Christmas was good to me

So I got something for Christmas, as a gift, that I’d been saving pennies to get. I got Nuance’s Dragon SpeakingNaturally. (missing space is intentional) Oh, and I also got Windows 7 on my main computer. It is going to become windows 8 within 6 months – more on that in another bit, but for now…

I’ve played with voice control and voice input on computers for a few years. I’m aware of the weaknesses and difficulties. However, most (not all) of those are either immaterial or relatively insignificant for my particular case.

See, sometime in the next five to ten years I expect to lose fine motor control of my hands and arms. Not a big deal, and if I get lucky it’ll be much longer than that. But I’ve got this sorta arthritis that’s in my spine, that simultaneously degenerates the vertebrae while building bone spurs in the spinal channel. I had surgery a few years ago (blessed relief) and do what I can in the way of exercise and diet to delay the problem, but it will happen. Some of my fat-fingering of keys happens when the pinky and ring-finger of either or both hands are feeling a bit numb. (Not really. More tingly, and I can feel pressure. Basically they move and feel like they’re “asleep” and on the verge of waking up.)

So I’ve had my eye on ways to do what I do with the computer for a while now.

The bad and the good news about DNS is that pretty much everything you’ve heard about it is true. It’s still not perfect. It sometimes doesn’t hear you. It takes hours (and hours and hours) to train to better than 98% accuracy (and let me tell you, 98% turns out to be frustratingly low when it’s a matter of typing). There are foibles. ON THE OTHER HAND, you can pretty much run Microsoft (the OS, IE, and Office) without touching keyboard or mouse. Even better (in my opinion) is that it’s expanded to allow a lot of operation with other programs that run on Windows. Not everything, but a lot. Add the macro capability of some of the more expensive versions and, well, it’s good for me.

And I could stop there, but why should I? (grin)

See, as I said a bit earlier I’ve played with voice stuff before – back before DNS belonged to Nuance, before it belonged to ScanSoft, before L&H, back when it was Dragon Dictate (which is and is not the Dragon Dictate which Nuance offers for the Mac). And I played with the competitors. And even then I saw the potential but neither needed it then nor was I willing to have something that wasn’t at its potential. Now?

Simply stated, it’s most of the talking computer of science fiction of the 1960s and 70s. It’s not self-aware (yet another subject I may get to someday). But a LOT of the things that used to be dreams are available – just a little different in design. I can start the computer, ask it to check the news and the weather, have it call a friend (skype), start some music in the background. I can load up a book to read or one of the ones I’m editing – or trying to write – and work on it while I lean back and pet the cat or bounce the ball for the dog. Let me re-emphasize that. I DO NOT NEED the keyboard or the mouse, so my hands can be busy doing other things.

Future steps, and edging into the Windows 8 stuff, are integrated systems. See, I can run DNS while wearing a good bluetooth headset. (The really important things are high bandwidth and a directional, noise-cancelling microphone. the latter is the more important of the two.) And I can use a remote desktop connection on a surprisingly low-power tablet to ‘see’ what’s on the main system’s monitor. So that bit I said above? I can also wander to the kitchen or lay in bed. The only range restriction on this package is that of the microphone. Exercise (and support programs), cooking, cleaning, etc. I am chained to a screen (the tablet) but not to the chair.

Now I’d like to say I’m excited about the google glasses or other monitors-in-glasses. I’m not, however. That’s because I’m becoming an old man, and with age comes presbyopia. For the one or two youngsters out there, it means it doesn’t matter how sharp it is, if it’s less than 4 inches from my eyes I cannot focus well enough to see it — and that’ll likely increase as I get older. On the other hand give me a visor of flexible LCD and I may become overjoyed. (Yes, it’ll be obvious. OTOH I think I won’t care.)

Two more things that are on the edge of being out, and then I’ll pull it together to show you one of the ways I think we’re connecting to the future. The first is the open gesture. Think touchscreen in the air. I thought one of the game systems was going to get there first (the kinect or playstation’s vita), but it looks like the good bet right now is Leap Motion. Oh, sure, a lot of people talk about it for games, but frankly my arms would get tired if I had to keep them in the air all the time as a controller. On the other hand, used as a mouse while my voice replaces my keyboard? oh, yeah. Touch it, move it, and the MotionLeap recognizes all fingers on both hands? Go back to a lot of those SF movies and futuristic ads where the virtual information is brought up by voice and then pulled, twisted, and so forth by the grasping and twiddling of the fingers.

I said two things. The other – and here the first shall return – is windows 8. My opinion, I know, but I like W8. I think Microsoft decided to get a jump on the future and succeeded – instead of their very long history of finding others who’ve jumped to the future and buying them or stealing from them as the case may be. Look at what I listed above, and then realize that W8’s underlying expectation is reduced keyboard manipulation. touch, voice, that sort of thing.

So you put W8 on a pocket tablet that displays on a visor (or if you’re young enough, g-glasses) and a big box. You set up a vpn. You run DNS mini on your tablet for lightweight use and have virtual overlay of the world. For the heavy lifting you link into your Big Box – either as a supplemental process or using your tablet as a remote desktop connection – and process. … actually, I’d not be surprised to see the vpn link be the default with the tablet processing only when it’s out of network for some reason. Add a deferral program for anything the tablet can’t process right then that it takes care of when the link’s re-established. Walk and talk, and use an on-screen keypad with your fingers poking at it in virtual touchscreen mode when that’s what’s required.

It’s just missing a personal holographic projector to be The Future. Well, that and brain plugs. Which, well, brain-plugs are now reality (at least for output).

So I’ve got DNS for the future, for both my personal need and the general expectation. And from just the experience of the last week, the future’s so bright I’ve gotta wear shades. (Yeah, sorry about that.)

Go have fun.

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