More Useful Software

DragonDictate 4

As someone pointed out in a review elsewhere finally does what it’s supposed to do is not exactly a great slogan but, in the case of DragonDictate 4, it is an apt one. This is the first version of DragonDictate which I have not had a problem with, and believe me, I have tried them all. For me, speech recognition on the Mac has had a long dishonourable history of raised hopes and dashed expectations. This time around Nuance have finally got things right first time.

The main thing about DragonDictate 4 is that it’s pleasant to use. So far, and I have been testing it since it was released a month ago, I have not had any problems. Recognition accuracy is at least on par with Dragon Naturally Speaking on Windows. The program has also learned to cope with the made-up words I use in my fantasy novels too.

The remaining big difference now, as far as I can see, between the Mac version and the Windows version of Nuance’s flagship product is that when you make a correction in Windows, the cursor automatically returns to its previous position at the end of the document. With DragonDictate you still need to send it there with a voice command.

For the Mac version Nuance has added something else to sweeten the pot. You now get the able to transcribe dictation as part of the program. I’ve tested this using the speech recording program on my Galaxy S3 and it works pretty well. It does make the odd error in transcription, and, as far as I can tell, there is no way you can teach the program it has made a mistake as you can with realtime speech recognition. Since the transcription ability was only previously available on the Mac as a very expensive standalone program this is a welcome bonus.

There is one area that the Mac version is ahead of previous Windows versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking and that is in the ability to define your own user commands. In the Windows versions I own this is only available as part of the extremely expensive Professional edition. It is baked right in to the Mac version. It works too.

So far using DragonDictate 4 has been a pleasure– it is not even had a problem running at the same time as TextExpander which in the past used to give it a lot of problems (on my machines at least). If I am hedging my bets and sounding less than convincing, it is just that Mac speech recognition has a history of leaving me disappointed and I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far, it hasn’t, and I am starting to suspect that finally speech recognition on the Mac has come of age.


If like me you are naturally lazy and sloppy, then Hazel is a godsend for keeping your surroundings tidy, on a computer at least. It is a program that runs on the background on your Mac and performs assorted house-keeping tasks. It does this by following rules that you set it and these can be as long or as short as you like.

For example, I have Hazel monitoring my downloads folder and shifting any PDFs it finds there into my PDFs folder. Once it gets to the downloads file, I have it further set so that if certain names are part of the files title they automatically can transported to the appropriate folder. For example if Hazel finds Mutants and Masterminds as part of the files name, that file automatically gets transferred to the M&M folder.

You can set Hazel to perform more complicated tasks, such as rename files and move them based on their content. I know of one example where someone takes scans of various financial statements and has them shifted to the appropriate folder based on the contents. The example I found most striking was where the Hazel Rule involved looked at the scanned file and if the content contained the name of his gas company and the word statement, Hazel tagged the scan, renamed the file as Gas Bill Date X (Where X was the date of the scan) and moved it to a folder called Gas Bills.

I have Hazel set to clean my desktop of assorted things that get dumped there and move them to their proper folders. I also have it set to tidy away files from my Dropbox once they are older than a few months. I have set up exceptions in the Hazel rules so that it ignores the files I specifically want left in there. I do need to be careful about this since sometimes Hazel is left running in the background and I forget about it and it shifts some important files around that I have forgotten about.

Hazel is a fine example of a program that does one thing really well. I find it well worth the money I paid for it. 

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2 Replies to “More Useful Software”

  1. I’ve never used Dragon, but I can only imagine how it would react to someone dictating the names in a typical fantasy novel – I suspect the renderings of a name like “Nyarlathotep” would be creative!

    1. It might surprise you, Jonathan :). I did not try Nyarlathotep but I seem to recall it managed both the Necronomicon and Cthulhu first time when I tried them. That might have been Dragon Naturally Speaking though. Once I fed DragonDictate my Kormak books it had no trouble recognising Khazduroth or Taurea or any of the names of the Old Ones. For some reason the only thing it struggles with is Mount Aethelas which may be my pronunciation. When I have to use DragonDictate I just say Mount Olympus and correct with find and replace later.

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