Keeping Up With ViaVoice

Keeping Up With ViaVoice

I have now spent another month working with ViaVoice. One thing that stands out is that proper and consistent placement of the microphone attached to the headset is crucial to recognition. I find that, for me, placing the adjustable mic just below and about a finger-width away from my mouth works best. The program puts a small volume meter at the top left which indicates whether your speech is too loud (red), too soft (dark green), or appropriate (light green). It is wise to keep a check on the meter, especially if you see more errors than usual.

The headsets, with their matching color inserts, are lightweight and reasonably comfortable, which leads to certain observations. These headsets are not compatible with drinking coffee, eating cookies, or biting fingernails. It’s unwise to leap from the chair to answer the phone while plugged in. And, no matter how attractively color-coded, I will never look like the ageless blonde on the cover of MacWAREHOUSE.

Hello ViaVoice 1.0.2

IBM has already posted an upgrade to the original ViaVoice to fix several problems. It can be downloaded from their site at

Some of the fixes seem aimed primarily at new users, such as the ability to analyze text documents more quickly and to default to a single, rather than a double, space after a period (but only for those creating a new user model).

Other features should be useful to all of us such as: better use of memory; elimination of extra spaces between corrected words and their following punctuation (very annoying); and, especially, the willingness of VV to put the cursor back to the point where you stopped dictating once you’ve finished making your corrections. This is especially important in a program where what is written is well behind the speed of dictation. It is easy to find that you have just dictated a whole paragraph in the middle of a much earlier sentence.

But beware. Be sure that you have a recent backup of your System Folder (and of course, any other important data) not only before you install the program, but before you install the upgrade. Several users have posted tales of woe on the MacVoice users list. If you would like to join the list check with Eric Prentice at

Various upgrade problems have surfaced ranging from no longer being able to use ViaVoice (Oh, those long hours of retraining!) to finding the dreaded blinking question mark. I have not noticed any surprises myself, and many others have apparently upgraded successfully–but don’t put off that backup.

One of the most encouraging things I have seen concerning ViaVoice was posted on the MacVoice list by David Pogue. He is not only a great Macintosh supporter and a prolific writer, he has had to become an expert on speech recognition software due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

On 3/3/2000 he wrote “I must say that I’m REALLY cooking on this software, early as it is; I’m quite happily using it for professional writing when I’m on the road. (I still use Naturally Speaking for Windows when I’m at home, only because I can dictate directly into Microsoft Word with it.)”

This is encouraging not only because it indicates a real future for ViaVoice for those willing to stick with it through these growing pains, but that it is good to know that the Mac will have a couple of options for speech recognition. We’ve been waiting a long time. There are too many Mac users, including those with conditions such as muscular dystrophy and quadriplegia, who have been forced into Windows for lack of choice.

Good Bye Dragon

MacSpeech is still planning to release their dictation program in the spring or early summer and we have already seen the first version of ViaVoice. Thumbs up for MacSpeech and IBM who recognize the Macintosh market as worth pursuing. But Dragon Systems, after announcing a Mac version of their speech recognition software for later this year, have put their plans on hold.

According to an article in MacNN on 2/18/2000, Dragon has notified beta-testers that they are halting development, at least until Mac OS X is available for testing. For more information check out “Dragon Cancels Speech Product Until OS X Review” by Brad Gibson at

Dragon states that they are not able to incorporate the features they need for a comprehensive program under the current Mac Operating System. It was a disappointment for many of us as Dragon’s “Naturally Speaking” has been well received in the Windows world. Hopefully, if Dragon can work out compatibility with OS X and they see the Mac community embracing speech recognition, they will try again later.

A Little Down-Home Customization for VV

In last month’s column I complained of the lack of customization that could be done with the various commands to make them easier to use and more responsive. I have been experimenting with macros, however, and have found that unlike many of the commands (such as those for editing, formatting, and moving the cursor through the text), punctuation can be altered. In other words, as far as I can tell, we can’t change formatting requests such as ‘Uppercase on’ and ‘Italicize this’ or cursor movements such as ‘Previous word’ and ‘Move to end of document,’ but we do have control over the dictation items.

The secret here is to come up with something that is simple to say, easy to remember and that ViaVoice won’t confuse with general dictation. One of my constant irritations was VV’s tendency to add the word ‘to’ each time I said “Open or Close Quote.” Swallowing the final ‘t’ was tricky–and not always successful. Now for the opening and closing quotes, I say “Quote-On” (rhymes with “Photon”) and “Quote-Off” (as in “Quo’-toff”). Not foolproof, but an improvement.

What did I do to change the command? Being nervous about having to possibly spend hours retraining the whole program if I made a mistake, I practiced on a piece of punctuation I rarely use. In this case, the ‘Open Brace.’

I typed a ‘{‘ in the VV SpeakPad, highlighted it with the mouse and opened Create Macro under the Dictation Menu. I then typed in a nonsense word (Dobbi-du) to force VV to bring up the “Train Word” dialog box. I had to try several times to make the ‘{‘ show properly in the top (Written-like) space as it would default to the nonsense word. I also needed to type a second, more phonetic, spelling (Dobby Do) in the bottom (or Sounds-like) space before I could record the new pronunciation. After checking the recording to be sure it sounded the way I intended to use it in dictation, I tried ‘dobbi-du’ a few times in SpeakPad. Amazing. It worked.

The new form appeared in the Manage My Vocabulary and in the Edit Macros lists,but without affecting the original pronunciation. It seemed safe to go ahead with some punctuation commands I really needed.

While I don’t mind saying ‘comma’ or ‘period,’ I do seem to use a lot of question marks and exclamation points. That additional five syllables could lead to carpal tunnel of the tongue. But what could I say that VV would understand and that I could remember? After several tries I settled on “Da-Point” for exclamations and “Da-Ques” for question marks.

It is important to use a word that VV doesn’t recognize in order for the program to bring up a training box to orally confirm–and retrain–the new version of the punctuation. True, I feel sort of like a Chicago gangster as I make ‘Da-Point’ and ask ‘Da-Ques,’ but it beats the ViaVoice tongue twister.

Speaking of tongue twisters, just try saying “Open Parenthesis” and “Close Parenthesis” a couple times a paragraph. Too often ViaVoice mistook my command and simply wrote out the phrase. Errors such as these are particularly annoying as the written text lags several sentences behind the dictation. This means that corrections are not possible at the time that the errors occur. Therefore, instead of a simple “Scratch that,” it requires using the cumbersome ‘Correction Window’ or a hands-on approach with the mouse and keyboard. My new “P-on” and “P-off” may seem a little embarrassing (I had to spell it ‘pee-on’ and ‘pee-off’) to satisfy VV, but it saves a lot of time and aggravation in the end.

I also found using the apostrophe to be a problem. Even though ViaVoice quite often guesses correctly, possessives (such as boy’s vs. boys) were likely to be confused and tricky to catch in the proofing. Saying “Boy apostrophe S” was not much of an improvement. I decided on the nonsense word “pez” as a possible solution. It works more often than not when I can remember to say it in time, but “boy-pez” is not natural. I’ll have to think about this one.

I wish I could say that I’ve come up with similar strategies for capitalization, underlining, italicizing, etc., but they are in a different category. Instead of being written as text, these commands operate on the text itself. If someone has found a clever work-around, please let me know.

So, did I write this column hands-free, using nothing but ViaVoice and my new commands? Well, no. I had work to do and a column to finish. Maybe next month.

Susan Howerter

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