|This month we look at:
Talking to your computer.
We've all shouted at our computers. What if it actually did what we were telling it?
Welcome to the wonderful world of speech recognition – something I've been researching for the last 15 years and I have to say that it has come on a long way.
No longer do you have to spend ages training the program to understand you. Nowadays a short trial procedure to help you understand how to use the system will make it recognize you.
In fact it is even built into Windows these days and I am dictating this document yo my computer. So why use speech recognition? Well, typing on the keyboard takes focus away from the task and interrupts your train of thought. I use it when I'm creating presentations or speeches. I just think and talk and let the machine type it out for me.
Okay, the dictation might not be perfect but it captures my train of thought as a flow and I can correct the details later.
Even from the first time you use it the accuracy is impressive and it quickly improves beyond that. The speech recognition system is always learning so you need to make sure you turn it off when you are not using it. Otherwise, it will hear anything you say-for example on a phone call-and just get confused!
However, I still use the keyboard and mouse where they will get the job done better or quicker. I certainly wouldn't use speech recognition to do my accounts!
In summary, speech recognition has become a clever tool and is a great addition to creativity when you use it in the right place.
Searching the web
Are you able to get right to the information that you want when you search the internet? It's really a matter of using the right techniques.
Firstly, work out what the most likely words are used to describe what you are looking for. 'Computer repair oxford' is more effective than 'my PC is broken and I live in Oxford'
Use brackets to join words into phrases to search for. '(income tax) uk' will give you results about income tax, while 'income tax oxford' will return things with income, tax or oxford.
Read the early results and then narrow the search. '+' and '-' force results to include or exclude words. If you are getting wrong results look for the common word and make sure you exclude those results. 'legs -pianos' will strip out any results about piano legs, while 'legs +dogs' will make all results include the word dogs.
Use tools like 'pages from the UK' or 'past week' to be more specific about what you want.
Finally, if you are still not getting what you want and you are using Google, look under 'more search tools' at the Wonder Wheel and Related Searches.
Free software that's actually rather good
It's frustrating when we want to do something on our computer once in a while but the programs that do what we want seem to cost a lot of money.
Fear not, as there is a lot of free software out there that can help. Some is not as good as the £600 packages but good enough for occasional use, while others are just as good as the market leaders. Here are a few examples. All will work on windows, and many on Mac or Linux.
I sometimes take a number of photos of a scene and then join them together to make a panorama. It's better than using a very wide angle lens. Microsoft has just released ICE which does a very good job of this.
Do you need to record or edit sound? Then Audacity is your friend. It will do whatever you want.
Fancy some video-editing? Prism video pad will let you do a reasonable job.
Of course, there is our friend openoffice, that is a free equal to Microsoft Office.
If you want graphics editing, DTP or web design, then head over to Serif, who have free, but slightly limited, versions of their software. Gimp is also a free photo editor that many people recommend.
Need to compress files? 7Zip is right there for you
So there's a lot out there. Just search for “<software type you are looking for> Free download” and see what comes up.
Some of it will be a free download of a demo that then asks for money and some is shareware, where you get to try it but are then expected to pay. Fair enough.
You can get those out quickly enough and then get some great software that helps you use your computer on the way you want.
People that I'm working with
Seeing as the sun has come out, then I thought I'd mention Banbury Gliding Club, where you'll find me most weekends.
Try gliding yourself, organize a colleague or customer day with us or buy a voucher as a great present.
Franchise partner opportunities
We've released the next five territories for franchise partners to join the fleet using our proven business model to build a successful business.
The flying doctor is looking for enthusiastic individuals who enjoy working with computers. You can help them run their own business and turn their passion into profit!
Think of the people you know who would like this opportunity then ask them to call the flying doctor on 01865 748197 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to start on their success.