Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dragon's Demise, Desk's Design

The copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking that I ordered back in January is no longer with us. As I guessed, it turned out to be too strange to be talking to my computer in the house I share with my partner. I gave it to a friend of mine who has an attic office where he's unlikely to disturb his wife by talking to a machine.

In the brief experimentation I did with Dragon, it was difficult to adjust the microphone close enough that it could hear me talking at a normal volume. And even when I did so, the recognition rate was very low—less than 10%. Since I invested no effort in further effort in figuring out How to Train My Dragon, I don't know how much or how quickly that might improve.

Other people I've since talked to who have experimented with speech recognition software had mixed reviews, but the consensus seemed to be that the technology is still rough around the edges. Given my experience with the microphone, I doubt I'll pursue speech recognition anymore until it advances a lot farther—ideally to the point where you don't actually have to wear the microphone.

Another experiment I'm conducting in smoothing the human-computer interface looks more promising. My partner and I have been building me a sit-stand desk, so that I don't have to spend all day in the same position. I ordered a motorized desk frame from GeekDesk, and we got a piece of butcher block countertop from Ikea to use as the desktop. We also got a Workrite monitor arm for the new 28-inch Hanns G monitor I got from Costco (to keep me from constantly bending my neck down to look at the laptop screen) and a Workrite keyboard tray arm (so I can position the laptop keyboard at a comfortable angle). We cut the butcher block to size and made an additional cutout in it for the keyboard tray to keep the overall desktop size about 48 by 32 inches. Today we finished sanding and oiling the desktop and attached the frame and keyboard arm. Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, we'll attach the keyboard tray, and move the monitor arm (which I've temporarily attached to an old manually adjustable desk to try it out) to the new desk. And that should be it—I won't have to take computing sitting down any longer!