Friday Feast #29: Voice Recognition Technology, B&R Turns Two, CSS, and Zeitgeist

This week’s Friday Feast is certainly a mixed stew of goodies again, this time from B to Z.

Brainstorms & Raves Turns Two

First off, somehow Brainstorms and Raves quietly turned two years old December 7th without a hint or word about it last week—no bands playing, no trumpets blaring, not a peep. It’s been an amazingly fun, fascinating, and memorable two years of writing, sometimes several times a day, sometimes a couple of times a week, and at times on the road with my laptop or someone else’s computer, and always enjoying it.

The experience of writing this has brought me a multitude of unexpected delights, connecting me with more fascinating people than I can count and opening doors to enjoyable opportunities I never could have imagined when I wrote my first pathetic little post two years ago. I’ve also been astounded by the kind notes I’ve received along the way.

Creative outlets are important however they come out, whether in words, music, art, design, or other limitless possibilities. As I went through school my teachers and others encouraged my writing, and in response I shrugged it off as just a necessary tool... since I was really a pianist at heart, after all, and my brother was the writer in the family. At some point, though, I realized how much I enjoy writing and that the written word and the piano can mutually and beneficially co-exist, right along with raising a family, building a web design business, and whatever else comes along.

Speaking My Typing

Instead of using the keyboard to type, for the past month or two I’ve been talking my writing—using voice recognition software to dictate these posts, my e-mail, other correspondence, and more. I can also say things like “Go to Zeldman” and my computer will open my browser and Internet connection and go to Jeffrey Zeldman’s Daily Report online. I’m also learning how to create voice commands that will write HTML and CSS as I talk, eliminating as much keyboard and mouse use as possible. Star Trek is here today.

To do all these seemingly magic tricks, I’m using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional voice recognition software combined with a wireless over-the-ear ArialPhone headset. The results are now 98-100% accurate, achieved after a brief training session to help the software recognize my speech patterns with this wireless headset. The program learns more speech patterns along with my goofy vocabulary as I use it, increasing efficiency and reducing time needed to train new words. The high level of accuracy possible is probably better than most people type. I’m truly amazed.

While I initially started using voice recognition software because of neck injury pain that radiates into my right hand, I have quickly found that I would want to use this technology anyway. It makes computer use incredibly faster, easier, and far more efficient. In only a short amount of time I’m at the point where I can’t imagine computer use without it.

Voice Commanding the Web

What about surfing the Web, and what about navigating a website using voice commands? I’ve learned that the basic voice commands often follow general keyboard navigation keys, so if a website can be easily navigated with the keyboard there’s a good chance that it can be just as easily navigated via voice commands. Right now it still seems too slow nonetheless. I’m in the midst of experimenting with voice commands around the Web at a variety of websites, which I’ll write about more in the days ahead. Using WAI Guidelines can certainly go a long way, as I’m experiencing every day right now from a user’s perspective.

Future Trends Happening Today

Imagine driving along in your car wondering about airplane fares to Vienna or suddenly remembering that you forgot to order that book today from There’s no need to pull over to fire up your laptop’s wireless Internet connection. You could use voice commands to log on and then listen to webpage content just as easily as listening to the car radio, whether you’re using a laptop, a PDA, a cell phone, or maybe even a built-in device in your car. The technology is here now, and it’s increasingly more accurate and getting easier to use.

In Conclusion...

Voice recognition technology is absolutely remarkable. I’ve only barely scratched the surface of its mind-boggling capabilities, both in what I’m writing here today and in what I’ve learned so far. It takes a lot of time to learn to use it effectively; however, once you’ve learned the basics, the learning curve becomes inconsequential from time efficiency using it, especially with its powerful commands that can automate many tasks.

CSS News

Christopher Schmitt has a new article at WebReference, Making Headlines With Cascading Style Sheets. You’ll find lots of fun, inspiring, and helpful ideas for using CSS to create your next headlines.

Designing CSS Web Pages, by Christopher Schmitt, published September 2002While you’re at it, check out Schmitt’s new CSS book, Designing CSS Web Pages, and the companion site.

And if you still haven’t seen enough of Christopher Schmitt, I also found his business site’s portfolio another amazing stop to check out where you’ll find an abundance of inspiring work.

I must confess to also being somewhat biased toward anyone named Christopher since my son’s name is also Christopher. Great name, and so is my son.

Google’s End of Year Zeitgeist

Google has posted its now annual year-end zeitgeist: 2002 Year-End Google Zeitgeist. There’s plenty there to keep you glued to your computer well into 2003.


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