Monday, June 27, 2011

Draggin' dictation

When I saw David Pogue's breathless encomium to Dragon Dictation for the iPad 2 in his New York Times column, I said to myself, "Henry, you've got to try this one. It's free. And it might even work."

I have "deaf speech" that was once described as sounding like "rusty bathtub pipes." My production is breathy, my enunciation muddy. I'm understandable in a quiet room if my interlocutor pays close attention. In the presence of background noise or human impatience, I might as well be shouting down a bottomless hole.

I once took speech therapy until the returns began to diminish. At the age of almost 71 there isn't much point in subjecting myself to that kind of hard work anymore. After all, I'm not about to address the British Empire on the eve of World War II.

Still I hope for a breakthrough. Perhaps the easy-to-use Dragon Dictation app, which translates spoken words to text, might be a useful engine for sharpening my speech--if it could reproduce what I say with any accuracy. Perhaps a bit of practice would increase that accuracy, however incrementally.

So I downloaded it to my iPad 2 and gave it a try.

Here is what I said:

"In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself."

Here is what Dragon Dictation said I said:

"Gran Mammo human Pidfile Net-Arping couldn't you think badly of voodoo mind him through okay Omega ring to message spoken with a PaymentInfo caring bridge women in favor and go to the print FoodGang. Close to you."

Your Majesty and Mr. Logue, you have nothing to worry about from the likes of me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

As part of his annual Father's Day email to me, my second son offered the following. It is too good not to share with the rest of the world. (Dramatis personae: Conan and Annie, parents; Emmet, 5, and Alice, 2 1/2.)

As a special treat, I will provide a transcript of Saturday morning's breakfast table conversation:

Conan: Emmet, did you go to the pool yesterday? Please eat your waffles.

Emmet: When there's danger, you need a Space Ranger! Wheeeeeoooooo Wheeeeeooooo (siren sound).

Alice: Yeah, and you have a peanut butter hat. I went pee in the pool. Do you have a microphone hat?

Annie: Alice, we don't dunk our bacon in our milk. Would you like me to cut your bacon for you?

Emmet: . . . And then Jack bonked Quinn, and Quinn bonked Bobby, and I said, "Do you want to be arrested?"

Annie: Alice, don't. Please don't.

Conan: Wait--Alice, did you pee in the pool?

Alice: Yeah! On your mud hat. On the cement. Do you have a paper-airplane hat?

Annie: She peed on the pool deck in front of everyone. Mortifying.

Emmet: So I bonked Quinn and then he bonked Jack again. Donna's teeth are far apart. Dad, show me your teeth.

Alice: ... and I climbed up on the roof, and peed all over, and told the police officer, "You get them. I am a princess!" Where is your bucket?

Conan: My bucket?

Alice: For your bucket hat, you Foopie. You are a bucket hat. You Foopie. Foopie, foopie, foopie, foopie.

Emmet: Alice!

Annie: People were staring. Emily Maines came up and said the kid she was babysitting for did the same thing. The weird thing was, Alice had pooped in the potty like 10 minutes earlier. She needs to connect that you can pee and poop in the same go.

Emmet: Alice! Stop it! Why do you keep saying Foopie?

Alice: . . . Foopie, Foopie, Foopie, Foopie . . .

Conan: What time do we have to be in Downers Grove?

Annie: After naps. Although Alice never naps anymore. I don't know why I pretend that's an actual time of day.

Alice: You have banana soup, you Foopie. And mud soup!

Emmet: After Quinn got out of jail, he went right back up and bonked Jack again.

Alice: May I have some more bacon please?

And that, Conan assures me, is a typical breakfast-table conversation at their house.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

An iPad 2 comes to my house

I have succumbed. Surrendered. Thrown in the towel. Gone over to the enemy.

Three weeks ago I bought myself an iPad 2.

A year ago I resisted mightily, choosing to buy a new netbook rather than the original iPad. To me the iPad was a toy, not a tool. Also, it's just an iPhone on steroids. And it was not so hot as an e-book reader, because you can't use it in the sun.

But realities and fealties change. In my travels I found myself humping a netbook, a Kindle, an iPod Touch and a cell phone everywhere. Most of those devices did their discrete jobs very well and still do. The netbook is fine for writing and editing, the Kindle for reading, the iPod Touch for playing -- but the cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone's keypad is lousy for old-man texting. (Being deaf, I don't do voice calls.)

Still, four separate tools to do four separate jobs are a lot to keep track of when you're traveling. Each doesn't weigh much, but added up they start to load down the baggage. Keeping track of them while getting the full-monty patdown at airport security is a nightmare unless you're traveling with a companion who can keep an eye out for light fingers.

And so when the iPad 2 came out earlier this year, I started to think that maybe a single device that can do all four tasks reasonably well might be what I needed.

So I took the $629 plunge on a 16-gigabyte Verizon G3 model from B&H Photo in New York. (No sales tax plus free shipping.) I don't listen to music and don't watch a lot of movies, so don't need the extra memory of the 32GB and 64GB versions.

The G3 cellular capability, I reasoned, would allow me to send and receive texts outside free wi-fi range just about anywhere in the country, even on the wild shore of Lake Superior in upper Michigan, and Verizon's minimum $20-per-month, no-contract plan for 1GB of data is affordable. Since I'm almost always around a free wi-fi node, 1GB probably will work just fine for texting (with the free TextNow app) and light Web surfing with Safari.

The iPad 2's touch-screen "keyboard" is just fine for texting succinct messages to family as well as cab dispatchers while I'm on the road. It works well with the IP-Relay deaf telephone relay service, too, and I can jot short Facebook entries or comments without much trouble with the Friendly app.

That keyboard, however, is absolutely useless for writing, even with two excellent apps, iA Writer and Apple's Pages, at least with my arthritic fingers. For that I bought a compact and lightweight $66 Apple wireless keyboard, and that makes text entry quite usable although I wouldn't want to do heavy editing with the iPad. Much too clumsy.

Using the New York Times app (I'm a paying subscriber now) on the iPad is an absolute joy. So is the sophisticated app for New Yorker subscribers, as are the apps for free news from NPR, BBC News, CNN, the AP, Bloomberg and al-Jazeera. The free Intellicast weather app, with its colorful moving radar map, keeps me informed about malevolent thunderboomers. The game apps for solitaire (SolBox Free) and Scrabble keep me from getting bored.

And I've discovered the Netflix streaming video app, which for $8 a month allows me to watch unlimited movies and TV shows with subtitles on the iPad. Only about 30 per cent of Netflix' content is subtitled at present, but the provider promises to raise that figure to 80 per cent by the end of 2011.

I can download captioned movies from Apple's iTunes and watch them with Apple's own movie app, but downloading a single $4.99 film can take a couple of hours on a slow 801g wireless connection. One movie eats up about 3 or 4 gigs of memory on the iPad, and once you've started you have just 24 hours to watch it to the end. Streaming on Netflix is more efficient, and you can pick up where you left off at any time.

Gotta be careful with that, though. Yesterday the receptionist in the doctor's office was giving me dirty looks as I watched a Netflix foreign film -- until I realized the sound was turned up all the way. Quickly I muted the iPad, but not soon enough for her.

I haven't yet explored the iPad 2 for photography use, but can see that it may make a good "photo bank" for storing backup files from my camera during out-of-town trips. There are lots of apps, some of them free, for simple processing of photos.

As for e-books, I wouldn't say the Kindle and Apple iBooks apps make reading on the iPad 2 as restful as it is on the genuine Kindle, but indoors it comes close. So much so that the Lady Friend says she actually prefers the iPad to the Kindle for that task.

In fact, she's threatening to hog the iPad 2. To save our marriage I just might have to get her one for her birthday.