A Review of Dragon Naturally Speaking
Edward Kim

After years of piano playing and fiction writing, the diagnosis was wrist tendonitis, possibly carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatment involved ice, acupuncture, splints, anti-inflammatory drugs, even meditation. Workarounds became necessary -- while it is physically impossible to type with your toes, it is possible to move the mouse with your feet. One quickly learns to move the pain around, distribute it evenly.
While the hands imprison the body and the mind becomes more Eastern, somewhere, however, William T. Vollmann continues to write. Birthing big books through his overworked wrists. He once used a speech-recognition program called Dragon Naturally-Speaking. I installed Version 8, Standard Edition.
After initial training the software learns the cadence of your voice and adapts to new words. The program boasts 99 percent accuracy, and I found this to be mostly true, although I was more fascinated by the inaccuracies. A short story dictated to the program, using a substandard microphone (not the one provided), while looking away from the monitor, would stray from the original strikingly. "The priest took a broom and swept the souls up and away" might arrive as "The priesthood government sought missiles' authority," catching both writer and reader off-guard, while preserving the underlying metrical foot.
After several weeks the sentences almost wrote themselves -- paragraphs arrived with only cognitive pain. Perhaps bone and cartilage and muscle are bastardizing agents; the less physical intervention on the way to the page, the purer the words. As more features were discovered -- macros to automate tasks, web navigation through voice commands, voice commands to move the mouse pointer -- the back of the throat started to look like a Rice Krispy Treat. Words still found ways to do their damage.
Most people don't speak naturally when talking to a machine. Most people will talk like a machine, putting stress on their larynx. This is one of the risks of using a speech-recognition program for long periods of time. After being diagnosed with laryngitis I stopped speaking altogether. Instead I would leave the microphone on and watch language percolate on its own. Here is the sound of my study on a Saturday morning with the window open:

a lot of things in the middle is a day not only in the out of that they let them that they have little film to do not hold any amount out of catalog will help them with it didn't

This is the sound of the company I work in:

off a half of our side of our government and a and I know of a good and a government and the government and a I have a ha ha ha ha ha ha for one of that time for a is for for

I began pointing the microphone at other things -- a sort of linguistic Geiger counter. This is the sound of my wife's womb:

to up to up to the fifth with the The up to up to the that the up with up with the depth of fifth depth for the up to up of up with the depth to the the

This is a recording of me playing Chopin's Nocturne Op. 72, No. 1 In E Minor before my injury:

the new new who and wound row of were only in a wound around around your wound or in and in rural in the time to have a, who and and wound and a to a a long were moving

Whenever I feel the fire-wraiths igniting each wrist, effervescing up my arms and across the back, I am grateful past words to ScanSoft, the makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The program malfunctioned entirely only once. No matter how clearly I pronounced, Dragon NaturallySpeaking would repeat the same text over and over. "The wooden figures tossed up a great cloud that spread into a bright ancestral face" came out as "Death death death death death death death death death death death death death death death death death." I reinstalled the program and it's been working fine ever since.