Along with our usual rundown of the latest technology news, this week El Kaiser reviews a family friendly portable speaker, connected message board and speakerphone from Invoxia. The Triby is the first non-Amazon product to feature the Alexa Voice Service. Also on the show, J.D. clues us in on why we don’t need to buy third party text-to-speech apps for our Android or iOS devices. And if you think we skimped on the hijinks and tomfoolery, you’d be dead-wrong…
Hate pecking away on a tiny glass keyboard? While that sort of thing may be okay for texting and other short bursts of data entry, it can become wearisome when you want to process a significant amount of words.
Voice search and dictation programs have been around for a while, and both Windows and OS X have had their own speech-to-text recognition functions for years. As we all know, Google Now, Cortana and Siri all response to brief voice commands. But if you want to compose that great American Novel on the go, you can do it without having to download a third-party dictation app, thanks to built-in functions you already have on your mobile device — as long as that device is running a fairly recent version of its maker’s operating system.
Both Android and iOS include the dictation feature, but you may have to enable the service in your system settings if you start yapping and nothing happens. Also, keep in mind that in most cases, your words are being sent up to a server in the sky for translation, so manage your own privacy expectations.
In recent versions or Android, you can dictate documents in Google Docs open in the Chrome browser — and even add punctuation and editing by calling out the commands. Just open a Google Doc and either tap the microphone, or go to the Tools menu and choose Voice Typing. Then dictate your thoughts.
If you get no reaction from your Android device, do into the Settings app to Language and Input and make sure Google Voice Typing is enabled. You can tap further into the settings there to make adjustments, like activating the ability to record through a Bluetooth headset or to block any offensive words that may (accidentally, of course) slip into your speech while dictating.
On a compatible iOS device, turn on the speech-to-text feature by going to Settings > General > Keyboard. Flip on the button next to Dictation to enable it. Now, when you want to recite a lengthy bit of text in Notes, Mail or another wordy app, tap the small microphone icon that now resides on the iOS keyboard and start talking.
The dictation feature may not be as precise as an real, live human secretary, but it should get you that first draft with a minimum of actual typing. So grab your phone, yell “Take a memo!” as you tap on the microphone and start talking your typing.
Newsweek magazine makes a splashy return on paper with a cover story claiming to have found the father of Bitcoin. In his Tech Term of the Week, El Kaiser explains doxxing and why Internet denizens are so ticked off at the weekly news magazine. The computer mouse has been with us for half a century and J.D. explains why it may stick around for awhile longer. In the news Google dives into wearable computing; Apple releases an 8-gigabyte version of the iPhone 5C — but not in the United States; the Windows XP Death Watch continues; The Big Bang Theory may have been proven; and say hello to robot fish.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the humble computer mouse. The late, great Doug Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute built the first prototype in 1964 and later got a patent for the device in 1970. With the arrival Apple’s Macintosh computer in 1984, the mouse has had a long reign over desktop computer systems for the past three decades. Laptop trackpads and touch-screens may have cut into the mouse’s dominance, but if you use a desktop computer during your day, odds are there’s still a mouse attached to it.
But gripping a mouse for long hours — along with the arm and hand movements needs to pilot the device — can take a toll. If you’re having pain in your hand or arm after a long day riding the rodent, you may be suffering from a repetitive strain injury.
If you can, go to a doctor and get it checked out. If you have no access to medical help, so some research on RSI. You may be able to find exercises and other behavior modifications to help alleviate some of the pain. Also, study up on ergonomics — your chair, your desk and your workspace configuration may be working against you.
If using a mouse makes your hand hurt, there are other, possibly less-stressful tools to get around your desktop. These include:
- Trackballs. Sort of like an upside-down mouse, you spin a plastic ball with your fingers and click with your thumb or another digit. Because your fingers are spinning the cursor, you have fewer overall arm movements and a stable resting spot for your hand.
- Trackpads. A wireless or USB trackpad on your desktop machine could be a gentler alternative to the mouse, as you scroll, point and click by gently tapping the pad. Unlike laptop trackpads, you can position an external trackpad much more ergonomically.
- Pen and tablet. Instead of clutching a chunk of plastic, you hold a special pen and move it across a tablet to move around the screen. Wacom is the big player here. Pen tablets are favored by many artists, photographers and graphics professionals because of the superior degree of control and the natural feel of holding an old-fashioned writing implement. Some tablet also include trackpad-like multitouch shortcuts
- Voice command and dictation. Instead of typing out everything, speak your words. Both Windows (including Windows 8) and Mac OS X have a degree of voice control available for opening programs and moving around the system. Dictation software, either third-party offerings (like Nuance’s line of dictation programs) or built in to the OS (Windows and Mac OS X), can save you a whole bunch of keystrokes too if you can just recite your email or memo.
If you do stick with a regular mouse, check to see if it has programmable buttons. You may be able to set it up so one button-click equals two clicks, and that sort of thing. Keyboard shortcuts you can do with either hand may also help take some of the strain off your mouse arm, so check out the list for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux Mint and Ubuntu Linux.
Who knows, we could be headed for an all voice-activated user interface experience just like in the movie Her. But until then, let’s be careful out there and offer thanks to Doug Engelbart for getting us this far.