Tag Archives: dictation

Review ~ Nuance Dragon for Mac (5)

DragLogThis quite venerable, by now, dictation software has reached a new high, but a lot of this territory has been since covered by Siri and even the straight dictation software in Mac OS. But you have to admit, being able to chat at your Mac and have it type out what you’re saying has its attractions – plenty of people have never really got to grips with typing but that doesn’t mean their thoughts shouldn’t be turned into editable text.
Dragon does more than that – it also enables spoken commands (a la Apple’s built-in VoiceOver)
After installing, the latest Dragon Dictate (which just had an incremental update to add El Capitan compatibility) asks permission to access Accessibility in System Preferences so it can use the built-in mic, and then a short welcome screen takes you through a few other steps: it asks you to put in your serial number (or go for the 14-day free trial), then to register with name and email address, and then you get the option to set which microphone you’re using, in case you have something better than the Mac’s internal mic, and some text to speak with so Dragon can evaluate your speech and your audio environment.
Also, this new version no longer needs you to enter text into the Note Pad within the application. Dragon is happy to type in any app and Dragon offers the same accuracy in all of them.

DragDicA small menu appears at top right of your screen (above) and a dialogue with a red Mic logo on it – click that and it goes green, and you’re in business. This is a bigger change than you might think, as it used to demand you buy a Dragon mic to make the software work at all. Now you can use your Macs built-in mic or any better quality mic you have that can plug into your Mac.
So now I can just talk, and with a word processor open – in this case my faithful favourite Nisus Writer Pro – I just talked … this very text, as a matter of fact. And Dragon happily typed it all out. It does a remarkably good job, although it transcribed ‘Nisus’ as ‘nicest’ (t’s pronounced ‘nice us’) but that sort of thing is to be expected, with a  product name like Nisus. Dragon does work very fast and accurately – you talk and there’s a slight pause, then the text spews out.
Nuance has rewritten the speech recognition engine. Dragon learns when you perform an initial microphone volume calibration (you read for about 40 seconds to set the volume of your microphone) but as you use the app, Voice Training improves, but Dragon’s ability to start correctly transcribing your voice immediately is an improvement from previous versions.

Swearing — Just a note, though – it’s not very good at transcribing swear words, or perhaps that’s a built-in thing. I discovered this when I spilt my coffee. But since you can train it, that’s not &^%# insurmountable.

ImproveVocabThanks to Voice Training, the software learns your voice, but it also has Vocabulary Training: you let Dragon read documents you have written. Dragon listens to the words you speak, but also looks at the context in which words are used. The more familiar it becomes with your specific vocabulary, and the way you order words, the more accurate it is. You can launch this vocally too: say Show Vocabulary Training window and when it appears, click the icon in the menu bar and select Improve Recognition>Vocabulary Training (shown above). This pays off quickly. You select files you’ve written for Vocabulary Training and Add them (or drag them into the file browser window) as .txt, .rtf, .doc or .docx, as long as the files are individually under 3MB in size. Then click the Next (right-facing) arrow when you have added all the files you want to analyse.
Dragon analyses your file to see if there are any words it doesn’t know, and when it’s finished, you see a list of new words in the Included column. To exclude one of those words, ie a typo, select the word in the Included column and click Exclude. If Dragon doesn’t find unknown vocabulary in the selected file, you get a message that all the words in the text are already in your vocabulary, but you can still improve Dragon’s accuracy by continuing the Vocabulary Training process. In either event, click the next (right-facing) arrow again and Dragon runs its analyses. You can do this at any time, so if you suddenly switch to writing zombie vampire pirate romance drama to technical manuals, Dragon can keep up.

Every Mac has dictation abilities already – in several languages, too.
Every Mac has dictation abilities already – in several languages, too.

Versus Mac OS dictation — Since Mac OS has speech recognition built in now (it’s in System Preferences>Dictation and Speech), you might wonder why you’d need to buy Dragon Dictate. Well, Dragon does a better job, and it’s way more trainable is the short answer. Dragon so far supports you chatting in US UK and Australian English – and in Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Taiwan Mandarin, Cantonese, Czech, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, Hebrew, Hungarian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, European and Canadian French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, European and Brazilian Portuguese, Turkish, Romanian, Russian, European and American Spanish, Slovak, Swedish, Standard Arabic, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Thai and Croatian (38).
Not that the built-in Mac OS Dictation is bad – it’s surprisingly usable as a cheap (well, free) option. I did notice both managed to here my ‘wood’ as something else, even though I modified my diction for the second attempt, and Dragon has the advantage that I can punctuate just by saying ‘comma’.
(Mac OS speech recognition works for Saudi Arabia, Spain, China, Hong Kong SAR China, Taiwan, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, UK, US, Finland, French (and Canadian and Swiss French too), Germany (plus Swiss German), Greece, Israel, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy (plus Swiss Italian) Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Norway, Poland, Brazil, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain (plus US and Mexican Spanish), Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam (I think that’s 43)..
Both, naturally, didn’t get the name ‘Cumming’, both rendering ‘coming’, which is throughly understandable. Dragon 5 does support more accents than previous versions, including Canadian, Southeast Asian, Indian, and Australian English, but not New Zild yet.

Click this image for a full-size view of what Dragon got right compared to Mac OS Dictation
Click this image for a full-size view of what Dragon got right compared to Mac OS Dictation. Italics show words that were transcribed wrongly. 

Talk-ease — While you are talking and you’re Mac’s doing the donkey-work of typing for you, it pays to learn a few dictation commands, which are available from a menu under that with the mic controls: Cap makes the first letter a capitol, Caps On, Caps Off, All Caps, No Space and so on. There are commands for Text Editing and Movement (New Line/Next Line etcetera). Proofreading (Proofread[The words] etcetera), Punctuation (Exclamation Mark…) Special Symbols and also a Global set (per Application, as in Quit Calendar and any other apps that are running, and Activate Automator and any other apps you have that aren’t running). There are equivalents for key commands, mouse commands and menu navigation. You can not only get your Mac to type out your words, you can literally run everything by talking – and it may seem like a daunting amount to learn for some, but it’s not that much effort to get it up and running and to add a few commands in as you go. It certainly beats learning to type faster, or at least, it will for many. This may not be a solution for a shared office space, but if you’re in a relatively enclosed space, it’s effective.
One slightly confusing aspect is that you get no app to quit … but you do. Dragon installs a right-top menu, and here you can initiate commands and also Quit, since there’s noting in the Dock to quit from. Also, since Dragon places control windows that ‘float’ – not matter what other windows you have open, these are always on top and visible – this menu lets you Hide them, since the software, once installed, will always be running and available for your voice.

What’s great — Fast, accurate, handy, easy to use, able to both type and command your Mac while it’s running, learns more the more you use it.

What’s not — Once it’s trained for your voice, it’s not much good at others, which is its strength of course (OK, I tried to get it to type out the voiceover of documentary playing on my Mac …)

Needs — Someone better at talking than typing – in other words, most of us.

What — Nuance Dragon for Mac US$200 online only.

System — Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4Ghz or faster processor; Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 recommended. Faster processors yield faster performance. Needs 8GB HD space, OS X Mavericks (10.9) or OS X Yosemite (10.10) [Note my testing took place only on the public beta of  El Capitan, no problem).

Mac OS X — hidden features

Your Mac can listen to your words and type them out.
Your Mac can listen to your words and type them out.

1/ Dictate your words instead of typing them — Your Mac can take your dictation and turn your words into text (you no longer need to buy Dragon Dictate). But it’s disabled by default. To enable it, launch System Preferences; select Dictation & Speech; and then click the Dictation tab.
Now click the On button. Enable the Use Enhanced Dictation checkbox if you want to use dictation without an Internet connection. Choose a language, if you need something other than English and your language is supported (but a lot are, from Catalan to Vietnamese) but even with English, you can choose US, Australian, UK or Canadian accents.
Add a keyboard shortcut to toggle dictation on and off without revisiting System Preferences’ Dictation & Speech pane. I made mine Control-F15 by selecting Customise (sic).
Finally, choose a microphone by clicking the little inverted caret below the microphone icon and selecting the mic you want to use if you have more than the internal one each Mac has.
The mic icon becomes your audio level meter; make a loud noise like a clap or a whoop and watch it bounce up and down.

Now, to dictate to your Mac, launch your favourite word processor and turn on dictation using the keyboard shortcut you created and just start talking. The words appear on in your word processor document like magic– especially if you have one of the supported accents, anyway.

Mac OS X dictation has improved  a lot with Yosemite
Mac OS X dictation has improved a lot with Yosemite

2/ Advanced dictation tricks — You can enable advanced dictation commands to do even cooler stuff like edit text and control other functions on your Mac using only your voice.
Launch System Preferences again, but this time select the Accessibility pane.
Click Dictation in the list on the left. Click the Dictation Commands button, and check the Enable Advanced Commands checkbox.
Now you can speak advanced commands such as: select the next or previous word, sentence, or paragraph.
Go to the beginning or end of a word, sentence, paragraph, or document.
Undo; Redo; Cut, Copy, or Paste
Switch to or launch applications. It’s not as powerful as, and lacks many advanced features of, a dedicated speech recognition program like Dragon Dictate, it still works well enough.


Customise your toolbars
Customise your toolbars

3/ Turn icon labels on in the toolbar — Hold the Control key on your keyboard down and click in the grey area at the top of a Finder window – this area is called the Title Bar. This triggers a ‘Contextual Menu’ that lets you turn on Icon and Text instead of the default Icon – now you can tell what those icons actually stand for. (This works in many programs, like Apple Mail for instance.)
A Control-click is a right click, if you have that feature turned on for a mouse or trackpad. You can also choose Customize from the pop-out list to do what we talk about next …

4/ Customise Mac OS X’s Finder toolbars — In the Finder, go to the View menu and choose Customize [sic] Toolbar or initiate it with a Control-click as above.
Now you can add or remove items by dragging and dropping for the range such as Dropbox, Connect (to remote locations), Get Info, Quick Look, Path (my personal must-have) and more. Adjust them in the order you want, and you can finally have something useful up there to help with Finder file navigation and management.

5/ Spotlight’s Privacy feature — You might have a folder full of embarrassing or otherwise private (banking, for example) files. You might have buried that folder 10-deep in an obscure place, but a Spotlight search will uncover those files in a jiffy.
Luckily, Spotlight has a built-in way to exclude certain folders – or even entire external hard drives – from its searches.
Open System Preferences, choose Spotlight, select the Privacy tab, and then click the plus button at the lower-left to add a new folder to the list or just drag items into that white box from the Finder. The folders you add and their contents are then excluded from your searches.

5 Tip Friday x2 — Mac and iOS double dose

It’s been a while, since I have been travelling, so here’s a double dose to help make up for it.

You can always boost your icloud storage, but remember the prices are monthly
You can always boost your icloud storage, but remember the prices are monthly

1/ iCloud Drive — iCloud has been vastly improved in Yosemite, turning it more into a Dropbox and Google Drive competitor. iCloud Drive is in the Finder, and it works in a very straightforward way: drag a file into iCloud Drive and it’ll be available on other iOS devices, as well as via the web. Make changes to a Pages document on your iPad and it’ll be there when you get back to your Mac.
You get 5GB of free storage, but for NZ$1.29 per month you can bump that up to a decent 20GB. For NZ$4.99 monthly you’ll get 200GB, and 500GB will set you back NZ$12.99 a month, and for NZ$24.99 a month, 1TB. (To buy more, which I never do, preferring to manage my storage, open System Preferences, select iCloud and click Manage Storage.)
This Apple Insider post takes you into more detail on iCloud Drive across all devices.

2/ Turn Dashboard back on — By default, Dashboard, the area widgets where used to sit, is turned off in Yosemite. But it’s easy to turn it back on. Open System Preferences, then Mission Control and flick Dashboard to ‘on’.

3/ Get Enhanced Dictation — Apple still hasn’t built Siri into OS X, but the Dictation tool is handy for taking down quick notes with your voice. In Yosemite, not all the Dictation features come pre-installed; you have to download them. It’s simple enough, though – open System Preferences, click the Dictation tab and tick the Enable Enhanced Dictation box. The 422MB download allows offline use, plus continuous dictation.

4/ Use Dictation Commands — With this feature, you can control quitting programs, selecting words, and moving your cursor around with just your voice.
First, enable Enhanced Dictation as above, since the commands won’t work without that on. Now in System Preferences choose Accessibility and scroll down to click on the ‘Dictation’ tab from the left-hand list. You will see the ‘Dictation Commands’ option in the right-hand pane. Click on that to see what choices you’ve got.
Whenever you invoke Dictation under Yosemite (which you’ll do by pressing the shortcut for that, listed under System Preferences> Dictation & Speech> Dictation), you can speak those listed commands to do things like select text, copy and paste, undo an action, and so on. And if you tick the checkbox labeled “Enable advanced commands” at the bottom of that window, you can switch between apps, quit programs, minimise windows, and more!

You can change the sound your Mac makes when your iPhone rings
You can change the sound your Mac makes when your iPhone rings

5/ Change your Mac’s Facetime ringtone in Yosemite (OS 10.10x)— Yes, it’s possible! With 10.10 on your Mac and iOS 8 on your device, your Mac now ‘rings’ when your iPhone does. Open FaceTime (if it’s not in your Dock, it’s in your Applications menu) and from the menus at the top of your screen, choose FaceTime> Preferences.
In the Preferences window, the ‘Ringtone’ drop-down is near the bottom of the ‘Settings’ tab. Switch that to whatever you like, there are loads to choose from.
If you’ve set specific ringtones for any of your contacts, they will override this default preference, but everyone else will trigger the sound you picked here.

5 iOS tips …
1/ Since you’re now dictating with your Mac, here’s how with iOS — Here’s a visual guide to the current dictation shortcuts in Siri. (If you’ve used voice recognition software before, a lot of these will be familiar.)

2/ What’s playing? Apple integrated Shazam into iOS 8, which means that you can have your iPhone name tune (most tunes, anyway – it’s not so good with stuff like Captain Beefheart) you hear playing.
Start up Siri (press and hold the home button) and say something like ‘What’s the name of this tune?’ or ‘What’s playing?’ – and let Siri listen. Provided the tune is clear enough, and there’s not too much foreground chatter, your iPhone should establish what’s playing and provide a link to the iTunes listing.

3/ Siri can direct you home — Boot up Siri by holding in the Home button for a few seconds, then say ‘Take me home,’ and it’ll use Apple Maps (which is totally fixed and useful now, please note) to get turn-by-turn directions back to your house.
You’ll need to ensure you have an address listed for Home in your Contacts app, but even if you don’t, Siri will offer a shortcut to do so.

4/ Photos before and after — When editing photos in the Photos app (choose a photo and tap the Edit button at top right) , tap and hold the image to see how it looked originally. Release to snap back to your current edit – a great way to compare and contrast what it was to what it will be.

5/ Quickly complete web addresses in Safari — Press and hold the full stop key on the keyboard in Safari when inputing an address and you’ll bring up a list of internet address suffixes, like .com, .co.uk, and the like. Release your thumb over the one you want to insert it into the address.

—Business-boosting tips — Do you want your business boosted by giving your workers greater productivity? Book me for my 60 Mac tips in 60 minutes, or 60 iOS tips in 60. It’s a fun presentation, it’s over in 60 minutes and everyone walks away with a tip sheet they can refer back to. Groups up to 50, no problem. This will revive workplace productivity and make your devices more fun, less threatening and raise the knowledge of your staff.