- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

One of the things that is most fascinating about personal computers is also one of the things that is most frustrating. The fascinating element involves understanding how computers work and how to make them do what you want them to.
The frustrating element, of course, is the need to understand how a computer or a piece of software works in order to do the thing you wanted to do. In almost any field of endeavor there is an art to getting things done, and learning that art can be very enjoyable, whether it is painting, pasta making or computing. Yet there are times when you need to grab a quick image, make lunch for the family, or get a letter written and you do not want or need the level of involvement that some computer processes require.
This is perhaps the greatest difference that I'm discovering as I continue to use an Apple Macintosh as my primary computer. I'm generally spending less time understanding the mechanics of a given process and more time getting things done. This is a refreshing change of pace after years of a wrestling with other computers and other operating systems in order to make simple things happen.
Some of this can be attributed to the uniformity of the Macintosh interface. All basic commands open a file, close a window, quit a program are common across just about every Mac application. While the same is generally true in Microsoft Windows, there are annoying exceptions. This ease can also be credited to the basic stability of Mac OS X. Because the operating system is far less likely to crash than just about anything else I have ever used, there is less worry in loading up applications and "multitasking" on a given machine.
But then there are also applications that worked quite nicely out of the box. One such is IBM's ViaVoice, a speech-recognition program for the Macintosh that required minimal "training" on my part in order to recognize 95 percent to 98 percent of the words that I spoke. I am in fact "writing" this column using speech recognition, although I will revise it by hand before it goes off to the paper.
I imagine part of this is due to improvements in the program by IBM, but I have just had far less difficulty with this speech-recognition system than with any other. That makes it easier to be productive more quickly, and it gives me confidence that I will be able to work productively with the software over the weeks and months ahead. Such convenience is not without a price: the suggested retail for the software is $180. However the convenience that it provides, let alone the sheer blessing such a program provides to those with repetitive stress injuries or other disabilities, makes it a very worthwhile expenditure. Information is available at www.ibm.com/viavoice.
Along the way, I have happened upon serendipitous pieces of software that combined a low price with extreme functionality. One such program is "Sound Studio" from a company called Felt Tip Software (www.felttip.com). This $50 program lets me record audio tracks and edit them in "waveform" style, allowing me to delete pauses, "uhhs" and other annoying sounds to create a refined product. I can then e-mail the finished recording to adrenalineradio.com, who then combine my voice with a music track and produce a promotional spot quickly and easily.
Now I am not a trained audio engineer, nor do I have a room full of high-end sound recording equipment. The first time I did this, I used the built-in microphone in the Apple iMac; now I can use a USB microphone that was supplied with the speech-recognition software. I can also plug in a more professional microphone using an attachment that connects to a USB port; this device would also let me bring in other audio sources.
As time goes on, and as I learn more about multimedia recording on the Macintosh, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it would be possible to easily produce an entire 60-minute radio program in the comfort of my own home. At the very least, I'll be able to take telephone and other "outside" interviews, edit them and integrate them into the program far more professionally then I have before.
Try doing any of this on a Windows-based personal computer and you will likely run into problems. The software could well be more expensive than the $50 Macintosh program, the experience less intuitive and the results more difficult to manage. Then again, it could be just as easy on a Windows PC. But the fact is within about 30 minutes I had produced voice tracks that were usable by my colleagues and I didn't break a sweat, something I would have doubtless done in a Windows environment of ".dll" files and other speed bumps on the information superhighway.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; send e-mail to [email protected]aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mr. Kellner on www.adrenalineradio.com every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. EST.

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