Tag Archives: App

Transcribing Recorded Interviews and Notes

I’ll have to credit the topic of this post to John Wooley. During a recent presentation, he stated that transcribing takes four times the length of the taped interview. Did I hear that correctly? Taped? What are we living in, the 19th century?

It does take time to transcribe anything recorded. However, we have options and most importantly, none of them involve using tape. Today all you need is a cell phone, iPad, Android tablet, or digital voice recorder.

I’ve touched don Evernote in an earlier post. This is an amazing piece of software. It works on any platform and stores data in the cloud. I’ve recorded several meeting with Evernote. However, I must admit to never transcribing anything recorded. A quick search of Evernote’s Trunk reveals a service called Quicktate.  For a fee, they will transcribe your recordings. A word of caution about transcription services. While they save you time on transcribing audio, you have no control of what they choose to leave out. It could be something small, yet more significant than the main answer.

If you’re not into Evernote and wish to use a digital voice recorder. These are available from any online retailer or your neighborhood brick and mortar office supply store. I received an Olympus years ago as a gift. It’s a handy device. With it configured for basic audio, I can record over 70 hours of audio. Once done I can pop it into my laptop’s USB port and transfer the files. You should be able to find a DVR that creates recordings in your favorite file format.

Once the file is transferred, you’re left with the same issue of start, stop, back up, and type some more, that leads to such a long transcription time. Thanks to the world of dictation, there are solutions you can purchase for your PC. Olympus makes a kit that allows you to use a foot switch to control the playback so you can continue to type. This can be a huge time saver. But with all things that save time and increase productivity, it comes at a cost.

There are many models of DVRs made by a multitude of manufactures. Go to Amazon or Newegg and search for digital voice recorder. No matter what your previous choice of recorder, wax cylinder, wire recorders, reel to reel tape, or cassettes. None compares to the flexibility of digital devices.

You may be thinking that you can use your cell phone too. This is true. Most smartphones have recording capabilities. But they are geared more for recording notes, not lengthy interviews. How many times a day do you have to connect your phone to a charger? An hour-long meeting puts the smack down on my Android phone’s battery and electrical outlets are not always handy. However, I’ve had excellent luck with the iPad2’s battery. But if you have that all import interview that could go hours, nothing beats a DVR and a fresh AAA battery.

Microphones are another consideration. My Olympus DVR can pick up more audio than any other device I have. This includes making recordings while it sits in my shirt pocket. The mics on laptops and mobile devices can be hit or miss on quality. Some handle ambient noise better. Others may be too directional to be functional in an interview setting.

Do you use recording devices for notes or interviews? Please share any tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years.

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Filed under Application, Writing

Take the Typing out of Writing

This is the first guest post for theWriteTechnology. We’re turning over the reins to JP Jones.

JP Jones wears many hats. She’s the author of “Market Yourself: A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media“. Owns Paige1Media and Paige1Publishing and is in a joint venture with Collipsis Web Solutions, LLC. If that’s not enough she also an adjunct instructor at Oral Roberts University. She has won over 100 awards for her designs and promotions. Additionally she was named one of the Top 101 Female Bloggers for 2010 by Women’s Entertainment Magazine for her bog, In Search of Design.

JP uses this software every day and provides a user’s perspective on its functionality. If typing is not your thing, the solution she discusses here may be for you.

Take it away JP!

* * *

There are tools that every writer needs in their arsenal. Pens and paper have long since been replaced by more digital means of writing through the use of personal computers and now laptops and tablets. Unfortunately, as technology use increases many writers have found themselves dealing with new problems—from carpal tunnel syndrome to eye strain issues as the spend more and more time clicking away on a keyboard.

If this describes your work habits, you’re in luck. While there are numerous dictation softwares available, perhaps the most notable of these is Dragon Dictate (for Mac) & Dragon Naturally Speaking (for PC) from Nuance Software.

How it Works:

Dragon Dictate assists you in creating a voice profile to ‘teach’ the software your specific inflections and accent beginning with a base voice profile. During the setup, you will be asked to read aloud several passages at a specific speed. This process allows the software to analyze your voice and will give you the most accurate results. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect medium, but the more that you train the software to pick up on your inflections, the more accurate it will be when it comes to translating your words into written text.

How it’s Available:

Like any good software in today’s technology age, Dragon dictations software is available for your PC, Mac, Smart phone, or iPad. Being an Apple girl myself, I have enjoyed using the software on four platforms: the full software suite on my MacBook Pro and iMac and the mobile app for iPhone and iPad.

My Experience:

I purchased the software after a year’s worth of 18-hour days in front of the computer took it’s toll on my wrists. I was desperate for a solution that would allow my wrists to heal and still allow me to get tasks accomplished—not to mention writing—on my computer.

In addition to being able to dictate written documents, the full-featured software actually has a complete catalog of commands that will allow you to control your computer hands-free should the need arise. While there is definitely a learning curve involved—and in some cases it’s slower and bit more frustrating than doing it the old-fashioned way—if you find yourself in a position where you need to save some of the pressure on your extremities the software is a great alternative.

Like many, while that was my initial reason for purchasing the dictation software, I later found it to be an invaluable tool for speeding up my writing, without developing the painful side effects associated with too much typing. If you’re like me, chances are that you can actually talk much faster than you can type and in many cases it’s easier to get your thoughts out in a cohesive unit without the distraction of a potential misspelled word or missing keystroke.

After getting hooked on the dictation software on my computer, I soon installed the mobile apps on both my iPhone and iPad. While the apps are not terrible, there is a definite difference in their accuracy. Since they are not specifically trained for your voice and your inflections, you’ll find that their sensitivity to your words are not nearly as good. Thus, rewarding you with many more errors and potentially confusing sentences. However in a bind, or during travel, it is still a great alternative to trying to type—especially on the smaller devices.

What to Watch For:

With any dictation software, the software is relying often on the context clues and sentences you are crafting. In that case, it’s important to speak in a natural pace and allow the dictation software to determine your stops and starts. It does take a bit of getting used to you, especially to develop the habit of actively speaking out punctuation. For instance, while dictating this particular sentence, I have to verbally say words like “comma” and “period” to add proper punctuation. This is a new twist since thankfully, in casual conversation, we don’t have to voice those punctuation marks!

It’s also imperative after completing any dictation with the software, to go back and thoroughly edit the text. Because it’s not perfect, it can easily get words that sound similar confused, and there’s always the occasionally awkward sentence structure that it throws in seemingly with a mind of its own. I use the dictation software personally for a lot of guest posts on a variety of blogs and magazines that I write for. My most embarrassing dictation mistake to date, actually made it through my editing as well as the bloggers editing and was posted live until someone caught it. In an article talking about my business and its success, a sentence that was supposed to read ” I’m very happy with my life.” Actually read instead, ” I’m very happy with my wife.” Awkward, to say the least considering I’m a female.

If you’re interested in checking out the software for yourself, don’t take my word for it. There are several trial versions available that will allow you to get a feel for it and see if it would be a good gift for your writing habits. Good luck and happy dictating!

http://www.nuance.com/for-individuals/by-product/dragon-for-mac/dragon-dictate/index.htm

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Dump That Brain

Have you ever had a great idea for a story that kept spawning plot points along with the perfect protagonist and the most wonderfully annoying antagonist? This burst of creativity keeps swimming around in your head continually building on itself. It’s consuming all your brain power just to keep it straight. You’re jotting notes down on every piece of scrap paper you can find. Smoke wafts from your keyboard as your fingers go numb from the hours long session. Off to the side, you family watches and wonders if you have some new form of OCD. When the brain dump is finally over, you’re left with a mix of handwritten notes, a long typo ridden narrative that you won’t understand a week from now.

There is an easier way. Mind mapping. No I’m not talking about hiring a cartographer to translate your latest CT scan. Mind mapping is a concept that has been around, in various forms, for some time. Anyone that’s been involved in project management has probably seen an Ishikawa diagram, or fishbone diagram. Don’t worry I’m not going to dig into the intricacies of cause and effect as it applies to risk analysis.

Mind mapping is an easy thing to do. Chances are you’ve done it with pen and paper. It involves creating a central idea and then associating other ideas and concepts. You can draw pictures, use color coded lines, and different fonts. There is no limit to what you can do.

Here’s a sample mind map created with FreeMind for Windows.

There really is no limit what you can do with mind mapping. Google mind map and you’ll get a variety of choices you can use. Software is available for almost any platform, including iOS and Android, allowing you to use your finger and tablet while waiting to see the doctor or while the kids are practicing their seasonal sport.

Good software will allow you to quickly move your ideas and branches around. Keep in mind there will be a learning curve, so take some time to learn your software. However, if you find you just can’t figure it out, try another program. On my iPad I use Mindjet to quickly capture project ideas for my day job. If you’re all Apple, all the time, this could be a good solution for you. But there will be some cost.

A low tech ways of mind mapping include white board. Using a Sharpie on whatever surface is at hand. Paper and pen. If you want flexibility and low tech, try note cards. Simply put one idea per card and then you can arrange the cards however you need to. Of course this will require a large table or bulletin board. Levenger‘s has a nice note card bleacher for this purpose.

Unless you’re an author who rigidly follows the original outline, stories evolve, plot points change, character traits change, and settings get altered. Mind mapping quickly allows you to see all this in a visual form and easily rearrange or change it. Next time you’re kicking an idea for a story around, or creating a main character, give it a try.

Do you currently use mind mapping or similar techniques? Please leave a comment and tell us about your methodology or favorite program.

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Filed under Application, Methodology, Writing

If I Only Had More Time

This post will be more about methodology than technology.

If you have ever attended a presentation by Robyn Conley aka The Book Doctor, you most likely received a button sometime during the presentation. It is supposed to serve as a reminder to keep your butt on the chair and write. This is important because so many things can interrupt good writing time. Facebook and Twitter aside, there are important things to be done. Like washing those gym clothes you haven’t used since that time…two or was it three months ago. Or watering those brown plants. Or dusting light bulbs. Or just random self indulging web surfing. You justify these things because you write a little here and there. When the end of writing time comes and you only cranked out four sentences during the last ninety minutes, you wonder where did all that time go?

Writing is hard and we often look forward to the next break to give our brains and keyboard worn fingers (or in my case ink stained) fingers a rest. You’re thinking there has to be a way, a complex productivity system, a bloated Windows application, a spiffy iPad app, a nifty Android driod-something, that will magically force brilliant writing.

Guess what? The answer is no.

But… (Just when we think we have the perfect excuse to be lazy, a big but gets in the way.)

There is a methodology call Pomodoro . It was created long long ago in a century almost forgotten, the 1980’s. For my generation, it was the time of high school and big hair. But I digress. An individual named Francesco Cirillo created it. The goal is to focus your concentration on a single task in 25 minute blocks.

It goes something like this. You schedule a block of minutes, 25 by default, and work on a single task during that time block. If you finish early, take a break and then start a new 25 minutes time block. If you run long, take a five minute break, and start a new 25 minute time block to finish out the task.

I don’t confess to be a Pomodoro guru but I have played around with the concept. Several apps exist for this methodology. You can Google Pomodoro on your PC or MAC and download a timer or use a web base solution. Or you can search in the Android Market or the App Store. Each will present you with a list of choices. I have an app on my Android phone and on my iPad. A good timer will allow you to configure the Pomodoro unit and break time. Or you can opt for the Luddite version and grab your favorite vintage oven timer. Choose a timer that is simple, accurate, and most importantly, one that you will use.

I’m not a purist so I do change my time intervals around. Sometimes I’ll go in 15 minute time blocks or stretch it out to 45 minutes. You can adjust it to match your task, mood, or the environment you are working in. But once that timer starts you mind needs to be on your task and only that one task. The alarm will tell you when it’s time to break.

To me this is one of the great mysteries of the universe. If you surrender to a timer you mind frees itself and the task at hand gets worked. If you try to keep it all in your head, then your like a sugar charged, caffeine infused seven year old with ADHD. You have enough energy to power a third world nation, but nothing gets done.

All I can say is it works for me when I need to get things done at my day job. Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-10 minute walk outside, and then start it all over again. Give it try, don’t be afraid to be creative. If you’re working on a draft, write for 25 minutes and then take a 20 minute walk. While you’re walking, work out the next scene in your head, or use the time to reconcile conflicting plot points. After the walk, spend the next 25 minutes writing it all down.

You can combine a New Years resolution into this methodology. Write for 25 minutes and then hop on the stationary bike for 10 minutes. Exercise, lose weight, and finish that novel all at the same time.

Same goes for editing. Line edit for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, put the pen down and spend the next 15 minutes reading over the next section. When the 15 minutes of reading is up, reset the timer to 25 minutes, pick up the red pen and start chopping words like you just received a deluxe set of Ginsu Knives.

My point is, we’re not all wired the same. Find what works for you and stick to it. As long as your spending writing time writing, then life can’t be anything but good.

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Every Writer Needs a Little Focus Once in a While

You’ve waited all day. You’ve thought of every way to kill off your protagonist’s love interest. Car wreck—too convenient. Serial killer—too cliché. Freak can-opener accident—no one will see that one coming. It’s all worked out in your mind, waiting to be downloaded to your manuscript.

Now the kids are in bed, the spouse is off reading somewhere; it’s just you, the keyboard, and a word processing window partially filling an icon dotted screen. Time to get to work.

But wait—there’s the Quicken icon and you still haven’t balanced last month’s statement.

Done. Time to write.

But wait—there’s the IE icon and you’ve only checked Facebook 18 times today and still haven’t seen anything about your Aunt’s cupcake baking retreat.

Done. Time to Write.

But wait—it’s now 1:30AM and you have a presentation at 8:30AM. Writing will have to wait.

A quick game of solitaire to clear your mind and then it’s off to bed.

Sound familiar? It shouldn’t.

How would you like to sit down to a screen full of this:

All black screen with white text.

Or if you need some inspiration:

Theme with custom image.

This is what FocusWriter can provide. It’s basic. It fills your screen. It blocks out distractions. Best of all, it’s free, the gnu license is a wonderful thing. (But if you like it, you may want to contribute to the tip jar).

It’s a basic word processor that has all the features you would expect, foreground, background, text colors; font formatting; text indenting and offsetting; smart quote formatting; dictionary; you get the idea. It can save files in Rich Text Format (.rtf) or OpenDocument Text (.odt). Both are common file types almost any word processor can use. Most publishers accepting electronic submissions will take rft too.

A couple of nice features. FocusWriter fills your entire screen with nothing but document space. The menu bar disappears unless you navigate your mouse to the top of your screen. This frees you to type, type, and type some more. The other cool feature is a built-in timer. This permits you to schedule your breaks.

There is a bit of assumed knowledge when it comes to installation. There are multiple Linux packages, chances are one will work on your flavor of the OS. There is a Universal MAC install or one just for Intel platforms. I do not have access to a MAC. Maybe a MAC User can leave a comment on how easy or difficult it was to install.

Windows XP, Vista and 7 are supported. The download file is a standard ZIP file. There is no install routine, you simple expand/uncompress/unzip your download file to a directory of your choice. Once unzipped, open Explorer, navigate to that directory and double-click on FocusWriter.exe.

Now your screen is filled with a word processor and you’re ready to write. If not, then you need to take the ruler out of the desk drawer with your right hand and slap it down hard on the backside of your left hand. Repeat until you are focused on your writing. After all you have a work in progress to complete. Now get to it.

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Basic File Backup and Sharing

Last entry I touched on Evernote. This entry I’ll discuss a file service called Dropbox.

Dropbox has been around for a few years. It’s not flashy and feature rich, just basic file storage and sharing. However, it does these services quite well. There is a free option with tiered pricing so you only pay for what you need to use. The basic free service offers 2GB of storage. The next tier is 50GB for $9.99/mo or $99/yr. You can see all of their pricing options here. I use this service on a limited basis for a number of years and have not exceeded the 2GB basic limit.

So what can this service do for writers? It provides a basic, no frills way to store files in the cloud and access them on various devices. Dropbox has clients for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, MAC, or Linux. Or, if you prefer, simply use any browser to access it from an Internet capable device.  Additionally there are third-party apps that utilize Dropbox for cloud storage. Unfortunately, as of this writing, that page of their website is being rebuilt. Two iPad apps I use, Mindjet (a mind mapping tool) and Notify, (a freehand note taking app) use Dropbox to sync files with. If I lose my iPad, I can still access my data.

Dropbox allows you to store files or create folders to organize your files. These folders can be shared, allowing others to collaborate on your current work in progress. These folders can be automatically synchronized to everyone’s computer, assuming they are using one of the Dropbox computer clients. A handy way to ensure everyone is working with the latest files. The service keeps an archive of your files for one month, permitting you to undo your last edit. Or if your computer happens to have a bad day and starts randomly deleting files, you have a back up.

Speaking of backups, you can use the Dropbox folder on your PC to store your current work and Dropbox will automatically sync it with cloud. A simply, no cost, way to back up your files. If your computer blows up, get a new one, install the Dropbox client, and download your files. If you wish to backup your entire computer, including your operating system, there are other services that are better suited to that task.

How do I use Dropbox? Mainly as a parking spot for files that I need to access on various platforms or transfer between devices. Utilizing the benefits provided by my day job creates paperwork I have to submit to HR. I scan these documents and store on Dropbox. I then pull them down and store them digitally on my home network. The service also comes in handy to retrieve documentation for the projects I have to support. I can store project information in the form of a PDF or Microsoft Word document and then access it using my laptop, Blackberry, iPad, or personal Android phone. This can come in handy for traveling. Dragging hundreds of pages of documentation along for a plane ride, can be a pain. Not only in low back from all the extra weight you’re carrying around, but with today’s baggage fees, it can hurt the wallet too.

Do you use Dropbox or another service like it? How do you use the service to increase your productivity?

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The (re)Launch

Let’s try this again. A couple of health issues impacted my timeline on launching this blog, but they are no longer an issue. It’s time to move forward.

First, I would like to ask for idea submissions. I can blog about tech all day long, but I want to address issues other people are having. Additionally, I want to hear how other authors are using technology to be more productive. Please submit ideas or area of technology you are having trouble with to comments@theWriteTechnology.com.

One thing I intend to do is write this blog entirely in the cloud. Today, a writer should be able to write, submit, and publish from anywhere she chooses. There is no reason to be tied to a desk or tethered to an office or home network connection. Writing should be done from where the writer chooses. She should pick her comfort zone. Be free to choose a new writing location each day. Technology should free us, not bind us.

This entry was drafted using a service called Evernote. It works on all platforms. For the nontechnical types that means it can run on iOS, Android, MAC or a Windows PC. Most of this entry was created with an iPad 2 (using a Bluetooth keyboard) with an assist from my Android phone and some final editing from a Windows laptop. The point is, no matter what device I have access to, I can get to my draft and continue to work. This is particularly useful if you find yourself in waiting rooms or waiting in the car or sitting in the stands while the kiddies practice soccer.

No Internet or 3G connection? No problem. The paid version allows for offline notebooks. Once a notebook is downloaded you can work on it offline and resync it when you have service again.

You can record live audio and take pictures and send them directly to your Evernote account. If you are doing site research this can be a quick way to capture information.

If you are collaborating on a project, share you notebooks via the web. Everything is stored in the cloud and is instantly updated. You can attach you work in progress in its native file format too. I use Microsoft Word and have Documents To Go for Android and iPad allowing me to view and edit attachments.

There are other services out there, Google Docs being the obvious competitor, but few if any offer the flexibility of Evernote. Is Evernote the perfect writers companion? That depends on the writer and what the writer needs. It does work for me.

We’ll dive more into Evernote and other mobile apps on future posts. There’s a lot out there. Some of it will work for most people, some of it will only work for a few. Always go with what makes you most productive. After all writers should spend their time writing.

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