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Tired of Typing Book Descriptions
How Fast Can You Talk?

by Craig Stark

#40, 4 April 2005

As promised in last week's newsletter, I'm going to share something with you that has transformed my bookselling life. Maybe this can help yours as well. First, a question. How fast can you talk? The average person, apparently, delivers about 160 words per minute. As much as we booksellers pound keyboards, wouldn't it be cat's pj's if we could type that fast? At the peak of my typing prowess (about 10 or 12 years ago), I could usually stay in the 80 to 90 wpm range with pretty good accuracy. Typing fast isn't like riding a bike, however, and unless you stay at it almost daily and stay at it a lot, you might lose a step or two. If tested today, I'm guessing that I'd be doing well to type 50 to 60 wpm - only slightly above average.

This isn't to say that I still don't type a lot. I do. It's just that it's not continuous. There are lots of starts and stops, and because of this there's really no opportunity to improve my performance. So, writing book descriptions (and emails) takes time. Big time in my case because I focus my bookselling efforts on eBay, often using upgraded, textually-deep presentations. If you're like me, you always have more books than you can possibly find time to list, so whatever you can do to make the process quicker will necessarily increase the number of books you can offer for sale at any given time - and thus your income. Given also that this aspect of bookselling - writing descriptions - isn't something that brings me much happiness, I'm forever looking for tools that will speed up the process.

One such tool, of course, is OCR (optical character recognition) software. Scanning a table of contents, a list of illustrations, a dust jacket blurb or anything else that will help sell a book, then copying it and pasting it into a description is a pretty painless process and hugely faster than typing. For years, I've used ScanSoft's OmniPage Pro. Early versions had some issues, especially with color documents and multi-column formats, but they have come so far with this. The current version (14) is so accurate that it's usually mistake free. If you're not already using this, I recommend it highly.

Another tool that has always intrigued me is voice recognition software. Until recently, I didn't give much thought to trying it because I'd heard that it was, one, expensive, two, not terribly accurate and three, slow. Several weeks ago, however, something from ScanSoft came in the mail - a special offer to purchase Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8 for only $49.99. The claim was that it was up to 99% accurate! Ordinarily, I would've been skeptical about this, but given ScanSoft's impressive accomplishments in OCR, I thought, why not. I've got nothing to lose. If it stinks, I can get my money back. If it works, my life changes.

Well, my life changed.

My package arrived two days after ordering it online. A half hour to install the software and microphone and complete a short training session (which involved reading a few paragraphs aloud), and there I was, up and running. And running. I was so captivated with how well DNS worked that I spent an entire morning opening up different programs (Word, Notepad, Outlook, HomeBase, etc.) and talking and talking, experimenting with different voice commands, training the software when it didn't correctly recognize what I'd said, and so on. It worked everywhere, in everything, wherever there was a text box.

That afternoon, for the heck of it, I grabbed a stack of books I'd already designated for fixed-price venues and opened HomeBase. Book #, Author, Title, Publisher, ISBN ... as fast as I could talk, the boxes filled with information, and I was done with every last book in a matter of minutes. Better yet, I didn't feel any of the usual mental fatigue I was accustomed to feeling after one of these sessions. Then it was on to eBay's Seller's Assistant. Boom, boom, boom - an entire listing easily took half the time it used to take me, if that. Then another. And another. Then to emails. Same results. By the end of the day, I realized that, even though I'd burned an entire morning learning the software, I'd accomplished the equivalent of a day's work in an afternoon. I was amazed.

And there's more. In addition to accepting dictation in text boxes, most of what you do in front of a computer, whether it's typing on the keyboard or clicking a mouse, can be accomplished by Dragon NaturallySpeaking's voice commands. You can launch programs, open menus, choose menu options, switch between windows (also resize them and close them), press buttons or individual keys on your keyboard, scroll up and down on any page, move and click your mouse arrow, copy and paste text, format, navigate the Internet, enter data into spreadsheets, and even amaze your friends with how fast you "type" instant messages.

What about accuracy? Every time you use this program, it learns more about your idiosyncrasies, and the better it gets at correctly interpreting what you say. Right out of the box (after a training session which included reading aloud for a few minutes), it was close to perfect for me if I used common words and took care to speak clearly. After downloading all of my BookThinker articles, a glossary of book terminology, a list of publishers, and a few other book related things into it - by the way, this was accomplished in minutes - it was near perfect at interpreting my book description dictation. Unusual names or words will be a problem at first, but you have the option of spelling these words out the first time through, which in turn adds them to the DNS vocabulary. Corrections, when necessary, are readily made. You simply select the word with a voice command; a list of alternate spellings comes up; and you choose the correct one - or spell it if it's not there.

Speed? As advertised. You can speak at your normal pace (in the range of 160 wpm), and it will tag along nicely. Some voice commands can be sluggish, however. For example, when moving between fields in HomeBase, I discovered that it was quicker to use the mouse to insert the cursor into the next text box than it was to speak "press tab."

Since I work in a quiet, pastoral-like cottage, background noise isn't an issue, but if the phone rings, I drop a book, or cough, DNS will take a stab at making sense of it - and some of its efforts are pretty amusing! If you work in a noisy area, this may be something of a problem, though the headset microphone that's included with the software has noise-cancelling capabilities. In any case, if you need to pause to throw a shoe at the cat (who's eating your plants again), the microphone can be put to sleep or awakened in an instant with a voice command.

DNS is something of a memory hog. Not every computer can handle it. Here are the system requirements:

Intel® Pentium® III 500MHz or greater (or equivalent AMDTM processor) NOTE: Dragon NaturallySpeaking will not install on machine with a processor of less than 500MHz.

512MB RAM (256 MB free minimum).

300-500MB of free hard disk space for a Custom Installation where you install only the program files and one set of speech files. Installations can range from 800 MB (Standard Edition) to 2.5 GB (US English Medical).

Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 or higher, Windows XP Pro, Windows XP Home. Windows ME is supported only for Standard and Preferred editions.

16-bit Creative® Labs Sound Blaster®, or compatible sound card capable of and set to 16bit, 11KHz for Audio Recording.

Microsoft® Internet Explorer® 5 or higher (free download available at www

CD-ROM drive (8x or faster) required for installation.

There are several versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I'm using the standard version (cheapest), which retails for $99.99, and I can't imagine why this won't continue to meet all of my needs. I don't know if the $49.99 special offer is available to anybody who isn't an OmniPage Pro registered user, but it might be worth snooping around for. Oddly enough, it's currently selling on eBay for more than $99.99. Even at a hundred bucks, I guarantee it'll pay for itself quickly. For more information, click here.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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