Read That Back, Please!

I reported earlier, my main computer died on Black Friday. How appropriate. :D

I have moved my files and programs over to my laptop. My eleven-year-old main computer ran Windows XP. When I purchased my laptop, it had Windows Vista, but I have since upgraded it to Windows 7. I knew there would be some compatibility issues with some of the programs I use.

Generally, everything has gone well in the migration. All of my data files were saved and have been moved. Most of my important programs have been installed and work well. WordPerfect, Word, Corel Draw, Visual Basic 6, my appointment calendar, my scanner, my camera, my ergonomic keyboard, scratch pad, and my digital piano all installed and work well. All but one.

When I write, I try hard to write well. Even simple posts like this one go through some painstaking processes. Well, they use to. I write articles and posts in WordPerfect. I write and proofread. Then proofread again, and run Grammatik to help identify grammatical errors. Here is where things now change.

I use to then have Dragon Naturally Speaking read the document to me. I do not dictate to the computer. I type. I installed Dragon for its Text-To-Speech function. Having something read back by the computer is a wonderful way to find writing errors. Miss used words, like ‘where’ instead of ‘were,’ show up better when the document is read to you. A spell checker cannot catch that as they are both spelled correctly. You often zip through when reading your own typing, almost like speed reading, so you miss those sorts of things too. But when you hear it, you know.

Computer readers, not having a human sense of context, read exactly what is written. Clumsy sentences and paragraphs show up, as well as overall organization. Perhaps the ideas expressed in paragraph three are better off following paragraph five. Hearing it read to you helps to highlight these sorts of things.

Any given post or article I write may be droll or unimportant to you, but I do not want to waste your time with poorly written material. Even if the idea is meaningless, it can be presented in a clear or entertaining way. So I try hard.

Alas, my version of Dragon does not run well on Windows 7. On top of that, Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, changed how Text-To-Speech voices are formatted in such a manner that only one voice is available, “Anna.” A long time ago I found that if I hear my documents read to me in a female voice, my dreams began to be based with a female voice. My writing begins to take on a female voice. On my old computer I had a modified version of Microsoft Mike that sounded closer to my own voice, which I found to be more comfortable.

Windows 7 comes installed with a Text-To-Speech engine called Narrator. It uses Anna’s voice, the only voice available. Beyond Anna being a voice I am uncomfortable with, the Narrator is a ‘screen reader.’ That is to say, it reads everything on the screen. The program name, the file menu, tool bars in the program, the text within the program, all the buttons shown on the screen. It is designed for those with poor eyesight as an accessibility option. Not what I want at all.

I’ve been looking for other Text-To-Speech options that will work on Windows 7, and hopefully provide some alternate voices. So far my quest has been in vain, but I will persevere. It is important to me that I do the best I can with my posts, my articles, my writing. Having my documents read by that detached voice is part of my proofing process. Hopefully soon I will be able to have the computer read that back to me.

Sifu Keith Mosher

About Sifu Keith Mosher

My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge". I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager, and I am currently an Author and a Martial Arts Instructor.
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