ADHD, the Silver Dragon Theory of Headset Ratings, and Comply Ear Tips #amwriting

As an ADHD writer, I consider a decent level of noise isolation (or noise cancellation) plus a source of instrumental music or soothing noise (AKA “distraction filter”) essential to being able to get any writing done. I had been using my HyperX Cloud II gaming headset for this purpose. But… I lost it.

This is a mild disaster.

Don’t ask me how I lost it. The thing was huge. You’d think that I would be able to keep track of it much more easily than a pair of earbuds. But there it was—or rather, there it wasn’t. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had it out of my backpack and no one turned it in as lost-and-found in any of my usual haunts.

My old reliable Audio-Technica noise-cancelling headset (https://www.audio-technica.com)

So I’ve reverted to my old standby, the Audio-Technica QuietPoint in-ear headset (ATH-ANC33iS.) While it doesn’t have as good a mic as the HyperX, I’ve given up on dictation, anyway. Its ratings on Amazon are mediocre, but this is true for in-ear headsets in general, and I have my theory as to why.
Comply ear tips rescue almost any in-ear headset. https://www.complyfoam.com

The Silver Dragon Theory of Headset Reviews:

Almost all ear tips (the parts that actually go inside your ear) suck.

Maybe not the ones from Bose. Those appear to get almost universal praise in Amazon reviews. But all the other manufacturers (including Apple) have reviews that hinge heavily on whether the ear tips provided actually happen to fit the reviewer’s ears. If the fit is poor or the tip doesn’t seal with the ear canal, there may be tinny sound, discomfort, poor noise isolation, and the earpiece may just fall out. Thus, since on-ear or over-ear headsets have fewer fit problems, in-ear headsets have consistently poorer reviews than the same manufacturer’s outside-ear models.

For years now, I’ve just thrown away those silicone ear tips that come with most in-ear headsets, and replaced them with Comply Ear Tips. First, because they’re made from memory foam, I can get a good fit (you compress them before inserting, like foam earplugs.) Second, they do a decent job of noise isolation. Not as good as my HyperX Cloud did, but much better than those little silicone earbud donuts. Finally, I can replace them when they wear out. Even the cheapest gas station ear buds will work OK to filter distractions if I have a pair of Complies on me that will fit the buds.

That said, the old Audio-Technica headset has seen better days. The belt clip on its control and battery box has broken, and fewer devices come with wired headset connectors. So I’m thinking about its possible replacement with a noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset.

Hmm… I should find out whether anyone makes in-ear Bluetooth gaming headsets…

UPDATE: I just added the Razer Hammerhead BT to my Christmas list. Stay tuned…

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.