Saving Time with Audio

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cooking for the week yesterday, with my netbook perched on the counter opposite a crockpot making stew and some jambalaya on the stove, I read a blog posting whose title caught my eye: "Reclaiming Your Commute." Although I'm in Boston and don't face the problem of being regularly trapped in a car and "unable to use the time productively," I may have that problem starting later this year. In addition, last week's double whammy of tax time and the baby's first cold made the topic of time management particularly fascinating for me.

Entrepreneur Jason Freedman writes of his successful experiment with audio blogging:

[A]s an experiment a few weeks ago, I plugged in my earphones, hit voice recorder and tried to finish a blog post I've been working on for a long time. It was actually pretty cool. Speaking out loud in my own natural voice is the same tone I try to achieve in these blog posts anyway. It actually wasn't that hard.

In fact, I'm kind of addicted to it right now and I've done six or seven blog posts in just the last few weeks all from my car, all while stuck in traffic ... all through the voice recorder. Now, driving through rush hour is not so obtrusive because I know I'm going to create a blog post out of it. I actually look forward to longer drives.

So, once I realized I could dictate these posts, I got on TaskRabbit, posted a task for "dictation help" and found an outstanding virtual assistant who transcribed the whole thing. It means that now, I've taken time that was previously wasted, and with a few dollars, am able to do something I love. [link dropped]
The idea reminds me of one I had a few years ago, when I was contemplating a project which would require me to run some experiments in complete darkness, and wanted an easy way to take notes. I thought about playing with software transcription along the lines of this legal blogger's idea of using Google Voice as a transcriber. (I've since forgotten what I was thinking about using, and don't recall off-hand where my notes for that might be.)

But again, I'm not stuck commuting by car now, nor am I preparing to work in darkness. The situations for me in which I find myself stuck and wanting to do something other than listen to music or stare into space are, visually and acoustically, almost exactly the opposite: Whether I'm having to keep quiet for a sleeping baby in our tiny apartment or using the subway, taking notes by voice is out and headphones won't always save me should I take Freedman's cue, but listen to, rather than create, something interesting. When I find myself stuck, the best solution is reading or typing. So far, so good, but his mention of audio and the jogging of my memory cause me to recall that I often encounter multimedia as I do research on the web that I usually have to put off or forgo altogether. Perhaps I'll play with transcribing some of that through software so I can use it more readily.

In fact, transcription would lick the time problem audio presents me not only in terms of when I could get to the material, but also in terms of whether to consume it at all. Unlike written material, it is impossible to just skim through something like a podcast and learn whether it's worth the time commitment. A transcript would solve that problem, too.

I won't have time, probably for weeks, to fiddle with Google Voice or research free software solutions -- or find my old notes on the idea. Also, cursory web searches show me I haven't thought of good search terms, so far. So I'll do as I've done before and ask for tips: Has anyone out there a favorite software/web site for transcribing 10-15 minute chunks of audio?

-- CAV

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