17 December 2021

The Dragon saga continues

Me and laptops have not been a success story in the past two years. When I was sent home at the start of the pandemic, and wasn't allowed to bring my work computer home, I was forced to work on my private laptop for months. That led to severe RSI. I later did manage to get my computer home, but it was too late and I had to sign off sick later.

I went back to work when I got voice recognition software which allowed me to pretty much work the computer without touching it. It is slow and frustrating, but it did help; my RSI slowly got better. And all the work was at home. It wouldn't stay that way, though; this academic year we are doing most teaching in person again. And that means being on the main campus, and also having time in between contact hours I need to fill. And that meant I needed a laptop. I can't work the computers in the lecture rooms or in the library with my voice; I can only do that with my own computer. The voice recognition software is not put on the network. But I can't go around lugging desktop around; hence that I got a laptop. But ever since I got the laptop there was trouble.

One problem was that the laptop struggled to hear me. If it just doesn't hear what you are saying, then voice recognition software doesn't work. And then you need to use your hands again. And there also was a problem with there seeming to be a mismatch between Dragon and Office. What used to work flawlessly now was laboured; for instance, I suddenly couldn't enter text into Excel without using my hands. And given that Excel is the sort of programme where you want to put a lot of small bits of text into a file, you quickly have to use your hands quite a lot. And I was starting to feel my RSI getting worse again.

I first tried to sort it myself. I wasn't successful. Then I went to the helpdesk; they did what they could but they couldn't actually do anything. Then I was contacted by the Dragon specialist of the helpdesk and she couldn't do anything either. Then I went to the Dragon helpdesk itself, and they could help me with the audio problem. The software problem persisted. So I decided that if the software worked better own a desktop than a laptop, then I should just get an additional desktop. I'm sure the University doesn't pay much for them! And me going off on sick leave is a lot more expensive. So I suggested that to my line manager, and he supported it. I then contacted the helpdesk again.

The helpdesk didn't just want to give me a desktop; they said there should not be a difference between how a desktop and a laptop collaborate with Dragon. They figured there might be something wrong with the laptop. I thought that would be surprising; that thing had been brand new when the problems became apparent. But I was happy to let them have a try. They suggested they look at that on a Monday.

That Monday we had an entire day of student presentations. I was going to be on campus anyway, and I didn't need the laptop as I was just going to be sitting there with the piece of paper in front of my nose. But we started at nine! And so did the helpdesk. But the bloke I had been communicating with said he started earlier than that, so I made sure I was on campus early, and phoned him. I handed him my laptop, with lots of peripherals: power cable, headset, and graphic tablet. I said that if there was any doubt he would give me my laptop back in a way that was as favourable to mouseless work as how I handed it to him I would not find that acceptable. I remembered getting the laptop! And not managing to make Dragon run on it. That just won't do. So I also demanded that both my Dragon and my Speechstart work flawlessly when I got it back. And he said something rather insightful. He asked what version of Office I had had on the desktop: it had been Office 365, and the new one had Office 2019. He thought that maybe the problem was not with the laptop, but with Office. And that would explain things. If I would now get another desktop it would probably also have Office 2019 on it. And then the problems would just persist. But he was going to have a look what he could do. Maybe he could adjust some settings to make the collaboration better?

Later that morning he contacted me; he said he had done what he could. I could pick it up and then judge if it was good enough now. If not he wanted to swipe the entire laptop. And that is always a faff! So in the rather short lunch break I went back and picked it up. It looked like it worked better. I hoped it worked well enough! But that would become clear in the coming days, when I was not in student presentations for the entire day. If the communication between Dragon and my other software will only get worse and worse over time then I have another problem; will I ever manage to actually get rid of the RSI? My progress has definitely been stalled now. I have even got worse again. And I'm not enjoying that. This issue is not over yet…

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