe to give speech recognition a try, however just about every problem has gone away these days.

In general many people are not up to date with the latest information when it comes to cutting-edge technology; after all there is so much to do/learn. This is in part because the various non-specialist media outlets are often years behind when reporting non sensational things, there is so much to talk about and typically they repeat the same core points. In this ever-accelerating technologically era I suspect anyone that has not used modern speech recognition has heard opinions that are about software from 10+ years ago. My title was not an attempt at clickbait, when I discuss or read things about speech recognition there is an understandable fixation on accuracy, but with modern software claiming accuracy of 90%+ for most people with little to no training, and 95%+ with some training, I wonder why accuracy is still considered a barrier to entry. It seems like my system is 99% accurate, but I appreciate it has been used a lot over many years. My point is that typically most people will type errors anyway, even with grammar and spell checkers mistakes slip through. Even for those that manage a rare 100% accuracy the first time they type something the result should still be double-checked. Mistakes are still made, accuracy is a concern whether typing or spoken, so why not do the vast majority of the work via speech?

When I was working in adult social services I had severe RSI flare-up, in fact my worst ever that caused a domino of problems. When I returned to work for a while I was able to cope due to using speech recognition, despite being in a large busy office. I was surprised at how accurate it was even with all the background conversations. Additionally instead of using a mouse to navigate the screen I found using commands to finally be efficient. How things had changed!

During long bouts of sleep deprivation I can somewhat rest my eyes whilst dictating. Thankfully I rarely get headaches, but dictation has also proved helpful when I have; I find it’s better to do something than nothing, since I’ll be suffering either way.

I’d like to highlight that a hybrid approach can be used. Especially if you can still type and you want to, then do so. Can be quite easy with today’s smartphones maybe you can use speech recognition whilst away from your normal work area. For the following reasons I’d recommend at least experimenting.

Speech Recognition Pros & Cons

Pro 1: Health

When dictating we don’t need to be sat down or stood still, we are not tied to a keyboard. Since we can move about I often do so. Over the years I have done all manner of things whilst dictating: physiotherapy, light exercise/stretching, to things like cleaning or ironing, etc. When I am having a particularly painful wrist episode my arms, shoulder and back all become problematic, resulting in difficulties sitting or standing for any length of time, so on a particularly bad days I’ve even dictated whilst resting in bed.

Con 1: Training Time Investment

Like any new skill there can be a learning curve, which can vary dramatically from person to person. Although these days even without any training on a modern device and software, dictation can start out at 90%+ accuracy.

I appreciate that getting out of comfort zones and allocating time to learn something, can be challenging. Saying embrace the challenge is all well and good, but people and their situations can vary wildly. It is sensible to decide during an epically busy time that doing something new is too much of a risk, but because life is strange maybe the change will quickly be beneficial, even in regards to time, which links to Pro 2 …

Pro 2: Speed

Personally, I think the health reason is reason enough but just in case here is another reason. Just because a person is good at typing does not mean they should stick with that method, since dictating can allow them to be faster. I often find it easy to dictate over a 100WPM, sometimes as high as 150WPM; granted a few typists with specialist keyboards can beat that, but for the vast majority of people dictation is twice as fast typing.

Following on from Con 1, it is worth learning the extra functions like how to navigate via dictation, as well as the various advanced commands. Going from quick dictation to struggling to carry out navigation commands can make you feel like a writing session was ruined; writers typically have enough reasons to procrastinate without imagining new ones 😉

Speed is a major factor for writing events like #NaNoWriMo, thus the speed advantage of dictation can really pay off.

Con 2: Initial Costs

Not everyone has a computer (desktop/laptop/tablet) or smartphone (I’m only differentiating because so many people typically do, as it is really just a computer with a phone function). Free speech recognition exists but I do find Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be better overall, but it isn’t cheap.

Then there is the topic of what microphone to use. Whilst you can use a laptop’s built in microphone it is better to have a decent microphone, although I’ve found that a £25 microphone works just as well as my more expensive Yeti, so you don’t have to buy crazy equipment.

Other extras: I’ve also invested in a microphone stand, pop-filter, USB cable extension and a high quality wireless headset. The extension and wireless the reason I can exercise or tidy my room whilst dictating.

One of the problems I found using my fantastic quality Yeti microphone was there were a few delays/problems with the software, but this was because I had leaned back in my chair and thus wasn’t close enough to the microphone. So before you rush off to buy an expensive microphone consider how your setup can be altered to get improvements.

Pro 3: Speaking is Natural + Rhythm of Speaking

Based off this subtitle you can see why Nuance called their software NaturallySpeaking 😉 Particularly when dictating dialogue I find I can write a better scene; I think this down to being able to somewhat act the scene out, I feel more in character as I switch back and forth between character perspectives. I’ve even experimented with literally acting a scene out, although that led to some comedy moments of frantically changing my position to be the correct character, like a stand-up performance.

Sometimes we can spend a lot of time thinking about a subject only to find that when we speak we change what we had intended to say. There is something about speaking out loud; maybe it is because we engage more of a body, thus more of our brain. I also think this is probably a knock-on effect of evolution in regards to us being such a social species, we need to be careful of what we say to others.

One of the best tips for writers is: “Read your writing out loud.” Dictating can be a big help, you get used to speaking out loud, thus when it comes time to edit your work you are more likely to give it a try. This also links to one of the key tips from Bestseller Experiment, “Make a public declaration.”

There is another advantage to dictating. If you think of a sentence and then struggle to dictate it, then that is a sign there is a problem. Typically you’ll easily find a rhythm, indicating were commas and full stops best fit; granted you have to say “comma”, but I think that is no different to having to press the comma key. Maybe somebody who struggles with grammar could benefit from dictation?

Con 3: Editing

As I mentioned above I think this is a con that gets too much attention, since work should be double-checked anyway. Still it can be particularly irksome during the training period, when correcting (editing) as you go is highly recommended. I think a valid point about the accuracy aspect is that they are typically errors that we are aware of, unlike when most people type and things slip through.

Crucially this is a problem that fades over time, I rarely need to correct things. Since I write fantasy fiction and role-playing games I also have lots of additions for my fantasy proper nouns, my system mostly recognises these new words after the initial correction or two. Just like with typing it is more important to get something written first, then you have something to edit.

Pro 4 Flow:

Due to the pain from my disability, I lost my ability to enter a flow state whilst writing/typing. It was 2009 when this this feeling briefly appeared during dictation. My comfort level with dictating slowly grow over the years, by 2009 I found talking to my computer to be more than only comfortable but also empowering.

Con 4 Habits:

Initially when first learning to use speech recognition a user can feel they are wasting their time. Why bother stressing yourself out, fighting your habits? I’ve separated this point from Con 1: Training, because I think habits/traditions are such a powerful part of our psychology.

Habits are typically difficult to break; various people can react differently to the same thing. Decades ago I had the regular association of being denied the use of my wrists to type a decent work session, the threat of pain from typing as well as sitting too long, plus stress and sleep deprivation. Since back then speech recognition was lacking, I quickly developed justifications about putting things off. In the light of pain-paranoia and frustration it became easy to justify thoughts like “I need to minimise computer usage even using dictation, so I need to work out as much as possible upfront.” Once I developed this habit I found it hard to break it, even as the ability of speech recognition improved.

Pro 5 Focus:

I find I do not get distracted as much when I am dictating. Maybe because I am typically away from my desk, so I cannot easily check emails or browse. It can seem like our hands have a mind of their own when within a split second of thinking about a website we’ve switched to that. This is why so many writers use blocking software that restricts their access to the Internet. Following on from Pro 3, I find that if I do start giving my computer commands to browse non-important things I quickly stop myself.

Con 5 Stream of Consciousness:

Dictating does not dictate quality. The fact we can dictate more WPM means we can also have more to edit. This is a minor Con, yes I’m being nit-picky, but over the years I have dictated a lot of garbage. I think I have solved this by writing more, showing others my work, learning more about writing; not just practice, but learning to carry out skilled practice. If you feel that when you start dictating you are writing garbage, don’t worry I think you’ll quickly adapt.

Bonus Pro Moving is Thinking:

Linking back to Pro 3 Speaking is Natural, there is something about moving and thinking, dictation means you don’t have to be sat still at a keyboard. When we move we are activating different brain regions, plus getting the blood flowing, etc. Physical intelligence is one of the many types of intelligence being researched, plus whilst kinaesthetic leaners are typically separated from other learning types, the majority of people can learn in all manners of ways including kinaesthetic. Quick interesting point, animals have a more developed brain that plants because they need to navigate; the sea squirt is a fascinating creature that once it finds a permanent spot for its next stage of life eats its own brain. It is also worth looking into the tools of memory specialists and how they utilise virtual spaces to associate memories for better recall.

I’ll be making a video version of the blog in the new year, but before I finish here are so extra points. Dictating role-playing mechanics is not a big deal, I’ve even used speech recognition to dictate computer code years ago; I am contemplating giving it another go with the vastly improved software of today. When out or when in bed trying to sleep (chronic pain is hell), I’ve dictated notes via my smartphone’s built in software, granted it is not as powerful as Dragon, but it is easy to do and I don’t have to get out of bed. I’ve also made use of a Dictaphone with a headset whilst walking, that I’ve later dictated at home, this counted as a first draft; Dragon Anywhere allows for dictating on the go, but I cannot afford it and I am rarely out and I have Dragon 15.

In conclusion if you are still not sure if speech recognition is for you, I highly recommend giving it a go, at least go hybrid, mix things up. The future is already happening!

Links

I’ve written about The Bestseller Experiment before.

The Bestseller Experiment Podcast

Julian Barr

NaNoWriMo

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Prelude – Secret Rage PBM 6

This continues on from part 1 PBM Thanks & Secret Rage.

It has been a while since I blogged about my #SecretRage PBM campaign, Richie and I have been busy so it has been on the back burner. This at least allowed me to explore ways to link ideas about the potential psychology of spirits, something that relates to two other projects. I considered abandoning this campaign and playtesting my new setting, but since I’ve put a lot of preparation in to this campaign, plus Richie and I wanted to play Werewolf, I decided to stick with things. I participated in #RPGaDay again this year, I mentioned #SecretRage on several of the days. For Day 26 I talked about Ambitions.

This urge to keep changing projects is an ongoing problem for me, so I gave myself a deadline; following advice from The Bestseller Experiment. I finished up the comic pages and the introductory turn as well. Finalising everything for this project helped re-inspire my passion for #SecretRage, plus given me inspiration to run something else, Cyberpunk, D&D, Pendragon, Cthulhu, etc.

I won’t be posting the turn data since I’ve added another player, plus I am considering inviting other players to join in, maybe some of the people from the #RPGaDay community. Below are those comic pages, which once again I found the writing of to be an interesting puzzle to figure out, in part due to writing about a messed-up Luna, but also because comic writing is different.

#SecretRage 07#SecretRage 08#SecretRage 09+10#SecretRage 11#SecretRage 12#SecretRage 13#SecretRage 14#SecretRage 15+16

UKSBS at Orion Sphere

I’ve uploaded the 2nd video about Orion Sphere LRP event 1, this time focusing on the wonderful UK Starship Bridge Simulator (UKSBS).

Focusing on the ship missions at Orion Sphere, the combined efforts of the Orion Sphere (Conan Daly, Michael Rees & Nathan McDonald) and UKSBS (Wayne Street, Raymond Toghill & James Balls) teams was very impressive. Like any creative project, creating the ideas for a new game universe can become a black hole, filled with constant research. Add to this the care of managing the inspiration of other universes, whilst giving things your own spin; all of course with the time pressure of: eek the event draws ever closer! It was revealed at the end of the event that the two teams had not worked together before, making things more impressive.

As a coder that has also dabbled with the Unreal Engine and Blender, I have an appreciation of how much effort & time it takes to design assets and populate a map, never mind the tweaking and playtesting that comes after that. This then leads back to the point I mention in the video about being able to moderate ship missions in real time, plus staying In Character (IC), bringing together a collection of ‘a very particular set of skills’ 😉

Of course there were teething problems, I don’t want to misrepresent things and imply perfection. Plus as I mention in the video the learning curve of the players. I think the foundations for this aspect of the LARP has been well established, providing a solid basis for future events. Another important part of both software development and world building is building up a library of assets to help speed up the creation of new assets easier. A quick reality check is that this is being done by small teams, so health, work, etc., can get in the way, so I remind myself not to demand excellence just appreciate it when it is there 🙂

Orion Sphere has been designed to be a living universe, to allow the players to add lore and their own stories, to strive to maximise player agency. The UKSBS has helped create and run a key part of that universe, setting a high bar, which technically was not required to make Orion Sphere event 1 so impressive. To repeat what I say in my video: amazing!

Check out this video for a tour of the system used in event 1:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKStarship/permalink/2204873423131460/

Orion Sphere Links

wikki.orionspherelrp.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/orionspherelrp/

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/conan3994/boards/

https://www.facebook.com/SJEganPhotography/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKStarship/

http://daid.github.io/EmptyEpsilon/

https://www.facebook.com/WhiteStarClothing/

#RPGaDay2018 Day31 Why Join In

Share why you take part in RPGaDAY

I went with a silly but heartfelt video for today’s question; I clearly need to practice puppet skills, or my dreams of a puppet RPG will never happen. I had pondered mentioning more things, but I decided to save them for a post-RPGaDay analysis, like I did last year.

I’m still a bit tempted to go a bit overboard and carry out a psychology content analysis, but too much TODO and I am trying to stick to Project Overlap 😉 At least taking part and looking at some many tweets, blogs and vlogs means I got a decent overview of answers, which whilst taking a lot of time was very informative and fun.

#RPGaDay2018 Day30 Lessons

Share something you learned about playing your character

When discussing role-playing I typically mention Intent, whether it is about something that is In Character (IC) or Out Of Character (OOC). This approach grew out of my early experiences of being in games with Adversarial stances, both players and person running the game. I like to have clarity of what a person is trying to achieve, not just IC but also OOC. I don’t obsessively ask the question, I let me players know they can clarify something at any time during a game, and just occasionally check with them if I feel I might be missing something. I find this approach has allowed me to empower not just the players but myself as the GM, and ideally the game as a whole.

I’ve learnt a lot more from particular characters and RPG in general. Empathy, culture, history, art, etc. But since we are keeping things short Intent is my main takeaway, which I also use in day-to-day life a lot.

The story of my first regular lunchtime High School gaming group: Role-play Meets Lord of the Flies.

RPG Lord of the Flies

#RPGaDay2018 Day29 Friendship

Share a friendship you have because of RPGs

My answer to the 29th question is a day late since I slept most of yesterday. More slow health improvements, whilst having the classic odd feeling of being more tired.

Another great RPGaDay question, it was nice reading/listening to other people describing their friendships. Granted some view this question as being too sentimental, but I think that this question captures a core of the RPGaDay’s message: positivity. Another thought that occurred to me after I made the video is how this question ties back to Connections, they are a core part of role-playing, whether connections to people and/or ideas. Connections help provide meaning and motivation, just as they do in real life.

Like many role-players I have many friends due to the hobby, but there was one key friendship:

 

#RPGaDay2018 Day28 inspiring gaming excellence

Share whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for

As I mentioned in the video: anyone that puts effort into playing. I adore excellence, but I appreciate effort far more!

I forgot to mention the dedication of Ian A A Watson to get the Trinity universe back #TrinityContinuum

The Peter Austin blog I reference is 5 Positive Role-Play Lessons.

5 Positive Role-Play Lessons

I blogged about Richie Janukowicz: Inspirational Friends.

Inspirational Friends Richie