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You Speak, the Dragon Listens (Sometimes)

Goldenspine

I’ve been experimenting with Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS, or Dragon), v. 11.5, for a while now. (And yes, it’s entirely appropriate that this is the Year of the Dragon, and that I was born in a year of the Dragon; feels good!) Overall I like the software, but there are plenty of quirks and oddities. I’ll continue to use it for my fiction work, as I can get a lot of words down with few errors (and fewer all the time, as I learn how to talk to Dragon and it learns my speech patterns).

For blogging, though, it’s a mixed bag. Let me explain…

Before we can talk about the blogging experience and DNS, I want to mention the setup. Dragon’s a complicated piece of intelligent software these days, and it takes a bit to get your profile and other setup parameters right. All together, I spent maybe 30 minutes before I could get my first word captured with a microphone to “paper.” Back about Dragon 8, my first attempt, it wasn’t so extensive. Overall, though, the improvement since then in quality and features is well worth the extra start time.

Once DNS fires up, you will get a banner across the top of part of your monitor, and a sidebar on the right. If you open a document at this point, the sidebar doesn’t go away; your document senses the sidebar as the edge of the monitor and shrinks accordingly. That’s a bit surprising at first, but no danger to anything. You simply get used to having a bit less screen for the text, while having many of the Dragon verbal commands shown. And yes, you can be talking along and interject a Dragon command and (nearly every time) it will stop with the text and execute the command. This part of its intelligence is much improved, by the way. And once DNS improves its grasp of your speech, that gets better.

One glitch, though, is that Dragon messes up the icons on your desktop. It pushes them around. If you’re like me and you have a lot (maybe 100) icons on the desktop, this is a bit annoying. I had mine all organized, with certain regions of the desktop holding related click-ons. I had to rebuild that, and quick! To be sure that I didn’t have a problem again, I downloaded the Icon Configuration Utility (ICU) and ran it to store the desktop icons’ layout. WARNING: Be sure to get the right one for your operating system! I’m running Windows 7 x64; it’s the 64-bit part that’s important. Check your OS version and get the right ICU (32- or 64-bit) that fits.

Once I took care of that I’ve not had any issues with Dragon rearranging my desktop. I also run dual monitors, and I moved all the Dragon pieces over to the second monitor, where there are (currently) no icons; that helps too.

Dragon Letter

Now to blogging with Dragon!

It’s my understanding that almost nobody uses a full word processor for building blog posts. I’ve been down that road with Word and WordPerfect, and I know why: Too many word-management features, too few blog-related and picture-management features. I’m using Windows Live Writer these days, though I’ve gone through several others (including Zoundry Raven, which was on its way to being the best of the pack until the team gave up and dumped it off to the open source community, where it promptly died). When editing you don’t need all those extra features the big editors provide, but you do need Web-focused tools and the ability to handle media seamlessly, as well as upload everything with a click.

Although Dragon Naturally Speaking (I call mine Goldenspine, a Real Dragon’s name) can control software, it’s not a great match for the items in Live Writer. I didn’t buy Goldenspine for that, though; I want it to capture spoken words quickly and cleanly, and get them on the canvas. He does a fine job in Microsoft Word of getting the text down, and even some light edits. He’s pretty good with Word’s menu commands too. He does that, sort of, in Live Writer; but not enough for me to consider continuing with it for blog posts.

If you’re familiar with Live Writer you know that the Source it puts together involves appropriate HTML tags as you type. For example, the paragraph tags (you know, those items using left-and right-carats, with p or /p inside) to encase a paragraph’s worth of text. Well, Goldenspine doesn’t grasp that. Somehow, it assumes there’s only one paragraph in the whole Live Writer document! If you give the command "New Paragraph" you get a linebreak, and then a blank line, and then another linebreak, and then your next parcel of text. While it looks right on the Edit tab, it’s not clever on the Preview tab. If instead you ask for "New Line" you get a single linebreak. I haven’t found a way to force DNS to use the paragraph HTML tags. There may be a way to do it, I’m just not computer-clever enough to find it. (I looked in the Command Browser, but didn’t find anything pertinent.)

Nice Dragon

Okay, I found a partial workaround while I was playing with this post. Here’s what you do: First, open Dragon and turn the microphone off. Go to the Options window and open the Commands tab. There will be a whole laundry list of check boxes there; near the top is one that says “Enable HTML Support.” Uncheck that box (and the subordinate ones will gray out automatically). Click Apply; you’ll get a warning that the change you just made won’t work until you close Dragon down and restart it. So do that. Now, when you say “New Paragraph” you get two paragraphs, but at least the proper HTML tags are being used. So what you tell Dragon to do is “New Line” and you get one paragraph, as you would expect (and want) in Live Writer. (By the way: If you’re using Word and Dragon, you may want to use “New Line” too. It depends on whether you provide white space after a paragraph using a separate line feed, or you add space using the Indents and Spacing parameters of the Paragraph controls.)

That sure makes Dragon a lot more useful with Windows Live Writer. In fact, I’m using it right now and finish up this post. I especially enjoy the natural commands that Dragon recognizes. It’s too bad that they haven’t gotten around to making Dragon work more seamlessly with Live Writer. The HTML support inside Dragon is supposed to be stronger these days; it’s a shame that you have to disable it to use Live Writer. Maybe in the next version, yes?

Of course, the media management part of Live Writer doesn’t work at all in Dragon, nor can you easily get it to Publish. Lots of possible improvements! In the meantime it sure is nice to simply weave your fingers together, stare at your keyboard while talking and let Goldenspine do all the work. Maybe I’ll keep him for a little while longer…

Enjoy the (Hard-Working Software) Heat!

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