The magic of voice-to-text

My hands are pretty tired. Time to give 'em a break.
My hands are pretty tired. Time to give ’em a break.

My hands have been giving me a lot of trouble, lately. I’ve been writing a lot – typing a lot – on the computer most of my waking hours. And it’s taking a toll.

The only problem is, I have a lot of writing I want to do. I’ve got a handful of projects that are just itching to get done – my Chronic Blogging project being the most pressing, right now. Maybe I’m just being spoiled, or maybe I’m finally getting to a place in my life — and my writing — where I’m really hitting my stride.

The latter, I think. I’ve been struggling with keeping things together for so very long, that just carving out time to write has been rough. And I’ve been foggy and fuzzy for so long, that it’s been a challenge to get the words together in decent order.

Blogging counts… but not exactly. It’s much more stream-of-consciousness, and it doesn’t require me to create a huge amount of structure around my thoughts. I can just get up, do my morning workout, get my breakfast, and then spend an hour writing about whatever comes to mind. It’s not the sort of activity that I have to plan out, structure, and then keep steady with.

Writing extended pieces takes a lot out of me. I tend to get distracted and lose my train of thought / resolve before I’ve completed the extended thought. That’s why I favor blogging – it’s “low-impact” for me, and it lets me mentally ramble more than I can in a structured work. I can also break down individual ideas into bite-sized chunks that are easier for me to digest.

But every now and then, I get a hankerin’ to write something more involved than my daily blog posts — something that demands real commitment, and which will have to do with more than the passing moments of my life.

Which brings me to my Chronic Blogging book-in-progress, and all the stuff that goes along with it. I have to figure out a way to elaborate on some really key points, without blowing out my hands and wrists.

Thus, the speech-to-text functionality of my devices.

I’ve got an iPhone for work, and an Android tablet of my own. The iPhone seems to do a much faster job of transcribing, although the Android tablet seems to be more accurate.

Speed vs. accuracy — the eternal quandary!

Anyway, I’ve been testing both of them out, and this weekend I’ll do some more work on my Chronic Blogging project, dictating rather than typing. I dictated about 1/3 of the book yesterday p.m., and it’ll be good to just plug it all in and edit it, rather than tap-tap-tapping away at the keyboard.

I need to break things up, anyway, and this will be a great way to do it.

So, as usual… onward.

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I was afraid this would happen…

I am tired. I am so tired, in fact, that I cannot rest. It’s not good. I haven’t had 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep in I don’t know how long. I haven’t had seven hours at a time in a while, either. Right now, I’m averaging about 6 to 6-1/2 hours of sleep a night, which is not good.

I’ve been going on adrenaline for a week, now, but it’s taking a toll. I spent the long weekend — all three beautiful days of it — laid up in the house, fighting off an infection that really dragged me down. What a waste. Then again, I did need to rest, so it was probably my body’s way of getting me off my feet.

Things have been going pretty well at work. It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’m pretty freaked out at how much I have to learn. A lot of this is new to me — the aspects of this advanced technology I have to master are specific to the company I’m at, so I have to learn it even more specifically. And there’s a lot going on, so I have to learn a wide range of of specifics. Part of me is petrified. I really want to do my best at this job, and I will. But what if my best is not enough? What if I’m not nearly as proficient as I think I am?

It’s happened before. Lots of times. My brain has told the rest of me that it “got it” just fine, when it was way out in left field. It’s been a recurring problem.

Another issue is that I’m not following what people are saying to me. I’ll be sitting with someone, going over issues with them, and all of a sudden, I’ll notice that I am not understanding a word they’re saying to me. Somewhere, back a few minutes before (and I can’t remember when), I stopped listening. My brain quit on me. It just dropped out and ceased to function. Bye-bye. This is not good. I need to be able to pay attention when I’m talking to people. I need to be able to listen to them the whole way through. And I need to remember what they said to me later on.

This has me very concerned. Very worried. Very uptight. I’m getting that sick, sinking feeling in my stomach around my inadequacies and shortcomings. And I’m starting to get really worried that this is going to impact my ability to do my job — and my reputation. It feels like people I’m working with are noticing that I’m spacing out… that I’m getting lost. And my interactions with them are faltering, especially later in the day.

The people who brought me on board took a bit of a gamble with me, when they hired me. They brought me on based on what they knew of me in the late 1990’s. It’s now almost 10 years later, and I’m trading on a ten-year-old reputation. I can’t let these people down. I can’t let these people down. I can’t embarrass myself. I just can’t.

What to do…

Ah-ha! I’ve got it! I’m brilliant! I have a solution! It’s so common-sense, it’s almost frightening — use “assistive technoloy” I have (literally) at my fingertips, every day: My laptop.

My laptop is my lifeline at work. It plugs me into the network, it connects me with people near and far, so I can do my job. It’s my soother — the rhythmic action of typing really chills me out. And it also paces me, makes me do things systematically. And it’s a great prop for me to hold onto, whenever I’m getting tweaked and nervous and agitated.

I’m going to take my laptop with me, whenever I go out and consult with people who need my assistance, and I’ll use it to record what’s going on in our conversation. I’ll take my laptop with me to meetings, and I’ll have it logged into the network to check on various pieces of information that come up. I’ll always have it with me, and I’ll make a point of “capturing information” at the time I’m meeting with people, whether it’s one-on-one, or in a meeting. This is brilliant on a number of levels.

First, it makes me look like I mean business. I do mean business, but having my laptop with me bumps up my appearance by several orders. It makes me look like I take the situation seriously, by getting a computer involved. It’s true — I do take the situation(s) very seriously, and this communiates that to others.

Second, it slows down the action. Typing takes time to do. The computer has to run its programs, which tend to slow things down. Reviewing my notes in the moment also takes time. It basically keeps the action from getting way out of hand, and when it does, it gives me a great reason to circle back and recap. I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to people, I’ve been losing information, which is not good — and they’re smart, so they see it. Now, if I can type while I’m talking, I can find some middle way to keep up and get others to slow down. So many people I work with are very verbal, very interactive, and when we start writing things up, they have to slow down.

In a way, we’re inversely speedy — They’re as fast when they’re talking, as I am fast when I’m typing. They’re as slow when I’m typing, as I am when they’re talking. So, if I can type things up, I force them to slow down, which has to start happening.

Third, it speeds up my interaction. For some reason, when I’m typing things up and “thinking on paper or on-screen” I’m better able to collect my thoughts and communicate. I see issues and come up with ideas that are buried in the information. Writing things up and typing them out helps my brain organize the ideas that just get jumbled around when I’m talking and listening to people talk. I can really fly. And I type very fast, which makes me look good. I look even faster than I am, because I’m typing as I talk — highlighting my skills and abilities, rather than getting bogged down in my limitations.

Fourth, it creates a record for me to refer to. I can not only keep up while I’m meeting with someone, but it captures what we discuss, so I can come back to it later. This is huge with me. I lose so much, when I’m talking to people, and what I do retain, tends to get “filed” in different places in my brain.

The inside of my head feels a bit like my home office looks — papers and books all over the place, artwork and supplies and various items left here and there, in no particular order. Some of the mess is hygienic — just plain laziness keeping me from putting things in order. But some of it is necessary — one of my vexations is “out of sight, out of mind” where I literally lose things I cannot see. I forget that they exist, and then they get lost for long times, when I really need to keep them in mind. Like one of my W2’s that went missing in the past month. I distinctly remember getting it in the mail and putting it with my tax forms. But now it’s gone. And I have to file for an extension and request another copy. I searched high and low for it, but it’s nowhere to be seen, and I may have accidentally thrown it away. There’s a very good chance I did just that.

To avoid completely screwing up my new job and pissing everyone off and wrecking my future chances at employment, I’m going to just write everything up for myself — and others, so I have it to refer to. Just because my working memory is for sh*t, doesn’t mean my career needs to be trashed

Fifth, it chills me out with the typing. Something about the rhythmic tap-tap-tap soothes me and quiets my nerves. It’s an outlet for my nervous energy, I suppose. And I’m notorious “tapper”, anyway. For some reason, I tend to tap away at things, when I’m nervous. So, typing gives me a way to get that out of my system in a productive and positive way.

Sixth, it helps me think better. I do so much better in writing, than in speaking, so why not make that work for me? Writing things down lets me process information more quickly. And my typing is way faster than my handwriting — and it’s easier to read — so what I come up with is shareable. I can seriously come up with some great solutions when I’m working on-screen. I don’t know what I did before I had computers to help me out. Actually, I do know what I did — I floundered and foundered and made a mess of things. I made plenty of notes that were no use to anyone, including myself. Something about the keyboard helps me think more clearly. That’s a good thing.

So, I don’t need to get all tweaked and freaked out over the difficulties I’ve been having with listening to people. I work in technology, with computers. I use a laptop at work. I can use that laptop over and above its customary use by others. And I can make it work for me in lots of new ways.

This is good. This is so very good. Not only is it a workable, pragmatic solution, but it takes the pressure off my worried brain that has been sweating big-time over these difficulties. One less thing to worry about. Lots less things to worry about.

Now, I just need to take care of my wrists.

And make sure I start getting to bed sooner each night. That part is critical.

The Computed World : The most massive exercise in inclusiveness in the history of the human race?

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how much the web has changed my life. And the lives of others.

It’s integrated me — an esoteric iconoclast with a long history of injuries and interpersonal issues — into the mainstream in ways that I never before dreamed possible.

This is nothing short of a miracle. When I was growing up, I had such intense problems with other people and completing basic tasks, that I was often ejected from the midst of “regular people” (like after my head injury at age 8, when I was removed from my gifted students class because I was both unable to keep my attention on the subjects we were studying, and I was also becoming an increasingly disruptive influence on the class). The problems didn’t diminish as I grew older, either. If anything, they intensified, with considerable social consequence.

As I grew up (I won’t say “matured” 😉 I found myself so often at odds with everything around me, that I became increasingly marginalized, to the point where I could not hold a regular job and I could not perform the duties of the jobs I did have with any reliable regularity. But when I got into the world of computers, I found I was actually able to keep my attention on my work and perform valuable duties that earned me good money. The world wide web, in particular, made me more of a wage-earner than I ever thought I’d be. It’s made it possible for me to purchase a reliable car, to buy a house, to keep my pets healthy with proper veterinary care, to support valuable cultural initiatives that otherwise would not be able to exist, to have clothes that grant me entrance to the land of civilized people.

For someone who was for a long time socially marginal (as in, extremely and vehemently “alternative” to the point of being borderline feral), the influx of not only adequate money to pay grown-up bills, but also of work opportunities that not only challenged me but rewarded me with social acceptance and recognition, has had nothing short of a dramatic transformative effect. I would not be the person I am in the world, today, if it were not for the world wide web. You would not be reading this (obviously) if it weren’t for the web — and I would probably never have been able to write it.

On the personal side, the web made it possible for me to learn and study and research a wide variety of subjects, where before I was limited by the time I had to get to the library, not to mention which libraries I could get into. It’s also put me in touch with cutting-edge research that would normally only be available to professionals and people privy to the inner sanctum. Basically, it’s put me on somewhat similar footing (at least in terms of access) to information that used to only be far out of reach.

Email, too, has made it possible for me to communicate with other people in ways that eluded me for years. I remember the day it dawned on me that I could actually communicate with my parents now, because they had email (at last, after I’d been nagging them to get it for a few years). I not only had a window of time in which to pause and reflect on how to respond to them, but I also had their words in print, so when my mother came back and said “I never said that!” (as she is wont to do), I could counter with “Yes, you did!” and produce written proof. I avoided any contact with my parents for a number of years, because of communication problems. But having email solved some of the most significant issues that stood between me talking with them as regular human beings. This is also quite amazing, considering the level of estrangement between my folks and me, 20 years ago.

Forums and blogs have enabled me to have conversations with others that are paced as I like them — with plenty of time to step away and consider my response before I type and send it (which is important, because I’m known to unintentionally flame people, or just get all worked up over things and let fly at the drop of a hat). And while I did screw up a lot of my initial encounters, I could just drop out of the thread, beat a hasty retreat, and think about how I was going to re-enter the conversation — or if it was better that I just left well enough alone.

Going online lets me participate with other people without worrying about what I look like, what I sound like, if I speak too fast or too slow, if I fidget and twitch, if I forget what I was going to say, if I get confused by someone’s demeanor, if I get intimidated by my surroundings or crash and burn in sensory overload. It lets me speak my mind as a real person, not the person someone else imagines I am. It lets me measure my words and make sure I’m saying exactly what I meant to say, not get turned around on the spot and then either teased or mocked or dismissed as a result.

The online world lets me be fully human without the tbi-induced dangers of in-person interaction.

Yes, the web has changed my life. And for the better, in oh so many ways.

As they say over at A List Apart:

“Possibly the most important invention of the past century, the web is undeniably one of the most robust engines of knowledge transfer, political and social change, artistic endeavor, and economic growth the world has seen.

Remove the web, and billions in trade disappear. Websites enable people who can’t walk to run to the store. They bring knowledge and freedom of thought to places where such things are scarce; make every person with a connection a citizen of the world; and allow every citizen to be heard.”

Computers, in general, have made a huge difference in my life. I must admit that before I started working with computers, I was pretty limited. I was restricted to being a typist or secretary. I was limited to doing work that did not suit me, that was highly social in nature (because the non-social jobs went to people with college degrees, and I was unable — for a number of reasons — to ever complete my college degree). Computers made it possible for me to learn as I learned best — hands-on and at my own pace, which is different from others’ paces. I tend to go much faster or much slower than others. In many ways, I am unteachable in the traditional sense. A standard classroom environment just doesn’t work with me. My pacing is just not like other people’s, and I suffered for it for many years in the pre-computer job market.

But from the first time I sat down in front of a computer to learn something new — WordStar for DOS at my temp agency in 1987 — I’ve taken to it — that format, that forum — like a fish that’s been out of water for far too long. At last, I had a way to not only work, but also LEARN, and increase my skills — and employability and my earnability — far beyond anything that I had ever imagined.

After a lifetime of being told that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t like other people, because I didn’t learn like other people, because I didn’t process information like other people… at last, here was a way for me to not only show that I wasn’t worse because of my differences, but I was actually a whole lot BETTER than anyone had ever dreamed I was. At last I wasn’t going to waste anymore.

At last, I had the right environment to work in. At last, I had the right kind of support in doing my work — a silent box humming away in front of me, not telling me I was an idiot, I was lazy, I was stupid, I was a loser. It just told me “Yes” or “No” or “Try again” — without making me feel stupid in the process. At last, I had  the right venues and avenues to use my skills and talents and inclinations.

With the massive assistive technology that the computed world is — with the desktops, laptops, email, world wide web, forums, websites, blogs, instant messaging, and more — it’s more than possible for me to excel at what I do best — logically process information and come up with solutions to tricky problems that stump other people. It’s more than possible. It’s now probable. And I can earn a living at it and build a life on that foundation.

And while part of me thinks I wouldn’t mind it at all, if I never put my hands on another keyboard, and part of me would like to find work that offers me more exercise and flexibility and less immobile staring at a screen all day, I know deep in my heart that my life — and the lives of all the people I interact with each day, the people I love, the people I support, the people I work with — just wouldn’t be the same without computers and the online world.

I need the assistance.

I need the connection.

I need to be as fully human as I can be, and use all my skills and talents to their fullest.

If that means I do it through keystrokes and wires, then so be it.