Recently, Peter Maddern, founder of Speech Empowered Computing, posted a comment to this blog about his use of Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software to create visual maps in MindGenius. Because I’m a long-time fan and user of both technologies, I just had to know more! Peter graciously consented to be featured in an e-mail interview about this productive strategy for creating mind maps.
Frey: What kinds of services does Speech Empowered Computing provide?
Maddern: For 30 years I was a Product Development Scientist, most recently with a well known multi-national company. Because of decreasing secretarial support, I latched onto Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking (version 5) about 6 or 7 years ago to create technical reports and to get through my e-mail mountain! My corporate job made me realize the pressures faced by knowledge workers in the workplace and the need to get more done with fewer resources. I soon realized that speech recognition was an excellent productivity tool.
In January, 2005, I left the Corporate world to set up Speech Empowered Computing and now I offer advice to many users from different sectors on getting into speech recognition on the PC using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I am a reseller of Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking software and I also supply the optimum microphone and digital dictation equipment and I provide training in the software so that users can start utilizing the power of the software early on.
Frey: How did you first get the idea to use these Dragon NaturallySpeaking with MindGenius?
Maddern: It just came naturally, I suppose. Some years ago I got interested in the concept of mind mapping after listening to a cassette about Tony Buzan mind mapping in the car during a long journey. Mind maps are "personal" to the individual and if you want to create a mind map, it’s not something you take to your secretary to type up for you. Rather it’s something that you are likely to create on-the-fly on your computer yourself. So being an advocate of speech recognition and having discovered the power of mind mapping, I started using speech recognition to create my mind maps in the office and for personal use at home.
Frey: How, specifically, do you use them together? For adding topics to your maps? Notes? Map edits? Other uses (navigating menus, etc.)?
Maddern: I use speech recognition for adding branches and note edits. Unfortunately, Dragon NaturallySpeaking doesn’t work in terms of controlling the menus of the mind mapping software that I use (MindGenius Business version 2.410.) I haven’t used it with other mind mapping software yet, so I don’t know if NaturallySpeaking is able to interface and control the menu system of other mind mapping software.
The only slight difficulty is that with Microsoft Word for example, you have what is called "select and say" functionality with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This means that you can select words and phrases by voice and re – dictate them, correct them and format them (e.g. change font, make bold, underline and italicize etc). You don’t have this functionality in "non-standard" programs such as MindGenius. A way around this in Dragon NaturallySpeaking is to use a feature called "Dictation Box." By saying "show dictation box", the software brings up an editing box with a degree of "select and say" functionality in any non-standard Windows program. This dictation box feature is available in versions 8 and 9. I can’t recall right now if it was present in version 7 or not though.
Frey: I don’t recall seeing it in version 7, which is what I use. Does MindGenius offer any specific integration with Dragon NaturallySpeaking?
Maddern: No, there is no specific built-in integration between MindGenius and Dragon NaturallySpeaking as such. For this to happen, I imagine that the makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking (Nuance Communications Inc.) would have to work on making them compatible. The existing compatibility is mainly with standard Windows programs, particularly the Microsoft Office suite of programs. I suppose if mind mapping became a universally accepted tool, then the integration work would happen naturally. But right now, I have found that you just have to rely on the capability to add branches, text boxes and notes by voice.
Frey: Can this technique be used with any mind mapping program?
Maddern: I imagine it can but I can’t say for sure. Having said that, I would bet that you could use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to create branches, text boxes and notes in most mind mapping programs.
Frey: Can you give me an example of a specific recent project where you used NaturallySpeaking to help you to create and manipulate a visual map?
Maddern: Yes, of course. I’ll tell you about my latest mind map. As well as being interested in computers, I am interested in alternative medicine. As a hobby, I am currently studying for a diploma in Clinical Aromatherapy and when qualified, hope to work as a volunteer in hospitals, senior citizen centers and hospices. I find it a challenge to revise by memorizing information from lists. I have to learn 40 essential oils in depth including Latin name, countries of origin, type of fragrance note, whether it is stimulating, regulating, euphoric or sedative, herbal family, chemical components, therapeutic action and precautions.
With the recent release of version 2, I thought MindGenius Business would give me an ideal tool to display the 40 essential oils in a way that I could select categories and just display the oils in those categories. Or create map filters for showing the information in different ways. So I created a mind map (please click on the image above right to view a larger version of this map). For each oil I added the above categories. Because there was so much information on each essential oil, I created a separate Microsoft Word index card for each oil with all the information about that oil on it. I then linked each mind map branch entry to the relevant index card.
The map is missing a visual element at the moment. What I would like to do is to scan in photographs of each flower, herb, tree, root or seed from which the oil originates so that each branch has an image in it. When I do this, I think that then I will have the perfect mind map to help me revise for my examination later this year!
Frey: What impact has using these programs together had on your productivity?
Maddern: Well as we all know, mind maps are a great productivity tool. Using speech recognition enables me to create a map more quickly compared to using the keyboard. But not only that, I find it kind of allows me to "sit back" and let the creative process come to the fore because I’m not concentrating on keying in the map information.
Frey: I actually tried this technique with NaturallySpeaking 7 and MindManager last year. It worked pretty good, but I gave up on it after I found that, in the notes view, I couldn’t use any of the voice editing commands that I’ve come to depend upon when dictating in Microsoft Word – such as correcting words. Has Nuance improved the voice editing in version 9 so you can correct words and perform other voice commands in programs other than MS Office applications?
Maddern: See my previous point about using the "dictation box" feature in Dragon NaturallySpeaking. But your question has made me think about a related point. The Professional version of the software (but unfortunately not the Preferred version) allows you to create scripting macros. As an example, say in Microsoft Word that you want to bring up a frequently called up template e.g. your monthly report template. You can "program" the "Command Browser" function in the software to automatically call up that template by voice. This saves you having to remember where the template is filed (is it on my hard drive, or is it on the server and if so where?) And then go through lots of keystrokes to open it! It should be possible to set up some macros for controlling the menu items in mind mapping software. This could be tedious to set up for each menu item and tedious to have to recall the individual voice commands to each menu item and sub-menu item but it could perhaps be worth doing for some of the more frequently accessed menu items.
Frey: Do you have any other advice do you have for readers of this blog who may be considering using dictation software with their favorite mind mapping program?
Maddern: Only to reinforce the benefits of using dictation software, namely the speed, convenience and liberation of the creative thinking process that goes into creating a mind map. Just bear in mind the fact that the dictation software can only help create the branches, text boxes and notes and not control the menu and sub-menu items. In short, I’d say give it a go!