Goodbye, Aviary – Looking for cloud-based Photoshop alternatives

Sometimes, things go wrong. (Like trying to dictate this blog post using Dragon Naturally Speaking 12, and discovering the new “enhanced” Bluetooth headset doesn’t work. But that’s a different story.)

No, today’s story is about, Aviary.

Aviary was a nice collection of free online image and multimedia editing tools. Not as powerful as Photoshop, of course, but if your classroom lab is a set of underpowered netbooks (or Google chromebooks) which you can’t install Photoshop onto, then Aviary’s Phoenix was great because you have layers, masks, etc and it integrated tightly with Google apps for education.

From a teacher’s perspective, this is powerful because students could create Aviary documents from within their school Google Docs account.

  • You didn’t have to worry about creating and managing third-party accounts.
  • You didn’t have to worry about minors under 12 creating user accounts.
  • Everything could be done from within Google Docs.
  • Plus, they had a lot of great tutorials, so Aviary could become a great way for you to integrate art and media literacy into your language program.

I was looking forward to using their effects editor to make cool images like this one.

I was also looking forward to using their swatch editor to talk about color. It was a very cool interactive tool to play with the color wheel and talk about choosing colors in graphic design.


Unfortunately, Aviary is shutting down their multimedia online suite in September 2012.

Continue reading “Goodbye, Aviary – Looking for cloud-based Photoshop alternatives”

New “enhanced” Bluetooth headset doesn’t work for me in Dragon Naturally Speaking 12

I’m not really having a good time with the newest version of Dragon Naturally Speaking.

I spent the last hour struggling with my computer trying to get Dragon 12 to work with the new “enhanced” Bluetooth Plantronics Calisto two headset. The new headset does work… I can listen to music in the earpiece and I can go through the Dragon Naturally Speaking check microphone process without any problems.

Unfortunately, once the volume has been adjusted successfully and the microphone check is complete, Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 doesn’t actually transcribe what I say. It just looks pretty, it thinks, and then sometimes I get an error saying that there’s a problem, or it’s low on system resources. Other times, it’ll record the sentence that I said several minutes later.

Mind you, this post is being written using Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 and my old Calisto Plantronics Bluetooth headset (from Dragon Naturally Speaking 11) – so Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 does actually work on my computer… It just looks like there’s a glitch trying to use the new enhanced Bluetooth headset. Continue reading “New “enhanced” Bluetooth headset doesn’t work for me in Dragon Naturally Speaking 12″

Plantronics Calisto BT300 II Enhanced Bluetooth Headset Review

It’s here, it’s here! (Actually, it arrived a few days ago, but you get the point.)

A few days ago ThinkGeek was having a special T-shirt sale and my shirts from the geek overlords have arrived. Meh.

Then the very next day, a little package from Nuance arrived in my mailbox. Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 just came out this month, so of course I downloaded my digital copy right away. (After playing with the new version of Dragon, I’m not convinced that Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 is better… yet. We’ll see how I like it after using the new wireless bluetooth headset.)

I’m a big fan of voice-recognition software and talking to my computer. I’ve been using Dragon 11 premium wireless to blog for the past little bit, and I’m quite happy with the results.

When the Dragon digital download became available on August 3, I bought it right away, but I struggled with the download because their servers were overloaded. (It was opening day after all, and I’m sure everyone was trying to download this 3 GB file.)

At the checkout page, there was an interesting offer to buy the Plantronics Calisto II Bluetooth headset on sale (basically save $50.) Now I already own the bluetooth headset that came with Dragon 11, but this one is apparently an “enhanced” Bluetooth headset.

I’m a sucker for technology and deals. I did a quick Google search but I couldn’t find any information about the difference between the new Plantronics Calisto II headset and the old Plantronics Calisto I headset that shipped with Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 premium wireless edition.

I did call customer support (mainly because their chat window was useless and the customer agent online was basically just directing me to call them to close the deal.) When I actually spoke with someone in person, they said the difference between the new Plantronics Calisto II headset and the old Plantronics Calisto I headset is bandwidth.

Here are a few other differences to help you decide if you need to buy the new version of the Plantronics headset that comes with the new Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12: Continue reading “Plantronics Calisto BT300 II Enhanced Bluetooth Headset Review”

Free WPMU DEV membership contest: Create your own class blogging network

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 just came out and I used the voice recognition software to write this post. Is Dragon 12 better than Dragon 11? It’s supposed to be more accurate, but time will tell.  

If you blog in the classroom or run your own class website, chances are you’ve heard of They’re the Australian startup company that currently hosts over 1 million educational blogs using WordPress software.

(If you’re just starting to blog with your students, here’s a list of reasons why edublogs is a safer platform for the classroom, than running a website on the more public or Google’s Blogger.)

If you’re not very tech savvy, then is a great service for you. If you’re comfortable with mucking around and installing software, then I find running your own self hosted WordPress blog provides much more flexibility to meet your classroom needs.

  • You can install any plug-in you want, and if you can code, the sky’s the limit.
  • The catch is, you need to be able to troubleshoot problems and need to have the time to manage your class website (in addition to all those lovely things like teaching, marking, lesson planning, communicating with parents, etc.)

Lots of teachers have heard of, but not everyone knows that the folks behind are also the same people behind WPMU DEV. Why should you care about WPMU DEV if you run your own self hosted WordPress blog? Because they actually sell some of the plug-ins and code that they use on

Here are some of the WPMU DEV premium plug-ins and themes that I’ve used on my classroom network:

Continue reading “Free WPMU DEV membership contest: Create your own class blogging network”

Is Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 really more accurate than Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11?

Dragon Naturally Speaking premium 12 just came out today, and the official nuance website says the updated speech recognition software is more accurate, straight out-of-the-box compared to Dragon 11. (Apparently, it’s up to a 20% more accurate than Dragon Naturally Speaking 11.) Maybe, but I’m not so sure…

After using Dragon Naturally Speaking (11.5) for 60 blog posts and 74,000+ words, I find the voice recognition engine generally gets around 97.6% of the words correct.

I used the rainbow passage to do a quick check to see if Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 was really better than Dragon Naturally Speaking 11. The cool thing about Dragon Naturally Speaking premium is that you can transcribe recordings from MP3 files. (Only your own voice, sorry!)

  • I recorded the rainbow passage as an MP3 and included punctuation and commands (i.e. “comma”, “period”, and “new paragraph”) “Recording #1”
  • I used audacity to trim out the punctuation and commands and I saved this as “Recording #2.”

This way I could be sure that any differences between Dragon 12 and Dragon 11 would be due to the voice-recognition software and not differences in the way that I read the rainbow passage.

I also used two different user profiles to compare Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 and Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.

  • I created a brand-new user profile in both Dragon Naturally Speaking 11, and Dragon Naturally Speaking 12. I went to the general training process, but I did not let Dragon analyze my emails and documents when I created these profiles.
  • I used my regular Dragon Naturally Speaking user profile that I’ve been training for almost two years. (I’ve used this voice profile to dictate more than 74,000 words with an average accuracy of 97.6%.) I also upgraded this user profile for Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 when I was testing it.

Finally, I saved each transcription into a plain text file and then I used tortoise merge to compare the original document to what Dragon Naturally Speaking transcribed. Usually, I go through and look at the type of mistakes Dragon Naturally Speaking made to separate word errors from punctuation and capitalization errors, but this time I kept things simple. (Check out the results at the bottom of this post.)

  • Red errors are incorrect words, or additional words that Dragon Naturally Speaking wrote down.
  • Green lines are words or punctuation that Dragon Naturally Speaking missed.

Overall, Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 seems less accurate than Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 for both new user and trained voice profiles. Here are the results:  Continue reading “Is Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 really more accurate than Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11?”

How accurate was Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 Premium?

This is my last post using Dragon Naturally Speaking 11.5 Premium. (I am compensated for this review. Click here for details.)

For almost two years, I’ve been blogging by talking to my computer using my trustee Bluetooth Plantronics Calisto headset and Dragon speak. (You can see all of the posts here. At the bottom of each post, you can see how many words were in the initial draft, as well as how many errors Dragon Naturally Speaking made.)

We’ve had some good times. I’ve dictated 60 posts and over 74,000 words to my computer. During that time, Dragon voice recognition software misunderstood 1804 words and made an additional 592 capitalization or punctuation errors. Sounds like a lot of mistakes, but what does that all mean?

Well, for me, Dragon Naturally Speaking correctly transcribed 97.6% of the words correct. (If you include the capitalization and punctuation errors as well, then Dragon speaking was accurate 96.8% of the time.), That number is pretty good (and pretty consistent with what I got in November last year.)

This means that for every 100 words that I say to my computer, DNS only gets two and a half words wrong. Wow. If my students got 97.6% on test, they’d be pretty happy.

So, why am I saying goodbye to Dragon Naturally Speaking 11?

Because today (August 3, 2012), Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 became available for digital download, and I just bought it. (Physical shipment of the box won’t start until August 15, 2012. If you’re looking for the Dragon education discount, sorry, but Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 student / teacher version isn’t shipping until September 7, 2012.)

I can’t wait to see how much more accurate Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 is compare to Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11. If you visit the what’s new in Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 page on the official nuance website, the first feature is that the software is “even more accurate,” but they’re talking about out-of-the-box accuracy. I’m not sure if we’ll see much of the performance improvement for regular voice profiles, but we’ll see.


How accurate is Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 / 11.5 Premium

Here are some graphs to see how Dragon Naturally Speaking improves over time with actual use based on 60 blog posts and 74,000 dictated words. Continue reading “How accurate was Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 Premium?”

ThinkGeek T-shirt sale (and other fun stuff for your classroom)

I just got an e-mail from the lovely people at ThinkGeek that they’re having a two-day T-shirt sale right now. (As in, the sale started today, August 1, 2012 and it lasts until the end of tomorrow, August 2, 2012.) It’s a BOGO half off shirt sale, so you buy one T-shirt and you get the second shirt half off.

I’m in. My friend has a great meh t-shirt and I’ve wanted one ever since. (Thank goodness for The Simpsons bringing meh into the mainstream. On a funny side note, I’m using voice recognition software to dictate this post, and Dragon Naturally Speaking 11.5 premium doesn’t recognize the word meh. Even after I’ve added meh to the vocabulary, it still recognizes meh as Matt, next, net, meant, Mac, meds… Oh well. Meh.)

Since I’ve discovered the geeky goodness that is ThinkGeek, I’ve noticed their wares here and there, even up here in the cold land that is Canada. (ThinkGeek is an American company and they offer free shipping if you buy more than $75, but that promotion only works if you live in the US.) Even a few of my students have come to class wearing some geekware, including the “Come to the dark side. We have cookies” T-shirt and the “you are here” T-shirt.

So, what am I getting? Continue reading “ThinkGeek T-shirt sale (and other fun stuff for your classroom)”