I should have listened to Orin. You never tempt fate like that. I was smashing my deadline flat on Friday. Really cranking out the words. So what did I do? Bragged about it of course. Hopped on Twitter during one of my 5 min. Pomodoro breaks and boasted about just how big a can of whuppass I was opening on my deadline.
He tweeted me back a couple of minutes later on, warning me against such arrogant foolishness. Honest to God, it couldn't have been five seconds later that I pushed my chair away from the desk, ready to get going with some more dictation (which meant standing up, of course, thanks Jennicki). The lead from my USB headphones was tangled around the wheel of my very expensive office chair. Long story short, the was a loud crunch as I ripped the USB dongle out the back of the computer, completely destroying it.
Most of the rest of the day was spent replacing those headphones.
There was one upside to it, however. While I was searching online for a replacement, I discovered that MacSpeech Dictate had gone through a major upgrade which I hadn't noticed. It was now Dragon Dictate 2.0 with all sorts of massive improvements promised. As I found the original Dictate to be such a great program, up until the moment I destroyed my dongle, I was intrigued by just how massive these improvements could be.
So, since I was already spending money, I handed over an extra hundred bucks to download the upgrade. I agree, it is a massive improvement. For the moment I'm using a cheap Logitech USB headset, although I have ordered a more expensive Bluetooth headset from Plantronics which I'm hoping to lay hands on in the next day or so. This will allow me to venture even further as I stalk around my office mumbling to myself. Conceivably I might even be able to sit in my nice leather recliner chair and dictate from there. Although there is always the chance of falling asleep doing that.
So, what's the upgrade like?
Well the first thing that's noticeable, it is more accurate. A lot more accurate. The previous version I would have put at maybe 94 or 95% accurate. This one feels much closer to 99% accurate. That might not seem like much, but over the course of the 200,000 word manuscript, it is. That 99% accuracy, by the way, is right out of the box.
The other thing that's noticeable is the stability. I have the preferences set up so that autosave kicks in every 30 seconds. That's a legacy from MacSpeech, which would crash at least once or twice every day, mostly because I insisted on pushing its performance envelope way beyond the recommended maximum.
It's all about the golden rule with dictation software. Once you start dictating, the programs do not like you to put your hands anywhere near the keyboard. It confuses them. Within the program's memory cache it stores not just the text document, but a recording of your voice. And the two have to mesh together perfectly. If you start moving the cursor around with your mouse, and doing edits and corrections by hand on the keyboard, it puts the zap on the program. Confuses the hell out of it, actually.
Try this a couple of times and the program will crash, taking your work with it if you have not set up a robust autosave.
There is a major caveat, however. If, like me, you work within the very simple text box provided by Dictate, you can push the limits of the Golden Rule a little further. Quite a bit further actually. And I do. Because editing via voice command sucks dog's balls.
What I'm finding with this new version of Dictate is a pleasing combination of a much more robust piece of software, which really lets me push against the limits of The Rule. And, just as importantly, a much more accurate transcription algorithm which means that I have to do heaps less editing anyway.
The program also seems more stable in that if you're standing staring into space for a few seconds trying to think of what comes next, it's much less likely to pick up on your breathing or a cough and transcribe that as a word–usually as a false definite article or indefinite article. It wasn't unusual for me to have to delete three or four of those things in a row when using MacSpeech Dictate.
So, is it worth the hundred bucks? For the upgrade, sure. I'm happy to have spent the money. Would I recommend that someone who's never used dictation software run out and spend a couple of hundred dollars more buying it off the shelf?
I don't know. We all remember that I had no choice but to use this software, so I was willing to put in a couple of weeks climbing a very steep learning curve. A lot of people would give up. And the problem is I'm now so familiar with the program, with what it can do, and with what I'm required to do to make it work properly, that I'm not really the right person to ask.
For me dictation software has been the goose that laid the golden egg. And this latest version of DragonDictate would seem to offer even more in the way of productivity gains. Would it work for you? Yes, if you are willing to spend the time reading the manual and training yourself to use it. But if you're not, it's a pretty fucking penny to drop on a program, especially if you pay even more for a high-end wireless headset.