Tag Archives: writing

In praise of speech-to-text software

One thing that has helped me quite a bit as a blogger, writer, grad student and person with chronic pain subject to flare-ups has been speech-to-text software. The basic idea is fairly self-evident: You install the software, plug in the headset that comes with it, open up the word processing program of your choice, and start talking.

Repetitive motion is one of those things that can be the bane of one’s existence if that person happens to have chronic pain issues; while there are people who might say, Oh, typing at a computer can’t be that painful or Just work through the pain or some other ridiculous piece of “advice,” typing can, at times, be enormously painful or draining for some folks with pain issues. No matter how much one may want to complete a piece, post or assignment, sometimes it just will not happen due to pain. When it feels like your hands are encased in cement blocks, there is no “working through the pain.” Having your hands and wrists feel like they have been set on fire by pain when you are on a deadline — like a lot of circumstances surrounding pain flares — can be excruciating. It’s kind of like having your hands and wrists feel like the Human Torch, but without any of the cool superpowers.

With speech-to-text, the additional pain brought on by repetitive typing is significantly reduced, as it takes at least some of the typing (but not editing, as I will address below) out of the equation. There are some additional issues to consider, however: one is “fibro fog,” the name given to some of the cognitive effects of a fibromyalgia flare, which can, for the person experiencing the flare, make it difficult to put thoughts, words and sentences together with anything resembling coherency. This is more of a condition issue than one that has to do with typing, but it’s fairly obvious as to how fibro-fog could impact the use of text-to-speech: if your thoughts are jumbled because of pain and fatigue, it’s likely that they will be just as jumbled regardless of whether you are typing or speaking into a text-to-speech headset. I’m fairly lucky with fibro-fog myself, as it tends to be rather mild unless I am experiencing a pain flare that feels closer to acute pain than chronic, but typing is one of those processes that can seem bizarrely confusing during a massive pain flare-up (and the whole “simple things as confusing” side effect is damn near impossible to truly understand unless you’ve been through it).

Of course, there are some aspects of text-to-speech software that are less than perfect: similar to the iPhone’s auto-correct feature (some of the amazing slip-ups of which have been documented by websites such as Damn You Autocorrect),  speech-to-text software can “read” one spoken word or phrase as something else entirely, sometimes producing hilarious (or irritating) fragments that often make no sense within the context of what you are actually writing. My personal favorite thus far has been my speech-to-text program “translating” Judith Butler as Judas butt lark, which made me wonder if I need to work on my pronunciation skills if only for the convenience of my software program.

There is also the cost issue: many speech-to-text software programs are expensive. In a utopia, everyone who could benefit from text-to-speech programs would have a reliable and fairly-priced one ready for use. I’m one of those weirdos who thinks that accessible technology should not be something available only to those who can afford to pay for it, but that, unfortunately, is most likely a long time coming.

Things That Make My Life/Art Easier: Pens

As s.e. wrote about in a post earlier this week, I am a cartoonist in addition to all the other crap that I do. I’ve been drawing (and writing) for most of my life, and finding the perfect pen has been something of a wild turkey-chase with mixed results. I know that an entire post devoted to pens may seem silly, particularly given the more serious things that I have written about here on FWD. Re-reading some of Amanda‘s Things That Make My Life Easier posts has inspired me to write about…well, writing (and drawing) implements, because the right ones do make things easier for me.

I first read about the pain-reducing benefits of felt-tip pens in the second edition of Starlanyl and Copeland’s Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain: A Survival Manual; the authors, both medical professionals, include the use of felt-tip pens in a lengthy list of tips designed to reduce pain on an everyday basis. Felt-tip pens tend to be easier on the hands and joints. My one huge issue with felt-tips, however, is that many of them produce stronger lines than I would like. This is more of a problem when I attempt to use them for artistic purposes, as I don’t mind a little more heft in my hand-written notes and scribbles. I do use felt-tips on occasion in my cartoon work — especially for panel borders and heavy lines — just not very often.

Felt-tips are good for writing, but depending upon what sort of lines you’d like in your artistic works, the ease of use that felt-tips produce may be their only advantage. Obviously, they’re not the greatest for detail work. I tend to shy away from brushes and pens that require the use of an inkwell or a separate bottle of ink, as the gorgeous lines one can produce with those tools so often translates into absolute hell on my hand and wrist joints, plus a lot of repetitive motion from dipping the brush or pen into the ink and bringing it back to the page (which often equals further hell).

Ball-point pens that don’t have a lot of ink “flow,” in my experience, aren’t great for cartooning either, though they can be useful for storyboards and quick sketches. The ball-points that have worked the most effectively for me have been the “business”-type pens that most folks associate with actual business work. Perhaps people in business have to write things quickly and therefore cannot depend on crappy ball-points and/or face the frustration that inevitably arises when said crappy ball-point runs out of ink. Non-crappy ball points, such as the Uni-ball line of products, may be a bit more expensive than “traditional” ball-points, but if you want a smooth line that is not going to translate into extreme wrist or hand pain, a “business” pen of this sort might be for you.

Another pen type with which I have had some success has been actual drawing pens; many brands are available at art-supply stores or bookstores. I have found that experimentation with different types of pens is a good bet, if you’ve got the time for it (and assuming that you are cool with dropping a couple bucks on pens that might be either awesome or a total disaster). The Preppy fountain pen, made by Japan’s JetPens, may be a good bet for people who would like to experiment with fountain pens and the lines that these pens can create, but who may not have the time, energy or inclination to use a more traditional fountain pen (it has a reloadable ink-cartridge system that is very convenient). There is also the Stabilo brand, which I discovered quite by accident in the clearance rack of an art supply store (I bought a couple specifically because they were on sale). I use the Point 88 type because it’s light, comfortable to hold and can do excellent detail work, but your artistic/writing mileage may vary.

There is no “perfect” pen, of course, but there are some damn good ones out there if you’ve got the inclination to experiment.

Teeny Little Super-Meta: The things I can’t write about

And they say that the truth will set you free/but then/so will a lie

— Ani DiFranco, “Promised Land” (2003)

Yesterday, I wrote some things down, intending to use them for a post. The half-post or so that I wrote was inspired by, in large part, bullying-related suicides recently making the national news. It was difficult to write, as much of it was stuff I have kept to myself for a while — both for the sake of those I care about, and for my own mental health.

After I finished writing, I realized that I could not use any of it. Because the thought of  exposing this stuff to an audience was, and is, too painful. I want to believe that writing it down helped me in some way, because otherwise what I wrote exists as just a barely-legible scattering of meaningless words, scrawled on a piece of paper.

There are many things that I can’t write about here on FWD, or on my personal blog. Many of the things that I have experienced are so emotionally fraught that I am reluctant to even consider writing about them, mostly for fear of going into a black hole of emotions from which I may not be able to get out.

There are other reasons, too, such as protecting the people that I care about in any public retelling and/or analysis of these events. Some of these people may not have heard every part of the story, or even every story. There are also people — many of whom have a central role in these painful stories — about whom I do not care, and I would relish the opportunity to textually rip some of these people apart. It would be easy to say, “They ripped me to shreds, and now I will grate them like cheese, using my keyboard. It is payback time.”  Paradoxically, my own selfish concerns about my integrity prevents me from using my keyboard as a weapon.

The twist, of course, is that writing about these things in the “right” way — dispassionately, analytically — might help someone. Posting about things that are painful for me to think about, let alone write about, might reassure someone going through similar issues that they are not the only person who has dealt with some scary things.

And, like many people, I like the idea of helping someone get through rough times, or reassuring someone or someones that they are not alone in facing trying circumstances. Maybe that’s selfish. Maybe it’s part of human nature. Maybe it’s both.

Writing publicly about these things, on the other hand, may get me comments that I do not particularly want to face. This could not have happened. How do we know you’re not just making this up? Do you always have to write about yourself? Let’s look at this objectively. Why can’t you focus on something more important? I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that. Why can’t you just let it go? It was so long ago, anyway. We all have difficulties, what makes you so special? Who do you think you are?

According to the dichotomy of writing for an audience, I should either “get over it” and write about x or y more important topic, or excavate all of these painful things — that is, come forward with them publicly, dissect these less-than-savory experiences and my role(s) in them like a vivisected frog laden with pins to keep it from slipping out of the pan — in order to help others.

I think this dichotomy is bullshit.

But, the main thing is:  Very often, I cannot tell the whole story, for highly specific and extremely personal reasons. I might, in time, choose to reveal parts of these stories. I certainly do not have an obligation to do it all right now.

[Note: The title of this post was partially inspired by Sesame Street’s Teeny Little Super Guy short segments.]

Recommended Reading for July 6, 2010

jadelennox (DW): How to fight ableism: some easy steps

So I thought it might be valuable to gather together some ways in which able-bodied people can do something about ableism in the world. Then, next time a person is feeling frustrated about ableism, and is thinking about doing some signal boosting of, say, some crappy thing the writers did on the latest episode of Glee, maybe that individual would have the option of committing to spending the same amount of time doing some more concrete fighting of ableism. Not that I’m critiquing the kind of signal boosting that a lot of us do on the blogosphere! But I’m assuming some people would find utility in hearing about other things they could do that might be useful.

Venus Speaks: Between the Lines

Today I realized something: How my disabilities shape the words I do, and more often don’t, say.

For instance: Whenever anyone uses the word “crippled”, I spot it from a mile away. Context doesn’t matter – it could be in anything – a novel, a newspaper article, a headline. “Recession cripples the American economy”, or “The onslaught cripples the meager defenses” or simply “crippling blow”.

Lauren McGuire at Sociological Images: On Disability and the Public Service Announcement [accessibility warning: embedded content lacks transcripts]

Disability-related PSAs cover a wide range of topics, but generally there are three main categories that the message falls into: how people with disabilities are viewed/treated by society, their value in the job market and society, and what their lives are like. Although these are pretty straightforward messages, there is a great deal of variety in the ways in which these basic messages are presented.

Michael Le at Racialicious: An Open Letter to Racebending.com Detractors

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Airbender casting and an English actor playing an Irish one, or a Spanish actor playing an Italian actor. But it’s not really the same, and the reason is that Hollywood and media don’t consider whether an actor is Irish or Spanish or English. They think of that actor as “white.” The same is not true of actors who are Asian or Latino, who have to fight over the few roles specifically written for those ethnicities. And a lot of times, even when a role is steeped in Asian culture, even when a role is based on real-life individuals of Asian descent, those roles still go to white actors.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: CRAWLING OUT OF BED: Internalized Ableism and Privilege

In the two years since I have learned things about my own body. I have learned that once my knees start wobbling, GAME OVER. There is no powering through. There is no mystical internal light of determination that I can draw on – if I keep going my body will fail me. This has been a humiliating lesson to learn. But I can still walk. I can still exercise within limits and these limits expand the more I push them. I have also learned how much privilege I carry. I don’t have chronic insomnia like other members of my family. I’ve never lost a job because of being hospitalized, like my friends with Fibromyalgia. If I’m spending time with someone, and I don’t want to have to go into the whole story I can take an anti-inflammatory and ignore the pain, or blame it on fatigue.

Recommended Reading for June 22, 2010

Ken Reibel at Huffington Post: Teen With Asperger’s Arrested: Were Callers Racial Profiling?

Neli, as his family calls him, is 18 and has Asperger’s, a mild form of autism. Three Mondays ago, he rose early and left home without telling his mother. “When I entered his room at 6:30 am and didn’t see him, I assumed he had gone for another walk,” she says. It was a school day.

Four hours later Stafford County authorities had ordered a lock down for eight schools, and Neli was in police custody, facing one count of malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer, one count of assault and battery of a law enforcement officer, and one count of knowingly disarming a police officer in performance of his official duties. The cascade of missteps that led to the arrest suggest a combination of public racial profiling and the over reaction of law enforcement officers who are unfamiliar with autistic behavior.

kaz (DW): the h/c bingo post

If I believed that the people doing h/c bingo were bound to write horribly problematic stuff, I would not be writing this post. Because it’s a lot of effort and not really all that pleasant and I don’t like talking at brick walls and in that case I could just wait until you wrote the horribly problematic stuff to take it apart. The reason I am writing this post is because I think it might change things. And I think the same goes for a lot of people in this discussion.

Kelly at Underbellie: Look fabulous or go home

The vast, vast majority of the eighty-three (so far) comments on this post concern women’s bodies, full stop.  The list went on: people (women) are in denial about their size; thus they wear ill-fitting clothes which are somehow a grievance committed against us, the viewer; people are gross for being fat but they’re really gross for not disguising this fat in some way according to the standards of the poor innocent bystander who has to see this body.

Katy Butler in the NY Times Magazine: What Broke My Father’s Heart [trigger warning for some discussion of assisted suicide]

Upstairs, my 85-year-old father, Jeffrey, a retired Wesleyan University professor who suffered from dementia, lay napping in what was once their shared bedroom. Sewn into a hump of skin and muscle below his right clavicle was the pacemaker that helped his heart outlive his brain. The size of a pocket watch, it had kept his heart beating rhythmically for nearly five years. Its battery was expected to last five more.