Going wireless… my new toys

Before returning to the stories about my illnesses have a new high-tech gadget I want to tell everyone about. As all of you who know me know, I use dictation software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate into my computer and to operate 99% of its functions. When I’m at my desktop I have a little microphone taped onto a swingarm from an old lamp. A real boom microphone costs about $75 so my jury rigged boom arm has done the trick for years. When sitting at my laptop I have a little microphone on a stand but I need to be in a much quieter environment for it because the microphone is not right in front of my mouth.

One of the problems I have with the boom microphone is that I must park my wheelchair in precisely the right location otherwise the quality of speech recognition is really poor. I finally found a reasonably priced wireless microphone that I can wear on my head and keep it in exactly the same position all the time. Then I’m free to roam around and park my wheelchair anywhere I need to.

It’s called a Plantronics CS 50 USB Wireless Headset and at $285 it’s significantly cheaper than anything else on the market that works as well.

Before trying out a new gadget like that I wanted to make sure I had the latest version of the programs necessary to run it. In addition to Dragon NaturallySpeaking I also use a third-party add-on program known as Knowbrainer which adds special features to Dragon. Dragon comes in three varieties: Standard, Preferred, and Professional. I use a Preferred version which allows you to create your own custom text commands. For example I can say the words “standard mail” and it will automatically type out my e-mail address from rr.com or I can say the words “cyborg mail” it will automatically type out my e-mail address from cyborg5.com. Similarly the words “standard password” types in the password that I normally use for nonfinancial website login. (My financial sites such as banking and credit card use a different one).

Unfortunately Dragon Preferred it doesn’t let you create custom commands that involved moving or clicking a mouse even though you can use it to move and click the mouse anytime you want. You just cannot create a sequence of custom mouse movements that are accessed from a single command. The Professional version lets you do that but it’s $500 more. Knowbrainer cost much less and it adds custom mouse commands as well as other kinds of complex scripted commands for under $200.

I’ve been using Knowbrainer with Dragon Preferred for a couple of years now. The Knowbrainer software allows me to create a custom command such as “raise amount” while playing poker and it moves the mouse to the “raise” button and clicks it in the PokerStars program I use to play poker online.

Several months ago to Dragon people came out with an upgrade to version 9 and I immediately purchased it only to find out that they didn’t like Knowbrainer selling add-on software to people like me. They wanted me to buy Professional version in order to get custom mouse commands and script commands. So they disabled the features that allow third-party software people to do such things. It took them several months but a few days ago Knowbrainer people figured out how to get around the problem and now Knowbrainer 2006 will work with the lesser version of Dragon. So I bought the upgraded Knowbrainer and the new wireless microphone from the Knowbrainer people.

Everything is working perfectly.

There was one other nasty problem I had with my speech software thanks to the Mr. Gates and idiots at Microsoft… the new Internet Explorer 7 totally messes up speech recognition software like Dragon. And if that isn’t enough… when you uninstall it and reinstall Explorer 6, the problems don’t completely go away. Whenever you type something or move the cursor it tends to drop the first letter or keystroke. So for example if you tell it to move the cursor right six spaces and only moves at five spaces. Other commands such as “press enter” and rarely work the first time. You have to keep saying the words “press enter” over and over again until finally one of them catches. It’s been driving me crazy for months. Hundreds of people in the speech recognition program users forums and have been working day and night trying to figure out how to get around the problem. Just a couple of days ago they finally figured it out. It’s some little program called “ctfmon.exe” as part of Microsoft Office that loads when your computer comes on and is supposed to handle “alternate input devices” such as handwriting pad recognition software and other forms of alternate input. Once you disable this program fortunately Dragon gets rid of all the problems that were somehow introduced by IE7. The word is that the new version of the Windows operating system “Windows Vista” is going to have speech recognition software built into it. I can’t wait to see how many problems that causes!

So not only have I got the latest version of Dragon and Knowbrainer and a new microphone, I no longer have to struggle with the bugs introduced by Internet Explorer 7.

The range on the new microphone is 200 feet which is way bigger than my house. That got me to thinking (which as you know is a dangerous thing). Most evenings I run back and forth between the living room and my office several times in evening to check on e-mail or check a download or to look something up on the Internet Movie Database. However if I run a cable from the back of my computer through the office wall and into one of the ports on my HDTV, I could use my remote in the living room to switch to the computer during a commercial and use the voice program from the living room using my wireless mic. It also means that if I’ve downloaded a movie on my computer I can watch it in the living room when I need them to copy it to tape or DVD.

So I went to my favorite cable site CablesToGo.com and ordered up everything I need. It should be here in a few days. I can’t wait to try it all out.

That’s all for now… in the next installment I will continue telling about all of my medical problems.

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