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Number 17? This is a completely made up number and has no significance whatsoever! Today I want to talk about a true productivity tool called the Samson “Go Mic“. For those who are not familiar with that term, ‘mic’ spelled this way is short for ‘microphone’. Perhaps you will have heard of the Dave Wardman “90 day blog challenge”—if it were not for the capacity to dictate and have that automatically transcribed into text, there is no way I could have written so much in such a short period of time (along with all the other things I need to do as we close the ANU).

I have reported elsewhere that I have tried all of the modern Mac-based dictation systems. Without exception, all are hopeless, requiring more time to correct the errors produced than it does to type from scratch at around 25–30 words per minute, albeit with errors. Once, down at the Bermagui farm I used to own with my friend Bill Giles, and accompanied by a powerful laptop, I tried to teach one of these programs how I speak, even reading long excerpts from my books to help the process. No joy. I even spent another two-week period once trying to learn how to type properly but for some reason my old hand and finger habits revert as soon as I leave the typing program. So, enter dictation.

Anyone can dictate of course and perhaps a solution might be to simply send the sound files over to a transcription service in India. But, impatient as I am, I want to be able to clean up what ever I dictate, once converted to the actual words that will appear in emails or blogs. As well (and I blame this on living more or less in the present moment, and not on ‘old timer’s disease’) come tomorrow or the next day I probably won’t remember exactly what was that I was trying to say at the time; no, it has to be now (there is only now!).

The Mac OS has a very good facility built in, called Dictation. The only drawback is that one needs to be connected to the Internet in order to use it. Accessed from the Dictation and Speech icon (within System Preferences), the default setup is to press the Fn key twice. A cute old-fashioned microphone icon appears, and you talk. You press the return key to end that dictation element; Siri limits you to a 30″ burst of voice (she rendered “30 second” as “32nd”—audibly, these are identical, so no foul).

‘Dictation’ does not yet understand logic and context but I have high hopes that she will in time. If you have a good Internet connection and the voice input is clear, the accuracy of the returned text is excellent. The background technology is Siri, the same technology that first appeared in the iPhone iOS. Apple claims that Siri does learn but because one’s corrections are not sent back to Cupertino, this seems extremely unlikely to me. Regarding accuracy: the more technical the terms (like in the previous two sentences) the more accurate the returned text is. The three previous sentences were 100% accurate in fact. Siri struggles with words like fascia, although because I pronounced it the American intonation this time, she got it right. The deeper problem is sibilance: most technology has real difficulties distinguishing between F for Foxtrot and S for Sierra. In fact, because of listeners’ almost 100% non-comprehension of the old website (www.pandf.com.au) URL over the phone, I had to learn the radio alphabet in order to make the letter “F” clear—the bandwidth on a standard telephone is so narrow that no one can hear the difference between F for Foxtrot and S for Sierra.

Enter the Samson Go Mic.

True productivity tool: Samson 'Go Mic'

True productivity tool: Samson ‘Go Mic’

This tiny microphone clips onto the top of the MacBook Air. It came with a ridiculously long USB cable (almost 2m!) but Olivia found me a much shorter one which fits perfectly between the right-hand USB port and the Samson. Clipping and plugging in the Samson onto the Air automatically connects it to the Dictation software. The reason that this is so exciting to me is that the already excellent accuracy is increased significantly by using this decent microphone. As well, I will be able to use the Samson for the Voice Over tool in Final Cut Pro; up until now I have avoided doing voice overs on the road because the voice quality of the inbuilt Mac microphone on both laptops is simply not up to that task.

A technical note: the Samson does not record at 48KHz, but rather the CD quality 44.1KHz, but Final Cut Pro will render this audio up to its preferred 48KHz in a second or two, so that’s no problem at all. And I have just thought of another use: I can use the Samson on the road to record my relaxation scripts as well, directly into the computer. I will probably use the Quicktime sound recording facility, though I have not yet explored that, and there may well be a better way.

There is: I just downloaded the truly excellent Audacity freeware; it not only has an interface that I recognise instantly (similar to Final Cut Pro and sound recording programs, with wave forms and all editing facilities) but it also allows output in any file format, so perfect for MP3s.

We are surrounded by technology but I make it a rule to only uptake technology that makes a discernible difference to me in ordinary daily life. The Samson Go Mic fits this criterion.