RIP, Dragon Dictation for Mac #amwriting

If you’re a Mac Nuance customer you may have gotten an email last month entitled Product Discontinuation Notice. This email gave you the sad news that Dragon Professional Individual for Mac (the only Mac product Nuance had) was discontinued as of 22 October 2018 (two days before the email was sent.)

Dragon Professional Individual for Mac is no more

Now, I had my problems with Dragon Pro (The Demise of Dictation) but people commented on my “I give up!” post saying that I just hadn’t used it correctly. That’s as may be, but Dragon Pro for Mac had other problems besides my dictating ineptitude. For some time, it’s been having problems with applications using Apple’s 64-bit text toolkit (Dragon on Scrivener 3 has gone haywire.) Nor has it ever been the stellar performer that Dragon Pro on Windows has been—in fact, one noted writer on the subject, Scott Baker, frankly suggests in A Writer’s Guide to Training your Dragon that Mac users get a cheap Windows machine or use Boot Camp on their Macs in order to use the Windows version of Dragon. Nor did his recommendation change when Dragon Pro for Mac version 6 was released, although he conceded that the software was reported to be more usable.

Why would Nuance discontinue Dragon Mac? They aren’t talking, but the problems with 64-bit text apps are definite. Further, MacOS won’t support 32-bit apps past the current major release (Mojave.) My own speculation is that Nuance, looking at a product that has never been up to its (Windows) standards and is (probably) not especially profitable for all its absurdly high price, was not willing to dump “good money after bad” in order to update it for the 64-bit text kit plus addressing any other problems it may have.

Now, I don’t feel any sorrow that Dragon Mac is gone—it means I will never again have the option of picking it up, deciding that it’s not working for me, or of spending hours with the notoriously bad Nuance tech support who tell me that it’s not working for me (duh.) Aside from the depressing feeling of getting dumped, I’m okay, but for many Mac users dictation is not optional. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, there is no other commercial third-party dictation software for Mac. So Mac-using writers who need dictation have fewer choices at this point:

  1. Use Mac, iOS, or Android native dictation. (Free with your device.)
  2. Use Dragon Anywhere (on iOS or Android). ($150 USD/year)
  3. Get Windows (see above). After investing in Windows hardware and software (cost varies), buy Dragon Professional. ($300 USD)

Not an outstanding list of choices. Good luck, Mac writers using dictation.

Advertisements

The Demise of Dictation #amwriting

The first flush of dictation enthusiasm! How little I knew….

Yeah, dictation didn’t work for me.

I still have the gaming headset and I’m glad I got it. But I wish I had the money back for Dragon Professional for Mac.

This venture into dictation… it sucked another six weeks of production time, and I have almost nothing to show for it.

Let’s start with the obvious: the Fool Proof Dictation method included 55+ minutes of warm-ups every single dictation session. Hello! ADHD here. I never made it all the way through. Not one. Single. Time. Without. Distraction. I don’t know why I thought I could.

It was mind-numbingly boring to read aloud ten minutes from a “best-seller in my genre” with punctuation in. Then dictate five minutes of “session goals.” Then do forty minutes of fiction dictation exercises (with punctuation in) not including five minute breaks in between.

The last was my downfall. A five minute break from one of the more boring things I’ve ever done? It was never five minutes, even if I remembered to start a timer. No, I didn’t start other apps, but so what? A half-hour of daydreaming later (or maybe an hour or more), I’d come back to this planet and realise that I’d lost momentum and I was no longer “warmed up.”

Sometimes I’d cheat and go ahead and dictate my scenes anyway. But there was a problem. I’m writing a historical-fantasy-mystery set in 19th century London. I want British spelling. My native accent is South Texan (perhaps it’s even a separate language.) Dragon Professional for Mac does not allow for the possibility that someone who speaks with a Texas accent might want to produce output with British spelling. It’s even worse with a speaker who inadvertently slips into bad British accents while dictating dialogue.

When it came time to transcribe the recordings I’d made (at last!) not even the simple exercises were transcribed correctly, not even to the level of typos I’d have made in typing it. I’d go back through the recordings, and yes my speech was clear. No background noise at all. But when I tried to train Dragon in transcription mode, it still made the same horrible transcription errors time after time.

I also had a problem with the lack of visual feedback using this method. I read very fast, so that reading is almost the only way for me to take in information without getting distracted. I really missed seeing my words appear on the screen. So, for about a week, I tried to dictate directly to screen.

In my favour, I’d largely gotten over the hesitation problem while dictating (the interminable reading from Conan Doyle did some good!) and Dragon is much more forgiving about pauses than the Mac’s built-in dictation. But the transcription errors persisted. I finally tossed in the towel last week.

Yes, it’s back to typing for me, or when the words are coming hard, back to a stylus and a handwriting keyboard. If I ever get carpal tunnel syndrome, I guess my writing career is over. Or I’ll use Mac dictation, because it’s too frustrating to use the best and get minimal traction.

The Gaming—Writing—Dictation Connection: The Making of a True Dictation Believer #dictation #amwriting

The awesome HyperX Cloud II gaming headset in a fierce dictation session. Zap those adverbs!

It’s all my fault that I’ve been silent on this blog so long. The most damaging incident was two months of being missing in action with CPDTFG (Can’t Put Down The F___ing Game) syndrome.

(I won’t name or link to the game—you’ll have to find your own addiction.)

I’m over it. I had to deal with withdrawal symptoms for a while. And I learned some stuff about human nature which will make its way into my writing (Thank you, D4rk W4rriors Guild: Capidava, Cajocu, Funnie808, MoonCat546, Boberg, et. al.) But it has led to a new set of writing productivity tools—which, thanks to CPDTFG, I desperately need.

I’ve looked over dictation software in the past; in particular I even bought a book about dictation for writers (The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon (Scott Baker)), and gave the Mac/iOS versions of dictation a try (why not? After all, they’re licensed from the same people who make Dragon Professional Individual for Mac 6.0, Nuance. Right? Even though Mr Baker recommended against it…)

Each time I came to the conclusion that

  1. I pause in the middle of composing to think up what comes next. The Mac/iOS dictation software figures that I’ve stopped talking and it’s time to transcribe. Aaauuuggghh!

  2. The more I try to correct the software’s understanding of my speech, the worse its transcription gets. I got more stressed, my childhood accent came back, and Mac dictation became yet more confused. (You do not want to know what happens with Mac dictation when it tries to transcribe rural Oklahoma pronunciation, especially when it started transcribing a voice speaking decent Californian. It’s not pretty.)

But thanks to CPDFTG syndrome, I became desperate, so when I got an email from Scott Baker recommending Fool Proof Dictation (Christopher Downing), I downloaded it. This book is saving my writing life.

Mr Downing starts from the concept that talking to a computer and expecting it to take dictation is an unnatural act—and that just as we need practice to handwrite and we need practice to type well, we also need practice in order to become good at dictation. He details a training regimen—for the writer—to use computer dictation and use it well, emphasising the mental rather than the technical side of dictation.

I’ll list just two of his precepts which have made a big difference for me:

  1. Don’t live-dictate; instead, record and transcribe after. This simple step has turned me from a throw-the-machine-out-the-window hater of dictation into a dictation believer. Seriously. Not watching my words appear on the screen in real time calms me down and lets me avoid the “it didn’t understand me” frustration. Also, transcription doesn’t care if I stop for 30 seconds to think about what I want to say. Right away, my primary frustrations with computerised dictation vanished.

  2. Speak slowly—aim for a 5,000 words per hour (83 wpm) pace. Implementing this has improved both my pre-recorded dictation and my use of voice commands on my phone and tablet. Before, I’d get wound up and start speaking faster when Siri didn’t understand me—now I slow down and use simpler words and sentences. Much better.

He also details extensive exercises designed to improve both the writer’s “machine-understandability” and her ability to compose while speaking, both of which are critical to productive dictation.

One last connection with the gaming world—my technical dictation setup. I broke down and bought Dragon Professional for Mac, for its transcription capability. I can record on Mac, iPhone, or iPad using a cheap voice recording app, and transfer the file to Mac if needed for transcription. But the microphone…

Both Mr Baker and Mr Downing agree that having a good mic is critical. The mic on my active noise cancelling earbuds was woefully inadequate. It seemed like it picked up everything except my voice! The mic on the headset that Mr Downing recommended was inexpensive and worked well, but the headset had no incoming noise mitigation. There went my ability to focus while working in a coffee shop!

But my gaming, er… episode caused me to consider—PC gamers need both superb microphones to communicate in noisy environments, and headsets with excellent noise mitigation so they can hear the tiny rustle in the “bushes” to their left that heralds an ambushing enemy. They also need comfort for hours-long gaming sessions, and they need all this at a reasonable price.

I need both a superb microphone to dictate in noisy coffee shops, and a headset with excellent noise mitigation so I’m not pulled out of the “flow.” I also need comfort for hours-long dictating sessions, and I need all this at a reasonable price.

Therefore, I went to a local Best Buy and asked a nice man a third my age about gaming headsets. I am now the proud owner of a HyperX Cloud II which lets me dictate clean copy in a crowded Starbucks at 4 pm.

Dude.