Voice controlled computing

It seems like Dragon Naturally Speaking has been around almost as long as, well, dragons. It’s still not perfect, but each edition gets closer.

We’re up to Dragon 8 now, and it comes in Standard (US$99), Preferred (US$199) and Professional (US$795). Notice that there’s a big price jump to

get to the Professional version. If you have a serious need for speech recognition, that’s the way to go.

The key to using Dragon, or any other speech-recognition software, is training the program to recognize your voice. The training and tutorial part of the program has you read certain texts, like Lewis Carroll’s “”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,”” in order to become accustomed to your accent and speech style. A half-hour is sufficient to achieve about 95 per cent accuracy, and the accuracy improves with greater use.

In sci-fi shows and movies, the characters just talk normally to the ship’s computer, and of course the computer understands what they’re saying. This is the way it will go someday, and that day probably isn’t too far off. If Dragon makes a mistake in understanding what you just said, you can issue a spoken command to highlight that word and the program will then display a list of likely alternatives.

If the right one is on there, just select it and the program will then know that’s how you say “”Hawvawd Yawd”” instead of “”Harvard Yard.”” If the right choice isn’t on the list, you can make the program understand the new word by spelling it out loud. (This might fool little kids, but it doesn’t fool the Dragon.)

The program recognizes punctuation and a number of standard formats, such as prices in different currencies, Web address, e-mail, etc. Other spoken commands let you insert canned text (boilerplate) and pictures.

The thing that probably drives most people nuts in using speech-recognition software is the speed. You can’t just prattle on as if you’re talking to your buddy. You have to speak deliberately and clearly. The more you do that, the faster the program works, but at first you have to take it easy. Dragon Naturally Speaking is for Windows, and you can find more information at www.scansoft.com.

A picture is worth how much

Kodak’s new EasyShare picture viewer is a little bit of fun for your pocket and very handy too. It’s about the size of a credit card and weighs 2 1/2 ounces. The sharp viewing screen is as large or larger than that found on digital cameras.

But this is not a digital camera; it is a device for viewing digital pictures. The EasyShare viewer has enough memory to hold 150 digital pictures on its own or nearly 400 4-megapixel pictures if you insert a 512MB-SD flash memory card. You can quickly show a business contact all your product shots or inflict your vacation photos on the airplane passenger next to you.

You don’t have to have an SD photo card to use EasyShare; you can download photos from your computer, using a cable that comes with EasyShare. The EasyShare is $150 from Kodak, or US$106 from ebuyer.com.

It also comes with a nice leather case and software for organizing and downloading photos from your computer. You can then set the device to show a continuous slide show of your pictures or click for each, one at a time.

Choose “”magnify”” to zoom in on a picture, or, if the device is connected to your computer, push the “”share”” button to print or e-mail. There will probably soon be competitors for this kind of viewer, but right now this one is classy and rules the roost.

Spy Catcher

There is a new version of Spybot, Search and Destroy available at www.safernetworking.org. This program is free and one of the best spy catchers you can get. We have used it for several years, and it is absolutely great. We ran the new version on Joy’s computer, and it found and destroyed 68 spies and cookies. Right on, dot org.


“”Free Software for Dummies”” by Mary Leete; from Wiley (www.dummies.com).

This is the latest entry in Wiley’s never ending “”Dummies”” series. The word “”free”” always gets our attention, and we’ve written about many free programs in previous columns. The excellent Web browsers Mozilla and Firefox are free, OpenOffice.org (it’s like Microsoft Office) is free, as are programs for removing spyware, making free phone calls and the photo editor Picasa. In fact, there are more than a hundred excellent free programs, plus hundreds more we’ve never tried.

The book’s title is somewhat misleading, since almost all of it is about how to use a few free programs and almost nothing on where to find them. We’re going to correct that: If you go to www.download.com or www.tucows.com, you can type in a search term and come up with a huge number of programs that more or less fit that search. Some are free; most are not. You can also see user ratings. If you know the name of a particular program you want, simply enter it in the search box of a search engine site like Google, Yahoo or Clusty.com.

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