Talking to Your Computer

            Many of us who use computers do a lot of typing and mouse clicking. This also happens when surfing the Internet I have had problems with the finger I use for clicking the mouse. Another brother here has developed carpal tunnel in both his wrists and has had to have surgery on them. So what can we do about this problem? In my case, I added to my computer a touchpad. This helped with the problem of my finger, but still when typing long documents, my wrists do get sore. Years ago, I tried IBM's ViaVoice dictation software. At that time computers were slower and the recognition was not very good. Since that time voice-recognition has vastly improved.

            I'm dictating this article using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 7 software. I find dictating an article takes getting used to but the recognition has been fairly accurate. What makes this program even better is that I can avoid using the mouse. Part of my testing the software involves having a fan blowing close by me and the window open. So this creates a fair amount of background noise. Yet I haven't experienced any problem with it.

            It used to be, that one had to speak up to 45 minutes to train the program. But I'm using this program, after only about 5 minutes of training. I am able to bounce back and forth between dictation and commands. I don't believe I have much of an accent, being from Michigan, but a Bostonian claims it works fairly well for him also. Interestingly, the software analyzes documents you have already written. Apparently, this helps it recognize your style of writing.

            Unlike Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise, I'm not walking around the room while talking to my computer. I'm wearing a headphone with a microphone attached to the computer. Now I'm sure it's possible to get a wireless headset for those who like to walk around the room. It's also possible to dictate into a Pocket PC or use a digital recorder that can be plugged into your computer. At this point, I have gone back to typing with the keyboard. Why? The neighbor next door has decided to mow his lawn—that kind of noise has definitely caused a significant amount of background noise! (As we are temporarily living in a rented house, our monastery is located in a neighborhood.)

            For many of us, answering e-mail has become a source of much typing. Speaking the text into the computer would certainly save us some time and wrist wear. Other activities like chat and instant messaging would become faster and easier as well.

I’m back to dictating this text once again. I went to a computer in a different room. This time I’m using the voice recognition software that comes with Microsoft Office XP. You turn on this software by selecting “Speech” under the “Tools” menu on the Microsoft Word toolbar. I don’t find this included voice recognition software as easy to use as the Dragon software. But the dictation accuracy is fairly good for five minutes of training. It does have some limited voice command options for controlling Office programs, but it’s not designed for mouse-free control.

            Getting back to Dragon, I tried using it with Microsoft Internet Explorer for surfing the Internet. By using voice commands, I could control my surfing experience. I could:

  1. Go to any Web page on the Favorites menu
  2. Enter a Web address in the Address bar
  3. Go back to the previous Web page or forward to the next
  4. Click links, buttons, and images
  5. Scroll in a Web page
  6. Select check boxes and other options
  7. Enter text in a text box

Unlike dictating text, it takes a little more practice to get used to surfing by voice. But for those who have had wrist problems, I believe it would be well worth the time.

            To those interested in using voice recognition software, there seems to be three contenders at present. IBM’s ViaVoice, ScanSoft’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Ultimate Interactive Desktops’ Voice Studio 2003. All these products let you speak commands to your PC, as well as dictate directly into most Windows’ applications. All these software packages are fairly inexpensive. I know with Dragon, you can also have text read to you aloud from e-mails or other documents. Before buying, make sure your computer measures up to the system requirements. Dragon requires an Intel Pentium III/500 Mhz or equivalent with 128 MB RAM and 300 MB free hard disk space. Usually, performance is better with more than the minimum system requirements.

            Microsoft is looking into incorporating voice into future versions of the Windows operating system. We all know that computers still aren’t “user friendly” enough. Voice control would certainly be an improvement.

            Several companies are working on speech recognition and you may already be experiencing the results. California’s Nuance Communications and Boston’s SpeechWorks are two of the market leaders in interactive voice response systems. They have developed software where the computer can respond and understand routine natural-language requests. This software replaces the now familiar press “0” for this and “1” for that when calling customer service. Instead people speak instead of press buttons. SpeechWork’s call center technology is used by such diverse companies as Office Depot, the U.S. Postal Service, Thrifty Car Rental, United Airlines and Amtrak. The latter got back their $4 million investment in labor costs with this technology in 18 months. Nuance’s software is being used by Schwab, Sprint PCS and Bell Canada. Intel is looking into audiovisual speech recognition. Who knows, perhaps we will soon have a voice-interactive computer experience like HAL 9000 in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey!

Monthly Web Pics

            As this is summertime, perhaps you are thinking of heading somewhere on vacation. Why not check into Catholic Travel sites?

            A few years ago I met James Adair, the president of Regina Tours at a conference. Their website (reginatour.com) has a number of Catholic Pilgrimages including Shrines of France; Rome, Assisi & Florence; Fatima, Lourdes & Spain; Best of Ireland; Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe; California Missions.

            Kevin Wright, Catholic Travel Author & President of Catholic Adventures International  (catholicadventures.com), is a young man I met at another conference. Catholic Adventures provides group pilgrimage, adventure, cruise, retreat, and mission trips to Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and beyond. In addition they offer exclusive opportunities of interacting with top Catholic guest speakers and experts on their trips.

            Dr. Rosalie Turton, whom I have known for a number of years, began the 101 Foundation (101foundation.org), named after the 101 tears that Our Lady shed in the approved apparitions in Akita, Japan. She offers thirteen pilgrimages for 2003. Rosalie makes sure that pilgrims make a pilgrimage and are not just taking a vacation.

            Bob & Penny Lord are internationally known pilgrimage directors to the shrines of Europe, Mexico and North America. Their website called Journeys of Faith (bobandpennylord.com) lists a few pilgrimages for 2003 that may be of interest to you.

            Now how can you beat a name like Best Catholic Pilgrimages (eholy.com)? I know nothing about them but they claim to offer the best pilgrimages at affordable prices along with a priest or bishop as a spiritual leader.

            Why take the usual boring vacation this summer with your family. Feed your soul and body with a spiritual vacation instead!

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org