Who cares about tablets and smartphones when your hands don't work anymore?

Scalding hot cappuccino meets right hand. Now I'm using voice dictation software.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
Image: Jason Perlow

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about this weekend. I thought I would perhaps choose a subject that was related to something newsy. As fate would have it, life intervened and now I have a funny story to tell you.

This weekend, my wife had her brother and my in-laws as well as her cousins over for a visit. Everything was going just fine for the first few hours, until my mother-in-law asked me to make her a cappuccino drink.

Now, normally this goes without any incident. I am always happy to make espresso coffee drinks for people who visit my house.

However, I normally use my regular coffee mugs to do this. This time, I decided to use the paper cups my wife had bought for the occasion. This was a bad idea.

First, I microwaved the skim milk in a Pyrex container for about three minutes, super heating it to about, I don't know, several billion degrees Fahrenheit. Milk actually retains heat better than the coffee that is poured into it once it is heated. It also has the physical properties of napalm.

After retrieving the nuclear meltdown milk from the microwave, I poured into one of those paper cups. It was only about half the volume of the cup, so I really didn't get a sense of just how hot it actually was. I wanted to leave room for the espresso shots.

After tamping a perfect double shot of espresso, I hit the shot pull button. My computer compensated Rancilio Silvia espresso machine was now pumping 225F° water through the portafilter mechanism. It came out a beautiful dark brown with a nice, thick crema.

Being the perfectionist about coffee drinks that I am, and wanting to impress my house guest, I let the shot pull all the way to the top of the cup. I got distracted for a moment and allowed it to slightly overflow over the top.

I'm not exactly sure what thoughts went through my brain, if any. Obviously, I was not firing on all cylinders, this probably due to the fact that I had been imbibing various cocktails at the time. I grabbed the cup, which was now hotter than the fires of the hell itself, and which now began to overflow all over my right hand.

I then let out a giant, bloodcurdling scream, along with a long string of unrepeatable words. I'm pretty sure the entire community that I live in could hear it. I don't remember much, other than I ran to the sink, my wife quickly grabbed some ice and towels for my hands, and a few minutes later, I was having burn cream applied to my fingers, which were then being wrapped up in gauze like an Egyptian mummy.

Fortunately, the burns on my fingers are not of the "Oh my God, I need to go to the hospital" type. They're more of the "Man is this a royal pain in the ass" type. I can type with my left hand and operate things like smartphones and tablets, but it's not natural to me, as I am right-handed.

Much of my work at Microsoft, in addition to the various partner-facing conference calls that I must attend, involve writing emails and putting together presentations, not to mention the work I do writing about technology at ZDNet.

So when you can't operate a computer with a keyboard very easily, much less a touchscreen device, you suddenly begin to feel powerless and unable to do work. It's a horrible feeling to have.

Fortunately, we live in an age of advanced technology. Not only do we have cool things like tablets and smartphones, as well as ubiquitous internet access, but we also have some pretty cool voice recognition technology. I'm actually using it to write this article right now.

A few hours ago, I bought a copy of Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 voice dictation software for Windows. It's about a 3GB download. The Premium version costs $135.

It used to be that voice recognition software such as this required extensive manual training. However, the setup process and machine learning is much faster than it used to be. Also, we are now using processor chips that are hundreds times faster than what we used to have in the mid-1990s, when this technology first became generally available.

There was a five-minute enrolment process that consisted of reading John F Kennedy's Presidential inaugural speech, which was my choice out of several options.

Fortunately, I already had a really good voice-capable headset, the Logitech H820e, which I use religiously for VoIP conferencing using Microsoft Lync and Skype, among other things.

The recognition is isn't perfect, but it is pretty amazing. Some manual corrections are required, and while you can do many of them simply by using your voice, I do find myself having to type little things here and there, but it is way better than having to bulk type in a lot of text.

Over the next week or so, or for as long as it takes for my right hand to heal properly, I'm going to use this dictation software to do routine work tasks as well as write my articles for ZDNet.

It should be interesting, given that in the past, I really only used this type of technology for intelligent agents such as Siri, Google Now, or Windows Phone's own built-in voice search capabilities.

Voice dictation technology might be not as sexy as touchscreen tablets, but right now, I'm extremely grateful I have it in my bag of tricks.

Have you ever been forced to use voice recognition software due to a temporary or permanent disability? Talk back and let me know.

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