Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two great resources you need to know

I just came across a website called, a part of the, empire that claims to have hundreds of volunteer experts standing by to answer your questions on almost every topic, from coin collecting to small engine maintenance. And they promise answers within 24 hours!

If you have a business question that’s bugging you, you may not even have to wait for an answer. They have a huge archive of business-related questions, covering everything from startups, home business and hiring to managing your business, e-commerce, and mergers and acquisitions.

I surveyed the archives and found some terrific answers to past questions. The volunteer experts are clearly well qualified, and some offer excellent information. (The worst part is how inarticulate many of the question-writers are, but the answers are literate and useful.)

One business person asked how he could get his people to ask better questions when interviewing job candidates. The response included links to hiring manuals, as well as many smart interview questions, arranged by category such as Education, Work Experience, Job Performance Evaluations, and Self-Assessment Questions. This is great information that could save you from hiring a consultant or running out to buy some book.

I haven't tested sending in a question to see what kind of response you’d get, but I’ll try it and let you know how it turns out. Click here to check out yourself.

The other resource I wanted to tell you about is likely sitting on your desktop. I’ve just been playing around with Office 03’s voice-recognition system, and it’s absolutely amazing.

You hook up a microphone, do a 15-minute training session, and you can start dictating just about anything. I find that I can’t dictate a complex article, but this works fine for simpler, more conversational documents (such as writing blogposts). I find it also works for memos and e-mails.

Here’s an example of the accuracy of the voice recognition system. I will not edit anything that I dictate in this paragraph. Everything you were reading came directly from the computer based on what I spoke into my headset. So far I see only one mistake: in the previous sentence, the computer wrote the word "were" instead of "are." So, we’re not quite at the Star Trek stage, where we can speak to our computer and tell it to do sophisticated things reliably such as declare war on the klingons. But I think we’ve come a long way since I’ve tried that Dragon dictation system about ten years ago and it made about ten mistakes in every sentence (and it took forever because you had to speak slowly, word by word). This won’t work for every office; the system doesn’t like distractions or interruptions or loud background noise. And you have to get used to the sound of your own voice out loud in a quiet office. But if you can think and your feet, and you’re prepared to go back and review and correct the text of the computer has put down—and if you are as bad a typist as I am - then you may just find that this system revolutionary. It can save you a lot of time. And it’s kind of fun to.

(Okay, I have bolded the mistakes I noticed in the above paragraph: it didn't capitalize Klingons; it said "I've tried" instead of "I tried"; “think and your feet” instead of “on your feet”; an extra “that” in “that this system” that I don't think I said; an unneeded "of" in the phrase "the text of the computer has put down"; and that final "to" should be "too." Overall, not bad. And I was speaking at almost a normal pace.)

To check it out for yourself, look up the speech menu under the “Tools” drop-down menu in your Word program. Good luck and happy talking.

Leave a comment if you'd like to share your own experience with Voice-Recognition. I never thought I’d say this, but Microsoft rocks.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

You're going to love the version of Office coming out in the next few weeks then.

They've added Outlook Voice Access to the mix so now you can call your exchange server and have it read your email messages etc. You can also tell it to move a meeting back and then dictate a message to all the other invitees... (which it emails out for you).

- Ryan